Announcing March's Blockchain Leader!
The purpose of techUK's Blockchain Leader of the month campaign is to showcase tech leaders that are playing a crucial role in driving forward the development of emerging enterprise solutions that can establish trust, help organisations with adoption and bring to life use cases across sectors.
This is also an opportunity to learn from those working in Blockchain about the latest developments and trends in this exciting, emerging and potentially transformative technology.
What are your current responsibilities in your role and what does a typical day involve?
My day job is that of a lawyer with Clifford Chance advising on commercial and equity Court proceedings and arbitrations in Australia and internationally. Together with a group of other tech minded lawyers, I co-founded the Digital Law Association (DLA), an all-volunteer organisation established to promote diversity at the intersection of technology, law and policy. My typical day involves finding opportunities to promote education, diverse discussion and collaboration in emerging tech. This includes running seminars and participating in panels on blockchain, digital assets, AI and quantum computing and organising/working on submissions on emerging tech issues to governments, international bodies etc.
Recently I co-led a submission to the Australian Commonwealth Attorney-General on Privacy and emerging technology. The DLA's submission focussed on personal information, identifying:
- key principles to be used to guide decisions around the protection of privacy, including, encouraging the move to digital identity management systems through Self Sovereign Identity – which would enable distributed ledger technology to be used to create a permission-less, interoperable and decentralised digital identity framework; and
- ways to protect an individual's right to privacy through legal guardrails to ensure transparency and due process, for example, in areas of automated decision making, to ensure that a person has a right to reasons and of appeal when their legal rights are affected.
The DLA has also recently published an open Discussion Paper on First Nations representation in the Metaverse, which I co-authored with another DLA director and two First Nation Cultural Brokers, Dr Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat of the Yupungathi and Meriam Nations and Bibi Barba of the Darumbal – Biri Gubi – Gadigal – Yuin Nations. In the Paper, we discuss the importance of promoting recognition of First Nations culture and connection to Lore in the metaverse, through for example, the setting up of First Nation cultural embassies in the various platforms of the metaverse.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
Encouraging diverse discussion in the areas of law and emerging tech. Being able to discuss with my peers and publishing on the next frontiers of tech, web 3.0, the metaverse, AI, quantum computing and the legal issues that arise at the intersection of law and technology, to:
- protect the rights of individuals;
- ensure operational transparency;
- determine liability, for example, at various points in the AI quantum chain;
- create ethical standards for regulating the research and application of emerging technologies; and
- create international standards, for example, to ensure equitable access.
Why is Blockchain so important to UK right now and what does the future hold for adoption and maturity of Blockchain in the UK?
Blockchain, with its elements of immutability, transparency and traceability, is an important base from which new technologies and use cases can develop and grow, for example, allowing for smart contracts to automate supply chain relationships, and to create greater security with regards to personal data.
What industries or sectors of the UK economy do you think could benefits from adopting and using Blockchain technology and why?
Decentralised services are the future. Blockchain is not confined to just one particular use case. It can be used in almost every industry/sector that can benefit from permanent, immutable, decentralised and transparent verification to share/track information or anything of value (in trade, finance, property, banking, government, mining resources etc.).
Blockchain has clear advantages over other tech especially when it comes to commercial relationships as it creates trust with its verifiable immutable audit trail and this can be used, for example, to record every action in a supply chain, for regulatory compliance, contract management, identity management, etc. – consequently, its potential uses are endless.
What do you think is the key challenges, issue or barriers that needs to be broken down if we are to make the UK Blockchain ready?
Energy consumption is a key challenge. Blockchains consume enormous amounts of energy. For example, with Bitcoin, the security of the system is built into the enormous amount of computing power that is required to run it. According to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Bitcoin currently consumes an estimated yearly amount of 137.67 Terawatt Hours (https://ccaf.io/cbeci/index). In 2021, the BBC reported that if Bitcoin was a country, it would be in the top 30 energy users worldwide, and was using more energy than Argentina (Cristina Criddle," Bitcoin consumes 'more electricity than Argentina'", BBC, 10 February 2021). In 2022, Forbes reported that Ethereum and Bitcoin mining operations together were responsible for "emitting more than 78 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equal to the annual tailpipe emissions of more than 15.5 million cars" (Ted Knutson, "Crypto Energy Consumption Enormous But It Needn’t Be, Congressional Panel Hears", Forbes, 20 January 2022).
Reducing blockchain's carbon footprint, especially in the crypto community, is key to ensure its benefits are worth the resources needed to sustain it. We need to look at answers to the following: How much of the mining can be done using renewable energy, like wind, solar or hydropower? Is proof of stake (as opposed to proof of work) the solution to the energy concerns?
How can the Blockchain industry and market equip organisations with the understanding, skills and knowledge to make the right Blockchain decisions for now and for the future? Do we have everything we need?
Education is key. Increasing the number of people with the right skills-set and knowledge, will lead to a greater overall understanding of how blockchain will be able to benefit organisations, by making their day to day transactions more efficient, reliable and secure.
Also the blockchain industry and market could be more proactive in seeking better (and adaptable) regulations to provide guardrails for responsible research and use cases (see below section on DAOs below).
What is your prediction for how Blockchain and DLT Technologies will change the way organisations operate in 2021 and beyond?
Blockchain technology which has allowed for the development of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs), has, in my opinion, the potential to revolutionise company law, moving it from a hierarchical system of governance, with a board of directors, to one that is decentralised, democratic and transparent. With its rules encoded on a blockchain, DAOs remove the need for third party interference in, for example, a financial transaction, by automating those transactions through the use of smart contracts, when approved by its members, who vote on decisions as to what enterprise the DAO should undertake, to achieve the DOA's agreed common purpose.
The DAO concept stumbled in 2016 with the unfortunately named, "The DAO", when a hacker exploiting an issue with its code base, managed to draw $50 million worth of ether from the DAO before it was stopped by Ethereum having to hard fork its blockchain to restore the siphoned funds, creating concerns around security and debate as to whether code should be law.
Today, due to the explosion of Decentralised Finance (DeFi) in 2020, there is renewed interest in DAOs, and its limitless possibilities for actors to act with common purpose, for example, to invest, fundraise and to collect NFTs and other assets.
However, DAOs in most jurisdictions are not supported by any regulatory structure (addressing issues of taxation and other legal uncertainties, as to member responsibility and potential liabilities), bearing in mind that these entities are not homogenous in their operation. In order to truly flourish, establish on a large scale and give long term benefit to its members, a DAO needs to be wrapped in legal personality for example, that of a limited liability company. This, in my opinion, is what we need to be working on now.
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Sue leads techUK's Technology and Innovation work.
This includes work programmes on cloud, data protection, data analytics, AI, digital ethics, Digital Identity and Internet of Things as well as emerging and transformative technologies and innovation policy. She has been recognised as one of the most influential people in UK tech by Computer Weekly's UKtech50 Longlist and in 2021 was inducted into the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK Tech Hall of Fame. A key influencer in driving forward the data agenda in the UK Sue is co-chair of the UK government's National Data Strategy Forum. As well as being recognised in the UK's Big Data 100 and the Global Top 100 Data Visionaries for 2020 Sue has also been shortlisted for the Milton Keynes Women Leaders Awards and was a judge for the Loebner Prize in AI. In addition to being a regular industry speaker on issues including AI ethics, data protection and cyber security, Sue was recently a judge for the UK Tech 50 and is a regular judge of the annual UK Cloud Awards.
Prior to joining techUK in January 2015 Sue was responsible for Symantec's Government Relations in the UK and Ireland. She has spoken at events including the UK-China Internet Forum in Beijing, UN IGF and European RSA on issues ranging from data usage and privacy, cloud computing and online child safety. Before joining Symantec, Sue was senior policy advisor at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sue has an BA degree on History and American Studies from Leeds University and a Masters Degree on International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Birmingham. Sue is a keen sportswoman and in 2016 achieved a lifelong ambition to swim the English Channel.
Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.
The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.
Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.