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The Ethereal Summit Shows Blockchain’s Transformative Potential

I bent down, rested my knees on a prayer cushion, and began typing into a small computer. In front of me were dozens of candles, flowers, Japanese lucky cat figurines, and several wallet-sized picture frames. They held photos of Vitalik Buterin, the Canadian programmer who cofounded the computing platform Ethereum, as well as of Satoshi Nakamoto, a man in his 60s with the same name as the founder of Bitcoin. He was misidentified as its creator by Newsweek in 2014; because no one knows what the actual Nakamoto looks like, the California man’s image has continued to serve as a stand-in.

At the altar, a message on a small computer screen prompted visitors to write prayers to the real Nakamoto, which were then algorithmically transformed into random private keys, which were in turn used to guess the password that unlocks the Bitcoin inventor’s abandoned cryptocurrency fortune—estimated to be worth over $8 billion. I entered in a halfhearted prayer, waited a few beats, and was greeted with a message: “I’m sorry my child. You are not the chosen one. Have more faith in the HODL. Spread the good word of decentralization.

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The artist collective Vapor Ants conceived of the shrine as a commentary on the near-religious fervor that devotees have for blockchain technology, which they believe will transform the internet and global economy. The interactive art piece was displayed at the Ethereal Summit, a two-day conference hosted at Brooklyn’s Knockdown Center by ConsenSys, one of the most prominent companies betting that blockchain tech, and Ethereum specifically, will disrupt nearly every industry imaginable. Ethereum differs from Bitcoin in that it allows for a variety of applications—and even other cryptocurrencies—to be built on top of it, like how apps are built on top of the World Wide Web. ConsenSys plans for a future where Ethereum-based apps eclipse the web as we know it, creating what it calls Web 3.0.

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The two-day, $1200-a-person conference was hosted at an art and performance space in Queens, and served as the start of New York’s blockchain week, which includes a…

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