Rutger van Zuidam

Founder Dutchchain

Blockchain & AI Hackathons For Global Challenges - Rutger van Zuidam of Oddysey.org

Apr 12, 2019
Rutger van Zuidam

Blockchain & AI Hackathons For Global Challenges

Rutger van Zuidam is the founder of Dutchchain, the blockchain development agency behind Oddysey.org a hackathon solving the world's biggest problems using AI & Blockchain. Backed by the European Union and the Dutch Government, the DutchChain ecosystem unites more than 6.000 members, among whom large corporations and SMEs, start-ups, individual entrepreneurs, scientists, developers, engineers, students, government officials, legal experts, and many other stakeholders.

Highlights of the episode:

  • How blockchain works and why it matters
  • Why blockchain brings a better internet
  • Examples of global challenges Oddysey is tackling
  • How is Oddysey supporting startups before and after the hackathon
  • Machines that are sovereign and collaborative

Useful links:

Oddysey - https://www.odyssey.org/

Rutger van Zuidam's linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/rutgervz/

Nest Egg - https://nestegg.eu/

[00:32] How did Rutger came across blockchain?

[03:03] How to apply blockchain to positive impact?

[06:27] Do we want more surveillance state?

[07:13] Challenges for hackathons

[09:43] Once protocols are unlocked, new ways of collaborating happen.

[11:43] Example of social and environmental impact companies

[13:27] Investing in solar panels NestEgg

[14:39] Autonomous swarm robotics - machines that owns themselves

[17:11] Support to teams after the hackathon

[18:38] How to take a prototype into the real world

[19:24] Guiding an ecosystem

[20:10] What kind of world is Odyssey creating?

[21:33] Contributing to thousands of people doing meaningful work

Listen to this episode now:

Read the transcription: 

[00:31] Maiko: In today's episode I talked to Rutger van Zuidam founder of Odyssey, a Hackathon focused on solving some of the world's biggest problems using AI and Blockchain. Rutger is a series founder, and faculty member at Singularity University with a focus on Blockchain and Crypto currencies. During the week end long Hackathon, Odissey, helps 100 teams solve global problems, such as creating a fossil fuel free future, promoting financial inclusion and finding new ways of retirement. Registrations are opened and Odissey gives out $200,000 in cash rewards for winning teams. It's great to have you on the show. 


[01:10] Rutger: Thank you so much for having me Maiko. 


[01:13] Maiko: You've been a founder multiple times, when did you come across Blockchain the first time, and saw the potential to solve massive global problems? 

[01:22] Rutger: Wow, good question to start with, because there are multiple moments, because in 2010, I discovered Bitcoin and I studied it for a couple of years and played around with it in terms of what kind of things you could develop it with. So, I try to create a point of sale system for bars and restaurants, say to compete with Bitcoin, stuff like that, just to learn more about what it can do and how it can make a difference compared to what we already can do with banks. So, I wanted to know the difference, and I think it was in 2014 and 15, that the word Blockchain came more and more to the surface. Of course, there was already just this type of wallets called Blockchain dot info. But talking about the possibilities of Blockchain or in other words, the mechanism of how Bitcoin works. And there are several elements in that system that make it work really well, that could potentially be used, be used for other purposes, then transferring value directly from one to another. And what I noticed is that it was not before 2014 and 15 that people actually started talking about the potential Blockchain. So, that's like, two parts of the story, two chapters I should say, and I'm really glad I was able to start with Bitcoin and not Blockchain.


[02:59] Maiko: And how do you make the transition to applying that to big problems such as, you know, climate change as well. I think that's been a lot of bad press, obviously around Bitcoin as well, because it's a currency that's being mined. So, obviously, there's energy being used. So, how did you get into, okay, this could actually be used for good. And it doesn't have to be all that negative for the environment, it can actually be having a positive impact. 

[03:22] Rutger: Yeah. So, when we look at what the real potential of watching is, then we enter the realm of public digital infrastructure. And if you think about the digital public space, the internet, then it is an infrastructure that is basically owned by no one. Everybody can use it, everybody can build on top of it, and it's very open. Even countries that think they can close it down, well, everybody knows that in these countries, you can still, if you want to use it for internet, right? So, I think this is really the spirit of the internet, and Bitcoin resonates greatly with that spirit. Yes, it costs a pretty good deal of energy, it's a high debated topic, where sources are not all that clear on how much energy it exactly costs. But yeah, it depends on where, how you compare the usage of energy to what it can actually make a difference. Right? So, in terms of Bitcoin, we're talking about a digital public infrastructure for payments, that is free of banks. Basically, at this point in time, banks are owning the digital public infrastructure for payments. 


[04:44] Rutger: So, it is privately owned, and I think we're seeing more and more, how this leads to friction, how this leads to unwanted consequences. And we see this in a lot of other areas as, well because if we look at the challenges of our 21st century, then a lot of these challenges cannot be solved by one organization, they cannot be solved by governments, they cannot be solved by companies, they cannot be solved by NGOs. They can only be solved, is what we believe in, through mass collaboration. And we need everyone to be enabled in this mass collaboration, right? As a individual human being or as a community, how can I contribute to the causes in a purposeful way where I can relate to, what I can contribute to, whether that is creating a fossil free energy supply for everyone. Whether that is scaling, wildlife protection or regeneration of weight or rain forests, or whether that is creating a totally new way of public services, are basically answers to the question, how do we organize our society? 

[06:03] Rutger: So, there is a multitude of questions that we need to solve in the Digital Commons through an infrastructure, a digital public infrastructure, which is absolutely neutral, which means not owned by State, not owned by a Corporate Entity. So, that also boils down to the question is, do you want more surveillance capitalism? Do you want more surveillance state? And the question is easily, no, but then the question becomes, what is the alternative? Right? And so, we are creating a new story, and new path, and a lot of people are doing that. But we are accelerating that to create this neutral digital public infrastructure. And we bring together the governmental and corporate clients basically that want to be part of this, and understand this, and we bring together the teams that create the actual solutions, and that's what all this is all about. 

[07:04] Maiko: And when you do that, as doing your Hackathon, which is about weekend long, you have 100 teams there that try to solve all these problems. Tell us a bit more about some of the challenges that you have. I think you have some very clear challenges that you give to teams that that should be solving. What are those?

[07:21] Rutger: Yeah, so, first of all, it's important to talk a little bit about the challenges and then the possible solutions. These challenges are complex, and it's not the same as complicated. They are complex in a way that in the context of this challenge, there are many stakeholders, and they have different interests, they have different points of view, and they experienced this challenge in a different way. And another part is that there are a lot of interconnected factors. And the third part of it is that no one in this group of stakeholders can own all the information, because that would mean an ultimate information monopoly. And that prevents collaboration, and it decreases the amount of trust. And this is also a big dilemma for the government's, I think, at this level. So, a central register or a central database cannot be a solution, in the context of this complex challenge. Well, a complex challenge, one of the examples is, how do we handle proof of digital permission? So, if I give permission in a digital way, where is that registered? And how is it communicated? Right? So, the Dutch government through the Ministry of Finance and justice and safety. So, these are two ministries, actually, they have contributed one of the 20 challenges we have. 


[08:47] Rutger: And the question is, how do we handle this digital proof of permission? So, the question is, how can we create something like an open protocol for digital permission, where the government is not the owner of the protocol, but supports the protocol works with the protocol contributes to the protocol. But the ownership is the protocol itself, right. So, just as email is owned by no one, this protocol should be owned by no one, because then everybody can work with it, with the lowest possible threshold. And it also is important that there is not one single database where all the digital permissions from all the people, at to all other entities are registered because that's a privacy nightmare, and nobody will use it. So, only when you are sovereign over this data, then it becomes interesting in using it. And then also you tackle all kinds of other issues like privacy laws, and regulations, and stuff like that, how to manage that data. It's all in the protocol. And these are the kind of solutions where we see that once certain protocol is unlocked, and that's actually a pre-competitive area where even competitors can collaborate, because if they all use the same protocol, then you can get adoption. 


[10:11] Rutger: And then they can implement it in their processes, whether that is within your company or within a governmental organization or within an NGO, then you can get on the layer above that protocol. Let's say that's the application layer and the services layer, that's where you can actually have the benefits. So, each new protocol can unlock a completely new markets, and that also unlocks completely new ways of collaborating. So, it's one example. Another example is how can you prove that the energy you would sell at the open energy market comes from your solar panel? So, let's say I'm a consumer of energy, but when I have solar panels on my roof, then I can sell that energy, perhaps on the open markets. Right. Now, that isn't the case, but it will be the case when it is within three years, five years or seven years. And then I need to be able to prove digitally, that this energy I'm offering is absolutely 100% certain coming from my solar panels and not from the burning of coal or whatever. 


[11:21] Rutger: So, that's, it's another type of protocol. It's like a digital certificate, you add with the information about the kilowatts you are selling on that market. So, that's part of the Fossil Free future chart, but there are 20 challenges, Maiko, I'm not sure how much you want to hear. 

[11:40] Maiko: There's a lot of challenges, but we won't go through, we won't go through all of them. But maybe for, you ran this Hackathon before. Maybe you can give an example of a company that you think has done a great job, and actually achieving social impact or environmental impact that came out of one of your Hackathons, is there, like one of those stories that you could share?


[12:01] Rutger: Yes, of course, from the first Hackathon, that was in 2017, back then people had a grasp of what the potential of Blockchain could be. But really, we were just, it was more playing around and exploring, even then there were out of 55 teams back then, there were over 20 teams that were able to continue with their solution. So, out of there, one of the really promising solutions was a refugee passport, owned by the refugee themselves. So, as sovereign, self-sovereign, identity solution, and it really was a big inspiration for our governments, but also for a lot of other identity solution providers in how you could think about when not the State owns the identity, but a person would own its own identity and how would they increase the level of trust, safety and collaboration, considering the context of the problem of how do we deal with refugees in Europe, right? 

[13:11] Rutger: Because, that's all fragmented now, and it doesn't add really to safety, or the level of trust. So, that was a really nice solution. And a lot of people are working on this issue. Another solution that is, as recently launched their product together with the pension provider, A.P.G is the team of nest egg, and they have created a way to invest in solar panels that are not on your own house. So, basically, you can invest in any type of solar projects. You can co-own a piece of a solar panel in a project somewhere on the planet, and through Blockchain, you can prove that you own a piece of that, right. So, that's also quite an interesting solution, because what if you could put pension, your pension money in there? What would be the return in investment over time from debt. And could it lead to basically perhaps a basic income? Right. 


[14:06] Rutger: So, that's a really interesting concept that's been further explored, that's, those are the two examples from the first Hackaton. The second Hackathon was also very interesting because it's produced. I want to take one example there, there was a machine to machine economy track, sponsored by A. Nexus, that's a Dutch energy grid operator. And this name machine to machine economy later evolved to what we now have is called Nature 2.0. And I will tell a bit more about that later, but what came out of the machine to machine economy trek was a swarm robotics protocol. 


[14:46] Maiko: Say what? 


[14:48] Rutger: Yes. So, what these guys have done was it was really amazing. They have studied swarms of birds, and they then looked at drones. So, then the question is, can drones own themselves, like birds own themselves? And can they decide to join a swarm? And to leave a swarm? And then based on what information would it do so, so, they have retrofitted at the Hackathon, nine drones. They gave each drone its own identity. Each drone became a node in a network and was able to make decisions on what task it would collaborate on with other drugs. It could all do that autonomously. So, that was like, Holy moly, that's like a new paradigm right there. Because if you can do that with drones, with what type of other machines could you do that? So, then the question becomes, can we help have machines, let's say satellites, ships, cars, trucks, whatever, that own themselves and work for the benefit of society, and they have recently written a paper with MI..T on the protocol. 


[16:06] Rutger: And they have released a software development kit, where this protocol can be used by the other teams. So, it's completely open source. And they've basically co developed this with Big Chain B, which basically now the ocean protocol, and these are the kind of solutions that take a couple of years to mature. But once they gain momentum, they will really make a difference. Because when we talk about drones, when we talk about robots, then the question becomes, who owns them? What are their motives? What if these motives change, right? If the state owns robots, will they carry schoolbooks? Or will they carry guns, right? These are all these kinds of questions we need to be asking, because there are a lot of ethical issues when it comes to the development of new technology, and, the way our societies are developed at the moment. So, this is what, yeah, what is really exciting from the last couple of Hackathons, I think. 

[17:11] Maiko: Do you offer any support to teams after the hackathon? I think when I've been to events like this, obviously, always the issue is continuity to actually continue with the team. How do you see that? What resources are out there for people that may be finished the Hackathon and then want to continue with working on the idea? 

[17:28] Rutger: Yeah, definitely. Our Hackathon is not about an event. Our Hackathon is the highlight, or the pinnacle, so to say, of an Innovation Program, the first phase is about preparation. The second phase is the momentum, which is the Hackathon. But also, let's say, the month before the Hackathon, when everybody is really preparing. I mean, we just had a call with one of the challenge owners of scaling wildlife protection, five team captains, Billy Smith from the jungle, Borneo, everybody really trying to understand what angle they could take at the problem and solution. So, that's also momentum building up. And then after the Hackathon, we are incubating the ecosystems, to decide how could we take a working prototype from the Hackathon, after 48 hours of building together? How can we take it towards, let's say, the first hundred users in a real-life situation? It could be the first 10 users or 30,000 users, but a group of users that use it in real life, then you can ask how does the prototype need to be further advanced towards these minimum viable products? And who would you need for that? 

[18:50] Rutger: Because in the end, all the solutions that come out, are not specifically meant to support one organization, but it is to support a complete ecosystem in terms of, let's say interconnected collaborative communities. They are entities collaborating in a certain context, which could be a jungle, but their local community, their NGOs, their corporates, there's the government. They're all the stakeholders collaborating through this new piece of software, which is digital public infrastructure. So, the months after the Hackathon are focused on guiding these ecosystems, and finding out how they can survive, and how they can grow, and how they can advance and that's what the program is really focused about, and then are focused on and also, within these three months, after the Hackathon, we will also find out what we can do after, let's say the summer to further advance the ecosystem even more because in the end, it's all about adoption and seeing the great ideas coming into reality, because that's where what it's all about. Right? It's to make an actual impact. 


[20:06] Maiko: That's great to hear, my last question to you would be over the next 10 years, what's the sort of world you're trying to create? With Odyssey? And what sort of words you hope the start-ups that go through your program will actually create using Blockchain daily? 


[20:22] Rutger: That's a very good question to end with, 10 years, there's a lot, there's a couple of things. I hope that by finding completely new ways of mass collaboration, we can build new types of trust in our society. Because, if you collaborate with each other, even if you don't know each other trust can be a result of that, because you can benefit from collaboration, and you can unlock potential through collaboration. When people collaborate, they can accomplish so much more than they can even dream. And I also hope that we find a more human side to how we use technology, and that this human part of it is firmly grounded in a biosphere critical awareness, right. That we occupy this planet. and when we occupy it together, not just with together as in with humans, but with a lot of other species. And that there, we can find a new equilibrium. And it's not up to us. It's not that we want to accomplish that. But we want to contribute to that., and I hope when we look back in 10 years, that we can say that we have contributed to that, and that we enabled a lot of people to contribute to that as well. And so, when we look back in 10 years, I hope we have enabled a lot of people, thousands of people to contribute to do meaningful stuff, work, and have a lot of fun doing it. 


[22:01] Maiko: Thank you very much for sharing this story. It's amazing to hear what you've already achieved and the teams that came out of your program. And thank you very much for joining us today. I wish you all the best for the next 10 years at least.


[22:13] Rutger: Thank you so much, Maiko, and thank you for having me. 


[22:15] Maiko: Thank you.