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Blockchain was hot in Davos

Blog. Blockchain, ethics and AI, robotics and ethics, and a human manifesto. These are some of the take aways took back from a week in January in Davos, where the global elite gathered for World Economic Forum 2017.

Don Tapscott speaking at Belvedere Hotel, Davos, WEF17

“The blockchain technology can solve the growing economic disparity.” Those were the word of Don Tapscott, the author of the Blockchain Revolution (a highly recommended read) and the main speaker at a session on the new technology. Another best-selling author, Matthew Bishop of The Economist joined the choir and declared: “Blockchain is the second change to get the Internet right.

The panel, also including Elena Kvochko, CIO in Barclays, Chines blockchain investor Wei Wang, Primavera De Fillippi, professor at Harvard and Richard Caetano, founder of Stratum and more all agreed that we need a new digital infrastructure, where humans get back control over their own lives, and where the so-called sharing economy becomes a true sharing economy.

“I always laugh when people call Uber sharing economy. They are succesful because they don’t share,” said Don Tapscott and his comment on the current data companies harvesting our personal data, he said: “I call them data frakers. They have made virtual images of all of us, and we need to get our identities back.”

Bankers and investment experts had flocked to Davos and many see huge promise in the blockchain despite the fact that the blockchain eliminates the need for middlemen just like banks.

Elena Kvochko of Barclays explained why it was interesting for banks: It solves the problem of identity, it is hard to fake it. It solves the problem of documentation meaning you leave your fingerprints which cannot be changed. And it needs heavy investing (which big banks have).

In short the block chain is a new digital infrastructure, where the need for middlemen is gone. It is like a magic notebook where everything you write is copied on all pieces of papers in the notebook that we all have access to. We are, so to say, all in sync.

For example you can make a smart contract with somebody online – and trust that person – without knowing him or having a middleman like the bank or Paypal verify your identities, as you cannot fake them.

Getting to Davos is hard. The most beautiful way is taking the train from Zurich through the mountains.

A very good perspective on the blockchain was delivered by the MIT-expert Joi Ito (recording). He also has high hope with the blockchain but warned that like with everything else there is good and bad and it will be the same with the blockchain.
There’s a bubble right now with the blockchain. People invest in it as it was much further ahead in its development than it is. Blockchain is where the Internet was in 1987, but they invest in it as it is where the Internet was in 1997.

AI, Robotics, Ethics & Privacy
New tech, especially AI and Robotics, was high on the WEF-agenda. Both in the Congress Center where only  the invited were allowed (and most recorded) and at the hotels and other venues around Davos.

At the Sanctuary, CEO of Hanson Robotics, David Hanson, predicted that in 5-10 years, we have conscious machines:

” A conscious machine can make deeply ethical decisions, if we teach them right, that is to socialize and make human decisions. We need to build ethical algorithms. We need to train the robots to get along with us.”

At a session at the congress center called What if Privacy Becomes a Luxury Good (recording) Michael F. Neidorff, Chairman and CEO of Centene Corporation, agitated that health data belongs to the individual and should be protected. And Evelyn Rupert, Professor at Goldsmiths, University of London said that we are seeing an emergence of privacy claims and that this is only early days.

Humans in the Center

During the week ‘A human manifesto’ was circulated. The headline – human – might indicate next year’s topin on WEF 18, as many delegates mentioned the need to put humans in the center.