Eventually, the Ferguson incident, in which a 28-year-old police officer fatally shot Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old African American man, spurred the couple to try and prevent such tragedies. They asked themselves, “How do we keep cops from becoming agitated and worried and pulling guns?” Zyszkowski—who led Torrent Systems to develop Orchestrate, a parallel processing big data environment, later sold to IBM as the basis for Watson—happened to be an investor in a company by this time called Tiburon, a public safety and security company. Owing to his experience, the two thought that, perhaps, they could build technology that automatically informed 911 when a cop needed help.
“We built something called OfficerGuardian, which collected a bunch of personal info and health information about the police officer, like his heart rate, perspiration level, and so on, and analyzed it with machine learning to figure out what his normal stress levels and normal physiological levels are,” said Zyszskowski. “And if there was an aberration, where things changed dramatically, it usually was a warning that something was wrong and would notify 911 dispatch.”
As for consumers controlling encryption keys, the company says it has created a patented technology to simplify the process of managing those keys in order to put that process within reach of anyone, one that passes what they call “the Grandpa Test.” “We have developed a layer, a decentralized way to dumb down blockchain to a ubiquitous user experience on the web,” Yuval Hertzog, the other company co-founder explained.
They built out the technology, but faced concerns that the health information could be used to be prejudicial to cops. Unions were particularly concerned. So, they sought a solution. This solution turned out to be the seed of its own business.
“We came up with individual data repositories for each police officer,” he said. “But now we have all these disparate data vessels, if you will. How do you link them? Around 2015, 2016 we were looking at the [public blockchain] Ethereum. We were both dabbling with Bitcoin and so on, just for fun. We were looking at Ethereum as a potential substrate for doing really an inter-enterprise message bus or communications bus, with which we could tie all the police officer's records together as long as they give your permission.”
Each officer would have his or her own database, and could agree or not agree to its use. “By giving that permission and basically allowing [the police officer] to have sovereignty over [their] own data, it actually alleviated the issue, but also created a big business opportunity,” said Zyszkowski. “So, our blockchain view is less about cryptocurrency. It was really a blockchain providing a [means] for you to communicate in a way that doesn't require trust from any of the individual participants, but enables trusted interaction to occur anyway.”
Based on this technology, they built the company Personal Digital Spaces (PDS) to enable individuals to establish property rights over their personal information. They believed blockchain would help people to realize that they own their own data.
“Their own data exhaust, if you will,” says Zyszkowski, who financed the company through his family office. “If they're able to potentially establish property ownership over it, [they could] establish policies for how that data could be used. Let's say you generate some sort of health data, you can say what that's your raw material. If somebody then uses that health data to better understand how to produce a drug to deal with a particular disease, that's adding value to your individual information. You should get some rent for the original property.”
Distributed ledger technology enables trustless data transactions to take place between ecosystems of businesses, individuals, and stakeholders, with no single entity within the ecosystem has complete control over the flow of information.
Without blockchain, data exchanges require that participants transfer control over to a single operating entity that has the final say in any transactions. Distributed networks present an opportunity to improve data exchange, as information can be aggregated from data silos around relevant, permissioned stakeholders rather than locked behind the walls of each business.
Zyszkowski suggests this could provide the basis for a kind of universal basic income. “Everybody's generating data, and everybody can get compensated for it. How much depends upon how useful that data is. But, ultimately, we think that, as the data gets aggregated, more and more value gets ascribed to it. And if that value can trickle back down to the original people who originated the data, then they have income.”
PDS features a programming layer that allows application developers to more readily code up new apps. PDS is agnostic about the verticals built on top of it, but the company gravitates towards those in healthcare, media, insurance, and real estate.
“The developers that are programming against our platform don't even need to know they're using blockchain,” said Cory Pitt, Head of Partnerships and Product Management at Personal Digital Spaces. “All they know is they're establishing ownership rights to data and then they're able to grant PDS smart licenses around that data for other individuals and entities to aggregate access and really utilize that data for creating value.” For instance, a company called Recare is developing an app enabling refugees, who otherwise are basically undocumented, to create a record of their health journey throughout their lives.
“So, every time they encounter a situation where they're getting vaccinated or coming in for some sort of clinical support or medical support, the clinician can document that very easily,” said Zyszkowski. “And that becomes attached not to a record that's kept by the clinical provider, but by the patient himself, which is unlike in the US right now. If I go to one doctor and I want to go to a different doctor, good luck trying to get the medical records from one hospital system to another. Here, all you have to do is take a picture of the person's face and they get all those records to their digital health biography.”