Exclusive Interview: Dilip Krishnaswamy of Jio talks about Blockchain adoption in India
Dr. Dilip Krishnaswamy is currently serving as Vice President (New Tech R&D) at Reliance Industries Ltd., India (Parent company of Jio). He is a Fellow at the Center for the 4th Industrial Revolution (C4IR) at the World Economic Forum. He also serves as the head of Blockchain platform engineering.
He has a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Previously, he has worked as a senior scientist at IBM Research, as a senior staff researcher in the office of the chief scientist at Qualcomm, and as a platform architect at Intel, and has taught at the University of California, Davis.
He is an inventor on 60+ granted US patents, and has 70+ publications, with 3 best paper awards. His research interests include distributed information processing, distributed function virtualization, distributed resource management, blockchain technology, edge services, NFV/SDN, NB-IoT, AI/ML, IoT/M2M, 5G architecture & systems, AI/cognitive systems, and solutions related to smart cities and smart villages.
We at Blockmanity had a chance to interview Dr. Dilip on the sidelines of the Genesis Devcon 2019 organized by IBC media. We hope you enjoy the interview.
Blockmanity: Let’s start off with your background and how you got into Blockchain.
Dilip: I’ve been an electrical engineer for a long time and computer science as well. After my Ph.D. from Illinois, I worked at Intel and Qualcomm research and eventually got into to IBM Research. I recently joined Jio a little more than a year ago
So Blockchain started when I was at IBM Research, they saw the potential and started working on it. We were working with regulatory authorities as well. I was interacting with TRAI and IDRBT which are RBIs R&D wing on how to leverage Blockchain for India. We wrote a white paper for IDRBT on applications of Blockchain in banking and financial infrastructure, I was also working with TRAI on some of the telecom regulatory applications. Primarily though looking at it from the private/permissioned framework.
Blockmanity: How long has Jio been exploring Blockchain?
Dilip: I think we have been exploring Blockchain for a little bit more than 2 years.
There is a lot of interest in Bitcoin around the world but the underlying technology of Bitcoin which is Blockchain has a much broader potential going across industries and use cases where information needs to be shared across these entities and a beautiful use case has happened with TRAI. So I was at IBM Research influencing this regulation and now I’m actually making it a part of Jio.
It’s important for regulators to play a role in taking Blockchain technology forward because there is a need for some neutral entity that these companies have to trust to make it happen.
There is another use case where the national payments corporation of India is trying to get all the banks together to settle all the bank transfer in real-time in less than 15 mins instead of 6 hours. So then everything is closed very quickly and it can be an aggregate transfer that is actually recorded where there might be 200 transactions going back and forth between two banks but the net transfer maybe just 2 lakhs so it can be settled in one single shot.
Since NPCI was already a trusted neutral entity that is enabling UPI, creating a Blockchain network was not very hard. But if one the banks had tried to do it would have been much harder In the telecom use case the regulators said they wanted to do it but there isn’t a neutral entity so what Happened is the operators together formed a group and all their nodes are participating on a single Blockchain network
So actually all the operators together are the neutral entity.
Blockmanity: So Is the Blockchain the neutral entity here?
Dilip: Effectively right? There isn’t a single organization that is responsible for it, If the companies come together then it’s a good thing but if the regulators are forcing them then they won’t have a choice. So it’s a good thing that the regulators get involved in creating neutral networks
Blockmanity: The word Blockchain has been overused all around, how do you define a Blockchain? Are you exclusively exploring permissioned chains or are you also open to permissionless networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum?
Dilip: So I think truly permissionless networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum have a problem of total lack of trust in the network which is why they have to go through the Byzantine consensus such as proof of stake or proof of work which is a total waste of energy across the globe.
The question is what are you enabling? if it is something like creating a digital currency that can be transferred using wallets then it had already be done by banks even without needing a cryptocurrency. The banks have all the information for auditors like RBI, the identity is obfuscated in Cryptocurrencies by using only the public and private keys by design. That is a huge risk, that’s why all the governments are steering away from it. They are also worried about people losing money with bad investments in crypto tokens
The question is what use case are you enabling and what do you need. Do you need a cryptocurrency? Maybe not. Do you need a Blockchain? maybe yes. Not all use cases need a Blockchain unless you want to increase the level of trust between nodes with some sharing of information with this kind of a system which provides the transparency and immutability
Blockmanity: Jio made an announcement that they trying to build the largest Blockchain network with thousands of nodes on the first day, What is Jio planning to do?
Dilip: I can’t speak directly for the company, but it’s more about enabling a Blockchain ecosystem.
One of the things that Internally we were building is a microservices-based Blockchain system that can dynamically scale up and down as and when needed so different smart contracts can individually scale on a different Blockchain network based on their throughputs. So all these will leverage the same infrastructure like virtual machines and containers, we don’t want to store the data on the Blockchain since it is transparent. We just want to record the fact that the transaction occurred but the data still remains off-chain.
So you see that the Blockchain is just part of the overall system to enable data privacy.
Or if there is a machine learning use case for emergency health care then Blockchain is an enabler for that where you want to transfer the patient’s medical record from one hospital to another, you transfer the data off-chain but record the fact that you transferred on the blockchain. You negotiate with the insurance company and the hospital on behalf of the patient but record the fact that the insurance agreed to support that
So the Blockchain will act as a source of truth for all the transactions that happened, Essentially it records the things that happen on the control plane without disclosing all the information in the user plane. There should be some information as to who transacted with who and what did they do without revealing what information is processed.
Blockmanity: Jio I would say revolutionized the internet space by giving access to millions of users, is it fair to speculate whether Jio will be able to do something similar with Blockchains?
Dilip: I think you can view Blockchain as one of the tools that are needed for advanced technology processing in the future, you will need machine learning, quantum computing, AI and natural language processing along with the traditional processing. As data is produced some of it may need Blockchain which will be invoked.
It’s just that we are adopting new technology in our overall technologies and Blockchain typically will not exist by itself it will need AI, IoT and smart infrastructure. All of these technologies coming together will ultimately provide value to the users.
Blockmanity: What is the timeline of Jio’s plans and are current regulations by the RBI holding it back in any way?
Dilip: All I can say is that there is a general interest in permissioned/private Blockchains and if there is interest from the government relating to stable coins that might get traction. But we have to see how the RBI and the government view things going forward.
Blockmanity: What are some of the areas in which Blockchains could add value?
Data privacy and ownership is one of the big use cases of Blockchains
There are so many other use cases across industries like supply chain, trade finance and a lot of automation is happening in the industry that did not use blockchain but they are realizing that if they can actually do some processing that might have been done by Oracle and SAP. those transactions can be enabled on the Blockchain itself but you have to figure out what information is sharable which needs thinking among all the participants because previously they were not sharing. Now with some automated sharing, we can get faster transparency where you actually have continuous information which is a useful utility.
Blockmanity: Do you see any utility with public Blockchain networks?
Dilip: Are Cryptocurrencies adding any value to the people or are people just doing it because they are excited about the technology. Blockchains enable automating and sharing of information, Cryptocurrency is just one small portion of this entire tree of opportunities.
Public use cases can also be enabled on permissioned Blockchains as well, for example in the case of land records on the Blockchain, they can go through a login system provided by the government and provide query information based on what they are allowed to see. People don’t have to directly interact with the Blockchain, there can be a hybrid method of accessing the networks.
Blockmanity: India has generally been late in terms of adoption of new technologies whether it be internet or credit cards, etc. Do you think we have the edge when it comes to AI, IoT, and Blockchain or will it be late to the game?
Dilip: India has tremendous talent and potential, people being so bold in creating their own startups and being visionaries. I think it bodes really well of India, I don’t think we will be lacking behind any technology, but what I do see is that people are leaving the education programs really early and they are lacking depth in mathematical knowledge and engineering foundation. They haven’t gone deep into a Ph.D. program or something to go into the depths, revolutionary technologies come from very deep thinking and research, a lot of people are doing incremental work like creating an android application or using some open-source software. In some instances it does becomes successful but if you want to lead the world you should also invest in education.
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