Emerging Technologies Symposium
Last week, my law firm hosted the Emerging Technologies Symposium in Chicago. The focus of the symposium was to understand blockchain technology and its various applications.
The event started with a blockchain 101 presentation by Ron Daniels, a blockchain evangelist and fintech enthusiast. Ron is one of the founders of South Side Blockchain in Chicago.
For the uninitiated, blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secured from tampering. There is a timestamp associated with each record and a link to a previous block (the chain). Once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. In other words, it is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.
The most popular application of blockchain technology is digital or crypto currencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. But, there are many other applications such as election voting, authentication and authorization, digital content storage and delivery, patient records management, network infrastructure, and app development.
Ron explained the history of the technology, which tracks back to 1962, but modern blockchain originated in 2007. Modern blockchain is believed to have been created by Satoshi Nakamoto, but nobody knows who he/she is, and could possibly be a group of people. The mystery surrounding the creator(s) of blockchain leads some to believe that the technology was originally created to facilitate nefarious activity.
Ron explained how the technology remains immutable through cryptography and two popular algorithmic methods to gain consensus on a network: Proof of Work and Proof of Stake. He briefly discussed asymmetric cryptography, public and private keys, and the concept of the ledger.
Without Ron’s great presentation that provided the nuts and bolts of the technology, the attendees may have been lost in the subsequent panel discussions. For sure, many people who came to the symposium with little or no knowledge of blockchain gained a wealth of information from Ron.
Blockchain and Smart Contracts Panel
The topic of the first panel was blockchain and smart contracts moderated by Freeborn's David Becker. The panelists included Reshma Kamath of haka, Nick McEvily of Current Media, Tom McGreevy of BlocEnergy and Christ Pavlatos of PatientMD. All the panelist shared how blockchain technology is being used in their companies beyond digital currencies.
PatientMD provides a mobile platform giving patients access and control of their clinical data that lays the foundation for transforming healthcare. PatientMD uses blockchain technology, genomics, and machine learning artificial intelligence to transform health and healthcare towards personalized or precision medicine focused on the patient.
Christ Pavlatos, an orthopedic surgeon, is the CEO of the company and expressed his belief that emerging technologies can solve some of the issues in our healthcare system caused by traditional institutions and archaic regulations.
BlocEnergy is a global platform for direct partnering in large scale energy projects and energy supply chain logistics. It offers opportunities for partnerships in technology based in blockchain and smart contracts that will revolutionize physical oil commodities buying, selling, trading and physical movement of global hydrocarbons.
My takeaway was that the oil industry relies on slow, inefficient practices and is primed for disruption. The team at BlocEnergy hopes to accelerate that disruption through the use of blockchain.
Current Media is an incentivized, blockchain-enabled streaming ecosystem that lets you choose how to stream and pay for your media. The ecosystem is made up of a media platform, a utility token, and a cryptocurrency protocol. In February, Current Media completed a $36 million token sale.
Haka leverages blockchain technology for litigants in court. Its founder, Reshma Kamath, was very passionate about the topic and has written and researched many papers on supply chain, enterprise architecture and education. Through her comments, I understood that blockchain will have multiple uses to enable and empower lower income individuals, especially in developing countries.
Investment Funds Panel
The event continued with a panel on investment funds moderated by Freeborn's Tony Zeoli. The panelists included Jonathan Solomon of DigitalMint, Colleen Sullivan of CMT Digital and Will Zhang of OneChain Capital. The panelist discussed multiple topics related to the recent enthusiasm in the cryptocurrency/digital assets market.
Of particular interest was the discussion on how government regulators are treating digital assets and the impact on potential investment and capital raising.
An interesting point was that, despite all the hype, the crypto market is still relatively small compared to other traditional markets. The current amount of money in the crypto market is hovering above $200 billion, depending on who is doing the math. By comparison, Amazon is worth over $400 billion and Apple is over $700 billion. The stock market is valued at over $70 trillion. From this perspective, the crypto market is not a major influencer in the world's economy, but is growing at a rapid pace.
Apparently, the crypto market is attractive to traders because of its volatility. Within the last year, the crypto market was on a roller coaster ride. On December 17, 2017, Bitcoin’s price index increased to an all-time high of $19,783.21. By December 30, 2017 it dropped to about $12,000. Then, on January 17, 2018, it jumped back to above $17,000. For the risk averse, these are stress-inducing swings, but traders make a lot of money from a volatile market.
Although small, many believe the crypto market will become the future of e-commerce, and will increase exponentially over time.
Many companies are implementing blockchain technology to disrupt conventional industries, such as insurance, healthcare, food, banking, etc. With that in mind, the old guard in these industries, including the government, need to understand this technology and prepare for the impending change.