Amber was previously an Executive Director at JP Morgan, heading up the blockchain program within the New York district.
Having taught herself to code at just 11, she has deep experience in both the financial and blockchain industries. It was our honour to sit down with her to talk about a wide variety of topics from Clovyr’s vision, to maximalism of all kinds and the need for better interaction between blockchain projects and security researchers.
We started our conversation discussing the outlook for Clovyr.
What is the roadmap for Clovyr for the rest of 2018 & 2019?
“Right now, we are working on releasing our MVP and our early access program for our corporate partners. This focuses on the deployment and management of the private and consortium chains.
“In parallel we are also working on providing some really cool usable tools for people who are working on Parity and Polkadot. My co-founder Patrick Nielsen is at the decentralised web summit demonstrating that you can use Clovyr for public chain uses.”
Where do you currently see the main competition?
“We have worked with a lot of institutions that are trying to build these decentralised applications and understand the types of challenges they are having in making them real as well as being pretty embedded in some of the research and development communities on the public side.
“As a result, we have a more holistic and long-term vision of where we are going that I don’t think anyone else is taking meaningful bites out of. We are seeing some people trying to achieve small slices in very specific types of product solutions but that is fine.
“Where we would like to go is not about just making everything run on a blockchain but about allowing people to create different types of business models where having decentralised information is useful and is a win-win for both the business and the consumer.”
Given the talk around “blockchain not Bitcoin”, do you think some companies might be missing out on the benefits of public blockchains like Bitcoin?
“I think people who say that they like ‘blockchain not Bitcoin’ should actually just say that they like ‘distributed ledgers’. They are different things and I can completely understand that people do not necessarily have a use case for a specific cryptocurrency within their business processes and they are instead looking at how they might apply different network architectures to solve business problems. I think it is unfortunate though that these things have been pitted against each other as if they are mutually exclusive.”
Would you say from your time on Wall Street that there is real concern among institutions about the disruption that public blockchains could pose to the financial industry?
“The financial industry has been concerned about disruption of their payments business for some time, not necessarily about systems like Bitcoin or Abra because they were happening more at the sides.
“They have been more concerned in the near-term by systems like Square and Facebook implementing payments rather than a total disruption of the banking industry by cryptocurrency. Although when companies like Square start implementing seamless Bitcoin integration, then they might start worrying more.”
Given the huge rise of platform blockchains like Eos and Cardano which are aiming to displace Ethereum, do you think collectively these platforms might be overvalued considering the lack of DApps being built on top of them?
“Well there is certainly a lot of choice right now as well as subsidies for moving developers to some of these new platforms with grants. I do not know if this is a sustainable way to create a network effect of useful applications or if it just gets you a lot of short-term attention.
“There is no reason that one of these newer platforms might not get a lot of it right. I think each of these projects has useful and interesting properties. It will be more interesting to see what mergers and acquisitions look like in the blockchain space.”
At Quorum, I understand you had a lot of interactions with the Zcash team. There have been concerns raised by the US Secret Service about privacy-centric blockchains. Do you think governments are going to start coming down a lot heavier on these blockchains versus the more public ones like Bitcoin?
“I am now on the board at the Zcash foundation. I do think there is going to be increased scrutiny of those projects, but I think it is an important opportunity to work with regulators to help them understand that strong cryptography and robust privacy are features of these systems and especially important to national security because we probably don’t want our entire economy on a world-readable ledger.”
Building on that, do you think that governments might have a problem with not being able to control who can and cannot use those privacy features?
“There are ways for law enforcement to adapt to these things which do not require the banning of such technologies. If you ban them for legitimate use all you do is force criminals only to use these technologies.
“We have seen similar fates befall things like the Tor network, which could be very helpful for more private internet communications and allow normal citizens to have better agency over their internet communications.
“And because it was always positioned as a network that was only useful for illicit activity, it was never able to take off in a way that other technologies have, and we risk the same issue with projects like Monero and Zcash. So, as this stage it is really an education issue for government.”
You have talked about maximalism being a problem on many sides of the blockchain debate. Have you seen any increase in dialogue between say, the Bitcoin maximalists, the Ethereum community and the private blockchain space?
“There are a lot of people who are relatively centrist. I would say that most people are not maximalists. So, there is increased communication and more than that there is an ongoing process of learning within a lot of corporates, who are even some of these people who initially said ‘blockchain not Bitcoin’, who are starting to understand some of those more nuanced positions.
“Such as where tokenised representations of existing assets that they hold might be a perfectly legitimate use of this technology and then if you actually need to settle this against some kind of cash representation that you need tokenised money, and before you know it, your consumers want to hold that and so it looks like you have crypto money and then maybe that needs to flow free to be interoperable with other currencies that exist. I would say that people are definitely moving in that direction generally.
“Are Bitcoin Maximalists becoming less maximalist…that not’s something I want to comment on!”
On the topic of interoperability, do you think that there is enough progress being made around blockchains communicating with each other and what are the main challenges of communication between public and private blockchains?
“There are some really interesting projects working on this such as Polkadot, Cosmos and even Hyperledger Quilt. A lot of people are working on this. One of the interesting things we are working on at Clovyr is the ability to put all of those solutions next to each other and allow developers to use whichever one that they want to connect to.
“That’s the challenge; that it is difficult to arbitrarily impose interoperability between two things that aren’t used yet, why would you want to connect them together at this stage. So, there needs to be an organic desire to bring them together.
“It has been difficult though to try to create an interoperability standard in a top-down way for things that are moving targets on a lower level right now. Although some very interesting things are happening.”
What skills do you think we need more of right now in the blockchain and crypto space?
“We need people that have hybrid skills. We need people that have enough of a technical understanding when they are making business choices that those choices make sense. And you need a technical team that has enough of a sense of philosophy, vision and humanity in order to build applications that you believe in collectively. It would also be good to have more people with information security backgrounds.”
Are there any specific coding skill sets people could work on if they are trying to move into the industry?
“What we do need more of is people who do not just have knowledge of some programming language but who also understand complex application design and how these things fit together.
“It is almost a badge of honour in this community to not have a computer science background and while I understand the pride of being an autodidact, it is not a bad idea to learn from the 50 years of computer scientists who came before you to understand what works and what doesn’t before you create a custodian or something that holds a lot of people’s money. And pay for a security audit!”
Do you think the way that Ethereum is designed means that its attack surface is still too wide?
“It certainly is wide, mainly because of it being how agnostic it is designed to be, in effect just being an arbitrary virtual machine. The good news is that a lot of people are paying attention to and working on Ethereum. It is the bugs that you have not found yet which are the problem and the bugs that are remediated are even better.
“So, having ongoing security testing and active community is better than a system which has no one looking at it and so you assume is secure. Robust testing and trying to break things are good for these systems.”
Given the that fact that bugs were found with EOS just before its launch, how would you gauge the state of security auditing right now?
“I talk a lot to the information security community about blockchain as well because there is a jokiness towards blockchain because of how oversold the word is. Much like how the information security community laughed at the cloud for a long time, but now there is a legitimate job in being a cloud security architect.
“We need more people from the information security industry involved in designing bug bounty programs. I think we will see as this stuff becomes more legitimate on top of the money to be made, that the sentiment will change in the information security community towards blockchain.”