For the participants at the Bitcoin-related conference “Blockchain: Money,” the prevailing sentiment was pretty clear; the hype around the word blockchain is dying down and Bitcoin is coming back in a big way. This was evident in many of the well-known speakers’ presentations on the status of the industry.
Blockchain hype giving way to the “OG” at packed London Bitcoin conference
Conference report. “Everybody is talking about blockchain vs. bitcoin,” Harry Yeh of Binary Financial said. “But any time you have a coin backed by something physical you have a counter-party risk.”
Banking representative Massimo Morini provided another example of the blockchain-overhype as he brought up the widely circulated quote from Goldman Sachs from last year: “While the Bitcoin hype cycle has gone quiet, Silicon Valley and Wall Street are betting that the underlying technology behind it, the Blockchain, can change… well everything.”
The quote in question was sent to the bank’s clients in its newsletter “Emerging Theme Radar” but got outright laughs from the audience in London as they were reminded of it a year later. Morini went on to explain how banks and financial institutions have “sobered up” and started to come to the conclusion that the technology called “blockchain” wasn’t that magical solution that would change everything, at least not in the near-term.
“If you don’t hear the words immutability and exahashes at a blockchain conference you are not at a real blockchain conference,” as former Bitcoin Foundation Director Jon Matonis summed up this view while questioning a panel of industry bigwigs.
Most agree block size needs to increase
The conference managed to attract a broad range of people working in cryptocurrency-related industries. From the informal chats in the halls, one could conclude that most participants expressed the opinion that Bitcoin needs bigger blocks sooner rather than later. Those informal conversations also revealed that several of the bigger mining pools in the space are actively considering supporting a hard fork to Bitcoin Unlimited, while none of them were ready to go on the record with that info just yet. Valery Vavilov, CEO of the mining company Bitfury, were among the few to express caution and provide a counter-argument to the many voices concerned that Bitcoin’s “running out of time.”
“We can’t do it fast,” Vavilov said. “Core developers have tremendous experience, they are doing a great job, and there are thousands of developers creating the Bitcoin core code. It’s not fast but it’s the only way to stay secure, and yes it should grow, but we should think in the longer perspective. I don’t see it as necessary today [to increase block size, editor’s note]. Rather, we must first find the most effective solution”.
In the industry, well-known ICO PR manager Michael Terpin added to the outlook saying the block size issue was one of the arguments for Ethereum’s fast market cap growth.
“That’s why Ethereum grew so fast,” Terpin said. “Because people started thinking that this [block size, editor’s note] is not gonna be solved anytime soon, so we have to move to another system.”
Others questioned that notion and pointed to the fact that Ethereum, any bank’s “blockchain” or any other “altcoin” would hit the same issues Bitcoin has been having to deal with – including how to handle security, scalability, and governance in any “popular” and growing blockchain.
HOW TO GET INTO A BITCOIN CONFERENCE FOR FREE
The conference also drew attention from onlookers even outside the conference hall at Bishop’s Gate in London. Among them were 26-year old Christopher Zaniewski who set up his own “hire me” sign directed towards conference participants leaving the space.
“I love cryptocurrencies,” Christopher said. “I’m not proficient enough to call myself a developer but I’ve been working in sales and support positions and would work with just about anything in the cryptocurrency industry.”
For his efforts, Mr. Zaniewski did get business cards from several participants, and even a coveted entrance pass to the second day of the conference from the organizers. Anyone interested in hiring this friendly and socially adept individual may contact him via this email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
APPS AND BLOCKCHAINS GALORE IN DEVELOPMENT
The Blockchain: Money conference also featured several presentations from developing projects and companies in the space, including Augur’s Jeremy Gardner trying to explain the benefits of a “prediction market.” Augur features a complicated reputation system involving several tokens for gaining reputation and for betting on future outcomes.
“But we also need a stable coin,” Gardner said. “The reason for this is that people bet on things happening in the far future and we don’t want volatility to play into that.”
The concept of a “stable coin” is being tested by several parties, using different strategies for “pegging” a coin to an “old-world” fiat currency like the US dollar, for instance, Tether. Views differ on their usefulness.
Gardner gave the example of farmers hedging against a drought by creating a prediction market and “betting” against his/her own crop’s future success, creating an insurance of sorts. Why farmers don’t already do that today in some online market, or how prediction markets in Augur’s vision differs from similar “betting” markets (like Unibet) wasn’t really addressed in Gardner’s talk. Mr. Gardner said Augur’s platform will go live “within 2-3 months”.
Michael Mainelli, from Z/Yen, presented a number of blockchain apps in development. One explored the concept of geostamping (compared to general timestamping), where a government or other organisation would “record” events tied to any particular place. An event could be someone walking by (as indicated by their mobile phone) , or a plane passing over the point in question. This could possibly open a wholly new avenue for surveillance. Mr. Mainelli also said his company is already doing timestamping operations for clients in the medical industry tens of thousands of times per day.
“Why is this important?” Mainelli asked. “The second most fined industry in the world is the medical industry.”
If practitioners can use a blockchain to enter findings from malpractice or mistreatment and others who have access to the blockchain can learn from that the industry can lower costs incurred from legal actions, according to Mainelli.
“We’re not doing that R3 hype,” Mainelli continued. “These are real systems up and running today. When we all have the whole set of data [of the blockchain, editor’s note] it also easier to move to another central authority if needed.”
“CODE IS LAW” THROWN OUT THE WINDOW
Several panels also discussed legal issues around cryptocurrencies and how so-called “smart contracts” are viewed by legal experts. One of the conclusions of those discussions were the sober observation that whatever you call the technologies involved in deal-making the idea that “code is law” were thrown out the window by the panelists, as people who do not receive the correct assets involved in a smart contract transaction will still sue or take action to fine a “bad” actor – using the actual law.
“When we talk about blockchain technology we talk about it like it’s a finished technology, but it isn’t,” said Brain Donegal from the Department Of Economic Development on Isle of Man. “Lots of people say that we’re at the equivalent time compared to the world wide web’s development in 1994, but I’d say we’re closer to 1985.”
Mr. Donegal also echoed Bitfury’s Valery Vavilov wish when asking for a solution for an “ID on the blockchain” – possibly involving banks as issuers of such ID’s, to solve perceived problems with KYC/AML.
Eva Kaili, a member of the EU Parliament, chimed in to update on the EU government’s general stance regarding cryptocurrencies;
“For the EU it would be great to use the blockchain,” Eva Kaili said. “I think the blockchain is going to be bigger than the Internet, changing the whole financial system as we know it. But we have to protect consumers, provide security for each member state and inform citizens.”
SECURITY STILL KEY, EVEN MORE SO GOING FORWARD
John McAfee, the renowned security specialist, were among the final speakers. Mr. McAfee unsurprisingly took the opportunity to talk about security, warning everybody from using only a mobile phone wallet and instead recommending a dedicated hardware wallet like a Trezor.
“You have to have a wallet device with its own separate screen,” McAfee warned. “Mobile phones were made to spy on you, to sell you some shit, and run the risk of being infected with a logger.”
John McAfee also talked about his new mining farm close to a hydropower source in Washington, US, where he currently runs about 400 Antminer S9:s at approx. 5 petahash, a figure McAfee says he “will be upping several times”, in collaboration with mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain. Mr. McAfee also claimed that his company had rewritten the mining pool software they use from the ground up, not using any standard off-the-shelf mining pool software. This attention to security was one of the main USP:s for Bitmain looking to work together with McAfee on this new “very state-of-the-art” (according to McAfee) mining farm.
In any case, as the conference came to a close it was clear that activities and spending in the space is continuing to increase at an almost fervent pace, and seems likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
What do you think about the Blockchain: Money Conference discussions? Let us know in the comments below.