Sheila Warren

Interview | Sheila Warren – Blockchain Head from World Economic Forum

Sheila Warren Explains Decentralized Trust

I recently interviewed Sheila Warren from the World Economic Forum (WEF). Sheila is the Head of Blockchain and DLT (distributed ledger technology) at the WEF. Our discussion focused mainly on the social aspects, infrastructure requirements, and psychological readiness of society to adopt blockchain technology. The Harvard University graduate started off by telling me that we need to help people develop a general understanding of blockchain.

Additionally, she explained that the vast majority of people have learned and become accustomed to trusting centralized institutions such as banks. Now, with the emergence of blockchain, Sheila wants to help people understand that they can also place their trust in decentralized entities. The highly experienced attorney believes that decentralized organizations can be trusted even more than centralized ones.

Multiple Ways to Trust

Presumably, this is because decision-making power and control is not limited to only a few individuals or parties. Moreover, the general consensus among DLT experts is that decentralized organizations help increase accountability and transparency. This can be quite beneficial, according Sheila Warren, when trying to send funds to a group of people facing a humanitarian crisis. 

A real-world example of this, as Sheila pointed out, is of the World Food Programme (WFP) leveraging blockchain technology to provide payment vouchers to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Instead of using typical cash registers (or point of sales systems), iris scanners are used for customer identification. Through this system, entitlement payments are then processed after verifying data with United Nations databases. 

Building Blocks – a United Nations Project

This WFP project is called Building Blocks. The payment system used for the project is based on a fork of the Ethereum protocol. By using a modified implementation of the Ethereum codebase, all transactions remain private and crypto miners are not required to validate them. Furthermore, as Sheila Warren explained, this type of system eliminates a lot of the extra payments that need to made to various financial services companies who serve as the trusted third-party when processing monetary transactions.

Clearly, this approach saves money, which can then be used by the refugees who really need it. While this is a great example of where blockchain technology can be used to serve humanity, Sheila Warren asserts that DLT is not needed in every scenario where data needs to be stored and processed. In many cases, even a simple Excel Spreadsheet can get the job done just fine.

Stop “Overhyping” Blockchain Technology

Notably, the World Economic Forum DLT head informed me that her organization is working toward cutting down all the unnecessary hype around blockchain. Sheila also mentioned that her organization provides a problem-oriented decision tree that can be used as a guide to determine which type of solution is needed to solve a particular problem. By using this decision tree, companies and individuals are able to identify the best or most appropriate technology for their specific needs. And oftentimes, it’s not blockchain.

So then how can this public distributed ledger really help us? According to Sheila, the logistics and supply chain management sector can benefit the most from blockchain technology. While I won’t get into the details of how and why, as this has been covered extensively by numerous articles on the internet, I will say that I am well aware of a number of logistics and supply companies who are looking to incorporate blockchain and even cryptocurrency into their business models. One of them being the Prime Shipping Foundation, as reported by Crypto Core Media back in February.

Digital Identity Solution 

During the interview, Sheila stated that work is being done to develop a global digital identity solution which could possibly be implemented by using blockchain. Interestingly, there is a crypto-platform called Factom that has been developed to provide proof of authenticity for documents. While the Factom protocol itself is not exactly what’s required to create a digital identity system, it might be possible to use a similar concept and extend it to where it could accurately and reliably verify people’s identities.

The idea of using blockchain to conduct elections has been proposed on numerous occasions. In fact, it was even reported that Sierra Leone used Agora Voting’s blockchain-based software during their national elections. This was later reported as simply not true and fake news. While not directly touching on this particular example, Sheila Warren did say that she is a skeptic of using blockchain tech when it comes to conducting elections.

Blockchain Might Not be Suitable for Voting and Elections

She further explained that there are many things that this nascent technology cannot eliminate to actually make the election and voting process fully transparent and legitimate. One such problem that it cannot solve, as Sheila noted, is that of someone holding a gun to your head and forcing you to cast your vote for someone you did not want to vote for. Therefore, elections could still be rigged even when blockchain is used.

Other notable things Sheila mentioned were that permissionless blockchains have proven to be beneficial in various scenarios. However, permissioned blockchains have had their share of problems, according to the prominent attorney. When I asked about her thoughts on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, she said that this new form of digital money is not going to “die”. This type of news, in my opinion, is part of the whole FUD and misinformation propaganda, which I covered a few months back.

I would like to conclude this article by saying that it was a great pleasure speaking to Sheila Warren. She is a prime example of the kind of responsible professionals we need more of in this emerging blockchain and cryptocurrency space.

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