Ethereal Summit 2018: Five Takeaways

By: Austin Mills and Rachel Neufeld

We recently attended ConsenSys’ Ethereal Summit 2018 in New York. Ethereal was organized around bringing builders, philosophers, policymakers, artists, and humanitarians from around the world together for community building and knowledge sharing around how to create a decentralized future using blockchain technology.

1. Toward a Decentralized Future

Unsurprisingly, the primary theme on display throughout Ethereal was decentralization. Joe Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum and founder of ConsenSys, gave a compelling keynote speech around decentralizing society and commerce in a manner that empowers the individual to take control of their time, data and efforts. Prior to the introduction of blockchain techno logy, trustworthy disintermediated electronic communications and transactions were largely impractical. Now that we have the tools, not only are industries and applications being disrupted, but the entire nature of the “firm” is being reconsidered.

2. Projects are Rapidly Coming Online

A common challenge made to the blockchain and crypto space is the lack of actual real-world use cases relative to the hype. But Ethereal highlighted projects and applications that are already being used in production or that are coming online in the next few months. For example, our client, Civil, is launching a decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism this summer, and a number of independent newsrooms are launching on the platform with it. OpenLaw highlighted their smart contract application that is  being used to create and execute enforceable legal smart contracts today. Viant served attendees at Ethereal sushi made with yellowfin tuna that had been tracked using Viant’s blockchain application from Fiji (where it was caught) to the conference in New York. And these are just a few of the many real-world applications demoed over the Ethereal weekend that are live today or will be in the next few months.

3. The Community is Excited, but also Pragmatic

There was a palpable energy and excitement at Ethereal around everything that is happening. What might have been more of a nervous energy a year or more ago (around whether or not a decentralized future is practical or even doable) has turned into excitement and anticipation about what is actually happening. But the community is also aware of the challenges ahead – such as scaling and decentralized governance, and much of Ethereal focused on the collaborative spirit among projects to learn from each other and to help solve these challenges. And, as highlighted by the following (partially paraphrased) quote from the Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng during an entertaining panel discussion, one of the biggest challenges is public education and adoption of the technology –   – “take what you don’t understand about money, and what you don’t understand about computers, and put them together and you’ve got blockchain.”

4. Innovation Knows No Boundaries

Ethereal highlighted the scope of potential disruption and possibility of this new technology by, among other things, highlighting the number of different industries and areas that are being touched. Artists across all different types of media demonstrated how blockchain is changing art, including by enabling scarce digital art for the first time and allowing creators to take control of their own distribution. Projects being highlighted crossed most major industries: media, supply chain, legal, payments, finance, banking, social media, identity management, energy, software development, accounting, music, gaming, collectibles and data management, and many others.

5. The World is Changing

At Ethereal, people weren’t asking whether blockchain and cryptocurrency would be a world-changing paradigm shift – they were talking about how they are changing the world and how to do it in a manner that is positive for society as a whole. And if you’re still not sold on the world-changing claim, in about a 3-hour period surrounding Joe Lubin’s keynote speech, there was a guided meditation led by Deepak Chopra and an auction for a custom Cryptokitty with a winning bid of $140,000, so something must be changing. We’re excited to be at the forefront of this revolution.