It might sound cliché, but optimism was the overriding emotion I remember in the London Blockchain Conference 2023 speeches and in the faces of its broad range of attendees, from insiders and experts to curious strangers to blockchain. Perhaps infectious optimism is more appropriate. It seemed to swell around the grand halls of the QEII Centre, an appropriate venue for a number of reasons.
The convention center is owned by the U.K. Government and operated by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. There are few more aspirational and optimistic ideas in recent U.K. public policy than the idea of ‘leveling up,’ a political policy first articulated in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto and aimed at reducing economic and social imbalances between different areas and demographic groups across the U.K.
This has—perhaps unsurprisingly considering who was spearheading the policy—largely been a failure, but the idea of reducing social imbalance is an irresistibly compelling one, and one that also permeates the blockchain world. This was on full display at the London Blockchain Conference 2023.
In contrast to the dour and defeated faces walking the halls of the Houses of Parliament nowadays, the excitement of those just across the road at the QEII Centre when hearing about the possibilities the technology could offer to communities worldwide was refreshing.
Whether it was the Head of Emerging Technologies at the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), Houman Haddad, talking about how blockchain can, and is, revolutionizing the humanitarian sector, a panel discussion on what micropayments could mean for economic inclusion in the developing and 3rd worlds; or a lively debate on the benefits central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) can bring to global banking. Optimism was on the agenda.
Being just a stone’s throw from parliament was also fittingly in keeping with the conference’s outreach theme, another key takeaway from the three-day event. Much panel and speech time, particularly on the business strategy stage, was devoted to what blockchain can do for businesses outside its ecosystem. Big tech’s slow adoption of the technology was a talking point, as was the utility of big block BSV blockchain to smaller businesses and individuals who might otherwise have not considered investing in blockchain solutions.
The generally optimistic tone was, perhaps surprisingly, not dimmed by recent incidents in the industry, and there were no undiscussed elephants in the room. Speakers did not try to dodge the crises and scandals in the digital asset space in 2022 and into this year—FTX was broached by many speakers.
Rather, the London Blockchain Conference 2023 devoted much of day two to talks on the future and benefits to the digital asset industry of improved regulation and governance across the world; the European Union’s Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation came in for particular praise.
One panel that stood out in this regard was a discussion on how to regain customer confidence after a year or so that’s given the industry a bad rep amongst investors and lawmakers alike. The broad consensus from this four-person panel of industry insiders (including Andrei Kirilenko, a former chief economist for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission) was that embracing regulation, instead of running and hiding from it, is the best and only way forward.
If one was to look at the digital asset industry from the outside, through the lens of newspaper coverage, Twitter beef, and bankruptcies, one might get the impression that it is a space in turmoil, blindly ping-ponging its way from one disaster to the next.
If one had taken this image into London Blockchain Conference 2023, it would have been quickly dispelled. After three days at the QEII Centre, my impression was that, at least in certain corners of the digital asset industry, excitement for the technology is undeterred, innovation continues, and when combined with embracing law and regulation, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.
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