At ‘From Researth to Innovation’ – an event focused on The Blockchain Era last week, the full-day event organised by New Europe and Trust in Digital Life (TDL) went deep into the once obscure technology that has spurred a new way to imagine and implement transaction authorisation and identity management issues – and much more – over the internet.
The event’s hosts, New Europe Editor, Alexandros Koronakis, and TDL Chairman, Amardo Sarma, introduced the keynote speaker KU Leuven professor, Bart Preneel, who offered background on blockchain: giving a critique of the bitcoin community and its development of ideas on the function of potential blockchain systems. He emphasized that Bitcoin allows for an irreversible, inexpensive, over anonymous peer-to-peer network without a trace, series of transactions. This creates a system that fosters a community that is not sustainable, confusing to the average user, volatile, full of issues such as crypto currencies, yet a system that is worth approximately 40 billion dollars with about 300,000 transactions per day.
The conversation then began with the assessment of the viability of blockchain applications, which was spearheaded by Eva Kaili, Claire Vishik, Daichi Iwata, Hervé De Halleux, and Joshua Kroeker. “We need a new system of digital trust,” said Iwata who acknowledged that people may lose trust of brands as business processes become more digital. Blockchain gives people the opportunity to claim their digital identity without trust. Kaili posited that people simply don’t understand blockchain. To combat this, she added that there must be full transparency, proper legislation and decentralization in order for blockchain to be a success. Kaili made the idea of blockchain more accessible for the layperson by showing how it can be used; through ticketing and keeping track of intellectual property, property rights, and land rights. The bulk of the discussion revolved on how to implement blockchain while fostering digital trust, transparency and securing individual protection for citizens.
The event then explored priorities for researching when considering blockchain. This discussion featured Michel Huth, Jean-Jacques Quisqater and Benoît Abeloos. All panellists agreed that the first step must be research when thinking about the practicality of blockchain in the real world. This research could include seeing how blockchain may have a conservative appeal for conservatives, possibly support legacy systems, and how it scores in public acceptability, according to Huth. Quisqater offered that blockchain may only be a trend for the next 20 years, which is why doing research on longevity of blockchain is important. Abeloos offered that blockchain has a large energy consumption, so research on regulation on such consumption as well as the migration path from legacy systems and research on possible regulation on virtual currencies.
The talks then shifted to a discussion on supporting public policy priorities with Riccardo Masucci, Lukas IIves, Benoît Abeloos, Sian Jones and Zoltán Précsényi. IIves discussed e-signatures and the need to make them a long term viability. He also brought attention to the fact that there is no single policy for blockchain. Abeloos then shifted attention to the standardisation on blockchain and a need to have a “pilot and proof of concept” for blockchain to be successful. Sian Jones introduced the perspective of politicians and how some are afraid of systemic risk when discussing policy. Jones further spoke about how the interaction of law can cause tension when discussing public policy and innovation. Précsényi’s main concern is that there is not supposed to be any policy for tech at all. He said the need to create policy around tech is correlated to the idea that policy-makers want to hold someone accountable when something goes wrong. At the same time however, policy could play a big role in the privacy issues and potential of such tech.
The closing panel focused on the future direction of blockchain through new ideas, led by Alexandros Koronakis, Claire Vishik, Lenard Koschwitz and Marc Vael. Vishik believes that blockchain is potentially broadly applicable as it is maintained by a peer to peer network of participants and distributively continuously growing. However, if it will be implemented in the future, unsolved problems that need to be solved include privacy, performance, lack of standardization and infrastructure. The future direction would then go towards identity; which banks would mainly work on first. Koschwitz claims that further increasing and having Europe be in the lead on blockchain start up investment is crucial to propelling blockchain forward. However, we must treat start-ups as if they are big companies meaning no exemptions, according to Koschwitz.
Vael predicts that in twenty years blockchain will take on a new name and will be marketed to the public in an entirely different way. Vael also discussed the value in looking at fall-back and scalability and how important these two concepts will be for blockchain. Vael advised that businesses be first taught about blockchain and how it could work for them before pushing it into the public. After listening to the expert speakers discuss blockchain for a full day, Koronakis concluded: “There is no question that blockchain is a technology of paradigm-shifting capacity. Like the Gutenberg press, and the transistor, the potential for blockchain technology to change the world, even at this early stage, is already clear. But the rate and final impact on our enterprise and societies will depend not just on blockchain’s mere existence, but on the application of use-cases, trust and uptake by companies and governments, and of course ongoing research.”