Bill Clinton Warns Blockchain Developers to Consider Its Possible Downsides, Or Else

The keynote speaker at Ripple’s Swell conference in San Francisco yesterday was none other than the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Before you ask the question on most people’s lips—“why?”—consider that Clinton’s term spanned 1993 to 2001, nearly the entire dot-com bubble. People were wildly speculating about the value of any company with a URL, throwing money into “.com”s that may not have had anything going for them other than the fact they existed online. This sounds a lot like the “promise” of most alt-coins.

Announcing Clinton as the conference’s keynote speaker in July, Ripple wrote, “At a time when groundbreaking technology and regulation were often on a collision course, President Clinton helped usher in a period of extreme growth and adoption of the internet, shaping what it is today.” Clinton’s co-speaker at the conference was Gene Sperling, national economic advisor to both Clinton and President Barack Obama, who is also on Ripple’s board of directors alongside Brad Garlinghouse.

Clinton reportedly received his first bitcoin in April 2016, so that puts him ahead of the game compared to those who recklessly jumped into crypto speculation last fall. But bitcoin ownership alone does not a keynote speaker make. (Let’s face it, it was probably about the money: Clinton has reportedly been paid up to $750,000 for speaking engagements in the past.)


That said, he managed to make some salient points about the potential for blockchain. Though Ripple did not publish Clinton’s speech, Bits and Tokens, a “blockchain media company,” posted a cell phone video of his talk on YouTube. The video is sideways, but you can tilt your head and watch a cross-legged Clinton talk about the current U.S./Mexican border crisis—which he said the government “manufactured,” adding, “there’s never a reason to divide children from their parents, ever”—and tell harrowing stories from the Rwandan genocide before segueing briefly into blockchain.

Clinton urged those building  products and companies with the new technology to wield it as a force for positive change, and to think hard about the possible unintended consequences new technologies can unleash.

“This whole blockchain deal has the potential it does only because it is applicable across national borders, income groups,” he said. He then cautioned, “We could ruin it all by negative identity politics in economic and social policy—so you think about that. Take a little time, and just think about that, because your whole future and the kids that you either have or may someday have are dependent on that.”

Don’t mess this up, blockchain developers. Former President Clinton is here to tell you that the stakes are high. And honestly, thinking about global havoc accidentally wrought by the last generation of tech giants—Facebook, Google—he’s not wrong.