While the blockchain took the World Economic Forum conference at Davos by storm last year, this year looks to be very different.
Last year, the focus was on financial technology. Deutsche Bank’s CEO predicted the disappearance of cash within a decade. JPMorgan and Banco Santander announced an investment in blockchain startup Digital Asset Holdings. Bank of America revealed that it was filing blockchain-related payments.
Blockchain was “amazeballs”, as Izzy Kaminska of the FT put it, and seemed to be everywhere. The IMF presented a paper on virtual currencies, but apart from that, the general consensus was that blockchain, not bitcoin, was the thing to watch.
Since then, work on blockchain applications has intensified, consortia have blossomed and proof-of-concepts have both spread and advanced. However, few have reached the product stage, and while encouraging announcements still shine through, there is increasing talk of “blockchain fatigue”.
Bitcoin, meanwhile, has increased over 130% in value, even though the political and social rifts (not to mention the regulatory insecurity) have yet to be overcome. The Davos pundits weren’t wrong, though: bitcoin’s potential to “disrupt” finance still seems a long way off, whereas blockchain’s impact is getting closer.
This year, the tone at Davos appears to be much more subdued. While last year the theme was the uplifting “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, this year it is the almost reproachful “Responsive and responsible leadership”. The overriding instinct is less about trumpeting the change promised by fintech than it is about defending global trade.
Could this augur a sombre year for blockchain progress? Or could it simply mean that the 2016 focus kicked off the testing frenzy that will culminate this year in projects that can start to tackle real problems?