Nick White, co founder, of Harmony, is a native of Hawaii with ancestral roots extending over to Scotland where he hopes to visit one day. ‘A pilgrimage’, he calls it. He has the curiosity for rain that only someone who has grown up in sunshine can foster. And interestingly, he went to the same high school as Barack Obama. While at said school, Ken Robinson, the renowned educationalist and international speaker, gave a lecture and fired up Nick’s imagination for what lay ahead. Ken’s most famous talk, his TED talk, looks at the question of ‘our schools are killing creativity’ in which he explores the outdated and crippling teaching methods that do not serve our children well. At the end of the talk, Robinson said that if he were the students’ age, he would get into the budding industry of Artificial Intelligence.
The seeds for Nick’s career were sown. He was drawn to attend Stanford University, the cradle of modern technology. He studied electrical engineering, getting a BSA and then a Masters and was particularly drawn to Artificial Intelligence (AI), neural networks and machine learning: basically teaching a computer how to learn. Following his degree he moved to Hong Kong where he joined an incubator for AI startups called Zeroth.AI
This proved a fascinating time for Nick. There was a large cross section of nationalities working in Zeroth.AI and the energy generated by entrepreneurs in the new tech was truly awesome. However, Nick discovered two things that changed his thinking. The first was that AI startups were generally struggling. They found it difficult to gain ground. Big companies tended to dominate this space and they were taking AI into the corporate space and not the lean, agile world of startups. The joy of AI dissipated for Nick. “It was not where I thought AI would lead.”
The second thing that changed his thinking was the rise of blockchain. “Hong Kong was home to many entrepreneurs working in blockchain. This changed everything.”
The everything that changed for Nick was the direction that AI might now go under the leadership of blockchain. “Blockchain was enabling a paradigm shift. I realized that this new infrastructure could change the information economy.”
This allowed Nick to circle back to his first love, artificial intelligence. No longer trammelled by large business and corporates, blockchain technology allowed AI to be used as a force for good, potentially sharing wealth on a global basis.
At the same time, Nick met his soon to be co-founder of and principle thinker behind Harmony, Stephen Tse. Nick attended an invite only dinner party with other blockchain enthusiasts and sat next to Stephen – they hit it off immediately.
Nick was discovering in his exploration of blockchain that one of the biggest challenges to blockchain adoption is scalability. “Even if an app with existing users wants to use decentralized technology there is no meaningful way to scale. Current offerings are just too slow and too expensive. Can you imagine a decentralised Facebook? Not yet, and many wanna- be platforms are just too slow and too expensive.”
Stephen was working on this issue of scalability and shared an early white paper from Harmony with Nick. Soon they were collaborating fully and Nick relocated to the Bay area in California where he now lives and works.
The project, Harmony protocol, is a new blockchain with scalability at its heart. Using sharding, Harmony aims to bring blockchain technology into the third industrial revolution, providing a platform where developers can build DApps that offer real world speeds.
The project undertook fundraising to develop this technology, earning $18million in a private token sale. The success of the private sale was based on a combination of a strong technology basis and Stephen’s track record. Stephen is a serial entrepreneur whose previous companies have been acquired by Apple.
The main goal of Harmony is to scale the base layer so that developers can build effective DApps. “We are unlocking the potential of the blockchain. We want to build a data sharing economy. “
Currently Harmony has released a test net which is being trialled by its developer community. The team, over 30 in total from around the world, some of whom work remotely, has kept its head down for the past year and are now beginning to ramp up for the launch of the mainnet towards the middle of the year.
“In time, we hope to see the data fund people, rather than the other way around. We hope that our protocol would enable people to monetise their own data, creating an autonomous Universal Basic Income.
“Currently big organisations extract value from people and their data. We want to turn that on its head. It’s why it is important that AI is strapped into blockchain so the right people benefit, or rather just so people benefit and not monopolistic organisations.
“We know that Facebook earns on average $30 per US user per quarter. That is not enough to provide UBI but it is going in the right direction.”