Jun 27, 2024

Helium Co-Founder, Sean Carey joins CoinDesk's Jennifer Sanasie to unpack why he believes DePIN will help make Web3 more mainstream.

Video transcript

In his latest article published on Coin desk.com Helium co-founder and borderless capital lead partner, Sean Cary says the potential of DIN is bound only by our creativity. And while it's still early days for decentralized physical networks, he remains highly optimistic that progress will be made, Sean. Thank you for sitting down with me. Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited that people get to read this article. You know, Deep P has become for lack of a better word, a buzzword this year. Um And so I want to start this interview by just laying the foundation for anyone who's new to deepen, who's clicking on this video to watch this interview. How do you define decentralized physical infrastructure? Yeah. Yeah, it's great, great question. So, um decentralized physical infrastructure can be uh class in my opinion, can be classified in two ways. Um um We'll start with the first way, the most common way uh is um a bespoke deepen network. Um If you've ever seen products like Hive Mapper or Demo or Helium, they are bespoke networks. There's a piece of custom hardware um that you plug in it, reports information back to some type of oracle or on chain application. And you're rewarded for that information and it's, it all starts with a, you know, it could be a device this big or a device this big. But the idea is it's a custom piece of hardware um that you get rewarded for operating. And uh there, there are some consumers out there that are interested in the data and they, they use that data and, and you're essentially um pushing that information back into an ecosystem. The other concepts uh is something that we call commodity deepen and commodity din is something that could run on something as simple as your telephone, right? And um the, the reason why commodity uh has, has come to light recently is because there are networks out there and I'll use like up rock and grass for instance, where um they have applications and where there are some of them are getting millions of users, I would guess um between grass up rock and Silencio, they have a phone applications that, that support several million users at this point. And it's a, it's a custom application, but it's also decentralized physical infrastructure. It just uses the telephone. Uh hope that makes sense. I'm gonna try to keep it and distill it. So it's not too technical, but the really the main concept is it's a piece of technology that you operate and, and you contribute information to a network and you're rewarded for it. And Uh Yeah. TLDR. All right, John, I want to talk about your journey. I know uh it's sometimes easier for people to understand when we're talking about these like highly technical things. When we hear about people's own personal journeys and you start your article with an anecdote about your grandfather who had a watch that would tell him the time with the press of a button. You say that that kind of sparked your interest and led to your journey in deep in, tell me a little bit more about what you meant there. Yeah, absolutely. So, uh, my grandfather was blind and, uh, in, in the 19 eighties, you know, the, the world was not very technologically advanced. And, uh, this was uh, the actual device right here. I, when I found out, um, I was writing this, uh, this article and speaking with you all, I, I actually was able to hunt it down and, uh, find one on ebay and let me see if I can make it work, see if you hear it. It's super quiet. Um Yeah. Yeah. And so really the concept, uh, sparked a lot of interest for me as a kid because something like that, it can, you know, a thing on your wrist talking. I it, it just felt so futuristic and, uh, I, it, it really started my thinking about, um, technology at a young age to where, you know, going into my birthdays and, and, uh Christmas gifts. I spent a lot of time taking them apart instead of using them becau uh Most of the time I couldn't get them working again after I took them apart. And I think, uh, you know, going in, after about 15 years of engineering, I had this moment where I wanted to start doing something different and I wanted to start doing things that helped other people. I had a little bit of money, not a whole lot. And uh I just quit my job. And uh from there, I, I started thinking about building devices to help people that are visually impaired. And uh this ended up stemming from my work um into uh what became helium and, and uh you know, Sean Fanning who was also a co-founder, he, he wanted to create a device because he played his drums at home and the neighbors were calling the police and he wanted something to track his decibels outside of the house and Amir Halim, uh you know, he's a race car driver and he's always doing um all sorts of these instrumentation things. And, uh you know, he was interested in um you know, these wireless networks for those sorts of things. And the, the three of us, uh you know, formed this company and started working on things and, you know, over a decade later now, uh you know, there are two terms have been created. Uh internet of things was created after we started helium and and also Din was created after we started helium. And so it's pretty cool if you think about our journey from that perspective is, um, we've gone through, through multiple acronyms and concepts at this point and, and really, uh you know, what it boils down to is, is, uh, I mean, I believe what I said in the article is scratching your own itch. And, uh, you know, for me that's, that's always been the most fun is when I'm working on something that I don't know how to solve. And, and that's what, that's what's interesting to me. You mentioned two terms. There are the internet of things and deepen and these are terms for uh concepts that have been around before long before the terms. Talk to me about having those terms, having a way to talk about what you're doing. How does that help you progress in innovation and raising funds and getting customers? Does it even help you like, what's the significance of having these terms attached to what you're doing? Absolutely. So, I mean, if you think of internet of things, right? Um and you and you reverse it and I, I think I talked about a decade ago, there's a talk of me saying the same thing, uh really internet of things is getting things to the internet, right? Um And, and really all that means is uh you know, a super small device being able to communicate or send information back to the internet where the information can, can then be utilized. Um you know, that a multibillion dollar industry was sparked when and that the, you know, the term internet of things was created. So if you look at huge companies like Microsoft Google, IBM Amazon, they all have internet of things, subsections and you know, sub sectors in their businesses moving towards deepen uh where uh Sammy from Massari uh was kind of the, the father of, of the term deepen. And um you know, thinking about what Din is, it's a, it's a bro, even broader concept than internet of things, right? It's more about decentralizing. Um you know, objects could be telephones, it could be servers with GP US on them. Uh It could be an IOT device, but it's a, it's a much larger um explanation of what this is. And of course, if you look at it from an investor point of view, it's um it's a totally appealing uh concept for investors and it's also something that non-technical investors can uh wrap their minds around. And I think that's why this terminology is helpful and it also creates um critical mass when it comes to investing in these concepts because you can take something like deep in and you can say, you know, deep in is a tangible thing. Um And when you look at it as part of crypto or as part of, you know, decentralized finance, there's always some tangible device or hardware or software that is at the end of it that is usually, um, making somebody's life better at the, you know, after everything is said and done and, and that's really why, you know, the importance of deep in is, is out there and, and, um, and the reason why I think people are adopting it so quickly is because they can understand it. I want to talk a little bit more about the investment piece you focus on Din at borderless capital. Talk to me about some of the most, I guess, exciting use cases for Din for you as an investor. What are you seeing out there? And, and what's kind of p in your interest? Uh Exciting projects. Well, one of my favorites right now is a company called Marwari. It's a uh they started in Japan several years ago and um they've essentially created a way. Uh And I'm gonna try to simplify this the best I can. Uh they, they've created an engine that allows you to say, take um extended reality or augmented reality data, but they can render that information in, in a um distributed node on the edge of the internet. And it, it can actually stream back to your device and use very, very little bandwidth and uh and actually enable extended reality on smaller devices or less computation on smaller devices. The reason why this is exciting for me is that I don't know if you play video games ever Jen. But uh but you ever, you ever play a game and like something freezes up on, on the, you know, when you're trying to do it and, and usually, um a lot of the reason why is because you're waiting on the late, uh there's a lag from the actual, from a host somewhere on the internet. Um And the, the, the game just freezes because the frames can't continue on and maari can render content from the internet and, and then uh merge it into something maybe like a video game where the the world, a three dimensional world is still happening in the background. And then the content is lazily rendered from a GP U. Um That for me is really exciting because it opens the doors for having small devices. Like I I don't want to have a giant apple vision on my head and a backpack full of batteries walking down the street. Right. I've seen, I've seen videos of this and it, it's absurd. But what, what I think will happen is companies like Mawa will be able to render this content on the server side and stream this into devices just like we stream music um to our phones or just like we stream videos. But instead it will be little tidbits of of extended reality and augmented reality data. Um Going back to my teenage mutant ninja turtles lunch box here I have a my little, I have uh one of my favorite devices right now is um it's a ring called the Kudus ring. It's kind of like a um the aura ring. I don't know if you've seen the aura ring where it tracks your fitness and, and your health data. And uh but this one also has a built in fidget spinner so you can spin the middle of its ceramic. Um And what this is is it's a chain enabled ring. Um So for sharing your health data, you get rewarded for your health data. And uh and it's on the Solana Blockchain or it's going to be on the Solana Blockchain. They, they actually haven't launched the Token yet. But the one of the most exciting things for me and you got the part of your question is what excites me for the future? And, and here's what I say is the, the old uh the old adage. Um When you talk about Facebook, people say, uh you know, Facebook is not a product, you're Facebook's product, right? And what I see in the future is I see um products coming out that if they're going to treat human beings like products or use their data, uh humans will be incentivized for sharing that information. And I think that will be a very big part of deep end and, and it all could start with something as simple as this little ring. Um And, and you can also work in extended reality. It can also work. Um with, you know, distributed uh telephone networks. And um one other company that's of interest is a company called Wing Bitts. So, do you ever uh when you're traveling, do you ever use like uh flight radar? I do. Yep. So Wing Bits um is very similar to flight radar, except you're rewarded for running the little A DS B capture devices. And so imagine um I think if you use flight radar, they, you get like a free membership to their premium version. If if you send them the the data for free from your A DS B capture device wing bits, you can essentially get rewarded for sharing that data because there are people out there that demand this data that they, they need it and they'll pay for it. And so in return for joining the link bits network, you actually get uh you know, a piece of the rewards and the money for that just by participating in. And um you know, those are again the projects where these businesses are built on the backs of people. I think that there's going to be a paradigm shift and these, you know, these businesses are going to allow people to participate and those people will be rewarded for it. And um and I think that's what's being disrupted right now. I really like that. You brought that up, you know, that narrative of owning your data taking back ownership over what you've previously given away in web two is really a broader web three narrative. It sounds like you're saying deepen is something that can help make this a reality in collaboration with Web Three and these physical devices. Um I want to hear a little bit more from you though about the incentives because in Web three, we've seen communities form, but it's been really hard to, to incentivize people to do the things that you want them to do. Like it's, it's the theory is good, but in practice, I don't quite think that Web three has figured it out yet. Do you think it's the same when it comes to the like taking ownership back over your data? Or do people really care? Do they want to do the thing to get paid to share their data or is there like a mind shift that needs to happen? So I I think it's more than that, right? The, the offering has to be compelling as well. Um So if you create a compelling offering, uh you maybe or potentially enable more privacy um or you reward people for sharing their data, I think it's a, a combination of those mechanisms that will allow people to take back. But the end result has to be positive and it has to be useful to the to the consumer. For instance, we were talking uh several of us were talking earlier and we said, you know, just giving somebody a better price for something doesn't mean they're going to, you know, leave Verizon for, for something like Helium Mobile, the offering has to be better. Uh the service has to be better. And on top of that, it should probably have a better price. And I think um when when you start to mix those combinations of things and then you actually add demand to it as well, the demand is, is what will also get people excited because the more demand there is for something like this. And the more that we tap into the demand side of building DP or Web three projects means the more money um or the the more incentive is going to be generated. And I still think um on all of Web three, we're in the, we're in the early days of uh really tapping into the demand side um of of these types of things. The thing that I like the most about uh deep in is um the demand is, is fair, is a fairly simple concept to rationalize. And I, but I also think um as investors and I'll put my investor hat on is the whole supply part of deepen as a whole like users, you know, buying devices or running commodity deepen um is less interesting in the beginning now than it is for if the user or or not the user. But the uh the start up understands the demand of their product first and then the supplies is going to happen automatically. And for me, um I'm not the smartest guy in the world. I'm not like some wizard scientist. I can understand these concepts and the demand and supply concepts of deep in projects much more than I could if I got into smart contracts or doing all these complex things in, in uh in the web three world. And so for me, it's, it's really about that understanding. That makes sense. What still needs to be solved for this deep in future we've been talking about to be enabled. What are the challenges that still don't quite have a solution? Yeah. So II, I think one of the big things is we have to start thinking about um personally identifiable information, right? Um With all of the um the rules that were passed in Europe for uh you know, people's privacy. If we're starting to build complex systems in deepen like content delivery networks or um you know, GP U networks, search systems, we have to start thinking with the focus on privacy. Um And mainly because somebody that's hosting a node for instance, right? Say it's a uh it's a search node for some type of, you know, application if there's something personal in there. Um And, and it gets stored on somebody, it automatically based violates every rule on GDPR. So we start to, we have to start thinking about how we're going to maintain people's privacy all the way through. So if you're creating um you know, this is a public message, I'll say right is like if you're creating a content delivery network, uh you know, for DIN and you, and you're going to launch that product, this is something you have to think about. You also have to think about. Yeah, not only that the content delivery network works but that you can track the usage of that data that's going through a distributed content delivery network. And that's another thing is, is being able to gather metrics and instrument that and understand that is going to be vital to, to anything. And, and really, I, I think when we start to solve those pieces, um and, and maybe some and also some of the obscure governmental policies, I think deepen is going to catch on even harder. And um you know, what I would say is um you know, if there's anybody out there that's for instance, looking at um Oblivious Http, for instance, like I, I'm going to build a content delivery network and I know there's a um there's a new um RFC for the internet um for Oblivious Http. Like I would be extremely apt to seeing somebody uh building something on Oblivious Http just because I know I'm not going to be responsible for the data passing through the deep end network. And um and that's what people like me is what I'm thinking about. Um But I, I also look at things from a very technical perspective in some cases, you know, when we talk about privacy and we talk about privacy in the context of deep and is this something that you think can be solved? And the reason I ask you this is privacy has been um, a growing concern for people. It's not something that has been solved. Of course, we have the GDPR in Europe. We have policy that addresses privacy, but we, it hasn't really done anything. You know, people's information gets leaked all the time. Is this something that can be addressed? And it is it maybe a web three technology that can solve it? Like zero knowledge? Yes. Uh So I think there are may maybe some pieces of Z like ZK um systems can, can solve these problems. But one of the things to think about is even many parts of web three and Blockchain land, they still reply, rely on something that has been around since day one http, right? The HTP protocol that we browse the internet with every day was not designed for security. And um oddly enough, and when I mentioned oblivious Http, this RFC is starting to model security in http where security is a first practice. So imagine. Um do you ever think about uh I don't know if you use Android or an iphone, but when I'm in here and I'm and I'm sending an iMessage, right? Um The moment that message leaves my phone and say I text you that message is encrypted from my phone um or from um your public key is pulled, you know, from a network encrypted on my phone and then sent to you and then you can decrypt that message and a lot of what's happening with things like Oblivious Http is those practices are starting to happen now. Um But they, of course, they're still, they're not even fully approved RFC S. But when, when these mechanisms start to happen and they become mainstream, it will be much, much simpler to have that security first approach where people's data is protected when it passes through or is utilized on the network, because only the owner of the data is going to be able to decrypt it. And uh so I think in my extremely long-winded answer as we progress to a security first society, I think it will get easier to, to be able to accomplish that. All right. And Sean, I want to get inside your brain as we wrap up here. How long is it gonna take for us to achieve this society that we've been talking about? That's security first enabled by deep in, when does this future that we're talking about come to fruition for mainstream people? You know, that it's a really good question. Um You know, I could, I could make up an answer, right? But I, I really think it's going to depend on. Uh I'll go, I'll go back to the paper. It's, it's, it's limited by our creativity Right. And the more people out there. And so, for instance, um you know, these are all the, the oblivious http. Those are all Web two people coming up with these concepts, but they're going to apply to Web three. Um The more advanced we get in those realms, the faster it's going to happen. You know, is it five years? Is it 10 years? Um, well, we see self driving cars first, fully autonomous. I don't know. Um, but, you know, I, I think, uh, you know, every 2 to 3 years, I think you will see an approach where it gets better and better and, um, you know, when it's, when it's there, when it's over the finish line, I'll say, um, you know, 10 years maybe and maybe that's super overly or under optimistic. I don't know. But that's the, that's the number in my head that I like Sean. Thank you so much for joining the show and for anyone who wants to read Sean's article that's live now on Coin desk.com.

Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk’s longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to coindesk.consensus.com to register and buy your pass now.