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Expert interview with UCLA blockchain professor Dr. Bhagwan Chowdhry
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Bhagwan Chowdhry Transcript


Dr. Chowdhry:

As an academic, we have a privilege. That we get sabbaticals every now and then. So, I spent a year in 2004, when I was on sabbatical, and that's when I wanted to learn about Bitcoin. I wanted to learn about cryptography. That's when I started learning about it. Reading about it. And, as I read more, and learned more about it, I got very excited.

Blockchain is important because, it allows you to create a record of history that cannot be changed. It allows you to create a record that is not controlled by any central authority. And, I think those two features make it an incredible combination.

I offered a class at UCLA Anderson in the last spring, for the first time. It was very popular. This year, I'm teaching another class again. And, it was absolutely full. I had to turn many students away, because there wasn't enough room in the class.

So, right now we offered one section. But, I'm anticipating that in the future we will be able to offer more sections of the same class.

I think blockchain is going to change the way we look at many different industries. It's going to certainly change the way we think about finance. We think about banking. It's going to change the way we think about law. The way we think about contracts. It is also going to change the way we think about humanities, arts. It's going to change the way government services are provided. So, I think this is a revolution that is just beginning. And, in 10 years, the world is gonna look very different.

Everywhere I go, or, when I travel, everywhere I go, the governments, and the private sectors, they are getting involved in blockchain and they want to learn more about it. And, I give talks everywhere. The governments have invited me to talk about it.

So, yes. The phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. or Europe. It's everywhere.

One big take away is that people need to understand that blockchain is just not about crypto currency. It started as a Bitcoin protocol. That gave us the technology. But, it's implications go far beyond money, or money transfer. It allows us to create records of anything. Beyond currency. Our contracts. The way we write a birth certificate, or a death certificate, or, land records. Even the way we write contracts with each other. So, it has a much wider applicability, even though people seem to be more excited about Bitcoin, because of all the news it gets. And, all the volatility that's going on with crypto currencies.

Suddenly there's going be an increased use. Just like other things. This is a technique. And, just like what happened, with internet 20 years ago. Similar thing is likely to happen with what blockchain allows us to do.

So, yes, we are gonna see more courses. We are gonna see more applications. And, as people learn more about it, we won't see it as a crypto thing. We will see it as a new way of doing business. A new way of writing contracts. New way of creating institutions that create trust, without using some central authority.

In 2009, I, and a few colleagues of mine, thought about this idea of ... How we can include people who are financially and socially excluded from transactions, from formal systems? And, the idea was that we start at birth. So, there were three pillars to financial access at birth. A, we create an identity. It is an electronic identity. B, for every child that is born, we endow them with a $100 deposit, so you're starting with an asset, right at the beginning. And, C, we are gonna make sure that this identity, and the bank account, are one and the same thing. It's electronic. So, that we don't need to worry about paper. We don't need to worry about the legacy systems, which take a long time for us to establish.

What that tried to do was, it tried to create two or three things at the same time. We wanted to give a financial identity and a social identity. But, we also wanted to create incentives. So, that people would actually opt into it. And, $100 was seen as a mechanism for creating an incentive, so that people who, otherwise, don't want to deal with formal systems, would want to be part of it. And, at the same time, since we have $100, and we have millions of children who are going to have this accounts, we would create incentives even for financial institutions to come in and provide those services.

So, in some sense, it combined the power of technology and scale together, to bring this revolution about.