Amberfi interview with Yale PhD student Eliza Riley Oak

The web3 community is filled with amazing people who create, build and inspire. And we’re excited to be publishing a series of conversations with people we’ve interacted with at different events.

Meet Eliza Riley Oak, a Ph.D. student at Yale University, who we talked to at Permissionless 2022.

Haley: Hello, everybody, I’m here with Eliza Riley Oak, and I’m going to be asking her a few questions about what she does in the web3 space. So my first question for you is to tell us more about how you are using the blockchain and AI as forms of resistance to combat repressive regimes?

Eliza: For background, I’m a Ph.D. student at Yale, also pursuing a Master’s Degree in Statistics and Data Science, and my research interests are pretty related to blockchain and a broad set of questions related to politics and economics and then using these data skills to answer those.

And this question about blockchain as a form of resistance to authoritarian regimes is still in pretty early stages, but there are [some] pretty interesting cases. [In] mainstream media, you see a lot of headlines about blockchain and crypto empowering a set of bad actors, empowering money launderers or terrorists, for example. But there are some interesting cases where it’s also helping everyday citizens in pretty vulnerable extreme situations, also circumventing the state, and we’d probably consider them good actors.

I’m in touch with folks in Syria where they’re using DAOs for political organizations to organize protests against the dictatorship, the Assad regime. There are also cases of political activists from Togo, North Korea, and Palestine, for example, using Bitcoin in unique ways to empower citizens, or defectors, in the case of North Korea.

Haley: So Eliza, tell me, how do you currently analyze hate speech, and why is that an important project of yours?

Eliza: This fits more broadly into the research agenda of the politics of emerging technologies more generally, and so in this project, I scraped thousands of YouTube videos from white nationalist leaders, both male and female, and I compared the rhetoric, as well as the comments on these videos.

I was just curious about how women gain authority in these often considered patriarchal movements, and I was curious whether women broaden the audience by playing a sanitizing role, tying this into families and white babies, for example, or do they really just reinforce some of the hate speech and racist rhetoric being spread? I found more of the latter. 

Haley: What drives you as a woman to change human interactions in web3 for women or just in general?

Eliza: This is a really exciting thing that’s happening to the world right now, the next wave of computing, and women comprise about half of the world’s population, so we should also be involved in benefiting from and contributing to these exciting innovations. Sometimes, when you’re at these types of events, you forget that we’re half of the population.

Haley: Yeah. Thank you so much for that opinion, I agree! And my last question for you is, what are your plans after Yale, or is there anything that you’re looking forward to post graduation? 

Eliza: I have a few more years left in the Ph.D., but I would love to work in this space, contribute some data science or research skills, especially some of this research with more development and humanitarian impact as well. It really gets me excited. But probably more with an eye on the industry and tech space rather than academia.

Haley: And you’re going to do great, I think! It’s so nice talking to you, Eliza, I’m so glad that I met another powerful woman in the space, and we had the chance to interview you today! Thank you so much for answering these questions, and enjoy the rest of your time at Permissionless! 

Eliza: Thank you!

Check the full interview on our YouTube channel!

Image: Sam McGhee via Unsplash

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