EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Keys Talks Ecosystem Growth, Ethereum Development, And The Future Of The Internet

The number of people on Earth who can explain blockchain technology to a room full of economically-biased banking executives isn’t very large. The number of people who do it professionally is even smaller. Andrew Keys is one of those people. He’s spent significant time carrying the Ethereum banner to the far reaches of the globe. As such, he has inspired perspectives on how the ecosystem is evolving and unique insights into the future of blockchains. From the halls of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to the Global Blockchain Financial Summit in Hangzhou, China, Keys is working to decentralize Ethereum ideals around the world.

As blockchain technology gains global popularity, the cryptospace has emerged as one of the hottest new industries, drawing interest from job seekers, young and old alike. In Keys’ case, he was in the right place at the right time early on and took advantage of his opportune moment. Keys told ETHNews:

“I co-founded a company in the healthcare insurance revenue cycle management sector and learned how bad payment systems were. At the same time, bitcoin happened. Bitcoin was a major advancement in computer science, in solving the double spend problem, but one wasn’t able to program business logic (smart contracts).”

Touting the advantages of the Ethereum chain, such as the Ethereum Virtual Machine’s ability to process multi-party computations for executable distributed code contracts, is part of how Keys is waking interested parties up to what is possible with Ethereum. As a network technology, the platform itself is constantly evolving, and answering questions about scalability is part of Keys’ role within the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA). In this capacity, Keys not only has to explain the technological details of scaling for Ethereum, but he must convey to policy makers and executives alike the underlying social issues that these technological developments are likely going to effect. ETHNews asked Keys about the EEA’s perspective on the scaling of the Ethereum public chain:

“Public Ethereum has three scalability upgrades that we believe will happen: 1.) State Channels, 2.) PoS, 3.) Quadratic sharding. We’re big fans of what Vitalik is doing at the Ethereum Foundation and are in close contact with him. The fact of the matter is that there are some use cases today that never touch the public internet, like Swift, which has always been on a private intranet.”

These technicalities drive the social changes that stem from their influence. Changes in social spheres of influence have always caused rifts to form between people, and the EEA is no different. Although members are united in their shared vision of Ethereum as a disruptive technology, the divides within the alliance itself over how Ethereum should evolve are often diverse and competitive. Not all members share the same vision for Ethereum’s end-game public chain. ETHNews asked Keys about how the EEA can avoid the fate of organizations like R3, which has seen the departure of prominent members, like America’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“With respect to EEA and R3, I have tremendous respect for R3’s personnel and progress. In many of our use cases, we’re seeing that banks don’t just want to improve bank to bank transactions. Rather, they want to become more seamless with their clients. Because Ethereum is general purpose, Fortune 500’s who aren’t in banking (and ones in banking) are flocking to it, and we’re seeing the EEA banks recognizing that trend and creating smart contract interoperability with their clients … Some members only want to use a permissioned blockchain. Some members realize the public blockchain is in “beta” where privacy and scalability still need to be solved, so they’re doing PoCs [Proofs-of-Concept] on permissioned chains.”

Advancements in scalability and how to garner consensus revolve around the utility of the use cases under examination. Connecting the dots inside the minds of his clients is paramount for Keys. “Imagine if you are a bank, and your client is a large manufacturer, and as soon as that manufacturer gets a large purchase order, the manufacturer would have a smart contract with their bank to immediately issue a line of credit. That’s the magic.”

Navigating the complex business topography of EEA members isn’t slowing down for Keys either. Part of his reason for traveling so extensively has been to set up the EEA Secretariat, an auxiliary EEA to perform the same mission abroad in countries with foreign languages. Keys elaborated about the secretariats overseas for ETHNews saying,“The EEA Secretariat is simply an entity or group of entities in a country that [does not speak] English, that can help translate, speak, and evangelize the EEA message. We have 3 entities that are performing that type of role in China, Sweden, and Japan right now.”

Keys’ work overseas is laying the foundation for Ethereum adoption on a massive scale. Already, virtual currency exchanges formerly restricted from trading in Ether, like Huobi and OKCoin, have altered their position on listing Ether because of people like Keys who have devoted themselves to getting Ethereum’s message out. “We applaud the Chinese adding Ether and have been in contact with them well before EEA started. Both Huobi and OKCoin are strong technologists and we welcome them to the Ethereum ecosystem.” As more and more executives, companies, and industries are woken up to what is possible with Ethereum, the Alliance must continue its role in educating people about Ethereum disruption. “The [EEA] protocol focuses on three main priorities for enterprise use cases: A) Privacy – We’re taking the best of learnings from Quorum and are embedding that into [the EEA]. B.) Pluggable Consensus – The ability to swap consensus algorithms depending upon the environment needed for one’s type of project. We should be able to swap into Proof-of-Stake and use the public mainnet, if the use case desires that functionality. C.) Roles Based Access Control.”

While it may seem daunting to consider how Keys drives ConsenSys’ business development while being an international ambassador for Ethereum proper, his opportune moment wasn’t a golden poker chip he’d been saving to cash in. Keys started in the ecosystem the way many of us do.

“I lurked on the reddits and learned about Ethereum early, and like the nerd I am, I went to the first Ethereum meetup in New York, and was lucky enough to meet Joseph Lubin. After speaking with Joe for one hour, I fell down the Ethereal rabbit hole, and never got out. Joe was starting ConsenSys and I asked him to drive the business development of ConsenSys. It has been the most interesting thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Looking back, Keys finds comparisons to digital ecosystems of old, specifically the dawn of the internet in the 90s. “It’s early days. If the first real days of the internet were in 96’, we’re in 94 … The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed. We’re seeing places like Dubai and Singapore drive large blockchain implementations with the rest of the world starting to catch up. 2016 and 2017 have mostly been PoCs and small pilots. 2018 we’ll see large production systems built.”