01 November 2015

Talking bitcoin and blockchain in Moscow, Russia!

I spent the week in Moscow as an invited panelist for the Open Innovations Forum and Technology Show. I spoke on FinTech 2020, about bitcoin, blockchains, and "how the digital revolution will change the financial industry".

I also did a TV interview (forthcoming) and spoke with Elisaveta Vereshchagina of CoinFox, on making bitcoin and blockchain growth accessible to everyone. That interview is copied below.

Вы, Москва, для вашего хлебосольства!

During the Open Innovations show in Moscow CoinFox spoke to Caterina Rindi, the bitcoin enthusiast and educator who works on enlightment in the sphere of collaborative economy.

Coming from San Francisco, US, she has been the Community Manager for bitcoin startup SWARM and spent the whole 2014 travelling across Europe and talking to people about bitcoin.

CoinFox: Let’s start from the very beginning. Could you elaborate on what has led you to the industry?

Caterina Rindi: The economic downturn in the United States in 2008-2009 made me and many of my peers re-examine what we were doing with work and finance. At this time I discovered the sharing economy, collaborative economy, a lot of peer-to-peer types of interactions and the work around that. That is how I discovered bitcoin. Bitcoin is completely peer-to-peer, decentralized, and it’s worldwide. Before, when our world was smaller, I could exchange some goods, say, clothing, with my neighbours only. Now I can exchange things on a larger scale.

And I like the opportunity bitcoin offers to the people who don’t have money, who don’t have bank accounts or IDs. In the US, we have a lot of immigrants from other countries. Some arrive legally, some “not legally”, but they are all there and they’re all working. And those working don’t have access to bank accounts or any other services, as they are considered “illegal”. With something like bitcoin anybody can do financial transactions and use these kinds of services. It is an equalizer, in fact. And that’s what was very appealing to me.

CoinFox: So you decided to dedicate yourself to promoting this kind of technology...

Caterina Rindi: My personal background is in education, teaching children, so when I realized I could understand the technology and teach it to more people, I went that way. My last position was with a company called SWARM which is doing peer-to-peer crowdfunding using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. My title was the Community Manager, so it was all about communication and education. As our community was worldwide, I was travelling everywhere to meet people and to talk to people.

CoinFox: Do you then see bitcoin as something which is more about people and their ability to rely on each other than just about money? Not long ago a prominent Russian economist called cryptocurrencies “the material embodiment of mutual trust”…

Caterina Rindi: It’s interesting because in a way it is trustless, there is no trust, you don’t even have to know the other person, as bitcoin transactions are cryptographically secured and private. But at the same time they come out of a notion of peer-to-peer communication instead of trusting a government or a bank or a corporation. It is indeed about trusting our peers and other people as individuals, as opposed to large organizations and institutions, but the technology itself does not require trust, so it is sort of an interesting mix.
Banks and leading corporations have traditionally ignored the bottom socio-economic portion of our society, and I think that’s a mistake and they will lose opportunities in the long run. I think that if they learn to adapt, if then they learn to listen to and to engage and to appreciate their customers and clients, then they can stay relevant. But right now many of them are building private blockchains, which, I think, is completely missing the point.

CoinFox: How do you assess the emerging cooperation between the companies which specialize in cryptocurrencies and some governmental bodies, specifically in the field of what is called national security?

Caterina Rindi: I think that the organizations like the NSA and the FBI are interested in controlling information. They are interested in surveillance of individuals and not even individuals — they do mass surveillance instead of supervising just one potential criminal. So it depends on whether the businesses consider the needs of their customers when they collaborate with said services or not. If not, they are not actually serving the best interests.
People have been launching services like Facebook on blockchain because people want to have social interaction without the exposure, without being controlled… For example, Synereo.com.

CoinFox: So the technologies are being used much broader than just for the purposes directly related to money, aren’t they?

Caterina Rindi: Yes, absolutely yes, they have been used for many purposes now. There are social interactive networks; there is a company called Lazooz which is similar to Uber, with people driving cars and taking passengers, but it is all built on blockchain and they are using cryptocurrencies. It is peer-to-peer, there is no corporation making money out of this.

Though it does sound quite inspiring, both bitcoin and blockchain are still too far from getting really widespread. What do you think can be done to promote the technology to a wider audience?

Caterina Rindi: I’m optimistic. I think, education, which I am trying to do, is essential. But in general it is all very technologically complicated, and it really needs to be simplified. Now there are many software engineers working on the technology. They are a minority of the world but they are the ones who know the most. So we need to translate what they are doing for the rest of the world, for everyone who does not speak computer languages. The thing is to make it accessible for an average person, to make it easy to use.

We also have to involve more people in the process of creating these different uses for the technology. We need to involve philosophers; we need to involve artists, lawyers, teachers and everyone. If there is only a software engineer designing something, then it will look like a software engineer’s screen. But if we have an artist in there or we have an architect, then it is more likely to look like something that other people can also use.

Maria Rudina