MIT Digital Currency Initiative Leader To Government Officials: Let’s Get ‘Open Data 2.0 Moving’


The block chain offers the most significant records and identity authentication technology available in more than 5,000 years, and government should take the lead in adopting it. That’s the message that Brian Forde, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, delivered in a recent presentation to a group of government information managers. The Huffington Post posted the presentation, in which Forde explained one of the missions of the recently-formed MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative.

Brian Forde

Brian Forde

Forde, whose presentation was titled, “Blockchain As The Next Platform,” said the block chain is the first real tool to replace “rubber stamp authentication protocol,” meaning paper records.

He wants to work with governments and non-profit organizations to achieve a platform he calls “Open Data 2.0.”

Block Chain: A New Authentication Protocol

“What gets me really excited about it is how this could replace authentication protocol that we’ve been using for more than 5,000 years,” he said. Currency, whether paper- or wood-based, is just a stamp, he said. Under the current system, money and valuable records are routinely stolen.

All because we have a global dependence on an ink-based stamp.

With the block chain, “We are on the cusp of eliminating what I call the RSAP, the rubber stamp protocol.”

Forde said the block chain can be used by city, state, local and international governments. He then reviewed the basic workings of the block chain. He began by comparing it to the Internet’s TC/PIP protocol. From TC/PIP came other protocols to allow functions like web browsing and emailing.

The block chain is the transfer of value or assets and the ownership of those assets. “You name it, any asset can be transferred on the block chain.”

“The biggest misnomer is that bitcoin is just money transfer,” he said. “That’s kind of like saying the Internet was just to send emails.” Besides money transfer, the block chain serves as a platform for the authentication of identity, reputation and market places.

Critical Benefit: Authenticating Identity

Identity authentication is one of the most important benefits the block chain provides. If states authenticate birth certificates to the block chain, Forde said, “the birthers could live in peace knowing that our President wasn’t born in Kenya.”

As the Internet exponentially increased the amount of messages, “this (the block chain) will increase the amount of transactions in a similar scale, which can change a lot of things.”

The MIT Digital Currency Initiative began about six weeks ago. It has three areas of focus: research, social impact and inclusion. Forde told the audience that social impact is the area where most of them are potentially involved. “We want to work with civic technologists such as yourselves … foreign, state, city, federal governments as well… to incubate some of this technology.”

The initiative faces an “inclusion” problem with bitcoin, just as exists in the tech community.

We need to make sure that people who are architecting this protocol and these applications represent the diversity of America and the world.

A Tool Against Identity Theft

Looking at identity theft, he said identity theft represents $24 billion as opposed to physical theft, which is $14 billion. He noted far more resources are invested in physical theft despite being overshadowed by identity theft. He recently realized, to his dismay, that his personal data from working for the government is now in the hands of the Chinese.

“What if the federal government could authenticate your social security number so that no one had to ask for it?”

At the state level, authenticating drivers licenses would be much easier.

“These things are all (currently) forgeable,” he said.

Other countries are already ahead of the U.S. in using the block chain. “Honduras is already using block chain for property title,” Forde said. “You can imagine that all these developing countries that have crises are going to use this technology like they used cell phones and we’re just going to be leapfrogged.”

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto thinks the block chain could help the poor by allowing them easier access to capital.

A Cultural Challenge

“We’re battling against a 5,000-year-old culture,” Forde said. One thing he learned working in government is, “It’s not the technology that gets in the way, it’s the culture… so we’re going to need your help working on this.”

We’re really excited to help incubate your ideas and work with your city, state and federal governments and your non-profits to implement this and together we can achieve open data 2.0.

Featured image from Shutterstock.