ETHDenver Day 2: NFTs, Gaming the Future and COVID Fantasists

And why isn't blockchain being used for coronavirus check-ins?

AccessTimeIconFeb 16, 2022 at 3:35 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:15 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 16, 2022 at 3:35 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 6:15 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconFeb 16, 2022 at 3:35 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 6:15 p.m. UTCLayer 2

Like any really happening conference, ETHDenver is impossible to experience in full. It’s hard to even really tell when it begins and ends. Events have been going on for roughly a week, but the official kickoff day is Thursday.

So first, for those of you about to arrive, a crucial and practical tip – get to registration as early as possible for your badge. The conference is requiring on-site COVID-19 tests for entry (though not proof of vaccination), and even with the small trickle of people showing up early on Tuesday, things got snarled. I expect huge and frustrating delays today and tomorrow as the bulk of attendees show up.

David Z. Morris is CoinDesk's chief insights columnist. He will be at ETHDenver all week.

Inevitably, there was a COVID-19 fantasist on hand to make things even more annoying. (Pro tip for the big brains: Yelling at the guy manning the registration table about the testing policy demonstrates you have a brick wall’s comprehension of how the world works. When you’re a white-presenting male shouting at an indifferent, harried and non-white staffer that the policy is “segregation,” some might draw even darker conclusions about your character.)

Anyway, the testing process is being handled in groups, which provides a nice chance to talk to a random sample of other attendees. As expected, this is the first crypto conference for quite a few of them. I bumped into folks who had been drawn into crypto by dog tokens and non-fungible tokens (NFT), and it’s great to see that pipeline leading to an event as hardcore as ETHDenver.

Some presenters catered to the newbie audience. “Who knows what a fork is?” one asked from the stage yesterday. “OK, lots of you, not everyone.” That anyone would be at a high-level crypto conference without knowing what a fork is is pretty crazy, but also hopeful – the presenter went on to give a decent, concise explanation, so there’s real learning happening here.

The most interesting presentation I caught Tuesday was from the Foresight Institute, a nonprofit focused on using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and biotech to solve big problems. This group has been around for decades, but it's stepping into crypto because of its potential to coordinate action to, in particular, fund public goods. The institute has a new collection of interesting essays called "Gaming the Future" about, broadly, incentive design, that seems fascinating and features crypto big wheels including Balaji Srinivasan.

This explicit call to use blockchain tech to solve big collective action problems perfectly captures Ethereum’s cultural position in the cryptosphere. The clearest contrast is with Bitcoiners, who are in fact focused on a collective problem – currency management – but generally frame that in hyper-individualist terms of property and ownership. The discourse around Ethereum is substantially more hippy-dippy, invoking a blissful future in which systems design solves all of our political problems. Often that’s to a fault – we are, after all, still essentially talking about money here, and many would argue you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.

Finally, not a lot of today’s programming caught my eye – perhaps a bit of a lull before things get into full swing. But two events did stick out – this introduction to decentralized storage using IPFS and Filecoin, and this discussion on privacy and Web 3, a vital topic. If you’re not in Denver this week, it does appear you still have a chance to register as a virtual attendee and watch these online.

So have fun, stay safe, be nice and prepare to learn.

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David Z. Morris

David Z. Morris was CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.