In a keynote address Monday on the Main Stage of SF Blockchain Week, ICON Foundation member Min Kim explored how blockchain technology is creating what he calls a “hyperconnected world” of boundless interoperability and what ICON is contributing to building it.
“When we think about the internet, the internet has created a connected world,” he said. “And what we believe is that blockchain will take that to the next level and create a hyperconnected world. If you Google the word ‘blockchain,’ you start to get a picture like you see on the first page of the presentation, and that is a visual representation of a world where we believe value can be exchanged freely.”
Transitioning from operability to interoperability
Kim began his address by examining the current state of the blockchain industry, an industry he believes is moving from operability to interoperability. “I like to start off with a big, big picture where you have, on one hand, blockchain operability, and we are transitioning to the other hand, which is blockchain interoperability,” he said. “When you look at the big picture again, we are stuck in operability because there are still many, many challenges and we need a lot more technology solutions, we need to solve adoption, we need more input from people, from enterprises, from government.”
He said, however, that we can overcome the challenges if we put enough sufficiently financed brains in the same room. “What everyone believes, what we believe, is that if we get enough smart people together, and we have enough capital at work, we will figure things out,” he said. “We believe we will eventually move to a hyperconnected world.”
An industry of ever widening options
Kim provided the audience gathered at San Francisco’s Hilton Union Square an overview of trends that have swept the blockchain space, from the enterprise blockchain boom of 2015 to the current flood of ICOs. In particular, he noted the influx of new competitors into the crypto exchange space. Drawn by the high profits generated by the growth in ICOs, these newer exchanges are trying to differentiate themselves. Kim grouped them into six broad categories: licensing companies, companies creating new models such as trans-fee mining, new platform tokens working with exchanges, security tokens such as OpenFinance, DEX, and asset-specific exchanges.
He said, “Overall, these trends are great for token projects like ICON because they provide a lot more options.”
Global dominance vs. regional focus
A lot of people ask Kim how ICON will compete in the crypto space. Kim said he has two theories on how the blockchain industry will play out: the global theory and the regional theory.
The global theory, he explained, envisions players who dominate worldwide a la Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Globally dominant platforms have much to recommend them, including worldwide development communities, high scalability and globally accessible tokens. He said that while it’s still early, the strong global traction so far demonstrated by platforms such as Ethereum and EOS indicate that those projects are off to a strong start along the road to planet-wide dominance.
The regional theory, on the other hands, posits a few players that dominate a specific region, such as the United States, Korea or China. Projects such as Aion, VeChain and ICON employ this strategy. “Although I’m pretty biased, the reason we decided to go with this strategy is that there is too much friction with the technology, with education, with tokens accessibility, with adoption, with DApp distribution,” he said. “So we believe that by focusing on a certain region, putting all our resources into a certain region, working on partnerships with those who can help up with things like adoption, this could help us dominate a specific region before going into the global market.”
Many spaces in which to contribute
Though Kim acknowledged that enterprise blockchains are suffering now, he said experience has taught him that providers of such platforms won’t struggle forever. Big companies such as IBM and Korean tech giant Naver are launching joint ventures with existing crypto currency platforms or building their own blockchain solutions. Governments in countries such as Korea and Singapore and self-regulatory organizations are facilitating growth in the blockchain industry by providing grants and programs.
“All in all, we believe that the invisible hand is hard at work,” said Kim. “You see a lot of good competition coming in. Some will succeed, some will die, and you’ll also see a lot of consolidation. All in all, the innovation will push us towards interoperability. “
Kim stressed that innovation was taking place in spaces other than exchanges, enterprise blockchain and public blockchain, too.
“If you’re an entrepreneur sitting here thinking you want to get into this space, trying to figure out what you can contribute, you have to look at how there are so many limitations in all of these categories,” he said. “There are things you can do such as create a better compliance software for exchanges, or create better educational materials for public blockchains. There are other ways you can help the blockchain industry transition to hyperconnectivity.”
A hyperconnected world in microcosm
Kim finished his keynote address by sharing with the audience how ICON has been contributing to the blockchain space. The philosophy of the ICON universe – the so-called “ICON Republic” – is to support 1,000 blockchains. Accordingly, the platform’s team has focused on building a complete network linking exchanges, enterprises, governments and DApp developers, albeit within a very specific region – Korea.
“It’s like we’re very, very focused on creating a mini hyperconnected world to begin with,” said Kim. “Our end goal is interoperability. We believe that by creating a mini hyperconnected world, we’ll learn to innovate a lot faster.”
And on the innovation side, Kim said the ICON team has been really pushing new ideas, new barriers and new methods. ICON has been working with DApp developers to lower transaction costs. It has been using artificial intelligence and machine learning to build better risk reward systems. The team is also trying to create a fair system that rewards users for their actual contributions to the ecosystem. Citing the examples of tech companies that reinvest earnings into their companies instead of paying dividends and countries such as Korea and China that enforce capital controls to promote reinvestment, Kim said, “Although ICON is not trying to create capital controls, we’re at least tying to incentive people, especially smart contract operators, to spend more time on the ecosystem and reinvest the earnings into the ecosystem.”
Kim said ICON has even started taking its show global, using lessons learned in Korea, one of the world’s leading tech test beds. ICON has opened offices in San Francisco and Tokyo and another will open soon in Singapore. He said, “Honestly, there is a lot more testing to do, a lot more learning to do, but we’re ready to scale and deploy our DApp network.”
Citing the ICON team’s deep experience working with enterprises and governments, Kim said ICON was up to the task of building a hyperconnected world.
“By working with enterprises and on the ICON project, we believe we’re uniquely positioned to build a technology for interoperability from the very beginning,” he said. “So how our architecture, how our designers, how our CTO have been thinking about interoperability is through the experiences working with our clients.”
He concluded, “We’re building our technology from ground up. We’re making it very flexible to allow any entity to join the icon network.”