New Documentary Starts Conversation About Blockchain Technology

Zurich and Zug are at the forefront of blockchain technology. Film director Manuel Stagars is now making the technology comprehensible to laypeople with his new documentary film ‘The Blockchain and Us’.

When the digital currency bitcoin was launched in 2008, its inventor – under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto – unwittingly unleashed a revolutionary technology into the world: the blockchain. Even if bitcoin itself doesn’t survive, blockchain technology has the potential to change our society.

The documentary film ‘The Blockchain and Us’, made by film director Manuel Stagars – himself a trained economist and founder of several companies – is now making the fascination over this technology comprehensible to laypeople.

The film features software developers, cryptographs, scientists, entrepreneurs, consultants, investors, authors, politicians and futurologists from the US, Canada, Switzerland, England and Australia. Available online since April, the film had its debut screening on 6 June in London, once privately in the network of a blockchain company and once at a blockchain meeting in the Shoreditch Platform.

Digitally stamping information

Blockchain is a decentralised database that stores a growing list of transaction records. Comparable to a chain, it extends in a linear fashion chronologically. When one block is completed, the next is generated.

Each block contains a check digit of the previous one, which means that the blockchain cannot be manipulated down the line, and it contains permanent information about all transactions ever made.

For Roger Wattenhofer, Professor of Distributed Computer Group at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, blockchain is the most significant scientific achievement of the past 100 years.

“It makes it possible to digitally sign information and thus prove that these have been reviewed and approved,” he says in the film.

Zug and Zurich at the forefront

In Switzerland, numerous start-ups as well as established companies are working on this technology, particularly in the Zug and Zurich regions.

The non-profit organisation Crypto Valley Association, founded in 2014 in Zug, has well-known partners such as Monetas, Ethereum, Consensys, the law firm MME Legal, the consulting company PwC, the canton of Zug, the Greater Zurich Area, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and UBS.

The association Swiss Fintech Innovation was founded in Zurich in 2016. Its members include banks and insurance companies, and its aim is to promote digital innovation in the financial industry and establish Switzerland as a leading fintech centre.

Various meetings are held in Zurich on a regular basis on the subject of blockchain, and blockchain has become a part of daily life for many companies in the Zurich-Zug region.

From scepticism …

Most people are more critical about blockchain technology and bitcoin when they first hear about it. Just as Manuel Stagars was.

“In around 2010, my friends in America told me about a new type of ‘internet currency’ that they had discovered. I didn’t take the whole thing seriously at first, and it was only years later that I realised they were speaking of bitcoin,” he says.

Elizabeth Stark, co-founder and CEO of Lightning San Francisco, says in the film: “An assistant sent me an article about open-source money. I thought it sounded nice but would never work.”

It was the same with R. Jesse McWaters, Financial Innovation Lead of the World Economic Forum in New York. He initially thought that bitcoin was a stupid idea.

… comes fascination

But anyone who ends up dealing with this technology is quickly fascinated by the possibilities it opens up.

Jan Seffinga, a partner at DeloitteSwitzerland, says in the film: “I have seen long-standing business partners change their minds as soon as they’ve realised the potential. They’ve said, ‘I don’t understand everything in detail but there’s something to it and we’ll do more with it’.”

Stagars wants his film to encourage discussions about the digital technologies that affect all of us, including blockchain. “We should ask ourselves just what is it that we want in the future of technology,” he says.

Zug accepts bitcoin

One person who wants to go further with this technology is Dolfi Müller, mayor of Zug – and with him, the entire city administration. Almost a year ago, Zug became the first – and until now, only – municipality in Switzerland to accept bitcoin payments.  

“At the same time, the city council was developing the ‘City Idea’ approach, which resulted in the creation of various sponsorship projects and led to further discussions with a range of experts. The bitcoin idea emerged spontaneously after one such conversation over lunch,” says Müller.

For him it’s a question of attitude. “We speak about the fourth technological revolution. I think that we’re still at the beginning of it,” Dolfi Müller says in the film.

As is often the case with imminent changes, there are also some doubts and fears – many of which are justified.

“But it’s better if we deal with these now and confront them, rather than closing our eyes,” argues Müller, who has a positive approach to change. “The development will happen anyway, whether we want it or not.” 

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