The first thing you notice when you get to Consensus – quite possibly the largest blockchain conference – is the number of suits. We are at the “turning point from an idealized technology to something that became real”. Hundreds of people from all over the world come to the Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square to share their visions of the decentralized future. Unlike most crypto conferences, however, the presence of Fortune 500 corporations was hard to miss: banners spouting IBM take up an entire columns; entire walls brandishing DELOITTE. Even the wifi password was being used to advertise the new Brave Browser, but more on that later.
It is impossible to see everything at Consensus, so this article is just a sample of the many technologies coming to fruition. The general feel was that the corporations were no longer just toying with the idea of blockchain, but moving forward with implementing these trustless ledgers for many of the tasks that require an insane amount of database coordination between parties. Private blockchains for tracking the movement of items in a supply chain, and the ledgers between banks, are already emerging. Not once was the question raised of whether or not private blockchains defeat the intended purpose of this technology, but at the very least money is pouring into these decentralized systems.
The Ethereum Enterprise Alliance announced a ton of new high profile partnerships that will surely build out the foundation for the Etheric eco-system, including Deloitte, Toyota, and Samsung. The announcement is a major reason why Ethereum’s value skyrocketed. During much of the week the Alliance showcased what they were working on but they seemed mostly focused on financial services at this point.
One of the panels on cross-border payments confirmed that the financial industry is furthest along on blockchain adoption. Many firms have seen the value of a ledger that can be shared between businesses, especially with “Complex business processes that involve multiple parties”. SWIFT, the agency responsible for most international payment transfers, is exploring blockchain technology and their representative said that “Central bank backed cryptocurrency is being worked on”. Smaller payment outfits such as Veem and BitPesa have already incorporated blockchains into their systems. To an end user, there is often little evidence of a blockchain powering the transactions, besides perhaps more information being available that flows along with the transaction.
Some bright minds from the Decentralized Identity Foundation spoke on the problem of creating an identity protocol. They understand the importance of identity being decentralized, so that no single organization can maintain control over one’s identity. Eventually “each user creates their own identity core”, to which they can then attach reputations (perhaps from eBay or AirBnB or their decentralized successors) and recommendations (from friends, employers, etc). The right for users to modify, export, and delete their own data is being mandated by 2018 in the EU, and this is providing fuel towards building up these technologies.
The healthcare panel was optimistic that blockchains will reduce a lot of the pain points in the current system. They pointed to evidence that nearly 30 percent of all medical tests are re-ordered because they either get lost in the system between doctors, or there is simply mistrust between professionals. A blockchain based system where the patients are truly in control of their data is believed to eliminate this problem, as well as removing the dance between healthcare providers and insurance companies about payment.
As the conference winded down, a smattering of crypto-enthusiasts reflected on what had just happened. One attendee felt that the conference was “in many ways a step backwards” due to the focus on private blockchains and corporate interests. A ton of projects were on display, but “not many interesting ones”. He continued, speaking for many when he said that he was “expecting some nerdy looking people… but it was all suits”. The actual depth of the panels was also criticized, as one attendee put it who was “hoping to get more information [but] found it to be watered down”.
The tension between the crypto-enthusiasts and the corporations remains to be resolved. The partnerships seem to be symbiotic as early adopters are growing wealthy, permitting them to focus on ethical systems, as corporate money flows into the eco-systems. Some venture capital firms are even focusing on investing into blockchain networks that are tied to real value, so called “fat networks”, such as Ethereum and Storj. Whether or not blockchains will truly disrupt the existing social structures, or will simply provide a means for governments and corporations to further consolidate their power, remains to be seen.
 Michael Kleinstuber, Citi Bank
 Harry Newman, SWIFT
 Tuur DeMeester
 Tone Vays
 Albert Wenger, Union Square Ventures
Picture from Wikimedia Commons.