Time flies…

So – it’s been a while huh?

My only excuse for the lack of action round these parts in recent months is the same one that’s recycled by bloggers around the world. Namely life off-blog (believe it’s known as ‘real’ life) got crazy-busy over the summer months.

Can’t share all of the activities on here yet but here’s a quick roundup of some of the cool things (well I think so anyway) that have been taking up some of my time recently:

1. Paul Puey, CEO of my favourite Bitcoin wallet company Airbitz popped across from San Diego to chat at the Scottish Bitcoin Meetup a couple of weeks back, delivering a great talk on keeping Bitcoin decentralised.

Paul Puey (Airbitz CEO)
Paul Puey (Airbitz CEO)

2. We followed that up with the good news from The Royal Dick at Summerhall that it was to be the first bar in Edinburgh to accept bitcoin. And I’m glad to say that the meetup group took it upon itself to, er, thoroughly stress-test the new technology to the fullest. Let’s just say, we ensured that future customers wouldnt be at any risk of having a fractured experience in the future with staff who had no experience of dishing out drinks in return for bitcoin. Happy to report that everything held up beautifully under the strain.

 

360D Conference, Glasgow SECC (September 2015)
360D Conference, Glasgow SECC (September 2015)

3. I gave a talk on Bitcoin at the 360D Conference at the SECC in Glasgow earlier this month. Getting out of a sick bed to deliver it, it unfortunately wasn’t my finest performance but still seemed to provoke quite a bit of conversation afterwards.

4. I helped organise the Blockchain Workshop at this year’s Turing Festival and watched with disproportionate pleasure as 25 or so developers – all but a couple of whom had never had any exposure to blockchain tech beforehand – learn how to mine, send money and create simple smart contracts in little under 6 hours, all under the watchful eye of Konstantin and Ken from Ethereum. A fantastic example of the potential that this technology is providing for everyone.

5. Nine major banks announced they’d agreed to work together under the talented eye of new CTO Richard Gendal Brown at R3CEV in an ongoing investigation around how blockchain technologies can be incorporated into their current businesses. BIG news when you consider where we were 12 – even 6 – months ago. In case you’re wondering, the banks are: JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, State Street, UBS, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, BBVA, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland.

6. A few weeks ago, I took part in a British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) panel on ‘Can FinTech Make Banking More Human’ in Edinburgh, exploring disruption across the sector.

The Ivy, London
The Ivy, London

7. I gave another talk on Bitcoin and the promise of Blockchain technology at The Ivy of all places in London as part of an event put together by the Tayburn Agency and Engine. Thanks to Nadine and the rest of the team for inviting me down. I tell you – for all the furore about this so-called ‘geek money’, it doesn’t half get you into some interesting places 😉

Swiss Embassy, Bitcoin & Blockchain Event
Swiss Embassy, Bitcoin & Blockchain Event

8. I went along to a fascinating event run by the Swiss Embassy in London on, yup, you guessed it (no prizes) the B thing. Fantastic panel (Mike Hearn, Christian Decker, Richard Gendal Brown, Vitalik ButerinRobleh Ali from the Bank of England and Oliver Bussman of UBS). Held under Chatham House rules (hmm, hate that concept – really, in a world of permanent mobile and social network connection, are we really going to still hang onto the pretension that we can restrict such conversations and attribution spreading?), I can’t really say too much of value about the discussion – other than it was a fantastic event, with loads of old and new faces from the scene in attendance. Interesting to note Switzerland’s drive to become a base for crypto-based businesses in the future as well.

And yeah, there’s been a lot more. But this is turning more into a diary entry now so I’ll wrap it up.

So we might still be no clearer to finding out where this roller coaster will finally stop and what the scenery will look like if it finally does. But to me, the outlook’s never been so positive. As a great man once sung – keep on keeping’ on

London Blockchain Conference 2015

Blockchain Conference London 2015
Blockchain Conference London 2015 – Jon Matonis (ex-Bitcoin Foundation), Marc Warne (Bittylicious), George Hallam (Ethereum) & Alex Kotenko (XBTerminal)

It’s noticeable that there have been far fewer Bitcoin Conferences taking place this year. Speaking from experience, I can understand why. Conference organising brings its own challenges, particularly when you add into the mix the topic of an emerging technology that most people don’t yet understand whose application could disrupt a variety of industries. What area(s) should you focus on when programming a coherent and informative event?

There were no such worries for the London Blockchain Conference on 24th June. It turns out that hosting this in the Barclays Accelerator and simply dropping the ‘B’ word from the title (that’s ‘Bitcoin’, not ‘blockchain’) was a smart move, evidenced by the huge turn out of representatives from a broad range of financial organisations.

How things have changed over the past few months.

But whilst the terminology might have changed slightly (and to be serious for a minute, it’s only partially up for debate whether this represents an evolution in PR treatment or the concepts themselves), there’s no doubt that traction is definitely building.

A new architecture for financial services

Hardly surprising. Because, as Simon Taylor pointed out in his brief opening, the potential for cryptographic proof equates to “an accountant’s wet dream”. Now, lofty claims about the power of a blockchain to instantly solve the world’s collective ills (or to “benchpress the earth”, as Simon put it) might not be helpful. But the simple, undeniable truth is that the existing financial system needs a reboot. So what’s the appropriate architecture to let this building commence in a digital world? Because it’s pretty clear that the system of the near future is not one that relies on masses of independently-verified, slow and expensive paper-based processes.

Undoubtedly, many in the room that day have been attracted by this shift in focus. The conversation was not, like so many in the past, one about consumer applications. Instead, this discussion sidestepped the question almost in its entirety and looked instead at the application of blockchain solutions at an enterprise level – seeking efficiencies where the industry currently shoulders significant costs and collectively dreams of reducing the settlement time for trades that travel at a snail’s pace today.

Less of a currency focus – but still unmissable

That’s not to say that there was no discussion of Bitcoin as a digital currency however. It was good to hear both Adam (Diacle) and Dan (Innovate Finance) remind everyone that the UK continues to lead the way globally when it comes to building a supportive environment on the basis of a non-interventionist policy, with money being allocated to research into digital currency. Far from being a regulator’s worst nightmare, the blockchain promises a completely different and seemingly vastly improved model for compliance (where the necessary data is verifiably correct and ‘pushed up’ as required as opposed to being extracted painfully by the regulator in a top-down model).

I don’t write about regulation on this blog often (partly to avoid people assuming I’m giving legal advice given my previous career – but mainly because, to be frank, it doesn’t really excite me). But one thing I haven’t really flagged up previously (because it’s obvious to anyone other than perhaps a newcomer to the scene) is a very valid concern that emerging regulation of Bitcoin risks somehow ensnaring those building businesses that rely on blockchain technology to certify the provenance of data (as part of a non-financial transaction – such as Provenance for example which uses Ethereum). We’re fortunate that this hasn’t turned into a major issue (in the UK) at present – but it remains an area to watch closely.

Of course, when it comes to legitimisation, you can’t go much further than demonstrating a government that is actively encouraging bitcoin businesses to relocate with a beneficial tax regime and working with Credits to create a blockchain-based company registry.

Blockchain startup tips – from your target customers

But what about the startup scene? Are the institutions starting to see an evolution and growth in maturity from those who are seeking to sell blockchain-influenced solutions into the financial services market?

Lee Braine of Barclays made a number of good points during the day. It’s time to move on from the early rhetoric of the Bitcoin startup scene. Financial institutions continue to look for solutions to a screed of vast array of problems, relating to everything from SLA’s to regulatory requirements. It’s clear that blockchain technology provides a new approach. But it’s been hard for them to engage with many entrepreneurs to date who have approached such problems from the opposite perspective – more along the lines of “we have the solution, we just need to implement it”.

I liked Lee’s comment that the blockchain is nothing more than a massive WORM (Write-Once Read Many) drive. He also had a couple of valuable pieces of advice for the Bitcoin community:

  1. To sell into financial services enterprises, you have to ‘bake in’ the bank’s non-functional requirements from the start (e.g. strive for security, reliability and low-latency at all stages).
  2. Solving part of a known issue isn’t good enough from a bank’s perspective. In other enterprise business sectors, a solution often requires a collaboration between third party vendors who collectively solve the problem in its entirety. Perhaps it’s time for startups to think in terms of forging similar alliances in order to bring blockchain-based solutions to the banks.

The message that seems to be coming across loud and clear in these discussions is that banks are (finally) starting to understand the power of blockchain technology. However, their challenge comes in trusting that the legal entity (or group) that possesses the ‘right to write’ to the (private) blockchain is sufficiently robust to provide them with trust that all of the information recorded is legally enforceable and correct (as I outlined previously). But, in general terms, they all seem to be looking for a system that provides a private ledger with designated miners, collective administration and one that focuses on the assets being exchanged, with the details of the technology itself being hidden.

Onwards and upwards

So there was definitely a much-improved level of understanding in general around the technology in comparison to a few events that I’ve been at recently, although we’re clearly still at the start of the curve. It was impressive to see the newly-launched Everledger burst out of the accelerator and set out their vision for (initially) the use of the blockchain to track diamonds “from the mine to the mistress” to prove provenance and slash insurance costs for physical items within the legacy system. And that’s without even mentioning what appeares to be an extremely promising new entrant into the world of private blockchains as a new whitepaper was released by MultiChain, developed by the hugely talented team behind Coin Sciences.

I’ll leave you with a thought from Nathaniel Popper. The New York Times reporter and author of the fascinating history ‘Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying To Reinvent Money’, pointed out that the Bitcoin ‘movement’ grew out of a desire to avoid governments and banks. Yet some of the biggest movements in the scene are by both.

I wouldn’t be in any doubt that full integration of blockchain solutions is still going to take a long time to mature. But it’s clear to me that the banks and others have started their engines.

Game on.

Reflections on MoneyConf 2015

The organisers of the WebSummit got in touch a few weeks ago and asked me to head across to Belfast for a couple of days to chair a couple of panels at their new event MoneyConf last week. It was a great gathering of some of the big names in FinTech and it was striking just how predominant Bitcoin and/or blockchain businesses were in the conference programming.

MoneyConf 2015
My MoneyConf Panel on 16th June 2015 with Stephen Pair (BitPay), Naveed Sherwani (PeerNova), Matthieu Riou (BlockCypher)

Whilst I’ve spoken increasingly frequently in public on Bitcoin over the past couple of years or so and compered/organised the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, this was actually the first time I’ve chaired panel sessions. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect (how opinionated should you be as the chair, what to do if someone talks too much or – worse – too little etc). However, I’m happy to say that it was a blast. Both panels seemed to go down well and I’m eager to do it all over again just as soon as possible.

My MoneyConf Panel on 15th June 2015 with Damian Kimmelman (Duedil), Anil Stocker (MarketInvoice) & Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless)
My MoneyConf Panel on 15th June 2015 with Damian Kimmelman (Duedil), Anil Stocker (MarketInvoice) & Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless)

Panel MoneyConfAccording to research carried out by Goldman Sachs, 33% of millennials don’t think that they’ll need a bank in the next 5 years.

Nic Cary, blockchain.info, MoneyConf, Belfast, June 2015
Nic Cary, blockchain.info, MoneyConf, Belfast, June 2015

And, as Nic Cary pointed out, any financial institution that does not have a blockchain strategy discussion of sorts taking place in its boardroom at present is not a business that’s likely to be around in a few years’ time.

It was fascinating to hear Halsey Minor of BitReserve in conversation with Max Keiser (here’s another conversation if they’ve had since). For those of you who aren’t aware, Halsey is – there’s no other words for it – a serious player. When someone who helped to create not one but two billion dollar businesses (CNET and Salesforce)  says that the announcements that he has planned for the next few months about the evolution of BitReserve are by far the most disruptive of his entire career – take note.

One final note: Adam Ludwin of Chain and Vinny Lingham of Gyft announced a ridiculously cool collaboration in the form of blockchain-powered gift cards. I’ve just found the video here of the presentation here as well if you’re interested. So all in all, a great couple of days in Belfast. If I had to find fault with anything, it was the lack of Bitcoin ATM’s…. but you can’t have everything 😉 I for one will be heading back next year to see how the event grows that’s for sure  

Panel1 Day 2

NASDAQ Meets The Blockchain

And yes, it is THE blockchain. Not a different standalone implementation of blockchain technology.

When news broke late last night from WSJ writer (and previous Scottish Bitcoin Meetup guest) Michael Casey that NASDAQ, the second largest stock exchange in the US, already has 75 companies signed up in its NASDAQ Private Market to test blockchain technology to simplify handle pre-IPO trading, Twitter immediately lit up with conversation.

It soon became clear that their plan is to use the Open Assets Protocol – basically a Colored Coins implementation. If you haven’t heard of Colored Coins, it’s basically a way of connecting a ‘real world’ item with a tiny amount of Bitcoin. To exchange ownership of that ‘real world’ item, now you simply need to transfer that specific bitcoin. The benefits are clear and hugely powerful: a public record of verifiable ownership in which transfers are immediate, global and of an order of magnitude cheaper than most systems in which ownership is registered.

The reality is that this is huge news for Bitcoin and the scene in general. There’s a far wider narrative here (Bitcoin v blockchain etc) that I’m not going to touch on today. But if you think back a couple of years, this, a press release containing a quote like this really was unthinkable.

 “Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities,” said Bob Greifeld, CEO, Nasdaq. “Once you cut the apron strings of need for the physical, the opportunities we can envision blockchain providing stand to benefit not only our clients, but the broader global capital markets.”

Within the securities industry, T+3 is standard – i.e. payment and certificates for trades in securities must change hands no later than three days after the date of the transaction. Now, with blockchain technology at work, the potential is there to go after that holy grail of T+0 or real-time transactions – a system that reduces both regulatory and counterparty risk significantly whilst also releasing funds that are otherwise tied up during those three days in the current settlement process.

Anything that increases transparency through a fully-digital service that simultaneously facilitates the issuance, transfer and management of private company shares whilst slashing existing inefficiencies and remaining impervious to bad actors sounds like a pretty compelling use case to me.

Yet another application that I and many others will be watching with huge interest.

 

This Is A Call

I’ve just sent out a message to all of the members of the Scottish Bitcoin Meetup. In case anyone is reading this blog that isn’t signed up (why not? it’s free! and you get to hear what’s happening in the scene as it evolves in Scotland), here’s the text in full.

Hi folks,

Hope you’re all having a great Sunday.

Where It All Started

When I started the Scottish Bitcoin Meetup back, I did so for one simple reason: I’d been convinced for a long time that we were witnessing the start of a paradigm shift across technology, business and wider society. The exact form that this disruption would take was unclear but it was beyond doubt in my mind that ‘something’ was coming. Try as I might, I couldn’t find another forum in Scotland for people to get together in person and discuss what was coming. So I thought, sod it, let’s just do it myself.

Thankfully, some of you turned up to that first meetup! And many of you have continued to do so ever since. Since those early days, we’ve managed to gather in one way or another for 29 meetups to date, with two particular highlights being the first ever Scottish Bitcoin Conference taking place in August 2014 and Design In Action’s residential Creative Currencies Chiasma earlier this year where a mix of people got together to learn together and dream big about the possibilities.

Today’s Landscape

In recent times, the main Edinburgh meetup has evolved in format, to include video calls with great stalwarts of the scene from around the world. In last couple of months, for example, we’ve chatted with Coin Center, Paul and Michael from the Wall Street Journal and Victoria from ChangeTip (check out the livestream video here if you haven’t seen it yet).

All of this is going to continue. Please do try to make it along if you’re still interested as there’s some great guests lined up over the coming months (and for those of you who keep asking – yes, I’ll do my best get Andreas at some stage…!)

However, it’s become clear to me over the past six months or so that we’re seeing an evolution in the general conversation. The heady days of speculative easy money that attracted a certain type of interest in the early days are gone, replaced by a period of intense work and consolidation across the industry. In part, this is driven by the evolution of connected and parallel technologies (such as Ethereum, MaidSafe, Eris etc) but it’s also being driven by the unavoidable fact that larger financial institutions are starting to take the technology more seriously (UBS open labNew York Stock Exchange invest in Coinbase,Fidor and Ripple, Barclays, Goldman Sachs invest in Circle etc).

I’m increasingly being invited to give talks or get into conversations with ‘serious’ institutions – in common with many who follow the scene. Regardless of the narrative in the press or the details of the specific technology, there is definitely something happening that validates the feeling that most of us have held for a long time now.

So – why the rambling email?

The Future

On Tuesday 19th May at 6:30pm, there is going to be a get together in Edinburgh to which you are all invited. But this isn’t going to be a typical Bitcoin meetup. This is a group for people who want to get together in a room and roll up their sleeves. People who want to code, build projects and businesses related to blockchain tech and – put simply – stop the talking and start the doing.

To be clear, we won’t be focused exclusively on projects that relate solely to financial services. For the most part, we’re going to be technology- and sector-agnostic. We’re simply going to be focused on solving real problems. But at this stage, the plan is to sit around a table and lay the foundations of a group that will evolve over the next few months for those who consider themselves serious (either in terms of existing talents or intention to get involved) about the future of the sector in Scotland.

One important point: this gathering is in no way exclusive. So please pass this invite on as you see fit. Nor is it for ‘experts’ (whatever that term could possibly mean at this stage in any event). The only pre-requisite for attending is a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get involved moving forwards. Ideas are ten-a-penny. This group is all about whittling down some of the best and starting to execute on them. So it doesn’t matter whether you’ve just fallen down the rabbit hole recently or whether it happened years ago.

Without disclosing too much, we’ve got buy-in externally from some big names across the Bitcoin/2.0 scene. And I’m as convinced as I’ve ever been that we’ve already got the talent in Scotland.

If you’re interested, please get in touch. Whilst I’m currently co-ordinating this on behalf of what will, I hope, turn out to be a sizeable number of people, I don’t intend to lead it or dictate the direction in any way. But don’t take my word for it – all will be revealed at the first meeting!

If this chimes with you and you happen to be in Edinburgh next week, please do get in touch. As ever, the more the merrier.

 

Bitcoin and Transparency in Politics

So it’s General Election day. Maybe it’s me but it all feels a bit anti-climactic here in Scotland, coming as it does hard on the heels of the Referendum. Regardless of which side you were on in that process, it feels different when you’re voting ‘just’ for the next five years (as opposed to the indefinite future) of your country.

But while we’re on the subject of politics, I wanted to just flag one thing up quickly which has intrigued me about the political process this time around that’s new. And (surprise!) it relates to Bitcoin.

Some of you might know Gulnar Hasnain as one half of the team (together with Pamir) behind the awesome CoinSummit conferences. Interestingly, during this General Election campaign, Green Party candidate Gulnar became the first UK politician to start accepting Bitcoin donations. It’s a great example of how the transparency of the blockchain can be used for good in an area that’s not always known for, shall we say, impeccable behaviour.

For example, you can see every donation that was made as part of the campaign, recorded permanently and publicly here. Every. Single. Donation.

Of course, it’s not exactly taxing for anyone to follow funds donated in this way moving forwards. And for any others to audit donations in order to provide any necessary checks and balances within the electoral system. Develop the potential a little further, scale it up and then unleash that (free) technology on a country that went through the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009.

So, if you still don’t think that Bitcoin helps with real-world issues, it’s worth having a think about this. I predict that if we do end up with a government by the morning that can govern for a few years (far from a certainty at this stage) then by the time we go through the next major political event, this kind of transparency should be something that’s expected – and demanded – by the electorate.

Now where’s the popcorn? Looks like it’s a long night ahead.

Bitcoin: Bigger Than Google?

One Bitcoin company that continues to cause a stir in the industry is the mysterious 21 Inc. Not only has the business remained in stealth mode since it started back in 2013, it’s captured the interest of some serious heavy-hitters (founders of PayPal, Dropbox, eBay and Expedia are involved), it’s taken investment from chipmaker Qualcomm (a massive player in the global mobile phone business). And then, to top it all off, it’s raised a total of a staggering $116 million already pre-launch.

To put it another way, the only thing that we do know is that some seasoned veterans known for delivering unusually big successes are taking a punt on the chance that this particular business might turn into something very special indeed. I’ve had two fairly high profile people on differen sides of the Atlantic tell me conflicting rumours about the nature of the company’s business so I suspect we’ll just need to wait and see.

However at the weekend, 21’s Chairman and Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasen (@balajis) managed to pique our collective interests still further when he gave a talk in which he stated that Bitcoin can be seen as bigger than Google, in terms of network footprint.

“All of Google today would represent less than 1% of mining. The sheer degree of what is happening in mining hasn’t been appreciated in the press.”

If we view the Bitcoin network as the worlds largest supercomputer, then it’s likely that this is bigger than Google in terms of computing power and power consumption.

As onename.io co-founder Muneeb Ali points out in a follow-up post on Medium, it’s not so much that we’re yet at the stage where it would be beyond Google’s ability to catch up (if they chose to do so). It’s simply the fact that for them to do so would involve massive capital expenditure. They simply don’t have the necessary hardware (ASICs in this case) to suddenly move in that direction quickly. Take on board the fact that they are one of the most cash-rich companies in the world and you get, I believe, a sense of the sheer scale of the project that we’re all so fascinated by.

Bitcoin continues to rise in the UK

I had a feeling that today was going to be an big day in the UK Bitcoin scene – and so it proved.

The news came quick and fast this afternoon. To be honest, I’ve not yet had a chance to dive into the various documents in great depth. But it’s worth summarising a few key developments here in case you missed it.

The Budget lands…with funding for digital currency research

As rumoured, the Chancellor came out in the Budget today with some positive news for the nascent digital currency scene (see point 19). He announced that £10 million of funding would be made available for the launch of a new research initiative into the future potential of digital currency technology.

Response to the Call For Information on Digital Currencies

Also you’ll remember that the HM Treasury issued a Call for Information on Digital Currencies back in November. Now they’ve finally issued the Response to the Call for Information on Digital Currencies – in essence, a framework for the regulation of digital currencies. As the last Scottish Bitcoin Meetup guest Jerry Brito at CoinCenter handily summarises, the main points relate to proposals to:-

  • Apply anti-money laundering regulation to digital currency exchanges to prevent criminal use.
  • Ensure that law enforcement bodies have the necessary training, resources, and legislation to address criminal activity conducted with Bitcoin.
  • Work with the British Standards Institute and the digital currency industry to develop a set of best practices for consumer protection that does not impose an extreme regulatory burden players in the space.
  • Launch a research initiative with leading institutions within the UK to study digital currencies and increase funding for digital currency research to £10 million.

Report on Future of UK FinTech to 2025

Finally, there’s a 68-page report published today that sets out the findings of the Chief Scientific Advisor on FinTech, Sir Mark Walport, into the future of FinTech in the UK up to 2025. This contains statements such as:-

“Digital currencies such as bitcoin have the potential to replace traditional currency and, by extension, the need for central banking and regulatory systems.”

I’m still holding to my prediction that 2015 will be a huge year for Bitcoin. It’s always felt to me that this would be the year that both legislators and the City/Wall Street made great strides into the area. The report last week by Goldman Sachs stating that “Bitcoin could shape the future of finance” is just one example. That’s not to say that there don’t remain significant hurdles ahead in a number of areas. But I do feel that we’ll be in a far different place come the end of this year than we ever have been before.

 

Morgan Spurlock and Bitcoin

It’s interesting to see CNN continuing to actively pursue its investigation into Bitcoin’s potential. Amongst other things, they’ve just added a new Bitcoin Ticker to their CNN Money page and at the end of last year, I was kindly asked to join one of their panels for a live Twitter debate on the future of Bitcoin.

Anyway, I don’t usually just post an episode of something on the blog post but I figured this might be of interest to a few readers who are still getting to grips with Bitcoin.

I suspect most people know who Morgan Spurlock is. I like the fact that he didn’t even attempt to pretend he knew what was going on at the start. There’s a lot to be said for going down that route – especially if you’re planning to live on nothing but Bitcoin for a week.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTxEo1CkPFw

Creative Currencies Chiasma: An Unmitigated Success!

I’ve written about a number of times before about trying to kickstart the discussion around digital currencies and particularly blockchain technologies throughout Scotland. Not because I believe in any way that I somehow have all the answers. But simply because I see it as a crucial topic for anyone who wants to understand an game-changing development that will inevitably shape the future of our society in a wide range of ways. 

Last week Edinburgh University’s Design Informatics ran the Creative Currencies Chiasma, a ground-breaking 2.5 day residential course focused on helping people to develop digital currency business ideas from a standing start. I was delighted to be asked to help out after previously speaking at a couple of the warm-up events. There’s no doubt in my mind that as a group, the participants really did something unique over that few days. I take little credit on that front though, full kudos must go to Chris Speed and Debbie Maxwell who designed and project managed the whole event under the Design In Action umbrella.

The event was unique (check out more pictures of the event here) because it handpicked people from a wide variety of backgrounds, mixing those with extensive knowledge of crypto-currencies with newcomers, locked them in a room for a few days and stood back to see what sort of new business ideas would result. With the added icing on the cake being the prospect of £20,000 funding being awarded to the best ideas.

The first night of the event kicked off with a great introductory talk by Chris as he explored the hidden potential in the flows of data (including money) through our cities, after which Patrick Stevenson-Keating gave a fascinating talk about his recent project at the Design Museum in London where he took on the task of re-imagining financial services using a design perspective. Some really great ideas there – how about a lengthy credit card that lets you pay more money the further you insert it into the card reader for example?

George Kelsey from RBS then spoke after dinner, mentioning that whilst he wasn’t a fan of Bitcoin itself (unsurprisingly, Ripple appears to be the current frontrunner for those within the bank), he remains completely convinced that blockchain technologies are going to change the world. Whilst we perhaps have differing views on the details in the future scenarios that could play out, I felt that was a pretty significant statement from an experienced bank representative.

After that, I gave a general introduction to Bitcoin to the group before we all decamped to another room to run through a blockchain workshop that we’d devised using a combination of lego, trading cards, stickers, Countdown and all manner of other ecosystem tweaks as trading conditions evolved! We’d tried running it out on a student class a few weeks earlier with great success. The ideas that they’d come up with after having their minds opened to the possibilities of having this secure, immutable record and programmable money were truly fascinating given the short time they’d been given. The same happened here, no doubt nicely lubricated by a few drinks. The attendees at the Chiasma didn’t disappoint with their thoughts on the future..

The evening then evolved into a further investigation of the potential for cryptocurrencies into the wee small hours. It shows what happens when you get the right people into the same room – I could tell that the level of engagement was going to be immense when the earlier dinner chat at my end of the table revolved around the existential threat of AI, drones, 3D printing and the re-engineering of the financial system….

The next morning, it was up bright and early to set up camp within the RBS Technology Solutions Centre. I certainly wasn’t alone I’m sure in feeling slightly strange ideating through concepts that could fundamentally disintermediate the banking industry whilst within the belly of the beast, so to speak. But I have to say that RBS were very accommodating and freely provided the location for the event – regardless of what their motivations might have been, it’s a genuinely step forward to see a financial institution engaging in such a positive way with the topic. This would not have happened a couple of years ago and it shows you just how far things have progressed in recent times.

The next couple of days were a bit of a blur to be honest. A healthy mix of education, unrestrained ideation and problem-solving with, very interestingly, many relative newcomers immediately identifying similar areas that have attracted more seasoned Bitcoiners over recent months as being ripe for the exploration of new business models. For example, some of these included looking at ways to rebalance existing financial inequality, strengthen a variety of communities, reward previously unmeasured positive behaviours, harness the power of smart contracts and transparency, cut through the jargon, track the providence of money and secure records on a permanent basis.

I’m not going to write anything about the ideas that were developed throughout the remaining time as each of the individuals involved in the teams that made up the eight final pitches now has the opportunity to work up the concepts into a more robust proposition before applying for further funding that will support future development. However, it’s worth saying that I was very impressed with the progress that was made. Bitcoin – and cryptocurrencies in general – are difficult to grasp. It’s one thing to turn up at a Bitcoin conference or a hack weekend when you have that background knowledge and you’re surrounded by people who are steeped in the culture and daily echochamber of the Bitcoin scene. But for so many relative newcomers to openly embrace the process of education whilst simultaneously grasping the immediate potential gives me real hope for the future in terms of the way with which such ideas will be able to spread.

With such a significant paradigm shift taking place, it takes a few brave organisations to stand up and provide a framework for others to coalesce around. It’s a vital role and full credit goes to Chris, Debbie and the rest of the team for pulling this together. I suspect those involved will think back to those two and a half days in a decade or so and then truly realise how lucky they were to be involved at this point in time.

Thanks to everyone who took part. Let’s hope we can do it again some time.