The revolution may not be televised, but it will, evidently, be on the blockchain.
At last weekend’s Ethereal Summit, a two-day conference organized by blockchain software development company Consensys, every blockchain project pitch I heard described their work as being revolutionary. There is a blockchain revolution coming in the way visual artists collaborate on and sell their work; the blockchain is revolutionizing Saudi Arabia’s oil economy; distributed ledgers are revolutionizing the way musicians form bands; the way we consume sushi is being… revolutionized.
That “revolution” seemed to be the Ethereal Summit’s buzzword du jour was interesting. On the one hand, revolution connotes a major upheaval, a disruption of the natural order of things. Given our history, Americans tend to equate revolution with progress and an escape from oppression, even though many other revolutions ended in brutal dictatorships. A revolution is also a technical term to describe rotation around a fixed axis. In this latter case, every revolution brings you right back to where you started. It was often hard to tell which usage was being employed by the self-described revolutionaries at the summit, a $1,200 per person affair hosted at an art space in Brooklyn.
Consensys is a multinational company founded by Joseph Lubin, a co-creator of Ethereum whose early investment in the native Ethereum token, ether, made him a billionaire. Consensys now has over 800 employees and nearly every company at the summit was affiliated with Consensys in some form, either as one of the company’s “spokes” (startups it incubates) or in some advisory role. In this respect, Consensys is something like a Ycombinator of the cryptocurrency world—the company throws its support behind the blockchain-based ideas it thinks has the best chance of succeeding, which has led it to collaborate and invest in everything from music distribution to asteroid mining.
The Ethereal Summit is first and foremost an industry event, but it also fosters creative ambitions related to the blockchain and included a number of art installations as well as an auction that saw a C ryptokitty sell for $140,000 USD worth of ether. New Age huckster Deepak Chopra was also there to offer guided meditations in the courtyard. No one—including Lubin himself—could explain Chopra’s presence. “I think he reached out to us about coming,” Lubin told me when I asked him.
Nevertheless, Chopra’s attendance was fitting. Chopra has made a name for himself by combining spiritual guidance with buzzwords like “quantum,” much to the ire of actual scientists who have made a point of calling out Chopra on his misuse of scientific concepts. Yet this mishmash of hype and science is undoubtedly familiar to anyone working on distributed databases, a field where the term “blockchain” has been diluted to the point of near meaninglessness. The only thing that was missing from the conference, as far as I was concerned, was a bar serving Long Island Iced Tea.
Here’s a visual tour of the second New York Ethereal Summit. If its attendees are right, it’s also a glimpse of the future.
Eva Kaili is a member of the European Parliament representing Greece’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement. She spoke at the Ethereal Summit about how the European Union is approaching blockchain regulation.
Viant is a Consensys spoke that wants to make supply chains less opaque. They are working with fishermen in the Phillipines to track fish from catch to the table by using RFID tags to register each fish on the Ethereum blockchain.
Image: Daniel Oberhaus/Motherboard
After a short film on this process, guests were served sushi that had been tracked on the Ethereum blockchain.
This Cryptokitty was made specially for the Ethereal Summit and it sold at auction for $140,000 USD.
The auction was organized by the Codex Protocol and proceeds will be used by the newly established Foundation for Art and Blockchain to fund further blockchain-based art projects.
“HODLism: An Initial Soul Offering” is an interactive art installation in which users type a prayer to “Father Satoshi” into a terminal. This prayer is converted into a private key, which is then used to try to open the real Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin wallet, which is thought to contain over one million bitcoins.
The HODLism alter featured Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and an image of Dorian Nakamoto, a Japanese man that was mistakenly believed to be the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto that created Bitcoin.
The HODLism terminal, where users can enter their prayer to Satoshi.
This exhibit showcased old school physical software packages.
Instead of containing the latest version of Windows, these software packages were designed for a variety of cryptojacking malware like WannaMine, which take advantage of NSA exploits to mine cryptocurrency on unsuspecting users’ computers.
Ethereal Summit attendees could take a break from it all by participating in guided meditations in the court yard. The last meditation on Saturday was led by Deepak Chopra.
An artist paints a work for Cellarius, a “transmedia cyberpunk franchise that leverages blockchain technology and user-generated assets to create a collaborative, fan-curated story.”
Aya Miyaguchi, the executive director of the Ethereum Foundation gave a talk on “Why I Care About Ethereum and You Should Too”