Business

Cryptocurrency and AI all the buzz at tech conference Slush Tokyo

by Cory Baird

Staff Writer

Cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence technologies took center stage this week at Slush Tokyo, one of the nation’s largest tech conferences and an annual event that brings together startups, investors and more established businesses.

This year’s conference featured many speakers, panel discussions and startups moving into the rapidly growing world of cryptocurrency and AI.

Cryptocurrencies, or virtual currencies, can usually be traded without the intermediation of a central authority, with the most famous being bitcoin.

But the underlying technology has spawned a number of other similar virtual currencies and other new funding mechanisms.

“This is the fourth time we had the event,” said Antti Sonninen, CEO of Slush Tokyo. “In 2015 we had more gaming companies, in 2016 more virtual reality, but this is the year of artificial intelligence and blockchain,”

One of the most active presenters at the conference was San-Francisco-based Ripple, the creator of its own cryptocurrency and payment technology. Ripple has gained traction in the Japanese market, signing up 61 banks in a consortium that will allow companies and consumers to send money both domestically and internationally using Ripple’s payment technology.

“There are some companies in cryptocurrencies that are maturing, but there are also some based on speculation. At Ripple we have always taken a long-term approach by keeping things simple and trying to focus on our payment system,” said Stefan Thomas, chief technology officer at Ripple.

A number of the keynote speakers and companies also discussed initial coin offerings, a popular new funding method based on cryptocurrency technology.

Regulators both in Japan and abroad have taken note of the funding medium due to the massive amount of money raised and the more worrying claims that some companies are using the system to enrich themselves rather than fund their businesses.

A representative from one Singapore-based startup, TenX, said it was able to raise an astonishing $80 million in only seven minutes through an ICO.

“The regulators in Japan are ahead of the curve. I have really big hopes that they can figure out how to protect people from fraud but still set a good baseline to support innovation,” said Toby Hoenisch, CEO and co-founder of TenX and former a former doctoral student at Kyoto University.

Other speakers included Taizo Son, the brother of billionaire SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son.

With 600 startups and 200 investors, the fourth annual Slush Tokyo conference drew an estimated 6,000 participants, according to the event organizers.

Although cryptocurrencywas the topic of choice for many keynote speakers, there was a strong showing of smaller startup companies who marketed various services in artificial intelligence.

The Japan-based Cogent Labs Inc. was one such company that demonstrated innovative ways AI can be used to help businesses efficiently sift through big data sets such as customer complaint records.

Slush first started as a small conference in Helsinki in 2008 and has since grown to include annual events in Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai.