On Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Beyond Bitcoin Mania! – Exploring the Promise & Peril of Blockchains” that was co-sponsored by Pepper Hamilton LLP and Duke Law School. As an alumnus of Duke, I occasionally attend alumni events, and I was particularly interested in this one. As one might expect, the venue was packed with an enthusiastic crowd ranging from folks with very little understanding of blockchain to the cognoscenti of the blockchain world.

Interestingly, rather than ask folks to “just be there,” the panel asked the attendees to prepare for the event by “taking a few minutes to brush up on your bitcoin and blockchain knowledge.” One item that I highly, highly recommend is a pair of videos by Anders Brownworth that visually explains blockchain underpinnings.

The panel of speakers, esteemed Duke alumni all of them, are particularly engaged in the nexus of law and technology, especially with respect to blockchain, and the discussion was a very lively one! While initially focused on Bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies, the conversation quickly turned to blockchain’s applicability to real-world problems, separate and apart from crypto.

On the track of notable bits of information, Cynthia Meyn, who until recently was on the board of directors of the DTCC, asserted that blockchain was not a good candidate as a solution for equities settlement due to the high transaction rates required versus the relatively poor performance of blockchain transaction commitment. On the other hand, Cynthia noted, blockchain is a great candidate for solutions that involve settlement of transactions that are not such high volume, including real estate, automobile, boats and other high-value but infrequently transferred assets.

Ian Darrow made a great point that while blockchain appears to be touted as a panacea for all manner of technology and business issues, one should be circumspect and really focus on whether the business or technology problem requires a distributed ledger based on consensus. If it does not, then blockchain may not be a good fit. If you aren’t clear on blockchain as a distributed ledger, then look out for Vijay’s future blog that explains this topic!

Johanna Collins-Wood made a great point about ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) and that ICOs are highly speculative. Up until a few years ago, a startup could get seed funding based on an idea and a white paper, but that trend has slowed considerably to the point that a startup now has quite a bit of difficulty raising significant levels of capital in the absence of a fully market-ready solution. And so, Johanna noted, this situation has fueled the rise of the ICO market. But Johanna also stressed that it is very much a “buyer beware” situation and many, if not most, ICOs are blatant scams.

After the session ended, I spoke at length with Jeff Ward, who directs the Duke Center on Law and Technology (CoLT). I raised the point that the session focused a great deal on permission-less blockchain platforms, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, and less on permissioned platforms such as IBM Hyperledger, which Chateaux champions. Jeff agreed that the permissioned platforms will play much greater role going forward as permissioned blockchain solution gain entry into the marketplace.

Overall, it was a terrific session, and really helped to add to the growing wealth of knowledge in the blockchain arena.