Stanford Blockchain Conference: Big Ideas

The Blockchain Conference took place from January 30th to February 1st at Stanford University. This is one of the most important annual events in the blockchain industry. A plethora of academics, developers and venture capitalists were present. Catallaxy was there also represented by Dr William Robinson, our senior director.

This conference explored the use of formal methods, empirical analysis, and risk modeling to better understand security and systemic risk in blockchain protocols.

Here are the main lines of the conference that caught our attention:


Big Ideas at Stanford’s Blockchain Conference
After having caught both my breath and up on work, I am here writing down my impressions of the Stanford Blockchain Conference. Specifically, where I feel the blockchain industry is excited about heading. While it is unfair to encapsulate three days of brilliant minds sharing their latest research into three bullet points, I did it anyway:

Adding More On-Chain Financial Tools
So far, public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been able to replicate much of the banking system, transferring funds, tying them to multiple people, locking payments, etc. However, there have been a series of limitations that are still being tackled. In order to safely replicate financial tools such as debt, blockchain developers have had to get clever. Some are working on stablecoins, digital assets pegged to a currency such as USD. Others are programming contracts that allow someone to buy a derivative from a stranger. Still more are trying to figure out how to bring information about the world onto the blockchain.

Scaling Through Fancier Proofs
Public blockchains are slow and cumbersome by design. It is the trade-off made in the name of usability and security. That said, developers are optimizing in every direction. Layer 2 solutions have been in the spotlight for a few years now, their development continues at a breakneck pace and work on them was ubiquitously discussed. On top of these, we are seeing new ways of representing data in cryptographically secure ways without requiring that all of it remain on chain. STARKs, SNARKs, Bulletproofs and other clever math-y developments are introducing some new magical black boxes. Their general appeal is in their ability to prove something is correct without revealing what that something is. For a real-world example/metaphor that might be a proof that you can afford a house without revealing the contents of your bank account or perhaps a proof that you are not on the no-fly list without revealing your name.

Decentralizing the Web
While many of the talks focused on new consensus protocols that optimize what already exists, among the cocktail conversations a different idea was floating. Namely, what does a truly decentralized web look like. Not one where corporate files are stored on Amazon or Microsoft servers, but where they are stored on stranger’s hard drives. Not an internet where hotels and airlines keep and sell your private data, but one where users store their own data and make it temporarily available as needed. Not an internet where money is transferred via a banking platform in order to split a restaurant bill, but where an IoT device pays a couple Satoshis every few seconds for another IoT device’s sensor reading.

Finally, this conference provided an opportunity to meet the blockchain experts at an international level to exchange on the development of this new technology. Our presence at this event positioned Catallaxy as one of Canada’s key players in blockchain technology.