Jamile Hamideh is a technology lawyer, who is currently focused on Blockchain, Digital identity and data protection, exploring how we can use technology in a responsible manner that creates a positive change for the world. Jamile studied at the University of Lapland, gaining a master’s degree in International Business/ trade/ Commerce. Here at Fyggex we were lucky enough to interview Jamile about her background, as well as her role at the Blockchain Forum Finland, and all things Blockchain.
How did you get into the blockchain industry? Tell us about your background.
Well, my background is a little bit different from the other folks in the Blockchain Forum here because I am not Finnish, I am Brazilian. I’m a lawyer who specialized in technology, and I came to Finland to study. I came to study blockchain, with a focus on smart contracts and international trade, which was the thing that got me interested in this technology. For me, that was the start of everything.
I was studying, and then I began to work with start-ups here in Finland. At first, I worked for Arctic Start-up, an event and media company, and then I started to work in a blockchain start-up called OriginalMy. Now I have my own consulting company, Vinculum, as well as working with the Blockchain Forum.
What has been the most difficult for you personally in your blockchain journey?
For me, the blockchain part in itself is not so complicated. It can be a hard topic to study, of course, especially if you are going deep into it. Sometimes keeping up with everything that is happening can be a challenge, as there is so much activity. The hardest part of my journey was figuring out how to do blockchain in Finland, as the community here is quite small and can be very inaccessible to foreigners.
Take the Blockchain Forum as an example. Until the beginning of this year, when I became a Board Member and Community Manager, everything was done in Finnish. So, if you went to the largest blockchain event in Finland, you would find that all of the content, such as ads, programs, etc, was in Finnish, as well as most of the talks.
It took me years in the start-up scene here to meet the right people. They opened the doors to me and showed me all of the activity that was happening. Before that, I hadn’t realized how much was going on, but then again, some of this information is hard to find even in Finnish. So I would say that finding out where the action was happening was the most difficult part.
As a lawyer, what is the most interesting in blockchain for you?
I started this journey researching smart contracts, but to be honest I’m not so much into them anymore. Smart contracts can be very misleading for lawyers, as a term. In the blockchain community, they are just the basic building blocks of Ethereum. They are not necessarily “smart” in the sense of understanding anything, like AI, and they are not necessarily contracts either.
In the legal sense, a contract is an agreement between parties with a defined object and the intent to have a legal effect. They need to have certain elements to be contracts, and you will not always have them in a blockchain “smart contract”. So, like many lawyers, I was very attracted to it, in the beginning, thinking that we’re going to have contracts that give us so many capabilities now. We’re going to need fewer lawyers, everything is going to be more efficient, people will not go to court so much anymore. Instead of having those very long, boring contracts that people don’t read and don’t understand, we could just have something that the machine is going to execute and then all of our problems are gone. But as you start to get more into it, you realize that the smart contracts on Ethereum are very far from being anything like that.
My position on this right now is that, unless you have some very, very simple transactions, having smart contracts as replacements of legal contracts, will likely cause more problems than it will solve. When people talk about smart contracts, the example they often give is that of the vending machine. That’s a very basic contract. You have the object, which is the can of Coke that you want to buy. You are a party, and the company that owns the machine is another party. You have a transaction when you put your coin in the machine and then get something back. You bought something, that is very, very basic. You don’t have a lot of unexpected things that could happen. The worst that could happen is maybe you put your coin in the machine and it doesn’t give you anything because the machine is broken. You might kick it, but then you’ll go off with your day because there was just a coin that you lost.
But when you’re talking about more complicated social scenarios, you have to consider much more. One example that I always see people saying it’s a fantastic idea for blockchain is smart locks for rental apartments. If you don’t pay the rent, the lock doesn’t open for you. That might sound like a great idea, but what about all the social aspects behind it? If you think only in terms of efficiency, yes, it’s much more efficient to have a smart lock and just keep the person outside if they don’t pay. You don’t have to have a lawyer and go to court to demand payment and all of these very troublesome, time-consuming things. But then, what if the person didn’t pay the rent because there was some failure with the smart contract, some bug in the code? What if it was because their kid got sick and they had to go to the hospital, so maybe they forgot to pay or they don’t have the money to? In legal contracts, we always have clauses saying what can be done in unpredictable situations, in case of emergency or force majeure. With a smart contract, it doesn’t matter why you are keeping someone locked out of their apartment, so maybe we should have a human there to determine if that is fair? A smart contract will never understand the concepts of unpredictability, fairness, or justice. I’m not sure if we want to sacrifice those for efficiency.
Because of this, I don’t work much with smart contracts anymore. There is a lot of promise, but to me, they are still creating more problems than they are solving. Now I am more interested in the digital identity part since I’m seeing more potential for solving problems.
What are your tasks at Blockchain Forum Finland?
I have just been elected Chairman of the Board of Directors, so now I am in charge of the administrative part and making sure that things run smoothly. Before that, I was the Community Manager and the Secretary of the Board, which meant taking care of anything that had to do with writing. Anything you saw, from an event program to the script of a talk, publications in social media channels, or any document that had to be made for anyone, I was the person behind it. I’ll probably continue to do the bulk of the writing as a Chairman, though.
What about Helsinki Blockchain Center, what is your role going to be?
The Helsinki Blockchain Center is the result of the partnership between the Blockchain Forum and the City of Helsinki. As the Chairman of the Forum, which technically owns the Center, I’m working with its structure and design. For now, this means many administrative tasks to properly set up the Center.
As the Center starts to operate, I will focus more on the content creation part, both in writing and in video. Much of what we’ve planned for the Center is to do with education and showing to the world what is being done in Finland. As I mentioned before, information about our ecosystem can be hard to find, especially for foreigners. So the idea is to have the Center as this first place that people can go to learn, starting from the basics of what is blockchain, how to get started with blockchain in Finland, how to establish a company here, how to advance their career.
What in your opinion is the biggest threat to blockchain?
I think that there are a few, not just one. Regulation is one very challenging aspect, for example. We have seen the number of scams that are around as well as criminal activity, so it is clear to me that we need regulation. However, we need it at a level that is not stopping legitimate businesses. Finding that balance is extremely challenging. Blockchain is a very new technology that even the people who work with it every day don’t fully understand yet. It takes years until we can realize the potential of something. So, if even us, the people who are working with this, don’t completely get it yet, it’s very hard to explain to regulators, to politicians, what this is and how it needs to be regulated. So I think that that is one. It could be the threat of not having enough rules and regulations in place, and then things get out of control, there is damage, and people don’t trust it anymore. Or also the threat of being over-regulated, and then you kill businesses before they can do anything good.
In your opinion, which countries/jurisdictions have most advanced blockchain regulation?
That’s a bit of a tricky question because when we’re talking about blockchain, we’re talking about something so broad that I don’t think that it makes sense to talk about “blockchain regulation”, since what we regulate are certain applications of it. It’s the same way that we don’t have “Internet regulation”. So for the most part, the laws that we already have in any country are pretty sufficient. We don’t need to have new rules every time a new technology comes. For example, if I buy something online, I don’t necessarily need new laws for buying stuff online, as there are already laws for buying things in general. Whether it is online or offline doesn’t matter.
In that sense, most of the things that we do with blockchain can already be covered by some regulations. What we are seeing now that we must pay attention to is regulation for completely new things. For example, virtual currencies and crypto-assets. So, there I can say that I see some countries that are trying to give more clarity to business. Those are the usual suspects, such as Switzerland or Malta, and we could maybe even say Estonia if you consider the number of companies that we had registered there.
I can’t talk much about the U.S or Asia since my focus is on Europe. The EU, for the past few years, has been creating many new rules that deal with blockchain applications. That is the case even when the rules are not directly related to blockchain or crypto assets but might end up influencing them, like anti-money laundering regulation. AMLD5 in 2018 changed our entire ecosystem. European countries had to create their regulation to implement it, and Finland was one of the first to do that, having done so last year. So in that sense, I could even say that Finland has some advantages, though it might be argued that it is not the most welcoming legislation. That is clear if you consider that we have only six companies registered with the Finnish Financial Supervisory Authority. Nevertheless, as EU countries start to adopt similar rules, this is not unexpected. When Estonia passed legislation to implement AMLD5 earlier this year, they went from having over 1500 licenses to something like 400, because many were revoked for not being compliant.
My point is that everything is changing very fast, so I’ll say that when it comes to blockchain regulation, it depends on which aspect of blockchain regulation you’re looking at. If you’re talking specifically about the crypto part, the virtual assets part, then probably places like Switzerland, Malta, Finland, Estonia can be considered advanced, though for now, they might still have different approaches.
What do you see as the biggest lack in the blockchain industry?
There’s so much lacking. One of my concerns with the blockchain industry is that I think sometimes people expect a bit too much from it. I understand that people want to believe that this is a technology that is going to change everything, that the “World of Tomorrow” will be radically different from what it is today. But sometimes we forget that this technology is still very new. If you think that Bitcoin was from 2008-2009, and Ethereum, which is when we started to have more applications, is from 2014, and things started to take off in 2016 – that’s yesterday. We don’t even understand the Internet yet, and it’s been around for a good 40 years. So, one thing that is lacking is maturity, which I don’t see as a bad thing, it’s just the way the process goes. I think people sometimes expect too much from something that is still too new.
Another thing lacking is perhaps a bit more critical sense to understand how new everything is and how it is just impossible for us to have all the answers at this point. People are saying, for example, “this is how you regulate it”, but how can you even know that? The first real cases and solutions are being implemented now. Most of what we have are still pilots, things that are being trialled at very restricted levels. Yes, we can have some fantastic ideas, but I think we need more time to see how it goes.
These are probably the two main things for me, maturity, and critical sense. Maybe a little bit of humility as well because I see people saying that this technology can solve everything, from the question of refugees to climate change, as if everything could be solved with some computer code. It can’t. When you have very complex problems, it doesn’t matter how good of a developer you are, you need to consider society, laws, economics, and much more. So, I think humility is kind of lacking a little bit there as well. We can’t solve everything on our own, especially not with a technology that hasn’t been around for such a short time.
How do you see the future of blockchain?
I’m one of those people who prefer to be on the cautious side. People often joke that I am not from Finland, but this is the most Finnish behavior ever – “let’s wait a little bit, let’s not make huge promises about anything”. But I do see blockchain much more as plumbing, like the pipes, the infrastructure, than anything else. I think if blockchain takes off, it will be in the form of things that we don’t see, this “invisible” infrastructure. People don’t know how the internet works, they don’t know how electricity works, they don’t know how water gets to their homes, but it still works. That’s what I would like to see with blockchain because I think that that would mean that it is working as intended.
So, in the future, I would see it more like this very basic layer that we are building things on. Then we can maybe think about a more decentralized future. That can be used for anything, if you think about it, in the same way that the internet can be used for anything. One such use that I am very interested in is digital identity. I see so much promise in that, especially if we can build things that are privacy-enhancing and privacy-preserving – because we need that. I also see a lot of potential for logistics, as blockchain can be really good if you want to keep track of things. So that might also be something interesting to keep an eye on. I don’t work very closely with virtual assets and digital currency, but there’s probably a very huge market coming for all sorts of digital assets. People are tokenizing everything, so we might have some interesting things coming from there as well. These are three cases in which I see a lot of promise – digital ID, supply chain, and digital assets – but for the most part, I think it will be quite invisible if it is working.
What is the next big thing in blockchain?
I think that these three areas that I mentioned will probably be the biggest because they seem like the most natural uses. As an example, take tracking products on a supply chain and replacing paperwork. If you look at the way blockchains are built, it makes sense to use them. The same goes for digital identity, which is a real problem that we currently face. If we can have more control in the hands of the people so that they can see who is using their data, for what purposes, and they can give permission for that, – especially if we have a model of self-sovereign identity – that would be revolutionary. We suffer so much from the misuse of data, and this could be a real solution to a concrete problem. Of course also, digital assets, because you’ll always have plenty of smart people working with something that has to do with money!
I see these as the three main things, but as I’ve said before, this technology is so new that it is very hard to say what it’s going to be used for. It could be that years from now, everything we know is running on a blockchain, or it could be like Google Glasses, which people were excited about but were shortly forgotten. There are many technologies that people get super hyped about, and later they don’t even remember anymore.
There’s one idea that I like quite a lot, that we tend to overestimate change in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. I think that if blockchain is to work, we should keep that in mind. It could be that in the short term, not much happens, or perhaps it doesn’t happen on the scale that we wanted. But then, in the long term, which we can’t fully predict, things will be very, very different, and there are going to be use cases that we didn’t even think about. People at the beginning of the internet were probably not thinking that social media would be something that makes as much money as it does now or that online shopping would even exist. The internet was not created for that, but now these are its two main things, and it could be similar with blockchain.
As a foreigner in Finland, do you have any advice how a person could get involved in the blockchain area or community?
I would say, try to meet people. I know that it seems like overused advice for foreigners, but it is so true, especially when most of the work being done is not made public. I always get very excited when I meet a person and they say, “our company is doing research on this” or “we’re looking into that”, but it can be frustrating when you search online for that information afterward and can’t find anything. At best, you’re going to find a small note in Finnish, on a very obscure website, that you don’t even know if you should trust or not. So, there is no way to find out about what is happening in Finland, unless someone tells you about it.
This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve created the Helsinki Blockchain Center. This is the reason I’ve become involved with the Blockchain Forum as well. Finland, as a country, could gain so much from foreign talent. There are so many amazing, brilliant people who either want to come to Finland, or maybe are already in Finland, but who don’t even know that this community exists. In the end, Finland is the one losing. We are losing qualified people who could have jobs here, people who could be paying taxes here, and could be making this country a lot better. So, we need to have more information out.
Sometimes it can be a bit hard to reach out to Finnish people. In my experience, they don’t necessarily understand at first why you’re talking to them. If you send a personal message on LinkedIn, many times they don’t even reply. I managed to find Markus Lehtonen, that one guy who was willing to show me everything. It can be hard, but I would say keep reaching out to people and you’ll eventually find someone who, like Markus did to me, “adopt” you and show you around. I discovered that it’s almost impossible in Finland to get to places by yourself. Most jobs are not public when they are available, you’ll find them through your network. I’ve had the privilege, in the past year that I’ve known Markus, to find myself in many places that I don’t think I’d be otherwise. Sometimes I’m sitting at a table having a discussion and thinking “there’s no way I could have gotten here without an invitation”.
The community here is very small. It’s very Finnish, and it is also old. It’s not the typical start-up crowd that I knew from Slush, where you see a bunch of 20-30 years old people, for example, who are willing to just have a beer with you and chat. Many of the blockchain folks that I’ve met here have a different profile. Most of these guys are very experienced, some with 20-30 years just in the business, and so most of them are not even going to these start-ups events. If you want to talk to them, it is up to you to find the right contact, especially if you’re a woman. There are few women here, unfortunately. So I’d say to women to try to reach out to other women because they will likely understand your position and try to give you a hand. I would love it if more foreign women came to talk to me and I could show them around now that I know where some of the action is happening!
Blockchain is said to be the technology that is going to allow remote voting with true identity and without scams. Do you think this will ever happen?
That’s a very interesting question. I think that there are a couple of factors that we need to consider before we can say that. The first one, as I say with anything related to blockchain, is that this technology is so new. There’s so much that we still don’t understand, both from the technological side and from the people side. This type of project demands that people buy in the idea and participate, but they might not understand it, might not have access, and even more importantly, they might not trust it.
Voting, especially when it comes to voting in public elections, is something so sensitive. It is so at the core of who we are as a democracy that sometimes I find it even a bit irresponsible for people to just say “blockchain would solve that”. For the most part, it’s not just an infrastructure problem. I saw many people suggesting blockchain for the presidential election in the US, for example, since the results were taking such a long time to be announced. Ok, those guys could probably use some improvement in their infrastructure, but that wasn’t the biggest issue they were facing, was it? Black people and Latinos not being able to register to vote because their documents were not recognized, or States passing laws that were marking districts differently (gerrymandering). The fact that States have different rules, the Electoral College, and much more, were the things that put the legitimacy of their elections in check and made it potentially less democratic. There’s so much when it comes to their social infrastructure that having the blockchain or not would fix maybe 5% of the problem?
I love blockchain, but I don’t like the idea that it can fix everything. You have to have a functioning society with liberal democratic elections. If you have people who don’t even have a basic ID from the government, how can you have a digital ID and understand it enough to be able to vote with blockchain? So I don’t even comment so much on the technical part. I used to work for a blockchain start-up and my boss was a genius. This is not a word that I use often, but that guy was an actual genius, and he came up with a protocol for voting with blockchain. You can use your blockchain ID, have vote secrecy, zero-knowledge proofs, it’s a whole thing, and still, you can verify that your vote was counted. The system, from a technical standpoint, looks amazing, but the societies we are living in are so broken… We have polarization, populist leaders, so many issues, that blockchain is really the least of it.
I don’t see a responsible implementation of blockchain voting for public elections, at least for many, many years, because I think that we should be focusing on other social problems first. I do see some space for blockchain voting for example for companies. You have to have your shareholders voting on something, and when you have a global company, there’s a whole structure for voting remotely and proxy votes and all, so maybe you could use blockchain for that. Then after a few years, people will understand the system better and trust it more, and hopefully, our democracies won’t be in the same level of crisis that they are now.
How is it to be a foreign female in a man’s dominated world in Finland? How did that affect you mentally?
Sometimes it can be very hard, especially when I find that I am the only woman, and the only foreigner, in a room with 10 Finnish older men. This might be a cultural thing coming from Brazil, but sometimes I feel that I don’t have much power to speak. There’s that fear that people will not even listen to you, that they will not think that you’re qualified enough. I still have much to learn, but all I’ve been doing for the past five years is studying blockchain technology and going deep into the legal and social parts, so I do have things to say.
Lately, I’ve been trying to learn how to speak up more. I think at the beginning I spoke a lot less because I felt like it was a privilege just to be in the room and having people sometimes speaking in English so I could understand. That was already such a victory that I didn’t dare to ask for anything else. But now I’m starting to get more confidence, especially because more often than not, I’m going to be the only person with a legal background in the room and that is a very important dimension to consider in any project. Being the Chairman of the Board of the Blockchain Forum for the next two years will surely give me plenty of chances to speak, so I’m looking forward to it.
Jamile, we really appreciate you taking your time to engage in this interview with Fyggex, we would like to say a big thank you for this. It has been great to hear about your journey into Blockchain, and your perspectives on the technology as a whole. As a woman in a hugely male populated market it is fascinating to hear your feelings about this matter, and we hope it can inspire more women like you to get involved in the field.
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