Never too early

Bern, 21.06.2018 - Speech by Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER, Crypto Valley Conference Zug

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Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to say a few words to you today. “Life punishes those who come late.” The meaning of Mikhail Gorbachev’s words in the context of blockchain is plain: Switzerland is a global leader in terms of this new technology and its economic application. We would do well to continue at pace, instead of laying the right tracks after the moment has passed. History is littered with examples of what happens when the train speeds off in a different direction: The World Wide Web may have been invented in Switzerland, at Cern in Geneva (albeit by a Briton, but we will overlook that…).

But the internet and computer Eldorado and its global corporations did not flourish here, but in the United States. Let’s do better this time! By putting in place attractive, liberal conditions that offer an ideal environment for start-ups, investors and established businesses. But just to be clear, a good economic framework doesn’t mean giving carte blanche! Abuses must also be consistently prevented in the new digital world. And businesses need legal certainty. Otherwise investment will be withheld.

That is why a federal government working group is currently studying the need for regulatory measures concerning ICO and blockchain. Cooperation with private actors is working: the private “Blockchain Task Force”, under the patronage of finance minister Ueli Maurer and myself, recently provided us with its analysis and ideas. Thank you for taking part!

Ladies and gentlemen,

“Life also punishes those who come too early.” After the events of the last few months, you can attribute that quote to me… In January, I said that if the experiences in Zug were positive, then in a few years’ time the whole of Switzerland should be a crypto or Blockchain nation. That won me plaudits, but also a fair amount of criticism. But I think: there is no reason the latter. The fact that Switzerland is today a global leader in high-tech industries and in pharmaceuticals is seen as normal. It is easy to forget that these sectors too once started out with previously unknown technologies and services. Like Blockchain is doing today.

So let’s look to the future.

No-one really knows if some of the rather hopeful growth forecasts for blockchain-based services and products will actually materialise. But hardly anyone still doubts that blockchain will penetrate our entire economy. What is clear is that we currently know far too little about the new technologies, their potential and their risks. By “we”, I don’t mean you here in this room. You are spearheading that development.

But let us not forget that we must reach a wider audience. We have to allay their fears of the technological future. More than that, we must inspire them and convince them of the opportunities. The decisive factor here is education and research. The Swiss scientist Jacques Dubochet, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry last year, said: “Understanding is my way of not being afraid.” In the coming years, we must make sure that ever more people are familiar with the technologies of digitalisation, know them and are able to use them.

For that we need to put even greater emphasis on digitalisation and technology in schools. We need more IT specialists (not to mention Blockchain experts). And we need more research projects and professorships in this field. We are working on that, step by step. The funding released by the Federal Council of two-hundred and sixteen million francs for the action plan on digitalisation in education, research and innovation twenty-nineteen and twenty-twenty is only the start.

Because education and research are essential, I’m especially glad that players from the science world are so much involved in the Crypto Valley Conference. The great commitment on the part of Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and the parallel ‘academia track’ are a prime demonstration.

Dear friends

Who would have thought a few years ago that Zug would become the centre of a new technological world. We must shape this new world together – with optimism and boldness, but also with prudence and consideration. If we succeed, blockchain can provide new opportunities, new jobs, new levels of security and new prosperity. It’s definitively never too early to start.

Thank you.

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