I left the Blockchain convention in Hamburg (Blockchance, 17th-18th of August) both impressed and motivated.
Impressed not only on the sheer number of attendees but because how much the technology has evolved. As a lawyer working in the Public Sector, it’s a challenge to keep track of what is possible and what is already done through blockchain. What might come naturally to „Techies“ in this regard, I can learn and understand from listening to great speakers explaining the advancement in excellent overviews (and Blockchance 2019 sure had quite a few of them).
However, it left me even more motivated. I’m interested in the way blockchain can change our society, our governmental organizations, maybe even the way we think and act on so many levels. The financial aspects of blockchain, especially making money with cryptocurrencies, are of little interest to me and my daily work. Therefore I’m always a little skeptical when attending such a conference, as it sometimes appears to me as if it is all about shaking the gold pot. Blockchance wasn’t.
Think big and change the world
Many speakers, among them the charismatic thought-leader Marc Buckley (UN SDG advocate), sent out a message to the audience. We can change the world with blockchain technology, and to do so, we all must change our minds.
Marc Buckley underlined that technology could do so much more, and we use so little of ist potential so far. Astronauts travel to the moon using state-of-the-art technology but must claim their expenses filling out a paper formula after the trip. His story reminded me, even while I don’t do space-travel, very much of the places I’ve worked: using state-of-the-art technology in some aspects and also counseling on it, but not going that final step to digitize my work and that of others entirely. What more could I have achieved for others and myself if I only changed my mind on things?
If we find this phenomenon on a company level, where it’s all about reducing costs and being efficient, how much do we have of this on administration and governmental level? I know from my work in the Public Sector first hand: A lot, a whole lot. What would happen if we change our approach if we fully digitize procedures, files, supply chains, and everything else? So to speak: if we digitize the very way we think about the world? What if we embrace technology, do not see a threat in it, and go all the way? The Deloitte key speaker Nicolai Andersen made a good statement on people’s fear towards technology, here concerning AI technology. We discuss the fear of being run over by an AI-driven car with all our heart, but not the chances such cards offer. Just think of older people living in small villages, for who every trip tot he doctor is a hard challenge. What good could the AI-driven car do for them? It feels as if people prefer to be run over by a human than by a robot.
So what can we do? Let us stop pondering all the threats technology can offer at first impression: Let us first think of all the possibilities, let us dream, let us think big, and then address all the possible miss-uses/dual-use cases and the inherent problems. However, let us first think of technology as a real problem solver for the world. I believe this is where Marc and other speakers were pointing us towards, and I like the direction.
Recently I read this great article by Renee Yang: „Blockchain needs selfless people.“ Many speakers proved that this is precisely the mindset they are living out, not only the before mentioned Marc Buckley but also speakers like Dr. Juie Maupin from IOTA or Albert Peci from Blockchance.
I enjoyed this mindset: Let us embrace technology to make the world better for all beings.
How does blockchain fit into this? About cooperation and transparency
Quite a few speakers lined out that blockchain technology can’t solve all problems. Nearly everyone lined out: Blockchain technology isn’t good or bad, nor selfless, nor evil. Only people are and the way we want to use blockchain. We must use it fort he common good.
Blockchain offers great possibilities, in its decentralized technology, in ist neutrality and its transparency. It can boost cooperation, between national and international organizations, between people and companies, because as the transactions within the collaboration become transparent and secure, trust arises. As someone who has written many cooperation contracts in the Public Sector, knowing how every party is worried about being taken advantage of, I can embrace this idea wholeheartedly. If cooperations can work better through blockchain technology, the world will become a better place naturally. Because wherever people work together and trust each other, there will be less hate and cheating. Moreover, cooperations in the Public Sector are necessary, to challenge climate change, to challenge hunger and poverty, to challenge migration risks and criminal behavior on a global scale.
The omnipresent Facebook‘s Libra
Facebook’s Libra was a big subject as well. It did not come as a surprise when even I had published on that matter. I did, however, not experience the usual disdain towards Facebook that I usually encounter when talking about this subject. Some speakers and attendees underlined that Libra could also offer a strong possibility to the blockchain community, as it could lead to a mass-adoption of blockchain technology worldwide and address underbanked people. Those speakers of course also questioned if Libra is a cryptocurrency at all, or even if we can call it a blockchain solution, as it is neither decentralized nor neutral. Most speakers and people I talked to, however, agreed that the whitepaper on Libra was just a „try and error“-approach, meaning Facebook published it to see the reactions on that matter worldwide and then adjust to it once it comes to concrete adoption. We also discussed the question if others, such as Amazon, are not sitting back right now, letting Facebook do all the dirty work and then come up with their neat solutions once the path has been made clear by Zuckerberg & Co. I found this very differentiated discussion on Libra quite refreshing.
The big company world
Nonetheless, the big company world was visible too at Blockchance, at least from a German point of view. Moritz von Bonin from Deutsche Bahn (the national „train company,“ so to peak) gave a very thoughtful presentation on the possibilities of blockchain concerning the railway system, and it was good to hear that even this very conservative Germans company is looking into the technology. To no surprise came to me that the most prominent German car companies, Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW, are very interested in the technology, as autonomous driving won’t – from my point of view – be possible without blockchain or another distributed ledger technology. What interested me as a lawyer though was the fact that the car companies addressed the following issue: The representatives of the companies did not argue the idea that a mutual blockchain solution would be the best option, as a „Volkswagen blockchain“ parallel to a „Daimer blockchain“ does not make sense at all, as it speaks against all what autonomous driving does need. However, and here’s the exciting part, anti-trust regulations in Germany and the European Union might even forbid that the companies talk at all about a standard mutual solution. For me, this is a typical example of how „Laws from the analog times“ might prevent digital advancement that is in the common interest. We must change this in Germany and Europe. Asap.
Be a visionist
The Tron Europe representative Frank Schulze said something that stuck with me: When it comes to blockchain, be a visionist. I like this. Of course, I can’t claim that I am one, but we can all try to develop the mindset of one: Let us think big. Let us imagine a world in that blockchain technology plays a significant role to make things better for everyone. Don’t le tour fears or worries stop us from making the first step: Imagine how everything can be changed through blockchain, not to make money, but to make the world a better place.