Reflections on ETH Waterloo and Blockchain

ETH Waterloo winning teams and Judges

ETH Waterloo was my first big blockchain event and it did not disappoint. Primarily a hackathon, it attracted a lot of talented developers but also had amazing talks by Ethereum luminaries. There were representatives from Consensys, L4, Coinbase, Storj, 0x, Parity, Maker and more… With talks from Joseph Lubins, Vitalik Buterin, Joseph Poon, Will Warren, William Mougayar (the list goes on) around the technical, developer ecosystems and social impact of blockchain.

Quick shoutout to Tracy from Untraceable and all the volunteers for creating a seamless event experience. Not only was everything on time and delicious, the volunteers were amazingly helpful and eager to discuss relevant topics to the event.

Opening Ceremonies

Opening Ceremonies: Consensys, L4, 0x and Vitalik

Kicking off the event were 2 amazing talks from Vitalik Buterin and Jeff Coleman on Privacy and Mechanism Design respectively. Vitalik’s talk about privacy struck a good balance between the technical and applied use of some of the privacy features coming to Ethereum in upcoming and the most recent fork, while also slipping in a few really nerdy but great jokes! Jeff presented Mechanism Design which in a nutshell is reverse game theory. This was an awesome frame with which to approach the design of our hacks and I think led to a lot of the creativity demonstrated in the projects. The bar was set for an awesome weekend.

The Hackathon

The main hall at CIGI

With over 300 developers there was a wide gamut of projects both ambitious and creative. Visualizations of the blockchain, decentralized markets for swapping health care coverage, safe file services for checking downloaded content, payment processing tools for merchants, decentralized charities and more… There was also a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the developer tools, apis, ecosystem and overall direction of the Ethereum blockchain. A number of the hacks were not simply reinventing old models on the blockchain but striving to create new models of commerce for open and transparent societies. I can attribute this to some of the amazing talks also offered at ETH Waterloo.

Blurry late night blockchain chats with Joseph Poon

During the Hackathon

I was fortunate enough to get into a few short but meaningful conversations about the path forward for blockchain technology. Most notably, on Saturday at 1am in my pajamas, I had a deep conversation with Joseph Poon who provided a context for blockchain technology I hadn’t thought about. He presented blockchain technology as potential checks and balances on capital pooling that is used for social control (think government lobbies). He mentioned that we’re seeing an ease with which capital can be deployed to control populations not only through lobbying or Facebook Ads but also in weaponized forms such as local law enforcement obtaining more funding and aggressive technologies at ever cheaper cost. With decentralization leading to more open, inclusive and fluid societies, enabled through the use of blockchain technology, we may be able to redistribute capital and align a wider set of goals between society and government. Exciting projects such as OpenLaw and Matterium are currently working with governments to create this future.

Wrap Up

To summarize, ETH Waterloo was more than a hackathon, it was a meeting of like minded individuals, developing and discussing technologies to power the future of society. We live in times with an abundance of wealth and technology at our fingertips; events like this tap into that wealth, allowing us to discuss the mechanisms we will design to distribute, organize and transact with each other. Thanks to ethereum, ConsenSys, Coinbase, 0x, Storj, Joseph Lubin, Will Warren, Vitalik Buterin, Joseph Poon, Dmitry Buterin, Jeff Coleman, Jason Matthison, and many more interesting people I chatted with!