Blockchain and the Future of Technology with Manie Eagar — #1 EGTech
Ali: Could you tell us a few sentences about yourself and what you do?
I’m Manie Eagar, CEO of Digital Futures, which is involved in the whole digital transformation journey, we’re working with major banks, including the World Bank and other related initiatives across the world.
The challenge is that everyone is trying to engage with new technologies beyond the Internet, now even beyond Blockchain. What are the implications for humans and our behaviors? Does it mean that we need different styles of management? Different ways of managing knowledge? It creates new issues all over again around privacy, digital rights and so on and so forth as we engage with these new technologies for our benefit, hopefully for everyone’s benefit.
I’m also Chairman of the Blockchain Association of Canada, which is a Canada-wide initiative with representatives across Canada who are looking at the educational training side of things, because I think that is a common thread. Once people understand what these new technologies are about they want to know “What’s in it for me?”, “How can I, the people around me, or my business gain or benefit from this?”, “how do we govern this?”, “How do we make sure that this stays on the rails and for the good of society as well as the people around us?”. Essentially, asking how to be and become more responsible around how we treat each other and hopefully this technology is for the better and not for the worse.
We all have concerns around jobs,”’Are we going to lose our jobs? Are robots going to come and take over?”, all legitimate questions, but again it’s something this technology should help us manage, not the other way around. The Association is meant to help us understand and engage with each-other around this new stuff, and that’s where we get excited and I personally get involved, both on a giving to the community basis and also getting some work done as that’s a nice challenge, to hold something that is both successful and sustainable. That relates back to Digital Futures.
Ali: What first got you involved or interested in the tech scene?
I was a journalist in Africa. I was approached by Apple to write a press release for the the Macintosh at the time. Remember that old little box Macintosh way back? So, I accepted the offer, and I wrote this press release, they liked it so much that they gave me an Apple Macintosh…. and I was hooked. “This is just the neatest little device ever!” I thought, I could even carry it around, you know it was portable, or should I say ‘luggable’. To make a long story short, I then really got involved in technology working for Apple. Then other tech came along, and I ended up becoming the head of strategy for Dimension Data, the largest IT Company in Africa, which is now owned by NTT Nippon. There I got into the big-league stuff. Whirling out work on job platforms and e-commerce and the first big Internet Service Provider, now the largest in Africa was one of our projects at the time. The rest is history.
My story with Bitcoin is, I was mentoring some startups at Simon Fraser University, I was part of Startup-Weekend at the time here in Vancouver in 2014, half the people in the room wanted to do a Bitcoin startup, and everyone else wanted to know what the heck Bitcoin even is. Startups approached me and said “we actually want to take this further beyond the minimum value proposition… but we don’t have any money…. uhhh can we pay you in Bitcoin?”. So I had to go home and ask my wife, told her “there’s these people…. giving me Bitcoin, are you okay with that?”, she’s like “What the Hell is wrong with you? Are you having fun joking?” It took me a while to bring the idea home. So I then got paid in Bitcoin, and that took on a life of its own. I think I must have been the first consultant in Vancouver or Canada who got paid in Bitcoin over five years ago, and I was like “Gee, I don’t even know how I’m supposed to report taxes on this”, because there were no rules at that time at all. I went to my accountant and he didn’t know what I was talking about. So then I realized this whole narrative still needs to evolve, we all need to get to understand it and when the Bitcoin Alliance was established then, in that same year, I was invited to join the board and was involved in the community side. We’ve now run conferences and workshops of all kinds.
Ali: What was the inspiration for starting Digital Futures?
Being involved in the journalistic side, I ended up writing reports and doing studies for features on different aspects, especially with the impact of technology on the financial sector, banking, communications and so forth. I became a big fan of trans-humanism with the human-machine interface on a personal level. Where is this all turning towards? Will there one day be machine-consciousness and will we mesh with it or not?
I ran a workshop in Tucson Arizona at the Annual Consciousness Conference and I gave a presentation on it. I was very privileged that Ray Kurzweil was a host for my workshop, when I met him he said that mine is one of the better talks he’s heard and we’d been friends since. So, I then got into the whole singularity thing and his talk was about how you could one day download your brain or consciousness into a machine and live forever. I really remember that talk and it was like wayyyy out stuff back-then, but now with Elon Musk, a South-African, talking about Neurolace and starting to connect with our machines directly, I started having a fascination for it all. I did so much research, I started knowing enough to become a speaker on the circuit, address conferences and be invited as a consultant into large enterprises. Barclays was a longstanding client of mine, Vodafone out of Europe and Africa also a client still to this day, the World Bank and others that I started advising on the Computer-Human interface of technology for social good. Somebody asked the question today, “how can we use Blockchain to address the financial needs of the poor in developing countries?”, very good question! Blockchain should offer solutions, but a whole number of things needs to come together, it’s not a technology issue, it’s a human issue. The humans need to come together and decide, ‘how do we use this technology for the common good? Not just for our government or for a faction’, and I think that challenge is going to remain with us because of inequality for a long, long time still. Not everyone plays fair on this planet, let’s be frank.
Salman: Digital Futures has been pre-bitcoin?
Yeah, in fact it was called something else before, but it’s the same company dating back more than ten years. We actually brought the whole business, and re-registered it here from South-Africa, where i’m from originally. Over there we used to call it ‘Personal Cultural Transformations’, looking at the human dimension of interacting with these technologies. I used to train the Microsoft Sales Team on how to work with people while selling technology. We brought all that know-how here and we were nominated as the Innovator Idols for Ontario in 2014 with one of the software projects we developed for the Ontario Center of Excellence. They were at Rogers 2020 strategy, Rogers Media did a whole merger of a number of its divisions and we did their 2020 strategy using this technology.
Salman: What personally excites you most about Blockchain?
Well, I think that it’s just like how the Internet gave people access. I know a lot of people are up to date in this initiative, I even saw in the room people having stickers over their computer cameras because they’re going to get spied on and all that stuff. That’s the negative side of technology. I’m of the belief that we need to embrace technology like any tool and the internet gave people access to stuff they just wouldn’t have known otherwise. If you’re in a remote village in India or Africa, you just wouldn’t know that there’s other people on the rest of the planet unless there was TV or radio or internet. So it’s a great potential for equalizing knowledge and getting access to information that you could hopefully apply for your own benefit for your village or community. I’m from that school, that I feel that there is more good than harm. But yes, there’s military industrial complexes that build bigger rockets and larger explosives and spy on us at the same time, but it’s our civil duty to resist that. In that sense, i’m a full-on activist.
Ali: To build-upon that, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions or misgivings that people have towards Blockchain or Bitcoin?
One word… Trust. Can we trust it? We heard about the DAO, we’ve heard the Silkroad, we’ve seen people scam money off each other, it hasn’t gone to court yet in Canada but there’s people’s money disappearing. Some of the local Bitcoin people here will tell you they tried to go buy Bitcoin and they would get mugged! There were scams going on, so of course that happens, and it’s what we as a community need to deal with but I think that it’s a part of the education and training and everything else that goes with it, the government will learn to understand this, not chuck out the innovation but create a safe space and that’s why we like working with the universities and academia, in order to create that safe-space where people can experiment and mess-up and do all that stuff where no substantial harm is created before we unleash this on the world. With actors like Vitalik, I was there when he established Ethereum and think he had a good intent, there was never a malicious intent with this technology. That for me is very, very important. If you read the Satoshi Nakamoto white paper, it was actually meant to solve a problem for humans to go and apply and use for their benefit. There was no malicious intent, like energy, like the Sun, light from the Sun, you can use it for good or bad and that power is in our hands. I don’t want to get grandiose with this, but, at least make small positive impact where we can and hopefully lift the boat for everybody.
I’m an old activist, I was quite involved with the anti-apartheid movement in South-Africa, even got my office blown-up. There’s the kind of things you have to do, we’re doing the right thing and we prevail. So i’m from that era and here’s the next round, there’s always that next challenge. But i’m sure a challenge will be Blockchain next, in the next ten years.
Salman: Where do you think Blockchain will have the most positive impact on society?
I think, outright, digital identity, digital citizenship, cheaper affordable access to government services, being a better E-Citizen. We’re all looking at Estonia as a model, it still needs to be worked out, we still have to address legacy issues. But I think there will be a great equalizer and then of course I like the whole financial space, I think we could really, truly turn the entire way in which we work with money, understand money and have access to OUR OWN money in a very direct way. The only thing that stops us are the incumbents protecting their interests or the government acting on some lobbyist’s agenda, and I feel very strong about that.
There’s no technology on the planet that is a big bandaid for everything. Some people make huge statements like ‘We’re going to shut down the banking system’, hang on, that’s where my money is right now, and I trust it more than bitcoin at the moment to be frank.
Salman: Yes and people want stability.
I always explain to people, I spent most of my life in Africa, when you go into the bush, and I've had the same experience in Mexico, if you go into the deep rural area, these are poor folk, you know, they have a chicken and a pig and a dog and a whatever. They need to eat, like everyone else, they want to see their children go for good education so they can improve their lives. you cannot put that at risk just because there’s a shiny new technology, so we need to validate and check it, so that when Internet comes it’s a positive experience and not a negative one.
Salman: I personally think, and I want your thoughts on it, that there needs to be more discussion about the concept of responsibility when you innovate technologies. Especially when it’s going to create social and economic disruptions and displacement of jobs.
Well again, what we as a society have a duty to do is to educate the next generation to not only use this technology but thrive using it, and not lose their jobs. If you follow the Elon Musk argument, this technology, if it’s going to do all the work for us, at least we all then need a minimum income, then we will do other stuff, populate mars or I don’t know. I don’t know those answers, but there will be new skill-sets, a different way of engaging with each other through technology which will become wearable and implantable and I do believe that we will live in an era soon where it won’t be ‘Google Glass’ but some other better version of that, and that’s part of our progression, it’s not like it’s our birthright, but we’d be crazy not to use our tools in any way we see fit. A thing with wheels could be a tank, or it could be a car for transport. Just get that balance right. I think get back to the human condition. I trained as an existentialist and Trotsky-ite in my youth, so I believe in the good of humanity and a common cause, that’s work, it’s like happiness, it doesn’t happen, you have to work to be happy.