“Blockchain can probably save the world…” Inside Look of the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2018

“Blockchain can probably save the world, but there’s a lot of work to be done before that happens.”

This is the simple, awe-inspiring, and sobering message that emerged from two days of presentations on blockchain and cryptocurrency during the annual Silicon Slopes Summit held in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Summit itself was a spectacular success, with the organizers reporting attendance of more than 15,000—a fifty percent increase over 2017.  Keynote speakers at the event included former GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, Senator Jeff Flake, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, NFL legend Steve Young, and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

Summit organizers offered six different “tracks” for attendees to choose from for breakout sessions, including blockchain/cryptocurrency.  The blockchain sessions began with an ambitious overview of what visionaries believe to be the nearly endless possibilities that blockchain technology offers to the world.  The Chairman of the Board of Overstock.com, Jonathan Johnson, who is also currently President of Overstock’s blockchain offshoot Medici Ventures, presented on the not-so-humble topic:  “A Blockchain Solution to Global Poverty.” Mr. Johnson discussed, among other things, the plight of the world’s “unbanked”—individuals who have money but no bank accounts—and how blockchain can allow them access to the global economy. He also touched on the potential of blockchain to unlock capital held in real property in countries with no centralized recording system, by allowing reliable verification of ownership.  It would have been hard to imagine leaving Mr. Johnson’s presentation without feeling excited about the future of blockchain, and the world at large.

Subsequent sessions provided a more detailed examination of what companies that are operating (or hoping to soon be operating) in the blockchain space are doing with the technology, and the challenges they face in terms of funding, adoption, and integration.  Of particular interest to the legal profession are the efforts underway to use blockchain to move identity verification out of centralized repositories.  The 2017 Equifax data breach served as a vivid illustration of the dangers of a few businesses housing so much sensitive identifying information on so many people—one breach exposes such information on nearly every adult in the country.  While the prospect of fragmenting the information, and thereby reducing the exposure from any single breach, is appealing, the players in the field recognize the challenges they face in the individual adoption of their solutions.

Like all world-changing technologies, there are tremendous challenges and obstacles to be overcome if blockchain is to reach anything approaching its imagined potential.  But the presentations at the Silicon Slopes Summit demonstrate that there are tremendous minds—and massive resources—already at work in both identifying and overcoming those challenges.  The future of blockchain is indeed bright, and it seems to be shining in Utah as brightly as any place on the planet.

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