This year there were no big headline tech launches to speak of which is unusual for an event which in years gone by saw the launch of Twitter and Foursquare, to take but two.
But this year, the tone and content was quite different. The changing political landscape loomed large, chiefly with the ‘tech under Trump’ work stream but also with keynote speeches from Joe Biden and Corey Booker.
For 2017, the recurring theme was on a pervasive lack of trust and transparency between individuals and organisations, as well as between society and its governments.
Various barometers of sentiment reveal that we are at a historical low for trust in institutions such as banks and the media.
Four panels and presentations focused on the technology variously known as Blockchain or Distributed Ledger and how it can be applied to hardwire and build trust into our systems and interactions.
Discussions ranged from how this tech enables individual contribution, makes it easy to collaborate, decentralises power and creates hope for increasing equality.
There were hands-on workshops and introductions to some of the protocols, coding and design challenges in creating distributed data structures.
As a recap on ‘Blockchain’, it is effectively a record of assets, or any other kind of content, that is shared, replicated and encrypted so it becomes a verified and immutable source of truth. The blocks can’t be modified, but can be viewed, meaning a huge benefit lies in the added trust and transparency that provides.
Dr Tomicah Tillemann, of New America’s Bretton Woods II program is working with his team to apply the principles of blockchain to the US land registry system.
Speaking at SxSW he commented: “Institutions right now provide the facts at the foundation of our reality. I know there’s a land registry somewhere that says I own my house. I swipe my card because I know the bank will transfer the right money for me. As soon as people lose confidence, those systems start to break down really quickly.
“The exciting thing about blockchain is that it has the potential to create a layer of authentication and validation that can’t be tampered with. It’s a layer of reality locked in mathematically, and it’s locked in permanently, which is something we’ve never had before.”
IBM was also in attendance, focusing on the wider potential application of blockchain, announcing a blockchain solution with shipping container giant Maersk to track shipping containers across the world
With over 90% of goods in global trade carried by the ocean shipping industry each year, there are clear benefits to enhancing transparency and sharing information.
From the exchange of money between two parties, to documenting how goods move through a supply chain, and the making of contractual agreements, there are significant savings to be had in terms of cost and time as well as the potential to reduce risk and increase trust.