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AT&T Communications CEO on blockchain: ‘It is an architecture that moves the world forward’

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Blockchain is “architecture that moves the world forward,” AT&T CEO John Donovan said Monday at the Blockland Solutions conference, the first time he’s spoken publicly about the technology.

The Blockland initiative aims to make Cleveland a leader in blockchain, an online distributed ledger system. Blockchain is best known as the backbone of cryptocurrency, but could also be applied for mobile voting, health care records and more.

AT&T recently released blockchain tools that will work with IBM and Microsoft technologies to help businesses automate processes with blockchain.

Donovan sat down with KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney at the Huntington Cleveland Convention Center to talk about the technology and its future, as part of the four-day, sold-out Blockland Solutions conference.

“If you hate change, you will really hate extinction,” Mooney said, while discussing how businesses can embrace advancement in technology.

Here’s what he said about technology, its future and what Cleveland can do to make the Blockland initiative successful.

Blockchain can be used to restore trust in business

One of blockchain’s biggest benefits could be in digital advertising, Donovan said.

AT&T is currently one of the nation’s largest purchasers of digital advertising. But in advertising there’s a risk of “click fraud” where a program or script generates fake clicks or impressions, which increases costs.

Blockchain creates a “chain of custody” which could essentially track an advertisement at every stage of the process, so everyone involved can see its impact.

“Whether you are one of those people placing ads, or one of the people purchasing ads, it’s truly transformational.”

5G will be essential moving forward

AT&T is exploring the roll-out of 5G Internet networks, which Donavan are essential to move technology forward. 5G is essentially the next generation of Internet connection after 4G. It’s faster, more responsive and can connect more devices.

But it’s not yet widely accessible in the United States — you can’t connect your phone to it. But 5G could be essential to working on the Internet of Things, which refers to the network of smart devices connected together. In order to advance technology, you need to have the right structure for it to run on.

Bring together business leaders

Often research like blockchain is hidden away in company labs. Companies don’t discuss advancements and case studies with each other because of competition.

If he was the Cleveland mayor, Donovan said he would bring together regional companies to explore uses for blockchain technology. That way, Cleveland can begin offering its workers new opportunities.

“I think what Cleveland is (aspiring to) is awesome,” he said. “I think a city of the future is one that can bring its citizens into entry-level work and then keep progressing them.”

On Sunday night, Brenda Kirk from Highland Software announced the region’s first meeting of chief innovation officers, who are typically responsible for managing technology at companies. About 110 CIOs will gather to talk about what they need in the workforce and how to fulfill those needs.

Pushing past the convention is key in Blockland effort

Cleveland’s Blockland Solutions conference is the product of about five months of work, a much shorter timeline than most conferences need. In order for blockchain efforts to progress, Donovan said officials should immediately start planning the next steps, and the next conference.

That means continuing to push for more education in blockchain technology at Cleveland-area universities or urging local businesses to be early adopters.

“I view it as more about persistence than brilliance, more about collaboration than capital.”


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