The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Our Responsibility
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In February, I was getting ready to leave Dubai and move back to New York with an exciting new job opportunity. In my long career in technology, I have had the opportunity to play a role in creating and scaling impactful fintech entities around the globe- for instance, it was exciting to be the Executive Vice president for Technology helping to establish entities such as the Egyptian Stock Exchange in my hometown of Cairo.
However, my plan to make my way out of the Middle East didn’t pan out. Blockchain is a technology that I strongly feel will revolutionize fintech, and so, when I heard about Dubai’s mandate to be the first blockchain-powered city by 2020, I suddenly reconsidered my move. I read that ConsenSys, which had been appointed as the Blockchain City Advisor by the Smart Dubai Office. I reached out to them, and within days, I was hired as its Executive Director to help oversee their engagement with the Smart Dubai team.
Some words from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage have always haunted me, revolving in my head, resonating as an intriguing concept. In his odyssey, Byron says: “I do believe, -though I have found them not, that there may be words which are things, hopes- which will not deceive… that two, or one, are almost what they seem, that goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.” It has inspired me for a long time, and also influenced the decision I made about what I should do next with my career.
Throughout my work as a technology professional, specializing in fintech, I could always imagine a world, like the poet's, where people trusted each other, transactions were clear and simple, and value and rights were preserved. In our work and daily life, we all spend a lot of time and effort using technology to manage and remedy risk, settlement and defaults, reconciliation of positions, exception and error handling, in addition to fraud, money laundering, and cyber theft. Whole industries are built to address those challenges. Businesses spend billions of dollars to face and fix the risks that arise with every transaction conducted around the world.
I have invested a large part of my career working in technology for the payments and banking industry, as well as in compliance and risk management. As technologies evolved to make financial transactions easier and more seamless, threats and cybercrime emerged at a similar rate, preventing us from reaping the maximal benefits of the wonderful and exponential growth of modern technology. I have witnessed the world of payments become more connected, and watched as the emergence of e-commerce, online and mobile payments took the world by storm and transformed our daily life.
I have always been inspired and motivated by how technology can bridge gaps, geographical or otherwise, connect people, and enable value and money exchange in more progressive ways. Yet, despite the tremendous steps that financial transactional technology made, it also created an elitist reality where we began to call out the difference between banked versus the unbanked, and where even remittances and the most innovative and creative payment methods could not dismantle the barriers between large segments of the populations worldwide.
This segmentation, in turn, mirrored a world reality where the quality of life, the maturity of regulatory systems preserving the values and rights of the individual, and the access to good services for all individuals followed closely, and was quite correlated.
Compounded by the limitations levied by compliance, anti-money laundering requirements (all quite legitimate and necessary to avert all sorts of risks and cybercrimes), the impact of the advances and innovations of technology was always undermined.
The stage was set for a fundamental, almost DNA-level change, a reset of the way technology operated. It became a new medium, so to speak. Then, a few years ago, a disruptive way of doing business started making waves. For technologists like myself, this noise could not be ignored, and the more I tuned into it, the clearer the potential disruption became. Bitcoin made us all examine money and payments systems and technology, inspired us to look beyond the initial dark and negative connotations and into the possibilities. But, it still did not put in focus a core solution to address many of the ailments, as it continued to be defined as a digital currency.
Then two years ago, almost to the day, ethereum was born. The world computer was real, and the internet of value became a reality. Provenance, traceability, immutability, instant value transfer, all became attainable and realizable targets, for any industry, for any transaction, for any asset. That was a turning point. The implications of this new technology on the state of the world of payments and value were crystal clear to me. The applications to the elusive problems of identity, know your customer (KYC), and elimination of complicated anti-money laundering (AML) methods were exciting. Across the board, this new technology promised to end the disparity of populations according to “banking” ability and access to systems. This new technology meant the generation and distribution of economic value, and the accessibility and finality of ownership rights to anyone, without limitations, geographic, demographic, economic or otherwise.
My decision about my career was made when I realized that this technology can only realize its full, wonderful potential, when people who believed in it, like I did, gave it their best time and effort. And so, I did. I changed my focus to dedicate my time to get to know ethereum, study the technology, explore the possibilities it opened up, and connect with other passionate believers like myself. The internet of value, the fourth industrial revolution, the world computer, was here, and I could not but think about smart contracts in the words of my old poet friend: “I do believe that there may be words which are things,” leading to a world where “goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.”
I believe in the beautiful future and applications which blockchain will make possible, and in the net positive impact on the quality of life for all people. The best is yet to come.