CoinDesk’s Consensus 2017 blockchain conference was alive with activity last week, so don’t feel bad if you missed some of the talks and presentations that took place.
In addition to our main stage sessions, Consensus 2017 featured a range of panels that honed in on all the opportunities and challenges in the space today. The Consensus 2017 panel circuit included discussions on everything from healthcare to trade finance, Hyperledger to the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, and blockchain tokens to ICOs.
Didn’t catch a panel you were hoping to see? Read on for a roundup of CoinDesk’s on-the-ground coverage from the three-day event.
As might be expected, the event wasn’t without its provocative statements.
During a discussion on bitcoin scaling – one colored by the controversial news of a new pact – payments startup BitPay CEO Stephen Pair, called for a fork that would result in two versions of bitcoin.
He said of the network’s current state of affairs:
"It's not working for us. The first option is to use a fork of bitcoin, second option is to use a fork of bitcoin, third option is to use a fork of bitcoin. We don't have any other option right now."
Not all agreed with that approach, however.
"Nobody that I've talked to wants the chain to split. I don't think there will be," Peter Rizun, chief scientist of Bitcoin Unlimited, another bitcoin client, said during the panel.
Blockchain’s reach across international lines was a major focus during the conference as a whole, and some of the panels that took place honed in on this very subject.
Sheila James, vice president of operations at blockchain startup Veem, pushed the tech’s transparency-enhancing nature to the fore during a panel on cross-border payments.
"By using the blockchain, we are able to move money from country A to country B quickly, and give our customers more precise information about their transactions, which is what they are looking for," said James.
The conversation also turned on the question of where cryptocurrencies themselves will play a role in this cross-border push, with at least one panelist coming out as a strong advocate.
"We already have non-central-bank currencies floating around and there are going to be more. I see the weakness as this fear of how are we going to get away from something that is not a central bank," said BitPesa CEO Elizabeth Rossiello, adding:
"There are uses for each kind of thing, and we need to embrace that and use tokens for different part of life. The best ones will rise to the top."
Formally launched in February, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance took the stage during Consensus 2017. There the group, drawn from a mix of startups and established businesses, zeroed in on some of the projects they’ve been working on.
In the words of one panelist, that constitutes "a very long wish list".
But it was the topic of privacy that came up again and again, with IC3 co-director Ari Juels remarking: "Without confidentiality, we're not reaping the full benefit of the blockchain."
The buzz around initial coin offerings, or ICOs, was on display at Consensus, with a panel discussing the legal and regulatory implications of the funding model.
One panelist, Peter Van Valkenburgh of the nonprofit advocacy group Coin Center, was among those to take aim at the term itself – 'ICO' – that is used in the space today.
He told attendees:
"It's like painting a target on yourself. Because, what does an organization like the SEC regulate? They regulate IPOs. That's what they regulate. So, let's just change one letter and make it a 'C' and then it's OK, right? No. Why would you adopt the terminology of the regulator when you’re building a thing you hope they don't regulate?"
According to one panel, what the blockchain space really needs is honesty.
As a number of startups, enterprises, governments and regulators explore and weigh the technology, sharing data about successes – and the failures – is an imperative, argued Rose Chan, founder of the World Bank’s blockchain working group.
"We need more data, we need more pilots and more trials. It is better for the entire ecosystem to be honest about what is not working," said Chan.
Mike Pisa, policy fellow at Center for Global Development – a US think tank focused on international development – echoed that point.
"This is a nascent field, and the startups in the space are tight-lipped about failures," he said.
Mainstream insurers tapping blockchain-powered prediction markets? A far-fetched idea perhaps, but one that caught wind in a discussion at Consensus.
Jags Rao, blockchain workstream lead at global reinsurer Swiss Re, highlighted the concept as one that’s on the firm's long-term radar.
"It's not in the next couple of years horizon, but it's important to be prepared because that’s where we as an insurance company can contribute knowledge that can help make that work."
Subhajit Mandal, MetLife's director of fintech innovation, wasn’t so sure the idea could be applied to insurance markets, however.
"When it comes to personal health, that data will not be available."
A number of startups and healthcare companies are now planning to integrate blockchain tech to improve their systems.
But, as discussed on stage at Consensus, the very people the healthcare industry serves could complicate efforts to give them more control over their personal data.
"Consumers don't really know the power of owning their own information,” said Debbie Bucci, one of the leading figures in the US Department of Health and Human Service blockchain initiatives.
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in BitPay and BitPesa
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