Image: FFCON19 / NCPA
To be fearless, you have to set up the right conditions and environment. Taking this perspective to heart, #FFCON19, a conference put on by the National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association, pondered how to create the right conditions so entrepreneurs can be fearless in their work.
From conversations about AI creating fake videos to open banking, the wide-ranging conference detailed that fearlessness comes from using the right tech at the right time, desiring a positive outcome more than wanting to avoid a negative outcome, and putting the right regulations in place.
Deep fakes and identifying what’s real
Kicking off the conference, entrepreneur Toufi Saliba brought the idea of ‘deep fake’ to the conversation, the premise that artificial intelligence technology can make videos appear to be of certain people.
“Deep fake enables everyone with a computer to download software to enable you to put someone speaking in a video, saying something they did not actually say,” Saliba explained.
While innocently used in gag videos, the negative side is much more concerning. With this technology, said Saliba, hackers and other malicious actors can declare war, pretending to be a head of state.
“Imagine seeing Barack Obama on video, except it’s not actually Barack Obama,” Saliba said, explaining that with deep fake technology, someone can film themselves speaking and gesturing but have it appear on screen as anyone.
Saliba went on to explain that cryptography – the computer science practice of securing files with nearly-impossible-to-hack hash codes – can help identify whether a video is real. If cryptographic platforms reach mainstream use, each person will have their own identifying code, as will each video. If there’s a fraud concern, the platform can verify if the source of the video that seemingly features Person A actually came from Person A. While this technology theoretically exists today in the form of official passwords and ‘verified’ accounts, cryptography adds an incredibly high additional level of security, offering true ‘verification’ of the source.
Providing value and relinquishing control
Once you can verify the source of information, a must for fearlessness since it helps reduce the unknown and manage risk, entrepreneurs must find additional ways to deliver value. John Lyotier, CEO of decentralized communications framework RightMesh, added that in the 21st century, providing value also means relinquishing control.
In a classic blockchain industry pushback on central systems, Lyotier argued that providing real value to the world means not controlling but simply facilitating. This seems in line with Saliba’s commentary about cryptography and deep fakes – no human is verifying the videos, only decentralized computer nodes.
He said the job of a trusted agent – for example, an accountant, consultant, or lawyer – is to “sit between those who want and those who have, then put the two together”, but made the bold claim that those individuals are to be “disrupted and disintermediated”. With a trust system based on humans, there is an inherent limit to how much trust someone can put, said Lyotier, since they are ultimately relying on people who can be perversely incentivized. Instead, the new method of providing value is to enable people to connect one-to-one on a global scale without a human in the middle.
The entrepreneur believes blockchain is the technology that will deliver the promise of increased value and decreased central control, but he was not so naive as to think that the whole world would simply switch over. Lyotier echoed a comment made by Saliba that new platforms must deliver incredible efficiency gains to get people on board, but he re-phrased the question to be: how do you incentivize people to take action? For him, that’s the potential value of RightMesh’s proprietary cryptocurrency, but he left the question open ended for the audience to ponder.
On the subject of regulation and ensuring support for scaling startups, a day-two panel took aim at Facebook’s famous “move fast and break things” mantra.
When it comes to regulation, said the panel, you have to go a little slower at first to get regulation right. Then you can move fast and break things, because the frameworks that protect investors act as bumpers to keep you on track. Once regulations are set up to both protect those who need protecting without stifling risk taking, then innovation can truly take place.
Pulling the event together came talks about open banking, cryptocurrency, and conversations with government actors about the future of fintech. Whenever the topic of being fearless came up, the conversation immediately shifted to environments. Some argued that Canada is the perfect environment due to our diversity and relative business friendliness, while others worried fear would cause ineffective regulations to come through, stifling innovation in the country.
Wherever someone sat on the matter, the conversations remained positive for the future: Canada is building an innovation ecosystem and the debate is simply how.