Former Estonian PM Rõivas: Vilnius Blockchain Centre spreads beyond geographical location of Lithuania

Taavi Rõivas
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

When we talked about blockchain technology and the crypto economy, would you say that Lithuania and Estonia is cooperating, shouldn’t be the state, and should be the private initiatives. Do you think, that cooperation is enough or is it competition in that?

I think to be fair there is almost no European country that has properly ready solution to enable the use of blockchain in terms of raising money, which very important issue. Or in terms of having a clear understanding how to feel about the crypto currencies in general. I think it quite honest to say, that most governments in Europe have not properly thought it through.

Estonia and Lithuania both amongst the first ones to take a serious interest in that. It’s not only government, but it also Central Banks and financial supervision authorities that need to take an interest. And I hope that at some point we find a common understanding in the European Union how to regulate in this way that regulation enables to do business, enables to use the new technology rather than makes it too difficult.

There is definitely a competition right now ongoing not only within the European Union but globally on which jurisdiction is best for ICO’s. I think, so far Estonia and Lithuania have both been very successful, but I think there is a clear demand from the market, especially those companies who want to do ICO’s correctly “by the book”, who want to be certain that everything is compliant etc.

Those companies want governments to understand these topics more and they want to have a clear either best practices or guidelines to follow. Not necessary laws, but at least clear understanding by respective governments how they are feeling about those topics.

So, do you think, that Estonia and Lithuania could possibly cooperate and, actually, achieve more, not by just competing, but cooperating? And in what area?

Yes, as we are sitting right here, in the Vilnius Blockchain Center, which has the ambition and a good reason to become a regional Center to provide help in understanding the topic more. I think, it could be good to have similar understanding on crypto, on blockchain but also on artificial intelligence, which is also one thing we are working with right here, in this Center. There is a huge demand to have a good and enabling marketplace and clear and transparent legislative space.

When it comes to AI, I am quite certain, that at one point, all those cars that you see at the streets will be self-driven. I don’t think, it is the question “if”, it’s the question “when?” It is critical, that the governments in the world, mainly in the European Union, understand that and make it legally possible, to create those cars and to bring them to Vilnius and Tallinn and any other European city, Of course, it’s works best only, if they can drive all the way from Tallinn to Vilnius and then back, and it’s can only get possible, when we are smart enough to agree on the framework and frame the common understanding on this.

And, of course, self-driving cars is one example, which is, in my opinion, absolutely certain to happen, and there are a lot of other things when use the AI. It is happening, as we speak, and there is a clear need of legislated framework to help the others.

Looking also at the blockchain economy, where do you see the artificial intelligence in that part of the economy.

Well, first of all blockchain is the technology, that is quite universal in a way. It’s ideology how to keep your date safe or to keep your data, perhaps, architecture is a word that I can use, and you can use the date, you can used the technology in very many fields. Of course, most people still think, that blockchain is directly linked to crypto currencies, and they might not know that, for example, more and more governments’ information systems use blockchain to keep their data safe.

For example, in Estonia we use it to safeguard health records in the National health record. So, in principle, blockchain is a technology that could be used in many more ways than just cryptocurrencies.

When we talk about AI, it is important to remember, that it will create a lot of solutions to make our lives easier. While doing that, we also create a lot of new data. The key will be how this data is used and how this data is taken care of in terms of security and privacy. And again, using blockchain would be quite logical to make sure that the data will be stored safely. So one can see that there is a clear reason why the use of blockchain is more and more important when AI will generate more and more data. Our economy, or not only economy, but society as a whole will be so much more data driven than it is today.

You mention the Estonian experience in using blockchain for health care data. What else Estonian government using blockchain for?

There are several cases where blockchain is used and it’s mainly to make sure that data is safe and no one can meddle with the data in any way.

We are sitting here in Vilnius in Vilnius Blockchain Centre. Are there any plans to create something like that in Estonia or it is already something exists I just not aware of.

I am sure that there will soon be a day when Vilnius Blockchain Centre will go beyond the geographical location of Vilnius. Clearly, I mean mentally Vilnius blockchain centre is already addressing much bigger territory than only Vilnius or only Lithuania. So, I think, mentally the blockchain center of Vilnius is already there in Estonia well, but yes, I would love it very much if similar physical presence like here will be also in Estonia.

You came here to give a speech at one of the events at the Blockchain Centre. Would you be able to in a few words to describe what are you going to talking about at the event.

The main point of my talk is that digital technology as such (including blockchain) is a huge enabler for the society. The crypto enthusiasts are often, in my opinion mistaken when they see governments as something that is working against them. My argument is that governments should be using blockchain within their own systems and it is very much needed that governments understand the technology, because this is the only way they will be able to create enabling the legal framework for that.

Another point I want to make is that we should use more our digital identity and digital signature. Today there is too much of missed transactions, or contracts being done by scribbling something with a pen on the right corner of the document. That is not safe, that is not secure, that is not even well identified. There are means to do it much better, much more effectively, and in a way that will enable us to do more business with which other and to provide better public services for the citizens.

So, you going to be promoting the e-Estonia.

It is not only e-Estonia, I think it is an e-Society. It’s that some things that Estonia has being doing right over some time and that just given us proper competitive advantage, but there are many things, that have been done elsewhere that are also extremely innovative. I think we will be all wise if we would look at each other’s experience, and try to get the best practices from each other.

I think there are many things where Lithuania has been very innovative. Being open to FinTech for example is one of the fields where Estonian companies tell me that we should look more at the Lithuania model. Or introducing sandboxes, something that Lithuania has done and we haven’t. And in our case I think the main thing that we should can probably advise Lithuania’s to use more digital ID and digital signature. It would make a huge difference I’m sure.

Talking about the of IT developments – don’t You think that we should actually at some point start thinking about slowing down, start developing the cyber security, because without cyber security the further IT advances might be very dangerous.

Well, It’s not possible to slow it down, because, first of all no government or no single decision maker is in charges of how technology will develop globally. So the technological progress will be there anyways. If we are trying to prohibit it here, it will be done somewhere else, simple as that.

Also using digital services will happen even if governments are standing by, because people want to uses these services. Most people in the world have smartphones and it was actually the smartphone more than 10 years ago that started to act as an big enabler to use more the digital services. We still remember how it was like using the MS DOS operating system, it was obviously extremely difficult and required some specific skills. Even using MS Windows needs some special understanding of how the computer works.

But using the smartphone – it is very intuitive and anyone can do it. Which also means that more and more apps will be there, more and more services in the private sector will go digital. And it would be a huge waste if public sector services would not be going digital, where it is easier for people to access them and of course much cheaper for governments to run them.

I think in the year 2018 paper documents should long already be obsolete. It’s so much easier and so much safer to keep the documents digitally. And, of course, the prerequisite is to do it properly.

As for the cyber security I think it’s like a basic hygiene in digital development. It’s not one or another you have to keep the cyber security always increasing because the potential adversaries could otherwise harm the system too much. Cyber security is never ready as technology is never ready also.

Let’s look at 2030. In ideal world, where do you see the artificial intelligence, blockchain and IT development. Where is it move in, and what we should expect?

We will see definitely by that time changes in the way we move, more automation, and more self-driving features in cars or buses, or trains or ships or definitely at least auto pilots will go to next level.

I hope that we will see more public and private services happening with us without us actually needing to apply for it. More things happening in the background like service without any bureaucracy. I think that AI will be hopefully killing bureaucracy to a great extent.

We will be collecting much more data as we walk, as we talk, as we speak. That data will be hopefully used for greater good, meaning that data will keep us healthier, that data will help us live longer. We need obviously companies that developed apps for that, to utilize that data and we need the common understanding how to keep that data safe.

Some of the companies working right here in the Center will be developing applications how to utilize the data that we collect anyways as we move. LYMPO is a great example. They help you to make sense and even reward on the fitness data you are collecting all the time with your wearables. That is what I call the future of data usage.

So I think we will see many more cases like that will be increasingly important. As 2030 is 12 years away which means that the changes will be massive. 12 year ago we didn’t have smartphones and technological development is not happening equally fast, it is happening faster and faster. So expect things to change by a great extent by 2030.

We might not have mobile phones or smartphones anymore else.

Well, we definitely have even more intuitive ways of communicating. It’s not about phones it’s about how we communicate, how we access data. So it could easily be any other devices. Funnily enough most of the futuristic technology that has been seen in a James Bond movies or Mission impossible movies will actually be integral part of our lives at some point. So, when I was a kid, I was dreaming of TV that I could take with me anywhere and it would work on batteries. Little did I know at the age of, I think, 28, I got my first smartphone that was not only TV but also video recorder and photo camera and voice recorder, fax machine and many other things. So, let’s believe that in 10 or 20 years time we will see things being at next level.

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