Henri Pihkala on unpredictable development through data flows monetization

With smart homes, cities, cars and street lighting, by 2020, according to Gartner, about 8.4 billion IoT devices will be connected to the Internet. In the future, devices, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, will become smarter than people. The world is now sinking into a huge ocean of data generated by all these devices. To make the process of information exchange between people and machines simple and freed of a chain of intermediaries, Streamr, a startup headquartered in Switzerland, has launched a homonymous decentralized platform and designed its own instruments for data transmission. Using the platform offered by the startup, any device can buy or sell data. In an interview to Invest Foresight, Henri Pihkala, the project founder, described the prospects of the emerging data economy.

– How does the platform works?

– Streamr aims to tokenize the value in real-time data. A good example to illustrate Streamr’s offering is a self-driving car. For optimal operation, it constantly needs data from other machines, such as traffic congestion information from other cars, electricity prices on nearby charging stations, weather forecasts, and so on. Streamr provides a single interface for real-time data delivery and payment, making data streams tradeable by people and machines using the cryptographic token called DATAcoin which lives on the blockchain. The car can autonomously get the data it needs and pay for it. In turn, the car can sell the data it produces, such as traffic data to other cars, road condition measurements to a smart city, location and battery level to advertisers, and so on. A data stream economy is born.

– The role of project token is twofold: it is both a usage token on the Streamr network and a payment token on the Streamr marketplace. How much does DATAcoin cost now?

– Bitfinex, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, was the first major exchange to list the Streamr DATAcoin for trading. One whole DATAcoin costs around $0.10 USD at the moment.

– On the one hand “a data stream economy is born”. On the other hand, blockchain and AI can deprive a huge number of people. When the self-driving cars are widely disseminated then tens of millions of people will lose their jobs. Could you please assess this risk?

– It will happen with 100% certainty. Only the timing is unknown. It does not make sense for people to have jobs which machines and mathematics execute better. On a very long time frame, this includes most of the current professions including mine as developer and CEO. We are super social animals and will always need and appreciate other people. I hope that future technology will help us spend more time on creativity and sociality, and globally improve the standards of living.

– In which verticals can Streamr be used (except a self-driving car) and why?

– Streamr is a good fit for many data-driven use cases across different business verticals. Our analytics tool, the Streamr Engine, has already been used for algorithmic trading, helping journalists find stories, predicting people flow in buildings, analysing and visualising marine vessel data, and running crowd-controlled games, to name a few. Adding the possibility to monetise data streams peer-to-peer will enable new unpredictable use cases. People will get creative and build chains of data refinement, and come up with new business models.

– You write that Streamr is blockchain agnostic, and can operate alongside any smart contract platform in the future. You will begin by supporting Ethereum, because it is available, familiar to you, and there’s a lot of promise for the future. Which platforms are you going to cooperate with?

– Ethereum has good adoption with both individual developers and enterprises, and it is leading the way to web3 and decentralised apps. Its further development is advancing at reasonable rate and new innovative projects are joining the ecosystem at a fast pace, boosting the network effect. On the network level we will only target Ethereum for now. On the tool side (Streamr Engine and Editor), we are looking to build integrations with other interesting platforms in the space, for example IOTA. Streamr tooling will act as glue to enable different systems like traditional web APIs, the Streamr Network, off-chain analytics, Ethereum smart contracts, and the IOTA Tangle to interconnect and interoperate.

– Jeremy Anderson, the head of KPMG, says that, in contrast to the blockchain, projects in the field of AI need huge investments and do not bring quick returns. Do you agree with him? How much investment did Streamr receive? What is the payback period, according to your calculations, for Streamr?

– All pioneering technology will take time to develop and has the potential to disrupt if successful. Technologies like AI and the blockchain are marathons. If you try to run a marathon at the speed of a sprint, you will not make it to the finish line. The world cannot be improved by only chasing quick returns. However in the crypto space, chasing quick returns and potential disruption have interestingly been able to go hand-in-hand so far, perhaps due to the hype surrounding the space. This is certainly bound to normalise over time.

30 million Swiss franc (around 31 million USD) was contributed to the Streamr project in the various phases of our token generating event, concluding in October. The market cap of the Streamr DATA token has roughly doubled since.

– You create a market for real-time data. Who are your main competitors in the data market?

– The data market is just one part of the Streamr stack, alongside the data delivery network and the processing engine. Most notably IOTA just recently announced that they are building a data marketplace. There are also some smaller upcoming ones. To us it has been obvious from the start that there will be several marketplaces due to the large potential market and the open nature of decentralised data. Each will probably find their own niches and target groups. We are targeting the low-latency, high-throughput use cases such as finance, social media, and M2M automation in IoT. On the infrastructure side, the competitors in scalable messaging are typically hosted services offered by cloud providers. By using these services, all your data will be in the hands of the cloud provider. Decentralisation adds privacy, robustness, ease of use, cost effectiveness, and monetisation possibilities while completely removing vendor lockdown.

– Elon Musk commented on Twitter that artificial intelligence (AI) is more dangerous than North Korea. It’s not the first time when the entrepreneur warned about the dangers of AI. Will AI and blockchain lead to a huge disaster or robot takeover that may destroy humanity? Comment, please.

– One thing is for sure: If a dangerous AI ever emerges, it will be decentralised. Turning off a centralised AI would be possible if deemed necessary. This will not be the case for a decentralised AI. Developments in decentralised technology such as the blockchain can lead to the invention of technology, incentivisation mechanisms, and unlocking of computational power that could potentially power such an AI, but not in the near future.

– What are the prospects for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in Switzerland?

– A “crypto valley” has formed in Zug, Switzerland due to its relatively well-defined legislation and regulation regarding crypto assets. Blockchain technologies and related businesses are very global by nature, so the geographical location mostly matters from regulative and ecosystem standpoints. Switzerland currently has the competitive edge in Europe.

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