Held one week ago in New York City, CoinDesk’s Consensus 2016 blockchain conference brought together speakers from all over the world to unveil new products, discuss the major issues of the day and begin to help plotting a course forward for the future of the industry.
The biggest moments? From Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s announcement that his state is to seek a legal classification for blockchain shares to 21 Inc CEO Balaji Srinivasan’s unveiling of a major software suite aimed at creating a bitcoin-based economy, Consensus 2016 saw its fair share of big ideas – and those pitching them.
But with so many leaders in the same place, not every quotable moment happened on the main stage.
Below are just a few of the memorable moments when panelists and speakers went on to steal the show in some very unexpected ways.
1. “Distributed ledger shares hold the promise of immediate clearance, immediate settlement and bring about dramatic increase in efficiency and speed and an increase in commercial transactions of which Delaware is known.”
During his keynote address, Governor Markell spoke about his plans to make the state – already known for being friendly to those looking to incorporate – into a blockchain-friendly state, too.
Telling attendees that the state had no current plans to pursue a licensure scheme for digital currency companies akin to New York’s BitLicense, he added that the government would push for the creation of a new type of corporate shares, dubbed “distributed ledger shares”, to help promote adoption of the technology as a tool for securities settlement.
2. “Standardization is one of those things that people, and business people especially, like to talk about. It’s a bit removed from the standardization needs of developers. I sometimes think, ‘Okay, where do we even start? How do you even know what kind of standardization are people looking for?'”
Speaking during a workshop about blockchain standardization, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin distinguished between the needs of business executives and managers and the potential standards needs of developers actually working on technology applications.
Ultimately, participants in that workshop pushed for a ground-up approach, with the industry setting the kinds of standards they say are needed to promote further blockchain applications.
3. “That kind of situation is something where you can only expand a private blockchain so much until you start getting into things that are in Russia or in China or in Iran or some region that is really not fully a trusted party.”
In response to a question from the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vigna, 21 Inc. CEO Balaji Srinivasan was speaking about what he believes are the limits of permissioned or closed distributed ledgers. The answer came during a panel appearance alongside David Rutter, founder and CEO of bank blockchain consortium R3CEV.
In response, Rutter argued that banks don’t need a trustless network like the one advocated by Srinivasan in his work with bitcoin because there is already a layer of trust between those institutions.
4. “Is the blockchain technology going to be fundamental? I think the answer is overwhelmingly likely to be yes. Is bitcoin going to be a valuable store of value, the same way as people use gold? I don’t know, but I think that certainly the answer is ‘no’ doesn’t seem like the right position to take.”
US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers gave his thoughts on bitcoin and blockchain during an in-depth question and answer session on the second day of Consensus 2016.
In conversation, Summers projected that there would likely be three scenarios stemming from the growth of distributed ledgers. He argued that blockchains will either co-exist with traditional fiat currencies, will be enabled by bitcoin directly; or will eventually interact with new kinds of digital currencies, but not bitcoin.
5. “What is important to note is we’re not like eBay or Etsy where we have control of the full stack. We’re a software development team who built an open source project. We created a tool. We encourage positive use, but it’s really up to the actors in the network to determine how it is used.”
On the topic of illicit activity, OpenBazaar co-founder Brian Hoffman sought to explain why platforms such as his own are beneficial despite the possibility that illicit transactors might use the open-source software.
The early discussion had to do with OB1, the startup behind the decentralized, bitcoin-based marketplace. Hoffman also claimed during the panel that, since launch, there had been over 110,000 downloads from users in 130 different countries.
6. “If you think about a transfer from the US to Senegal, you want to know what the transfer rate will be. They’ll let you know in 14 days.”
These remarks came from Elizabeth Rossiello of bitcoin payments startup BitPesa, who spoke during a panel about the question of building a better payment rail.
During her appearance, Rossiello gave an impassioned defense of bitcoin and spoke to the idea that payments between developed and developing nations could be enhanced through decentralized technologies.
7. “Blockchain, combined with identity, is a two-edged sword. The best, we can hold the powerful accountable for their actions. Transparency, all the different types of things that happened in the 2008 crash, all of that can be avoided with identity and identity services on the blockchain. The worst is we weaponize identity for the powerless.”
Christopher Allen, the principal architect at the startup Blockstream, warned against the potentially harmful side effects of more trustworthy method of identification. Though he highlighted how the technology could have helped boost transparency during the financial panic in 2008, Allen reminded attendees about the dangerous aspects of the concept.
For example, he noted how the advanced Dutch system of identification during World War II made it easier to carry out genocidal activiites during the Holocaust.
8. “Until you solve decentralized identity, you can’t really build other services off of that. This is the first problem that needs to get addressed. But doing a simulation or a proof of concept is very different from running a production system.”
During the same panel with Allen, Blockstack Labs co-founder Muneeb Ali explained the technical limitations of building an identity platform on the blockchain, using firsthand experience from the creation of Onename.
Ali added that developers shouldn’t think of blockchain as a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather one that should only be applied thoughtfully as part of a larger plan. He warned that not all blockchains provide equal identity control and should be selected carefully.
9. “Disconnected from the digital currency, blockchain exists more like an intranet. Intranet was quite important, but the transformative value was only when all those intranets were connected into an Internet.”
Silver Lake co-founder and Federal Reserve Bank of New York board member Glenn Hutchins explained to the audience why he thinks an interconnected web of blockchains might actually be more powerful than a single blockchain, or just a few blockchains that dominate.
Continuing with an other metaphor, Hutchins said that bitcoins might someday be thought of as the “boxcars” of finance, with distributed ledgers serving as the new “railroads” of economic development.
10. “We don’t look for use-cases that are just using a small part of the blockchain.”
During a panel discussion with Microsoft, IBM, and CME Group, founder and CEO of bitcoin blockchain startup Blockstream Austin Hill expressed a lack of interest in firms that use only a portion of blockchain’s potential.
Hill’s company has joined with IBM and more than 30 other companies to help develop the Hyperledger Project, an open-source effort to create a distributed ledger platform.
It’s now possible to watch the video from Consensus 2016.
Photo by Michael del Castillo for CoinDesk