Money20/20: Blockchain Technicalities and Potential
On Wednesday afternoon at the Money20/20 Conference in Copenhagen, a panel of experts from the Bitcoin industry shared their thoughts on the current state and potential of Blockchain technology. The discussion was delivered to an overcrowded room, as interest in Blockchain was widespread at the conference. The talk was wide-ranging, with topics consistent of the Blockchain’s potential to Ethereum to long term applications of the blockchain.
Discussing the Blockchain at Money 20/20
Nic Cary, Co-Founder at Blockchain.info, summarized the breakthrough technological invention that is token-driven blockchain technology, and the emerging and creative use cases brought forth. “The Blockchain is essentially a big spreadsheet in the sky, that anyone can write to, and that’s a big deal,” said Mr. Cary. “For example, last week, I saw an application written by a 16 year a few weeks ago, and as you read the newspaper, line by line, payments are being made to the author of that work….It’s hard to say where all this innovation will go, but it’s cutting edge and will make a huge difference.” Additionally, when discussing the shift in expectations and attitude towards blockchain technology, Mr. Cary smartly tied our attitudes towards money to our attitudes towards using applications and sending email or messages online. “If I can press on a picture of someone’s face anywhere in the world and send payment almost instantly, I should expect to be able to do the same thing with money.”
Ethereum was also of great interest and curiosity to attendees throughout the day and on the panel. Joeseph Lubin of Consensys detailed the technical challenges of developing Ethereum, and some of the common misunderstandings between Ethereum and the Bitcoin Blockchain. When discussing early innovation in the Bitcoin ecosystem, and the impetus for the Ethereum project, Mr. Lubin detailed, “Instead of adding a virtual machine to Bitcoin, Vitalik’s idea was to put a general purpose machine at every node on the Blockchian.” This, in turn, was about enabling other software developers to build sophisticated applications within the security of the Ethereum protocol, rather than simply innovating on top of the blockchain. Identity and reputation systems are also a leading use case for Ethereum applications, as credentialing or approval based uses could then be build on top of Ethereum more easily.
Moreover, Pascal Bouvier of Santander InnoVentures said that the Blockchain is a very powerful tool for organizing humans and changing organizational structures. “Traditionally, nation-states and organizations that were for or non-profit were always organized vertically,” said Mr. Bouvier. “With Blockchain technology, at least the promise and the premise is that for the first time in human history, we’re able to organize ourselves horizontally. So to me, the question is not whether it’s going to happen, the question is how far, and to what degree is it going to happen.” This echoes other long term concerns in the industry around Blockchains potentially being an early version of SkyNet, or at least having the potential to operate autonomously and impact human organizations on such a wide scale.
Lastly, Ville Sointu of Ericsson Mobile Financial Services hailed the enthusiasm around decentralization within Bitcoin circles yet the lack of awareness around these issues in the general public. Particularly between the developed and developing world, there are varying perspectives towards this technology, Mr. Sointu said, and that potentially the blockchain can be a useful means of protecting against corrupt data storage practices. “In the emerging markets the trust is not towards the government, it’s not towards the banks. It’s really about the community that surrounds you… Pick any corrupt government from Africa or South America, and you understand that there’s no trust to the government or currency or anything like that. At the moment, mobile money providers are stepping into this and providing this trust…they’re able to provide trust agents towards this decentralized economy.”
Similarly, Mr. Lubin sees much more impactful effects around Blockchain technology in the developing world. “If you register land, vehicles, or bicycles on a blockchain, in the context in which there is no established title to those things, it will enable those things to be capitalized, to be checked against, to provide credit history.” Especially given the corruption present in certain areas that are still fully reliant on traditional centralized paper or computer tracking, the blockchain promises to bring more justice, transparency and reliability to database maintenance. The difficult questions arise around how to validate the transactions on a distributed, trust-less network, and how a incentive token for the computer miners who maintain the network is incorporated.
What do you think about the current attitudes surrounding the blockchain? Does Ethereum qualify as a Blockchain, or is a new term needed? Share your thoughts below!
Images courtesy of hiCenter, Money 20/20.