Never underestimate the power of an underdog, especially if they are first-year undergrads at CODE. At the Odyssey Hackathon, students turn their Solid Web project into an opportunity with the Dutch Ministry of Justice.
There is something romantic about winning as an underdog: a legendary legacy of beating the odds to conquer strains of Goliath with strategy, intent, and skill. Odyssey, the largest AI and blockchain hackathon in the world, welcomed freshmen from CODE University of Applied Sciences to enter the challenge for Digital Nation Infrastructure, where they created a winning solution for an open-source, decentralized, and government-backed protocol that registers and communicates across digital permissions.
Ludwig Schubert, the team leader, explains his love for Pacman and how SOLID can be used to gain full responsibility over digital permissions and agreements. From accepting browser cookies and privacy policies, to consent over personal medical data or sensitive information you share with the government.
How did you begin your Odyssey experience?
SOLID is a semester project we started in September 2018. Another team member works at Ocean Protocol, a blockchain company based in Berlin, who’s a big partner for Odyssey. We saw the challenges and the track focusing on Digital Nation’s Infrastructure suited our project.
Who were your stakeholders? What was the main problem to solve?
If you use digital services, you agree to many things: terms and conditions, privacy policies, agreements of all kinds, but most of them don’t make any sense. It is hard to make sense of your decisions and many times you are not fully informed. The contracts are either too long, full of difficult language, and unspecific. We wanted a more secure blanket, a GDPR 2.0 in protocol form.
The Dutch Ministry of Justice put forth the challenge and was our main stakeholder. Their lead software architect was our contact person for questions, requirements, and he provided us with a lot of ideas and what direction we should move towards.
How do you balance the decentralization aspect of blockchain when your stakeholder is a centralized government?
A government-backed project sounds a bit authoritarian, but it’s more accurate to say they support it. The protocol has to be owned by no one or owned by everyone. It exists on a blockchain for users to propose changes, but they can be disregarded. This serves as a check on bad actors, a standard curated token ecosystem with designated thresholds.
If you use our solution, everything that you share on the web will stay with you forever. It is really yours. You can take it with you and download it — it’s empowering.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
The competition was tough, we were the serious underdogs. We were competing against established companies, including startups and accelerators. Everyone had a lot more experience. It was quite intimidating to interact and compete against these smart people.
It was challenging to express our idea in the most appealing way in a short period. We used our time wisely, road-mapped, and scheduled. It’s important to be organized and find the right doses of time for your team. You have to pitch in where it is needed, give effort, and think together.
What was your gateway into tech? What was the first thing you created?
I’ve always been glued to the computer so I thought of becoming a math professor or to build something great. I hoped to bring about some sort of change and technology would be a great tool for that – even if it’s to change my brother’s computer! Holding a computer was always a godlike feeling: you can create something and prototype instantly.
I took my first programming course during a gap year in Silicon Valley, where I started programming original games. It was a simulator for Pacman using Visual Basic Script and everyone wanted to play it. It gave me clear validation and confidence in my favorite skill. Pacman is my gateway and as old as he is, he’s still totally relevant.
After his Silicon Valley immersion, Ludwig decided to study software engineering at CODE University. For him, it was the difference of applying his Pacman skill and curiosity to a curriculum that allowed for practical contribution and independent exploration that expedite, rather than slow down personal and professional development.
The SOLID framework brings a new standard that articulates both the risk and consequences of digital agreements through open-source ontologies. The goal is for users to gain agency by defining the same vocabulary, which should bring about more informed decisions and better protections. With the decentralization aspect, users can become fully responsible for the multitude of digital permissions, which is a radical move for sensitive information that we share with governments, agencies, and corporations.