Charles Hoskinson recently participated in a panel discussion titled “Mass Influence and Adoption of Blockchain Technology” at Blockchain Futurist Conference 2018 in Toronto, Canada. The panel was moderated by Larry King, and Charles joined Justin Wu (advisor of Gear Blockchain), Al Burgio (CEO of Digital Bits), & Matthew Roszak (Co-Founder of Bloq) on the selected panel.
Larry King is an American television and radio host, best known for the 25 years hosting Larry King Live on CNN. But he has been in the business for much longer, noting in the panel discussion that he started 61 years ago in 1957. During this time, he lived through the “technology burst” and though he has not changed what he is doing (conducting interviews), the means of transmission and how it’s done has changed tremendously over time due to technological advances.
In the following summary post, we have pulled a few notable questions and a summary of answers provided by Charles. You can watch the full panel discussion here.
What is blockchain? (Jump to question in video)
The first question to arise was ‘what is blockchain?’ Charles answers this question by saying; “the easiest way to understand blockchain is to look at it as a natural continuation of the Internet”. He relates it to when he was a child going to the library to check out books and carrying them home. It would take time, effort and money to move information. Then, the Internet comes out and information moved instantaneously anywhere, for free. And so…what else can be moved for free in such a way?
It turns out money and finance are expensive and heavy systems. For example, sending a wire transfer takes days and money to complete. In the age where you can send an email to anyone in the world, why can’t you send money? Thus, the idea of digital money was sparked. For the blockchain side, it was also saying, “if we’re going to digitize these things and make it move it fast, then it is probably a bad idea to centralize control to one party”. This is because whoever controls this system is going to be too big to fail and will cause other problems, so blockchain looked to decentralize and have everybody control it.
What do you think about the major impediments to awareness and understanding of the technology – is this going to be tough to grasp? (Jump to question in video)
It depends on how you view innovation. There are a lot of things that have profoundly changed our lives but gradually ‘crept’ up on us. Charles explains the example of video conferencing. In the 1970’s, he would see it in movies and it would seem so futuristic. Now, it is integrated into everything from our phones, Skype, Facebook Messenger and so on. But he notes, there is no specific moment you can think of that you can say everyone switched over to video messaging. It actually worked its way in gradually.
Parts of our industry look like that – we will gradually roll into consumer products and we’ll feel the symptoms of this. Transactions will become faster, wire transfers will become cheaper, credit and insurance will be more competitive so your loans are cheaper, etc. While on the other parts, which are utterly transformative, it will take more time to get through. That has to do with financial inclusion. You can break the world into 2 parts: 4 billion people who live in pretty good economies in terms of access to financial services (ie. they can get a bank account, can get a loan, buy a car). But there are 3 billion people who have a hard time getting bank accounts - we called them “unbanked”. And as a consequence, they pay 85% interest on loans or 15% when people send money. For these people, this innovation means they will go from paper to a digital life, whereby they can get an identity and for the first time ever, can start doing business on a global scale as opposed to local scale.
Is this technology going to be slower to accept than previous innovations? (Jump to question in video)
As with all things, adoption is sporadic and asymmetrical. Charles relates this to his own parents who got their first smartphones this year, despite being academics and the technology being readily available.
He states that you have to ask yourself which groups of people you are trying to solve problems for. There is a legitimate argument that this technology could never be a consumer friendly ecosystem and that it will be something for governments, enterprises, the businesses. Take for example, IBM and Maersk, who have put together a 94-company consortium, in order to model global logistics and supply chain. Their main goal is to try and monitor where all the shipping crates are around the entire world. As a consumer, we don’t care about that and never would but still, this would have tremendous value to society.
The hard part of the value proposition of Bitcoin is it takes a lot of things that we take for granted, such as ease of use and consumerization. If your credit card gets stolen, there is a number you can call to resolve this problem. But with blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, you actually take that way and do not have a ‘safety blanket’. You are in total control of your own financial domain, so if you screw up, there is no one you can call to bail you out. For a segment of the population, this concept is awesome, while for others this is hell. Charles notes that the segment of the population who would consider this hell is probably larger.
When people ask what business are you in, how do you reply? (Jump to question in video)
Charles answers “science and technology”. He talks on about IOHK which is unique in that its much like DARPA as it is like an engineering firm like Boeing. On the research side, IOHK try to understand what the science of the space needs to look like. They have labs in universities around the world such as Edinburgh and Tokyo Institute of Technology. And they study aspects like cryptography, law and policy, and game theory. The reality is that we are building a bunch of capabilities and these are going to transform society, but it is not clear to people how it is going to change society and what we need to do for this change to happen. That is where the engineering side kicks in. IOHK looks at how to build a system that will be functional for 7 billion people around the world and how to go from science to reality.
What do you think Steve Jobs would say if he was watching this panel? (Jump to question in video)
Charles takes on this question and starts by giving a brief introduction on Steve Jobs and how he had an amazing ability to understand market structure. One thing that always bothered Steve is that people would only focus on one thing, instead of the whole picture. He cared about the inside of the product, as well as the outside, and he cared about how it made you feel beyond what the product was actually capable of.
For the crypto-space, Charles talks about how if you were to strip away the jargon that currently exists, it would become a word salad of meaningless. Charles compares this to the computer industry in the 1980’s and how beyond the technical jargon and buzzwords, it was more about what it actually is and how it can be used to connect people.
Charles thinks that if Steve Jobs were still alive, he would probably see tremendous market opportunity in that we haven’t directly connected this space to experiences and feelings and we are still missing that human element. Steve would see a business opportunity for Apple and he would probably find a way to integrate these types into his business. On the enterprise side, he has one of the largest supply chains in the world. It moves hundreds of millions of products every month, all of which has to be tracked. Blockchain technology can definitely be implemented into this.
Beyond this, Steve Jobs could also look at how this technology can this be used to change the financial lives of people. Charles shares that Steve was actually involved in a lot of social questions and cared a lot about Financial Inclusion. Financial inclusion was one of the things he discussed about the iPhone – that once you have computation in this democratic way, available in everybody’s hands, then you are eventually going to put a bank in everyone’s hands. Blockchain technology is merely a continuation on that.
What is a “wow” that is coming? (Jump to question in video)
Charles tells the conference attendees how he read a story of a fellow in Canada who created a 3D printer, which by using vegetable oil and common ingredients, was able to print drugs like Tylenol or aspirin. It is incredible to think that you can ‘download’ drugs like software and that molecular engineering exists to that scale where you can go to the Internet, click a button and print a pill. The point is, the world is going from physical to digital and we are now living in a digital world, where drugs and structures can be printed. And this is all information accessible at our fingertips. And of course, that also means that the systems that control this information are going to be the systems that have the biggest influence on our lives.