Archive for the ‘Tales From The Crypto’ Category

Last week when Facebook unveiled plans for Libra, their new cryptocurrency, everyone focused on how this new digital coin would impact global financial markets and rightfully so.  It was, after all, a financial instrument that we were talking about.  But hidden in their white paper was mention of an idea that would go hand in hand with a digital currency: the formation of a definitive decentralized digital identity for users. Something that would enable people without government issued forms of identification to secure loans and otherwise control their own data as they move throughout the world wide web and the real world.  Which makes Libra a far more valuable idea than if it was just a pure currency.

MIT Technology Review explains:

“But what is a ‘decentralized and portable digital identity’? In theory, it provides a way to avoid having to trust a single, centralized authority to verify and take care of our identifying credentials. For internet users, it would mean that instead of relying on Facebook or Google’s own log-in tool to provide our credentials to other websites, we could own and control them ourselves. In theory, this could better protect that information from hackers and identity thieves, since it wouldn’t live on company servers.

The concept (sometimes called ‘self-sovereign identity’) is something of a holy grail in the world of internet technology, and developers have been pursuing it for years. Big companies including Microsoft and IBM have been working on decentralized identity applications for a while now, and so have a number of startups.

But it’s more than just an internet thing. For the roughly one billion people around the world without any kind of identifying credentials at all, such technology could make it possible to access financial services that they cannot today, starting with things like bank accounts and loans.

Helping some of those people must be part of what Facebook meant when it said in the Libra white paper that the new system is intended to ‘serve as an efficient medium of exchange for billions of people around the world’ and ‘improve access to financial services.’ In some cases the currency itself might be able to do that, but in others it’s likely that users will need some form of identification to access a particular service. That’s probably why Libra’s developers call an open, portable identity standard a ‘prerequisite to financial inclusion.’”

So clearly this is a very big deal, “somewhat of a holy grail in the world of internet technology.” If that’s truly the case then we may have Facebook to thank for finally figuring it out.  See, Facebook isn’t all bad.  It may wind up saving the world after all.

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Is Self-Sovereign Identity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day I wrote about Quantum Money, aka S-Money, a futuristic currency that could enable galactic scale commerce.  But that post may have been too forward thinking as there will likely be plenty of other currencies to come and go before we ever get to Quantum Money with Facebook’s foray into cryptocurrency, Libra, the next to grab the spotlight.  A reference to Roman currency, Libra is more than just a pure cryptocurrency play.  When all is said and done it may very well usher in a whole new global financial system.  One in which Wall Street and powerful banks are pushed aside in favor of a new decentralized world order.

Facebook’s desire to create their own currency has been well documented.  They’ve even dabbled with creating their own payments system along the way.  Some have even suggested that AI chatbots in a futuristic iteration of Messenger could handle all of our payments for us, talking to businesses and creditors on our behalf.  But now we may wind up with something else entirely.  And ironically it could come to us from the former head of Messenger.

As Wired reports:

“Near the end of 2017, on a Dominican Republic beach with his family, Facebook executive David Marcus wrestled with a question he’d been pondering since his previous job as president of PayPal. How would you build the internet of money? A friction-free global digital currency would be a boon for the many people with mobile phones but no access to banking. And who better to develop something like this, he wondered, than Facebook, with its global reach and massive user base? Marcus, then head of Facebook Messenger, thought he had an answer. He texted his boss and told him it was time to talk about Facebook creating a cryptocurrency, saying that he had a clear view of how to do it, in a way that would earn trust even from those skeptical of Facebook. Marcus spent the next few days writing a memo that laid out his ideas.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly endorsed the plan, saying the approach synced with his ideas. Zuckerberg had long sought an in-house currency for Facebook—remember Facebook Credits?—and the lofty aspiration to empower consumers in the developing world reprised a familiar theme of serving the next 2 billion. (Think internet.org with digital money instead of broadband.) Besides, competitors like Apple, WeChat and Google were making inroads into global finance.”

So far, so good.  A long held desire to connect the world fused with an interest in helping people manage their personal finances now combined with an actual plan to make it happen.  But how exactly would this new currency work? What would the logistics look like? And will anyone even be willingly to entrust Facebook with their finances in the first place? Especially when you consider that by embracing the blockchain, Facebook would essentially be trying to take control of a technology that by its very definition can’t be controlled. Surely, this kind of power grab would be a bad look for a company with a delicate image problem to begin with.  What could they possibly have to gain by introducing Libra and then walking away from it?

Wired explains how it work and how Facebook’s motivations would play out:

“It begins with a new cryptocurrency designed for payments ranging from micropayments to remittances without fees (‘as easy to send money as an email’) as well as enabling more exotic ‘smart money’ use cases like dynamic contracts, which could enable blockchain-based loans or insurance. The value of the coin will be pegged it to a market-value basket of several trusted currencies, with individual Libras worth about a buck. It’s money, not an investment vehicle. Libras will be fully reserved; basically, every time a user trades traditional currency for Libra, that money will go into the reserve, and stay there until the customer withdraws money from the system.

And here’s Marcus’s big idea: To deflect the well-justified wariness of Facebook’s every move, Facebook has open-sourced the technology, and will cede control of the blockchain to a neutral Libra Association—kind of a Switzerland of digital coinage—that will of course be based in Switzerland. The Libra Association will consist at first of up to 100 founding members including Facebook, each of which will invest at least $10 million to fund the association’s operations, and receive interest earned off the reserve. (Libra’s NGO members are exempted from the investment requirement.) Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, and have a voice in determining changes to its code and managing the reserve. (This limited access is called a ‘permissioned’ blockchain.) ‘Facebook will have one seat on the council that oversees the foundation but will have no more rights, no more governance, that isn’t the exact same as what everybody else has,’ says Kevin Weil, a top engineer who left his role as Instagram’s product chief to work on the project.’”

It all sounds good in theory.  By limiting Facebook’s influence and control over a currency that would run on their platform any trust issues are instantly put to rest.  Doubly so when you factor in the power of the blockchain and its decentralized ethos.  As such, I can very easily see this currency taking off, even among people who wouldn’t ordinarily trust Facebook, which is pretty much everyone these days, or those who may be wary of digital currencies, which is pretty much everyone else.  But are stringent safeguards, a cohesive vision, and strong rhetoric enough to win hearts and minds and change the entire global financial system overnight?  To fundamentally alter our perception of money while winning back the trust of millions of users?  That I’m not so sure about.  But even if it doesn’t it may not matter much in the long run.  After all, it’s only a matter of time before quantum money makes Libra obsolete anyway.

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is Libra the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Another day, another great use for Blockchain technology: a secure platform for DNA research.

Companies like 23andme already let you learn about your DNA so that you can find out if you are at risk for any diseases.  But when you send in your saliva the transaction is basically complete.  Your genetic data free to go to the highest bidder with you getting nothing in return for your efforts, save for the peace of mind of knowing that you are helping advance scientific research.  But now, thanks to the power of the Blockchain and a new company founded by genetic pioneer George Church, known as Nebula Genomics, you can get something else for your efforts.  You can get paid.

According to Futurism, “Individuals will send a saliva sample to Nebula, which is analyzed by the company. From there, other entities are free to pay a fee to access to the genetic information for research purposes, using a secure computation platform provided by Nebula. The data can be rented out over and over again, even to more than one buyer at the same time.

The system is based around a purpose-built cryptocurrency dubbed Nebula tokens. Companies would need to buy tokens in order to pay for access to people’s genetic information, and individuals would initially pay a small fee to have their DNA sequenced using the coin. The idea is that they would get the money back as their genetic code is purchased by researchers all over the world.”

Getting paid for your data?  What a novel idea!  Google and Facebook, are you listening?

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Is Nebula Genomics the Greatest Idea Ever?

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If you’re a fan of blockchain technology these are exciting times.  On a seemingly daily basis there are new applications and cryptocurrencies being developed with no end in sight. In a way, it’s almost like the entire web is migrating onto the Blockchain which essentially means that the entire world is migrating as well.  It’s the dawn of a new era.  A transformative point in time leading to an entire reinvention of modern society.  And unlike the birth of the Internet, I’ll actually be paying attention this time to watch it all unfold.

As compelling as this narrative is, I always thought that the revolution would be occurring in the background.  Startups and giant corporations working feverishly behind the scenes to build out the infrastructure and underpinnings for our new way of life.  I never imagined that the Blockchain could be real.  Something tangible that I could actually hold in my hand.  And yet that’s exactly what we’ll all be doing one day when we all have blockchain phones.

These new age mobile devices will look and act just like a regular iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device and will come with all of the usual trimmings.  They’ll just be more secure.  Really secure.  Fully encrypted devices that can’t be tampered with enabling users to surf the web in peace.  Away from the prying eyes of Facebook or even the authorities.  Case in point: BitVault.  A new device that would enable people to hold private conversations, bank privately, and store images securely.  It’s the wave of the future and the perfect response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  A tool for regular people to fight back against Big Brother.

What I love the most about the concept of blockchain backed smartphones though is how perfect they are for tying in with my long-standing idea for a Game of Life, wherein everything we do in life gets rewarded.  Such a concept sounds good in theory but is incredibly hard to pull off in real-life logistically.  How could you monitor what everyone is doing and reward them accordingly?  How could you keep track of all the prize payouts that would be occurring?  Well, as it turns out the blockchain would be perfect for this endeavor.  A blockchain smartphone becoming the key to the entire ecosystem.

Case in point: the first blockchain based smartphone for the U.S. market is called The Motif and it’s created by a company called Blacture, whose mission is to empower black youth financially.

As Futurism describes, “Created by blockchain and mobile tech company Zippie, this OS automatically rewards users with tokens whenever they use their Motif phones for activities like buying things online, agreeing to share their personal data (it’s not yet clear what data, or with whom), or making the exceedingly vague endeavor to ‘offer products and services’ to the Blacture community.”

This is great.  I already shop online and already gladly hand over my personal data so that I can benefit from getting served targeted ads tailored to my interests as well as receiving more relevant search results adjusted in real-time based on my exact location and recent search history.  Getting paid for doing those things or for otherwise contributing to community building is an added bonus.

BitVault and Motif aren’t the only new kids on the block(chain) when it comes to smartphones though. There’s also the Finney, designed especially for cryptocurrency power users.

“Named after scientist Hal Finney, recipient of the world’s first bitcoin transaction, the Finney smartphone is an open-source, ultra-secure phone built on an independent, free blockchain network. It’s expected to come with a 256GB internal memory, a 16 megapixel camera, and a powerful suite of security measures, and it will be powered by the Tangle technology of IOTA.’

This is just the beginning though.  It’s likely that we will soon see many other variations of blockchain powered smartphones on the market in the near future and it’s only a matter of time before the major phone carriers and big tech companies get in on the fun as well.  Exciting times indeed.

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Is a blockchain phone the Greatest Idea Ever?

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