But if nothing else, the annual World Economic Forum does give us an insight into the minds of the most prolific policymakers and influential lobbyists on the planet.

Much of the conversation coming out of the Swiss village this year has focused on the impending global catastrophes of global warming and cybersecurity disasters.

A report on the gravest risks facing world economies released ahead of the conference centred on the threats to established economies of state-sponsored infrastructure hacking, and the forced migration of populations if rampant industrial pollution continues apace.

PoW is dead, long live PoS

Policy focus on ecological risks will, therefore, necessarily centre on those cryptocurrencies whose networks are still secured with wasteful Proof of Work algorithms.

The industry became used to the sight of warehouses stacked with thousands of racks of ASIC mining machines, merrily burning through electricity like it was going out of fashion.

The bearish twists and turns of the past 12 months have seen many prolific mining pools close or merge.

But the two largest cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and Ethereum, are both still secured with Proof of Work.

Ethereum’s double-delayed Constantinople hard fork - as we explain here - will move the platform away from Proof of Work and towards a Proof of Stake mechanism, as well as cutting transaction costs and mining rewards, and streamlining the execution of smart contracts.

A 12-hour Reddit AMA with the Ethereum 2.0 research team this week revealed an upcoming attempt to rebalance loads between ASIC and GPU machines to cut waste, reduce energy consumption and boost network power. In the medium term devs are still focused on a 2019 transition to Proof of Stake.

Bitcoin too faces a reckoning in 2019 with swift movement towards introducing Layer 2 solutions like the Lightning Network upgrades. Other cryptocurrencies like the Bitcoin Cash hard fork Bitcoin SV, Nano and a handful of others say they are working on much more efficient p2p payments with low or zero transaction fees that could make the granddaddy of cryptocurrencies obsolete.

Big Fintech

While the main conference runs January 22nd to 25th and is harder to get a pass for than the World Cup Final, smaller conferences spring up around the Swiss ski resort focusing on everything from pharmacology to decentralisation.

Payment providers like Mastercard, still reeling from a record £504m anti-competition fine, and their rivals PayU and Western Union, spoke at length at a fintech breakaway conference on the possibilities that blockchain brings to industry.

Mastercard vice chairman Ann Cairns said: “Bitcoin behaves like a commodity [but] is unsuited right now to be a currency” but is positive on blockchain tech in general, saying: “We are testing it with some of the biggest banks in the world.”

The credit card provider has form, as in 2018 it followed the likes of Bank of America and IBM to secure patents for blockchain payments systems.

Head of Goldman Sachs-backed research firm Circle, Jeremy Allaire, had the backing of a few friends on stage when he claimed “crypto is fundamental to the future”. Whatever the state of the market right now, that sentiment is shared by the most influential people in fintech.

Wall Street is bullish on blockchain too, even while CEOs of traditional industries continue to bash crypto. Paypal boss Dan Shulman told CNBC’s Squawk Box that adoption is still coming along slower than expected, perhaps because of the regulatory uncertainty we’ve been banging on about for ages.

Despite scepticism from some quarters, optimism in the payments industry about the potential of crypto is still rife all over. Ann Cairns concluded: “It’s not going to be a silver bullet, but it is going to be an incredible useful technology.”

Africa the undiscovered economy no more

Looking ahead, the closing speech of the conference gives some serious food for thought.

Turning away for a moment from ecological catastrophes, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde points to the excitement the progress of emerging economies in Africa, which are projected to outstrip European, American and even Chinese growth.

Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank says teaching innovative skills to African youth is essential to taking advantage of this transition.

"We will have to increase our investment in the capabilities of young people," he says. "We're going to have to broaden the skills base ... And if you are going to broaden the skills base we are going to have to think differently about education."

"We have a global economy but not a global government," he adds. "Decisions have to be taken at a domestic level, but what we have seen, what you actually need is leadership at country level to embrace multilateralism and take concrete action to give effect to international agreements."

Adding to the conversation is noted academic Mariana Mazzucato of University College London.

“I think the one thing economists agree on ... is innovation is the key driver,” she says.

"Often we think about technology when we talk about innovation. And we forget that some of the most important technologies that we all use today across the world that are inside our smart products actually came out of trying to solve a problem.

"The technology was a spillover from actually having framed these problems in quite inspirational ways. So the internet was a result of trying to solve the problem of getting the satellite system to communicate."

Even more interesting is the news that slipped out in a press release late on Thursday 24th January.

The World Economic Forum has appointed Elizabeth Rossiello as co-chair of its Global Blockchain Council.

Rossiello is the founder and CEO of Kenyan digital forex and blockchain payments platform BitPesa, and represents a hot new generation of blockchain entrepreneurs. She is working on bringing in Africa’s millions of unbanked people into a future characterised by fast cross-border remittances and simple p2p digital payments.

She was chosen not only for her technical expertise, explained the WEF’s head of blockchain Sheila Warren, but also for “her ability to bring together members of this often fragmented ecosystem”.

As chair of the council, Rosiello will help “shape a global technological policy and corporate governance agenda” in what the WEF believe will be a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

And just as Rosiello takes up her advocacy role, the Global Blockchain Business Council report in a Medium post presented at Davos that 40 percent of institutional investors believe blockchain is the most important innovation since the internet.

Oh, what brave new world that has such people in it. Let us begin at once.

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