Taking Disruption to the Bank

Anne Connelly wants to de-centralize currency, identity, and even humanity

By Cara Bedford

Like most disruptors and entrepreneurs, Anne Connelly travels a lot. In the month before heading to SingularityU Canada Summit in Edmonton, she’ll be travelling to Yukon, Vancouver, and South Sudan in a single trip. “The packing has been interesting,” she laughs.

Even during her first career in humanitarian aid with Doctors Without Borders, Connelly’s work took her to places like Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo. During these trips, Connelly would have to take large sums of cash through war zones and insecure locations. In 2012, when she learned about Blockchain and cryptocurrency’s like Bitcoin, and thought about its potential in her situation, Connelly changed the course of her career.

“When you think about the security issues, the risk of getting kidnapped or killed or injured, and even just the inefficiency of having to pay 200 staff members, the benefits of using cryptocurrency and being able to make those payments directly from anywhere are just astronomical. That’s what got me really excited about this technology.”

Today, Connelly works as a cryptocurrency advisorfor two venture capital firms and two startups, and remains on the board of Doctors Without Borders while working with them to adapt Blockchain into their practices. She’s working on how cryptocurrency, an emerging technology that still has a lot of untapped potential, can help disrupt extremely traditional financial institutions.

“Right now, if you want to send money overseas to family, it’s very expensive, it takes a long time, and it’s difficult to do. If you try to send money to someone in a particularly restricted country, say in Iran or Syria, that can be even more difficult. Bitcoin gives you the opportunity to make monetary transfers in a way that’s never been possible. Where things get really exciting is when it’s less about the specific currency and more about de-centralization and how we can remove third-parties like governments and corporations in locations and situations where they’ve been known to be corrupt or to misuse people’s data. Once your financial system falls apart, everything else really starts to decline with it.” Connelly sees cryptocurrency as not just a solution to financial challenges, but to human rights issues.

The financial industry isn’t the only one that Blockchain has the potential to disrupt—Connelly thinks there are opportunities to remove the government from other centralized, government-regulated applications in society, like identification. Connelly thinks this would remove barriers caused by losing paper passports, and also help in more challenging situations when citizens try to flee corrupt governments and countries. “If you have a Blockchain-based, self-sovereign identity, you are the owner of that identity and you can start to build up different attestations that you can associate with that identity to build up the validity of who you are.”

Another industry that Blockchain can potentially disrupt is data collection and ownership. We willingly give up data everyday through platforms like Facebook and DNA profiles like 23 and Me. We’ve heard the horror stories of data breaches before—think Facebook and Cambridge Analytica—but Connelly thinks that things will be even more problematic now that there are more opportunities to give away DNA. Think about applying for a job: the potential employer buys your genetic information, they see you’re at a high risk of breast cancer, and they think you’re going to be sick all the time and drain their insurance policy, so they don’t hire you.

“That scenario might seem a bit crazy, but it’s not actually that far-fetched,” Connelly cautions. “If you’ve got Blockchain-based data ownership, your data would live on Blockchain, and you would be the only person that could open and close access to it, you could open it up to make money off of research or to causes you were passionate about. But the most important thing, that’s really key, is that because you’re the owner of your data, you can revoke access at any time. That’s just not possible today. Once your data is out in the open, it’s gone. There are companies out there working around data privacy and even trying to get data named a human right, but without the ability to revoke consent that Blockchain brings, the actual practicality of a human right that looks like that is almost zero.”

At SingularityU Canada Summit, Connelly will tackle a much more philosophical topic: that is, how will Blockchain affect humans in the age of automation?

“Humans are intermediaries in a robot to robot economy,” Connelly says. “So the more we start to see smart objects, like a scenario with self-driving cars that have their own crypto wallets that manage their own maintenance, and that are able to interact with drones that are doing deliveries. What happens when humans are no longer required to help in the middle of those transactions? The question becomes, what is the role of human beings in a future society where we’re not required as intermediaries, and how do we find meaning in our lives? How do we structure our communities and the way we work together?”

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