5 Things People Are Saying About Blockchain at TOA16

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As momentum and excitement continues to build behind blockchain, so too does the demand for education, explanation and information about precisely how it works and what its potential is. While the initial focus has been on the application of the technology in financial services, the growing conversation around blockchain’s potential to transform a swathe of different industries, but also the very way we live our lives is driving interest from all corners.

That’s been in evidence at this year’s Tech Open Air conference in Berlin – just like sessions on the subject at most other conferences we’ve been to recently, the blockchain panels and speakers at the event were packed to bursting throughout the first day. With panels ranging from the basics of ‘what is blockchain’ to deeper dives on the potential of smart contracts, we bring together some of the key things people were discussing around blockchain.

 

1. Paywalls, micro-payments & the potential of smart contracts

Smart contracts are ar hot topic right now. Put simply, a smart contract is a self-executing or automated contract/action/agreement to do something that is stored on the blockchain and the potential application in financial services is expected to massively transform the industry when deployed at scale.

Speaking at the conference, Fabian Vogelsteller from the Ethereum Project talked about some of the applications of smart contracts and said things like enabling micro payments and paywalls for readers to pay per page view rather than, say, a monthly subscription to a magazine are “low hanging fruit” for this technology.

 

2. The internet of blockchains

Vogelsteller also said that in the next five years we will see the emergence of an “internet of blockchains”. He says that blockchains will be created around specific verticals or needs, such as industries as well as private blockchains for example within companies.

 

3. It’s time for a better internet

One of the speakers at the conference was Greg McMullen, chief policy officer at BigchainDB and director at its recently-launched IPDB (Inter-planetary Database) Foundation. The idea behind the database is that it offers decentralised control, universal accessibility and strong governance for anyone anywhere in the world. It will also enable the creation and trading of digital assets. It is supposed to resurrect the dream of the decentralised net that the early days of the internet promised.

Currently in the internal testing phase, he says that applications built on top of IPDB could include financial technology, intellectual property, identity and logistics.

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“The internet has become decentralised,” says McMullen. “The liberators are now gatekeepers.” He says that today online identity is locked up in silos or “walled gardens” controlled by players like Facebook, which then control everything from things we create to financial information.

“In a walled garden you end up living with lowest common denominator when it comes to values and little room for innovation on the fringes.”

 

4. Identity as we know it will change

He says identity also becomes problematic around these gardens – Facebook’s real name policy for example creates big issues for people who go by other names and who might be vulnerable if some realises who they are.

“If you want to play on the centralised internet you have to play by their rules – if you do not they kill everything including your conversations, your identity and so on,” he says. “That is not the internet I want to live in.”

A better internet, McMullen suggests, would see people owning their own data and having the power to decide what and how it is used. Meanwhile the definition of identity would not be ascribe to a library card, Facebook account or government ID, but would exist in a format that would enable you to control your own identity and let people trust you when you say who you say you are.

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He also suggests that people should be able to manage their reputations: “For example if you built up a powerful reputation in one community, you should be able to map that onto new community.”

Eventually the aim is for IPDB to operate as a totally decentralised and serverless organisation that does not need to depend on governments or political stability to keep running and operates at a planetary scale.

 

5. A lot!

It’s also worth noting the appetite for understanding of blockchain, smart contracts and the new world order that they promise. Every single session on the topic was oversubscribed at the conference, especially the introductory panel on ‘blockchain for beginners’ with attendees craning their heads round the doorway to catch the conversations taking place. At at a conference not just dedicated to tech, let alone fintech, the popularity of the talks  points to growing excitement around what this technology is capable of but also a gaping knowledge gap that needs to be filled before its potential can be realised.

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