The Big Interview

Robert Etches: Blockchain offers a solution to thorny issues like fake news

A few words with Robert Etches, CEO of Exfluency who describes the future potential for blockchain in debunking fake news

Here, Robert Etches, the CEO of Exfluency explains how he found his journey into blockchain exhilarating as it offers so much opportunity.

In an interview with Coin Rivet, he says the technology has been on his radar for about three years now and “in 2016 it was obvious that here was a technology that offered a solution to many thorny questions ranging from fake news through digital dictatorships and environmental challenges to unethical banking practices.”

But at the time he says he was bogged down running his own business and thought ‘Why change something when it’s not broken?’.

Exhilarating

A year ago, he found himself free to start again and it was “exhilarating”.

“Blockchain must be at the root of a company, a platform, a business model – it’s not a plug-in – so starting with a blank sheet of paper is almost a pre-requisite,” he says.

Good partners are the other key component. He met Krzysztof Zdanowski at an innovation workshop in late 2017.

“Krzysztof is a born entrepreneur, has no fear and, as very few others I have met, the courage to challenge the status quo,” he adds.

“He also introduced me to an exciting network of blockchain programmers in his hometown, Krakow, and voilà: we were up and running!”

Truth gene

He finds the transparency inspiring. “A central tenet of blockchain is the truth gene. In a world in which even the most reliable sources of information are labelled as fake, blockchain’s traceability – its judgement in stone as to who did what, when and for whom – makes it a beacon of light,” he explains.

He was inspired reading The Truth Machine, by Paul Vigna and Michael J Casey.

“I’ve read it, listened to it, made notes, been elated and inspired. What they manage to do is illustrate how blockchain is relevant far beyond the realms of the financial world and Bitcoin.

Perfect balance

“I believe the truly successful breakthroughs will find the perfect balance between token economics and blockchain’s ability to provide irrefutable ledgers, smart contracts, and peer-to-peer transactions.”

In his 30+ years in business, he says he has “made a conscious effort to do the right thing”.

“Obviously, sometimes I have fallen short of my standards, but they have always been there,” he says.

“Blockchain is the perfect tool for doing better business! Exfluency believes that, by empowering people to communicate their stories in their own words and in many different languages, we can contribute to making this a better world.”

Multilingual voice

It seeks to help those without a multilingual voice gain one and make considerably more information available in languages understood by local populations.

He draws on the words of his director for multilingual rights, Madhuri Hegde, who says: ‘Every linguistic asset owned by the Community is assigned the same value: every word in every one of the world’s 6,900 languages is equally precious.’

Moving on to the gender imbalance in the space, he says the lack of women working in blockchain is sadly not just limited to blockchain.

“I have enjoyed the good fortune of living and working for many years in Scandinavia, a part of the world where the percentage of women, also in management positions, is relatively high,” he notes.

“Similarly, the language industry traditionally employs many women, which means I have been doubly lucky and privileged to work with genuinely balanced workforces at all levels.”

Key women

At Exfluency, even at this formative stage, they have women in key positions.

Companies with a better balance of women and men “make better decisions and earn more money,” he argues. “All those old conservative men in suits and ties need to wake up to this reality before their shareholders show them the door.”

With the fluctuations in cryptocurrency price, it’s important to keep perspective as “2018 was a bear year all round, not just for cryptocurrencies”.

It’s easy to forget sometimes just how new crypto is to the world at large.

“At this early juncture it is only natural that these token-based currencies are volatile,” he adds.

Trend ‘up’

“Third, the sector is also growing up. The crazy speculation is hopefully over, and we can get down to serious business.” He believes the long-term trend will be ‘up’.

He predicts: “The pace of change will continue to accelerate exponentially over the next 30 years, and I believe blockchain will be one of the main drivers.”

Looking to the future, he goes on: “Already in 10-15 years there will be some household corporate names and technologies that do not exist or have only just started today. And by 2050 the entire finance, food, and transport sectors  will be ‘blockchained’ beyond recognition.

“At Exfluency, we see multilingual communication as an obvious area where a token economy and blockchain will come out on top; I’m sure that other entrepreneurs in a myriad of other sectors are coming to similar conclusions. It’s going to be exciting!”

Catch-up phase

Inevitably, innovation is a step ahead of legislation and “we are now in a catch-up phase where legislators are taking one of two paths: protectionism or embracing the change.”

The US and China, for example, “fear a new mindset and loss of control”. Peer-to-peer irrefutable ledger technology accords power to the individual, perhaps for the first time in the history of mankind,”and national governments don’t like this, so they build walls”.

“For that matter, neither will digital dictatorships such as Google and Facebook when someone comes up with a search engine or a SoMo platform owned by a community and not a corporation,” he concludes.

Awesome potential

In its native Switzerland: “The Swiss have recognised the awesome (and I do not use this word lightly) potential of blockchain and are working hard to provide banks and corporations with a business framework in which to operate,” he says.

Despite controversy around ICOs he says they remain “more than valid. People just have to stop being greedy and do a modicum of homework. If, for example, the project is backed by a 12-page whitepaper and a team of two, then treat it as the fake news it is.”

It’s also worth asking does the project solve a real-life problem, are good people involved and are we looking at “genuine disruption to a moribund sector and mindset,” he adds.

“If so, well then everyone from heavy investors to someone with €100 burning a hole in their pockets, might want to take a second look.”

Cull rogue tokens

Currently, there’s a mixture of equity capital and tokens, which he “quite likes” as it “helps cull the rogue projects and allows the all-important small investors to follow the pros who’ve already made a thorough review of the project in question.”

Venture capital and equity capital funds will take to this mix as they get a slice of shareholding and a percentage of the tokens, which could be worth much more long-term.

“Genuine blockchain projects change human behaviour and that places their tokens potentially higher up the value ladder than fiat currencies. The token is, by nature, global; nor is it subject to the whims of national politicians with short-sighted agendas,” he argues.

“Satoshi’s vision, fuelled by the financial crisis of 2007-8, was to provide technology that prevented people in power from abusing that power; it was not to allow a new bunch of people to take our money and run for the hills, laughing all the way.

“If I am right and blockchain technology is embedded in 101 different sectors in 10-15 years, then we will be well on the way to fulfilling that original vision – and the (right) regulations will have played their part.”

Technological lighthouse

He describes blockchain as “a technological lighthouse that will help make this a better world.”

“If I can use my experience in the €50 billion language industry to help generate more communication in the world by pioneering a token economy and blockchain technology, then it will be time well spent.

Summing up, he adds: “Blockchain is and can already do so much. That 25+ national banks, for example, are already investing time and resources into seeing how they can lift their currencies over to blockchain, bears testimony to a mature technological platform that is just going to get better and better.”

 

Related Articles