Samson Williams is a financial anthropologist and a partner at Axes and Eggs in Washington D.C, a crypto mining company and blockchain consultancy. He talks to us about how blockchain is transforming life and society as we know it, and why it’s the great equalizer that will bring balance to existing power structures.
You describe your job description as “Explaining WTF Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and Unicorns are … to normal people, small children and c-suite execs.” What is it that you do?
I’m a partner at Axes and Eggs, a cryptocurrency mining operator and blockchain consultancy. We do three things:
- Cryptocurrency mining
- Initial Coin Offering (ICO) advising
- Blockchain consultancy
How do you explain the concept of blockchain and crypto to small children?
Much like wifi. I could explain to you how wifi works, but do you care? No. You just want to know the password to log in. So too, with blockchain, I focus on the customer perspective. Because the customer doesn’t care about how wifi works (or their iPhone; you’ll never hear an impassioned speech on the revolutionary nature of Linux) – they just want it to be simple.
But if you need an example, blockchain is like a group text message chain. Everyone in the group text can see the entire chain. If someone adds a new comment to the text message, everyone is in on the chain. The difference with blockchain is that you can’t delete a section or part or line of the text message.
Tada! Blockchain! The “immutability” (the fact you can’t change the text message) is what makes tracking financial transactions a great use case. Using the text message analogy, everyone can see who owes who what, because it’s all in the text.
Which cryptocurrencies do you mine?
A few. The lawyer on our team, Maureen Murat, Esq., says that if I answered this question, it may be construed as investment advice. So we mine a lot. The most common ones, as well as more obscure/less known ones. We’re particularly interested in new ICOs whose coins/tokens will need to be mined.
Why? Cause you aren’t going to 10x, 100x, or 1000x mining the top cryptos. With new cryptos being created that solve new unique challenges, we like to identify the ones we think will take off and mine those.
For instance, people who begin mining bitcoin in 2009/2010 when it was less than US$0.03 are holding on to bitcoin that is about US$11k each today. Hence why we focus on research to pick long-term winners.
When and how did you first get into crypto mining?
I worked at Fannie Mae and the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) told me to buy bitcoin, and so began a hobby that later turned into a business.
Crypto mining’s electricity usage is skyrocketing by the day and requires more power than the total usage in 159 countries around the world. At the same time, we’re all constantly being reminded to turn off our bedroom lights to combat global warming and save the planet. Is crypto hurting more than it’s healing?
The real question is “What is the carbon footprint of our current financial system?
SWIFT is inefficient and has a huge carbon footprint. Except we have never had a reason to think, “how much power does our credit card and banking system use?” It’s not only the transaction power cost but data centers, employees driving to offices, the heating/cooling electrical cost of keeping those buildings open, etc…
However, Axes and Eggs is aware of the electricity cost and its associated carbon footprint. Hence why we’re in talks to partner with a solar park. Solar power has nearly a neutral carbon footprint and ultimately makes sense from a kwh cost.
You offer blockchain consultancy services. What do you find are some of the pain points people most need help with?
Change. The biggest pain point is change. Banks have been sitting on blockchain patents since at least 2014. However, blockchain tech removes banks from the equation.
No bank wants to implement a decentralized ledger system for a variety of reasons:
- Money laundering would drop to nearly zero. Remember, blockchain is like a group text message. If everyone could see who has been sending what to whom, how would banks make money on the transaction fees? Too, it would make auditing banks a WHOLE lot easier. And we’d know exactly what bad transactions they were engaged in. Imagine if in 2008 before the financial crisis, we had a way to track ALL bank, mortgage, credit default and synthetic CDOs [collateralized debt obligations]? We would look at that email and see exactly who owed what to whom AND who was responsible for the “toxic” assets.
- The financial services sector will never agree to that level of transparency, as it would lead to too much accountability. They just want to make money, not be accountable to the people whose money they gamble with.
- Aren’t blockchain transactions anonymous? No! Bitcoin blockchain is the most transparent system in the world. Remember, everything is public. The worst blockchain to launder money in the world is Bitcoin.
So yeah, the biggest pain point is change. Because blockchain is digital transformation in action and humans hate change.
You’re still actively involved in a variety of fintech projects. Fintech is a disruptor in what is largely considered a conservative industry. Now there’s blockchain. How does this new tech slot into or topple mainstream fintech?
See my previous answer. Giant companies never want to lose any of their market shares. All the blockchain startups and entrepreneurs are building new businesses. These small businesses are focused on efficiencies, reducing cost and meeting customers’ needs in a manner the big guys have always ignored. So yeah, customer service is toppling mainstream companies. Not fintech.
What are the key industry trends you’ve observed in blockchain in the last few years?
- Cryptocurrencies! I love them. Because they’re a blockchain awareness, education and adoption campaign. Because now everyone agrees the tech works. So instead of asking “What is blockchain?”, the tech industry has moved towards “What can’t we put on a blockchain?” Keep in mind though, blockchain isn’t hot sauce. You can’t just put that shit on everything and tada! It’ll work. Some things are still best addressed using a spreadsheet or SQL database.
- New blockchains that address many of the areas of improvement for the Bitcoin blockchain. Progress is a beautiful thing.
Commenting on a post you made about the post views Axes and Eggs got from nearly 100 employees at Goldman Sachs, you added, “Maybe they recognize it’s not the lions you’ve got to be concerned about but those damn tiny mosquitoes.” Blockchain was envisioned and designed to be decentralized and essentially power-agnostic, yet there is increasing evidence that the big guns are moving in on the industry. In your opinion, how is all this likely to play out?
The “big guns” have been aware of Bitcoin nearly since its inception. Digital Gold is a great book that gives a history of how the big guns have been aware and trying to squash Bitcoin for at least 5 years. You may also want to google how many “blockchain-like” patents JPMorgan Chase has filed in the last few years. It’s over 100.
The “big guns” are mad because the Bitcoin blockchain is a 9-year-old open-source experiment. It has no CEO, board, HR department or employees. More importantly (other than the paradigm shift in how value and wealth are created and maintained), it’s incredibly hard to get a patent on something that has been, and continues to be, freely shared for over 9 years. If the “big guns” can’t control it, they can’t profit from it.
But yeah. The Goldman Sachs folks are funny. Axes and Eggs is a tiny startup of 3 dreamers, aspiring to be a small business. Small businesses are the lifeblood of any economy. So when we look at our data analytics and see that 100+ people from Goldman Sachs, EY, Deloitte, Accenture and the rest of the top 50 blue chip companies visit our LinkedIn page daily and read 98% of our posts on Twitter and Instagram – we’re polite digital neighbors and say “Hey guys, come over for lunch”.
Except for IBM. We average about 200+ unique visitors per LinkedIn post. So yeah, if IBM is advising you on the future of blockchain, just follow me on LinkedIn and get the truth from the horse’s mouth.
We’re flattered that we have sooo many IBM fans but come on guys! When you don’t compensate us or try to engage us, we gotta put you on our shit list. Which is why we’re actively targeting your clients. Because we don’t need to partner with you, once we woo your customers. Because when it comes to thought leadership, tech AND customer service (fintech is a customer service battle), our customers are our most important thing.
Which is how this paradigm will play out. You don’t need to be a vast company to change the world or earn a healthy living. Tech is about efficiencies. The easiest efficiency is getting rid of the “big guns” historical legacy of glut. Hi guys! Startups and entrepreneurs are your diet plan!
Speaking of which, what’s your theory on Satoshi Nakamoto?
Satoshi Nakamoto is an AI. That’s a longer conversation but that is my “professional” analysis. We can talk about it more over beers or in your next article.
You list travelling the world on your resume, stating, “One can not be a socially responsible global citizen if you only know or are aware of your own reality”. It can be argued that there’s a lot of focus on blockchain development for established markets, but not enough projects that serve the socio-economic, political, and health issues plaguing emergent markets. What are your thoughts on blockchain’s responsibility to serve those in need, and when – if ever – will the industry mature enough for this to become a top priority?
The question is “Do private citizens bear a responsibility to citizens of other tribes?” That isn’t a blockchain question. That’s a human, political and policy question. What are governments around the world doing to address the socio-economic, political, and health issues plaguing emergent markets?
More importantly, why is there a global north and a global south?
Blockchain is not a cure-all for humanity. It is a tech (like wifi) that will make things easier. How will that tech be leveraged? At the end of the day, that’s up to people.
People are a conundrum, wrapped in an enigma, swaddled in a puzzle. Why? Because while we will always look out for our immediate needs, we also have the capacity to do good for humanity.
Will we do it? Not before the AIs enslave us all. So it’s sorta a moot point.
What are some of the best things about blockchain technology that’s going to completely transform the face of society as we know it?
How will police profile and harass people of color in the USA, when driverless cars dominate transportation? The #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA arose because tech has enabled, for the first time in human history, oppressed people to clearly share/show, unfiltered and often in real time, the egregious and blatant forms of oppression and institutional bias.
Philando Castile was murdered in the passenger seat of a car by a police officer, whose punishment was paid leave. Sandra Bland was murdered by police after being pulled over for unsubstantiated reasons. No one has ever been so much as charged. In August 2017, Xavier McMullen, a 17-year-old in Ohio in police custody, allegedly shot himself in the head while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. WTF?
Blockchain network will be the infrastructure of driverless cars. It will also cause many societal changes. For instance, if the police can’t randomly pull people of color over for being black or brown, what will they do to keep their power? Yes, there will be other things but I’m most excited about tackling abuse of police power via automation made possible by blockchain tech. I’m also keen on the privacy implications that will arise when privacy and ‘public’ is being redefined.
Also, blockchain/distributed ledger tech will enable the total number of people shot by the police nationwide (in the USA) to be tracked. Currently, there is no system for tracking that. We have to rely on the newspapers. In 2017, 987 were killed by the police. Were they all guilty? Let’s assume 90% were. Did their alleged crime warrant immediate death? We’ll never know. Did the 10% (98) of innocent people’s family deserve to lose their loved ones? So yes, blockchain will help with many things – if there is the political will to use it for good.
What is blockchain’s dark side, and who is going to work to help us overcome or transcend this?
Humans. We hate change. Blockchain is and will move power structures. Those in power will fight tooth and nail to stay in power. At whose expense? Everyone else’s.
What is your big “Why”, and how do crypto and blockchain fit into the picture?
My “Why” is “Why”. I’m intellectually curious. As a classically trained anthropologist, I’m less concerned with the flavor of tech and more interested in how will humans, culture, society, psychology and organizations respond to the tech. Technology has been changing the evolution of humans, humanity and human thought since “fire” was revolutionary. Digital transformation is what I’m interested in. How tech will continue to shape and model humanity and its cultural belief system.
Can’t wait till we move to the conversations about AIs and cloning. Riddle me this:
If I clone myself, who has first legal rights to my property in the event of my death? Me (meaning my clone) or my biological offspring? Is my clone my biological offspring?
In the grand scheme of things, technology ain’t shit. You have a 3lbs supercomputer resting on your shoulders and there isn’t a single piece of hardware in it. The future isn’t tech. Its biology and organic computers. But for the moment, blockchain is fun!
If readers take away only one thought from this interview, what should it be?
Trickle down economics only work when you’re already on your knees.
Blockchain can help everyone stand upright – if we have the political will to do so. But first, there will be revolution. It’s not blockchain’s fault. It’s just humans being human.