What happens when you have over thirty of the most innovative people in decentralization speaking at the same place in one day? Lightning in a bottle. The energy of the conference reached new heights on the second day of d10e Bucharest. Riding the wave of inspiration and innovation, Day Two marked a deeper dive into specific applications of decentralized technology, and a reflection on the state of the blockchain. Here are some excerpts and snapshots below:
“As a software developer, you start to understand how things work in the real world in such a deep way that you are able to translate that behavior to a machine. You are telling the machine something. If you apply reverse logic on that, on blockchain, then the machine starts talking to you. It starts showing you ways to better organize society, economic activity, any type of interaction.” – Augustin Jianu, Romanian Minister of Telecommunications
Augustin Jianu learned how to code at ten. He built his first website at twelve. At thirty, he became the youngest Minister of Telecommunications in the history of Romania. In contrast to the irony of the centralized nature of his current position, d10e attendees had the pleasure of hearing Jianu outline his vision of digital decentralization.
Can you imagine a world without client-server architecture? Jianu already does, and he believes that such a world would have a reduced need for centralized power structures. He also highlighted the importance of establishing transparency across all industrial sectors, stating that “…there is currently a clash between freedom of information and universal information access.” He went on to say that decentralized technology can play a role in addressing that disparity by means of its inherent transactional transparency.
He demonstrated great enthusiasm for the societal benefits of blockchain technology, championing it as an instrument of inclusion which will lead us into a new phase of human-computer interaction. Jianu cited Dr. Jeremy Rifkin, the prominent economic theorist, as a major influence in shaping his Digital Convergence initiative. With a focus on effectively digitalizing and decentralizing government, Jianu hopes to shift Romania towards a zero-marginal cost society. Such a transition is expected to be difficult within the archaic organizational structure currently in place.
“Humanity has been defined by the capacity of our understanding of the world around us. It is up to us to continue progressing in not only what we know, but also how we learn.” – David Orban, Founder of Network Society Ventures
Jianu was followed by the d10e Keynote Speaker, David Orban, Founder and Managing Partner at Network Society Ventures. Orban covered the importance of social cooperation in managing the AI transition. This is critical in safeguarding the future of a society which transcends the previous limits of human connection in an equitable and constructive way. A growing awareness across industries of the transformative ability of decentralization is also important in facilitating a simultaneous economic shift from mass manufacturing towards smaller-scale iterative and continuous product development.
Orban studies exponential development of technologies. He explores it through various projects, namely Singularity University and the Network Society Project. His talk outlined the co-evolution of humans with technology, which has been occurring since the beginning of our existence as a species. However, he noted that this development has exponentially skyrocketed in the past few decades. Computers, once blind objects that “died” every night when you shut them off, now they have a greater awareness of the world around us than we ourselves do.
A powerful example made was that of the Large Hadron Collider’s autonomy in collecting data at CERN. The computer which monitors the experiments and collects data presents only about 1% of the actual results to the scientists, discarding the rest. It decides on its own which data are of interest to the researchers. This enables people to hone in on the signal, but also raises questions about what we might end up missing.
Has your playlist ever tugged on your heartstrings? For me, it is certainly true. My mood can make a complete one-eighty when my Spotify playlist goes from R. Kelly to Rage Against the Machine (the shuffle function is a double-edged sword, please proceed with caution). Orban mentioned how our phones are capable of emotional programing. Our music apps are capable of shaping our moods based on the songs we like, save, and when we choose to play them.
He went on to describe how humanity is entering an important stage in its social evolution, and that the future stands to bring many great advances, especially so if decentralization becomes the new organizational framework within which humans interact.
A vocal advocate of the power of increased connection, Orban invited any and all interested individuals to reach out to him on his social media platforms, such as his Twitter. Opening a dialogue and exchanging ideas is the only way for us to play an active role in shaping the future, instead of just watching it happen. While the influence of technology on our nature may be unavoidable, Orban’s talk served as a warning to me to avoid the rut of a passive consumer. It was a welcome reminder to exercise more awareness, and not be satisfied with our minds going through life on autopilot, which is better left to the cars.
“The secret sauce of Unsung is that every donation a person makes is actually broadcast in the app’s network. There is a transparency to it, and people actually often end up competing to do the most good. A lot of organizations talk about the good that they do, but we actually can demonstrate our impact.” – Jason King, CEO of Unsung
An entrepreneur on the vanguard of the fight against hunger, Jason King is on a mission. He is the Co-founder of Unsung, a company which connects people with extra food to a network of volunteers who are willing to pick up that food and then deliver it to somebody in need. A tax credit sweetens the deal.
After going over the company’s mission, King shared several powerful examples of how Unsung users autonomously ended up finding new ways to do better, in completely unexpected ways. In one particular instance, in Austin, Texas, Unsung users autonomously ended up expanding the use of the platform beyond food towards providing resources as basic and essential as socks.
A simple idea, but a logistical morass, King shared how Unsung has managed to thrive by virtue of its decentralized organizational structure. Proper implementation was critical in ensuring Unsung’s sustainability and effectiveness. For example, the inclusion of elements such as leader boards introduced both user transparency, trust, and motivation into the Unsung project. Not only is it empowering, but users become energized by the good that they are doing. By creating a decentralized organization in which communication and transparency are ingrained into its structure, individuals can collaborate and accomplish great things.
Fireside Chat with John McAfee
“Protection from digital threats is more a matter of what we don’t do than what we do.” “I want to be the first person hacked, with any softwares, so I that can keep up to date with what the hackers are doing.” – John McAfee. CEO of MGT Capital Investments
A fireside chat with John McAfee and Brock Pierce provided a much needed break from the rapid-fire pace set by the talks. A discussion ensued over the validity of claims of Russian government involvement in influencing the result of the American 2016 presidential election. McAfee drew upon his fifty years of experience in cybersecurity to emphasize the near-impossibility of pinpointing the source of a hack, especially if the hacker worked with a high degree of technical sophistication. He argued that the sloppiness and amateurish features observed in the hacks (use of an outdated software, inclusion of Russian-language snippets in the code, among other things) would suggest a culprit other than the Russian state. However, he did note that American government digital forensic tools are outdated and unequipped to meet any serious threats.
He shared his unorthodox approach to dealing with hackers. His aim is not to keep hackers out, he actually wants to the be the first one to let them in. By keeping the target on his back, he gains great insights into how contemporary hackers are thinking and which strategies they are using.
“There’s no human listening to you, or watching you. You are being watched by a computer.”
As for surveillance, McAfee stated that the entities which listen in on our lives are largely automated. Most smart devices have a program running in the background which sends information to a massive data analysis system. When certain keywords or phrases are detected, a human monitor intervenes and takes over surveillance.
When asked for best practices that we can adopt at home to better protect ourselves, McAfee made a couple of suggestions:
- Don’t own a smartwatch
- Leave your smartphone out of your bedroom or any room where you’re having a private conversation (and unplug that smart TV!)
One of the most interesting points brought up was that of the need for a separate hardware/software entity on which one conducts cryptocurrency transactions. McAfee acknowledged that at the moment, this necessitates “carrying another device around”. He defended this point by saying that the current operating systems of most smart devices and computers are outdated and easily breached. A highly sophisticated security system is worthless if the operating system upon which it runs is vulnerable. There is a need for a new, better adapted foundation to be built from scratch. To do otherwise and continue using the same methods is
“…like driving a Ferrari down a dirt road made for horse-drawn carriages.”
The conversation eventually expanded to the overarching topic of trust, on which McAfee took a pragmatic stance, stating that:
“You can’t trust anyone, but you have to collaborate with everyone.”
Given the recent insurgence of fake news, McAfee prefers to bypass traditional media outlets in favor of more decentralized reporting, such as blogs. Ultimately, it is our prerogative to assume responsibility for the information we consume, detecting fake news, and managing our security and privacy.
The fireside chat concluded on an serious, but empowering note, with McAfee reflecting on lessons that he has learned over the course of a truly epic lifetime:
“If you believe that in life, money will give you ownership over something, and power, you are mistaken. You don’t own something, it owns YOU. The fear of losing what you think you own is a prison you create for yourself.”
“One of the things that I admire about my countrymen is that generally we don’t sit idly by. Innovation is in our blood.”- Dean Thompson, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Bucharest
The d10e Conference was executed in partnership with the U.S. Commercial Service. Dean Thompson, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Bucharest, came as a representative of the American government to speak on the future of foreign investment in Romania. He stated that the United States would like to become one of the top three investors in Romania in the coming years. He also expressed that both the American public and private sectors are committed to a forging a mutually beneficial working relationship with Romanian business entities.
Thompson made a nod to Jorge Barba, a business consultant and organizational guru who outlined six team qualities necessary for managers to nurture in order to foster innovation: freedom, resources, team diversity, support, encouragement, and the presence of a challenge. He applied this paradigm to the current state of business and innovation in Romania, stating that for the most part, all of the six features are in place. This, in combination with investment by the U.S., is leading to Romania entering a new phase of business development and increased prosperity.
Nanopayments, Smart Contracts, and a Techxican Standoff
“…this nanopayment structure is an important part of the Internet of Things evolution in the next 10 years. IOT needs many security functions, and the blockchain can account for some of those things in this space.” – Richard Kastelein, CMO at Humaniq.co
There were two panel discussions later in the afternoon, in which field experts engaged in friendly debate over various applications of decentralized technology. I had the opportunity to sit in on the panel discussion moderated by Richard Kastelein, CMO at Humaniq.co. The session, “Decentralization and the Banking Sector. What does the future look like?” centered around the changes that the banking sector stands to undergo in the face of the growing influence of blockchain technologies. It featured an all-star panel of digital currency experts: Martin Koeppelmann, Founder of Gnosis, Daniel Dabek, Founder of Safe Exchange, Felix Crisan, CTO of NETOPIA MobilPay, and Nick Dodson, Senior Engineer at Consensys.
Nanopayments were a hot topic, with Kastelein declaring that their growing popularity will bring about the emergence of an entirely new economic sector in as soon as ten years. As nanopayment transactions increase in frequency, the fractions of cents will rapidly accumulate, scaling up at a rate that the panel agreed that banking institutions are currently unable to accommodate. Dabek noted how the New York Stock Exchange already incorporates similar actions in their transactions,
“When I was trading on NYSE, the Securities Exchange Commission would charge fractions of a cent for every share sold.”
He went on to propose that they should bolster this feature, saying that
“They [NYSE] actually need to adopt some kind of integrity micropayment method, and the only way I can see this happening is with Satoshi… no one can buy one share and pay the SEC fee, one has to buy a high volume of shares, otherwise the amounts are too trivial.”
Like Kastelein, I live in the Netherlands. When I moved there last year, I was surprised to find that it is a largely cashless society. It is easy to transfer money between friends, and almost all transactions can be accomplished with a pin card. If I were ever to imagine a place where cryptocurrency would be rapidly uptaken by the general public, it’s there. At the end of the day, we’re just swiping plastic. Nick Dodson of Consensys expanded on that sentiment, describing how he buys his coffee with tokens,
“When I order Starbucks, the cashier doesn’t know what currency I’m paying with. It is a transaction between my ledger and the company’s, not the government’s.”
A Techxican Standoff
The conversation briefly veered off course when a panelist had professed his preference for building on Ethereum, and Bitcoin-loving audience member took that as an opportunity to make a stand against what he felt was an inferior platform. The guest vociferously disagreed with the other’s preference for building on Ethereum. I later tracked down the teckler* and asked him to clarify his position.
He conjured up vivid imagery, likening Ethereum to
“…a hexagonal wheel covered in glitter, without any actual value behind it. Ethereum is pretty to look at, but doesn’t accomplish as much as it should. There are better ways of doing the same thing, for example with Open Transactions or R3’s Corda.”
Just when the tension was subsiding, somebody brought up Ethereum Classic, and the cycle resumed. Tarantino might be the master of setting a scene, but even he couldn’t have written what was unfolding in front of me.
* – “teckler”: Oxford’s Very Real Dictionary definition – a heckler found at tech conferences. This organism speciated recently from the Common Heckler, and can be distinguished by its ability to summon at will the righteous fury of a thousand supernovas in an air-conditioned conference room, without a drop of alcohol in their system.
“The emergence of young mobile banks in the UK and Germany are making it very easy for millenials to enter the banking system. I dare you to try to do that with Barclay’s.” – Richard Kastelein, CMO at Humaniq.co
In all seriousness, the Bitcoin vs. Ethereum vs. Ethereum Classic ruckus reached a civil and speedy conclusion. This left the panel with enough time to pivot the discussion toward smart contracts and their applications to financial institutions. Kastelein exhibited a jovial attitude towards the technology, declaring that “…insurance and smart contracts are a match made in heaven.”
Other panel members approached the marriage of smart contracts and insurance with cautious optimism. Dodson remarked that “making sure that smart contracts work is the same as getting anything else to work, because it involves trust. Much like with car insurance, when you get many people using it, it’ll be very difficult to know what the hell is going to happen. I hope to someday write a smart contract and get insured, but it is a hard thing to do.”
Felix Crisan also pointed out that there is currently a huge degree of information asymmetry between insurance companies and subscribers. Introducing smart contracts could provide a greater degree of transparency between parties.
Overall, the session was very stimulating, thanks to the knowledgeable panel and engaged audience. Next time, I hope that everybody remembers to bring their boxing gloves.
When a Man loves a Token: Conceiving Communities with Dragos Roua
“Blockchain can help us implement governance principles which are flexible enough to evolve and possibly heal themselves, but strict enough to be recognized by and have their processes mapped with real currencies.” – Dragos Roua, Online Entrepreneur and Developer of Hubcoin
A digital nomad, Dragos Roua has a fixation with mixing currencies with content production. His recent work integrates his insights into what makes resilient, successful communities with ways in which the blockchain can be adapted to governance. In one of the final talks of the day, he introduced d10e to Hubcoin, a project which attempts to map pico-economies with blockchain technology.
Roua uses the term “pico-economy” to describe an ad-hoc community. It does not necessarily have to be consciously formed around economic principles, but pico-transactions are a given. Pico-transactions are the small actions and services we provide to one another that have a value (e.g. giving somebody directions), but cannot be mapped by fiat currencies. It is a new term used to describe an old concept, one that maintain the bonds of a community.
According to Roua, a community should be considered great if it meets three criteria:
- Feeling of belonging, where not only are people motivated to join the community, but they also stay there (quantified by how long an individual remains in a community).
- Contribution to the community, the degree to which an individual returns value into community circulation (quantified by Hubcoin, under Roua’s proposal)
- Age of the community, which is generally a positive indicator for the community’s reputation and stability (quantified by how long a particular Hubcoin interface is active, from the point of its creation).
Community building is initiated using tokens, or “Hubcoins”. An individual who is interested in starting a community then uses Hubcoins to purchase the Hubcoin “root interface”. This purchase then broadcasts the buyer’s intentions to a broader network, via which interested parties can reach out and begin congegrating. Once a minimum of four people commit to participating (gotta have that Byzantine Fault Tolerance), the community is officially initiated and a new pico-economy is formed.
Hubcoin functions like any ordinary token, with one important distinction: the value of a community’s Hubcoin can be influenced by how well the community itself meets Roua’s three criteria. As a community improves (ex. Becomes a long-lasting group with a high degree of community contribution and low rate of participant turnover), it is assigned a correspondingly higher Hubcoin value multiplier. Hubcoin that has had its value multiplied by one of these multipliers is referred to as a “hot” Hubcoin. Community contribution and spending is incentivized by resetting the value of the hot Hubcoin at the end of each community membership cycle. At this point, participants have the option to renew their membership or walk away. Within this framework, members are rewarded for taking on active roles and returning value to their community. On a global scale, this could be the foundation for a new mode of governance.
I’m a simple person. When I hear “governance”, I come running. The Hubcoin project is slated to launch publicly in September 2017. In the meantime, be sure to check out the Hubcoin Whitepaper. If his talk or ideas also captured your interest, be sure to check out Roua’s work on Github.
Following the scheduled talks, the conference was concluded by a final panel discussion on venture capital investment in the blockchain. With moderator Margaux Avedisian, Vice President at Transform Group, and a panel of speakers consisting of Mike Costache, Brock Pierce, and David Orban, decentralized startups and new means of raising capitals were covered in depth, concluding the conference on a pragmatic note.
Observations and Concluding Thoughts
One of the philosophical quandaries currently facing decentralization is that of anchoring the broad aspirations of decentralized technology in reality. D10e Bucharest served as a lightning rod for the brightest minds in the industry to gather and share their knowledge, brainstorm answers to this question, and move forward together.
Between transcribing the talks and preparing social media content for the event, I was lucky enough to find some sponsors and attendees who were happy to share their thoughts on the conference. Upon hearing their observations, I noticed a pattern, which I have outlined below:
- The conference was enjoyable and informative.
- The atmosphere was conducive to making connections (as opposed to the business card line-dances that we have all attended in the past).
- The speakers were interesting and come from diverse backgrounds.
- The talks were shorter than most people would have liked (which speaks to the popularity of the speakers, huzzah!).
- The pace at which the talks proceeded was difficult to keep up with. (Question: Would you prefer spreading the same amount content out over three days, with longer talks and a more relaxed pace?)
- Charging stations would have saved many phones!
Observations on the timing of the round tables
- Round Table discussions: People were divided over whether or not it was better to have the round table discussions take place on the first day, before the majority of the talks.
- Pro-Day 1 Round Tables – Allows for quicker meeting of like-minded individuals and making relevant connections sooner into the conference.
- Pro-Day 2 Round Tables – Since many of the hosts of the round tables also gave talks, some attendees mentioned that it would have been more productive to have the majority of the talks on the first day, in order to better decide which round table host was most interesting to individual attendees.
Review of Talk Topics
Some attendees and sponsors expressed regret that there weren’t more talks oriented around Bitcoin, with the reasoning being that Bitcoin currently stands alone as the most successful application of blockchain technology on the market. A sponsor of the event noted that “…it was a good conference, we enjoyed being a sponsor. Next time, we’d like to see more Bitcoin-related talks. It’s going to take some more time for these other ideas (outside of Bitcoin) to enter the realm of reality.”
This comment intrigued me, so I decided to take stock of all the talks, place them in subject categories, and see the relative proportion of topics covered. Check out the breakdown below:
Organizational theory and blockchain were the dominant themes of d10e, accounting for sixty percent of talks. Bitcoin was the central topic of four talks. What are your thoughts? D10e is the leading conference on all things decentralization, which topics do you think merit a deeper dive?
Reflection on d10e Bucharest
Another D10e has come and gone. Everybody has returned to their respective corner of the world to their loved ones, whether they be humans, pets, plants, or mining rigs. However, the work is never done, and it is never boring. I am greatly looking forward to following the advances that will develop between now and the next conference.
While this anticipation stems from a general curiosity, it is also fueled by my professional interests. I am twenty-three years old, halfway through my master’s studies in Sustainable Development & Governance at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and my tolerance for wasting time is dwindling. Scalability, lack of transparency, poor accountability, and information asymmetry are frequently cited in my courses as bottlenecks to achieving sustainable development goals. It has become mind-numbingly repetitive to observe the same structural flaws occurring across proposed solutions.
Moreover, I wonder if perhaps the problems that we describe as “wicked” (e.g. population growth, protection of communal resources, food waste, etc.) are only further exacerbated by the methods and structures which are currently in place to address them. Running with this line of reasoning, the potential of decentralization and blockchain becomes increasingly attractive as a method of shifting societies in a more empowering and equitable direction.
This event couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Nobody in my department has formally explored blockchain technology as a tool for sustainable development, so it’s up to me to machete through the jungle of information myself. I’m enjoying it so far, though. I have no idea where I’m standing in this abundance of information, but it feels like an adventure and I am an explorer, albeit a haphazard one.
“Livingstone, I presume?”
If only I could get lost with such style.
At d10e, I learned more in two days than I did in weeks of self-study. I followed spirited debates over Ethereum and Bitcoin, heard ambitious plans for creating new city-states, and learned how to curse in Russian, Romanian, and Faroese. You know, the essentials.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not a fan of wasting time. Not mine, nor that of others. The time to begin my thesis research is fast approaching, and tackling sustainability issues with the methods of the past ergo seems counteractive to this principle.
This is why I got so much out of the conference. Coming to d10e was like visiting a forge where the tools of the future are still red-hot on the anvil. It was all very exciting, from the tech debates to the freewheeling afterparty at Player Club. I had a fabulous time, and I hope you did as well. See you next time!
Written by Valentina Nakic, for d10e
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