InterviewsCecille de Jesus
Shyft ‘crypto with a conscience’ builds universal identity system with social physics, biometrics
You may not even need a passport someday.
As expected, last week’s TOKEN2049 Conference in Hong Kong was riddled with hopeful blockchain start-ups. But what I may have underestimated was how many ICO’s and new exchanges one would have to weed through to find something unique and significant for the long term. Even harder was to find organizations that are actually tackling real-world problems, social issues that go far beyond making a quick buck through a hyped up token sale.
Amid all the noise, I found Bruce Silcoff, or rather he found me. Silcoff wanted to talk about a project called Shyft, a start-up tackling digital identity particularly for the unbanked and vulnerable. Silcoff, CEO at Shyft, describes it as “the perfect fix for a broken KYC and AML world.”
“We believe identity is a right, not a privilege,” they wrote on their website.
Not another ICO
With a huge deluge of ICOs and start-ups that simply add the term “blockchain” to their business model in hopes of seeing their stocks spike, it has been quite the headache filtering for legitimate projects, and scams have become and continue to be rampant in the space. I asked him how serious he was about the project, to which he replied with a firm declaration: “I’m staking a 30-year reputation on this. We were in Davos—the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) took us in to over 50 meetings. That’s how serious this is.”
“A lot of people are in it for the wrong reason, but there are a bunch of us (that are serious about it),” he said. Silcoff believes that there are diamonds in the rough, and that they are one of them.
“Dot-com was the same, you know you had the scams, you had people worried about it. But out of dot-com came Google, Facebook, Amazon. You can have that here, too. I think we’re gonna be the Amazon of identity—I know we will be.”
Shyft’s universal ID system: exactly what governments need
Shyft is a decentralized network specializing in digital identity that aims to provide a universally accepted documentation system attesting to a person’s identity as well as reputation—one that would tick all the legal requirements for KYC and AML, as well as surpass the limits of geographic and institutional borders. The company hopes to solve a big problem that has been plaguing governments for a while, and even more so now as the blockchain industry is opening up opportunities as well as gaps in law enforcement.
The network enables identity sharing, creditability and reputation score sharing while keeping identities anonymous unless otherwise required. Using a trust anchor system, someone can attest to the identity and reputation of a person being verified in the network.
I asked him how likely governments are going to welcome this solution. Based on his conversations with several authorities, he says it’s more than highly likely.
“The governments are desperate for this. Over 10% of the world’s economy is criminal. They’re trying to stop this problem—we have the solution,” he said. “They needed this yesterday.”
“I’m sure you’re aware there is an identity epidemic right now—two-fold: from a business and regulatory perspective, it’s inefficient and it’s not secure. Case in point: Equifax, Uber, Target, Home Depot,” Silcoff explained.
“Fortunately, there is blockchain and we’ve come along and have the ability to now decentralize it and add more security and add more efficiency.”
To fulfill their mission of achieving universal validity, Shyft is coordinating intensively with legal authorities from different jurisdictions—something exceedingly rare in the crypto sphere.
“Right now, no one is doing it the way we’re doing it,” Silcoff said. Referring to existing projects that are shooting to solve the same issue they’re solving, Silcoff outlines a very promising value that others do not offer, one so crucial that it automatically sets them apart from the competition despite being the newer kid on the block. Shyft’s solution would supposedly keep identities private, but will enable access to information if needed.
It also resonates with Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra’s statement that regulation must be structured with an international approach for effective enforcement—something IMF Chief Christine Lagarde also echoed earlier this month. Shyft may just be what regulators need: a cross-border solution to a cross-border problem.
“A lot of them (other identity solutions) also are providing just domestic solutions, which is actually contradictory to what AML is. Money laundering is usually cross-border, so ours is a global solution.”
Appealing to my interest in social impact projects as written in my bio here at CoinGeek, Silcoff outlines social problems that their system will solve.
“From your perspective, what we can do is we can fix a social problem. There are three and a half billion people in the world that are either underbanked or unbanked. That’s a huge problem—of which 1.1 billion don’t even have a legal ID.”
“That means a few things: one, it means they are subject to violence, rape, trafficking—that’s a human problem. They also don’t have access to a lot of the benefits that someone with legal ID can have, like birth registration, healthcare, banking, owning real estate, and so on.”
“It’s funny you hear a lot of governments talk about building walls, whether it be tariffs, whether it be actual physical walls—that’s exclusion. We’re talking about inclusion—including a huge population of this world that has been excluded from a lot of the social services that they should be entitled to.”
Social Physics for a social legacy
Impressively, the research behind Shyft’s system is worth staking his reputation on—according to Silcoff, their system is around 30-50% more accurate than established credit bureaus, utilizing social physics, a new method of analyzing big data crafted by Distilled Analytics, a group of researchers from MIT. By using this system, those without credit and banking records to base future credit applications on can begin to become part of the economy.
“We are working with a team out of MIT to use social physics and behavioural biometrics to track behaviors and to create identities for these unbanked or underbanked people so that they can get credit, so that they can have identities,” Silcoff said.
“We’re taking big data and we look at up to the fourteen hundredth behavioural identifiers and create patterns, and we predict from those patterns the credit-worthiness of them—we look at their reputational scores and creditability scores so that they can be banked, so they can be identified,” he said. “Think about the level of detail we’re now getting into to identify a person.”
For the system to work, individuals would need to register and access the system using a smart phone. I asked him about those who absolutely cannot afford a smart phone, such as the poorest people in the Philippines who could otherwise benefit the most from the project—how do they plan to bypass this hurdle and get to those who need their service the most?
Silcoff admits that this may be a problem, but that the system can still help. “What we can do is we can use our analytics and big data to identify areas where there is high crime, identify areas where there are health issues, identify areas where there is poverty and deal with social issues that way. So we may not be able to track it to the individual in that case, but we can create segments and groups. The Israeli military uses that kind of information to track and identify terrorists.”
Shyft’s technology should be ready by next year. “Our MVP is already done, we’re testing our technology. The full social physics or behavioural technology will be complete within a year’s time—and I’m saying that conservatively, it’ll probably be less. So within a year’s time, we should have a full-scale working technology.”
Silcoff, having over 30 years of experience building up businesses, is not in it for the money. He’s at the point in his life where he is building something that can make lives better for the succeeding generations.
“It’s heart-warming. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money. It’s about the legacy,” Silcoff said. “I’ve owned and sold 23 different companies over my life—over 30 years. I’m doing this to make a difference.”
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