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Bitcoin, Stellar and Sidechains Feature at Future of Money Summit

(@danielcawrey) | Published on December 3, 2014 at 11:04 GMT

The fifth annual Future of Money & Technology Summit brought together both bitcoin believers and traditional financial industry experts at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco on Monday.

Organizer Brian Zisk said more than 500 people in total came to the event to learn more about how innovation, both within the bitcoin ecosystem and beyond, is changing the finance industry.

While primarily focused on traditional financial technology, the summit featured a dedicated digital currency track that saw discussion on issues as diverse as bitcoin mining centralization and sidechains – a system for experimentation within bitcoin itself.

Overall, the conference proved to be an interesting mix of traditional finance expertise and those looking to build platforms to innovate in distributed ways, with conversations that reflected the ever-evolving space of digital currencies and entrepreneurship.

Importance of emerging markets

The most popular cryptocurrency-related session was one simply titled 'Bitcoin'.

The panelists taking part were Boost VC’s Adam Draper, 500 Startups’ Sean Percival, dogecoin founder Jackson Palmer and BitPay Chief Commercial Officer Sonny Singh. Moderating was Mark Rogowsky, a tech journalist at Forbes.

Draper conceded that bitcoin would need emerging markets to really take off, because the US doesn’t need digital currency innovation because of its strong banking system.

Draper told the audience:

“The US is the worst place for bitcoin to take off. But that is not true in all parts of the world.”

He noted that places where bank account adoption is only 10% but cellphone adoption is 90% are ripe for cryptocurrency adoption.

Even so, it’s just not that easy to get bitcoin in those places yet, as BitPay’s Singh pointed out. “It’s got to be easier to use bitcoin, and for people to get bitcoin. It’s much harder in developing countries to get bitcoin.”

Palmer, whose dogecoin alternative cryptocurrency creation is nearing its one-year milestone, believes younger generations will pick up on digital money with relative ease.

“I think it’s about changing the mindshare. The older generation is attached to hard, cold cash,” Palmer said.

Focus on the blockchain and Stellar

Two other panels that featured interesting digital currency discussions focused on blockchain technology and Stellar – a virtual currency forked from Ripple Labs.

The blockchain panel placed an emphasis on the further consolidation of the mining industry.

Bitcoin core developer and Blockstream co-founder Gregory Maxwell conceded that the consolidation of bitcoin mining is simply part of the economics of cryptocurrencies. ”There are some advantages of scale in mining,” he told the audience.

An entire panel was dedicated to Stellar, launched this summer and still just three months old.

Moderated by investor Dan Rosen, the panelists were Stripe CTO Greg Brockman and Stellar founders Joyce Kim and Jed McCaleb.

Brockman, whose company Stripe invested $3m in Stellar, believes bitcoin has some issues that need to be worked out, something he outlined earlier this year on his company’s official blog.

“I think there’s a lot of good stuff in the bitcoin community, [but] I think there are some shortcomings,” he told the audience.

The future of money

The conference’s one-day schedule concluded with a panel that featured investors talking about where monetary technology might be headed.

Called 'Visions of the Future of Money', the panel included investor and BitFury board member Bill Tai, Ribbit Capital’s Nick Shalek and Pantera Capital CEO Dan Morehead. John Shinal from USA Today moderated the session.

(L-R) Shinal, Tai, Shalek, Morehead
(L-R) Shinal, Tai, Shalek and Morehead

Morehead, whose Pantera Capital invests solely in digital currency startups, was bullish on the concept of sidechains as a way to enable new cryptocurrency developmental projects.

Although Pantera did not invest, sidechains is a project being spearheaded by Blockstream, which recently raised $21m.

“Sidechains is one of the most important innovations in bitcoin,” Morehead said. “There’s billions of dollars in bitcoin, you can’t just throw things at the wall and hope they stick.”

While there were many portions of The Future of Money devoted solely to financial technology, the presence of a room dedicated solely to digital currencies is a sign that bitcoin is increasingly being seen as intriguing by members of the financial community, and potentially influencing the industry.

Shalek, the Ribbit Capital partner, told the audience during the closing panel:

“Bitcoin has this promise of enabling innovation. There are already 10 million people or more using bitcoin.”

Images via Dan Cawrey/CoinDesk

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