An Interview with the Mathematician — Kleros’ Cryptoeconomics Researcher William George.

William George
Jul 13, 2018 · 6 min read

Kleros Community Manager Stuart is asking the questions. William George is our Cryptoeconomics researcher who previously studied at University of Toronto gaining a PhD related to mathematics and cryptography.

You can read further interviews from our ‘Meet The Team’ series here (CTO Clement) and here (Community manager Stuart)

When did you start in crypto?

I first really paid attention to Bitcoin in late 2013 when it was getting a lot of media attention due to the rising prices. That is when I read the Bitcoin whitepaper; my first reaction was to try to think about possible versions of proof-of-work that would solve independently interesting arithmetic problems as a side product. It turned out something like that already existed in Primecoin, which has a proof-of-work involving finding certain chains of primes.

In any event I was preoccupied with finishing my PhD (which was on other problems in cryptography related to elliptic curves that predated blockchains), so blockchains stayed in the back of my mind until 2015 when my PhD was finished and I had the opportunity to do academic work on them.

A lot of my work during the postdocs I did prior to joining Kleros had some kind of industrial collaborator or financing, so it generally looked at blockchains in semi-permissioned settings with applications to things like identity management.

Why were you attracted to crypto?

The world of cryptocurrencies is a fascinating mix of the kinds of cryptographic protocols I was working on before with game theory, ideology and politics. So it ties a lot of my interests together. And being relatively new, there are a lot of interesting open research problems to solve.

William (right) during Kleros’ team working session in Paris. March, 2018.

Talk about your role in Kleros. What does a cryptoeconomics researcher do?

I work on mathematical models that represent the Kleros protocol (or in less ambitious cases, some aspect of the protocol), and prove security properties. Things like, “if you assume a bound on the resources of attacking parties and certain rationality assumptions on the actors, then you can prove some desirable property”. There is a lot of game theory, mixed with choosing the right cryptographic tools and structures so that you have a good chance to be able to prove the kinds of properties that you want.

When you are not thinking about game theory problems, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy language learning, and am pretty much always working through a Duolingo or an Assimil course. A few have become a part of my daily life (French, and to a lesser degree Spanish). However I suffer a bit from the paradox of choice, so there is also a fair amount of skipping from one language to another without focusing enough to make real progress.

One can also often find me lurking in art museums (if only on a bench in the corner with a pad of paper working on game theory problems) and/or otherwise reading and thinking about the history of art. As there are now “shares” of paintings by prominent artists like Warhol being sold on blockchain platforms, maybe my interests will converge.

William, Sam and Clément, during Kleros’ team meeting in Paris. March 2018.

What’s your history in technology? Were you a gamer or hacker growing up?

I was always too much of an above-board person to be attracted to hacking. I also was never a particularly hard core gamer, but there are certainly some games that had an impact on my childhood. I was a big fan of the Legend of Zelda series growing up. I am a sucker for that kind of mix of logic puzzles and epic storytelling. I’ve been pretty busy over the last months/years, but Breath of the Wild is very much on my to-do list.

The legendary ‘Ocarina of Time’ on N64.

Where do you think the crypto ecosystem will be in three years?

This is a hard question, because in some ways three years is an eternity in the crypto space — remember Ethereum had only just launched three years ago. But, at the same time, three years is a short enough period of time that if things go poorly, the community could spend that long stuck on a technical problem. That said, I am optimistic about the progress being made on things like scaling and proof-of-stake.

Moreover, in three years I think there is a good chance that there will be a solid number of dapps that will be getting wide use (beyond games and currencies), even if they haven’t really gone “mainstream” yet and most of the users are still people that are already passionate about crypto.

William explaining Kleros’ native token, PNK.

What’s the biggest challenge for crypto to become mainstream?

Of course there are mathematical/technical problems around scaling that people are working on resolving. However, I think the biggest impact on crypto becoming mainstream will happen as a broader selection of applications are developed to attack a variety of different kinds of problems.

A lot of people that entered early did so because crypto gave them a medium of exchange that doesn’t require trusting a bank; however, I think much of the population is willing to trust their financial institutions, so there wasn’t necessarily a use case for those people at the beginning.

On the other hand, more and more applications are being developed that deal with situations where widely trusted third parties either don’t currently exist or aren’t well adapted to certain user needs (already, one of the clearest “mainstream” applications of Bitcoin is its ability to do international transfers faster and more efficiently than the traditional banking system). Of course, as decentralized solutions become more practical, what kinds of third parties people are willing to trust may itself change.

I think we are still in the relatively early stages of identifying and using blockchains to solve such problems. This is one of the reasons I am particularly excited about Kleros, as it provides a solution for situations where the existing justice system isn’t affordable or is too logistically complicated to be useable, such as resolution of small claims disputes, particularly across international borders.

Once the community finds a sufficient number of the “right” real-world problems to attack, where crypto uses its ability to provide new trust models to replace structures that the broader population is currently unsatisfied with, and once it is user friendly enough for these people, crypto will weave its way into people’s daily lives.


Kleros

The Justice Protocol. A Dispute Resolution Layer for the decentralized age

William George

Written by

Blockchain and cryptoeconomics researcher for Kleros. PhD in mathematics (Univ of Toronto, 2015) related to cryptography. Subsequent research on blockchains.

Kleros

Kleros

The Justice Protocol. A Dispute Resolution Layer for the decentralized age

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