It’s been almost four weeks since the end of Devcon V, and it’s safe to say I’m still adjusting back to normal life stateside after an amazing experience in Osaka. While I’ve finally recovered from the 14-hour time difference, I am still thinking about all of the incredible people I met, informative presentations I attended, and thought-provoking conversations I experienced in those 4 days.
Some of you may be wondering who I am and why this post is featured here. For background, my name is Porter Geer, and I am an intern this semester at Hashed Health. I’m vetting the role of blockchain and supporting research for social determinants of health use cases, while also working with Professional Credentials Exchange (ProCredEx) as the design partnership program ramps up.I developed an interest in blockchain technology in the last year or so, and found myself at Hashed Health this fall eager to continue diving into the blockchain ecosystem. Enter Devcon V, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Now, I’m back in Nashville and am excited to report back on this amazing experience.
I arrived in Osaka on October 6th eager to begin the week at the world’s largest annual event for blockchain, at what some would call an Ethereum community “family reunion”. DevCon V ran October 8th through 11th, gathered 3,000 attendees, and was jam packed with presenters, lightning speakers, workshops, and breakout sessions. As DevCon is put on by the Ethereum Foundation, many of the events were highly technical, and much of the conference was dedicated to open discussion and presentations on the Ethereum Road Map, Eth2.0, infrastructure, scalability and security, and DApps. Sprinkled in the mix were showcases of companies and the work they’re doing with blockchain, use case examples, and social impact presentations. While neither an engineer nor a developer, there was still a great deal I was able to learn from even the most technical of discussions, because almost every single event came back to the core struggles with, but also the purpose of, Ethereum and blockchain technologies as a whole.
The star of the week was easily Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, who delivered a keynote address on day 2 of DevCon V to a conference hall filled to the brim. In his keynote, Buterin, who focused a lot of the discussion on the progression and development of Eth2.0, explained that after the proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus algorithm is implemented in Ethereum’s blockchain, it would become more secure and costly to attack than Bitcoin. Buterin stated, “What about attackers who have a really large, extra protocol incentive, or just want to watch the world burn? Could be a government. Or hackers that want to have some fun. The critique here says we’re assuming we have these participants motivated by economic incentives. What if there are people who just want to break the thing regardless?” The current implementation of Ethereum is built on Proof of Work, wherein the network is stabilized by hashrate, or computing power. With Proof of Work, an attack on the network requires 51% of the network to act maliciously in order for the network to be compromised. The new Proof of Stake would involve Ether being locked in smart contracts to validate new blocks; the stake, or locked coins, would be slashed if the stakers act up. Proof of Stake is inherently more secure than the Proof of Work. In Proof of State there’s a period of time after a block is validated in which it can be challenged by others. If a validator is dishonest and cannot prove that the data is not malicious, his stake would be taken away. Overall, a successful attack on the network will require a substantial amount of ether, and even then, if an attacker is continuously challenged and proven malicious his stake will be taken. Over time the attacker will not have a sufficient stake of ether to compromise the network.
Other prominent members of the Ethereum community who were in attendance included “Bitcoin Jesus” and angel investor Roger Ver, Joseph Lubin of Consensys, and Summa co-founder James Prestwich.
With upwards of 60 events each day, it’s impossible to recap on everything that I was able to experience. Below, I have discussed a few presentations and events that I attended while at DevCon which I found particularly interesting, relevant, or thought-provoking. To see a list of the full agenda and speaker biographies, please click here.
“What do we do about Libra?”
In recent months, lots of talk has been circulating about Libra, Facebook’s cryptocurrency, and Devcon was no exception. Lucas Geiger of Wireline gave a talk entitled “What do we do about Libra?” in which he discussed key background information, such as the fact that Libra is incredibly attractive to people in countries and/or under governments with either corrupt or poor financial and economic systems, and brought up big questions like if Libra is too big to fail. Geiger used his platform to introduce Open Libra during his presentation, an “alternative to Facebook’s Libra, that places emphasis on open governance and economic decentralization.” Like most blockchain projects, Geiger emphasized that governance will be the biggest focus moving forward. His big point? That he thinks Libra will inherit the legacy of bitcoin and smart contracts, but challenges us to ask ourselves if we’re going to keep doing the same thing with new tools. Check out www.github.com/open-libra/movemint for more information.
We Come in Peace: Why VC Matters to Ethereum (and vice versa)
Jehan Chu of Kenetic Capital presented on day 2 of DevCon on the place of venture capital in the Ethereum community. Chu discusses how “Ethereum has achieved incredible technical innovation and user growth, forging a new path of user-based funding and open governance that has impacted the fundraising landscape” without the assistance of venture capital. This talk raised the question of whether the cultural and decentralization mission risks of engaging VC’s and large institutional holders of Eth outweigh the potential benefits that VC’s could provide. Chu emphasizes that the old model of venture capital needs to be updated to fit today’s focus on decentralization, and that the common ground between VC’s and key players in the Ethereum space is the belief in the mission and the project, as many within the VC space have been long term holders and maintain long term interest. VC’s, he argues, are really good at building stories and relationships which could be leveraged by this technology. The question, then, is how can we improve venture capital in the age of decentralization. His answer? By helping to grow the communities, and not just allocating, but participating as well.
Living on Defi: How I Survive Argentina’s 50% Inflation
Mariano Conti, the head of Smart Contracts at MakerDAO, lives in Argentina and is paid entirely in Dai. The goal of his presentation was to display how Ethereum’s DeFi movement has changed the financial reality for individuals in developing economies by leveraging Dai and secondary lending platforms. Conti highlights that those in Argentina and other parts of South America who are paid in crypto are able to access more stable currencies than their local ones, with better interest rates. The access to these kinds of systems are necessary due to the fact that there is corruption among governments and local financial institutions, limited access to foreign currencies, and extreme and fluctuating inflation. There is such a great risk in holding onto physical cash in Argentina that Conti believes the risk from interest on DAI to be lesser. Conti argues that if people truly want to see the impact that crypto can have, then they should look south to those like himself and to communities like Argentina. His big call for help lay in the fact that Dai is a stable form of Ether, and so a strong Eth inherently equals a strong Dai. The stability of Dai, in turn, relies on the Ethereum community.
Money At The Edge: How People Stay Afloat in Venezuela
Humming similar tunes to Mariano Conti, Alejandro Machado of Open Money Initiative (OMI) presented on the effects of crypto for the financial situation of individuals in Venezuela. OMI researches how people use money in collapsing economic systems, specifically within Venezuela to understand how citizens survive in the midst of heavy capital controls, criminalization of free markets, and hyperinflation. Machado shared various stories of the Bolivar being used to create art and home goods and of individuals fighting to save exclusively in bitcoin and only use local currency in dire situations. He discussed the effects of the Venezuelan government’s tight grip on society, particularly that Venezuelan banks are not permitted to interact with banks outside of the country, making money exchanges feel shady and like “drug deals”. Similar to Argentina, hyperinflation and the fluctuating nature of the currency is extremely dangerous for those living in these countries. Yet Machado sees an opportunity in learning how to leverage trust instead of avoiding having trust. The key takeaway for builders will be making products that are not just usable but are useful, and products that (some) people really need, rather than looking to fit mass adoption. Check out @makeopenmoney for more information.
Joseph Lubin’s DevCon Call-to-Action: OneMillionDevs.com
Consenys’ Joseph Lubin praised the success the Ethereum ecosystem has had in the last year with respect to core development, adoption, defi, and improving scalability. As evidenced by the thousands of eager individuals present at DevCon, the main advantage that Ethereum holds in the blockchain sphere is its community, specifically those developers that are dedicated to grow and build the network. Lubin’s talk discussed the state of development on the Ethereum blockchain and set some benchmarks for the next year but the biggest part of his presentation was the proposition of a common goal: “When 1 Million ETH Devs?” Lubin’s call to action to grow the Ethereum developer community will be offset by the OneMillionDevs initiative, intended to inspire one million blockchain developers, technologists, and hackers to see how they can contribute to writing smart contracts and developing applications on the Ethereum network.With an estimated 30 million software developers worldwide, the number of blockchain developers is much lower at only several hundred thousand. The largest part of this community develop on Ethereum, and Lubin urged these individuals to grow Ethereum’s “mindshare” to one million within the next year.
Coming into DevCon on my own as a student with little background in the technical workings of Ethereum was intimidating, but coming out on the other side I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and grow in such a unique environment. While there was little discussion at the conference that directly concerned the healthcare practice, there were many lessons that could be taken home with me to Hashed Health. The following are four things I took home with me from DevCon V:
1. Importance of effectively educating the target market.
Blockchain technology as a whole can be intimidating because of its apparent complexity. From increasing the amount of people who exchange cryptocurrencies to connecting different players in the healthcare field to consortia, it has never been more important to educate our target audiences. By itself, blockchain technology serves little purpose; it is when it is connected to suppliers and consumers of a service that it becomes a business. It is incredibly important to recognize the role customers and other audiences play in maintaining these businesses, and as such those who develop and work on blockchain products must know how to effectively connect the technology to business and communicate it in such a way that makes it accessible, appealing, and approachable for customers. Otherwise, organizations risk falling into a stalemate. Flipside Crypto put it well in stating, “As the crypto market matures, so does the requirement to understand customers, drivers of revenue, and measures of success.”
2. Collaboration is key.
As I conduct my research here at Hashed Health around use cases for blockchain and social determinants of health data, I couldn’t help but be struck by UNICEF’s DevCon presentation on bringing broadband connectivity to all schools. The potential to use crypto donations to connect to local internet service providers and bring internet access to underserved institutions is huge. What lessons and inspiration can be drawn from their work in this area that will be valuable to connecting hospital patients with SDOH indicators to the appropriate social resources? What would happen if we all became more collaborative with our solutions and looked into other areas they could easily apply or be better suited to serve? What’s more, as Lubin noted in his challenge to reach 1 million developers, the number of blockchain developers is low relative to overall software developers. What greater success and development would be possible of thousands more dedicated minds were involved in this community? As great minds are drawn in, the strength and volume of the ideas will lead to more successful products and shorter production times.
3. Iteration is inherent to development.
Just as DevCon attendees indicated understanding that Ethereum as it was originally built is not scalable and requires reworking, so should those in the blockchain and healthcare arena. It was clear from every presentation that I attended that those in the Ethereum community have committed themselves to working towards better versions of the technology they’re building. In fact, even the nature of the discussions themselves, which allowed for many differing opinions to speak up, were great examples of the iterative process Ethereum is undergoing. The same can be said for any modern technology – likely these technologies have gone through multiple stages of development, and their capacities continue to grow and evolve with feedback and iteration. It is understanding that if blockchain manifests something different than what was written in the original white paper, that doesn’t make it a scam, but rather should be welcomed. As we focus on the role of blockchain in healthcare, the same can be said for the products, systems, and consortia we’re trying to develop – how can this new technologies allow us to approach and address old and previously unsolvable problems.
4. Passionate, creative, rule breakers create change.
If there’s one thing that stuck out to me more than anything at DevCon, it was the energy, dedication, and commitment to Ethereum that radiated out of every room in the ATC Conference Hall. Regardless of how you or I feel about Ethereum and its champions, there’s no question that there is innovation in the air. It is important that we continue to question existing systems and develop the unconventional. The work we’re doing at Hashed Health is the perfect example of this – we’re taking a 50 year-old, slow, expensive process and creating an entirely new way to exchange information in a marketplace. Change occurs when rules are broken. I encourage the community to continue to push boundaries and do something no one’s ever done before, regardless of the resistance that may exist at first.
Porter is a senior at Vanderbilt University, studying Human & Organizational Development and French. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.