This week, our 6 Questions go to Cristina Dolan, co-founder and chief operating officer of InsureX Technologies, an alternative insurance marketplace based on blockchain, and CEO of InsideChains, which builds large consortia and marketplaces with economic token layers to facilitate the global exchange of data and transactions.
Cristina is an engineer, entrepreneur and author who has successfully embraced advanced technologies to build and grow disruptive businesses throughout her career in media, telecommunications, e-commerce and, more recently, fintech. As an early adopter of crypto and blockchain technologies, she co-founded and advised blockchain-enabled companies in climate tech, insurtech, healthtech and crypto trading. As a veteran of evolving networked technologies, she is currently focused on cybersecurity, which has become the most immediate financial material ESG and sustainability risk organizations face today, and co-authored a recently published book: Transparency in ESG and the Circular Economy, Capturing Opportunities Through Data (available at ESGdataBook.com).
1 — What has been the toughest challenge you’ve faced in our industry so far?
In the early days of crypto and blockchain, I would speak on panels where people would say things like, “Crypto and blockchain are only used by bad actors.” Unfortunately there are still “leaders” that talk about the criminal activities that are enabled by crypto and blockchain that “need to be stopped.” It is amazing that they haven’t learned from the radical transformation of media and e-commerce through the evolution of connected technologies.
It is unfortunate that some “leaders” just don’t understand that the evolution of new technologies also aligns with the changing needs of communities. Technology adoption is one of the most important pillars of corporate sustainability! (Look at Blockbuster or Kodak!) When companies fail, it impacts the communities, partners and even the local tax base that pays for services like education. We live in a world that is evolving faster and faster, and regulators want more and more data and transparency — you can’t stay in business without adopting new technologies.
The beauty of the hyper-innovation that has evolved from the interest in crypto and blockchain is unparalleled by any other disruptive technology. It has influenced innovation from cybersecurity, which utilizes cryptography, to supply chain, which needs transparency more than ever before!
Lack of understanding is probably the toughest challenge. It is hard to keep up with the accelerating evolution of technology in the context of social needs, like improved sustainability data tracking or improved controlled access to healthcare data.
Today, there is a requirement to be a self-learner just to keep up, and it takes up a lot of time. Even for those of us who are curious and love to learn and focus on solving problems with technology, the avalanche of evolving technologies can feel overwhelming.
2 — Does it matter if we ever figure out who Satoshi really is or was?
I hope that Satoshi Nakamoto remains a mystery forever! While there has been a lot of detailed speculation around who was working on the foundational building blocks and who was influential in the public-key cryptography and decentralized architectures, it is important to keep the technology separate from the behavior or personal activities or an individual. Our “networked” culture is full of “celebrity” figures who have large social media followings and endorse products. This kind of celebrity would be a distraction to the impact and evolution.
Bitcoin is the grandfather of an incredible age of hyper-innovation which is hard to understand with all the complex interrelated layers, like economics, technology, politics, or simply how to transact with Bitcoin. Adding a celebrity layer to Bitcoin would just add more polarization and misunderstanding than what already exists, creating an unnecessary distraction or excuses to ignore the transformation that is coming quickly. Celebrity figures like Elon Musk have moved the crypto markets.
Organizations that don’t embrace technology will not be sustainable. We have seen many examples of this over the past few decades. Moving from a figurative representation to an actual human who will be depicted as having possible political or economic interests will only become an excuse for some leaders to ignore the requirement to transform to meet the needs of a changing society.
3 — When you tell people you’re in the blockchain industry, how do they react?
Years ago I would publish social media posts about blockchain and crypto, and people would say “block-what?” At the time, I was working in the fintech space, where some peers in the institutional financial trading space would make jokes about it — “…there she goes again talking about crypto or blockchain…” Of course, many of them transitioned into the space later as their industry began to shrink.
Today, there is a totally different reaction. Many people are eager to learn more about the technologies and the potential trajectory of transformation. I do get a lot of calls from people who have “lost their keys” and want to know if there is a way to find them — of course, if it was that easy to solve for lost keys, people would have unlocked some of Satoshi’s Bitcoin by now!
Focusing on cybersecurity, I do get a lot of questions about custody and security. There are so many people across all industries who are now doing incredibly interesting things in the space. It is fun to listen and learn about possible solutions to critical social issues utilizing the technology. People are now thinking about the use of these technologies within important or sophisticated business processes, and collaborating on possible solutions is now a lot more fun!
4 — Which two superpowers would you most want to have, and how would you combine them for good… or evil?
Speed-related superpowers would be the most valuable in a world that is evolving at hyper speed. While some people might describe me as being energetic, I would love to have the ability to do more and experience more each day!
First would be related to travel speed that would enable movement from one location to another location without traffic jams or airport check-in protocols, which have gotten more complicated with the pandemic. So much time is wasted in traveling. As we begin to plan more face-to-face meetings that require putting travel time into the calendar to arrive in time, it is clear that having the ability to travel at light speed would save time. While the carbon footprint for travel could be decreased since there would not be a requirement for traditional vehicles, I am sure that traveling at the speed of light would create some significant heat.
The second would be related to the speed of ingesting information and understanding it. The faster you can learn and connect the dots, the faster you can apply the intuitive understanding towards building valuable solutions for the growing number of problems our world faces today. This would enable me to do what I love to do, but even faster.
While living forever creates issues, including the increased demand for the limited resources on earth, the idea of being able to do and experience even more during our short lives is a good alternative.
5 — Name the things you own that you’ll never part with.
This is a great question, because my answer today is probably a little different from things I would have listed years ago. For example, a passport, which has been my gateway for learning, connecting and growing is probably the most valuable tool I possess. While it can be replaced if lost, it is still one of my most important possessions because of the possibilities it offers to engage with people all over the world.
One of the lessons from the pandemic was in helping me understand how much I missed engaging with close friends all over the world. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the passport didn’t offer the opportunity to travel, especially if it represented residency in a country with high covid cases. During the pandemic, the passport wasn’t as valuable as it had been throughout my life. It was even impossible to engage with close friends who lived within a mile of my home. While the evolution of conferencing tools has made it easier to video conference, the nature of the conversations tends to be more transactional and efficient, which eliminates the opportunity to learn or collaborate to the same degree. Travel is a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, we need more than just a passport to make it possible during the pandemic.
I have always loved beautiful watches — the old-fashioned jeweled masterpiece kind — and have a treasured collection that reminds me of important milestones throughout my life. It is such a treat to wear a beautiful timepiece, yet I rely more on my Fitbit these days to track my early morning runs regardless of where I am in the world. While I also have an Apple Watch Series 7, I still prefer my Fitbit with its longer lasting battery and its efficient metrics.
It is sad to admit that my mobile phone has become so important to my day-to-day activities, communications and work. While I don’t use it for banking and avoid SMS verifications because it can be a security risk, I recognize its value in remaining engaged and active both professionally and socially. It is becoming a bigger part of identity, and the required COVID-19 vaccine verifications are so much easier on a mobile device. While having the latest mobile phone isn’t as important, what is important is the connectivity and engagement. I love the ability to grab a spontaneous picture and send it to a friend or the ability to connect with people on demand. As an avid photographer with a large collection of amazing cameras from the old Rolleiflex, Kodak Brownie and an old tiny spy camera, to the latest Canon professional DSLR cameras and lenses, nothing beats the spontaneous nature of using a mobile device to capture an emotional moment and share it instantly with friends. There is still a time and place for these beautiful traditional cameras, but the smartphone has a unique use case.
I treasure the more traditional artwork my sons have made in school over the years, which I have framed and placed on my walls, because the art represents their interests and activities over the years. Time feels like it passes faster and faster, and having the ability to look at their art and pictures, which I have throughout my home, brings back the joy and wonderful memories.
6 — What’s the future of social media?
Social media has evolved over the last two decades as networked devices, smartphones and specialized applications have matured while the people that use them are also evolving and aging. For example, Waze lets you know that people you may know are traveling nearby. You could argue that the shared economy is a derivative of social networks that enabled growing mobility and shared solutions within communities.
The nature of information that is shared on social media has changed as the demographics of certain networks have changed dramatically. Freedom of speech isn’t always welcome, and the ability to block opinions have polarized communities. There are a plethora of different communications tools which enable private communications. It is hard to keep up with all the different options and networks that friends prefer for direct communications.
There is a move towards smaller private groups on networks with encryption and security. Mobile devices have become a critical component of how people communicate and identify themselves; for example, some COVID-19 vaccine verifications are dependent on smartphone access.
While social media platforms where influencers inform large numbers of followers are still popular, they will need to evolve as the community matures. A different strategy will be required to attract younger digital native generations who have a different relationship with their digital identity and the digital worlds they play and engage in. How they communicate and engage may be an extension of the video games they participate in. It isn’t a surprise to see the popularity in NFTs when you look at the popularity of digital objects in video games over the years that have generated billions of dollars for popular gaming platforms. The popularity of digital worlds where identity is tied to digital representation of an individual’s interests and values will continue to rise.
While there will continue to be a variety of specialized social networks that cater to professional or other communities with common interests, the younger digital native generations are going to be more comfortable interacting and communicating through the use of their self-created digital identities in virtual environments. Technologies are evolving quickly to support immersive environments to facilitate interesting new interactions and experiences. The possibilities for the future are endless and not necessarily a direct extension of today’s leading social platforms. Who knows, maybe the future will be about sharing virtual experiences in the same way people share TikTok video clips? This will require easy ways to create the experiences, and yet we already see young kids creating interactive environments in Roblox.
A wish for the blockchain community:
Wishing the ambitious blockchain community continues in its excitement for problem solving and innovation. While not all problems will benefit from the technology, the energy applied to problem solving through the evolution of the technology is contagious and inspiring! Hoping the ideation and creativity grows more to address some of the world’s biggest problems!