Our Blockchain at Michigan team was stunned to hear the Director of MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative kick off the Crypto Springs conference with a powerful statement:“I hope it all tanks.” Neha Narula, a Ph.D. from MIT, TED speaker, and avid advocate for blockchain, challenged the audience to cut through the hype and focus on user-centric design, technology, and the shared values of the crypto community.
Following Narula’s opening, leaders at Crypto Springs engaged in thought-provoking dialogue exploring technological advancements in blockchain and the indispensable value of user-centric design. Sarah Gregory of Coinbase led a roundtable discussion on how blockchain enthusiasts can explain to newcomers that cryptocurrencies have the potential to transform the world: “They are more than just another medium of exchange or a speculative investment.” She stressed the importance of providing people with a tangible reason for using cryptocurrency, such as faster international payments. Her vision for user-centric design gave us a perspective on how to create a narrative around the true value that crypto has to offer those beyond our community.
Digging deeper into user experience, Amber Baldet’s talk about the decentralized web sparked our team’s curiosity about the nuanced impact of data privacy in the world today. A key benefit of decentralization we often hear about is that users will be able to control their own data. In the information age, where big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon harvest and monetize their users’ data, many newcomers to blockchain find the data privacy aspect of decentralization irresistible. However, Baldet shared a compelling anecdote about her personal life that caused us to reconsider our views around convenience, privacy, and security.
Baldet spoke of how she captures moments with her young child by taking many photos, and that as a busy mother it would be difficult to sort through these photos herself to create an album of memories. She explained that as a user, she admires the convenience of technology when Google applies black-box algorithms to assemble a meaningful photo album out of thousands of pictures. Instead of pouring hours into selecting photos on her own, Baldet would prefer purchasing an algorithmically generated photo album from Google. Her unique perspective helped inform our team’s understanding of how users might sometimes overlook privacy and security in favor of convenience.
During a lunch break, our team enjoyed the privilege of engaging in a roundtable discussion with Christina Lomazzo, the Blockchain Lead at UNICEF Innovation Ventures. We were excited to learn that UNICEF funds startups that create open-source technologies for social impact. Lomazzo detailed numerous opportunities in this area, such as the ability to track vaccines to their final destinations, the capacity to provide digital identities for the millions of undocumented people in the world, and the creation of task-based bounty networks for refugee camps. While we take powerful mobile technology and reliable network connectivity for granted, these luxuries do not yet exist in developing nations. Keeping this in mind, we recognized the importance of taking technological constraints into account when building products for everyone to use.
The Crypto Springs community reflects a microcosm of what our blockchain club is working to become: a diverse group of dedicated individuals united by the belief that blockchain technology has the ability to improve the world. With 25 engineers in our first cohort, Blockchain at Michigan will be building impactful decentralized applications and conducting research on scalability and privacy. Aly Oda, Nach Dakwale, David Kobrosky, and Dheera Vuppala are thrilled to bring the knowledge and values of Crypto Springs back to the University of Michigan to help develop the future leaders of the blockchain space.
Thank you to the Michigan College of Engineering, the Barger Leadership Institute, and the Crypto Springs Organizing Team for the generous support that made our trip possible.
By Nach Dakwale