While 2017 was the year when blockchain and cryptocurrency became household names, it’s likely that 2018 will see just as big an impact, as public and investor infatuation with bitcoin, ether and the rest shows no sign of dying off.
Take the Canadian investment space, which over the past month has seen new blockchain and crypto mining companies raking in huge piles of cash, some of the notables being HIVE Blockchain ($115-million), Global Blockchain ($43-million) and DMG Blockchain ($28-million).
The prevailing wisdom these days is that we’re still in the early stages of a seismic transformation in banking and commerce in general. How will it all play out? Look to these key figures in the cryptocurrency world to chart the course.
Jihan Wu, Bitmain co-founder and man responsible for the creation of bitcoin cash
Bitcoin’s story goes back to 2008 when a mysterious figure (Satoshi Nakamoto, identity still unknown) published a cryptography paper entitled “Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer transaction system.” Since then, many individuals have played pivotal roles in helping grow the decentralized system into a global phenomenon. But for a glimpse of where bitcoin is headed, keep an eye on Jihan Wu, co-founder of Bitmain, supplier to the world of currency mining hardware.
Reportedly the force behind bitcoin cash splitting off and becoming its own currency last fall, Wu holds a lot of power within the cryptocurrency community, not in the least because he co-runs one of the most successful businesses in the nascent industry. Bitmain operates the world’s largest mining pool (AntPool) along with having several mining sites worldwide (with reports saying that Bitmain is now targeting Quebec as a potential location).
But Wu’s self-proclaimed status as “bitcoin evangelist in China” only adds to his potential influence going forward. Due to its low energy costs, China is home to the most mining activity in the world, yet its official stance on cryptocurrencies has so far been cautious, to say the least. Last year, the Chinese government banned ICOs (initial coin offerings) and forced its exchanges to halt trading in cryptocurrencies. Now, there are movements towards discouraging currency mining, as well. All of which could have a major impact on the sector, one where Wu continues to occupy a dominant position.
Brad Garlinghouse, CEO Ripple
If Wu and bitcoin represent an antagonizing force within the established financial world, Brad Garlinghouse and Ripple portray themselves as working within the system, not against it, while nonetheless aiming to be just as transformational.
Recently, the digital currency XRP briefly jumped into second place behind bitcoin in the list of world’s most valuable cryptocurrencies, only to fall back a touch this past week. At the same time, its parent company Ripple continues to make headlines for partnering up with banks (including CIBC, BMO and RBC in Canada) and companies like American Express and MoneyGram.
Garlinghouse, who took the helm at Ripple late in 2016 after stints with AOL and Yahoo, is not afraid to mix it up in the public realm, having recently clashed with a New York Times reporter who questioned whether financial institutions really are keen on putting Ripple technology to use. Garlinghouse has also been open about his opposition to the anti-regulation fervour propelling much of the discussion around blockchain and cryptocurrencies, saying to Fox Business Network, “I think the early days of bitcoin were about ‘down with government’ and ‘down with banks. [But] government is not going away, banks are not going away, so let’s work with the system to dramatically improve the way money moves globally.”
Vitalek Buterin, Ethereum network creator
Born in Russia and raised in Toronto, the 23-year-old Vitalek Buterin first conceived of Ethereum in 2013 as a platform for creating smart contracts. Unlike Bitcoin, which uses blockchain solely to validate digital currency, Ethereum (whose ether currency sits at number two with a market cap of $127 billion USD) was founded as an open source platform used by developers for a wide variety of applications, from identity verifications systems to supply chain and retail and the Internet of Things.
It’s clear that even at such a young age, Buterin’s leadership and vision are driving the movement, pushing Ethereum beyond its status as a cryptocurrency. And with over half a million Twitter followers and a self-professed passion for effecting social change, Buterin has not been shy to scold his fellow Etherians for adolescent hi-jinx and crowing about all the money they’re making.
Charles Lee, Litecoin founder, former director at Coinbase
Like Buterin, Charles Lee’s social media presence looms large in the cryptocommunity. Creator of Litecoin (LTC) — currently the number five most-valued digital currency — Lee’s reputation has been build through a solid portfolio of work at Coinbase, one of the most established businesses in the cryptospace, and his leadership with Litecoin.
Last year, while the bitcoin community dithered over implementing software to increase transaction capacity, Lee, who has reportedly sold all his LTC in order to avoid conflict of interest allegations) pushed Litecoin developers to take up the challenge. The result? Litecoin scaled fast and LTC’s price shot up on the back of claims that its block-processing time was four times faster than bitcoin’s.
Anthony Di Iorio, CEO Jaxx
Another visionary with Canadian roots and a hand in creating Ethereum, Anthony Di Iorio’s aim is squarely on the next step in the crypto-revolution: bringing blockchain to the people.
These days, we’re all okay with (and more than a little envious of) the odd instant crypto billionaire popping up, but when it comes to the everyday Joe and Jane and how they’re likely to make use of digital currencies, it’s still unclear how that will pan out. Di Iorio, who left his job advising the TSX on blockchain to focus on jaxx.io, thinks he knows, boldly asserting that he wants jaxx and its multi-asset blockchain interface to be both “the Netscape and Google Chrome for blockchain.”
“If you think about what the browser did for the Internet, it really unlocked the masses, information,” Di Iorio says to BNN’s The Disruptors. “Without the browser, you wouldn’t have any idea about what to do with Internet. You can now easily move value instantly globally from one person to another without needing third parties such as banks or intermediaries, and that’s what’s so amazing about this technology.”