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Block Parties


By Jack Feuer

Published Jul 1, 2018 8:00 AM

The next tech revolution may already be here, thanks to blockchains.

Illustration by Greg Maldy.

For two "Cyber Days" this past February, venture capitalists, UCLA faculty and students, entrepreneurs, corporate executives from companies like IBM and Universal Music and even a California state senator came to UCLA’s Humanities Building to debate the ins, outs and potential applications for the next tech revolution, which — as these things tend to do — could overturn everything we know.

No, it’s not sentient machines. Not holograms, either. Cyber Days was about blockchain, an unhackable shared database managed by a global network of computers that makes cryptocurrency possible.

You can’t game blockchain, which is a secure, peer-to-peer technology platform made up of a continuously growing list of records — called blocks — that is completely transparent; anyone can see what’s going on at any time.

More than $2 billion has already been invested in blockchain this year, with total numbers expected to eclipse the $5.7 billion invested in 2017. It’s estimated that the blockchain space will grow by almost 43 percent annually until 2022. The ad industry is circling blockchain technology. The real estate industry is fascinated by it. A blockchain insurance policy was recently developed to protect Puerto Rico against the ravages of future hurricanes. The state of Arizona recently passed a blockchain bill. As this issue of UCLA Magazine hit the presses, a California bill allowing blockchain technology into businesses’ articles of incorporation was being considered in the State Legislature. The author of the bill was Senator Robert Hertzberg, who attended Cyber Days.

And it’s not just about secure commerce: Imagine a blockchain-enabled deal where artists share a percentage of the revenue generated with fans who shared their songs. It’s already being discussed.

UCLA’s Blockchain Lab, formed in November 2017, is a “collaborative community of blockchain advocates” that hosts events like Cyber Days and other educational programming. Dedicated to interdepartmental collaboration, the group includes students from law and management, among other fields.

Cyber Days curator David MacFadyen Ph.D. ’95 is a UCLA professor of musicology. Also participating was Finance Professor Bhagwan Chowdhry, who teaches UCLA’s only blockchain-related course.

Blockchain is not quite ready to take over the world. In a recent survey of 200 business leaders, 92 percent viewed blockchain as an opportunity; only 3 percent actually have blockchain in production.