27th September 2018 Blockchain

Five things we learnt at Blockchain Live 2018

FieldHouse’s home is in the high-growth business ecosystem, which by and large means technology, innovation, and finance. It’s no surprise then, that blockchain is becoming an increasingly important topic for us, as it sits at the intersection where all of those specialisms meet. Not only are we working with a number of dedicated blockchain startups and companies raising funds through initial coin offerings (ICOs), but we are increasingly finding that our “traditional” clients across a variety of technology and finance sectors are making use of blockchain technology as well.

We like to be at the heart of our ecosystems, which is why we are proud to say that we were a partner of Blockchain Live 2018, which took place yesterday at Kensington Olympia. As well as working with the event to raise its profile and get journalists to attend the show, we also went along ourselves to catch up on the latest developments in the space.

Here are a couple of things we learnt at the event:

1. Blockchain is an industry where regulation is actually of interest

Regulation is vitally important to most technology sectors, but it isn’t the sexiest of topics. With the exception of the GDPR (which seemed to entertain the tech industry for years), it wouldn’t usually make for what you’d call a “headline act”.

At a blockchain conference, however, it’s enough to fill a room. A midday talk on finding regulatory clarity in the industry by the law firm Simmons & Simmons had every seat full and people standing around the edges, with the speaker astutely joking that at any other conference he’d be talking to nobody but himself. The Govtech stage was also a hit, with a number of talks exploring how different territories (from Gibraltar to Denmark) are creating frameworks to deal with blockchain.

This is a reflection of the current demand within the community for stronger regulatory frameworks. Bar the hardcore crypto-anarchists, there seems to be a consensus that establishing legal infrastructure will be critical for further development and adoption of blockchain solutions and, of course, cryptocurrencies.

2. Blockchain is still in its fledgling years

Blockchain has been a hot topic for so long that it’s often easy to forget that it’s still a relatively young technology. It’s been less than ten years since Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, which many would consider “day 0” for blockcahin. Many of the speakers at Blockchain Live reminded the visitors that even in the industries where there is a clear use case – such as payments, insurance, and legal services – the potential is still yet to be realised.

Cryptocurrencies remain the only real mainstream use case, and many would argue that even they are not used in the way they are intended to be. The blockchain industry today is often compared to the early days of the internet – it’s clear there is a huge amount of potential, but what solutions will win the day is still unknown. Of course, this is what makes it such an exciting technology to work within.

3. Blockchain is both a cyber security risk and opportunity

Given my expertise, I was naturally drawn towards the security talks. Misha Glenny, a journalist and author (who wrote the novel behind the BBC’s hit drama McMafia series), gave my favourite talk of the day, which outlined how cryptocurrencies became the currency of choice for the criminal underground operating on sites such as Silkroad. The vulnerability of cryptocurrencies was also starkly highlighted with an especially shocking statistic that, while $17 million was lost through the 3,733 US bank heists in 2016, $773 million has already been lost to the hacks of just four cryptocurrency exchanges in 2018. On the other side of the coin (or token), cyber security company Remme made a strong case for how the blockchain could finally offer a authentication solution better than the old-fashioned password.

4. The difference between crypto-economics and tokenomics

If blockchain is a relatively new concept, the terms used around it are even newer. I have to admit, I had assumed crypto-economics and tokenomics were completely interchangeable. Thankfully, an interesting talk from Nodeunlock alleviated me of my ignorance. As it turns out, tokenomics is the economics of a token (e.g. cryptocurrency), whereas crypto-economics is the economics of an overall blockchain. According to the Nodeunlock team, the distinction is important, because tokenomics only makes up part of crypto-economics as a whole, and applying proper crypto-economics may well determine the long-term sustainability of a project.

5. There is still a great deal of interest in blockchain

With the recent slump in the cryptocurrencies market, and the decline in the volume of ICOs in 2018 in comparison to the boom of late 2017, a lot of the UK media has become skeptical of blockchain, and there is a lot of uncertainty over whether it has been overhyped. However, Blockchain Live painted a very different picture. Every single talk on all of the stages was full, it is clearly becoming an extremely popular sector, and there is a huge appetite for learning and discussion.

As already discussed in point two, it is extremely important to remember that it is still fledgling years for the technology – false expectations of where blockchain could halt progress. And – as anyone working in blockchain will tell you – it’s also important not to confuse the performance of cryptocurrencies with the potential of blockchain. Cryptocurrencies are just one application, and have no bearing on other ambitious projects – from efforts to digitise healthcare records to the use of smart contracts in legal offices.

As well as the importance of regulation, another thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the more blockchain solutions make it to market, the better industry will become. There is a belief that real-life applications will inspire confidence in technology, increase investment, reduce token fluctuations and even reduce the criminal element – to name just a few benefits. In a high-growth industry where change is happening quickly, I look forward to seeing how things have developed by the time the show comes around next year.

Aidan Murphy

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