Professor Alex Pentland’s speech at the BGF Conference “Rebuilding Ukraine”

May 8, 2022AIWS City and Rebuilding Ukraine, News

I’ll be very short here. I’m struck with the fact that in 1991 Estonia left the Soviet Union, and one of the things it did first is, it renovated its governance and its internal systems and deployed the first general blockchain system in the world because they were concerned about security. They needed a system that was distributed so the expected cyber-attack wouldn’t wipe them out. And I believe they’re the only country in the world that actually had a full-on national cyber-attack and survived it because of this infrastructure that they built. Now this is long before bitcoin and NFTs and all that sort of craziness. What they discovered is that the citizens loved this because it was greater transparency; you could see what was happening to your payments, what the government was doing, and it was enormously important in promoting the growth of the economy. McKinsey estimates that it’s somewhere perhaps around eight percent per year in adding to the rate of growth. And since then, other people have taken a page from that book. China for instance has put hundreds of millions of dollars into building their system which-I have seen over the past five years-has been deployed. Almost 200 million people use it today, and it’s being deployed because it makes for a better more secure trade. So, there’s a trillion dollars of investment moving into these things which are popularly called web 3.0 platforms, but really what they are is a new way of handling data and interacting with the government. Not to be outdone, Singapore along with JP Morgan has invested something north of 100 million dollars in developing their program for their trade investments, drove about a half a trillion dollars in the Indo-Pacific. We at MIT are helping countries like Switzerland build their own and Australia build their own, not out of any sense of goodness but because this allows them to be more secure in this age of attack and to be more transparent and more efficient. And recently we put together an alliance with the World Bank who is committed to bringing these sorts of advantages to mid-income and poor countries around the world which will result in much greater stability for many things including better tax, better commerce. EY is one of our core partners in this, and I think we are to make Estonia the poster child of doing this to make their internal systems hardened for the inevitable cyber-attacks and other things that are going to happen and also to promote their recovery of trade.

And that brings me to the final thing I want to mention which is the most important thing that has been destroyed in Ukraine are not the buildings. It’s the fact that the people are now dispersed. You have a refugee crisis where all the education, the social ties, all of the infrastructure, human infrastructure, are now scattered throughout that area of Europe, and you can use some of the same things to have them stay in touch with each other to rebuild their lives to make better decisions. And we have done initial examples of this for instance in Turkey with the Syrian refugees, in Colombia with the Venezuelan refugees. And I think it behooves us to do this sort of effort even better for the Ukrainian refugees, so that they can stay in touch with each other, so that they can know what is happening to them on the ground where they are, so that they can rebuild their lives, and hopefully also so that they can go back and rebuild Ukraine. So I’d love to talk to you about how we can go about doing this. So we and my team; we’re here where we wanted to be able to actually put things on the ground. So thank you.