The Internet of Transportation Will Use Global “Consensus Machine,” Says New Advisor to The DAV Foundation

By Bradley Berman — Lead Editor

Dr. Greg Colvin, a sage-like technologist who lives on a remote mountain in the Rockies, makes a living by creating obscure algorithms and designing complex software systems. But what gives Colvin the ability to solve the toughest technology problems is his deep understanding of quantitative psychology — the focus of his doctorate at Cornell University. Colvin uses that unique psychological vantage point — one foot in the world of software development and the other in human ethics — in his role as a core developer of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. We believe it will be extremely helpful in his new advisory role at The DAV Foundation, where we are building the future of autonomous vehicles. We’re pleased to announce that Colvin joined our advisory board this week.

Dr. Greg Colvin

Colvin is a core developer of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) — the runtime environment that allows transactions to run securely (and align) on countless computers all over the world. The EVM is not a physical entity, but rather a virtual environment designed for transactions between computers. “Everything is based on consensus,” Colvin told ETHNews in November.

Colvin explained that so-called smart contracts get processed in parallel on every node of the EVM. “There’s a consensus protocol. Everyone has to agree, and if you have any ambiguity in the specification, any mistakes in implementation, or in any one of the multiple clients, the consensus will fail,” he said. “Everything is in lockstep all across the world.”

This consensus is the key to security, preventing denial-of-service attacks, and the establishment of a sandbox environment for increasing the robustness of cryptocurrencies. Consensus will also be vital to expanding the Internet of Transportation from today’s autonomous-vehicle pilot programs to a massive decentralized, global network of cars, drones, fueling providers, road systems, insurers, and other mobility service providers.

“Dr. Colvin understands the nuances of blockchain development and the Ethereum protocol, the technology upon which the DAV network is built,” said Noam Copel, our foundation’s CEO. “The addition of Dr. Colvin to our advisory board further bolsters the depth and breadth of our blockchain engineering knowledge.”

Seeing the Big Picture

DAV will especially look to Colvin to help us make tough architectural decisions. He’s fully aware of the need to speed up and scale the use of the Ethereum Virtual Machine — without undermining security. “While it is true that processing every transaction on every node hinders processing speed, it’s that exact effect that makes a blockchain so secure,” he said.

Colvin speaks about a project’s most difficult tradeoffs like a philosopher (and looks the role with his long flowing gray beard). That approach allows Colvin to ignore distractions — such as all the buzz about speculation in cryptocurrencies. “I don’t care that it’s money,” he said. From his perspective, digital coins are “the fuel that runs the machine.”

Colvin also connects today’s movement toward decentralized technologies with previous eras of human development. “The Bronze Age was an era of extreme centralization with very powerful monarchs and bronze-armored armies defending them,” he explained. Then, according to Colvin, the world order was disrupted by the invention of iron-making, a “decentralizing” technology that allowed peasants to make their own weapons, and thus arm themselves to depose monarchs. “Peasants could fight on even terms with expensive bronze-armored armies,” he explained.

It will be exciting to see how autonomous vehicles will disrupt the world of transportation and it’s clear that a decentralized, open-source approach — in which numerous players and devices forge new apps and services based on consensus — is the enabling technology.

Colvin has an uncanny ability to break down technology into its essential elements. “A blockchain is a database. It keeps track of stuff. You put things on it,” he said. “What do you put on it? Whatever you want.”

What does The DAV Foundation want to put on the blockchain? Every interconnected vehicle, allowing anyone and anything to move around the world. That’s a goal that Dr. Colvin sees as “entirely attainable.” He said, “I’m very glad to be aboard with the DAV Foundation. If I can offer some wisdom along the way, it would be a pleasure.”