Leaders Series: Catherine Mulligan @ Imperial College

Issue 6 — March 6th, 2017

This series highlights the unique stories of leaders from various communities across the growing digital currency and blockchain technology industry. The goal is to showcase the fantastic work these leaders are all doing at different levels of their respective organizations, and to encourage more people at all stages of their careers join the revolution we’re creating, together!

Catherine Mulligan is Co-Director of the Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency Engineering and Research

With 2 decades of experience in tech and telecommunications, Catherine has been working on blockchain technology for the past 3 years. In addition to leading an academic research group, Catherine also serves as an advisor to two blockchain startups, Guardtime and Everledger.

When did you get into bitcoin?

I first heard about Bitcoin in about 2009/2010 while I was completing my PhD and thought it was an interesting experiment. I followed its development closely and started to explore it in depth in about 2013 as I wanted to understand its potential role in enabling distributed economies. I am really interested in its applications beyond financial services, especially for cybersecurity. I was approached to join the Centre for Cryptocurrency as the professor who was running it wanted to ensure we had a deeply interdisciplinary approach to the technology.

What did you do before you got into this?

I worked for 15 years in the tech industry in a variety of roles including software engineer, end-to-end systems manager, and portfolio manager. I then pursued a Masters and a PhD at Cambridge University and have been working in academia since. While I’m mostly in academia, I still work closely with companies and sometimes do some consulting to ensure my industry brain remains sharp.

What’s been the most interesting experience you’ve had in your role so far?

Realizing how big an impact this technology can have on so many industries — it’s amazing to see the types of opportunities that come through our doors every day and I think this technology has massive potential to redefine our economy and society. On a personal level, the application of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to protect critical infrastructure has been the most fun so far.

You work across various parts of the ecosystem — you’re leading research as well as advising two early stage companies. What motivates and excites you?

At the college, we are pursing a varied research agenda around DLT which covers all aspects of digital disruption and all industry verticals. I am passionate about it as something new comes up everyday. It allows us to work together extensively across the college, breaking down silos within the organization and delivering real cutting-edge research, innovation, and insight for companies and governments.

On the startup side, Everledger has created a digital vault that tracks and protects valuable assets using the blockchain — they are working with hugely exciting tech and some of the solutions they have developed around privacy are truly ground-breaking. The team is talented and enthusiastic — I love thinking about and building the future with them

Guardtime, meanwhile, is working to secure the world’s data using blockchain technology. I’m particularly excited about the application of their solutions into telecommunications and into smart city verticals because I think it is critical to ensuring those markets remain viable and open in the long-term.

What do you think will help accelerate the growth of the space? What kind of catalyst is needed?

This is a nascent technology and many of the markets it is moving into are well-established — it will take patience to get the consortia together so the overall market can gain serious traction. Once we see those consortia formed, I think the market uptake of blockchain will be more rapid than predicted as it has the potential to both save money and create new innovation opportunites.

What opportunities do you think will surprise people in the near term? What developments will take longer to emerge? And how do you think this technology might start to change our world?

In the short term, I think the application of blockchain together with IoT to assure data integrity will blow people’s minds. In the longer term, I think that people will be disappointed with the speed of uptake in large institutions like central banks. This will take a long time due to the potential impacts on monetary policy — those need in-depth research and regulatory change. That’s not to say it won’t happen, it will just take longer than expected.

For me, blockchain is the first truly digital economy technology we have actually seen — by bringing true economic exchange into networks that are controlled by individuals. I think that blockchain will truly accelerate a new form of economic structure that will eventually destroy the industrial economic system and associated economies of scale and scope that have driven human activity for the last 200 years.

Thanks to Catherine for sharing her story. Connect with her on LinkedIn!

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