By Dr. Christopher Booth
ABIE France Sunset Seminar at the OECD
This week, I had the pleasure of attending one of the OECD’s (heavily secured) facilities, for a seminar on blockchain.
Boring? With a tagline of “better policies for better lives” emblazoned across the back of the stage, you may have thought this to be a forum for dry conversation on highly wonk-ish topics.
But no! This was an ABIE France Sunset Seminar on “Future-proofing your business using Blockchain”.
Formalities were warmly yet efficiently conducted with Greg Medcraft welcoming everyone to the OECD, sentiments that were also expressed by ABIE France Treasurer Stéphane Dupuy.
Bring in Tea Dietterich as compere to animate everyone, with Australian and French business people from all walks of life as the audience/’reverse-panel’ and the scene is set. Then, plonk in keynote speaker Leanne Kemp. She’s a Brissie girl (as Brisbane is known to Aussies), Chief Entrepreneur for the state of Queensland and overaccomplished businesswoman who’s a high-level advisor to the OECD (yet can still make analogies between data sovereignty and 19 year-olds giving ID to a nightclub bouncer). Now there was a fascinating start to the discussion!
Panelists were brought to the stage after the keynote address, with blockchain policy head at the OECD, Caroline Malcolm (also an Aussie!) and Prof. Nicolas Prat from ESSEC business school as the business systems thinker rounding out an interesting conversation team.
Including the keynote from Ms Kemp and the panel interaction with the audience, there was a lot to take in and a lot to consider. Here are a few things that I learned:
Everledger – Ms Kemp’s company – provides the tools for the certification and verification of the provenance of high value assets. For now, that means that they can tell someone if their diamond is certified and not a fake (but “Amazon was ‘just’ about books, to start. Watch this space!”). In a business that is soon to be worth nearly $100 billion per year across vastly global concerns (from just ten mines, to one key place for cutting & polishing, to multitudes of retail vendors), that’s pretty important.
But it was argued that blockchain technologies can feasibly be applied in any value chain, especially where the following exists:
– Forgery or counterfeiting is a problem
– The problem is valuable enough to want to fix
– There are harmonized, global frameworks for both certification and contracts (the Kimberley Process, through the U.N.)
Lea Dias from Quaefactor asked the panel their thoughts on blockchain for vaccine and pharmaceutical counterfeiting: what is necessary for sectors to move on implementing the technology? The prevailing view was that – although there could be various arguments for doing this – a sector needs to have enough of an existential crisis, for them to want to show that they are “squeaky clean” (think of Leo DiCaprio’s ‘Blood Diamonds’ movie and the effect such retail backlash can bring).
The term ‘blockchain’ is likely to disappear in the next 5-10 years
As blockchain technology becomes ubiquitous, the World Wide Web will basically become the World Wide Ledger for all engagements online.
But the rush to blockchain – and social media – has led to too many people giving away too much of their personal information. The concept of data sovereignty for the individual is a counterpoint to the overswing, where the likes of Facebook and others already know too much about you. [“Mr Zuckerberg, my father tells me that Facebook knows everything about me”. “Kid, he’s not your father.”]
TIP: we were told to check out the “Brave” search engine – where they don’t sell your data to others, but you get recompensed! I’ll check it out…
“Ever heard of ‘Fog Computing’?”
The four key technologies that will change our world in the coming decade are blockchain technologies, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence; and something I had never heard of before – ‘Fog Computing’. (A small, low-lying cloud…? Decentralized cloud computing! Leanne was insistent that we all check it out). Various permutations and combinations of these will make massive changes, across all sectors. But, like with the spread of internet, it will be possible for businesses and people to slowly adopt usage.
So then, the conversation became even more interesting when an audience member commented that the only way that nation-states (such as those that are party to the OECD!) will be able to tax citizens is on real estate and consumption. The discussion was held back from careening into positing the future of the nation-state (except for reference to Digital Autonomous Organisations, basically a collection of smart contracts), but the policy consideration on tax is nicely developed and boiled down to the question: how and where is value created, added and shared?
It was noted that further policy items covered by the OECD certainly included blockchain ledgers of real estate, but also independent and verifiable repositories of tax records, the nuts & bolts of digital identity for individuals & businesses, as well as the expected references to supply chain management & verification, and financial instruments.
The final question that wrapped it all up just nicely, started with an observation: that the changes in the next decade could well be greater than those of the last 250 years.With the OECD having a policy mandate for Capacity Building (people having the skills needed to deal with these changes) and there being a business leader and a business educator on the panel, it was asked what could be one thing that people should learn, to cope with such a future?
Panelists were quite pointed in emphasizing the development of ‘soft skills’ in life, including empathy, knowing how to ask questions and to be innovative, an entrepreneur.
I heartily agree!
[Note that all of these thoughts are my own and – although a member of ABIE – I had no part in organising this session. I’ve been accused of gushing, but it was just that good an event!]