How to overpower the OVERPOWERING TECHNOLOGY? | Dr. Syed Muntasir Mamun | TBCY
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You. A vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. I am your host Ashutosh Garg and today I am privileged to welcome a very very accomplished individual from Bangladesh, Dr. Syed Muntasir Mamun.
Dr. Mamun, welcome to the show. Thank you very much, it's a pleasure. Thank you. He is the Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh. He has studied
and taught at the Syed Business School, University of Oxford and very interestingly, he's an author of a book titled Blockchains: Gaming and Collusion- A Reading in Political Economy. So tell me first, what is the scope of work you handle as the Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Well, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I do the things which nobody would like to do which is take the blame but that's not really the case. Especially, I look after the trade investment and technology division and also the ICT because in Bangladesh, our focus is very specific. We are a trading nation and would like to attract as much as trade as possible. It's not just exports, we also encourage imports and import substitution investments, so that's what I look after with also the other ministries, Minisry of Commerce and the investment development organization and these expert pressing zones. In fact, Bangladesh is a country which I think needs a lot of commendation on the incredible turnaround you have done in the last 20-30 years. I mean, as a powerful economy from our region but today, let's talk about your book.
You're the author of a book, tell me about your book. In fact, I started with blockchains late in 2016, when I was in Oxford and when I had started the postdocs in Oxford but much more than that it's about gaming and collusion as the name suggests because I started writing about the scope, the periphery and also the focus of the technology, what the technology can do, what the technology could be allowed to do, what the technology could be deployed for? But as I started digging deeper, something came up. If we just take a look at it, you'll see that we have more than 678 references in that book, in that small book and it's not really that we have kept references just for the sake of it because when we started digging deeper and after three years of research or let's say through three years of research what I found was breathtaking. It's not only the technology of it but also the political economy environment of it, the ambience of it. So the ambient technology, we started with the hypothesis that blockchains would be the carrier technology which will take us from here to 2021 or let's say, 2016 at that point in time to 2030 when artificial intelligence is deployed. But it showed something entirely different. It showed that an entire universe was getting birthed or let's say, rebirth.
The full set of markets, the product fit and the product-market fit and everything else associated with it was changing. The political actors, the nature, the way that they operated everything was changing and it has something to do with the way that the politicians make decisions and in fact, in my understanding every human individual has a bit different politics inside his or her mind. So it is a handbook for the human individual and this is a book about the technology of politics with regards to blockchain and how you put the human at the center of that political framework which ultimately leads us to the artificial intelligence. We can discuss
about it later. So tell me, when you talk blockchains, we always talk about bringing in much greater transparency into transactions. Tell me, you think that blockchains can reduce information asymmetry and at the same time, ensure data, data security and privacy. In fact, I'll answer it in two ways, in two parts. First is about the information transparency. Yes, that's precisely what blockchain does it. One of the first hypothesis of the efficient market
hypothesis, first part is each and every bits and pieces of information is available to you to everyone in the market free of cost. Essentially, what blockchain does is it's peer-to-peer networking. So once something is authenticated inside the blockchain, blockchain is just like a tree. Imagine a tree and that it's a tree, so you have different leaves. So once that leaf is there in that tree, I'm just giving you an analogy to it. So once that tree has a leaf and that the leaf is authenticated by the tree, you are more or less sure that this leaf is an original leaf and this has certain characteristics and this is more or less given, that's where blockchain is also known as stressless keyless system. So yes, transparency is and also the information estimated information asymmetries I don't know something which you do and you don't know something which I do and in between the two of us, there is a bit of an arbitrage possibility which is what happens in the market very often because we don't know exactly how much certain things costs are. If I have taken the loan to
pay you back or if I would ever pay you back or not, that's one of the agency theory problems, classical finance has always faced, so blockchain reduces that or let's eliminate that by definition. However, in terms of the data security, yes. by design, blockchain is very much secure. But my research suggests and again, I could be entirely wrong in it because it's speculation because it's still growing on the upward slope of the innovation S-curve in blockchain. It suggests that if you can have some sort of a compromised arrangement with the nodes. The nodes are basically the branches of the tree which connects you to the main information network. So if there could be some form of a collaboration, collusion or something which is like the classical game theory suggests that there is a payoff matrix. If you could have something like that,
information could be compromised but I'm not saying that it would be, I said, it could be. But yes, the cost of it would be enormous. So it would be a foundational kind of gaming inclusion, all the conspiracy theories together. I'm not an expert on blockchain but I've read quite
a bit about it and this is the first time I've heard that and this is quite credible what you're saying that if there's collaboration between the nodes then, they could possibly be compromising of the blockchain of the tree as you give. But I don't know, I mean, I'm not an expert on that. One example for it because once started with blockchain when I first saw Bitcoins that was when the famous or infamous paper by Satoshi Nakamoto came up in 2008, it was a very new technology, so Bitcoin was there. So Bitcoin started off with a few cents. So in 2016, when I started working on blockchain, bitcoin by 2017 had reached $10,000 and then it reached the almost the peak $40,000 or around $45,000 was reaching and someone was actually speculating from Wall Street that it would reach up to $420,000 in no time and I could assure you that the way that the non-fungible tokens the NFTs are growing, it could happen. Now yes, you could always say that well I have a phone here some sort of a
phone and I could value it for $500,000 and if you are willing to buy it, it's your case, it's your problem. But that is not the way that financial evaluation ought to be done. Financial violation has always been done based on your speculation or let's say, intelligent or augmented calculation about how you see the future, the net present value of your future earnings. But blockchain is acquiring so much of attention or let's say, not on the blockchain but the cryptocurrencies are gaining so much of attention, that it could be that some points are collaborating with each other. It's not entirely a free market operation in place and again, I think since data is very little, public domain data is very little, so I could be entirely wrong but there's no harm in being little. Absolutely. It's always good to be safe than sorry later on, isn't it? But moving on, while blockchain offers new open-source based opportunity for developing digital platforms and services and doing payments, how are the issues of data protection handled? Well, data protection there are two ways to handle this issue and two broad ways to handle this issue, there are many ways of handling this issue. One could be political way of handling this issue that, there are
certain data which are completely reserved which has happened throughout the ages and if you look at history, it has repeated. Technology is never new, every era has a bit of technology in itself. Sometimes it has gunpowder, sometimes it was metal, sometimes it will silk, sometimes it was paper and somehow around it has always been around technologies that empires have formed, big empires. Now you could call it ideational empires, you could call it west valley and states, it doesn't matter. Essentially influence layers, so I would suggest that there could be the information, transparency and also the data security could be approached from two different angles. One is the technology of it, you design things into the structure of blockchain so that the information security and also the data protection is ensured by default and there could also be something like the European Union GDPR, particularly, the article 3 which ensures that each human individual has full protection of his or her own sets of data that is available in the public domain. Fascinating. So now
let's talk about blockchains and it's used for and it's used for E-governance or E-government. How are you planning to overcome the issues of security scalability and flexibility? In fact, the way that I had started working on it was to see I told you about the technology how the different applications of technology is but there is a great use case. The use case is essentially you have Estonia which already has deployed blockchain in a very big scale but several small countries but what we have done in Bangladesh is we have not done blockchain yet, we have a blockchain strategy since 2020. The honourable Prime Minister is interested about it,
honorable Prime Minister's information and communication technology advisor Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy is also very interested about it. So there is a political commitment behind the development of the technology, we have not yet purchased it, we are trying to develop it ourselves. We just concluded the blockchain olympiad three days before. So the way that we see it is
that we look at governance by looking at the human individual, the inclusivity of the last man last mile, man inclusive woman as well. The last human individual on the last mile. If you could reach him or her with all your services and if that him or her is very much well aware of what you have in offer and what he or she can get, so the autonomy, the franchise and the political agency of the human individual is insured and that's the core of the e-governance. How do you support it? You support it by connecting the markets with it, the free market and the enterprise solutions connecting the factor markets with the consumer markets in a seamless feedback group of finance and information and what you do you? Essentially fill in the voids, the institutional voids for which fester a very big portion of the world. If you look at the map behind you, it says that almost 80% of the world is essentially bottom of pyramid markets. Now some of the countries may not wish to call themselves bottom of pyramid
but others do and this involves both of us and we cannot avoid being called bottom of pyramid markets. But would you like to be there? I don't believe, we should be there because our people have talent, our people have energy and that needs to be connected to the markets where it is needed, wherever that is needed and these are the two different approaches that we combine and that blockchain helps us to combine these two in a seamless manner. So that each human individual is connected to each other system that he or she refers to or is referent with. Most impressive. So now moving on, how are you planning to combine artificial intelligence,
blockchain and IoT to construct a smart city for Dhaka? Well, Dhaka is a city which is quite intense, it's almost 10-12 million people living in one city and it's growing. The metropolis is growing and slowly encapsulating all other cities around it. If you look at Dhaka, you'll see that it is slightly bigger than Delhi now, in terms of its coverage and in terms of its intensity, it's unimaginable. In every square kilometer, we have more than 1,800 people.
So technically speaking although the house that I'm living in has no people around but if I connect, if I calculate, there should be 856 people within a 10-meter radius, 856 people around me, that is the urban intensity that I'm facing in Bangladesh. Essentially, what is happening is we'd like to see that each human individual and his or her devices or the system's devices are connected to each other in a seamless manner. So that information and also the authentication is done simultaneously in sync and at real-time, so that the cost of getting that information is minimal and the cost is not really only financial cost, the cost is also time cost, the human cost, the hassles that you face, if it could be reduced and the second part is, if it could give rise to innovation and entrepreneurship, we believe that innovation happens at the boundary of knowledge, the subject specialization. Like, if I cross the boundary between me and you across the zoom platform, I believe that I can get a certain bit of information from you which might give me ideas and ideas are very precious. So we want to give or incubate those ideas into enterprise solutions and one of the hypotheses that we're testing with is if we could connect the IoT devices with the blockchain and also the human innovation stream, three things together which would ultimately lead us to an area where we have artificial intelligence irretrievably deployed. Because AI is something once you deploy it, you cannot really roll it back.
So it will keep on growing and that will require huge amounts of data modeling but also understanding what the data means. You as a human, the amount of calculations, the number of calculations that you produce in each millisecond is unimaginable. A few hundred computers cannot match that as a human individual. So AI is coming but blockchain, IoT these three things could ultimately lead us to that level. This creates the platform, the skeleton. Fantastic. So I'm going to
ask you one more question relating to blockchains in your book, before I move to e-governance. I want to understand, how are you going to use artificial intelligence and blockchain for agribusinesses? Well, as you might be knowing that particularly this part of the world across the Indian subcontinent, across Bangladesh agriculture is a life-sustaining area. So no matter how much industrialized we become, no matter how much of service that we've been bringing, always going to be agriculture and agriculture is not really that let's say, not that low in terms of its intensity in the human development and also economic development index. Although, it doesn't look that big but if you look at it, if you look at the importance
that agriculture holds in your own human life, is humongous, it's more than 60% for sure. So what we would like to do with blockchain and agriculture is just one simple thing, we would like to connect the individual farmholds to the market seamlessly. Almost like that each farmer can get his or her or the firm fair price from the market where it is consumed without going through the trouble of the traditional middlemen and I believe that countries like Bangladesh, India, possibly even Pakistan, we have all suffered this menace of disconnected farmers because ultimately, we as individuals consumers, we do pay but does that pay translate to a real income for the human farmer at the end? Often it doesn't, You pay, we pay, everyone pays but the human farmer ultimately commits suicide and that has happened in across the world, it's not a country-specific issue, everywhere it has happened. Even in our country, the farmers
have done worse things than imaginable and the honourable Prime Minister's director is very clear that no farmer must suffer the fates that they used to suffer before her coming to power. Amazing. I'm so so impressed with that stuff you are doing. I mean in India our Prime Minister did direct benefit transfer to farmers when he opened bank accounts for every single individual and that has significantly changed income in the hands of farmers and cut out middlemen and I'm sure that's exactly what you are wanting to do as well. But moving on, let's talk about e-governance now. How will e-governance
help to reduce time and cost of governance? In fact, this is something that we call the TV sandbox in Bangladesh, time, cost and visit. We are experimenting with it. India is an old country and an old civilization but Bangladesh is part of the old civilization but a new country, there is no experimenting with it. So you have not suffered this courage of war and devastation that we have suffered, thank god and we don't want you to suffer right there. We have suffered, the country was broken down in pieces and into we died and then we resurfaced, as phoenix does. Well, I must tell you my father was an army brigadier and he was part of the 71 the whole thing that happened. In which case you're part of us because 71 is very dear to us, it
defines us. The language Bengali and also the 1971 war defines Bangladesh as easy as that. My grandfather's commission in the Indian army in 1941 and the 71 war took away part of, in fact, a greater part of the family that we have. So now, well it made us rich but we will probably discard that from another time. Absolutely but coming back to e-governance. Yes, in the BCB sandbox that if we could minimize the time and the cost and the number of visits to a service provider significantly or at any rate, then you are approaching a certain level of optimized governance. Governance is never foolproof, we keep on inventing, we keep on innovating and we keep on sometimes, we keep on going back to the older mistakes and follies because you'll see that if you look at history some of the mistakes that we committed as a group, a few hundred years before we're still committing it again. Absolutely. In spite
of knowing what they would result in. So one of the things that is just one example that a few million people would go hungry in spite of having one-third food surplus somewhere. It's a distribution problem, it's an agency problem, it's also an access problem. Amartya Sen has
written fabulously about it although I have my differences of opinion with him but yes, the situation did happen. The Great Bengal Famine did not happen because of a shortage of food, it happened because of the flawed policies of a foreign ruler, foreign occupational rural. Colonial rulers ruined the entire subcontinent and I agree with some of the things that Shashi Tharoor has said that yes, it was an era of darkness but yes, the darkness keeps on repeating. it's not only the British that we're going to, we also become part, the heart is not open. So e-governance is all about keeping
your heart open to the system so that there is a transparency, so that light passes through. How do you think e-governance will bring in greater accountability and remove corruption? See, we believe in a fundamental equation, accountability should be equal to authority, should be equal to responsibility, these three things need to be in sync and that is where technology comes in place because sometimes what happens is that although, in spite of the great intent that the top leadership might have, it might not transcend to the human individual on the fringes, on the periphery. So we'd like to bring these three things together in a trustless keyless system where the system takes care of things, the system should not be a negative word. The system ought to be something very positive where you could belong. Like in the military, since you also come from that family that the regiment is where your home is. You often forget that you come from a certain place, you come from a certain family. No, the regiment becomes your home and you live with it, you die with it. So the system ought
to be that and that regimentation with the system is not like you incarcerate someone but you bring that regimentation, the sense of belonging, the sense of longing to be part of something into the system so that the human individual doesn't feel threatened rather feel encouraged to be part of the system by our philosophy governances. Fascinating. So my next question to you is that a little while ago, we spoke about the potential risks in some nodes of blockchains. I'd like to ask you what are some of the risks that could be there for e-governance? In fact, if you cannot manage technology, it could go out of control and it doesn't really, I'm not saying that artificial intelligence will take over the world, robots will take over the world. They might someday, if it happens so and that's evolution, that's okay but sometimes what happens is there's an old saying in the greater part of Punjab zan zar zameen, that these three things determine the human course of action. Can you really get rid of greed and lust from the way that if you have power, does absolute power corrupt absolutely? That's a fundamental question because you cannot avoid that there is law but would you apply that law, there is intent but would I translate, as a bureaucrat would I translate that intent into tangible actions. If there is a break, how do you manage that? That is where we bring in artificial intelligence, that is where we bring in technology but still there are flaws and those flaws are the vulnerabilities.
A technical flaw that all blockchain people might be knowing is the Byzantine fault. It's a classic case, it's a gaming case that I know something which my hand doesn't know. I mean, you as a decision-maker and someone with you working as an implementer might have differences of information because of the time that it takes for the information to travel. So that fault creates opportunities for infiltration at a mass level so that there could be DDOS attack or something like that but it is not really something that we would focus on but we need to be aware of. So that the system can rebuild itself if there is an attack but what is more worrisome is, if there is human collusion with the nodal providers. Nodes are at an equity level held by humans.
What if those humans collude amongst themselves? So the nodes should operate in a certain way. All this is very hypothetical and you cannot really prove anything at this moment but there is a possibility. So you have to do a DNN, Deep Neural Network testing to see how it shapes up and we have some data, I cannot really say that we have a full proof complete proof of work or proof of the concept but we have some data to suggest that it is possible. Let's say, I am a blockchain node and you are my operator and if you have certain obligations somewhere, now you might choose not to allow this node to be functional at certain point in time. It depends on the way that you configure, so it's a whole set of characters almost like if you look at it, a whole sort of cross-cutting spider webs, cobwebs coming together at the same time. Amazing. So I've got time for only one more question now and my next question to you is that why is e-governance required for a large data producing country like Bangladesh? It is required for a large data producing country like Bangladesh, it is required for India because of knowing the pattern, the market is always efficient.
The market knows what the price is but does the human individual, the human actor in that market know exactly what is needed, what the pattern is, what the trend is? If those patterns, those trends and the prices for it is known to the individual actor, then the actions could be optimized and there's no way that one human individual could know everything. So e-governance essentially gives you a library like Google which you connect to but it's not Google, it's governance. So governance is also you, we always say that it's by the people, for the people, of the people. I've reordered the statement but if it is so, that can only be determined if you have a situation where the human individual can decide for himself or herself and I'll give you the use case again, come down to Bangladesh, have a look at what we're doing since this Prime Minister came to power in 2009 and the vision 2021, we have already reached the middle-income level and we're aiming to become a fully developed country by 2041 and if possible, before that and what does that mean? That means that our human individual survives, thrives, prospers and becomes a responsible member of the greater human community across the globe and the country also becomes a responsible member of the global community of nations. Phenomenal. Dr. Syed, thank you so much. It's been such a privilege speaking to you. Thank you for taking me through
so much of your deep knowledge on blockchains and key governance and, of course, I'm a great fan of Bangladesh, I've seen the country grows since the first time I visited in the early 90s and what a transition this Prime Minister has made and all of you working along with her. More power to you, good luck and thank you. Thank you very much and good luck to you as well. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You, videocast and podcast. A platform that brings you
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