Conference Organisers: Dont Get Seduced By Crypto Fever​

Before I begin, it is vital that I make one thing very clear. By writing this piece, it is not my intention to judge or undermine event organisers. They must be congratulated for all their hard work, and it’s important to remember that conferences are a platform for innovation. They facilitate connections, inspire new thinking, and enable innovators to promote themselves and obtain much-needed visibility as a result of being given a forum to speak and exhibit. It’s always a great pleasure to cover our favourite conferences, and include them in our 2018 Conference Directory. We consider it as our duty to support them, so keep up the good work!
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It’s a busy time of the year for conference organisers. That’s because they are working full tilt before school’s out for summer, and conference halls across the northern hemisphere fall silent. I was reminded that vacation season will soon be upon us when I attended CogX on Monday, and also Tech Expo Global by Encore Media Group back in April (attendees at both events were subjected to sweltering temperatures).

Some attendees at these events were clearly suffering from a mysterious kind of fever – crypto fever. In addition to a high temperature, other symptoms include mania and irrational thinking. I haven’t seen anything like it since the late 90s when dotcom stocks rocketed to record levels. I couldn’t figure out if this collective malaise was something I should celebrate or be concerned by.

The organisers of CogX had, until recently, simply billed their two-day event as the festival of all things Artificial Intelligence (AI). I couldn’t help but notice that they too had succumbed to jumping on the bandwagon by opportunistically tagging on the word “blockchain” to their strapline. As a result of attending a substantial amount of tech events this year, I can indeed contest that by simply adding this magical buzzword, it will attract substantially more speakers, sponsors, and attendees, so why wouldn’t they?

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CogX18: 11-12 June London, UK

There is no doubt in my mind that blockchain is not a fad and is very definitely here to stay. The hype around Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is, in my opinion, justified because, once scalability issues have been solved, it will become a universal protocol for an entirely new decentralised distributed web. I only have a problem with event organisers who cynically shoehorn it into their schedule as an afterthought to get a free ride on the bandwagon. To do it justice it must be baked into the conference agenda from the outset otherwise it will come across as contrived and disingenuous.

Having said that, this is not an accusation levelled at the CogX team as they did an excellent job of integrating the two themes of AI and Blockchain across their two-day event, as did Tech Expo Global. However, the latter went one step further by offering a 3-in-1 extravaganza of AI, Blockchain, and IoT. Held at Olympia on one of the hottest April days on record it was fascinating to see convergence in action. By the way, if you happen to be in Amsterdam later this month, the extravaganza will be held for a second time, this time under the guise of Tech Expo Europe.

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IoT Tech Expo Global: 18-19 April 2018, London, UK

What I will say about Tech Expo Global was that I did notice some mild tension in the room, well expo hall, between the new kids on the block -chain, (forgive the pun) and the more established IoT and AI crowd. After speaking to some of the AI Expo and IoT Expo exhibitors, a clash of cultures was very evident. They told me that throughout the event Blockchain Expo attendees had wondered over to their side of the expo hall to ask what IoT and AI was! When told they appeared puzzled because they couldn’t understand why they would exhibit their wares at a Blockchain event. You see there is a widely held belief among “Token-Flippers” (more on them later) that blockchain is only about cryptocurrency, which is why they had difficulty figuring out what blockchain had to do with either IoT or AI.

To avoid confusion perhaps an alternative approach is needed. Maybe that’s why the organisers of IoT Solutions World Congress decided to take a different tack. Rather than run three separately themed expos simultaneously, they have gone for a single event focused on convergence.

Tech Expo Global was an excellent event and there are many good things to say about it, so before I move on, I’d like to congratulate them on doing a good job and for being one of the first to embrace convergence.

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IoT Solutions World Congress: 16-18 October 2018, Barcelona, Spain
Another conference series I’d like to give a special mention to is the Summit Series by Nexus Mediacom. Over the past few years, I have attended numerous events organised by them as a media partner. Last year I was even asked, at the last minute, to be a conference chair at their Blockchain Summit in London, which I enjoyed immensely. I have watched the series go from strength to strength, so they too should be congratulated.
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Blockchain Summit: 28 Nov 2017, London, UK

A continuing problem for tech conference organisers, however, will be the challenge of helping their sponsors, visitors and delegates understand why IoT, AI, and DLT should not be siloed, and convince them that convergence is vital for the ecosystem.

Today IoT vendors attend conferences to flog hardware; sensors and connectivity infrastructure. AI folk sell analytics solutions that use AI to autonomously crunch through and make sense of all the mindbogglingly complex data generated by the IoT guys. Genuine blockchain innovators need time to figure out how they can integrate with IoT and AI in order to add value. However, speaking frankly, there were too many I met at Blockchain Expo Global who seriously lacked even basic technical knowledge. They are the people I cynically refer to as “Token-Flippers”; uninformed retail investors who exchange fiat money they can’t afford to lose for highly volatile intangible “crypto” assets they don’t really understand.

If you don’t understand a project behind a token, and you don’t intend to actually use the product once it’s deployed then, you don’t have any business buying the project’s token in the first place! Period. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. [Rant over].

That is why I have limited patience for this ilk of attendee who are increasingly showing up at tech conferences masquerading as “experts”. If you run into anyone calling themselves an ICO or Blockchain Consultant – approach with caution. Although the majority are legit, some are Hype-Merchants and they are the people who are throwing money around like they’ve just won the lottery.

The problem is that too many of these ICO-touters are promising to deliver fully-scaleable dapps within the near future in order to raise money for their blockchain projects today. This will lead to a growing number of Token-Flippers investing with an expectation that they will make a quick buck. When their expectations are not met, because blockchain is not yet scaleable, projects will end up taking much longer to fully implement. With no prospect of being able to flip their tokens (because no exchanges will accept them) the Token-Flipping brigade could turn on the ICO-touters en mass sparking a collective crypto meltdown. If this happens we may see things look spookily like they did during the Dotcom Bubble in 2000. The truth is that it will take many years to figure out how to scale blockchain from a few TPS today to millions or trillions to meet the demands of tomorrow’s decentralised internet. This will not take weeks or months. For goodness’ sake, it took over two decades to scale TCP/IP!

Not only are they creating volatility, but they are also driving up prices and creating a toxic environment for the true innovators that are increasingly being sidelined. Worse still is a worrying trend that I do hold conference organisers responsible for – putting sponsored shills ahead of genuine influencers. If I see a speaker line-up that is made up of people with spurious credentials who have clearly paid for the opportunity to speak, I won’t be attending that event again. End of story. Conference organisers have a responsibility to deliver value and should bear in mind that in addition to the entrance fee, there are many ancillary expenses incurred by conference-goers such as travel, accommodation, and the opportunity cost of time away from work.

In other words, accepting payment from dubious speakers in order to allow them to spam their audience is a recipe for disaster, so please don’t do it! You may be making a fortune today, but once they are bitten they will remain twice shy and next year probably won’t return. Attendees expect inspiration, entertainment, and insight from industry veterans or plucky upstarts who are actually doing something genuinely new and interesting. Please, please, please event organisers do your research or pay someone who can do it for you. Please filter out the crud and make sure that those who are given a platform are there because they have earned the right, not paid for the privilege. The stand out winner so far for the best due diligence was the team behind CogX – they deserve props, as Tabitha Goldstaub and Charlie Muirhead clearly did their homework. Their speaker lineup really was stellar!

One final thing to say about the current crypto boom to any conference organisers reading this. Although it is tempting to take easy money offered to you now, believe me, when the crypto correction comes, the speculative money that is around in abundance this year will, at some point, suddenly vanish. It may be next year or the year after, but when the crypto bubble bursts, Lamborghini orders tank, and the clamour of obnoxious ICO marketeers falls silent, how many of the companies exhibiting with you today will still be around? If you take good care of the true pioneers that have been with you from the very beginning, they will return. They may not be falling over themselves to spend lavishly on sponsoring afterparties, or possess limitless budgets for extravagant exhibition stands, but they will continue to show up year on year, unlike those pesky Token-Flippers. Trust me, when the crypto-winter comes they will be the first to run for the hills.

Those with the right stuff will remain, quietly getting on with the business of building hugely disruptive multibillion-dollar ventures that will utilise blockchain technology. Not because it’s a buzzword, but because it actually adds value to their product. Don’t forget, Rome was not built in a day and neither will the token economy be. It will take time, and grit, and determination, and an awful lot of hard work. Only when the hype and bluster subsides can the true innovation begin.

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