We asked Axel about his journey to Protocol Labs, the CryptoEconLab projects he will be working on, and his thoughts about future technological developments:
How did you decide to join Protocol Labs?
I have always been motivated by making a contribution to groundbreaking and high-impact research. For a long time, I believed traditional academia and classic fields of science were the only way to achieve this. This lead to an extensive career in theoretical physics. While I enjoyed working on difficult fundamental problems, I had a growing discomfort that my academic research was only reaching a handful of collaborators at the same conferences, and I knew I needed to find a new path to work on tough problems that could really make a difference in our daily lives. At this point, I discovered Protocol Labs and all the great work they were doing, and their completely different approach to what a healthy research environment should look like, and everything just clicked, this is what I was looking for.
What problems are you most interested in?
I am interested in the vaguely-defined field of “complex systems”. That is, systems made up of a large number of components with relatively simple and understandable dynamics (for instance, electrons in a material or rational token holders) but the complexity derives from their interactions. Specifically, I’m interested in large-scale emergent phenomena, where some sort of visible order arises from the micro-scale chaos. I am especially interested in understanding how and to what extent this macroscopic behavior can be controlled by tuning microscopic variables.
What future technology are you most excited about?
I am careful about being excited about technology. I believe the true end goal of technology should be to reduce the amount of work humans need to do, perhaps to one day retire as a species and enjoy a life of leisure and abundance. More historically, often the reduction of human work brought by technology instead has meant hardship and loss of employment for some, and financial/military/power gain for a few. That’s why I am generally excited about any decentralization-focused technology, as the first step towards a future where technological advancements can bring a tangible benefit to humans in general. Also, the printing press, vaccines, and trains have been good technologies, so more of that for the future.