New York Blockchain Week has officially begun with a particularly interesting, albeit, highly obscure array of talks – from the forecasting of markets as being anything but repugnant. To the showcasing of what is being referred to by Dapper Labs as ‘Digital Couture,' autonomous, digitally distributed artwork.
To the visionary retrospective look at years that have yet to come, as well as the soon to come apocalypse of 2026 in the minds of the more pessimistically minded. It is these things and more which come to represent the blockchain world to the attendees of this year's blockchain conferences.
So how do we make our start of such an eclectic mixture of speakers and discussions? As best we can is the operative answer – to give a better degree of context, these talks make up the series of conferences which have ‘Ethereal' as the beginning point. Hosted and supported by ConsenSys, which operates as an incubator, company and development studio, they are celebrating a far better year so far, especially when compared to 2019.
To best celebrate this new and more optimistic year, ConsenSys has moved away from shrugging off approximately 13 percent of its staff over late last year, to hosting Ethereal as a way to show that it's back in action.
According to the blockchain companies that have since descended on the city of New York – we have officially moved from a crypto winter to a bountiful seeming spring. We say ‘seeming' for the time being, primarily because the projects that we're seeing are strange seeds to take root.
To the defence of some of these companies – blockchains like Ethereum have served as a hub for growth and exploration from a range of bullish investors and sky-high aspirations of innovators and idealists. For some, however, these people come off as something short of utopianists, for good or ill.
Ethereum has earned this reputation for good reason, however, is one of the chains out there that is highly programmable and attracts a good number of users and developers for the prospect and potential profitability of decentralized finance. Something that we are starting to see with this year.
Ok, so what exactly are we talking about when we use the phrase Decentralized Finance? It serves as a shorthand and simplification of any solutions that can help to break down areas of finance like loans, investments, currency stability and trade, insurance provision, clearing houses for investments and cross-border payments among a wide range of other financial solutions.
One of the projects that is synonymous with this culture of Decentralized Finance is the stable coin solution known as MakerDAO, which is a token used in order to maintain a fixed value of the dollar. Currently, the value of the dollar is sustained through direct collateral of fiat, with MakerDAO proposing, as an alternative, a complex mixture of crypto loans and smart contracts which allows for longer-term stability.
If you were to speak to those that are more thoroughly invested in the world of Decentralized Finance, MakerDAO does not live up to the expectations people have of it – serving merely as a proof of concept for a far broader DeFi vision.
What are the long term prospects for DeFi exactly? Quite substantial, actually; wherever there is an entity related to Wall Street, so too stretches the world of Decentralized Finance follows suit, and it is something that Wall Street and institutional finance will be paying attention to in the future. Providing that they're willing to meet it half way, regulatory speaking.
Ethereal proved to be more than an eclectic and interesting mixture of characters. From the straight laced speakers from the legal, regulatory and financial world. These consisted of the hedge fund billionaire turned Crypto officianado – Michael Novogratz.
The CEO of Rocket Lawyer – Charley Moore also took to the stage to proudly reveal the beta launch of its digital Rocket Wallet, providing its users with decentralized ‘legal contract execution and payments through the Ethereum Blockchain.'
Among those that represent the utopian, optimistic visionaries, artists and generally ‘out there' individuals included speakers discussing the very real concerns that come from an on-chain system like AI ArtDAO, which has the prospect of wreaking havoc and transmogrifying the planet and humanity. There are some very unusual theories out there.
Visionaries are like physics or science in general – if you're not scared of it, you haven't understood it. But that's what makes the blockchain and crypto world so interesting, the fact that it is populated by such a diverse range of people, many of which are not hesitant when it comes to questioning and criticising features of our society that we merely dismiss as the status quo.
It is this questioning that visionaries and thinkers from the financial world have in common. Why are we still relying on the antiquated concept of money? Why do we continue to rely on financial intermediaries? Why do we continue to hinge our lives and finances upon a 19th century concept of the nation state? It's these kinds of questions that all parties can well and truly appreciate.
These visionaries are the ones willing to conjure up some (sometimes half baked) solutions in order to replace these old methods with something else that can provide a longer term better solution. Even if we don't want to stick around for idle conversation with these visionaries, we can't deny the rationale of some of their observations.
When they highlight and make observations which ring too violently of the inefficient truth, that is when we ought to listen. This is especially the case when we think of intimate.io's speaker – Leah Callon-Butler, who discussed the issues of ‘repugnant markets' during Ethereal, which operate within the full extent of the law, but face such a huge level of disapproval from the general public with ordinary businesses and transactions face a huge number of difficulties.
Nowhere do we see this more than the historically prudish United States – which, in the previous few years, saw the likes of Chase Bank, refuse to conduct payments on behalf of a condom company. Square is another of these companies which demonstrates overly high morals when confronted with ‘Early to Bed' a female-owned Sex Toy Store.
It is yet another instance of crass irony that, after securing a partnership with the Mattereum, William Shatner found himself embroiled in a Twitter based battle regarding some of the finer details from a technical standpoint about data storage within the Ethereum blockchain.
Not the most obscure conversation he's been in, I imagine, but it does illustrate the kinds of challenges that provenance faces, and the kind of existing solutions that are out there have some significant cracks in the facade still.