Day 8 in Cyprus; 4/16/2022

At breakfast today, we concurred that last night was a much-needed night of sleep. We returned from Paphos exhausted from a fun but tiring day at the beach, so we all slept quite well (until our alarms went off for 8:00 AM). Today, we did not have far to go—just the University of Nicosia, which is about a 20 minute drive from the center of the city. However, the first presentation began at 9:30, so we had to get moving. 

Our day of presentations began with Fleet Management Limited (FML), a company that provides ship management services to vessel owners looking to ship items overseas. FML does not own the container ships and tankers; rather, it provides the personnel and expertise to safely convey the ship from its origin to its destination. FML has a large presence in Cyprus for its unique location at the nexus of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. 

The first speaker from FML summarized the nature of the business and the scope of services offered by FML. The corporation currently operates 625 vessels; about a third are bulk carriers. Oil tankers, chemical tankers, and container ships are also included. The speaker repeatedly mentioned safety standards for operation, so I inquired as to what technologies the tankers use to mitigate chemical risks. He elaborated on how tankers are inherently designed to obviate spills— for instance, via buffer zones in the walls of the ship that prevent oil from immediately bursting through a breach.

After the Q&A, a second speaker from FML led us through a fun workshop, asking trivia questions about the busiest canals in the world (Suez, Panama, and Kiel) and the busiest port in the world. I enjoyed his energy—he said some funny quips for my friend who was dozing off during the first presentation. We followed this workshop with an hour of free time, and then lunch. 

At 2:00, we returned into the lecture hall for the presentation I was perhaps most excited to hear: blockchain and cryptocurrency featuring Mr. Antonis Polemitis, the CEO of UNIC. Just five minutes into his presentation, I was enthralled—he was easily the best speaker we had yet. Mr. Polemitis tackled crypto, blockchain, and NFTs in an easy-to-follow manner that betrayed an extensive understanding of the topic. 

To avoid descending into the crypto rabbit hole again (I wrote a paper on blockchain before the  trip), I will list my main takeaways from his talk:

  • Blockchain solves a critical problem in our modern world—namely, that participation in society depends on databases controlled by central administrators (Twitter, Google, Facebook, Disney) who can choose to remove access or edit data at their discretion. 
    • From Dr. Polemitis: “You cannot expect to live freely in someone else’s house forever.”
    • Centralized control is easily weaponized (see Trudeau and the truckers). 
  • Bitcoin proposed a data architecture that does not require an entity in charge. 
  • The internet was an innovation that provided global access to text and information; blockchain provides secure access to things of value (money, contracts, records, art).
  • Though their current applications are perhaps frivolous, NFTs are a promising and immensely valuable way of asserting ownership in an increasingly digitized social reality. 
  • Governments frustrate the expansion of blockchain technology by imposing regulations that only big companies have the infrastructure to accommodate— thus increasing the power of big companies and stifling progress toward decentralization.

After Mr. Polemitis, we heard from Dr. Spyros Makridakis. I found his talk interesting, but more difficult to understand given my relative lack of experience with statistics and machine learning. I found one thought particularly compelling: if the future is different than the past, we cannot forecast it; but we must acknowledge that the future will be different than the past to produce accurate predictions. A fascinating paradox, indeed.

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