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Meet the Presenters: Walter De Brouwer

TEDxSanFrancisco is fast approaching, and we’re excited to give you a sneak peek of the ideas you should “Dare to Know.” Next up in our series with presenters is Walter De Brouwer. Walter’s entrepreneurial experience spans too many companies to count on one hand: from Starlab, Europe’s premier blue skies research lab on wearable computing, Quantum computation, genomics and nano-electronics, to mobile health company Scanadu, to, his latest venture. We hear from Walter on connectivity, the blockchain, and technological foundations.


New paradigms for technology and society often start with newfound connections — between people, ideas, and applications. What are some of the connections that will have the most impact? Connectionism seems to be at its peak, but it is just the beginning of the beginning. Our world now contains exabytes of data but soon we will go to zettabytes.

For that to happen we will have to link every computer to every other computer so that the planet computes, then we will transact blocks of zettabyes in zeptoseconds and we will have completed our mission, to connect everything to everything else and experience this in real time. Where does the blockchain fit in? Blockchain is a combination of everything that was politically incorrect in the nineties. The technologies were widely reported by the cypher/cyberpunks of Mondo 2000. It was all dressed up but had nowhere to go:

  1. Shaun Parker’s Napster, peer to peer, decentralized

  2. Phil Zimmerman’s PGP, cryptographically encrypted email

  3. David Chaum’s DigiCash, the publishing of money was a banking prerogative

  4. Patti Maes’ Firefly, software agents that would roam the net and take decisions previously reserved for carbon-based units

What foundational concepts are critical to understand in order to survive and thrive in the decades ahead? I believe that as a species, our awareness will grow in 6 phases:

  1. We are atoms (atoms)

  2. We are data (digits)

  3. We are code (functions)

  4. We are neurons (synapses)

  5. We are light (photons)

  6. We are time (plancks, 5.39 x 10−44 s)

We have just landed in phase 2. I believe the most impactful will be going from 3 to 4, when we recognize that every neuron has the capability to overwrite sensory input by cognitive effort.

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