Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin speaks to the audience at the Futurist Conference in Toronto on August 13, 2019.
Photo courtesy: Blockchain Futurist Conference / Untraceable

“The most valuable currency in the world is not monetary, it’s not crypto, it’s not dollars—it’s information. And everyone is fighting for it.” – Chantel Costa, director of development, DAIA Foundation

Financial technology (FinTech) has become a thriving industry with Toronto seen as a hotbed in which this innovation resides. It’s not a shock there was much to talk about at the Blockchain Futurist Conference last week. Topics like the future of money, privacy, the role of government and necessary regulations were important anchors, while ideas around AI, infosec, decentralization and future of work were served as further layers to the discourse.

The Blockchain Futurist Conference was held at Rebel Nightclub. Think massive soundstage cast with ingenuity and spirited chats. It’s a different vibe than many of the conferences in this space; walking out to a whimsically white cabana ground and seeing practically the best skyline of Toronto never hurts with the conversations. And there was always music.

Speakers ranged from Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin to notable futurists such as Alex Lightman. Also in attendance was Canada’s Digital Chamber of Commerce managing director Tanya Woods. Woods urged the audience to begin using the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutBlockchain and address political candidates in the upcoming federal election, probing for their stance and vision around the technology. And of course there were a lot of vendors, startups, investors, analysts, CEOs and curious folk from across Canada and the world.

Below are takeaways, from quotes to questions.

While at the Futurist Conference on Tuesday, the topic of the future of money and what it could like was addressed. The panel included Justin Hartzman, CEO and co-founder of CoinSmart, Louisa Bai, the national blockchain market leader at Deloitte and Marek Laskowski, CTO of Novera. The panelists voiced their thoughts around bitcoin and its power as well as if money will even be called money in the next generation. Each of their responses, however, did push a singular thought on the need for more fund access to people who have been traditionally shunned—those unable to receive the same wealth catalogue of opportunity as others because they are not backed by central banks. Is it a real surprise that Apple is looking to help those with low credit ratings obtain its new credit card? Just don’t put it inside a leather wallet, apparently?

“In all of what’s being said among us there’s been no mention of dominant or central banks so that money will no longer be required to be backed by a sovereign country,” said Deloitte’s Louisa Bai. “There will be no foreign exchange rates. I won’t have to worry about when I’m going to Paris and need to look at the euro to see what it’s trading against the Canadian dollar. It doesn’t matter because I could purchase my items with one single currency.”

Another thought that was presented: what if every human had their own coin, think bitcoin but not necessarily bitcoin. A digital ID, yes, but one that doubles as an exchangeable currency, done so without backing from a major bank. Kind of like digital Pogs. A thought to mull.

Author Alex Lightman, who’s also the CEO of TokenCommunities LTD., gave one of the best presentations, particularly for those interested in politics and history. He spoke about the separation of money and state and outlined a paradigm centered around “monetary theism”. He also stressed how if anyone living in places like Russia, China or India, where fiat is the only acceptable currency of trade, were to use other methods like a cryptocurrency, they should expect a ticket to jail. Places like Canada, the U.K. and Australia are among the countries that are more lenient to the inclusion of the asset.

Lightman also compared characteristics of fiat and crypto, explaining that crypto simply has more characteristics. Noting that cryptocurrency is fungible, durable, highly divisible and easily transactable (a characteristic gold doesn’t have), Lightman attempted to highlight the vast offering crypto could provide if more people came in and trusted the market. Is bitcoin the new oil? Yet, as we’ve seen, people are reluctant to enter the crypto space because of the coin’s volatility. And scams continue to plague the market. Gold, on the other hand, is durable and fungible but it is not as easily moved or traded, Lightman furthers. He referred to bitcoin as the “atomic clock of money” and asked the audience if anyone could say how many dollars exist today as well as how many are counterfeit. He also said that “banning fiat is basically monetary atheism,” and that he thinks bitcoin is “the red pill bringing a separation of money and state” that can make the world look different from a monetary standpoint.

One of the stinging reminders referenced social media companies.

“The social media companies are basically all three branches of government. They’re making policies like legislatures. They are deciding like a judicial bridge and they are executing government policy,” said Lightman. These entities are also “indistinguishable from intelligence agencies.”

And Big Tech seeped into the speech, too. “If Apple were a country its GDP would be greater than Portugal and could launch an investment program twice the size of The Marshall Plan.”

“Money is whatever is people think it is. It’’s kind of like a social hallucination.” – Marek Laskowski, CTO of Novera

More interesting comments came from Brave’s Christopher Ngyuen, who argued that our data shouldn’t be public in the first place. Brave is a browser that blocks ads and keeps data on the client side, not the services side. Ngyuen talked about how there is no need to have our data out there and people should have protection before being bamboozled. The unregulated proliferation of their personal and professional data online needs to stop. He referenced founder Brendan Eich and his counter phrase to Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan. Eich would rather push a “Can’t be evil” operational framework.

“Blockchain is a subset of cryptography and that’s what we are inserting into AI. At the end of the day we’re reducing friction of 99%, and we will get more done.” – Toufi Saliba, CEO Toda.Network

“I believe blockchain can help AI because you can actually see the process. There is an audit trail. You can resort back to how it happens, so it provides more transparency and fixes the trustworthy issues in AI.” – Chantel Costa, director of development, DAIA Foundation