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Here’s What You Missed About the Blockchain and Pokémon at Brainstorm Tech

Fortune Brainstorm TECH 2016 

2:00 PM
From digital currencies like Bitcoin to decentralized real estate ownership records, the blockchain continues to be one of the tech world’s most promising and perplexing technologies. Join a group of entrepreneurs and investors to discuss whether blockchain technologies will spark a revolution—or end up on the coding room floor.
Brian Armstrong, CEO, Coinbase
Jim Breyer, CEO, Breyer Capital
Adam Ludwin, CEO, Chain
Justin Newton, CEO and CTO, Netki
Moderator: Robert Hackett, Reporter, Fortune
Finance Track hosted by RBC Capital Markets

PHOTOGRAPH BY Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH

By Robert Hackett for Fortune

The hope and hype

Back at sea level, I’ve finally kicked the dizzying, dehydrating bout of altitude sickness that took hold in Aspen, where Fortune held its annual Brainstorm Tech conference this week. (Maybe it was just the excitement?) For those not in attendance, here’s a quick recap of the roundtables I had the pleasure of moderating.

The first, on the so-called blockchain, drew a crowd interested in the newfangled technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Some highlights: Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, talked up an alternate system of cryptocurrency, Ethereum, that can execute “smart” contracts. Jim Breyer, founder of Breyer Capital, said he had met as many as seven people claiming to know the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the famously elusive, pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin (none checked out). And Justin Newton, CEO of Netki, proposed putting Pokémon on the blockchain. (Consider this a petition, Nintendo NTDOY 11.95% .)

At one point, I called on Peggy Johnson, head of global business development at Microsoft MSFT 0.48% , who wasn’t an officially listed participant, to expound on why she had a day prior, during a main stage panel, cited the blockchain as having vast disruptive potential. A good sport, she mentioned the possibility of overhauling industries besides finance, such as healthcare. Adam Ludwin at Chain, meanwhile, fired back that he believes the word “blockchain” is being abused. Unless there’s a transferable financial asset involved, he argued, then it’s just database management featuring cryptographic signatures. Innovations with respect to electronic medical records, in his view, don’t qualify.

The second panel, on cybersecurity, touched on the latest digital attack trends and defense tactics. One attendee told the group she had once been personally hacked to tune of six figures. Thankfully, she said, Chase JPM -0.34% , her bank, had been able to return the cash. Steve Herrod, a general partner at the venture capital firm General Catalyst, shared a similarly nightmarish experience. When he served as the chief tech officer of EMC’s EMC -0.04% (soon Dell’s) VMware VMW 4.96% , hackers infiltrated the company and stole its source code. Eventually, they published it online, line by line.

The breakfast session also featured Elena Kvochko, head of security strategy at Barclays BCS 1.25% , Paul Judge, CEO of Luma and chairman of Pindrop Security, and Michelle Zatlyn, chief operating officer at CloudFlare. Others made an appearance, too: Glenn Chisholm, chief tech officer at antivirus firm Cylance, Emmanuel Schlait, CEO of password manager Dashlane, and Nico Sell, founder of the Wickr Foundation. A big thank you to all who came and contributed.

Not hours after descending from the mountains, developments abroad brought me back down to earth. A horrific massacre in Nice, France. Later, an attemptedmilitary coup in Turkey. Reminders both of geopolitical instability and international unrest. As always, stay safe, dear readers.

First appeared at Fortune

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