The theme for this year’s TED conference was “possibility.” Yat Siu, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Animoca Brands, wasn’t expecting to receive an invitation to speak. After all, Animoca Brands is a blockchain gaming and venture capital company focused on Web3 — and 2023 is one of the more volatile periods in crypto history.
But Siu was invited.
On April 20, he took to the famous TED stage for 12 minutes to discuss digital property rights with an audience that, according to Siu, reported finally having their “lightbulb” moment. “It was like performing Shakespeare,” said Siu of the talk, referring to the difference between the informal vibe of most Web3 conferences and the structured format of TED Talks. “TED is a grand stage,” he said.
The pressure mounts
Siu has been bullish on the use cases of blockchain technology since long before he pivoted Amonica Brands to focus on Web3 in 2018. However, this Web3 bullishness made Siu an anomaly among the other TED speakers — to put things mildly.
Though he isn’t usually phased by public speaking, Siu felt an additional level of responsibility on the Vancouver stage. He was the only TED presenter to dare brush up against the controversial topics of crypto and digital assets. That’s really not too surprising, as crypto has earned a notorious reputation over the past year, thanks largely to the ill-fated FTX crash and resulting contagion (not to mention rampant scams and rug pulls).
Being a Web3 spokesperson amidst a “normie” crowd is no easy feat on even the best of days. The pressure was enormous, Siu said. “There is a tiny cohort of people at TED — a very, very small minority, like single digit percentile — who want to further the conversation on Web3. They were looking for people who could interpret,” he added.
Acting as interpreter
To serve as TED 2023’s unofficial Web3 interpreter, Siu began with a basic definition of ownership. He wanted to demonstrate that ownership has always been a virtual construct, despite its historical associations with physical assets like real estate, cars, and collectibles.
“When you buy a house, it is not the physical house that gives you ownership; it’s a certificate,” Siu explained. At the end of the day, NFTs are just the digital versions of these certificates.
It’s true that, in certain places of the world, the definition of ownership is somewhat different. Not all cultures and nations rely on certificates to confer ownership, after all. However, Siu says that this specific explanation is an apt one that many audience members can relate to. As such, it allows them to more easily understand the utility and purpose of NFTs and, thus, get on board with digital property rights.
Siu continued his talk by highlighting why digital property rights are so important, arguing that you can’t have freedom without property rights before extending the logic to digital spheres.”People recognize that if you don’t have rights in digital places, it is an absolutely underlying threat to the democratic institution,” Siu said.
As Siu noted in his presentation, centralized platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) harvest data collected from our participation in the internet. Such data and digital assets generally include a person’s browser activity and cookies, along with original words, images, and artwork that comprise large AI learning datasets. Yet, because society does not yet recognize digital property rights like we do physical property rights, consumers have no stake or ownership over the profits generated from this data.
To this end, Siu concluded by arguing that we need the digital infrastructure to protect these materials as digital assets, and he says that Web3 solutions provide the infrastructure we need for a freer and more equitable internet by guaranteeing robust digital property rights.
The plan to secure a grand tomorrow
With an impressive portfolio of over 380 companies, Animoca Brands has no plans to slow its mission of advancing digital property rights and building the open metaverse. But its current demographic focus may surprise many in Web3. Rather than focusing on investors or individuals in finance, the company has set its sights elsewhere.
“Educators and teachers are perhaps one of the most important segments,” Siu said. Animoca is currently focusing heavily on an initiative called Open Campus, a community-led educational alliance that leverages blockchain to build complementary, creator-powered opportunities for decentralized learning. “Open Campus is a token that is for education. This is funding helping teachers and building a different kind of creative class,” Siu explained.
To further bolster these efforts, on May 15, the company committed to contributing $10 million to a global fund set up by Open Campus to supplement standard education curricula through the use of Web3 technologies and communities.
And last June, Animoca acquired an educational platform called Tiny Tap in a bullish play to empower teachers to create user-generated educational content on a no-code platform. “Teachers make content that is custom for their particular classes,” Siu said. “That is valuable. That should be NFTs.”
Tiny Tap’s first set of teachers, Siu explained, made what he describes as “life-changing money” by viewing their content as digital assets with ongoing resale value.
“[NFTs are] a way to transfer intellectual property (IP) rights from one educator to the other. There’s something really fascinating there,” Siu said. “Education is an area that, amongst the gaming stuff we’re already doing, is a big area of focus for us right now.”
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