- Douglas Bakkum
- Douglas Bakkum
About The Artist
Douglas Bakkum is a co-Founder and CEO of @ShiftCryptoHQ a Swiss company, based near Zurich, who make the BitBox02 Bitcoin-only hardware wallet. It’s secure, end-to-end encrypted, open source hardware for holding your Bitcoin and linked with their BitBoxApp has an elegant and simple UX that checks for malicious software on your computer, connects to your Bitcoin node and runs everything through Tor. The team also reassuringly support some of the best podcasters in the space like @PrinceySOV, @Johnkvallis and Guy Swann @TheCryptoconomy.
"In my opinion, Bitcoin’s simpler than traditional finance in many ways. One of the reasons we started the company was to make self sovereignty easier for people."
TOKYO RABBIT HOLE
Douglas grew up in America, in a typical, if modest, middle class family. He had a happy childhood and in a way the stereotypical American Dream has always appealed to him. He sees Bitcoin as a ‘power to the people’ movement that financially empowers people, irrespective of their background.
He first saw the word Bitcoin in 2013, plastered across the front page of one of Japan’s biggest newspapers. It sparked his curiosity and he started researching it. Some of the things he read really resonated, in fact.
One of the things that impressed him so much about Bitcoin was that it solved a classic Computer Science dilemma – the Byzantine Generals problem. Simply put, it’s how can you trust someone to send you money but not also send the same money to someone else. Bitcoin solved this in a very elegant way and Douglas, with his academic background, appreciated the magnitude of this more than most.
He’d finished a post-doctoral position Neuroscience at the University of Tokyo, with degrees in Engineering and Mechanical Engineering before that from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He’d long been fascinated by robotics and AI and was always attracted to revolutionary new concepts like that.
"To me it wasn’t a matter of if Bitcoin was going to work, it was just a matter of when. The seed was also planted that maybe I could contribute in some way."
His Neuro-Engineering research had some crossover with Elon’s Neurolink project. Douglas was doing fundamental biological research into neurons. He was growing them in glass dishes with electrodes and studying the electrical communication and language between them, particularly in relation to learning and memory.
INSIGHTS ON AI
A big reason he switched from mechanical engineering to Neuroscience was the realisation that there was so much to learn in that field – especially about the nature of intelligence. The idea was always to come back to AI and apply those insights.
There’s fewer Neuroscientists than Computer Scientists scared of the singularity that AI might take over the world. Once they learn how the brain works, how much more immense it is than any supercomputer, it simply humbles them.
"You have more connections between neurons than there are stars in the Universe. "
Ethically, he feels AI’s impact really depends on how people choose to apply the technology. A common example is nuclear energy – you can use it to destroy a city, or to power a city.
His academic career had brought him to Zurich’s Technical University in 2014. Here, he’d learned some PCB design and had already started looking into hardware wallets. There was little, if any choice in the market at the time.
"People ask me how I could go from Neuroscience to Bitcoin? I was always interested in doing things that I thought were important, that would have some impact on or even change the world. Not everyone gets that chance. "
He reached a point academically where the next step would be to become a Professor. The veil had been lifted on that however and he knew it’d be more managerial, political and less about the science – pitching research ideas and seeking funding and students. It sounded like a launching a Startup Company in many ways but with a much less attractive reward ratio. He made the decision that starting a company and becoming his own boss was the preferred option.
He began designing a hardware wallet in his spare time, whilst working and also attending Zurich’s Bitcoin Meetups. The feedback and encouragement he received on early concepts was very positive. He realised there was an obvious need for a simplified cold storage solution, that computers and mobile phones just weren’t safe enough and shouldn’t be trusted. This hobby grew into a company and with Co-Founders Jonas Schnelli, Arnold Sternberg & Marko Bencun – ShiftCrypto.ch was born. They’ve achieved a lot with BitBox02. It’s state of the art hardware security with an extremely simple setup. You can even buy bitcoin within the BitBoxApp itself.
"There’s a lot of friction in Bitcoin’s user experience. For me, it’s about empowering people, making something that makes cold storage easy for people."
WHY HARDWARE WALLETS?
The primary purpose of a HWW is to improve security but it also ties into the decentralised, censorship resistant, trustless philosophy of Bitcoin itself. Security-wise there’s been so many examples over the years of exchanges getting hacked, of exit scams, or users getting locked out of their coins – like what happened with QuadrigaCX, a Canadian Exchange, last year when its CEO died in India (or not).
"Central to Bitcoin is this idea of self responsibility, to take control of your coins, take control of your life and take control of your freedom. "
Keeping coins on a third party exchange is undeniably a counterparty risk. As Bitcoin’s value goes up, it’ll become a bigger and bigger honeypot for hackers and scammers. A hardware wallet is basically a miniature offline computer which generates and stores your keys. The whole point is to never let these keys leave the device where they could be seen by malware or hackers.
The device itself has a very slick and quality touch and feel, with individual invisible touch sliders. There’s no buttons, which can be prone to breaking. The touch sliders can be used as either a button or slider too, making user inputs potentially faster. The USB-C port connects the device to either desktop/laptop or Android mobiles and their app to interact with the BitBox02 runs across these platforms.
"We’ve absolutely no plans to retire the BitBox02, it’ll definitely be around for a while. We’ve thought about making a version with more glass and a slightly higher-end build quality, some secret features perhaps."
They’re constantly thinking about ways to improve the device and UX. Making the software app more simple and feature rich based upon user requests for example. They’re adding multiple accounts in the next release and added multi signature capability in the previous one.
A mnemonic seed is basically a word list of either 12 or 24 words, which represents the key to your wallet. During all other wallet setups, you have to backup this word list. ShiftCrypto heard from users that mnemonic anxiety when setting up a new hardware wallet can be very stressful and that many simply don’t understand the reason or significance of the process.
The BitBox basically eliminates this through using microSD card backups of the mnemonic instead. They do allow experts to also write down the mnemonic as an additional backup but they found backup process a win for both new users and experts alike.
SWISS BITCOIN SCENE
Switzerland’s a small country but with respect to Bitcoin it’s a great place to be based. The local Financial Agency, Finma, is quite progressive and proactive. They actually work with rather than against Crypto companies. Unlike some other countries, there’s also a high respect for cryptography and privacy laws. Australia, for example, passed a law where the government can put backdoors into cryptographic communication protocols. In contrast, Switzerland by nature of its history, values the right to data privacy. It’s perhaps the history of Switzerland as a decentralised, direct democracy that fits Bitcoin’s philosophy as a better cultural and regulatory match. Many of the Cantons (States) actively want to attract Crypto companies, areas like the Crypto Valley between Zurich and Zug in particular.
A number of prominent Bitcoin Devs are based or regularly pass through the country too, so there’s this snowball-like positive reinforcement that’s become bigger and bigger. There’s been a very strong Bitcoin Meetup scene in Swiss cities like Geneva, Zurich and Zug as well.
Learn more at @shiftcrypto or buy a BitBox02 Bitcoin-only Edition at shiftcrypto.ch/OnceBitten (for 5% off)
Article by @Selfbankt