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60 Columbus Cir
New York, NY, 10023
United States

John Clippinger, Research Scientist, MIT

Dr. John Henry Clippinger is Co-Founder and Executive Director of ID3 (Institute for Innovation & Data Driven Design), a 501 C(3) non profit organization formed to develop and field test legal and software trust frameworks for data-driven services, infrastructures, and enterprises.” He is also a Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Group. Previously, Dr. Clippinger was Founder and Co-Director of The Law Lab at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is Co-Editor with David Bollier, of 'From Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond: The Quest for Identity and Autonomy in a Digital Society (2014)', and is the author of 'A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity (2007)' and 'The Biology of Business, Natural Laws of Enterprise (1998)'. Previously, Dr. Clippinger was Director of Intellectual Capital, Coopers & Lybrand and the founder of four artificial intelligence software companies. He consults with companies, foundations, NGOs, and government agencies on technology, policy and business strategy issues related to privacy, trust frameworks and social networks.


Please give us a bit of background on yourself, and what financial technology issues you are working on?

Over the last 10 years I have been working on the problem of giving users control over their identities and data, and in the area of self-executing smart contracts. I was a senior fellow at Harvard Law School and Co-Founder of the Law Lab, where we developed self-executing contracts - term sheets tied to cap tables - and then used genetic algorithms to generate new ones. Then, I worked at MIT Media Lab, and at ID3 to develop a platform to support decentralized applications and services around identity and certification. I also developed WindHover Principles with endorsement from 25 plus digital “currency” companies for KYC and AML, and I am currently working with regulators, banks, and others for new approach to decentralized financial services.

What first sparked your interest in FinTech development?  

Banking. Finance is primed for major disruption in the coming years - not just crypto-currencies, ledgers, and smart contracts - but new kinds of digital institutions for oversight and managing risk. This industry will be transformed the same way that the publishing and media industries were. Banks start with denial, then experimentation, accommodation, and then they discover that a whole new category of services and infrastructure is marginalizing their role - and they are powerless to adapt. The technology - cryptography, decentralized autonomous services, virtualization, etc. promises to address profound flaws in our financial system.

What will you be discussing at The Economist's Buttonwood Gathering on October 20th?

I would like to comment on how the scope of change makes it virtually impossible for most banks to adapt. Many indeed will be like the newspapers (e.g. where the market cap of NYT is 2.5 billion and that of Vice is 3 billion). Just as newspapers tried to be the new portals and search services, so too are banks with bitcoin; and they too, will fail to adapt to new infrastructure and business models. I would also like to comment on new kinds of financial regulation through API calls and use of zero knowledge proofs and other combinations of tech and policy. Given the current problems around the governance of bitcoin, there will be new perspectives of governance in general and in alternative to the Libertarian incentive mechanisms and “governance.” I will argue that the bitcoin protocol is based upon Chicago School Economics & Rationality models, which have been scientifically discredited and are not appropriate to the economics of a digital economy, where increasing returns are the rule.

How do we find a balance between privacy and accountability within financial technology policies?

I think there is a false dichotomy between privacy and accountability. This is the crux of the issue in balancing the required flow of data and the proper and accountable use of that data. The technology has changed now so that we can treat data as assets that can be signed and verified at scale. The breach of privacy is the unwanted sharing and disclosure of data that harms some party. By establishing data provenance and chain of custody - and signing through the blockchain you can have privacy and accountability at scale. That is a big deal!

The Buttonwood Gathering will feature a strong set of FinTech industry speakers and panelists in addition to yourself - who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Most everyone! By the Masters - Larry Summers.