BCB Blockchain Boom

Commencement approaches, and seniors are preparing to graduate. Meanwhile, senior thesis presentations have been ongoing. And, I heard—I overhead—through college grapevine that some seniors, in fact quite a number of them, talk about blockchain technology, crypto or some aspect of Web 3.0, in sections of their theses. 

It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s exciting, the new normal, in vogue, at BCB—I call it the BCB blockchain boom!

Four fourth years,Yazan Mahboub Alhara, Khalil Hammod, Sohaib Alzoubi and Amr Al Jaber, form the ‘blockchain club’(a team of crypto enthusiasts on campus). Yazan and Khalil concentrate in Ethics and politics while Sohaib and Amr are Econ and politics majors. The four fourth years explain to me facts and factoids about crypto. Amr, whose senior thesis is titled The future of money: A comparison between central bank digital currency and stable coins, tells me that blockchains technology is just a sliver of the cake, there’s so much more: cryptocurrencies, NFTs, smart contracts, it’s a lot. Then, he talks about the nitty-gritty rigorous side of blockchains: peer-to-peer exchange, the white papers of bitcoins, beacon nodes and the future—which includes the metaverse, open source, Roblox and ZK-proofs, (like I said, it’s a lot). I’ve filled your brain with a lot of crypto lingo by now, I know. If you want to learn more just visit Zendetta Finance (aka ze.fi), they know.

In fact, all four fourth years work at ze.fi, an organization that educates the masses on crypto and blockchains, founded by Karam Alhamad, a BCB alum, class of ‘20, who is currently doing his masters in Global Affairs at Yale University. Zendetta Finance has an array of resources for those interested in crypto, blockchains, NFTs, etc. These resources include barebone knowledge of blockchains, current values of various cryptocurrencies, how to use crypto for humanitarianism, an introduction to blockchain argot, and a plethora of articles about crypto and money laundering, crypto and climate change, et cetera. The informative aspect of blockchain, at ze.fi, is carefully crafted by a group of researchers which includes Yazan, Sohaib, Khalil and Amr. 

Khalil, whose senior thesis is titled Three visions of surveillance: A comparative analysis, talks to me about how the peer-to-peer process in blockchains smoothens business transactions. ‘‘Payments on blockchain do not go through banks, thus providing a decentralized mode of conducting transactions,’’ says Khalil. Khalil argues, the peer-to-peer process in blockchains can be very helpful, especially when investing in real estate (with all things, like legal limitations, kept constant). He also elaborates on the liberating role of blockchain technology. Blockchain prevents intrusion of privacy by big-tech companies. Blockchain data is secure, and more individuated. Data is anonymous. Individuals are only identified by a public address made up of numbers and letters making it difficult to know who they are, steal, or sell their data.

One beneficial use of blockchain technology is for humanitarian purposes. Yazan, an avid Real Madrid fan, whose final thesis on cryptocurrencies, is partially dedicated to all madridistas (madridistas, n. — football fans who support a team that’s always on the brink of losing but which almost always miraculously wins at the last minute), and is titled Smart social contracts: A discourse on the political philosophy of decentralized pacts, talks about how blockchain supports families in Syria by bypassing Assad’s oppressive regime’s hurdles. Through ze.fi they’ve been able to do online workshops educating Syrians on how to use blockchain technology to facilitate crypto-currency transfer, an effort that has been impactful in wiring humanitarian funds to various families, whose lives have been disrupted in Syria. 

Sohaib whose thesis is titled Wait, compete, or leave to Grow? How States deal with cryptocurrencies and blockchains, investigates states’ response to blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. He finds that China takes a tough line called ‘‘compete and ban” policy—China controls blockchain technology through its institutions while banning most private blockchain initiatives and projects. ‘‘The US has a policy describable as ‘Leave it to grow’—it’s quite open with blockchain technology but concerned about crypto’s effect on the dollar dominance. EU’s policy could be defined as ‘wait and see’ because it finds it challenging to design policies towards cryptocurrencies and blockchain in line with both its values and the desires of its member states’’ Sohaib says.

Yazan and Sohaib differ on how crypto should be governed. Yazan wants crypto to be left and let left (sic. actually, sick!) while Sohaib calls for more thorough, more binding, more vigorous regulation of crypto and blockchains. Both have sniper sharp arguments to defend their positions. On the one hand, Yazan writes in his thesis: 

Blockchain, through Bitcoin innovation, enhances efficiency and decentralization. Decentralization grants power to citizens whose freedom is confiscated by the state’s “social contract.” 

While on the other hand, Sohaib argues

Bockchain evangelists contradict the idea of the nation-state because blockchains grant tools that directly undermine the state’s authority. With so much at stake, the explosive growth of cryptocurrencies increases the need for the state, as the state must interfere to protect users and investors from fraud, scams, hacks, and asset volatility. 

No matter what side of the argument you take, everyone would agree that blockchain technology is an abyss: it’s a nascent way of monetary transactions, which if used ethically could benefit humanity immensely, and if used unethically could lead to dismal ends. Actually, both uses have been attempted; both outcomes have been experienced. Interesting. Horrifying. Both interesting and horrifying. So, should the government be loosey-goosey about blockchain technology or should it let this world of serendipity mushroom? It’s a dilemma: no one really wants a nanny state, but nobody really wants criminals marauding around anonymously using crypto to engage in illicit activities, either.

Adam Hardaker, another fourth year student well versed in the crypto world, attended the Global Bitcoin Conference in Miami, Florida, where he learned about the future of crypto which, he says, involves zero knowledge proofs. A zero-knowledge proof, or Zk proof, is a non-interactive method where one blockchain user proves to another blockchain user the validity of a statement on blockchain without relying on any additional information. Zk proofs use computational assumptions, typically involving a cryptographic hash function to facilitate the transfer of private blockchain transactions and protect users’ data from third parties or hackers.

Crypto is burgeoning at a warp speed. Two countries, El Savador, and the Central African Republic have already declared bitcoin their national currency. Last month, Nelson Mandela’s arrest warrant sold for $130,550 as a non-fungible token (NFT). Recently, Fidelity, the US largest 401(k) retirement provider opened the door for retirees to invest in crypto. And, with the use of everyday world’s words like gas fees, which in crypto lingo is the fee associated with a transaction on a blockchain network, the future in crypto is seemingly, increasingly unstoppable. Day by day blockchain technology is introducing the world to online town halls and villages, virtual reality at its finest.

Everyone I talked to seemed to agree that the blockchain business is blissful, and that with the right approach it could go swimmingly. They insisted, however, that at times, crypto is like a game of pitch and toss; it requires time, grit and patience. If you go into it with naivety, pigheadedly, you are shit out of luck, it’ll blow up in your face—call it amateur hour, call it getting hit by a blockchain bomb. So, I was severely advised, in order to succeed in the crypto world, in order to enjoy crypto-happiness, one should take time, visit ze.fi, learn, listen, watch, read, watch and read.
But here is my own advice: hit I-95 to the Sunshine State, get some sunshine while there, then tour Miami—it’s the hub of crypto, especially bitcoin. Having done that, maybe sprinkle a tiny bit of crypto research into your senior thesis, maybe also shower your cranium with titbits of crypto news, and perhaps take EPST (Econ Politics and Social Thought; Ethics and politics and Social Thought?) Finally, invest in crypto, use blockchain, go to BCB, and read the satiric Baffled Bardian, because the line between a blockchain genius and a blockchain blockhead is very blurry.

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