Hello UTU Trust Guardians!
Our Co-Founder & CEO Jason Eisen, Co-Founder & CTO Bastian Blankenburg, and CCO Mike Chan answered a bunch of questions about what UTU is, its use cases, how we’ll work with the Oasis team, and more.
If you missed it, here’s a recap of the questions and answers that were exchanged during the AMA.
Q1: I’d like to welcome Jason, Bastian and Mike from the UTU team. Please introduce yourselves to our community.
I studied and did a PhD in computer science/distributed AI. This involved multiagent systems using game theory, risk models, trust models etc. It also involved building payment protocols that incentivised agents to adhere to the protocol, before blockchain came along. So nowadays one would use smart contracts for some of this, and I find it exciting which possibilities for distributed systems are now available.
Later worked in industry, then moved to Kenya because of private reasons. Met Jason who convinced me to join his startup, the taxi app MARAMOJA, because he had this great idea for a trust mechanism. That’s because the taxi sector had traditionally a lot of crime here, and people prefer known drivers. Then from that we spun off UTU, to make its own product of the trust mechanism.
I’m Jason. I’m a serial entrepreneur. I grew up between Boston and Nashville. I spent 10 years in Washington DC, first at university at The American University (studied International Relations) then 7 years as a consultant for USAID, World Bank, and others. I started spending time in East Africa through that work in 2010 and moved to Kenya in 2013 to start (at the time) the first Taxi App anywhere in Africa, MARAMOJA. We realized in the process of building that taxi app that we were solving the wrong problem. we realized the problem was actually about Trust and began to focus our attention there, building better models of digital trust. This was the birth of UTU.
Hi everyone, I’m Mike, the Chief Commercial Officer of UTU. Jason and Bastian are the stars of the show, so I’ll just jump in when needed!
Q2: Would you give us an overview of how UTU got started and what it is?
UTU’s vision is to become the trust infrastructure of the entire internet. Our mission is to bridge the gap between how people trust in real life and how they are asked to trust online. We believe in a more human friendly internet, data as a human right, and the need to avoid digital trust dystopias as we’ve seen portrayed and played out in various contexts around the world. We provide trust infrastructure as a service to make the internet a safer more trusted place to gather, work, share, trade, etc. As I mentioned, we started first as an emphasis on trust within this taxi app and then discovered the power of what we were building and started to realized that platforms of all sorts, all over the world, had similar problems with trust
As mentioned, we developed the basic mechanism in our taxi app. It shows personal recommendations like “Your friend Paul likes this driver”. But we soon got requests from other platforms/apps all over the world, and realised that this should be its own product. Technically, we’re looking at who knows whom, and use some ML and other AI techniques to learn whom a user is likely to trust most for a recommendation, or any kind of feedback.
RE: [Jon Poole from Oasis, host]
Trust and Privacy within data share some very common issues. You don’t realize you need it until it’s too late.
Q3: UTU is all about increasing trust for the entire internet. What are the digital trust problems that currently exist and how are you solving them?
There are three core problems as I see it. Let me walk through them…
1. Theory of trust — Digital trust currently is basically a legacy of what Ebay gave us in the 90s when we were just buying some collectibles and some aggregated, averaged, anonymous feedback was good enough. Meanwhile the whole internet has evolved around us and digital trust mechanisms have not. We abandon this one size fits all model of a universal scorecard for trust, and instead seek a descriptive model of trust, filtered by our own networks of trust and evaluated dynamically based on the options available…you could think about it like best fit vs. highest rating.
2. Delivery mechanism. Trust has been hitherto delivered as a product — either as a consumer-facing review platform (yelp, tripadvisor, google reviews, etc) or as an afterthought inside products (“let’s throw a 5 star system on it and call it a day”). But trust isn’t a product…its infrastructure. It should be delivered as such. We serve up our Trust Infrastructure via API/Oracle so platforms and marketplaces can consume them as infrastructure. This also eliminates that massive manipulation ability on consumer platforms where I can create limitless accounts and manipulate the trustworthiness of any product or service I want.
3. The economics of digital trust. All of the economic incentives around digital trust are for the abuse/manipulation thereof. Fake reviews, bot armies, they all manipulate trust and tend to yield rewards for those that buy (and sell) such services. Meanwhile, good projects/people that only focus on value creation might languish on the side. We designed our token model to address both sides — to eliminate the ability to “buy Trust,” while creating a positive economic incentive to build trust — defined as facilitating good outcomes
Q4: Who are UTU’s customers and what are some use cases for your technology?
Our customers are any sort of marketplace or platform for digital transactions, especially anywhere a user is exposed to risk we tend to think about use cases based on risk; risk being the key corollary to trust. The more risk I feel, the more trust I want.
So what are the things we feel the most risk about? Our family, health, home, business, and assets.
Any transaction that exposes any of these things to any sort of risk, is a transaction that UTU can improve.
Q5: Let’s talk a little about the token, I see that UTU has a dual token model. Can you provide more insight into how that works?
UTU Trust Token (UTT) measures the “positive participation” in the system. Trustworthiness is one aspect of this, which therefore should not be buyable, but can only be earned. So UTT is really the heart of the protocol, but because it cannot be bought, and it is not investable.
For the monetary aspects of the system, there is UTU Coin, which is a tradeable (ERC20 on Ethereum, but will exist on other chains) token, and people should be able to buy (and sell) it because it will be required for consuming our services.
Then, to further incentivise people to earn UTT, we want them to be able to convert it to UTU Coin to a limited extent. This will happen via an auction mechanism.
Q6: What about one of the hottest sectors in Blockchain right now, DeFi. DeFi is obviously huge in crypto right now. What roles does UTU play in DeFi?
There are several DeFi use cases of our mechanism, and a variant of it which determines creditworthiness. We actually wrote a whole concept note around this: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1leSJCpJpF5cSbHehVuBpXUbDWVC4yGvOBPqaeqaRAxo/edit?usp=sharing
In short, it’s about enabling under-collateralised lending, and trust in basic DeFi infrastructure.
While blockchain enables trustless execution of smart contracts, whether a user trusts the protocol design, auditors, UI etc. of a DeFi app is another question…
We also have our own DeFi Portal d-app which helps with this latter issue: https://defi-portal.utu.io
Currently in its MVP version, will get an update with the full UTU recommendations soon.
Q7: Would you talk about how UTU and Oasis will work together on this partnership?
As a bit of context, a big part of our vision is the elevation of privacy from a setting to a feature.
We can both benefit from each other. In our mechanism, we want to enable users to exactly specify which services — including UTU’s own — might use which of their data, for which purpose, and which privacy and anonymity constraints, and earn some UTT from this in the process. Oasis provides some of the required underlying privacy-preserving data provision infrastructure, so this is an easy fit. But UTU can also help Oasis’ users to make informed choices e.g. about which data from others to trust etc. As mentioned before, trust and data privacy are deeply linked.
Another big use case is that UTU’s credit scoring models can be used by DeFi apps built on Oasis to facilitate undercollateralized lending
Our Differential Privacy, our ability to tokenize data and our shared views on taking on the modern internet make us a perfect fit.
Q8: What are some of the ways our community can follow you?
Folks can join us in our telegram t.me/ututrust
Don’t forget Twitter! https://twitter.com/UTU_trust
Q9: How well can the confidential computational code modularize its use of SGX so it can be easily replaced if something better comes along?
Personally, I like to avoid SGX and rely more on 0k-proofs and multiparty computation for our mechanism. However for some use cases it might be inevitable to use it, but we will need to look into the details when it gets to that point.
Q10: How does UTU view Privacy first features versus Privacy as a setting?
To me it’s about the care and effort put into the interfaces they should be as beautiful and enjoyable, easy to use as any other aspect of a product. Giving prime real estate and concern for the user interwoven at every key moment. The burden is on actors such as us to make interfaces that meet people where they’re comfortable rather than expecting them to come to us.
As mentioned, we want users to be able to specify exactly how any of their data can be used or to whom it can be shown under which conditions. This is a privacy-first design, because every bit our protocol has privacy concerns and controls. Technically, there will be some settings which users have to use to specify their own needs, but we’re in the process of getting some research together with the UKRI TAS (Trusted Autonomous Systems) Hub started to figure out how to do this the right way. I.e. even if we want to give users complete control, it has to be understandable and usable by non-techie / non-privacy expert users! There’s a lot to be done particularly on d-apps/blockchain. However for some, this might mean giving more control easier rather than making all the choices for users…
Encapsulating specific sets of data for third party use is where Oasis stands alone from the competition. User interface is going to be everything when it comes to revolutionizing the way our modern systems are used today. If it’s not simple and attractive we won’t gain attention from those who have a challenge using technology. Mass adoption included all those people right now who don’t fully understand what Blockchain is, so we both have our work cut out for us with taking on the modern way of doing things!
That’s the end of the AMA. Stay tuned for more AMAs and updates around UTU’s developments in building trust in the digital world!