In the winter of 1993 actor William Shatner was trying out a new role: directing. Fresh off his directorial debut in the feature-length film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the actor best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk of the star ship Enterprise in the iconic film and television franchise was returning to the small screen for TekWars, based on the dystopian novels he wrote about a future where “tek” is addictive and money has gone truly digital.
In the opening scene of the show’s pilot, which originally aired in 1994 on the Sci Fi Channel and USA Network, Shatner, now 88, directed a disheveled john to pay a scantily clad woman for a massage, and some other more illicit services. The two touched their two credit cards together and the transaction was complete. “Do you want a receipt with that?” she asked.
In the following scene Shatner, who earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce from McGill University in 1952, directed the protagonist’s girlfriend, Beth Kittridge, to win 1,000 units of a science fiction currency called “credits” from something called the Interactive Value Network, an automated shop, bank and music supplier rolled into one. “There’s no cash,” says a huckster named Marty Dollar, as he sneers from the television screen in Kittredge’s apartment. “Just tune in and spend them.”
Since then, Shatner has gone on to have a whirlwind career, culminating on the entertainment side with an Emmy and Golden Globe in 2005, 39 years after he first took the helm of the Enterprise. But beneath the surface percolated his youthful passion for commerce. Shatner got his first chance to enter the modern world of crypto-commerce, during the 2017 initial coin offering (ICO) craze, when $5.6 billion dollars were raised by selling custom cryptocurrencies that could appreciate in value.
Shatner says he was approached by multiple entrepreneurs looking to turn his fame into a small fortune by metaphorically putting his face on their crypto-assets. After some research into the potential regulatory implications of backing a cryptocurrency, Shatner shrewdly passed on the offers while other celebrities, like professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and music producer DJ Khaled, sold their endorsement and were eventuality forced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disgorge their earnings.
Then, in June 2018, Shatner finally found his chance to help turn his science fiction vision for a cashless society into reality, when a startup he represents, Vancouver, Canada-based startup Solar Alliance, released plans to use the sun’s energy to run computers that audited the bitcoin blockchain. In exchange for the processing power expended by the computers, called mining, the company would receive bitcoin.
Recalling his earlier vision of cashless payments, Shatner became hooked on cryptocurrency and blockchain, the technology beneath cryptocurrency that lets individuals send value without a middleman. Last month he formed his second crypto partnership—at first, more a spokesperson gig than anything else—with London-based Mattereum, a company that logs detailed data about objects directly into the ethereum blockchain.
But the commerce major turned actor, turned director wanted to do more than just be the face of a startup. So, shortly after announcing the Mattereum partnership, he incorporated Third Millennia to help customers use Mattereum’s technology to legally transfer ownership as easily as they transfer the ether cryptocurrency. If successful, he believes the technology will let customers prove the stories they tell about their most prized possessions, and unlock the dormant value of an object’s history.
“Science fiction is the exercise as complete as possible, as far as you can go, of imagining the future,” says Shatner, who in addition to being a co-founder and spokesman will serve as an advisor to the company. “And we all understand that in the end, humanity, once it imagines something is inspired to make it concrete, to make it happen, and that’s what has happened.”
While Shatner has a long history of being an early adopter of everything from microprocessors (1976) to social media (2008), this is the first time he’s founded a technology company to follow his passion. Incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Los Angeles, the supply-chain tracking startup, Third Millennia, is being executed in two phases.
The first phase, now underway, consists of integrating microchips into unique objects that can be scanned using a smartphone and are linked to a “digital twin” of the object including high resolution images, dimensions, serial numbers, and video of it being signed by a famous person, or removed from the manufacturing line and entered into the ethereum blockchain.
This phase of the company kicked off in May 2019 with the first digital twin, a numbered action figure of Captain Kirk in casual attire, autographed by Shatner with a hand-drawn ethereum logo, a video of which will be among the data tracked by the ledger when it goes live in July 2019. While the ability to prove an object’s authenticity at first glance seems like little more than a gimmick, the second phase of Third Millenna is being designed to let proof of ownership legally transfer on the blockchain as easily as transferring the ether cryptocurrency, creating a detailed history, or provenance, of the object’s past.
Shatner and Third Millennia CEO Paul Camuso are currently in conversations with a toy manufacturing company that is interested in tracking unspecified Shatner memorabilia from the point of manufacture. Shatner believes proving an object’s authenticity will help it retain value, but that the ability to prove the story of its past ownership will actually give it value.
“I recognize a prospect of the future,” says Shatner. “And that is identifying things using blockchain.”
As far back as 2002 Paramount Pictures said Star Trek merchandise had generated $4 billion in sales. While Paramount subsidiary CBS says it no longer tracks the amount, a more recent industry-wide estimate by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association placed the 2017 global merchandise licensing revenue at $271.6 billion. “We can authenticate anything and register it and it then becomes unassailable,” says Shatner.
Currently, Third Millennia consists of just Shatner and long-time business partner Paul Camuso, who is the company’s chief executive officer. In addition to discussions with the merchandise manufacturer, Camuso, 54, says the company is in conversations with so-called “wallet-providers” that let users store the ethereum cryptocurrency. Because the digital twins and the cryptocurrency move similarly on the ethereum blockchain, these wallets could be re-purposed to store tokens that signify ownership of the unique or rare objects. In turn, objects as diverse as handbags and collectibles could be logged at the point of manufacture, ensuring not only a limited supply but authenticity.
“This service is absolutely vital to the luxury goods market,” says Camuso, who previously worked as a strategic relations manager at early software company Lotus. “There’s a huge problem with counterfeits and doing something like this could help curb counterfeit goods in the secondary market.” In 2017, counterfeits cost manufacturers an estimated $1.7 trillion, according to a Research and Markets report.
Instead of hiring employees to build and implement the blockchain technology, Camuso says Third Millennia plans to leverage Shatner’s visibility to form partnerships. First out of the gate was technology provider Mattereum, which encodes legal agreements, called smart contracts, such as the transfer of ownership directly via the ethereum blockchain. Tiny amounts of the currency— just fractions of a penny—will be required to transfer the ownership of goods. The ether market cap is currently valued at $28.8 billion.
Founded in 2017, Mattereum’s cornerstone technology is called the Asset Passport, designed to be a legally binding, encoded agreement. The passport moves with an object and lets owners cryptographically update the blockchain ledger that is in turn audited by hundreds of users, with evidence, such as a video showing the physical exchange of goods..
Appraisal experts can then be used to verify an object in the real-world is the same as the “digital twin” that describes it in the ethereum blockchain and international arbitrators will be made available to help resolve legal disputes. On the more sophisticated side of merchandise provenance, Mattereum is also working to log a $9 million Stradivarius violin on the ethereum blockchain where the company plans to sell it off in the form of hundreds or even thousands of tiny shares.
While in some ways, Shatner’s involvement might make the Mattereum technology feel especially science fiction, a growing ring of competitors have taken shape to go after the space. Texas-based Factom has raised $15.5 million from Draper Associates and others to track objects on the bitcoin blockchain and London-based Everledger raised $10.4 million from Fidelity Investments and others, last year partnering with diamond giant De Beers to track precious stones using technology created in-house.
The reason the space is so competitive, according to Mattereum co-founder Vinay Gupta, is that the ability to reliably track ownership of these historically illiquid assets will lead to entirely new investment opportunities. For example, he compares being able to prove an object’s history to what Uber did to unused cars and what Airbnb did to unused rooms. By creating a platform to reliable track those goods users will more easily be able to find and buy them, and that’s exactly what they have done. Uber is currently valued at $72 billion and Airbnb is expected to go public later this year. “It makes it possible for a non-experts to ascertain the value of what they’ve got in their hands long after the point of production,” says Gupta.
As a child, Gupta was first inspired to study science by watching Shatner and Star Trek, so the Shatner doll his technology will help track is more of a sacred object than a toy, he says. “If Star Trek hadn’t existed none of my life would be the way it is. None of our lives would be,” he added. “It’s practically the state religion of nerds.” By tracking this history Gupta hopes an entire “storytelling culture” will emerge that unlocks more than just the value in an object, but the value before an object.
“To me the responsibility is to be part of this grand narrative,” says Gupta. “The tech we’re working with isn’t just the blockchain, but the technology of human memory.”