Report from Waterloo

The Hashed Health dev team was on the road again this weekend, this time in Waterloo, Ontario. If you don’t follow the community closely, you may have been unaware that the largest Ethereum hackathon in history, ETHWaterloo, was taking place at the world-renowned University of Waterloo. Over 400 developers, along with countless other community members gathered together to discuss the future of the ecosystem, build amazing projects, and get very few hours of sleep.

As a smart contract developer and ardent supporter of the Ethereum ecosystem, the weekend was the Super Bowl for me and my team at Hashed. Not only did our team have the opportunity to work on a project while surrounded by many other brilliant developers, but we were also able to hear from leaders in cryptography, mathematics, computer science, and economics. The experience of having Vitalik Buterin, the creator of the Ethereum blockchain, walking by our table regularly, completely willing to answer any questions we had was one that I will not soon forget. In addition to Vitalik, the hackathon judging panel included Joe Lubin (Founder of Consensys, Joey Krug (Founder of Augur), Martin KoeppelMann (Founder of Gnosis) and many other leaders in the space.

The event kicked off with a keynote speech from Vitalik in which he detailed many of the updates contained in the recent Byzantium hard fork. This included ring signatures and zero-knowledge proofs, and was laced with his usual dry humor, which was much appreciated by a room full of cryptography and math geeks (including myself).

After the keynote, the rules and regulations were explained, including barring any price speculation or talk of ICO’s. However, this seemed like a mere formality as nearly every person in the building was more concerned about improving the ecosystem than their own personal gain. This notion is one that is absolutely unique to Ethereum, and one of the major reasons why I believe in its future. I have never experienced a group of individuals that is more focused on the whole than themselves. As an Ethereum developer myself, I can assure you that most of community would trade any sum of money for the success of the system. We truly believe that this software can change the way every industry works in a positive manner. There are pivotal moments in history in which a group comes together simply because they believe something is right. This sentiment pervaded the weekend, and I would not be surprised if ETHWaterloo is looked back on as a pivotal moment in world economics and computing.

A few more speakers from sponsoring organizations followed before the auditorium was released to begin our 36 hours of hacking.

The venue, the Center for International Governance, was busy with action over the next two days as developers crowded around their computers, talked to the who’s who list of sponsors, and discussed potential impact of various tools and applications. During breaks from developing, our team had the opportunity to speak with a variety of sponsors at the event. Below is a short list of a few of the teams that we found particularly interesting.

Consensys: If you are at all familiar with Ethereum, you have likely heard of Consensys. They are quite possibly the largest player in the industry, and are more of a consortium of projects than a single company. One particular project they were promoting at the event was the Bounties Network, a platform for issuing rewards for completion of various tasks. You can check out their work at bounties.network.

Coinbase: Another big hitter, Coinbase isn’t necessarily focused around Ethereum, but is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world. They also were focused on a specific project at ETHWaterloo called Toshi, which is a messaging-style transaction platform providing easy access to global financial systems. If you want to hear about the vision for the project, see their blog post here. If interested in the underlying technology and documentation, visit developers.toshi.org/docs.

0x: We were so interested in 0x that we decided to build our project on top of their platform. Without going into too much detail, 0x is a young project creating easy exchange of ERC20 compliant tokens. Read about it at 0xproject.com or try it out for yourself using their Portal Dapp.

Parity: Parity, led by Ethereum legend Gavin Wood, is a dual-facing Ethereum client (think a better version of Geth). With tools for both users and developers, Parity is doing a lot of work to make using Ethereum more user-friendly. Read more at parity.io.

In addition to the aforementioned sponsors, there were many other sponsors doing incredible work. To see who else was there, take a look at ethwaterloo.com.

 

Lastly, at the end of the allotted time, our team had developed a product we referred to as Congruence. The name was chosen because the goal of the project was to broadly bring together buyers and sellers of healthcare services, essentially finding congruent supply and demand. Built on the 0x exchange protocol, Congruence is a platform for both providers and consumers. Providers may generate ERC20 tokens representing common healthcare services, broadcast a desired compensation for that service (in any currency), and negotiate a final price to provide the service for. Likewise, consumers may search for available services, propose compensation for those services, and settle on a mutually agreed upon price.

The platform would initially be targeting large entities, such as self-insured employers and major healthcare systems. These parties have the infrastructure and expertise to predict with reasonable accuracy the services they can provide or will consume. Congruence is beneficial for both sides because of its ability to solve the following two issues:

  • 1. Paying providers in advance.
  • 2. Ability to lock-in a price for consumers.

 

Currently, providers spend almost as much time and money getting paid as they do actually providing services. Congruence will allow them to be paid prior to providing a service, making collection much more efficient.

Likewise, large consumers find tremendous value in being able to know costs with certainty. Pre-buying healthcare services allows them to do so, making financial planning much easier.

However, the big-picture value of Congruence is the potential for expansion once the big players are on board. Imagine the following scenario: a large employer buys 30 MRI tokens that are valid for 100 days before expiring. As the expiration date approaches, the employer realizes that they will not be using all of the MRI’s. Having already paid for them, they would like to recoup the as much of the value as possible. Instead of encouraging employees to use healthcare services that they don’t really need, the employer could potentially offload these MRI tokens at a discount to another party (we hope individual consumers eventually!) who needs an MRI before the token expiration date. In this situation, all sides are win. The provider was paid what they believe was a fair price for providing 100 MRI’s, the employer was able to save money by selling off excess MRI’s, and the smaller consumer was able to get an MRI at a price that they could actually afford.

In the United States healthcare system, we have an inefficiency problem and a spending problem. We truly believe a system like Congruence could go a long way to solving these issues. Apparently, others in the Ethereum community agree, as we were selected as one of eight winning teams for the hackathon! After the initial round of judging, we presented to the entire conference during the closing ceremonies.

Some future improvements that will be made to the Congruence platform could encompass: rating systems, staking, proof of service, healthcare asset derivatives, and more! We would love to hear any critiques or suggestions you may have.

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all of the volunteers, organizers, and sponsors who helped make ETHWaterloo possible. It is an experience that I will not soon forget. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions @HashedDan on twitter or via email at dmangum@hashedhealth.com.

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