At the end of last year, Vitalik Buterin used the medium of a tweetstorm to assess non-financial applications of blockchain technologies. Buterin described it as becoming ‘a bigger and bigger part of the story.’
Ethereum, the technology which Buterin co-founded, is no exception – and this is where the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) comes in. Its goal, as outlined on its website, is to ‘develop open, blockchain specifications that drive harmonisation and interoperability for businesses and consumers worldwide.’
Alongside being the founder and CEO of Web3 Labs, a company which provides visibility across blockchain code and smart contracts, Conor Svensson (left) sits as the chair of the EEA technical specification standards working group. The Block caught up with Svensson on the eve of Blockchain Expo Global – where the EEA is involved – to talk influences and initiatives for blockchain technologies beyond crypto.
The Block: Hi Conor. How did you get involved with and interested in Ethereum initially?
Conor Svensson: In the 1990s I’d seen what happened with Linux first hand, and I guess I made the mistake of focusing more on Sun/Solaris technology. Even though they open sourced it, ultimately it was a proprietary offering. I was following the Linux community but was spending more of my time on the Solaris tech. I became aware of how powerful it is to have a strong global development community to support the technology and its potential. There is a big difference between having developers who believe in the idealism of technology versus those being paid s to make a specific project succeed.
Ever since I came across Ethereum, I’ve felt that it’s been like that all over again. You’ve got an incredible powerful open source movement of developers trying to drive this technology forward.
“Long term we will certainly see a convergence where you’ll have relationships between these private Ethereum networks and the public ones”
If you look at the other enterprise offerings, although many are open source projects ultimately it’s organisations paying people to develop their products. You don’t have hobbyists working with the technology because they find it fun, whereas you have that with Ethereum, so you’ve got both sides to it.
That to me is the difference between technologies that win in the long run versus those that may have a profitable niche that they manage to exploit, but they’re not ones that will dominate. It was the same with microcomputers; initially, you had the homebrew computer clubs, and it was all these hobbyists working with the technology. Over time this stuff got commercialised and all of a sudden, the majority of business runs on top of it. I very much see that as being the paradigm in tech.
TB: Given Ethereum’s success there is still a gap in terms of bridging the public network and private blockchain initiatives for the enterprise. How do you and the EEA see this?
CS: It’s very much built on the different requirements of an enterprise implementation of the technology versus the public networks. For starters, if you look at identity, the pseudo-anonymity provided by participants, whether it’s the Bitcoin network, the Ethereum network or whatever else, is attractive to people because they don’t necessarily want everyone to know who they are with everything they do. Within an enterprise, they need to know who they’re talking to at the other end.
It’s been referred to within our space as the three Ps – performance, privacy and permissions – whereby these are very much concepts which are very important to enterprises. I think long term we’ll certainly see more and more adoption of what’s happening in public Ethereum space within the enterprise, but I think right now enterprises want to have a clear separation. Where we are right now, especially about proving out the technology and finding the really powerful business use cases, it’s better to have this separation of the two.
Longer-term, I think that we’ll see certainly a convergence where you’ll have relationships between these private Ethereum networks and the public ones especially when it comes to being able to bridge – whether it’s tokens or general information stored on them – to different chains that may or may not be Ethereum.
TB: Is there still an education piece needed?
CS: Absolutely. Even now, when you speak to some participants, they’ll say ‘hold on – Ethereum? Doesn’t that mean you have to run all these power-hungry miners to use the technology?’
I think this year there’s certainly been a real surge of interest around token-based technologies within the enterprise. I think we’re going to see more and more noise around it, but as with any technology, it’s in that phase right now where it hasn’t gone mainstream. People won’t know there’s blockchain technology happening behind the scenes, people are still very focused on what it is and so on.
“One of the great blockchain use cases is the world of supply chain – that’s one area where we certainly see a lot of convergence”
There certainly is an education piece that has to be addressed there, but also I think it’s part of the standard technology maturity cycle – we’re still in the earlier days of it.
CS: There certainly are a number of companies looking for a convergence of all these big tech concepts. When you talk about blockchain, you often hear AI and machine learning, and then also the IoT aspect. I’d say that at this point the synergies between AI and blockchain are slightly looser, but certainly with IoT… one of the great blockchain use cases is the world of supply chain. Supply chain makes use of IoT technology as well so there’s a nice synergy between them. That’s one area where we certainly see a lot of convergence.
Another great example is the mobility sector, whether it’s covering smart cities, autonomous vehicles, all these sorts of things. You hear about convergence there, and then also when people talk about IoT as well, all of these things coming together, there are some very big, well-recognised names, industry players who are doing very deep work in these specific spaces already.
I think this is the other side at times. When you see what’s happening in other sectors, it does blow you away.
TB: The EEA has got an extensive presence at the Blockchain Expo event later this month where you’re hosting a meetup. How important are these for engaging and re-engaging with the community?
CS: The motivation for actually creating the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance London meetup group was [that] it enables you to step out of the EEA organisation and give you an opportunity to get perspectives from people who aren’t necessarily thinking about the technology day in, day out, and provide content that’s valuable to them and give them a flavour of what’s happening there. Our Blockchain Expo MeetUp will be a chance to network and meet with the EEA’s Chaals Nevile who is speaking at the show.
I think the learning from it is that, as popular as it is, it’s still somewhat of a niche as well within the industry, in terms of the number of organisations involved in the space but also the size of the organisations that aren’t established corporates. They’re still relatively small compared with some of the larger tech industry, such as big data – especially cloud-based services which are offering services built on top of those main providers.
Interested in hearing more in person? Find out more at the Blockchain Expo World Series, Global, Europe and North America.