Ethereum Community Conference 2018

This year’s Ethereum Community Conference took place in Paris, in the beautiful building of Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. There were 120+ speakers, 800+ attendees, 4 days, 5 conference halls streaming live in parallel and it was only the 2nd edition! The focus of the conference was on 8 tracks: Data, Privacy, Security, EVM, Identity, Compliance, Dapps and a General path. A ninth track brought lighting presentations on innovative projects under development and various workshops, such as deploying an application with Iexec, introduction to scuttlebutt, next generation EVM, Remixbrowser IDE, consensus testing, game theory introduction, and smart contracts hacking.

The event was very well organized by ASSETH. They gave 10% of the tickets to students from different countries. In the Netherlands, a competition was organized by EThereum DevNL group, coordinated by Pascal Van Hecke. The group organizes meetups regularly thus, if you are an Ethereum enthusiasts and want to meet smart and awesome people, join them here.

Gregor Zavcer, co-founder of Datafund project, talked about personal data, privacy and ethics with parallels to the challenges Datafund is facing. He brings up the examples of Brexit and Cambridge Analytica to highlight the existence of instruments sophisticated enough to be capable of nudging us in a certain direction, such as buying a product or talking about a politician. He raises awareness on the fact that our online and offline personality can be re-constructed from different sources and that personal data is slowly becoming an extension of ourselves as we integrate more and more smart devices in our lives. We tend to not realise so much the effects of privacy breaches because they are virtual, thus not directly tangible to us. Examples such as China’s Social Score that will be implemented in the upcoming couple of years should revise and update our beliefs about online data privacy. The goal of Datafund is to bring a balance between encouraging users to share less personal data and actively working towards anonymizing big data so it could be used to our benefit.

Gnosis presented a decentralized crypto exchange for EC20 compliant tokens. It uses a Dutch auction mechanism to determine a fair value for tokens. The traditional exchanges use limit orders, which raises issues such as insider information, high frequency trading, overlapping order books, liquid market, copying order books from other exchanges to inflate own volume. Thus, Gnosis implements discrete auction (batch or call auctions), meaning that requests get processed in one batch at a time and all traders in a batch get the same price. If there are no bids at the end of the auction (24 hours), a time function reaches point of clearing the auction and all participants obtain the same last price. There is one auction for the same pairing at any point in time and no tokens are needed to participate in the Dutch exchange. The interesting part about DutchX is that some of the fees will be redistributed in the ecosystem

Gnosis also offers a platform for prediction markets, where traders with different beliefs can trade on the outcomes of a future event. The prices these trades achieve represent the collective wisdom of the crowd. Anyone can create a market, provides the funds necessary for it to run and open it to the public. An oracle captures real world information and sets the outcome of the market. Investors that traded on the correct outcome of the market will make profits, those who didn’t will suffer a loss. Among use cases, we counted information discovery and forecasting, experts incentive to speak their honest opinion, governance (predicting the performance of a company) and insurance (predicting the outcome of a natural event). A prediction market competition will be starting soon, you can follow it here.

Martin Lundfall proposes a new trust based monetary system that facilitates universal basic income. Circles is based on crypto tokens as value encoders, assuring decentralisation. Two main principles are highlighted: fair predistribution of tokens, meaning that nobody has privileges over the initial supply and newly minted tokens, and non-extreme early-mover advantage, as it is currently happening with Bitcoin and Ethereum. Users periodically receive newly minted tokens for free. These token are personalised per user, thus each individual would have his own currency. To trade with others, users would have to trust the people they are trading with and value their currency as much as their own. Community currencies are also under implementation, meaning that people can come together and have a unified community currency. The team is still experimenting with different governance models for these communities. They are planning their first experiment this year in Berlin. Lisbon, New York and Guatemala are also in the prospects. If you want to make a proposal or bring a contribution, you can read more about it and contact them here.

Development of decentralized applications (apps built on the blockchain) was a recurrent theme. Web3j is a new Java and Android library for interaction with Ethereum clients. While the project is still in a beta phase it is the first such library to be written in a static language with enterprise use in mind. One if its interesting features is the automatic mapping of contracts to Java code which greatly simplifies smart contact infractions. Similarly, Web3py aims to achieve the same for the Python environment. Amongst the talks about new projects, there were updates on existing ones. Remix is an integrated development environment (IDE) for Ethereum smart contract development. The IDE underwent a major update that allows users to debug smart contracts for the first time, overcoming a previously serious limitation for blockchain developers.

Ethereum based blockchains do not scale well, which makes the development of computationally intensive applications difficult. Parity Bridge from Parity Technologies proposes a bridge between the secure main Ethereum blockchain and another chain optimized for scalability.

The longest time slots of the conference (yes, two!) were attributed to Vlad Zamfir, a very active and well-known figure in the Ethereum Foundation. Vlad gave a very detailed talk about Casper and Sharding consensus protocols and their specifications. A consensus protocol refers to a system in which the nodes of a network make consistent decisions given mutually exclusive possibilities. You can read all about Casper on Vlad’s blog. Sharding is a solution for increasing the number of transactions possible per second. An easy to digest explanation can be found here.

He also gave a Governance 101 talk, drawing a parallel between blockchain nodes decision making process and real world formalization of governance. What all blockchains had and will have in common is that they represent software run by distributed nodes. On the blockchain nodes have different roles: they can be miners (consensus forming nodes), service providers (exchange, explorers) or infrastructure providers, such as Infura. The nodes run the software from repositories (storage of code) on the internet. These repositories can be governed by individual companies, by an open source communities and may have to comply to certain standards. Nodes can choose whether or not to go along with the changes made to the repositories, validation or invalidating developers power of changes. Different blockchains can apply different norms when governing the relationship between nodes and developers. We have not yet developed the necessary language to talk about blockchain governance goals and Vlad’s talk raises awareness to that.

The organisers of ETHCC surprised everyone with a last minute appearance in the speakers agenda: Vitalik Buterin, the brains behind Ethereum Blockchain and Smart Contracts. With an audience exceeding the space of the conference hall, he easily broke the ice with a joke and gave a quick talk. He offered an introduction into Plasma Cash, a scalable solution for protecting crypto coins from unauthorised minting and theft. It works by implementing a Plasma Contract on the chain, representing a contract that records in a Merkle Tree the transactions each coin has been through. Through that, transactions can be reversed and coins recovered from the thieves.

Finally, Greg Colvin, a core developer at Ethereum Foundation, launched an open invitation for anyone who wants to contribute to Ethereum Blockchain. As this technology is rapidly developing, historic design decisions need to be made, issues need to be solved smartly and creative expertise is needed.

But these are just a few of the amazing topics discussed. All the talks at the ETHCC Conference were streamed live and saved here. Also follow Ethereum DevNL group for more Blockchain related events in the Netherlands.

Ruxandra Vulpoiu & Stanimir Ivanov