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CFTC Official to Congress: Don't Be 'Hasty' With Crypto Rules

The director of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)’s fintech initiative cautioned against what he called “hasty regulatory pronouncements” during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.

The remarks from Daniel Gorfine, director of LabCFTC, were directed toward members of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture which, as reported by CoinDesk, sought testimony on the issue of cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Alongside Gorfine were former JPMorgan blockchain lead Amber Baldet, former CFTC chair Gary Gensler and A16Z managing partner Scott Kupor.

Gorfine framed his remarks from the perspective that many different things can be considered “commodities” – but not all of them would warrant attention from U.S. regulators.

“It’s only when we start to see the rise of futures or swaps products built on those commodities that we have kind of direct oversight,” he remarked, going on to state:

“We all have the shared goal to bring clarity and certainty to the market but [we] also need to be sure that we are thoughtful in our approach and do not steer or impede the development of this area of innovation. Indeed, while some may seek the immediate establishment of bright lines, the reality is that hasty regulatory pronouncements are likely to miss the mark, have unintended consequences, or fail to capture important nuance regarding the structure of new products or models.”

Gorfine would return to that point several times during the hearing, which began at 10 a.m. local time.

“It’s important that we’re not hasty in figuring out what the contours are of applying securities law and then the commodities framework,” he remarked.

Congressional sentiment

The hearing notably provided a window into what some members of Congress think when it comes to the subject of cryptocurrencies – though it wasn’t positive in some cases.

For example, Rep. Collin Peterson remarked that, in his view, much of the cryptocurrency ecosystem “seems like a Ponzi scheme” and asking “what’s behind this?”

It was Gensler who offered a response, stating that “there’s really nothing behind gold either … what’s behind it is a cultural norm, for thousands of years we liked gold.”

“We do it as a store of value, so bitcoin is a modern form of digital gold. It’s a social construct,” he continued.

In other cases, committee members simply wanted more information on how cryptocurrencies exactly work.

“We’re creating another money supply here as I see it. I just don’t know how that works. Our dollar sets the mark for the world. I can’t visualize how this would work,” Rep. Rick Allen commented.

But it was Michael Conaway, the chairman of the committee, who perhaps had one of the most notable – and telling – remarks about bitcoin, coming at the very end of the hearing and just days after the U.S. Justice Department claimed it had traced bitcoin transactions conducted by 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacks during the 2016 presidential election.

“As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin it’ll be great,” Conaway quipped.

Want to read CoinDesk’s full by-the-second coverage of the hearing? Follow our stream on Twitter here

Daniel Gorfine image via House Agricultural Committee

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Joe Lubin and Jimmy Song Make Bitcoin Bet Over Blockchain 'Magic Dust'

Two of the cryptocurrency world’s most outspoken figures are putting their money where their mouths are.

Joe Lubin, the founder of the ethereum startup studio Consensys, and Jimmy Song, a partner at Blockchain Capital, struck a handshake bet in front of an audience of hundreds, perhaps thousands, at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 conference in New York City on Monday.

The exact terms of the bet have not yet been sorted out – that will happen on Twitter, the participants said. But the broad outlines emerged on stage.

Lubin bet Song “any amount of bitcoin” that five years in the future, the blockchain space will include some number of applications – perhaps five – that have earned a yet-to-be-defined number of users.

Bitcoin maximalist Song took the bet.

To explain how things came to a head, it’s necessary to back up about 20 minutes. Amber Baldet, former blockchain program lead at JPMorgan, unveiled her new project Clovyr, a decentralized app (or dapp) store that gives users access to projects tied to both public and permissioned, more enterprise-focused blockchain networks.

She then brought Song and Lubin onstage for a conversation that immediately caught fire, with Baldet asking what Song thought about Clovyr.

His reaction was brutal: “I didn’t see anything other than buzzwords.”

The reason, he argued, was an insurmountable disconnect between centralized enterprises and supposedly decentralized applications, which Song dismissed as “magical blockchain dust.”

A back-and-forth among Baldet, Lubin and Song ensued. Lubin sarcastically predicted that the next five years of cryptocurrency innovation would see nothing but “bitcoin 1.0.” Song doubled down, saying “I don’t really see much of this stuff gaining much traction,” he said. Bitcoin, he argued, is “the real innovation here.”

So, Lubin issued a challenge: “I’ll bet you any amount of bitcoin that you’re wrong.”

For now, the number of bitcoin is unknown, as are other terms of the bet. But Song accepted the wager, and Lubin tweeted at Song shortly afterward:

Image by David Floyd for CoinDesk

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Amber Baldet's New Startup Is a Blockchain Dapp Store

Decentralized application development is harder than it should be.

That’s the guiding framework behind Clovyr, a new startup launched by two former JPMorgan blockchain employees that seeks to provide a new layer of enterprise-driven services between blockchains and user-facing applications.

Founded by CoinDesk’s “Most Influential” finalist Amber Baldet and cryptographer Patrick Mylund Nielsen, the mystery startup has been a topic of speculation since Baldet announced her departure from the investment bank last month.

Finally revealed at Consensus 2018 in New York today, Clovyr is a decentralized application store that will host a selection of well-vetted applications alongside some in-house developer tooling designed to simplify application development for enterprises.

Maintaining a “blockchain agnostic” approach to application design, Clovyr will initially provide tooling to build on both public and enterprise versions of ethereum, specifically the Quorum, Geth and Parity clients.

Speaking to CoinDesk, Baldet hinted that bitcoin-facing applications will also be possible, and further blockchain integrations may be added to the decentralized collection in future.

In a public beta planned to launch later this year, the team intend to provide an initial development framework for enterprises looking to build on the tech, as well as other potential novelties such as tooling for data analysis on private datasets – something that Baldet anticipates will be a popular product.

“Right now there’s no way to keep data private at its point of origin and also enable big data analytics, but there could be,” Nielsen said in a press release.

Going forward, the team plans to launch a full tech stack for privacy-protecting decentralized application design, that would achieve compliance with upcoming data protection law, the GDPR.

Baldet told CoinDesk:

“We’re trying to empower people to build things themselves.”

Connecting the dots

According to the team, while the technology is there, there’s a gap in application design that has been stifling innovation across the board.

Companies looking to integrate decentralized tooling are faced with the confusion of digging through open-source development platforms.

“It’s so easy to miss useful new tools,” Baldet said.

On Clovyr, developers and enterprises won’t need to go through the process of building the tooling from scratch that may have already been executed.

“We’re doing all that heavy lifting so they can accelerate and iterate faster,” Baldet told CoinDesk.

The application store will also enable the development of hybrid blockchain formats, such as enterprise chains that can link up to public network’s to publish attestations or transactions.

According to Baldet, the latter will beneficial to enterprise looking for the scalability and control of a permissioned system combined with the security parameters of a public blockchain.

But it will feedback into the public ecosystem as well, Baldet said.

“We’re bringing modern software development lifecycle practices to decentralized applications so people can save their time and resources, and finder a broader audience for their big idea,” she told CoinDesk.

In the future, Baldet expects that the public and enterprise-focused applications will blur into a much more user-orientated experience.

Rather than evaluating tools based on their creators, Baldet said, “the users will start asking, does it do what I need it to do and does it meet my personal requirement?”

At the same time, businesses have a much clearer resource to work from in order to enter the industry. Baldet explained:

“And those corporates, all they need to do is onboard Clovyr then they can experiment across the entire field of apps and mash stuff up. So that’s what it will do, it’s good for everyone.”

Data-driven privacy

The beta version of Clovyr will be a collection of developer tooling.

“First thing we need to do is get the nuts and bolts of a workable developer framework out there,” Baldet said.

Going forward, Baldet and Nielsen’s experience in building J.P. Morgan’s Quorum, which contains multiple privacy-enforcing layers, will result in tools that can help people build in a way that protects user data.

“We want to provide very clear privacy-preserving stacks [that] we recommend you go with if you don’t know where to start,” Baldet said.

While the team has yet to fully expand on what such a privacy-preserving system would look like, Baldet hinted that such applications should be more conservative about what information is shared on-chain, and suggested using the shared ledger merely as a coordination device.

Plus, Baldet and Nielsen both hinted that such privacy-preserving features could come with data-analysis capabilities as well.

Nielsen told CoinDesk:

“Currently privacy is seen as incompatible with data-driven insight, but that doesn’t have to be the case.”

Notably, the startup’s applications intend to provide compliancy for the GDPR, a strict data-protection law that comes into force in Europe this month that some have worried may cause problems for public blockchain data.

“It’s certainly a challenge, but we just need to be smart about designing around the constraints,” Baldet told CoinDesk.

But Baldet’s concern for data privacy runs deeper than the GDPR legislation as well.

She told CoinDesk:

“Privacy isn’t just a law, it’s also just a human rights issue for users of the system.”

Image Credit: photocritical / Shutterstock.com

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Ex-JP Morgan Blockchain Lead Hints at Stealth Startup Vision

Everyone is waiting for Amber Baldet‘s big reveal.

Since leaving her role as the blockchain lead at JP Morgan last month, Baldet has been tight-lipped on the new company she plans to launch. Still, her presentation at Ethereal Summit Friday, hosted by ethereum startup incubator ConsenSys, hinted at what the new endeavor might entail.

There, Baldet criticized the tribalism that can occur between builders of open blockchain networks and big institutions, stressing the importance of hybrid technologies that can deploy verifiable, open-source code resistant to single points of failure but that can be adjusted should exceptions happen.

Hybrid blockchains have been on the minds of many executives at major enterprises of late, and Baldet’s interest comes after the two largest public protocols have been embroiled, if not trapped, in online feuds.

As such, she framed permissioned blockchains as perhaps offering a well-intentioned contrast to a model that’s seen no shortage of critiques over the years.

Baldet said:

“You can change the rules of the game without fighting on Twitter for two years. So, choices matter.”

Elsewhere, Baldet echoed much the same narrative of inclusion that the Ethereal Summit seemed to illustrate, while touching on the need for a better security models and poking fun at bitcoin’s strategy for its security model and its emphasis on inclusion through node ownership.

In this way, Baldet framed herself as an entrepreneur who wants to forge a path toward a “pragmatic internet of value.”

“In other words, something that works,” she said.

Privacy is pivotal

And to create that internet of value, Baldet believes the question of privacy is perhaps the most crucial.

“Fundamental strong encryption is a requirement for these systems,” Baldet said, adding that such cryptography should be open source and intensely vetted.

While permissioned blockchains are often criticized for their management by central authorities, Baldet said, public blockchains tend to put the onus on the individual, and as such, aren’t perfect solutions for users.

Though bitcoin is ideal as a peer-to-peer, censorship-resistant payment network, she also suggested that builders of other blockchains might need to seek alternative strategies concurrent with their visions.

“Just because you have solved your problem set doesn’t mean you have solved the problems of everything else in the world,” she continued.

Building a system that has properties of both public and private blockchains, she seemed to stress, could prove beneficial for all parties.

Speaking to CoinDesk after her presentation, Baldet elaborated on this idea, stating that the ability to implement privacy solutions is one of the more interesting aspects of permissioned options.

She said:

“You can create privacy boundaries and it’s okay to have some things that are permissioned, because they’re things that at no point should be accessible to the entire public.”

‘More dumb coordination’

Baldet didn’t exactly state what such infrastructures would look like, but in conversation to CoinDesk, she hinted that it’s unlikely to be achieved through options like interoperability protocols.

While interoperability is often cited as integral to blockchain adoption, Baldet said that forging connections between protocols could open up creating security vulnerabilities.

“A less optimal outcome would be to have a bunch of different public networks that all have different security and privacy models and completely agnostic interoperability between them,” Baldet said.

Because such a model relies too heavily on the security of these connections, it could risk harming the protocols to which they are attached.

Instead, she believes blockchains should be used for simple attestations that something has occurred, with the cryptographic hashes giving a compressed, yet computationally-verifiable sequence of what happened.

Speaking at the Summit, Baldet gave the example of zero-knowledge cryptography, such as that used by privacy-centric cryptocurrency zcash, to illustrate this point.

Baldet concluded:

“We need to dumb down what it is on blockchain – fewer smart contracts and more dumb coordination.”

Amber Baldet at Ethereal 2018 image via CoinDesk

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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JP Morgan's New DLT Lead: We're Not Done With Blockchain Innovation

As JP Morgan Chase’s new blockchain lead, Christine Moy has big shoes to fill. And a quandary to resolve.

Moy took over last month from Amber Baldet, one of the most prominent figures in blockchain, after she left to form an as-yet-unnamed startup. Around the same time, Baldet announced her departure, word leaked out that JP Morgan was considering a spin-out of Quorum, the ethereum-based, open-source project that had been the cornerstone of the bank’s blockchain work.

To be clear, those deliberations do not mean Quorum is struggling – big corporates like JP Morgan tend to shelve failing projects, not spin them out into funded entities.

Indeed, it could be argued that Quorum may have become a victim of its own success. There are more than 20 organizations within the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance working group looking to build on top of the platform.

But for JP Morgan, the challenge is about allowing Quorum to flourish independently, in true open-source protocol style. Perhaps private blockchains, like their public counterparts, face difficult governance problems, too – especially once they start to gather a network effect.

Yet in an interview this week, Moy was quick to emphasize that the recent speculation around Quorum does not capture the breadth of JP Morgan’s work in distributed ledger technology (DLT).

She told CoinDesk:

“That’s not the most exciting part about our team’s agenda; it’s part of the story but it’s not, like, the story.”

And it’s true that JP Morgan is involved in a number of important blockchain projects that are separate from Quorum, such as its collaborations with Digital Asset Holdings, Axoni and Nivaura. Nevertheless, the fate of Quorum is the elephant in the room that will have to be addressed.

Fortunately for JP Morgan, in Moy it has a leader who not only knows that project inside and out but is all too familiar with the reasons the bank started exploring the tech to begin with.

Cross-trained for blockchain

Moy, the new program lead for the Blockchain Centre of Excellence (BCOE) at JP Morgan, brings to the role firsthand knowledge of exactly the kind of problems that distributed ledger technology aims to solve.

She started her career in the middle office of JP Morgan’s syndicated loans business. In this job, Moy had to deal with all the documents that needed to be signed before these transactions could close. Even more antiquated than most corners of legacy finance, syndicated loans can take 20 days to settle.

“I used to be the person that faxed those documents around to settle those trades, so I know that process intimately,” Moy said.

She then spent over a decade working across a range of assets and divisions at the bank. This cross-training included witnessing how securities and chains of custody were frozen solid as the 2008 crash engulfed the entire financial system.

That experience underscored for her the importance of a transparent system of reconciliation – just as the syndicated loans role drove home the need for faster settlements.

With that pedigree and perspective, Moy was a natural for the BCOE, where she was Baldet’s first hire.

Yet perhaps most importantly, working in various parts of a sprawling, diversified company – one assembled from decades of mergers – has shaped Moy’s thinking about one of the key challenges for DLT, particularly the private kind: interoperability.

“It doesn’t make sense to design blockchains to reflect the siloed operating models existing today,” she told CoinDesk, adding:

“Creating a fragmentation of small blockchain networks, without figuring out a way to enable interoperability or connectivity, is likely not the promised path to the cost savings and operational efficiency that enterprises are looking for.”

Open source, open mind

This, of course, brings up another delicate subject for a bank, particularly one whose CEO has famously bashed bitcoin: public blockchain networks.

Quorum, although built with open-source code, is a private blockchain, the kind that was in vogue a few years ago when enterprises (financial institutions in particular) were keen to experiment with the technology but wanted nothing to do with any cryptocurrency.

Lately, though, once-sharp lines have slowly started to blur. According to many ethereum advocates, we are only just at the dial-up internet stage of a totally new value transacting ecosystem. The end goal is connecting the private world of finance with public blockchains.

In an effort that was perhaps unthinkable a year ago, the EEA (which just published its architecture stack diagram) is actively building these bridges, along with the work of the Ethereum Foundation and also the help of a wide and populous developer community.

For her part, Moy said several times that she is “agnostic,” or neutral, about which blockchain or protocols are used. But she said it’s important to stay in touch with the innovation taking place in the public sphere.

“One of the important things for us working on an ethereum variant was kind of being able to stay close to that and potentially even being able to integrate some of that innovation and work into the stuff that we are doing,” she told CoinDesk, before musing:

“Maybe one day this will all converge.”

On the other hand, while she may be protocol-agnostic, Moy believes the basic building blocks for enterprise DLT are now all in place.

“The creation of new protocols in the enterprise space has largely subsided, and there are just a few key protocols that everyone broadly recognizes will remain,” she said.

Quorum quandary

Returning to Quorum, Moy views the project as an example of how open source software, once handed to the community, takes on a life of its own.

“We are entering this interesting point where other entities want to use Quorum, want to take it to production,” she said.

A whole host of entities picked up Quorum and started using it, Moy noted, name-checking IHS Markit, Broadridge, Synechron, ING, and BlockApps. The platform has amassed a tribal following.

“Quorum has strong momentum in capital markets,” said John Olesky, managing director at IHS Markit, a global financial data provider. “It benefits not only from the halo effect from JP Morgan and the technological rigor that comes from a global bank skilled in enterprise-strength software and compliance issues such as privacy.”

But this raises a problem, because it requires a level of support that’s only really possible if there’s a company dedicated to helping enterprises integrate the technology, the way Red Hat supports corporate Linux users. Businesses want someone they can call to fix bugs or when the network is down. Software support is not the bank’s business.

This is why JP Morgan is mulling over a spin-out. While reviewing its options, the bank is also looking at doing more investing internally and hiring more engineers, a spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, Moy’s focus is on bringing new business applications to Quorum, such as the testing of a debt issuance platform with a host of institutional investors.

Her team recently executed a $150 million Yankee certificate of deposit (denominated in U.S. dollars but issued by a foreign bank) in the form of an ERC-20 token on Quorum. (ERC-20 is the standard that launched countless initial coin offerings on the public ethereum blockchain.)

A smart contract automated the offering, the distribution and, crucially, the “delivery versus payment“- meaning the investors got their securities only upon paying cash. This is notable because cash is king in the world of clearing and settlement – and getting cash onto a shared ledger is seen as a vital part of the puzzle for blockchain builders.

Moy also sees the Yankee CD trial as a harbinger of a more open and transformed financial system.

“This is an example of us issuing a traditional financial instrument natively on the blockchain,” she said. “But the next phase is when you have real asset managers participating in a product like this; it’s about, what does custody look like? What does fund administration look like – and what does a trades market look like for something like this?”

Christine Moy photo by Jena Cumbo, via JP Morgan Chase.

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Amber Baldet: Blockchain Should 'Almost Never' Be Used for Privacy

Blockchain “maximalism” will not solve internet privacy concerns, Amber Baldet said on Monday.

The former JPMorgan blockchain lead made the comments during a talk on the “Internet of Value” and delivered to MIT Technology Review’s Business in Blockchain conference.

“The maximalism that we have to do everything in a decentralized way is a bit of a fallacy,” she said, going on to explain:

If you want private, secure communications, [you should] almost never use a blockchain. You want something that is ephemeral, not immutable.” 

Baldet instead suggested that hybrid disclosing networks could offer a better solution. Likewise, she claimed that the blockchain is not a privacy solution, but rather “fundamentally an information security product.”

Her speech highlighted the wide variety of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies and emphasized that there is no single correct approach among the various versions. She also commented that “given the trade-off between privacy and convenience, people have always chosen convenience.”

Baldet, who oversaw the development of JPMorgan’s permissioned blockchain, Quorum, left the Wall Street bank earlier this month to start her own venture. She has not yet revealed any further details on her plans.

Amber Baldet image by Annaliese Milano for CoinDesk 

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Amber Baldet: Blockchain Alone Isn't A Privacy Cure-All

Blockchain “maximalism” will not solve internet privacy concerns, Amber Baldet said on Monday.

The former JPMorgan blockchain lead made the comments during a talk on the “Internet of Value” and delivered to MIT Technology Review’s Business of Blockchain conference.

“The maximalism that we have to do everything in a decentralized way is a bit of a fallacy,” she said, going on to explain:

If you want private, secure communications, [you should] almost never use a blockchain. You want something that is ephemeral, not immutable.” 

Baldet instead suggested that hybrid disclosing networks could offer a better solution. Likewise, she claimed that the blockchain is not a privacy solution, but rather “fundamentally an information security product.”

Her speech highlighted the wide variety of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies and emphasized that there is no single correct approach among the various versions. She also commented that “given the trade-off between privacy and convenience, people have always chosen convenience.”

Baldet, who oversaw the development of JPMorgan’s permissioned blockchain, Quorum, left the Wall Street bank earlier this month to start her own venture. She has not yet revealed any further details on her plans.

Amber Baldet image via YouTube

Correction: The headline of this article has been updated to better reflect the intent of Amber Baldet’s remarks. CoinDesk regrets the earlier headline. Further, this report has been updated to correct the name of MIT Technology Review’s Business of Blockchain event. 

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Amber Baldet Leaving JPMorgan Blockchain Team to Start New Venture

JPMorgan Chase’s blockchain lead is leaving the bank to launch her own venture.

Amber Baldet, who oversaw development of JPMorgan’s permissioned blockchain platform, Quorum, is leaving the financial institution, according to an internal memo sent Monday by the bank’s head of blockchain initiatives, Umar Farooq.

Baldet, one of CoinDesk’s Most Influential in Blockchain in 2017, headed up JPMorgan’s Blockchain Center of Excellence since its inception in 2015. She oversaw partnerships with the company behind zcash, with the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts and with the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.

Christine Moy, a senior product manager with the center, will take over Baldet’s position, according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by CoinDesk. Moy worked with Baldet and the center from the start and has been leading blockchain product development across JPMorgan’s investor services and capital markets businesses, Farooq wrote.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman said in a statement that “Amber is extremely talented and helped build the outstanding team we have today. We respect her desire to start her own venture and we wish her nothing but the best.”

No details were available on Baldet’s next project. Reuters reported her departure earlier Monday.

Amber Baldet image via YouTube

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Amber Baldet

This is an entry in CoinDesk’s Most Influential in Blockchain 2017 series.


It’s February of 2017 – I’m sharing a standing table at a rooftop bar in Brooklyn with Amber Baldet, the executive director of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center of Excellence, and I’m suffering from intense cognitive dissonance.

Earlier in the day at an event, JP Morgan launched the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, where some major names in the banking industry and the blockchain space announced they would all work together to bang out a private version of the ethereum blockchain.

I had talked with Baldet on the sidelines about some of the cutting-edge cryptography being used to introduce privacy to blockchain transactions. The conversation had touched on cypherpunk culture and the priorities of transparency and decentralization, themes which, in my mind, clash on a fundamental level with everything the financial industry stands for.

After sharing notes about some people in the space, the conversation migrated to Blythe Masters, a former executive at JP Morgan who, among other things, is famous for conceiving of the credit default swap, that little splinter of a financial instrument that festered for years in the side of the banking industry and, by most accounts, caused the collapse of the housing bubble.

Baldet got an intense look in her eye. Masters, she told me, was a tornado. A tsunami. A force of nature. I could immediately tell Masters was one of Baldet’s role models.

And that’s when I remembered a fact about Baldet, a very obvious fact that my brain, nonetheless, could not handle – she works at a bank.

She works on blockchains at a bank.

She works on blockchains and cares about privacy and decentralization and admires Blythe Masters and has pink-tipped hair and works at a bank.

And that’s what makes Baldet undeniably an individual.

In the last year she has challenged our collective imagination about what the role of banks will be in the blockchain industry, blurring the line that separates the public and private blockchain communities, and thereby opening new avenues for collaboration and cooperation between the two.

On Baldet’s watch, JP Morgan has secured a reputation for itself as a serious blockchain innovator.

And she is the only person on CoinDesk’s Most Influential list who is working solely on enterprise blockchains, perhaps because she is the perfect person to reconcile the apparent contradictions between two very different worlds.

She is a veteran of both the stuffy financial industry and the more reckless blockchain ecosphere, a technologist and product strategist and an anomaly in any company she keeps.

If Amber Baldet were a force of nature – and she may well be – she would be one found on all continents, as neither her interests nor her influence can be constrained.

How it all began

Baldet seems to be a rarity first and foremost in her own family.

Her mother teaches AP English. Her father teaches drama and directing at the University of Florida. And she has one older brother who found some success as an actor on Broadway.

Yet, Baldet pursued an entirely different path, studying political science and economics as a double major at the same university where her father teaches.

It was during her senior year, when Baldet was an intern at a boutique business intelligence firm, that her eyes were opened to the power of financial data.  

In the office was a Bloomberg terminal, a computer gateway to real-time financial data. Baldet had been informally studying systems at the macro level for her entire life. But glowing from the screen on the Bloomberg terminal, she glimpsed a system that reached lives around the entire world.

“I saw all of this market data of the Bloomberg terminal kind of wash over me,” she remembers, adding:

“For the first time I realized, wait a minute … if you want to understand more about why the world is the way it is, you need to understand more about this.”

To that end, Baldet began consulting for JP Morgan in 2009 and took a permanent position with the bank in 2011.

She bounced around at the bank for a while, looking for a group that would satisfy her diverse collection of interests, which tended toward technical topics like machine learning and cloud infrastructure. Though she didn’t have a degree in computer science, she had taught herself how to code when she was eleven (her first project was a choose your own adventure version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Then, in 2011, some friends who worked in information security started talking about something called bitcoin.

“We heard that all of our friends were investing in this crazy crypto-anarchist thing,” says Baldet. “I remember watching and being like ‘eh, that’s probably going to blow over.'”

Despite her initial skepticism about bitcoin, Baldet decided to find out if there was anything to it.

Once again, Baldet was confronted with a macro-economic system, and once again, she was drawn in.

“The crypto economy is really a confluence of political, economic and technological drivers that are creating something wholly new,” she tells CoinDesk. “It’s fascinating.”

While she began thinking about how decentralized systems could serve those in need, it was not until Baldet saw a presentation at a hacker conference that it really clicked. The presenter laid out a strategy for using mobile peer-to-peer networks to coordinate local safety measures in at risk populations.

“I mean, I read the bitcoin white paper in 2011,” says Baldet, adding:

“But this talk made me think about how we could help humans who aren’t hackers or revolutionaries and just want to survive in today’s world..”

‘A little Amber special’

After that, Baldet began looking for opportunities at JP Morgan to work on bitcoin-related projects.

Eventually, she was recruited into a group working on new product development, where occasionally the  topic of bitcoin and blockchains would surface. “I would put my hand up and say I’m interested in this space and I know things about it,” recalls Baldet.

“And … here we are,” she adds.

Yet, “here” is quite a long way from where she began.

In the fall of 2016, JP Morgan released Quorum, an open-source fork of the Go Ethereum client, and throughout this year, the platform has benefited from a series of improvements.

For instance, in October, the team partnered with banks in Canada, Australia and New Zealand to build a new interbank payment network on the Quorum platform. And, over the course of the year, JP Morgan joined forces with the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts (or IC3) at Cornell University.

As Baldet describes it at a JP Morgan sponsored meetup in December, the role she plays is part product strategist, part team assessor, and part communicator.

“I sit in the middle. I’m a product person that knows about technology. Depending on the community I’m in, I wear different hats,” she said at the time.

Each hat Baldet wears is very much her own. And each contribution JP Morgan adds to the blockchain space bears her signature.

But some projects are closer to her heart than others.

Baldet points specifically to the zcash partnership, announced over the summer, where JP Morgan collaborated with engineers from the privacy-centric zcash project to integrate zero-knowledge proofs, a technology that enables the encryption of transactions, into Quorum.

During the December meetup, Baldet told the group:

“That was a little Amber special.”

The friendship

According to Baldet’s counterparties, that partnership would not have gone through had it not been for the credibility Baldet carries across the diverse spectrum of blockchain tribes, including people very much outside the legacy financial system.

For instance, people like Zooko Wilcox, the CEO of the Zcash Company, the non-profit that manages the zcash cryptocurrency project.

Wilcox met Baldet for the first time in 2013 at Defcon, one of the biggest annual conferences in the infosec industry.

Baldet was there to give a talk about suicide prevention, a topic on which she had done extensive personal research, and which, with Aaron Swartz’s death not long before, was highly relevant.

Baldet delivered a data-driven presentation that was at once sensitive to the sting of the material, yet unrestrained in its honesty.

Wilcox, who had known Swartz, was in the audience, watching with approval.

“I thought it was a very good thing to do because it was not a technical presentation about computers. But it was a technical presentation about useful facts that were in need in that community,” recalls Wilcox. “Afterwards, she was swarmed with fans. We just barely got time to shake hands.”

In the years that followed, Wilcox and Baldet established a friendship over email and Twitter.

Then in 2016, they ran into each other again at CoinDesk’s Consensus conference in New York City. Over drinks, they talked about teaming up to implement the technology the zcash team pioneered into JP Morgan’s Quorum platform.

According to Wilcox, he had already had conversations with other enterprise businesses at the conference, but none of them felt like good potential partners.

“I had the feeling that most of these conversations would not go anywhere. When we sat down and talked with Amber, I got the feeling that maybe this could actually get something done,” he says.

Understanding banks

In part, his confidence was due to the competence of JP Morgan’s engineers, but at the end of the day, it was Baldet’s character that convinced him, he says.

Wilcox, in general, does not shy away from constructive criticism, even when it is directed at his own projects. In Baldet, he says, he recognized a similar intellectual honesty and fearlessness.

“Amber was willing to call a spade a spade, and say that she thought most of the enterprise blockchain announcements were not going to produce anything,” Wilcox tells CoinDesk, adding:

“She was willing to say that. But most people were very much in hype mode that year. That made me trust her a little more.”

As the partnership took shape, Baldet took a role in deciding how the zcash technology would fit into JP Morgan’s existing platform.

“Amber wasn’t involved hands-on in the development, but she was certainly involved in designing the architecture,” says Jack Gavigan, chief operating officer at the Zcash Company.

According to Gavigan, it was Baldet who recognized that the Zcash technology could provide privacy for both the transfer of value on a blockchain as well as any business logic written into the transaction, meaning that the terms in a smart contract could themselves be hidden from view.

And that’s a fix that many large, regulated financial services providers, whose potential use-cases all require a modicum of confidentiality, have been looking for.

In light of that, Gavigan continued, telling CoinDesk:

“That combination is very powerful, and we wouldn’t have realized the potential for that if it weren’t for Amber.”

Fostering inclusion

Despite Baldet’s technical contributions, a few prominent voices in the blockchain echo chamber have made it their responsibility to discredit her as a mere corporate shill. And when those tactics have fallen short, some have seen fit to sexualize their critiques of her.

At a Women in Blockchain meetup this December, I asked Baldet how she dealt with the constant barrage of insecure rants directed at her on social media. She mostly just rolled her eyes and laughed it off. She knows how to navigate male-dominated environments because she’s been doing it her whole life.

“It’s amazing that she can thrive in that situation with a bunch of men shutting her down,” marveled Micheal Wuehler, who is in charge of business development at ConsenSys, and joined the December meetup.

But just because Baldet is battle-hardened doesn’t mean that every other woman curious to learn more about the technology is or should have to be. Baldet is very aware of the social inequities in her community and has made it her priority to do what she can to foster inclusion in the industry.

This does not just mean bringing in more female voices, she says. It means fostering all kinds of diversity, even the ones we can’t see, widening the umbrella to include people with atypical emotional, cognitive and behavioral conditions.

Simply put, “we need to be a lot more welcoming,” says Baldet.

This is the message that she brings every time she speaks publicly about blockchain technologies, and in particular when she attends the New York Women in Blockchain meetup.

But Baldet does not have to speak about diversity in order to invoke it. The complexity of her character provides an example that is more powerful than any adjustments she could prescribe.

“She is non-role conforming and represents in many ways what blockchain represents for me. Accessibility. Intelligence. Fluidity. Collaboration,” says Thessy Mehrain, the founder of the New York City meetup and a product strategist at Consensys.

As Baldet worked the room this December, it was clear that she made a palpable impact in every interaction. Behind her was a wake of admirers, who did not hesitate to speak of her with the same intensity that Amber spoke to me last February on the rooftop in Brooklyn.

“Amber is like a Madonna of blockchain,” says Mehrain.

And if Madonna isn’t a force of nature, then I don’t know who is.


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