TLDR: My PhD on Education is about understanding the Ethereum blockchain platform. I follow the space closely. You can book me to explain what blockchains are about and what they mean for your field.
In spring 2017 I was desperately looking for something new intellectually. I had become father for the fourth time and although that’s also been truly great, we often want to find something else to balance the situation. It’s human nature for many at least.
So I decided to finally start my PhD process. In retrospect you can say it was not a wisest of timings, but let’s just go on with the story now.
I was basically all about sustainability research at the time and making my first drafts of research plan on sustainable development and higher education. I started to learn more and more about complex adaptive systems, cybernetics and many interdisciplinary frameworks, landing somewhere along the line of the study of stigmergy.
And I guess that brought blockchain to my attention. Going out for walks with my newborn, I had ample time to listen to Youtube videos, and one that really blew my mind was the Ted Talk on blockchain by Don Tapscott. Wow, blockchain is not just for techies but also for investment bankers!
The innovations around Ethereum were unavoidable in that particular talk, so started to look around some more. Watched a lot of videos of Vitalik Buterin and became hooked. It was irritating to see that I was clearly not on par with his thinking and I became determined to understand what he was talking about.
My PhD research focus was constantly modified during mid-2017. I became immersed in blockchain Youtube channels such as Ivan on Tech, taught myself to mine Ether and became mildly involved with ICOs.
So in late 2017 when it was time to submit the research proposal, the topic was refined to Understanding the Ethereum blockchain platform. This was submitted to the Faculty of Education at the University of Lapland.
That’s basically how it started. Before Christmas that year, I was so hyped about blockchain that I brought it to almost any conversation on anything. We had an international Research, Development & Innovation Networking Lab for wellbeing and health services, and I had a keynote on using blockchain in higher education.
We also had a workshop that expanded into multidisciplinary talks on blockchain innovation. We went to the Ministry of Education and Culture and looked for relevant H2020 EU funding. I had the pleasure of being invited to Freiburg, Germany to discuss blockchain with social work students, mainly in the context of refugees.
A team of Dutch social sector students did their Erasmus+ international exchange with us, and I had the opportunity to supervise their Bachelor’s thesis on the use of blockchain in Finnish immigration services. This was a really fun and educational process.
In May 2017, I attended the EDCON Ethereum Community conference in Toronto, Canada. The Finnish Unix User Group promoting open source initiatives supported my learning journey. It was wonderful to spend time at the heart of Ethereum development, to see many key players and to interview some top developers along the way.
Fast-forward to early 2019. The global situation around blockchain has changed a lot and also my own priorities have changed. I no longer have the rosy glasses on, I tend to look critically at all marketing talks about changing the world, and I have dropped blockchain to a minor place in my overall horizon of interests. At least temporarily.
This is in part due to the impossible legislation in place in Finland in early 2019. You practically have no choice but to leave the country if you want to become a Finnish blockchain startup innovator. Small players have very little room to develop anything related to cryptocurrencies at this stage, but the bigger societal dream of changing the infrastructure of all fields with blockchain is indeed taking shape also in Finland.
I remain as someone who can teach anyone the basics of blockchain, how it works, what solutions exist and what they imply to you and me.
But I am also overwhelmed with a lot of questions and critique. I hate to see the moral downturn in the blockchain space, the all too many unsatisfied needs and even blatant lies, eg. after the ICO boom.
If you ask me about relevant new technologies, we can talk about AI, robotics, genetics, AR, blockchain or any other. I ask the same basic questions from any technology in order to understand their essence, history, vested interests and current societal implications and use cases.
It’s fair to say blockchain is one of the more familiar technologies to me, but it’s impossible to understand it without discussing other disruptive technologies too. Whatever tech it is, I will no longer let it become my master but only a good servant.