Frontline report: “Blockchain” party talk

Lessons from BlockFiesta- small conference, less hype

It’s important to support early adoption and exploration into the unknown. BlockFiesta was an experiment, a community test to see who was interested and in what. Optimism and compassion are requirements. There are no dumb questions — all the cliches apply here, especially with a fragile, diverse collection of curious learners and entrenched miners, developers, and crypto traders.

The Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque’s international claim to fame and recognition, was in its final days. All around the Central New Mexico campus, hot air balloons floated in different shapes and sizes. Each their own identity, their own crew, yet connected by a shared community and purpose. It was a stretch, the blockchain analogy didn’t quite fit. It put all this talk of technology in perspective though.

We fill giant balloons with hot exhaust from burning gas and float a handful of people in a basket, thousands of feet into the sky. Is decentralized anything really so crazy a concept?

I came to humbly take in whatever the “experts” and enthusiasts had to say. These are my notes and points of interest from a surprisingly sharp speakers and intriguing blockchain applications:

“Most people think “Bitcoin, human trafficking, drugs.” Then you try to say “come work with me!” - Luciano Pesci, CEO of Emperitas

Natalie Smolenski of Learning Machine

“We’re disrupting…paper” — and its a big industry
  • 2–3 Billion people have no legal identity, when they do it will be digital (skip the paper step)
  • Platform Capitalism = Platforms centralize and own data, distribute it to us
  • Security — So many daily breaches, impossible to report them
  • Blockchain as Web 3.0

“Self Sovereign Digital Identity”

  • Paper → pdf verified by central Auth — → son DB verified on blockchain
  • “Traditional formats are losing currency” — inefficiency of inability to verify identity (diplomas, records)
  • Blockcerts Wallet — trusted institutions can issue records to your digital identity as a Blockcert instead of paper
  • Different IDs for diff purposes
  • “Decentralized Identifier Specification” — founded by Tim Berner Lee. User-owned
  • “DIDs” — separate for medical, academic civic, professional
  • No need for huge centralized Das to verify records

Learning Machine Philosophy:

  • Credentials are Social Currency — will be critical for global/mobile economy, lifelong learning, multiple educators (ongoing prof dev)
  • Instand verification — data rise, limitless metadata
  • Policymaking decisions of employment, skill gaps, economic shifts — BlockCerts can predict these with their chain data. See and address trends before they become issues (working with govts on measurements and monitoring).. Malta as test ground, take sit out of a centralized govt record DB.
  • They are blockchain agnostic — Bitcoin, Eth, Hyperledger, Litecoin, Stellar, BCH — can anchor to any or multiple chains for backups. Learning Machine is seeing which chains survive the next decade
  • Internet Identity Workshop — for ongoing dialogue on how SSI should be used
  • Cryptographic and multiple, rotatable identities is key to prevent monolithic IDs following for life
  • LM focuses on design, making sure only the necessary info for use cases is provided and shared in transactions
  • National credentialing must happen first to help in refugee or disaster scenarios. Blockchain can’t help if the infrastructure wasn’t there before the crisis. Issuance is key, adoption validates.

Alex Kaplan from IBM Watson

Author’s Note: I had a placeholder for Alan that simply said “some white guy rep from IBM” — sorry Alan, coming to ABQ was appreciated.
  • IBM identifies 3 Eras of Data, (theory: towards justifying the role of Watson and propping up Cognitive Computing as it slides down the other side of hype peak.)
Source : Gartner
  • Interesting: Watson Food Source is using tracking data from field to shelf, identifying outbreak risks and predictive food crisis/disease functions. Education applications show risk factors for dropout, signals of disconnection/failure to integrate into an education system.
  • Tone Analyzer for tutoring. It adapts to student mood.
  • Virtual Personal Assistant — custom, detailed recommendations for an individual’s goal. “Beyond Search and more than a Recommendation.”
  • Watson Tutor- through correlation prompts, learns what the student knows and where limitations in understanding, narrow perspectives and failures to make connections in the knowledge map. No student has the same experience

Assorted thoughts from lunch:

  • The BlockChain Training Alliance is training and certifying blockchain pros to spread the tech. I se this as essential education and awareness to legitimize and expand access the chain tech, tools, ethics as we figure out how and what to use this on.
  • We’re missing opps to co-design systems before they become problems. Blockchain is the latest growing skillset, even compared to Data Science as a broad category (WeWOrk standards of freelancers in particular)
  • “Identity on the Blockchain as an asset” — agnostic chain training (to empower choice as I see it)
  • As we ate salad, one guy at my table saw us at the 90s stage of blockchain. Even before I would say, more like the UseNet and starting of Compuserve, hints at wider spread “browsers” an access compared to the Internet narrative.

BlockChain in Health with Kevin Clauson, UNM School of Pharmacy

  • Counterfeit drugs
  • Internet of Healthy Things — like Apple Watch — have been compromised
  • Charity Pharmacies — redistribute unused medication (>20% of drugs are destroyed or unused)

Decentralized Marketplaces, Brady McKenna of DistrictOx

  • In 2nd life, he made digital currency for playing music, other services, which he then
  • “Basic Minimum Markets” — modular marketplaces
  • Like crypto-economic, battle-tested Lego blocks you can plug and play into any marketplace scenario
  • Looking to Address UBI use and interactions, among other fintech

From the Final Panel

A row of all dudes took on questions of culture, inclusion, and integration.

They spoke with pride in the state’s accomplishments, and grace and relevance despite the relative lack of diversity on the panel itself:

  • Moving New Mexico forward does not mean losing the real, authentic, honest nature of our people.
  • Cultivating Coders supports the addition and respect of more languages, of coding in black, brown, and native communities in particular.
  • CNM (Central New Mexico Community College) is building [one of, internationally] the first blockchain college. A slide from an earlier presenter showed the school as one of a handful across the world capable of educating for the future.

On a personal note, I also realized how much I dislike smirks in audiences. There were only a few, but they defeat the exploration of dialogue and (perhaps unconsciously) knock down open and honest questions before they are fully asked. One of the things I love about NM is our ability to talk to each other w/o (much) judgement.

It is the end goal of the blockchain mission for our communal species: trust as an intrinsic human default. We start with a tool and end with our true nature in shared adaptation. On this road, the tool is blockchain and the true nature is authenticity and trust.