A few weeks ago, we spoke with Saiba Kataruka of Zilliqa. Now that the Future of Blockchain competition has ended, we are speaking with the winner of the competition, Mansoor Ahmed, a PhD student at the Department of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge who developed dMapp, which is designed to address the gap in technology and internet access in the world.
What gave you the inspiration for dMapp?
I grew up in rural parts of central India, a region where mapping services remain sub-par, leading to the realisation that mapping services don’t serve all geographical locations equally. As a security researcher, I’ve also become increasingly concerned with the erosion of privacy in so many spheres of our digital lives. I believe that greater accessibility should not be at the expense of privacy and control over one’s data. Unfortunately, in today’s world, data is the most valuable currency driven by data monetisation and an advertising-driven business model. However, after exploring the Dapp community, I realised that with decentralisation you can enable a whole new business model based on crowdsourcing that we didn’t have before. This is what inspired DMapp.
It is incredible that even as we look to the year 2020, some parts of the world are still digital dead zones. Would you say this is simply a side effect of nations being poor or a lack of effort on the part of those in power?
I would argue that it’s more about incentives. As the foremost consumer mapping service available today, Google Maps’ incentive for mapping is to serve advertisers through better advertisements. In regions where advertisers are unable to afford services on the Google Maps platform, Google has no incentive to spend mapping resources in such areas.
How does DMapp work?
DMapp is an open platform that facilitates the incentivised crowdsourcing of routing information for digital navigation services. DMapp combines trusted execution environments, blockchains and micro transactions to allow for a decentralised P2P marketplace of routes without compromising user privacy.
The platform is aimed at two user types: explorers and travellers. Explorers submit routes to the platform and get paid for them. Travellers sign up on the platform with an initial account balance and then upon using a route, their app automatically submits a micro transaction to the explorer that contributed to the creation of that specific route. We also allow for third party institutional contributors such as governments, OEMs and NGOs to contribute funding to incentivise better mapping in particular areas and/or for particular devices.
Besides the obvious access to Internet, what do you feel will be the long-term effects of granting technological access to underdeveloped parts of the world?
Amid the ongoing rise of digital transformation and globalisation, increased access to technology is perhaps inevitable, though it will largely occur at a varied pace from country to country. In the case of underdeveloped nations, the introduction of technologies––whether it’s the Internet, the smartphone, or the computer––has many knock-on effects across the population and on a nation’s economy as a whole. For one, it brings about the need to prioritise greater efforts at improving digital literacy and digital communication skills, while simultaneously opening the door to new jobs and businesses in the country.
In the case of an application such as DMapp, the long-term effects are practical, addressing fundamental issues pertaining to accessibility and mobility. Such a system would allow for better access to areas often left unmapped, greatly impacting the way people are able to access critical emergency and police services during emergencies. Equally, by having a better navigation system, it can also bring about increased tourism as tourists would feel much more confident and comfortable in exploring unknown areas. A better standard in urban mapping as a whole can also help to facilitate better informed urban planning efforts and thus, increased investment in urban development.
You stated that democratization is key in unlocking a global digital landscape. Can you share your thoughts on this?
The digital landscape is inherently global by nature, devoid of physical borders or geographical restrictions (for the most part), especially as it continues to be framed within larger discussions of equality and access. With that in mind, more needs to be done when it comes to facilitating access to technology and digital connectivity, prioritising the needs of those who still find themselves in digital dead zones. A global landscape is a good thing only if everyone is able to shape its evolution, not just the chosen few.
Amid an increasingly digitised world, a global digital identity must be one that can be adopted and celebrated by netizens spanning different countries and regions, irrespective of socioeconomic status and ability, in an effort to bridge the digital divide between countries. At the end of the day, technological advancements, however profound or impactful, have to measure their success against the human element.
While initiatives like the Future of Blockchain are doing their part in bringing ideas like this to the forefront, what more can be done?
Education initiatives are a crucial step forward as they cater to both the rising demand for businesses seeking blockchain-savvy talent while addressing the needs of student looking to pursue a career in the space. However, on a larger scale, greater involvement is needed from governments. I feel like governments have so far adopted a wait-and-watch approach to blockchain technology––I see this as a misstep. In the case of DMapp, I believe that cooperation with local governments would be an immense benefit as they are best informed of the areas in their countries with the greatest need for better urban planning and mapping services, while also being in a position to allocate funds for such efforts.
How can blockchain tap into the potential of students, given that it is only just being recognized as a course of study in a few select institutions worldwide?
As the industry works to establish itself, it’s only natural that blockchain, as a course of study, has yet to fully establish itself as a legitimate course of study. With the technology is developing at a rapid pace, it’s challenging to create a full-fledged curriculum when the topics of study that are pertinent today may no longer be valid in the next year or even within the next few months. That being said, the onus not only rests with institutions to actively push blockchain as part of their academic agenda, but also on industry to actively partner with universities as well. By providing their research, conducting workshops, or even guest lecturing, universities would be in a better position to provide their students with the necessary resources and the most up-to-date findings on the technology, approaching it from both a theoretical and practical perspective.
As a whole, there needs to be more of a concerted effort made towards blockchain education. By focusing on the technology, its development, but also sharing the learnings from that journey, the next-generation of entrepreneurs, coders, and engineers would be better equipped to begin their careers in the space. Right now, we’re still seeing too much of an emphasis on only one of many applications of blockchain, namely, cryptocurrencies. We need to de-hype. Though most people are first acquainted with the technology through cryptocurrencies, it’s important that we still work towards disassociating blockchain from crypto as the technology’s potential stretches far beyond that. This means introducing people to use cases across a multitude of sectors as much as focusing on enterprise projects and those that have secured significant partnerships with corporations in more mainstream industries.