A bitcoin believer would bet anything that “blockchain tech” won’t last five years

What’s a blockchain without bitcoin, anyway?
What’s a blockchain without bitcoin, anyway?
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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Onstage at the blockchain world’s biggest conference, bitcoin developer Jimmy Song said today that he’d be willing to take on Joseph Lubin’s proposed bet that “blockchain tech”—the use of a decentralized ledger without a cryptocurrency—won’t have any significant users in five years.

Lubin, a co-founder of ethereum who is worth between $1 and $5 billion according to Forbes, offered to bet Song “any amount of bitcoin” that blockchain tech projects by large corporations would have meaningful adoption within the next five years. Song is a blockchain skeptic whose personal wealth is unknown.

The details, Lubin said, could be ironed out on Twitter. The two shook on the bet on stage, amid cheers and hoots from the fully packed 2,500-capacity room at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 conference in New York City.

The pair were on stage with Amber Baldet, the former head of blockchain projects at JP Morgan. Minutes earlier, she had announced her new project, Clovyr, which she billed as a “pragmatic connection between enterprise and public chains.” Baldet and Lubin were clearly on one side of the blockchain debate, with Song on the other. When Baldet asked Song what he thought of Clovyr, his reply was acid: “I didn’t see anything other than buzzwords. It’s like, let’s play buzzword bingo!” The crowd cheered.

Song argued that nearly all the uses of a blockchain by big corporations could be achieved more efficiently with other technologies. “You’re a hammer-thrower looking for nails at this point,” he said.  ”Blockchain is not this magical thing that you sprinkle blockchain dust over it and it’s okay,” he added later.

The speakers represent two camps in an increasingly divided blockchain world. Song is a “bitcoin maximalist”—those who place huge weight on decentralization—while Baldet and Lubin are part of a growing chorus of technologists who believe private blockchains run by corporations and other hybrid systems will gain traction. Although ethereum has a native cryptocurrency, ether, its leading lights have also formed the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance, to create versions of the protocol that could be adopted by banks and other big companies. Lubin’s company ConsenSys is a member of that effort. Bitcoin maximalists see these solutions as a watering down of bitcoin’s true potential. Lubin’s retort was that “layer two, sidechains, plasma architectures, sharded systems” would deliver on blockchain tech’s promise—the jargon-laden response almost underlining Song’s point.

Crypto Twitter will be watching with interest as the bet between ethereum billionaire Lubin and bitcoin maximalist Song takes shape.