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Udacity - Built on Blockchain

Built on Blockchain is a brand-new six-part original documentary series from Udacity. The series addresses the far-reaching influence blockchain technology could have on our lives and the world around us. In creating this series, our goal is to demystify blockchain by focusing on how activists and entrepreneurs are building blockchain-powered solutions that can impact arenas such as finance and politics, and which will help us uncover new answers to persistent global challenges—issues such as financial inclusion, identity security, and creative content ownership.

We’re extremely excited to debut this new series, and we invite you to explore the first three episodes today, beginning with “Episode I: In Trust We Trust.”

In Trust We Trust

One of the many remarkable individuals we had the opportunity to interview for Episode 1 was Bill Maurer. Bill is the Dean of the School of Social Sciences, and a Professor of Anthropology, Law, and Criminology, at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the Director of the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, and his most recent books include “Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff” and “How Would You Like to Pay?: How Technology Is Changing the Future of Money.”  

The scope of this interview is about as wide-ranging as one could imagine, with Bill taking us all the way back to 600 BC to discover the first seeds of what would become the future of currency, as can be witnessed in this excerpted exchange:

Does this then, represent the dawn of  “representational” and “fiat” currencies, and is that what the first coins essentially were, and became?

The first coins were minted around 600 BC or so. One of the things that is really fascinating for me about these early coins is that you can really see how challenging it was for people to adopt this new technology. It was not at all obvious that if I had one of these coins and I handed it to you, I was thereby transferring value to you. It was a very alien concept.

One Block, One Vote

Episode 2 of Built on Blockchain, entitled “One Block, One Vote,” explores the ways in which blockchain innovators are working to secure the voting process. Across the globe, we’ve seen too many elections hacked, manipulated, and stolen, and the question the episode explores is, can blockchain save the vote? If that sounds either overly policy-laden, or excessively technological, the episode itself is anything but:

“Our families were targeted. A lot of people were killed. Soon after there were elections. Some things we saw as little kids were very shocking. Just the picture of somebody forcing you to vote at gunpoint.”

This is how the episode begins, with Nimit Sawhney describing India in 1984, after the assassination of the country’s Prime Minister. As Nimit makes clear, those were terrible times, but as viewers learn in the episode, those events also instilled in Nimit a reverence for the sanctity of the electoral process that informs his work today. Nimit is now the co-founder of a company called Voatz, which is pioneering the use of blockchain technology to secure modern voting platforms.

Invisible Billions

In Episode 3, we tell the story of the “Invisible Billions”; those individuals who, through lack of identifying paperwork, exist on the margins of the modern world—unable to vote, unable to pay taxes, unable to collect welfare. Biometrics has emerged as a solution to determining and affirming identity for this population, but the question of how we secure that information looms large. As Mariana Dahan of the World Identity Network chillingly observes in the episode, “If this information falls into the wrong hands, then we are actually putting a child at risk, for future abuses, and future persecution. There must be a way to do it differently, and that’s where blockchain technology comes into play.”

The episode opens on the story of Tey Al Rjula, who was born in Kuwait in 1990, the year the Gulf War erupted, and who lost his identity with the destruction of civil registries—among the documents lost was his birth certificate.

“There I was in the asylum camp, without a birth certificate, without documents, not being able to identify who I am.”

Today, Tey Al Rjula is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tykn, a company which leverages blockchain technology to build electronic legal identity, authentication and trust service tools for governments, financial institutions and NGOs.

Journeys of Discovery

Every new Nanodegree program we launch affords us the opportunity to meet new thinkers, engage with new issues, and explore new possibilities. In the past, we’ve talked about the future of the smart home with Tony Faddel, the innovator behind the iPhone. We’ve considered new frontiers in AI with Facebook’s Chief AI Scientist Yan LeCun. We’ve explored technology’s far-reaching impact on our global economy with Anne Toth, Head of Data Policy at the Word Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

With the launch of our Blockchain Developer Nanodegree program, we have embarked on another incredible journey of discovery, and we are meeting, engaging, and collaborating with some of the most influential and innovative thinkers in the world today, each of whom brings their past experiences to bear upon the challenges we face going forward, and the positive change that is possible when we put innovation to use in the service of social good.

Technology is important, how humans leverage technology; that’s the story that really needs to be told—and retold—as society transforms. What we’re aiming to do with this series is close the gap between hype and hope by focusing on real human accomplishments, impacts, and outcomes.

We invite you to experience Built on Blockchain today.

Skott Bennett
Skott Bennett
Skott Bennett is the Brand Creative Director for Udacity. He has previously led creative teams at Kenshoo and Rocket Fuel. A Bay Area native, he is also the drummer for U2 tribute band Zoo Station.