Blocksburg Summit sets the stage for thought-provoking discourse
“Be curious. Feel provoked. Get talking. Have fun.”
These were the ground rules Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for innovation and partnerships, issued during her welcome remarks at the Blocksburg Summit: Blockchain and Beyond that drew more than 160 participants to Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus on Nov. 10-12.
A video message from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner set the tone for the program, forecasting the potential revolutionary effects of blockchain technology in the same way the cell phone changed the world. "Now I believe blockchain has the potential to be an equally disruptive technology, challenging how information is stored and accessed," said Warner.
Two fireside chats illuminated the first morning of the summit, moderated by CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, senior national correspondent and anchor of "Worldwide Exchange," and ’93 political science alumnus.
“Human relationships matter more now in the digital age than they did in the past," said Sullivan, echoing Salmon's sentiments about the value of being in a room together. "I would tell any new member of my team at CNBC that one phone call is worth 50 emails and one handshake is worth 50 phone calls.”
Setting the stage to fuel curiosity, Sullivan and Block.one Chief Executive Officer Brendan Blumer covered a lot of topics, including his role as "custodian" of Block.one, expanding the use cases of blockchain technology, and finding a happy medium with regards to all the blockchain stakeholders.
When Sullivan asked about how he hopes to be remembered in 20 years, Blumer said, “My hope is that what we as an organization are remembered for is having expanded the use case of blockchain technology and been good custodians for its development.”
He further elaborated about subscribing to a much more balanced view of blockchain as it works toward more systemic adoption. "It's finding that healthy middle ground that meets the constraints of all parties involved; that’s regulators, governments, big business, and entrepreneurs," Blumer said. " The rules are materializing. There is more guidance today than yesterday, and as we move into our next product, Voice [a blockchain-based social media application designed with users of the platform in mind], we have a better understanding of what we need to do."
A second fireside chat with Securities Exchange Commission Commissioner (SEC) Hester Peirce, opened the conversation to discuss regulations of technology.
“I worry about what happens to innovation when people are always thinking what does the regulator think about what we are doing," said Peirce. "And again, this is not an argument for us to get rid of the regulatory framework, but it is a worry to me that regulation is such a big feature in all of these discussions about this industry and about the technology.
"What we need to do is we need to do a better job of opening up our regulations so that we are not making predictions about which technology might or might not succeed; we're not picking winners and losers. We have a lot of work to do on that front, and that is one of the things that when I came to the SEC that I was hoping I could push forward a little bit and really help us to think a little more in a healthy fashion about innovation."
Four panel discussions brought together entrepreneurs and industry blockchain leaders highlighted both days of the summit. In addition, the audience heard from four plenary enterprise presenters, including John Fields, product manager, developer portal and emerging technologies for Capital One, who commented that, "We are evolving as a society, where the people hold the government accountable."
A common theme shared by panel members was the importance of immutability, in that data in the blockchain cannot be altered.
“I’m very passionate in the blockchain field," said Shaadi Jahanbakhsh-Tehran, a graduate student from Mount St. Mary’s University, Maryland. "I’m studying for my M.B.A. with a focus in logistics and supply chain management, so I like the concept of blockchain tying in with supply chains. So that’s why I’m here, to learn more."
Student teams from Computer Science Professor Kirk Cameron’s course shared demos and highlights of their final project submissions as part of the Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge Finale, a campus-wide programming contest, during dinner on Monday evening. He is one of the first faculty members at Virginia Tech to teach a blockchain technology capstone course, held in the Spring 2019 semester.
Chief Technology Officer for Block.one Dan Larimer, '03 computer science alumnus, delivered the final presentation of the summit. He and Blumer met in Blacksburg on several occasions to conceive and design the EOSIO platform, a free, open-source protocol that was released in June 2018.
"I found blockchain because I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make the world a better place," said Larimer.
"I set out my mission, which I have said over and over again, is to find free market voluntary solutions for securing our life, our liberty, our property, and ensuring justice for everyone. That mission is bigger than blockchain. Blockchain is a tool; it's a very powerful tool. If we focus on the technology of blockchain too much, we lose sight of the bigger purpose, and the bigger purpose is what causes us to get up in the morning."