When people think of blockchain they think of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but this decentralized network has far greater potential. In this episode, Dr. Wanda Curlee talks to APU professor Justin Goldston about rapidly developing blockchain models and the movement toward the interconnectedness of Web 3.0. Learn more about Bitcoin, Ethereum, Chainlink, Dogecoin, and the use of crowdloans and crowdsourcing to support the creation of some of these blockchain systems such as Polkadot. Also learn how artificial intelligence, or AI, may assist with the creation and protection of blockchains.
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Dr. Wanda Curlee: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Wanda Curlee, And today we have as a guest, Justin Goldston. We will be talking about blockchain and artificial intelligence. Justin, can you give us a little bit about your background?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Thanks, Wanda, and thank you for having me on this podcast. I’m a professor of project and supply chain management, where I like to say that my research is based on the blending of supply chain management and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, with sustainability.
I say that because I think that we’re moving into a world that’s going to require what I refer to as systems thinking, where everything is going to be interconnected. I think that we’re going to need these technologies to be integrated together to move toward this web 3.0 world.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: I totally agree. I’m right there with you. I like to look at artificial intelligence and how it affects the business world. And obviously blockchain is going to affect the business world quite a bit as well. For our listeners, could you talk a little bit of how you define blockchain and how you define artificial intelligence?
Dr. Justin Goldston: I’m going to start off by saying that I’ve normally mention AI, because I say that there’s no such thing as general artificial intelligence. Whenever you say artificial general intelligence, you’re thinking about C3PO from “Star Wars “or “The Terminator”. We are years away from that. Whenever I say AI, I refer to what does augmented intelligence in that it’s only a tool and it’s going to assist us in our decision-making in our everyday lives and our careers.
Whether you’d like it or not, AI is around you every single day. I always tap people to say, “Do your research on AI because it’s going to be impacting you more and more as we continue forward.” All right?
In terms of blockchain, I think that it’s the people who discuss blockchain that makes it complex. I would say that blockchain is nothing but what we call a distributed ledger, which means that we have nodes, our computers, that are distributed around the world where people have to confirm transactions. We have to meet a consensus.
And that enables us to have those transactions to be transparent to everyone around the world. Yes, some people will say, “Well, what about health records?” Well, you have permissioned blockchain, so healthcare records would be on a permissioned blockchain. And then you also have permissionless blockchains. That’s similar to Bitcoin. That’s similar to any kind of transactions for like food distribution.
If we want everyone around the world to see those transactions, if we want those transactions to be transparent, that would be a permissionless blockchain. Blockchain is nothing but decentralized transparent nature of the internet. That’s all it is.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Okay. Now I understand it. I wish somebody had explained it like that to me previously, because I’m always been amazed at blockchain, but never understood what it was. I agree with you about AI. Yes, it’s not really artificial intelligence like “Terminator” or what we saw on HAL on “2010: A Space Odyssey.”
So now that I understand blockchain and AI a little bit, can you explain to me how they might help each other? Will blockchain help artificial intelligence and will artificial intelligence help blockchain?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Where I mentioned in Web 3.0, that’s the next evolution of the internet, right? Web 3.0 is where we’re going to have this convergence, this blending of the internet of things, IoT, and you’re going to include blockchain. You’re going to include AI. All of these technologies are going to work together because they need each other in order to continue to evolve in the world.
For example, I’m doing some research at Penn State University in how we can assess the feasibility of solar energy usage across the entire island, right? We’re using AI and we’re using IoT to track the usage of photovoltaics, right? But we also need to use blockchain to track the transparency of the distribution of all of those goods. So let’s just say that, okay, we have proven the viability of using photovoltaics in Puerto Rico. So now we need thousands of solar panels transported to Puerto Rico. Now, Puerto Rico has had a history of corruption in the state.
So in order for the residents of Puerto Rico to trust that those materials are going to get down to that island, we can use blockchain to ensure the transparency of that exchanging of ownership of those goods. That’s just one use case where those two technologies can work together in one scenario. And also, the opportunities are endless.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: I can imagine now that I understand it a little better. But do you see AI affecting the architecture of blockchain or will the architecture always stay the same?
Dr. Justin Goldston: That’s a great question. Whenever you say is AI going to affect the architecture, I think so. That layer-one architecture. Whenever we look at the different layers of blockchain, you will have Bitcoin, you have Ethereum, right? But then you have separate layers that impact the utility, the functionality.
So for example, I’m doing some work on the Polkadot blockchain. Once Polkadot builds out that blockchain, yes, there’s going to be changes to it. Yes, there’s going to be improvements to it.
But on top of that Polkadot layer, you’re also going to have organizations. You’re going to have projects that are going to bring in things such as artificial intelligence. Whenever you say change the architecture from a user perspective, yes.
From an underlying blockchain perspective, I’m not sure, because Polkadot would have to make that modification, Ethereum would have to make that modification, not the projects that are building upon Polkadot and Ethereum. I know we’re getting deep.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: That’s okay. Can you explain a little bit about Polkadot and Ethereum? That’s two new terms for me.
Dr. Justin Goldston: All right. I always want to back up and I want to say that we know of Bitcoin and Ethereum as cryptocurrencies, and that is just one use case of blockchain. Everyone relates blockchain and cryptocurrencies. That’s just one use case for it, right?
So Ethereum. Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency. Ethereum is the second most popular. Bitcoin is a store of value. It’s like gold. Ethereum is the utility. One individual and another podcast said that, “Bitcoin’s gold. Ethereum is the S&P 500.”
I said, “That’s amazing.” I said, “That’s amazing because Ethereum provides the utility for so many different blockchains.” You have to use that Ethereum token, that Ethereum coin, that Ethereum cryptocurrency to perform a transaction. It’s like a credit card fee. It’s like a transaction fee for your credit card, right? That’s what Ethereum does on a blockchain.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: I got it. You’re training me very well here.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Polkadot. One thing with blockchain is that Ethereum is good for utility. It’s good for those transaction fees. It’s good for those smart contracts. Because so many things are built on smart contracts, which are self-executing contracts, they’re contracts that are written as code, right? I don’t have to trust you. It’s on a smart contract. Once I perform my duty, once make this purchase, the smart contract automatically executes it. That’s why I call it the trust machine, because our trust is in the code. It’s not in the person. It’s in a code. That’s why I love it.
That’s why a number of blockchain solutions are built on Ethereum because that’s a smart contract. But if you have other use cases, Ethereum cannot perform those types of transactions. For example, if I want to perform a validation for a license, like a law license or a license in healthcare, or let’s just say a student transcript, Ethereum would struggle with that. The Ethereum blockchain would struggle with that.
There are other blockchains out there such as Chainlink that have utility that is good at confirming certain things. There’s other blockchains out there. There’s another blockchain called Brave. Brave is creating a decentralized internet, decentralized net that incentivizes people to contribute. So instead of putting up your content for free on YouTube and YouTube benefits from it, yes, you do, you get thousands of a penny or something like that.
But instead of YouTube benefiting from your content, you can go on Brave, and then you, as a creator, get rewarded for it. That’s the decentralized nature of the blockchain. You’re truly being rewarded for your content. You don’t have to get 100,000 likes or 100,000 views for you to see a dollar. I’m exaggerating, but that’s what this Web 3.0 World is moving to, and that’s why we have so many different blockchains.
I just did another podcast this morning with the Government Blockchain Association. There is between two and 3,000 tokens or cryptocurrencies out there. And what that means, the way I look at it, is even if half of those—because there are some tokens out there that do not have a project behind it like the main coins, like Dogecoin—I don’t like those tokens because there’s nothing behind it. But let’s just say hypothetically that half of those tokens have a project behind it, that means there’s at least a thousand use cases for blockchain.
There’s a thousand different uses for blockchain, and these organizations created a token to create utility because you have to use that token to perform an activity, a transaction on that blockchain. For example, Polkadot. Polkadot is the main net, for example, right? That’s the main network. Once Polkadot is completely built out, that’s where these companies are going to be performing their transactions. Now, they have a test net, because Polkadot was only established like last July. It’s not even a year old yet.
If you want to get technical, it’s not even a year old yet. If you really want to get technical, Polkadot that doesn’t exist yet because we just released what they call the test net with Kusama. Kusama is a test net where organizations can build solutions, but you have a token that you have to purchase in order to get what they call a slot on that test net, on that parachain.
Now, I threw a lot of different names here, but I would say to summarize, there’s a token that provides utility for a use. It’s investment in that token where everyone will actually contribute to that ecosystem. For example, there’s a company called Acala. Acala just secured the first parachain slot on Kusama. They raised, I forgot how much, I think it was like between $150 and $200 million in a week from everyone, from other people. They did what they call a crowd loan.
It’s like crowdsourcing. Same exact concept, but in blockchain. They raised between $150, $200 million. What happens is, is that I gave my tokens to Acala. Acala locks my tokens in. Because I loaned them out my money, they also added some of their tokens for my interest, if you will. They’re going to hold my tokens for I think 36 weeks or something like that. Once they’re done with my tokens, they give my same exact quantity back to me on top of my reward tokens that they gave to me as my interest.
They say, “Thank you. Here are some more tokens. Thank you for your contribution.” You see that utility from that Kusama token. So then once Polkadot is built out, the same exact thing’s going to happen for Polkadot. They’re going to do their crowd loan, they’re crowdsourcing. I’m going to give them my tokens. They’re going to lock in my Polkadot tokens. They’re going to give me more tokens. And then once that 36 weeks, 52 weeks has ended, they give me my tokens right back to me.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Wow! Interesting concept. I actually had a friend who produces movies and he did it through a crowd loan. Now I understand what he did. That was interesting.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Yeah, that’s in a blockchain space. If you look at Republic.co, Republic.co has a crypto arm. There’s a lot of companies that are actually doing this, where they’re issuing out tokens for contribution.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Wow! Interesting. Okay. This creates a lot of questions in my mind. The other day I ordered a transcript and it was online. Most colleges do it online now. It’s not even through the college. It’s through somebody else. Are you telling me that’s done through blockchain?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Maryville University student transcripts, they’re on a blockchain.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Not necessarily just because I order it through a centralized company, doesn’t mean it’s on blockchain, correct?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Oh, no, no, no. Maryville University, Oral Roberts, I believe MIT, because MIT had a project to put transcripts on the blockchain as well. I think there’s a few articles out there for MIT’s project where they put transcripts on the blockchain. You would have to have institutions that actually put those documents on a blockchain for it to be on the blockchain. But people say, “Well, what’s the benefit?” Let me ask you this question, how long did it take you for you to get that transcript?
Dr. Wanda Curlee: It was an online transcript. I didn’t order a paper copy, so it was a PDF. I think it took a couple hours.
Dr. Justin Goldston: He did this during the demo. During an Ellucian demo, he did it live. It took five seconds.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Oh, wow! Okay. That would be great, especially if you’re in a rush.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Some people may not see value in that, but I see value in that because if I’m at an interview or if I’m at an academic conference and I’m a student and I am speaking with a professor who I want to study under, like for a PhD, for example. We could be talking on the conference floor. I can bring up my transcript like that in seconds. That’s the real use case.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Also, if a university has asked me because I’m applying for a job and they want it now, that would be great. Yeah. Wow! It’s just amazing.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Those solutions are already out there.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Also, another question that I’ve got in my mind here from what you were talking to us about. I read about a small city or town in Canada that actually accepts Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency for paying taxes or anything else. Do you see us doing that here in the United States or in other countries. The government accepting crypto?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Not in the United States, but there’s a few countries that’s already done it. There’ve been a few countries in the news as of late, and they’re kind of getting some backlash because the price of the Bitcoin has went down.
Yes, I think we’re going to see more and more countries do that. I think El Salvador is moving towards this Bitcoin space, this Bitcoin movement. Also the University of Nicosia. I do some research with the University of Nicosia, I’m looking to partner with them on a project where they’ve been accepting Bitcoin for Taj tuition for two or three years now.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Wow! That’s progressive.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Very progressive. Another thing that’s come out in the news as of late is where Wyoming is going to allow what we refer to as decentralized autonomous organizations to register as LLCs. What that means is that DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, is where it is, the organization is run on the code, is run on a blockchain. The way we put it is, the code is law, right? It does not have this hierarchical structure. You have what we call governance tokens.
So if you are a token holder, you can make a proposal to make an addition to the organization, to make a change to the organization. And then once you have used your tokens to put up that proposal, then others will vote on that, yay or nay. And if you reach a consensus, then that proposal goes through and you begin to build that new solution. That’s one big thing.
Whenever I look at it, we’re actually doing a project called SydTek, where we’re looking to develop… We’re building on Polkadot and we’re developing a platform where students from around the world can collaborate and they can build. They can build on a blockchain, and we’re developing a DAO so that the students can issue proposals. And if the students hold this governance token, then they choose yay or nay of whether or not a particular solution gets built out.
What I mean by that is, is that either the students can send a proposal, or we can have an organization that would go in and submit a proposal. Let’s just say that, okay, we want a blockchain solution. We have a bounty of $50,000. We want a blockchain solution to increase the visibility of our supply chain network, for example. So then the students can say, “No, $50,000 is not enough.” Hey, it’s a DAO. I have no control over it. I can’t control what these students are building on.
And I think that that is what’s going to change the game from a business perspective, from a higher education perspective. Now the students have a say.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Yeah, what a great way to involve the students.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Yeah, so that’s one thing we’re building out. We participated in our first ever pitch competition two weeks ago and we shared first place. Whenever we mentioned our concept of the DAO, it gained a lot of interests for the investors. I actually have a call at 9:00 to speak more about that because there’s a lot of interest on that and we need to start getting rolling on that. We’ve been working on that since January of this year.
We want to educate people on the capabilities of blockchain, and we want to remove the misconception that blockchain is nothing but crypto. We want to develop more solutions because we’re only in the beginning of this Web 3.0 movement.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Yep. I hear that Web 3.0 is, I’ve heard it from several sources that it’s going to revolutionize the internet. Going back to what you were discussing, Justin. Are there any applications where AI and blockchain are already integrated? Or is that something in the future?
Dr. Justin Goldston: You’re beginning to see people dabble in it. I will say that there are probably some out there, but there are none out there that I’m closely familiar with. There’s a lot of discussions, and that’s the one thing within the blockchain space that you’ll see, is that you’ll see a lot of potential projects without organizations not moving forward. I want to see at least a proof-of-concept or a minimum viable product (MVP) before I can actually speak to that solution. At this given point in time, people are talking about it, but I, myself, had not seen a solution.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Okay, that’s fine. As you mentioned, blockchain and AI are code. They’re coded by people. And within that code, it can be ethical or unethical, as we all know. It could reflect the ethics of the organization. It can reflect the ethics of the coder, and many organizations just blindly accept the black box theory that it’s always going to be ethical. Do you see AI since it can be ethical, well, AI in itself is neutral. It’s what’s been coded into it. Do you see AI ever hacking into blockchain and changing it around?
Dr. Justin Goldston: No one’s ever asked me that question because my partner with the Sydtek project, there’s AI solutions out there where people are teaching AI to code.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Right. I am aware of that. Yes.
Dr. Justin Goldston: So that’s an amazing question of, can AI see a vulnerability and resolve that vulnerability? Or, so let me back up. Whenever I’ve mentioned the DAOs, DAOs have a bad reputation. Because one of the first DAOs called DAO had millions of dollars taken from it years ago, so people call it a hack. It was not a hack. First and foremost, it was not a hack. Someone exposed the vulnerability of that because a DAO is nothing but a huge smart contract. Because it’s a decentralized autonomous organization, it’s decentralized.
Once that code is released, there’s no fixing it. It’s decentralized, right? Once that particular DAO was released, someone exposed a vulnerability, and then people were taking money from it. Now DAOs have a bad reputation.
But the point I’m trying to make is is that if we had AI, AI could potentially audit that code, but it’s going to take a lot of learning. We’re years away from this. This proposal I’m about to make, we’re years away from this.
But AI could get to the point where it’s reviewed enough smart contracts, where it can identify potential vulnerabilities and make suggestions, or it could fix it itself. Whenever you say AI can alter the code, I would say it could alter the code in good ways. Like you said, there’s always people who want to perform malicious acts out there. Yes, I agree with you on that, but it’s dependent upon how it was trained on. Now, we do say there’s some brilliant people out there that’s used AI for malicious acts.
So yeah, your point is valid. You could have people out there to train AI bots on how to hack a blockchain, because there’s a lot of money in it. So yeah, you are correct. You could have people out there to train a bot how to identify vulnerabilities and hack blockchains. You could get there.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: We would have to have cybersecurity.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Oh yes.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Which we have already. There would be other AI, cybersecurity AIs, that would look for the vulnerabilities and stop those bots from doing that.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Yeah, and that’s one thing we’re saying time and time again. It’s like, we’re going to have to, it’s like law enforcement. We have law enforcement to protect humans against other humans. Cybersecurity. You’re going to have AI bots to protect against malicious AI bots. It’s going to be the same exact thing. Same exact thing. And again, it comes back to this whole systems thinking concept that I’m referring to.
You have to kind of peel back the onion and just say, “Okay, yeah, AI, it was developed by humans. What type of human developed this one AI bot?” And now you have this other malicious bot to come in here and say, “Okay. We have to get into the mind of this developer, because that’s how that bot is learning. That’s how that bot is performing transactions. You see? It’s kind of like Jeff (John) Hammond in Jurassic Park.
You got to get in his mind. Just say, okay, what kind of dinosaurs did he create to kind of get to the crux of this thing? And Elon is not a fan of the government, but even Elon Musk said that the government has to get in front of this thing before it’s too late, right? Even Elon Musk said that AI can lead to World War III, possibly.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: I truly believe the next war, hopefully we don’t have one, will be all about cyber and up in the internet, so to speak.
Dr. Justin Goldston: Yeah. And whenever I said there’s no such thing as artificial general intelligence, it’s my worry that there are some countries that are actually working on that right now. Like trying to develop robots, like defense robots, if you will, but we have drones now, but I’m talking about like Terminator robots.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Right, right, right, right. Don’t know if it’ll happen in my generation or you during my lifetime, but it could happen. Yes, I totally agree. Shifting a little bit here, I read where Bitcoin and all of those blockchain takes a lot of computing power. And some may not have the computing power to use it. Who knows? But would you see AI helping that area or not?
Dr. Justin Goldston: In terms of computing power, we have what we refer to as proof of work and proof of stake. Bitcoin uses proof of work where it uses complex mathematical computations. And that’s where all that energy is expended. You have, well, you used to have because China banned proof of work, so you don’t have all of these what we call farms, so like mining farms and things like this, where you have massive warehouses of nothing but computers trying to solve these equations.
You have all of these machines within this warehouse trying to solve these equations. That expends a lot of energy, a ton of energy. Now, Ethereum has proof of work now as it stands, but they’re moving to proof of stake at the end of this year, I think it’s going to be more next year. Bitcoin is going to be the main one that’s going to expend all this energy. Yes. Although yes proof of stake does expend energy, but nothing like proof of work does.
If you heard of NFTs, non-fungible tokens, with the art and things like that, one student presented it in a… I talk about blockchain in almost every single class. They did a research study on crypto and sustainability, right? Almost brought a tear to my eye. They said that to mint one non-fungible token is the equivalent, just one, just one, it’s the equivalent of a one hour flight, for one token. I was looking at a project yesterday on the Ethereum blockchain. They minted 10,000 tokens.
So think about that. Think about that. They minted 10,000 tokens in one day essentially. That’s 10,000 one-hour flights in a day. But to answer your question, can AI kind of streamline this and mitigate this? I say maybe, because it can look at the usage of, it has enough data, right? It has enough data from all of these computers doing all this mining, so it can learn from that and it could potentially provide suggestions.
All it can do is provide suggestions as to what are the areas of opportunity for this proof-of-work model, right? What are the areas of opportunity for this minting of these NFTs? I have not heard of any projects doing that at this given point in time, but I could see a potential for it. It is feasible to do that, but I don’t see anything at this given point in time to do that.
Because another thing within this space, I know the market’s down right now, but because there’s so much money to be made, because it’s at the infancy, projects like that, nobody really wants to spend time doing it. That’s why I was having trouble getting funding with my project because of decentralized finance, because decentralized finance, everybody was making millions off of that.
But nobody wanted to waste time about developing an enterprise resource planning application on a blockchain, not when they were out and making all this money in defi, right? So even though you have these social impact guys saying this, they’re still getting money on this defi, so all their funds are getting contributed to decentralized finance. At this given point in time, I think the market’s cooling off, so there will be some more sustainable projects emerging.
And I think that’s a good point you bring up where AI could see areas of improvement to making this technology more sustainable.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Wow! Justin, this has been an incredible podcast, and I can see where we’re going to have to get back together again and discuss about sustainability, AI, and blockchain. But thank you very much for joining me today on this exciting topic. Do you have any last words for our listeners?
Dr. Justin Goldston: Learn more about supply chain management, sustainability, artificial intelligence, blockchain, you can go to my website at justingoldston.com. You can also go to SydTek, S-Y-D-T-E-K.ai. We have a lot of education there as well. And if you want to be a student ambassador within blockchain, you can sign up on that Sydtek website as well.
Dr. Wanda Curlee: Thank you very much, Justin. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today. We have some exciting podcasts coming in the future on artificial intelligence. Stay tuned and stay well.