Korea Blockchain Expo 2018 has come and gone.
The two-day event, brandishing the slogan, “Blockchain: From Ideal to Reality,” hammered the idea of integrating blockchain into daily life. Most of the presentations focused on public policy, public-private partnerships and grafting blockchain onto the real economy. As an educational exercise, the conference was certainly interesting, though the lack of any new policy announcements might have been a let down to some. As a promotional and networking event, though, certain organizational and logistical decisions might have made the event less effective than it could have been.
Encouraging, but nothing new
Korea Blockchain Expo 2018’s speaker list included more than a few politicians and public officials – not a huge surprise, given the expo’s emphasis on public-private partnership in developing and using blockchain.
On the one hand, this provided audiences opportunities to learn about the many blockchain initiatives being undertaken at the national and local level in Korea, including Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Blockchain City Seoul project and Busan and Jeju’s efforts to transform themselves into crypto hubs. On the other hand, anyone who was looking forward to some ground shaking announcement – such as one on Seoul finally legalizing ICOs – would be sorely disappointed.
Case in point: parliamentarian Hye Hoon Lee, the nominee for chairperson of the National Assembly’s Special Committee on the 4th Industrial Revolution, who spoke on the first morning of the Expo during a session of the direction of innovation of Korea’s blockchain industry. She said all the right things. She pointed out that unclear government regulations were creating an uncertain environment that was holding back the development of the blockchain industry. She called on the authorities to benchmark countries such as the United States, China and Japan, where clear regulations let entrepreneurs and investors know exactly where the lines were drawn. She pledged that the National Assembly would encourage change, and that her special committee would help cultivate the blockchain sector by crafting appropriate regulations after listening to industry voices.
What she did not do, though, was say what those regulations might be. In regard to ICOs, she said, “The current government is in the middle of a study of ICOs, and as the government has said it would announce its position on the matter in November, I think there’s a possibility of change” – in effect, telling audiences what they already knew.
Another case in point: Wonki Min, the Vice Ministry of Science and Technology and chairperson of the OECD committee on digital economy policy, who gave one of the congratulatory addresses to open the Expo.
“In order to popularize blockchain and lead the market, it’s urgent that we create success cases where blockchain is essentially used in our daily lives,” he said. “The government will work hard, making this year the first of activating the blockchain industry.” Pointing out that the United States, EU and China were engaged in an intense competition to capture new markets by granting blockchain onto existing industries and by developing new technology, he warned that Korea could not look towards its future with much optimism if it fell behind. But besides reviewing his government’s current efforts to promote the blockchain sector, he offered little else to get those involved in said sector excited.
Go Gwangchul, the CEO of hankyung.com, one of the main organizers of the Expo, summed up the situation. “We [i.e., Korea] have a lot of talented people in high technology,” he said during a quick coffee break. “If the government energizes those talents in the industry, we can excel more than other countries. But the government is very, very cautious about the crypto currency market. Some officials say they are encouraging blockchain technology, but also that they should strictly regulate the cryptocurrency market. It’s a kind of nonsense. But the government is doing that.”
He took an optimistic view, though. “The good news from the parliamentary section, as you heard from Hye Hoon Lee, is that the government is now trying to legislate some laws about the blockchain industry development,” he said. “Industry people need much more orderly regulation, so things will change maybe. Next month we’re expecting some guideline from the government, but I’m not sure what those guidelines might be. Some positives. We should wait.”
Yeah, but tell us about ICON
This being The Iconist, we’d be amiss if we didn’t discuss the participation of ICON, an official partner of the Expo.
ICON Foundation Council Member Jong Hyup Kim spoke in the afternoon of the first day of Expo, introducing the ICON project during a session of public-private cooperation for the development of blockchain technology. In particular, he discussed ICON’s cooperative projects with government organizations. These include a next-generation online voting system based on blockchain, currently being worked on with the National Election Commission; a blockchain-based records service for the Korea Customs Service; and five projects with Seoul Metropolitan Government, including blockchain projects for dealing used cars and promoting participatory urban administration.
Kim also pointed to the so-called “Oracle Problem” as blockchain’s biggest stumbling block. Sure, data recorded to the blockchain might be next to impossible to counterfeit or change, but you still have no idea whether the data itself is any good.Kim suggested that private chains might offer a solution. “The bad development environment, that blockchain is a pain for users because it’s slow, these are secondary problems,” he said. “If we make the responsible party clear by using private chains, we can solve the Oracle Problem.”
He added, “If we realize an interchain connecting various private blockchains and connect it to governance, we’ll really be able to carry out the transactions that occur in reality.”
ICON had a prominent information booth, too, flanked by booths for two of the platform’s star DApps, STAYGE and weBloc. ICONLOOP communications official Heejae Yeon, who was manning the ICON booth, said the Expo was a perfect time for the platform. “This gathering is for influencers, investors and policy makers, everyone who is interested in blockchain,” she said. “We’re proud to introduce ourselves to them. We’ve met people from exchanges and other tech giants in Korea.”
Steve Cho of weBloc agreed. “It’s always good to have a chance to meet a lot of investors and fellow project leaders and good friends from other projects, so we can share our knowledge and if there’s a concern, we can ask each other and sometimes a solution turns up,” he said. “Whenever I come to a conference like this, there are always general people who barely understand blockchain technologies and the market, but today, I met three, four or five investment teams, so that’s promising.”
At the STAYGE booth, communications officer Hailey Lee was busy dishing out information to the crypto-curious. “I met a lot of people who just started ICO projects or were planning to, so many people came here to ask about what’s going on and what we were doing,” she said. “We just shared the information. I couldn’t meet many investors, but many people still have interest in blockchain and ICO.”
The good, the bad, the abysmal
As an inaugural effort, Korea Blockchain Expo 2018 definitely got high marks for content. The invited speakers represented a healthy cross-section of Korea’s growing blockchain industry, with a couple of international speakers to provide comparisons and keep things interesting. The lack of earth-shattering public policy announcements notwithstanding, the main sessions – which were almost always full, much to the chagrin of this writer, who had a tough time finding a seat when he arrived late to one of them – informed and entertained, even if non-Korean speaking members of the audience might have found the simultaneous translations a bit difficult to follow at times.
“I find the Expo very interesting, especially on the first day,” said Ray Wong, the co-founder of Hong Kong-based company LuTech, a company that designs, build and sells cost-effective and environmentally friendly data centers solutions for the Data Center industry. “There were government officials coming in and we can see Korea’s determination to become crypto-friendly and develop blockchain and integrate it in society. Today we saw more projects and saw how they are integrated in society. A lot of the attendees are very high quality and good caliber. The Expo has attracted a lot of international attendants as well as local ones.”
Other aspects of the Expo could probably do with a review
The lunch was universally panned, or at least by those participants interviewed by this writer. “The lunch was abysmal,” said weBloc’s Steve Cho. STAYGE’s Hailey Lee echoed the sentiment. “The lunch really sucked,” she said.
More mission critical, however, were issues pertaining to the location and special arrangements.
The Expo’s venue, the Conference Center of the Grand Hilton Hotel Seoul, is located in a beautiful, mountainous area of northwestern Seoul, an area made all the more lovely by the colorful autumn foliage. It’s not especially close or easy to reach from downtown, though, and for businesses in the Gangnam district, where many of Korea’s blockchain companies are based, it’s practically North Korea. The Expo was also divided between three floors, with the main stage on the top one, the booths and side stages on the middle one and lunch on the bottom. The result – while the main stage on the top floor was usually packed, people often bypassed the second floor, missing the booths and secondary events. For one presentation during the meetup session conference on the Expo’s second day, there were only eight people in the seats. Eric Alexandre of Singapore-based sports and entertainment platform Jetcoin was watching from the outside. “I met that guy at lunch yesterday,” he said about the lonely presenter. “I feel bad for him.”
The booths were a mixed bag, too. On the bright side, there were plenty of fascinating projects on hand, including blockchain-based hospital information solutions, projects marrying blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics and blockchain-based legal services. Though most of the projects on display were Korean, there were international ones there, too, including US-based blockchain logistics project Fr8 Network and Japan-based Asobi Market, which tokenizers the secondary market for digital content.
On the less bright side, many of the projects in attendance were virtually unknown. “Most of the people, most of the coins, most of the booths, there are some new ones and some familiar ones, too,” said Juno Kim of blockchain news and community site D.Street. “It’s not organized that much. “Like ICON, I know, that’s very famous. And Argo, too. But most of them are not that famous. They’re not that familiar to the people.”