Bitcoin made a prominent mainstream appearance in South Korea last week at a special session of the 15th annual World Knowledge Forum in Seoul.
The largest business forum in Asia, WKF is a prestigious three-day event designed to foster discussion about the future and potential major issues that may arise.
It also featured guest speakers including former president of France Nicolas Sarkozy, former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, and leaders from various international organizations and some of South Korea’s largest companies.
A panel discussion and question-and-answer session devoted to bitcoin were included for the first time on the event’s final day, organized in part by local company Coinplug and Professor Peter In, the Associate Dean of Korea University’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Communications.
The Bitcoin Foundation’s Jinyoung Lee Englund and bitcoin evangelist Roger Ver were key speakers at the session along with Professor In, introducing bitcoin to a crowd composed mostly (but not exclusively) of cryptocurrency neophytes and a selection of curious local media.
Speakers told of bitcoin’s origins, current structure and promise for the future while acknowledging the technical and political challenges it faces.
Questions from the WKF audience included whether regulatory forces would manage to spoil bitcoin’s promise, and how Korean businesses could benefit from using the technology.
Hyun Jung Ryu, a reporter with major news outlet Chosun Biz, told CoinDesk that raising awareness is the key to bitcoin’s success in Korea, given the country’s reputation as a testbed country for everything from cosmetics to devices.
“Unfortunately, bitcoin has very low awareness in Korea. I think this is kind of related that Korea finance industry is way behind to the other top countries.”
Most Koreans consider bitcoin an investment vehicle like a stock, said In, the current value of which determined interest levels.
“If the price is up, many people come to the bitcoin meetup. If not, not many people show up. Not many people understand the implications of its techology potential. We need to educate them first. And it must be revealed from ATMs, vending machines, online shopping malls, and so on.”
The panel repeated its session the following day at Korea University’s ‘Bitcoin Expo’, held at the computer science department for students who had been unable to attend the WKF events due to cost and classes.
That day’s audience consisted of more technically-minded attendees with some knowledge of cryptocurrency technology, asking challenging questions such as how bitcoin could deal with increasing transaction volumes, and whether the Bitcoin Foundation could effectively represent the world of digital currency.
Englund stressed both a global distributed nature and talent working for the cause as the Bitcoin Foundation’s key advantages, while Ver repeated his line that participation in bitcoin’s economic revolution was strictly voluntary, and beyond prohibition short of shutting down the internet itself.
Ver demonstrated the simplicity of setting up a bitcoin wallet on the main presentation screen, using bitaddress.org to create key sets and then funding it with $10 from his mobile phone, using blockchain.info to show the instant results.
As a lesson in security, Ver noted that he had revealed the wallet’s private key during setup, and asked anyone in the audience with the necessary skills to steal his money. Within five minutes, his bitcoins had a new owner.
Bitcoin in South Korea
While bitcoin in Korea is dealing with the same chicken-egg dilemma of acceptance and service provision, there has been a recent influx of investment into bitcoin ventures from inside the country and overseas, with Coinplug now totalling $3.3m, Korbit $3.6m, and Devign Lab $200,000.
Coinplug’s Richard Yun, demonstrating his company’s bitcoin ATM at the Seoul bitcoin meetup in Gangnam’s Cafe Sedona, said there are now plans to produce the machines in quantity and place them in various locations, including one at Korea University itself.