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I was among the over 10,000 people who attended ETHDenver 2022 last week. It was a conference covering several blocks in Denver, Colo., and lasted for more than a week. ETHDenver is more technical than other cryptocurrency-oriented events such as Art Basel and Bitcoin Miami. There are hackers from all over the globe coming together to create projects on Ethereum Blockchain. But the conference was also full of venture capitalists, speculators, politicians, EDM enthusiasts—and unfortunately, COVID-19. Here’s what I saw during my week in Denver.
A COVID-19 Infection
My throat felt tickled when I boarded the plane from Denver. The next day, I felt like I was being run over by trucks. I felt nauseated, fatigued, and I still had chills. The results of two antigen tests confirmed what I knew, that I had COVID-19. Twitter was quick to inform me that I wasn’t the only one.
This is not surprising in hindsight. Thousands of people from around the world descended up on a few indoor spaces—most centrally, a ratty six-story former Sports Authority known as the Sports Castle, whose bathrooms stopped working halfway through the conference—and proceeded to talk loudly in each other’s faces for hours on end. Social distancing was almost non-existent and people wearing masks were rare. While everyone was required to take a rapid test before entering the conference on their first day, vaccinations weren’t required, and participants had plenty of chances to contract the virus at numerous indoor nighttime parties staged across the city.
Attendees joked that ETHDenver 2020 had been one of COVID-19’s initial superspreader events. Even though people may want to get over it, 2022 was an important reminder of the fact that pandemics are still very much alive. Everyone who attended the conference should get tested right away.
You are the host of a panel
On Saturday afternoon, before I felt any symptoms, I hosted a panel at the castle’s mainstage entitled “Is Blockchain the Future of Technology?” The four panelists were powerhouses leading major blockchain projects: Illia Polosukhin, a co-founder of the blockchain NEAR; Sam Kazemanian, the founder of the stablecoin Frax; Ric Burton, the CEO at Balance Software; and Eva Beylin, the director of blockchain data company the Graph Foundation.
The whole video can be viewed below. We talked about the differences between Silicon Valley and crypto companies and why crypto companies have so many ex-techies; and the aspects of blockchain technology they’re most excited about, including the use of machine learning toward creating a safer and more secure user experience. Asked for their thoughts on the metaverse, here’s how three of the panelists responded:
Eva Beylin “When it comes to the metaverse, the infrastructure of the metaverse needs to be decentralized. When companies like Meta come out, it’s unclear if they’re achieving the vision or just rebranding. Creatively, the metaverse allows for us to create a digital afterlife. While Instagram, Twitter, and other web 2 social media captures our thoughts and images, they’re stored on centralized servers. But when you think about afterlife—your legend or what lives on after you’re gone—the metaverse, given everything is permanent on chain and people can interact with it, kind of enables all of us to live on beyond our physical body.”
Ric Burton “F-ck the metaverse. Let’s get people paid. Let’s get them so they don’t have to worry about next month’s rent. Let’s get them building cool sh-t and having fun and looking people in the eye and falling in love and going to a forest. F-ck putting goggles on your eyes.”
Illia Polisukhin: “We are living in the metaverse already. Everyone here owns a phone that has the majority of their life stored in that particular device. This data is shared with the rest of the ecosystem. My definition of the term “in the metaverse” is where at least 50% of your assets, communications and friendships are online. It is already here. 3D glasses and VR don’t really matter as much as the connections we build and the things we do in this very rich environment.”
The Cryptocurrency Movement attracted political leaders
Cryptocurrency’s influence is growing in Washington, as evidenced by the Recent congressional hearingsincreasing numbers of presidential candidates placing crypto at the heart of their campaigns. At ETHDenver, politicians came onto crypto’s turf, most notably Colorado Governor Jared Polis and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
Gov. Polis, who is a democrat has always been an advocate of cryptocurrency. Co-founding of the Blockchain CaucusWhen he was an elected house representative in 2016. In a keynote speech, he declared that Colorado would begin accepting cryptocurrency state taxes by the end of this summer. “We see the blockchain as a critical part of Colorado’s overall innovation ecosystem,” he said. “When it comes to privacy and information, one of the main parties says, ‘trust corporations,’ while the other says, ‘trust the government.’ Most don’t trust either. That’s what the blockchain allows us to solve for: It can disintermediate both corporations and the government.”
Yang made a surprising entry at the conference. On Saturday, he was seen flitting around taking photos with his fans. (“I’m a republican, but I love you,” one conference goer told him before asking for a photo.”) Yang declined an interview with TIME, before later declaring onstage that “Web3 could be the biggest anti-poverty initiative in the history of the world.”
Each floor featured rows upon rows of tables, beanbags stuffed with coders who worked tirelessly to create new blockchain-based projects. More than 170 teams participated in the competition for $1,000,000 in prizes, bounties, and investment capital. Five of those teams were the final winners. They included DustSweeper (which tries to lower Ethereum’s high transaction fees by sending users small amounts of money); Loudverse, which is an exchange for public goods, such as poetry and music; and Proof of Meditation which awards users tokens for completing a regular meditation practice.
Also, the Ethereum Foundation works to enhance the Ethereum blockchain’s underlying infrastructure. announced a breakthrough An effort to make the network faster and cheaper.
Vitalik Takes Centerstage
The conference’s main man was Vitalik Buterin, the 28-year-old founder of Ethereum who has become something of crypto’s central philosopher over the past decade. Buterin gave two talks. His talk style is discursive, and often very theoretical. It was difficult for him to deliver specific, succinct points from his speeches. He spoke about blockchain’s tendency to be based heavily on theories, but its developers should also use more empirical methods when developing its platforms.
The second talk is entitled “Steps to the Digital State,”He spoke about the importance of crypto-based governance experiments, such as City tokens or City DAO, starting small and building on it. He also addressed the environmental critiques many have about the blockchain space, calling the concerns “fair.” But he said that Ethereum’s switch from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake—a process that theoretically keeps the blockchain running and secure—would drastically reduce the blockchain’s environmental impact. Any companies concerned about adversely impacting the environment should delay any partnerships with Ethereum for at least one week. “If the merge gets delayed until 2025, then you’re not going to do it until 2025,” he says. “So you’re not contributing to the environmental challenge: In fact, you’re contributing to the motivation for this community to keep up the good work and get the thing over the finish line.”