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Bitcoin ‘Illuminati’ Envision Far-Reaching Possibilities at Branson’s Necker Island Summit

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:49 PM
Lester Coleman
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:49 PM

Blockchain technology could bring $20 trillion worth of capital into the world economy and help lift people out of poverty, according to a plan by economist Hernando de Soto and Peruvian presidential candidate Keilo Fujimori. Their videoconferenced presentation was one of many highlights of Sir Richard Branson’s second annual Blockchain Summit on Necker Island, which recently hosted 40 bitcoin “Illuminati,” according to Forbes .

The Forbes article was written by Laura Shin, the author of the eBook, “The Millennial Game Plan,” and co-author of “Money Hacks.” Shin attended the event, and disclosed that she owns a small amount of bitcoin.

This year’s gathering differed from last year’s in that the attendees included a diverse group ranging from authors, musicians, government officials, scientists and entrepreneurs. Last year’s inaugural event was more tech- and startup-focused.

A Diverse Attendee List

The attendees included an aerospace engineer, a musician, a derivatives specialist, the founder of a Chinese fintech museum, and former Pentagon and CIA and Department of Homeland Security officials. Sponsors included MaiTai Global, a non-profit event organizers, and BitFury Group, a bitcoin blockchain services and chip manufacturing provider and miner.

De Soto has long advocated using the blockchain to provide land titles to allow people in certain countries to build credit from resources on their land. In Peru, a better-organized system for managing land titles would alleviate the poverty of people living in shantytowns, people who represent 70% of the country’s population. The poor have no running water since piping water requires knowing who is responsible for the water bill, which requires having a land title.

Another problem it would alleviate is the rapes that occur when women have to go to outdoor bathrooms at night since there is no electricity.

De Soto said people from 43 European political parties have asked him how his plan could help address the migration caused by terrorism. He noted people don’t realize ISIS protects poor peoples’ homes. He noted that technology can counter poverty and violence in a way people can understand.

Business Mixed With Pleasure

Prior to the presentation by De Soto and Fujimori, the summit attendees spent two and a half days snorkeling, kite surfing, watching tennis matches, attending a concert by technologist/cellist Zoe Keating, and dipping in the hot tub. There were also references to “blockchain babies” that referred to startups that came out of last year’s gathering, such as Bloq, the blockchain company started by Matt Roszak and Jeff Garzik.

Blockchain Summit 2016

One of the most engaging exchanges occurred when Jamie Smith, global chief communications officer at BitFury, challenged the group for ways to describe the blockchain. This was a fitting question given the diverse makeup of this year’s gathering.

Much of the conversation focused on spreading the technology’s passion beyond existing adherents.

Global Blockchain Council Announced

BitFury announced the Global Blockchain Council to help companies adopting blockchain technology by offering a forum for innovation and collaboration. The council will work with the Chamber of Digital Commerce. In April, the chamber announced the Global Blockchain Forum to guide global blockchain policy.

Challenged to describe bitcoin blockchain security in two minutes, one entrepreneur got teased for using terms like “merkle trees” and “petahashes.”

Smith asked attendees to describe blockchain in 30 seconds or less, drawing responses about “galaxy of computers,” “ledger” and the efficient and secure movement of assets. Respondents offered terms like “censorship resistance,” “freedom” and “trust.

Blockchain Poetry

A poem to explain blockchain went as follows: “In blockchain we trust, people trusting people, moving goods and services verifiably and reliably.” Karen McArthur, an attorney who advises Canadian venture capital firms, added: “From the bottom up.”

Messaging issues came up for discussion, such as the appropriateness of explaining blockchain without mention bitcoin. Kathryn Haun, an assistant U.S. attorney and U.S. Department of Justice digital currency coordinator and Stanford Law School lecturer on digital currencies, advocated pointing out that criminals use all kinds of great technology, including the Internet, in addition to bitcoin.

Bill Tai, co-founder of MaiTai Global, discussed the trajectory of his career in the Sunday morning opening session. Noting five technology waves starting with chips, moving to PCs, the Internet, mobile interfaces and data science, he envisions a sixth wave of marketplaces enabling asset movement. He noted the need for technology layers to build upon blockchain code to develop interfaces equivalent to technologies that made the Internet ubiquitous.

Regulatory Challenges Addressed

Vinny Lingham, co-founder of the blockchain-based technology company Civic, wondered about how to work with the government given how long it takes the government to act. The federal officials in attendance noted that the government is cultivating startups and said it is best for companies to start with ground-level managers who might benefit from blockchain in their own work.

Alex Tapscott, co-author of “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World,” described how blockchain can support financial inclusion. This led to a discussion on the cost of remittance services. One attendee said she pays $30 to send $100 to Jamaica.

Elizabeth Rossiello, CEO of BitPesa, the sub-Saharan African foreign exchange and payments company, said traditional remittance providers offer near monopolies in certain countries.

Also read: Bitland blockchain initiative seeks to create reliable land titles in Africa

Personal Empowerment

Brian Forde, the MIT Media Lab director of digital currency, discussed how personally empowering the blockchain can be. He said people who rely on companies to manage property don’t actually control it. A resale site sold tickets to a Lakers game but took them back when Kobe Bryant announced it was his last game, raising the prices by 664%. A blockchain-based ticket resale site would have allowed the purchaser to remove the tickets from the site’s possession.

During a fintech panel, a regulation debate ensued. Lingham said regulations are not needed for databases, a position that placed him at odds with regulators in the room.

Marietje Schaake, a European Parliament member, said citizens cannot use blockchain identity to claim their pensions if a state does not recognize it.

Blockchain As A Security Tool

In two security-focused panels, a lead prosecutor who investigated government agents who stole bitcoin during an investigation said the blockchain made it possible for her to do her investigating. She supported crowdsourcing for solving crimes using the blockchain and letting friendly hackers try to hack the bitcoin blockchain to improve its security.

Panels about music featured a Skype session with Imogen Heap, a musician who launched Mycelia, a foundation for developing a database for music creators that utilizes micropayments. She wondered about the possibility of transactions being so frictionless that we would not have to think about money just as we never think about tap water.

One challenge to such a system would be determining who created the work, an attendee noted. A existing Sound Exchange that disburses royalties from digital performances to creators has millions left over annually since the organization can’t identify the rightful recipients.

Images from Blockchain Summit.