Charles Hoskinson is a peculiar protagonist for a revolution.
The American does not look much upon introductions. When one envisions a billionaire, an image not dissimilar to a sharp-suited Gordon Gekko of Wall Street ordinarily springs to mind. In Hoskinson’s case, he seems positively the opposite.
Softly spoken and unshaven, he wanders to our interview draped in a brown leather jacket and sporting Harry Potter-style glasses. He cracks jokes as he makes his way through a doting crowd of followers at one of the many cryptocurrency meetups he attends regularly around the world.
Despite humble appearances and mannerisms, Hoskinson sits atop a personal fortune – at time of writing, in excess of $500m thanks to his creation, the cryptocurrency Cardano. Depending on the day of the week, the $5bn-$30bn offering looks set to dominate the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
The peer-reviewed design and a scientific approach that led to its creation as a third generation blockchain has put it within touching distance of the pinnacle of crypto’s hierarchy.
Open and friendly, Hoskinson confesses to having been a weird kid as a child. He was initially home-schooled, then worked as a university mathematician before becoming the digital currency billionaire he is today.
His academic background feels particularly obvious, as his answers take painstakingly long to riddle through.
While he won’t admit it completely, his success originates in a unique intellect and charisma. This planted him in precisely the right place at the right time to allow him to become a billionaire entrepreneur when cryptocurrency values increased exponentially in late 2017.
When asked why he quit his secure job as a mathematician, he laughs and speaks of his foundations in radical politics and libertarianism, and his interest in creating new monetary systems to replace the existing financial infrastructure many take for granted.
For those who have watched the development of crypto over the past few years, Hoskinson is a refreshing character – thanks to his openness and honesty about the technology.
Many acolytes of digital assets defend new currencies to the point of strained denial when presented with the limitations and challenges facing the technology.
Scalability has been a particularly potent issue for cryptocurrencies, with bitcoin still able to perform only a fraction of the transactions per second that Visa can. Bitcoin’s main challenger, ethereum, was nearly put out of action by a Cryptokitties application with only a handful of users.
With more PhDs working on Cardano’s blockchain technology than all other cryptocurrency projects combined, Hoskinson at least admits that there are problems.
But he also says that the snags with Cardano like scalability are likely to be rectified much more quickly than those of their larger competitors, thanks to the backing of a strong scientific community.
“Bitcoin is not a very good payment system and ethereum cannot be used to run applications. Cryptokitties killed it. The valuation is an anticipation. If this protocol could one day do what it says, they could potentially be valued in the trillions.”
Moving onto what drives him to build a workable blockchain, we turn to politics, where Hoskinson’s radical streak bubbles to the surface.
Involved in libertarian political campaigning for over a decade, he admits to not having much love for financial or democratic institutions, and wants to prevent regulation from pushing cryptocurrencies out of existence.
Recent announcements by the UK’s Treasury Select Committee suggest the government is looking ever-more closely at the digital wild west too.
Being one of the most adept in the business at presenting the case for cryptocurrencies and blockchain, Hoskinson happily offers himself up for the firing line of MPs at a select committee appearance, should they invite him – a brave statement given select committees make even the most fearless of company chief executives shudder.
Why on earth would someone actually want to do it?
It is with these kinds of questions that Hoskinson becomes his most animated and passionate.
Loathsome of existing governmental and financial infrastructure, he declares: “The ballot box is not an effective medium of societal change, you can’t vote your way out of these systems. The only way to do that is with economics. Create something that is better than the old system, cheaper, faster and more competitive.”
This crusade is not only about creating ingenious new means of human interaction.
Hoskinson is a revolutionary, motivated by a desire to change the way we transact and interact with one an other; he sees technology as a way of liberating the still-developing nations from the constraints of limited banking infrastructure.
In fact, Hoskinson believes that blockchain technology could help people in the developing world have access to banking, ultimately lifting entire nations out of poverty.
He points to the fact that 98 per cent of Cambodians don’t have access to banking, and says it’s the banks themselves that are to blame (though this is probably more to do with the lack of basic infrastructure in parts of the developing world).
“Provide access to billions of people and create a new form of banking, create a much better world. Create an army which is fundamentally incompatible with the old world order.”
The argument is articulately put, but leaves me sceptical about the practicalities, such as why would those with limited access to even the most basic resources begin using crypto? The far more accessible (and simpler) M-Pesa has already brought payments and money transfers to countries in Africa and Asia on mobile phones – what would drive the technical nous of using something as complex as a cryptocurrency at a nationwide-level?
As is always the case with cryptocurrency, there was the sense that while there are big ideas out there, someone needs to actually deliver them, and convince the world that they are in fact, necessary.