The Future Is Now: Kurt Nielson of Partisia Blockchain On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
The power of surrounding yourself with the right people is so important and there are a lot of extraordinary people behind the success of Partisia. Ivan Damgård is one of the most renowned experts in cryptography and we are privileged to have him lead our team alongside Jesper Buus Nielsen and Claudio Orlandi, the next two generations of world leading experts in MPC. Alongside Peter Frandsen and Jakob Pagter,two of the most highly skilled developer teams in Partisia and Sepior, without such a stellar team we would not have been able to bring Partisia Blockchain to the world.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Nielsen.
Kurt Nielsen is the Co-Founder & President of Partisia Blockchain, a Web 3.0 public blockchain built for trust, transparency, privacy, and speed-of-light finalization.
A seasoned entrepreneur, Kurt has pioneered the use of advanced cryptography solutions and turned them into innovative high-tech businesses for more than 12 years. He is also the Co-founder of three other successful companies — Partisia, Sepior, and Secata.
A renowned academic, Kurt completed his PhD in Economics at the University of Copenhagen, where he has been an Associate Professor for the past 14 years. His research interests include: applied game theory, operations research, decision support systems, information management, and design of contracts, auctions, and regulation mechanisms.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! My journey started back when I was working on a Ph.D. in economics and deeply buried in theories on how to design economic mechanisms when a friend told me about the existence of Multiparty Computation (MPC for short). It was a true Eureka moment! MPC materializes the common construct needed to basically improve — in theory — almost any decision in the economy. This quickly resulted in a clear vision that still drives everything Partisia is doing and we’re really just scratching the surface of the tremendous potential value creation.
This might all sound very abstract but MPC is all about reclaiming control of data in an increasingly digitized world. Furthermore, it turned out that one of the founding fathers of MPC, Ivan Damgård, who is one of the Co-founders of Partisia Blockchain, was a fellow Dane living around the corner. It’s a small world sometimes!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have been a lot of interesting stories over the years, but the most formative event was probably the “MPC goes live” story. We had spent four years on strategic research which focused on improvements and practical use of MPC and had built an MPC-based decentralized exchange in collaborated with Danisco — a top 20 company in Denmark at the time — that faced an increasing need to ensure a swift reallocation of thousands of supply contracts prior to a large-scale M&A process. The otherwise free market for reallocating the contracts was locked by a rapid decrease in prices and uncertainty about the true value. This was our moment to showcase how MPC can act as a neutral mediator that everyone can trust. The decentralized exchanges were operated by Danisco and the suppliers and MPC made sure that the bids and asks were kept confidential and no single party controlled the exchange. Everyone trusted the decentralized exchange and the contracts were quickly reallocated just prior to the greater M&A process.
This was an amazing opportunity and the catalyst for Partisia to function as a commercial platform for a number of MPC-based projects and spin-outs such as Sepior and Partisia Blockchain.
Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We’re maturing and commercializing MPC and similar technologies that allow a group of computers (phones, servers, etc.) to compute on encrypted data without any of the computers knowing anything about the data used. This may for example make it possible for you and your colleagues to compute which one of you makes the highest annual income without ever sharing your private information about your annual income.
This is huge and almost the holy grail in cryptography as it ensures that data is kept encrypted at all times — at rest, in transit, and in use.
How do you think this might change the world?
I believe this technology has the potential to change the power structures in the internet economy by eventually providing a viable alternative to collecting big data — no small feat. This technological paradigm shift allows for solutions with decentralized control and privacy on one side and central use of data across data sources on the other. Hereby a service provider creates value by better use of data and not by controlling and holding big data.
Keeping “Partisia” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
When we first started out there was a lot of concern about the scalability of the technology. This was not unwarranted but since the first commercial use of the technology more than 10 years ago, MPC has become a million times faster. In the beginning, we used MPC to replace the traditional trustee in auction markets. These markets typically have a natural time window that we could use for heavy computations. As the technology has improved, the field of use has grown and today, we’re using MPC for machine learning and many other statistical purposes.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Bringing MPC from basic research to a commercial value technology includes a number of tipping points; from basic insights on “how to share a secret” by Shamir in the late 1970s, to Ivan Damgård’s proof of MPC being a Turing complete technology in the late 1980s, to how blockchain brings value to MPC and vice versa, which Partisia has been focusing on for the past number of years. The latter is the most recent tipping point that has resulted in Partisia Blockchain — a Web 3.0 public blockchain. The value creation is highly significant and two-sided — MPC provides privacy to blockchain and blockchain is a more efficient and robust bedrock for MPC orchestration.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Partisia Blockchain provides a vehicle for scaling MPC as blockchain is an efficient way to organize a large number of computation nodes and organizations ready for running MPC solutions. We make it simple for developers to apply the newest provable secure MPC protocols without in-depth knowledge about the complicated math and software behind MPC.
Partisia Blockchain is also designed to match the existing ecosystem and hereby to tab into the existing networks. Partisia Blockchain can be used as a second layer to other blockchains and to facilitate interoperability across blockchains and jurisdiction management enable solutions to be operated only by computation nodes in the relevant region. Finally, we don’t introduce a new coin as a mean-of-payment, instead we leverage MPC to allow users to pay for the use with any liquid coin — we call it Bring Your Own Coin.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
2020 was a busy year for us and we topped it off by announcing we had raised $2.6m in a private, early contribution token sale round. We’re maintaining this momentum and hitting the ground running in 2021 with a string of announcements in the pipeline, most notably Partisia Blockchain is gearing up to launch on Mainnet later this year. We come from a strong scientific background and the partners behind Partisia Blockchain are some of the most cited cryptographers in the world with more than 1,000 published papers collectively. Stay tuned on all our latest updates over on our official Twitter.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The power of surrounding yourself with the right people is so important and there are a lot of extraordinary people behind the success of Partisia. Ivan Damgård is one of the most renowned experts in cryptography and we are privileged to have him lead our team alongside Jesper Buus Nielsen and Claudio Orlandi, the next two generations of world-leading experts in MPC. Alongside Peter Frandsen and Jakob Pagter,two of the most highly skilled developer teams in Partisia and Sepior, without such a stellar team we would not have been able to bring Partisia Blockchain to the world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
MPC makes it possible to change the control of data and allow for legal collaboration among competitors and partners with opposite interests. The value created for the greater good that follows from this drives us every day.
What are your list of things “I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- That Bitcoin would increase 40K 🙂
- How tough it is to commercialize fundamental new technologies — we have basically been building the machine that creates the road that we drive on. On the other hand, we would probably not have listened and if we did listen, we might have done something else.
- We thought about the blockchain at a very early stage but if someone would have insisted discussing the merger of MPC and blockchain, we would have started building Partisia Blockchain in 2015 and not 2017 which could have made a big difference — but who knows.
- We have always been working with people that think hard about the right things to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Data about you — every one of you — is the new oil. Reclaim control of your data and get your fair share. The tools for doing just that are about to enter the market and may create a tremendous impact. Movement along this line is important and one that we promote and support.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
We are working on the blue-blue-ocean of innovations and you need serious guidance and an efficient noise canceller. My advice on how to navigate in a world like this, is to insist on understanding the fundamental theory, systems, and value drivers and let them guide you.
But remember to revisit things you discharged with a fresh mind.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
We are moving towards a paradigm shift where the control and confidential use of data is paramount. The desire for change is there and the technological opportunity is ready.
It’s all about disrupting the basic concept of trust. While the dictionary typically tells you that trust is the ability to have confidence in someone or something, the next generation of cryptography paves an alternative road to enhance trust where data can be used without sharing it with anyone.
Partisia Blockchain is the enabler of this emerging economy as a Web 3.0 public blockchain built for trust, transparency, privacy, and confidential interoperability.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us.
The Future Is Now: Kurt Nielson of Partisia Blockchain On How Their Technological Innovation Will… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.