Takeaways from the Necker Island Block Chain Summit

Last week Consumers’ Research had the privilege of sending Director of Operations Kyle Burgess to represent CR, and in turn, consumers, at the Block Chain Summit on Necker Island. The summit, hosted by Bitfury and Mai Tai Global on Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean, was marketed as a gathering of “top thinkers in the world of blockchain, digital currency and bitcoin to help define the future” through a “set of intimate discussions highlighting critical issues and solutions and to lay out the framework for a world where humankind is fully benefiting from the amazing technology behind the Blockchain.” Lofty goals indeed, but there was a lot of “real talk” at the summit which certainly laid the foundation for such a framework to be achieved.

Summit attendees included many of the “usual suspects” found at bitcoin events (such as tech wizzes, entrepreneurs, legal minds, and venture capitalists); however, there was a concerted effort on the part of the organizers to include voices that would steer the focus of the summit toward a dialogue that aimed to resolve the hurdle of achieving mass adoption of blockchain technology by identifying ways it can and does solve the real problems of real people.

The summit’s moderators included Hernando de Soto of ILD and Matthew Bishop of The Economist, both with notable but blockchain-free backgrounds in economics, as well as Michael J. Casey, a WSJ senior columnist who has written a book explaining digital currency, blockchain technology, and where it’s all headed. Several participants represented more mainstream consumer interests and perspectives, including a former Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, the former head of IBM’s global electronics industry services organization, Consumer’s Research (obviously), and a Virgin Galactic rocket scientist for good measure.

With recent headlines like “Nasdaq will start using Bitcoin technology” and “USAA creates research team to study use of bitcoin technology” and “IBM looking at adopting bitcoin technology for major currencies” featured by mainstream news sources, it is only a matter of time before bitcoin is not only taken seriously as a legitimate store of value, medium of (secure) transfer, and proof of “x,” but is adopted by “major players” (corporate and even government) across the globe as the new set of rails on which commerce is conducted.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from the summit:

  • Many of the industry leaders emphasized the importance of shifting the conversation away from what bitcoin is and how the blockchain works to how these technologies can solve problems.
  • Despite the distributed nature of blockchain technology, industry leaders stressed the importance of the blockchain community having a more cohesive voice and to coordinate its efforts in terms of representing these technologies to those outside the community – including consumers, regulators, policy makers, legacy financial institutions, etc.
  • Participants emphasized the value of having organizations and individuals who are not “interested parties” involved in discussions like this, because they do not have a financial stake in the outcomes of regulation or lobbying efforts on behalf of bitcoin and the blockchain and lend greater legitimacy to such conversations.
  • The blockchain’s ability to address the issue of identity in an innovative and secure way will likely be one of the first blockchain use cases to achieve genuine legitimacy and recognition from outside the bitcoin/blockchain community.
  • The blockchain can address the principal-agent problem and give power back to the principle, as exclusion from the system is a fundamental flaw in the developing world. However, incentives for governments adoption of blockchain technology will have to be address first if it’s going to have teeth.
  • Governments are concerned with bitcoin/blockchain regulation, but they are also interested in the utility of blockchain technology.
  • There is an expressed need from both inside and outside the blockchain community to improve diversity.
  • It’s important not to overlook the fact that, while Bitcoin has a lot of potential uses, it is a settlement technology.
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Kyle Burgess is the co-founder of two social enterprises and has worked in strategy, communications, and program management for a decade. Kyle received her Master’s degree in International Relations & Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and her Bachelor's degree in Political Science from American University.

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