Alumni Portraits: Blockchain und Entwicklungsländer – Franz von Weizsäcker

We are sitting in the Impact
Hub, a co-working space in Berlin, the cryptological
capital so to speak, home to the majority of
start-ups in the field. And it is here that I run the
GIZ Block-chain Lab. A blockchain is essentially something
like a database or a register where a large number of transactions or
accounting entries are made publicly available. But unlike an account
book with a bank, it does not belong to a single institution but
rather to thousands of computers – and thus the people or companies operating
them – dispersed throughout the entire world. And it is precisely the fact
that, unlike a database, it has no centralized control mechanism which
makes a blockchain so special. You can do business directly with other people
without an agent becoming involved. Let’s take the example
of decentralized energy makets: In Germany, you
are simply not al-lowed to sell your solar energy
to your neighbor. Sure, you can sell it to the
local energy pro-vider, but not directly to your neighbor.
The situation in Nigeria is completely different.
You can set up all possible operator
models for electricity grids in villages. That’s
why we are cur-rently planning to establish a blockchain energy lab
in Nigeria, inviting start-ups to test their decentralized business models for villages in rural
Nigeria, to see to what extent selling re-newable energies directly from neighbor to neighbor using
smart meters and blockchains and the appropriate technologies can lead to a more reliable, cost
effective and environmentally friendly energy supply. Initially I saw things like this: I would
study computer science and take math and all the other courses and end up doing a
certain type of job. But then I pictured myself as a programmer, seated in a silent
little room with only my screen for company and so on. And I thought “No, that isn’t
what I want.” And then I asked myself just what do I want. This crisis led me to apply
for a study abroad, taking me away from Europe and the USA to Chile. This proved a
watershed experience for me, enabling me to find out about the world, so to speak,
and to learn that not everyone has it as good as we do here in Europe. I think this
is where my interest in this field began. One of the areas of specialization
in my degree program at TU Berlin was actually “infor-mation science
and developing countries”, which also included a practical project in Afghani-stan. I
took part in this and so got to spend two months in Kabul. Well, for me technologies, whether computer science or
other technologies, are the greatest force for change we have today and how we use this force for change is a very
important issue for technology impact assessment and technology governance – the governance framework, the legal
framework in which this should take place. What does this mean for society, for the
economy, and for all the transformation processes involved?
We need all these different perspectives as well as, to some extent at least, a genuinely
deep technical understanding to be able to create the right future. As such, I
really believe the best way to proceed is to take as broad
an approach as possible and, in the true spirit of a university, in-corporate a social
political perspective, maybe with some political science and a little history and philosophy so as to be able to
assess technological development in a holistic context.

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