Ripple CEO: ‘Blockchain Tourists’ Aren’t Creating Real World Use Cases

Ripple’s CEO has said that there are too many people using blockchain as ‘a buzzword,’ who aren’t developing real world use cases.

During a Q&A session on Quora, Brad Garlinghouse, Ripple CEO, said:

“Blockchain is like the new big data or AI – too many people are using it as a buzzword and not focused [on] solving a real problem.”

He added:

“We like to call them blockchain tourists! There are many applications that are nothing more than science experiments.”

According to Garlinghouse, the uses being implemented through the distributed ledger could be better applied via a database. He didn’t give names as to these use cases.

As he explains:

“That is why Ripple is focused on a real world use case, solving a real (and very large) customer problem, which has converted into commercial traction that is unmatched in the enterprise blockchain space.”

Ripple’s digital asset, XRP, functions similarly to bitcoin on the blockchain. At the time of publishing, on the 4th October, Ripple is the third most valuable digital currency in the market. One token is currently worth $0.211993, which is a 5.43 percent rise in 24 hours. Over seven days its value has increased by 4.32 percent. Its market value is currently worth $8.1 billion, pushing it ahead of bitcoin cash.

Revolutionising the Financial World

One of the main and first uses of the blockchain technology was within finance. Since its early days, however, the technology is being employed in a variety of sectors. These include healthcare, education, supply chain management, energy and humanitarian to name a few.

According to Garlinghouse, Ripple has the potential to change the finance sector.

He questions that if we can connect to people instantly and for free, why can’t we do the same for payments? He said that:

“Payments were never designed for the Internet, so we’re focused on the unsolved problem – the underlying infrastructure.”

Today, the world sends over $155 trillion across borders. Yet, the market opportunity is bigger than simply moving those payments more efficiently. Garlinghouse claims that if they can solve the problem, ‘we’ll enable an Internet of Value that:’

  • Connects billions of people around the world to transact – instantly

  • Gives rise to entirely new businesses and industries

  • And increases financial inclusion

It’s clear the market has the potential to change the financial industry. This is being realised through use cases every day. This can be seen through IBM’s endeavor with the technology.

IBM Builds a DLT

In June, it was reported that the global technology company was creating a blockchain that will be used by seven of Europe’s largest banks, called the Digital Trade Chain. The consortium will include Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KBC, Natixis, Rabobank, Societe Generale and Unicredit. This is to aid international aid for small- and medium-sized businesses.

As a result, it will mark one of the first real world use cases involving the technology. Even though the banking sector has been researching into the blockchain for years, it’s only now that applications are beginning to emerge.

At the time, Wiebe Draijer, chairman of the executive board at Rabobank, said:

“We take care of the payment that’s still the old payment technology, but the whole infrastructure, the administration is done on the blockchain.”

He added:

“Ultimately we will also move the payment into that blockchain solution, when the payment in blockchain is ready to be robust for large-scale application.”

Draijer stated that many tests with banks and fintechs are underway experimenting with the blockchain. However, this venture with IBM demonstrates how far the financial world has come with its experiments.

“We are moving a step further with seven banks, putting together an application based on blockchain where we facilitate small-and-medium-sized enterprises when they export. And the blockchain technology is very powerful and supports that proposition.”

Tracking Meat

Of course, while Garlinghouse claims too many people are using the blockchain as a buzzword, there are plenty of real use cases for it.

For instance, in tracking food to improve consumer confidence.

China is one country that is using the DLT to track China’s pork and chicken. Last year, Walmart teamed up with IBM and the Tsinghua University in Beijing. By putting Chinese pork on the blockchain it’s hoped it will prevent food disasters occurring.

The success of this venture has meant that Chinese web insurer ZhongAn Technology is using a blockchain-based platform to track the entire chicken farming process. It’s hoped this will improve China’s food safety concerns.

More recently, Japan’s government has revealed that it too is using the technology for its wild game meat. By using a NEM-based blockchain it will build and store its transaction records.

Through the Mijin blockchain consumers will be able to trace the meat from the hunting grounds to the restaurant. It’s also hoped that it will help with the country’s overpopulation of wild game meat. This is through the dwindling numbers of licensed hunters in the country.

Tracking Humanitarian Aid

Another real world use of the technology can be seen through tracking aid.

In 2012, Ban Ki-Moon, the 80th secretary-general of the UN, said that corruption in 2011 had meant that 30 percent of all development assistance had been prevented from reaching those who needed it.

He said:

“This translates into bridges, hospitals and schools that were never built, and people living without the benefit of these services,” he said. “This is a failure of accountability and transparency.”

For many a solution was required, but finding it wasn’t easy. That was until the blockchain entered the scene. As a result, it’s now being used in many humanitarian situations ensuring aid gets to those who need it.

The UN is one agency that is embracing the technology. So much so, that it’s reported that there are seven UN organisations experimenting with the technology.

The UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has organised a working group of agencies looking into it. These include the WFP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Group (UNDG).

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Indian State Intends to Use the Blockchain to Protect Citizen Data

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has announced it is working with cybersecurity firm WISeKey to store citizens data on a blockchain securely.

Andhra Pradesh, bordering India’s southeastern coast, is the seventh largest state in the country. In an announcement, Swiss-based WISeKey and Andhra Pradesh will explore blockchain technology proof-of-concepts as pilot projects across a variety of departments.

The aim is to simplify processes and to enhance security in light of cybersecurity attacks worldwide. Earlier this year, malicious malware known as WannaCry crippled over 75,000 computers in 150 countries. It was the most audacious cyberattack to take place. According to Microsoft, it was a ‘wake-up call’ for governments to take action to prevent these attacks from happening. Shortly, thereafter, the NotPetya cyberattack targeted vulnerable computers around the world. Many victims were ordered to pay bitcoin ransom demands to receive access to their files.

In an attempt to take decisive steps, the government in Andhra Pradesh is taking measures to better protect citizen data. With a population of 88 million people there is a wealth of information that needs to be stored securely. To ensure this, it is teaming up with WISeKey to keep its various databases secure.

Carlos Moreira, founder and CEO of WISeKey, said:

“To have a pristine vision like putting the citizen at the center of gravity, and building all the infrastructure around this vision is the key to successfully empower citizens to unleash their full potential.”

JA Chowdary, special chief secretary & IT advisor to the chief minister of the government of Andhra Pradesh, said:

“We are looking towards WISeKey to play a leadership role in providing cybersecurity for the various initiatives of the government, but also drawing out the vision for smart cities who want to go beyond IoT, automation and use “Deep Tech” algorithmic technology.”

While N. Balasubramanyam, CEO and e-pragathi & transport commissioner for the government of Andhra Pradesh, added:

“Andhra Pradesh will be one of the first states in the world which will be implementing the blockchain technology in the transportation department.”

Andhra Pradesh to Record Land Deals on the Blockchain

In August, it was reported that the state of Andhra Pradesh was exploring the distributed ledger to record land deals. A second Indian state, Telangana, is also considering it too. The aim is to provide transparency to a corrupt system that leaves the poor at risk.

Most land ownership in India dates back to the colonial era. As such, knowing who owns what is fraught with difficulties. As a result, many people, particularly the poor, are left vulnerable with disputes ending up in court.

However, the use of the blockchain could provide better transparency for all concerned.

Vishal Batra at IBM Research, who works on the technology, said:

“The land registry is a good candidate for blockchain as there is no way to verify titles quickly. The process lends itself to fraud, as an owner can re-sell a property, and the buyer is ignorant. With blockchain there would be savings and efficiency, and there can be no fraud.”

Once a sale has been recorded on the blockchain, land owners, banks, sellers and brokers can track the record. This, in turn, gives everyone peace of mind that everything is above board.

Chowdary added:

“We are already digitising all land records, so this can be the next step.”

McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the global consulting firm, states that India’s land markets are hindering the country from producing more growth. Consequently, lost gross domestic product growth each year accounts for 1.3 percent.

Indian State to Secure Ration Cards with the Blockchain

These latest steps by Andhra Pradesh are not its first venture into the blockchain. In fact, its first steps can be traced back to 2016.

As early as then it was looking into the technology to fight cybercrime. As a result, it became the first state in Asia to implement the blockchain to provide cybersecurity and curb hacking.

This is significant considering the state’s government looks after a datebase of 103 million ration cards. N. Sambhasiva Rao, the director general of police in India, said at the time:

“Now the government has been encouraging to increase cashless and digital transactions from the present 10 percent to 50 percent.”

Ripple Opens New Office in India

Fintech payments firm Ripple has opened a new office in India’s business capital, Mumbai.

It’s hoped that the company will be capable of providing more customers with a faster settlement of international payments.

India has a population of 1.3 billion people. This expansion into India provides Ripple with a wealth of opportunities. Namely, because the country is the largest remittance receiver in the world. Ripple’s main objective is to get banks more attuned to the blockchain as a way of delivering faster payments.

For those sending money to India they may soon find themselves turning to Ripple’s services.

Navin Gupta, who has been appointed Country Manager for Ripple India, said:

“India is the largest recipient of corporate and retail remittances worldwide, totalling close to $71 billion. The businesses and Indian expatriates sending money into the country want their cross-border payments to be as fast and seamless as payments made within India’s domestic digital payment network.”

“Ripple’s instant, cost-effective blockchain-powered payments can be a transformative component of India’s economy, helping bring the many who have limited access to payment services into the fold.”

It remains to be seen what success this will bring to Ripple. Yet, considering India receives the most remittance payments in the world, the firm may see an uptick is users.

Turning to a Cashless Society

Over the last few years, India has been taking significant steps to embrace a digital agenda. What has helped to push the country forward was the removal of its two biggest banknotes: the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

Last November, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, ordered their removal. As such around 90 percent of the nation’s currency was wiped out overnight. The aim was to prevent terrorism, corruption and black market money.

While it was no doubt a drastic move for the country, it has aided its journey toward a digital society.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

South Africa’s Central Bank Says It’s ‘Too Risky’ to Issue Digital Currency

The deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has said that it would be ‘too risky‘ to start issuing its own digital currency.

Speaking at the Strate GIBS FinTech Innovation Conference 2017, Francois Groepe, the deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank, commented on the development of a digital currency such as bitcoin. However, while bitcoin is gaining dominance, he stressed that the central bank needs to ensure that payment methods aren’t abused to fund money laundering or terrorism.

He noted, though, that digital currencies are becoming more recognised as people understand their concept.

As a result, he said that:

“Virtual currencies have the potential of becoming widely adopted. However, for the central bank to issue virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies in an open system will be too risky for us. This is something that we really need to think about.”

According to Groepe, though, the central bank has created a three-member team to look into how cryptocurrencies work. The bank is also expected to launch a digital currency sandbox to test how they function.

He also discussed the financial industry and how innovation is changing the sector, mainly through digital currencies.

He added:

“We are witnessing the disruption of financial services. Over the past decade or so, fintech’s attention and publicity has continued to intensify and increase. It is continuing to usher in completely new ways of banking. Developments in the fintech space are part of an evolutionary process driven by innovations.”

Bitcoin Dominates the Market

As of the 23th August bitcoin is trading at $4,239. This is a 6.93 percent increase in 24 hours, but a 0.08 drop in seven days. At press time, the digital currency’s market cap is worth over $70 billion.

Just yesterday, bitcoin’s price was listed at $3,674 as it underwent an early-week correction period. As a consequence, its market cap value dropped to $60.7 billion. However, this price rally has helped to push it back over the $4,000 mark. The recent drop in price is believed to be down to a hashrate shift from bitcoin to bitcoin cash.

According to a recent report, bitcoin cash surged to a new all-time high on the 19th August when it reached $914. Furthermore, the alternative to bitcoin was reported to have mined its first eight megabyte block, clearing nearly 40,000 transactions. According to data from Coin Dance, bitcoin cash had become 69 percent more profitable to mine than bitcoin.

Not only that, but concerns have been circulating the SegWit and SegWit2x debate, which may have pushed bitcoin’s price down.

Despite this, however, the number one currency is still the leader in the field. Ethereum, in second place, has a market cap worth $30.2 billion. Whereas, bitcoin cash, in third place, is valued at $10.9 billion. Nevertheless, fourth placed ripple is close behind with a market value amounting to $10.8 billion.

Are Fears Justified?

Considering the dominance that bitcoin is showing in the market, it’s may be surprising that South Africa’s central bank thinks it’s too risky to start issuing their own version.

Last August, it was reported that The Bank of England had issued its own digital currency. Known as the RSCoin, it shares similar traits to bitcoin such as being managed by the blockchain. However, one of its key differences is that it is centralised within The Bank of England. As a result, only one bank generates each unit of the digital currency.

The bank has keenly embraced the blockchain, which is evident in an excerpt from a quarterly bulletin. It says:

“… the key innovation of digital currencies is the ‘distributed ledger’ which allows a payment system to operate in an entirely decentralized way, without intermediaries such as banks.”

Not only that, but according to the U.K.’s central bank, they don’t see that digital currencies ‘pose a material risk to monetary or financial stability in the United Kingdom.’ However, it will continue to monitor developments in this area.

No doubt aware of how finance is changing, The Bank of England appear keen to maintain a hold on the sector even if that means issuing their own digital currency.

SARB Begins Testing Digital Currency Regulations

Yet, while South Africa’s bank may not be issuing its own cryptocurrency anytime soon, the bank has been discussing regulations for bitcoin.

As a result, SARB are reported to be having discussions with blockchain-based solutions provider Bankymoon. According to a report, the central bank and Bankymoon are to undertake an experiment to test regulations for the digital currency.

Both, however, are in the early stages of seeing where the partnership can go.

Loerien Gamaroff, CEO of Bankymoon, said:

“This is because the Reserve Bank is very hesitant to give a stamp of approval on anything that comes out. The sandbox will only be bitcoin focused during this initial phase, but is focused on applying broad regulations to all cryptocurrencies.”

He adds, though, that it will give a formal foundation to bitcoin, which people will be able to trust.

“I think the regulation will move things along and make people on the street comfortable with bitcoin. With these new regulations, these everyday people can now trust that bitcoin is not just for hackers and criminals.”

The bank has, in the past, expressed its interest in blockchain and digital currencies. So much so, that the bank’s governor stated that it was willing to consider the benefits that the technology could present.

At the time, Lesetja Kganyago, the governor of SARB, said:

“As a central bank, we are open to innovations despite the different opinions of regulators on matters such as cryptocurrencies. We are willing to consider the merits and risks of blockchain technology and other distributed ledgers.”

Taking Small Steps

It remains to be seen what’s next for the central bank. However, the bank has already made significant progress so far. The fact that it has started proceedings into the regulation of digital currencies is a step forward. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but these steps remain positive for the country, which is seeing an increasing number of people using bitcoin for day-to-day purchases.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Bitcoin Critic Mark Cuban Backs Coinbase Employee’s Token Fund

Is Mark Cuban having a change of heart regarding the cryptocurrency space? The billionaire entrepreneur and investor said recently that he wants a slice of the sector despite saying that bitcoin is in a bubble.

According to reports, Cuban is investing in 1confirmation. It’s headed by former product manager at Coinbase and Runa Capital principal, Nick Tomaino. Launched on the 22nd August, Tomaino is seeking to raise $20 million for a fund that will invest in cryptographic assets.

The company is already attracting early backers. One of which is bitcoin critic Mark Cuban.

Bitcoin is in a Bubble

Earlier this year, Cuban took to Twitter to claim that the digital currency was in a bubble. At the time, bitcoin was trading around $2,900. During his tweets, he said:

“I think it’s in a bubble. I just don’t know when or how much it corrects. When everyone is bragging about how easy they are making $=bubble.”

After his comment, the price of bitcoin dropped, which seemed to confirm his opinion that the digital currency is in a bubble. Despite this slight drop in price the currency has continued to scale to new heights. At the time of press, on the 22nd August, bitcoin is trading above $4,000 at $4,079.

Sees Potential in the Blockchain

Despite his criticism toward the cryptocurrency, Cuban believes the blockchain holds great potential.

At the time, he said:

“I think blockchain is very valuable and will be at the core of most transactions in the future. Healthcare, finance etc all will use it.”

More recently, Cuban restated his believe in the blockchain.

“I have always looked at blockchain as a foundation platform from which great applications can be built.”

What is 1confirmation Setting Out to Do?

1confirmation has been created to make initial investments amounting to $100,000 and $500,000. It will put these in a range of SAFTs (Simple Agreement for Future Tokens) and SAFEs (Simple Agreement for Future Equity), which are designed to aid investors to buy tokens prior to an ICO.

It then aims to help those companies develop their product rather than investing in ICOs.

The ICO Craze Gains Momentum

In the first six months of 2017, more than $1.2 billion in cryptocurrency had been raised through ICOs. This outpaced venture capital investment in blockchain and bitcoin companies, according to Autonomous NEXT. At the time, Charles Hoskinson, ethereum’s co-founder, said they are ‘a ticking time-bomb.’ He added that as a result, there was now ‘an over-tokenisation of things.’

Several months later, in August, and that figure now amounts to $1.8 million. This is according to CoinDesk’s ICO Tracker.

As such, Tomaino’s fund follows that of others who are keen to start funds to invest money into digital currencies. Of course, that’s not to say that some ICOs aren’t scams or that they aren’t targeted by hackers.

Enigma ICO Hack

Recently, it was reported that as much as $500,000 in ether was stolen from supporters of the Enigma blockchain project.

Following a security compromise, hackers gained control of the project’s website domain, one of its Slack administrator accounts and its mailing list. Enigma released a statement, saying:

“At this time, the Enigma team has retaken control of all compromised accounts, including the website. Some pages will remain deactivated for the time being while the team works. Please continue to be vigilant and check our communications across ALL channels. Do not send any money or personal information to anyone.”

Interestingly, around the time that CoinDash experienced a hack during its ICO, which resulted in $7 million of ether stolen, Can Kisagun, the co-founder and chief product officer of Enigma, said his company had a simple solution to preventing similar attacks.

In a report from July, Kisagun said:

“Hackers got into the backend of the site and changed the address.”

As a result, investors sent their money to the wrong ethereum address. At the time Enigma’s solution was to hard wire the address of the token sale contract into the ethereum or bitcoin blockchains when it was getting created, according to Business Insider.

Unfortunately, such a measure didn’t prevent hackers from gaining access to over $500,000 in ether from Enigma supporters. No doubt this will be a significant blow to the company who has become a target from hackers like so many other ICO funds.

Parity Gets Targeted Too

Smart coding company Parity has also been targeted by hackers. On the 19th July, shortly after the CoinDash hack, reports arose that it had suffered a security breach. Data from Etherscan found that more than 150,000 ether was stolen. At the time this was worth around $35,000.

On the organisation’s blog, the company listed the situation as critical. As a result, users were urged to move ‘assets contained in the multi-sig wallet to a secure address.’

Cuban’s Foray into Cryptocurrencies

Yet, despite the number of hacks that several ICOs have experienced, they still attract a crowd. And no doubt they will continue to do so.

As a result, Cuban is expected to continue his journey into the digital currency space. Aside from 1confirmation, the billionaire entrepreneur will be investing in tokens sold by his portfolio company Unikrn. He is also planning to invest in a third digital currency-related fund in the future, reports Bloomberg.

Cuban added, though, that it’s hard to establish any value to bitcoin.

“If everyone continues to tell their grandparents, cousins and co-workers to buy, the price can go a lot higher as there is a definable, finite amount, but if the number of buyers dry up or there are a few massive sellers we could see under $1,000 again.”

He concludes:

“None of this has anything to do with the applications that can be built with blockchain. The question is whether great companies can be financed and built and I think the answer is yes.”

It remains to be seen what else is in store for Cuban, but he appears adamant that the blockchain is something that needs to be looked into further. The fact that he is backing a crypto fund could see him eventually backing bitcoin in the future.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Indian States Look to the Blockchain Technology to Record Land Deals

Two Indian states are reported to be exploring the blockchain to record land deals to bring transparency to a corrupt system that leaves the poor at risk.

With the aid of the distributed ledger it is hoped that it will modernise an outdated system and boost economic growth. The southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are considering the blockchain to record land deals.

According to a report, most land records in India date back to the colonial era with land holdings uncertain of ownership. This can leave many people, particularly the poor, vulnerable with disputes over titles often ending up in court.

As fraud is a major issue with land deals the blockchain could alleviate this problem, bringing greater efficiency and transparency.

Vishal Batra at IBM Research, who works on the technology, said:

“The land registry is a good candidate for blockchain as there is no way to verify titles quickly. The process lends itself to fraud, as an owner can re-sell a property, and the buyer is ignorant. With blockchain there would be savings and efficiency, and there can be no fraud.”

Once a land record has been recorded on the blockchain all parties involved – land owners, sellers, banks and brokers – can track the deal. As the distributed ledger is an immutable record there is no way to falsify the information or change the data. This then gives all those concerned peace of mind to know that everything is correctly in place.

J.A. Chowdary, technology advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government, said:

“We are already digitising all land records, so this can be the next step.”

According to McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the global consulting firm, India’s land markets are preventing the country from producing more growth. As a result, lost gross domestic product growth each year accounts for 1.3 percent.

However, while the blockchain is being touted as the answer to India’s land registry issues, it can’t solve everything, according to the director of land laws and policy at advocacy group Landesa.

Sunil Kumar said:

“What if the data is incorrectly captured? To get a clean record, you need clean inputs. For that you need community involvement, particularly in rural areas, to verify ownership and resolve disputes.”

However, while Kumar may have some misgivings about what the blockchain can do, there are already other countries who have embraced the technology specifically for recording land deals.

Countries Embracing the Blockchain for Land Registry

Sweden is one country that is turning to the distributed ledger to improve the recording of land deals.

Last year, the country’s land registry authority, the Lantmäteriet, undertook a trial with the blockchain. The success of it meant that at the end of March the authority had moved to the second stage of the project.

According to Henrik Hjelte, ChromaWay CEO, it could add an economic boost to the country. Not only that, but Hjelte believes that Sweden is the ideal place to test the blockchain for land recordings as public trust in the authorities is high. As such, this will provide the incentive for other agencies to follow suit.

The U.K. is another nation that is utilising the distributed ledger. Her Majesty’s Land Registry, a U.K. government agency responsible for land ownership, revealed in May that it was conducting a project using the technology to register property.

In a report, this move would significantly transform the country’s 150-year history as it turns to speed, simplicity and an open approach to data.

In February, the Republic of Georgia joined forces with Bitfury Group, a provider of blockchain infrastructure, to use the blockchain to record property-related transfers. This marked the first time that a national government had employed the distributed ledger to confirm and secure government actions.

Countries such as Denmark, Ghana and the U.S. have also started the Bitland program to reclaim usable land titles and free up trillions of dollars for development in West Africa. Starting in Ghana and spreading through the rest of the African continent, it’s hoped that it will help to educate the nation on documented land ownership and how the blockchain can help to achieve this.

These are just a few of the countries that are turning their attention to the distributed ledger to improve how land ownerships are recorded.

The Blockchain Gains Prominence

As the technology develops and grows, more sectors are realising the benefits that it can provide. So much so, that one has to ask: how did we survive without it before? Such thinking also makes one think of how people survived without the Internet before it burst on the scenes in the late 90s. For many, the blockchain is becoming the next Internet sensation.

What’s important, though, is that we have the blockchain now and, consequently, many industries are using it to better their services.

Whether it’s within finance, healthcare, humanitarian, education or food supply, the blockchain is making its presence known.

One area where this can be seen includes tracking where China’s chickens are coming from. Confidence in China’s food supply is at an all-time low due to the number of food safety issues that have come up in the past. However, in a bid to improve consumer confidence with the country’s food it’s hoped that the blockchain will give people the peace of mind to know where their food is coming from.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is also employing the technology. In order to ensure the food and aid is reaching those in need, the UN undertook an experiment in May to see how successful it was by distributing aid to 10,000 Syrian refugees. The success of the trial meant that the agency was extending its reach to 100,000 refugees by the end of August with plans to include the entire Jordanian refugee population by the end of 2017.

With so many use cases underway featuring the technology it shows the importance and impact that it is having and the trust that people are willing to put into it to provide better services for many people.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Innovate UK Seeks Blockchain Pitches in £8 Million Startup Competition

A U.K. government agency is reaching out to blockchain startups in a competition that is focused on digital health solutions.

In a notice from Innovate UK, a nondepartmental public office that is designed to promote innovation through grants and investments, it is offering up to £8 million for U.K. businesses to work on innovation projects that tackle the biggest healthcare challenges.

The competition is being run through the digital health technology catalyst, which is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. It’s designed to support the creation of digital health products that meet the requirements of the NHS. This is part of a new £35 million funding programme over four years.

According to Innovate UK, ‘digital health promises to have a profound impact on the approach, delivery and administration of healthcare, for the benefit of patients.’

In its notice, it said:

“The types of digital health projects we will fund include (but are not limited to) … emerging digital health technologies with a demonstrated healthcare benefit, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, blockchain and the Internet of Things.”

The competition opens today (31st July) and runs until the 11th October at 12 p.m.; however, the deadline for registrations is the 4th October, 2017. Applicants will be notified on the 17th October.

It’s only open to U.K.-based firms and projects must start by the 1st February, 2018.

Innovate UK stipulate that feasibility projects must range in size from total project costs of £50,000 to £75,000 and need to be completed within one year.

Whereas industrial research and experimental development projects must range in size from total project costs of £500,000 to £1 million and need to be completed within three years.

According to the government agency,

“[Projects] must have the potential to achieve one or more of the following:

  • improve patient outcomes

  • transform healthcare delivery

  • enable more efficient delivery of healthcare.”

It adds:

“In this competition we won’t fund projects that:

  • don’t have digital technology as the project core

  • focus on developing medical devices (unless enabled using digital technology as a core component)

  • seek to discover or develop medicines

  • seek only to develop data or record-keeping systems.”

The aim of the competition is to speed up the development of innovative digital solutions that can be utilised for healthcare challenges, thus helping the sector to grow.

Funding Projects through Innovate UK

This isn’t the first time that Innovate UK has funded projects in the past.

In 2016, the government agency awarded £248,000 to a startup that was building a cross-border payments tool using the ethereum technology.

According to a report from CoinDesk, the money was awarded to London-based Tramonex where the money was reported to be used to further the development of its cross-border blockchain tool.

At the time, Tramonex co-founder and CEO Amine Berraoui said:

“We are quite advanced in our prototype already, it’s more about looking for different approaches to handle the technology. Then to develop the commercial clients.”

Once completed the prototype will be submitted to the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for approval.

Last September, Innovate UK launched a new blockchain project in a £15 million competition. In the government’s Emerging and Enabling Technologies Programme, Innovate UK were seeking to ‘identify and speed up’ technology by providing funds worth up to £15 million.

According to the competition description, it reads:

“Our aim is to inspire the new products, processes and services of tomorrow; those with the potential to unlock billions of pounds of value to industry and disrupt existing markets.”

The aim of this competition is to help businesses broaden out innovation activities, to find new sources of revenue from new products, processes or services.

Just through these competitions and projects it shows how important new technologies such as the blockchain is to Innovate UK and how much they want the country to harness its potentials.

Competitions Provide Boost to Innovative Solutions

There are several competitions taking place that are aiming to find the next big thing in the blockchain space.

In Hong Kong, a technology programme is hoping to unearth the next fintech blockbuster. In a report from the South China Morning Post, 10 technology startups have been selected for a 12-week mentorship programme that is backed by 18 major financial establishments.

These include companies from Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and the United States, who are aiming to implement innovation that could aid financial institutions within the Asia-Pacific.

Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific is who picked the 10 technology startups.

Evangelos Kotsovinos, the Asia head of infrastructure and China chief information officer for Morgan Stanley, said:

“Asia provides unique challenges and opportunities that are driving true fintech innovation here.”

“Working with labs such as Accenture’s is a great way for Morgan Stanley to identify technologies that can help us grow and evolve our business, but also to give back to the community by advising start-ups on how to commercialise their technology to meet the demands of a global financial services firm.”

According to the SCMP, some of the technology startups include Block, a South Korean blockchain infrastructure provider; CoverGo, a Hong Kong-based company that automates manual insurance processes; KapitalWise, a U.S. startup, that provides a micro-investment platform; and microUmbrella.com, which delivers a micro-insurance buying and claims platform.

Piyush Singh, Accenture’s senior managing director of financial services for Asia-Pacific, said:

“The financial institutions in the FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific select start-ups who are trying to address, in a practical manner, current real-world fintech challenges facing the industry.”

Now more than ever, financial firms need to maintain pace with the rate at which the technological world is developing. For it to ensure this, it must embrace fintech, but the only way for that to be achieved is for the finance sector to research new methods of doing things. To do so, means a more efficient system that is free from errors and cuts down on costs.

As the former CEO of Barclays once said, the financial services sector needs to open itself to fintech if it wishes to remain relevant.

Speaking at a Money 20/20 fintech conference in Copenhagen in June, Anthony Jenkins said:

“Banks can avoid [becoming irrelevant], but they have to act now, and what they really need to do is think about innovation, but also transformation, doing something radically different.”

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Russian Airline Uses the Ethereum Blockchain for Flight Tickets

Russian airline S7 has revealed that it is now utilising the ethereum blockchain to sell flight tickets with backing from the country’s largest private bank.

Reported in regional newspaper Kommersant, Russian airline PJSC Siberia Airlines, known as S7, and Alfa-Bank started using the blockchain to sell flight tickets on Monday 24th July. The report states that one of the key benefits was faster settlements.

However, this is not the first time that S7 has experimented with the blockchain. In December, the airline undertook the first-of-its-kind payment service with the ethereum blockchain smart contracts through a letter of credit with Alfa-Bank.

Services giant Deloitte, who acted as the advisory consultant to the airline, said in a statement that:

“Legally, this transaction meets all the requirements for a letter of credit as a form of bank settlement, and demonstrates the potential of smart contract application in the framework of Russian legislation.”

Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline, is also conducting research into the technology, namely digital currencies and how they can be used for flight ticket payments.

The experiments with S7 and Aeroflot are expected to end the 10th December, 2017.

Airlines Turn to Bitcoin

S7 is not the first airline carrier to embrace this innovative technology. There have been several airlines to do so before.

The most recent is low-cost Japanese airline Peach Aviation Ltd., which announced earlier in 2017 that it was to start accepting bitcoin as a form of payment for flight tickets. After the recent interest in the digital currency, which has seen rapid growth in Japan in recent months, it is hoped this will provide an attraction to tourists to visit the country.

Shinichi Inoue, chief executive officer of Peach, said:

“We want to encourage visitors from overseas and the revitalization of Japan’s regions. This is a real first step in partnerships for Japan and we are aiming for more company and service tie-ups.”

The heightened interest in bitcoin in Japan is due to the fact that in April regulations were changed which now see the digital currency as a legal form of payment for goods and services.

As a result, it’s expected that by the end of 2017 there will be as many as 300,000 stores in Japan accepting bitcoin for payments.

Aside from Peach other airlines have also embraced the most popular digital currency for their services too.

These include Latvian airline airBaltic, LOT, the Polish airline and Washington D.C.-based airline Universal Air Travel Plan (UATP).

Three years ago, airBaltic revealed that it was to begin accepting bitcoin payments in an attempt to focus more on the customer. By taking this step the airline became the world’s first to accept the digital currency for its tickets to 60 destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In 2015, LOT announced that it was going to start accepting bitcoin for its flights to over 60 destinations as well.

UATP also revealed in 2015 that it had joined up with Bitnet as a payment processing partner. As a result, the U.S. airline now has the opportunity of providing its network of over 260 airlines the option of accepting bitcoin for flight payments.

These are just a few of the airline carriers which are embracing the digital currency who see the benefits it can provide to customers. This is in contrast to Morgan Stanley’s claim that bitcoin acceptance among top merchants is in decline.

Russia and Bitcoin

While Russia appears to see many benefits with the blockchain – after all, ethereum’s founder, Vitalik Buterin, is reported to have met with Russian President Vladimir Putin – the country is still sitting on the fence when it comes to bitcoin.

However, its current stance is somewhat different from where it lay in 2016. Last year, a new amendment to the Criminal Code by the Ministry of Finance in Russia saw the regulator proposing a seven-year prison sentence for management and executives of banks and financial services firms for the use of bitcoin. The sentence was less for everyday people caught using it at four years.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the country has shifted gears after the central bank’s governor revealed that the authority is ‘analyzing’ the possibility of regulating the digital currency.

Yet, Elvira Nabiullina, governor of the Russian Central Bank, stated that she views bitcoin as a ‘digital asset’ instead of a currency.

She said:

“We don’t consider that bitcoin can be considered as a virtual currency. It’s more digital assets with the regulation of assets.”

She also claimed that there were some doubts as to what benefits the digital currency could bring to the economy.

While it’s not clear as to what Russia’s next move will be, in an April Bloomberg report Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev said that the Russian authorities hope to regulate digital currencies such as bitcoin by 2018 as they undertake steps to enforce rules against illegal transfers.

This will no doubt help bump the price of the digital currency up while also increasing its user base in the currency.

Bitcoin’s Price Slumps

As of the 26th July, the price of bitcoin has dropped to $2,490 with the total market cap of all currencies down to just under $85 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. In a 24-hour period, the price of bitcoin dropped by 2.14 percent while the market cap has yet to climb back up to $90 billion.

It’s thought that this recent slump is down to caution among investors in light of the potential Bitcoin Cash (BCC) hard fork that is expected on the 1st August.

With many people in the bitcoin community not happy with the SegWit2x solution to scaling issues, proponents are venturing to create their own coin, called Bitcoin Cash. Roger Ver, a self-described bitcoin evangelist and a supporter of Bitcoin Unlimited (BU), was reported as saying that a coin split would be ‘a good thing.’

Now supporting Bitcoin Cash, Ver claims that projects such as Omni and Counterparty would choose Bitcoin Cash.

Yet, while SegWit2x is gathering support, one person said that if SegWit2x didn’t activate a lot of people would lose their faith in the currency:

“Not because I have any particular support for 2X or any particular problem for Segwit, but because it shows fickleness and underhand moves based on politics not sensible technical decisions.”

Featured image from Flickr via Takashi Nakajima.

South Africa’s Central Bank to Start Testing Digital Currency Regulations

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has announced that it will begin testing regulations for digital currencies such as bitcoin.

During the first seven months of 2017, the digital currency market has experienced huge gains with slight drops in between. At the beginning of the year bitcoin was valued at $1,000; however, its price has since climbed through the $2,000 barrier and even scaled further than $3,000 in June.

Recently, though, the value of bitcoin dropped to below $2,000 in light of the scaling debate.

Many in the community previously believed that digital currency was going to undergo a coin split, which pushed its price down as holders keen to make a profit, while they still could, sold the coins they were holding. Of course, now that BIP 91, the network protocol upgrade for bitcoin, has been locked in by miners the value of the digital currency has risen to $2,710, as of the 24th July.

This in turned has had a positive impact on other altcoins, which also took a price tumble when bitcoin did. On the 16th July, Ethereum’s price dropped by 22 percent to $159 and 60 percent from its June high when it was over $400. At the moment ether is trading at $223, according to CoinMarketCap.

Of course, with some claiming that bitcoin has been in a price bubble it has naturally attracted the attention of authorities who think regulation is the way forward.

One organisation is SARB, which is currently having discussions with blockchain-based solutions provider Bankymoon.

In a report from BusinessTech, Loerien Gamaroff, CEO of Bankymoon, said that the provider had been chosen by the bank as its first sandbox business to undertake an experiment with new digital currency regulations.

According to the report, Gamaroff has been part of a number of workshops and seminars focusing on digital currencies within the South African market.

He states, however, that at this stage the two are working together to determine where the relationship can go for future development.

He said:

“This is because the Reserve Bank is very hesitant to give a stamp of approval on anything that comes out. The sandbox will only be bitcoin focused during this initial phase, but is focused on applying broad regulations to all cryptocurrencies.”

He adds that this step toward possible regulation will help at providing a more formal foundation and gives legitimacy to bitcoin that people will be able to trust.

“I think the regulation will move things along and make people on the street comfortable with bitcoin. With these new regulations, these everyday people can now trust that bitcoin is not just for hackers and criminals.”

 South Africa Open to Blockchain and Digital Currencies

Last August, the SARB revealed that it was open to the innovation of digital currencies and the distributed technology ledger with the bank’s governor claiming that the financial establishment is willing to consider the benefits that these technologies present.

At the time, Lesetja Kganyago, the governor of SARB, said:

“As a central bank, we are open to innovations despite the different opinions of regulators on matters such as cryptocurrencies. We are willing to consider the merits and risks of blockchain technology and other distributed ledgers.”

Bitcoin Regulation in South Africa?

At present bitcoin remains unregulated in the nation; however digital currencies aren’t prohibited or banned outright in the country.

As such, the use of them is growing as more people turn their attention to them despite the fact that a joint advisory was released in 2014 warning the public on the risks linked to the use of digital currencies.

According to Kerri Crawford, a tech lawyer at global financial law firm Norton Rose Fulbright based in Johannesburg, she thinks that as the uptake of digital currencies increases there is a chance that South African authorities will take a regulatory approach.

In a blog published in 2016, Crawford said:

“…it is possible that the South African authorities will adopt the approach taken in many other jurisdictions and explore ways in which the regulatory regime could be amended or revised.”

As more jurisdictions think about implementing a regulatory stance toward digital currencies such as bitcoin it could be that they begin to outpace fiat currencies in the future. This was the thinking from Michael Jordaan, the former CEO of one of South Africa’s ‘Big 4’ banks, the First National Bank (FNB).

In June, Jordaan said at the Software AG Innovation Tour 2017 event in Johannesburg that by 2025 digital currencies will compete with national currencies as trading volumes continue to rise.

According to a report he said that cryptocurrencies had the potential to make banks become obsolete as they continue to challenge the current banking model.

Banks Need to Embrace FinTech

Interestingly, his word echo those of former chief of Barclays bank who was reported as saying that the financial services sector needs to embrace the world of fintech if they wish to remain relevant or they could become obsolete.

Anthony Jenkins, the former CEO, said:

“We’re really at the end of the beginning of what we see as a revolution driven by technology with financial services and fintech is really a too narrow categorisation of what’s going on here. As the technologies develop and season, they’re going to create a totally different way of doing banking and financial services.”

His words follow on from a 2015 prediction when he said that there was going to be an ‘Uber-like’ disruption from the fintech sector that would change the current banking system. As a consequence, he believes that in 10 years time those working within the banking establishment will have been reduced by 20 percent, but could go as high as 50 percent.

It remains to be seen what result South Africa’s central bank comes to when it completes its trial looking into digital currency regulations; however, it would certainly be a step forward for the country as it looks at embracing innovative technologies.

By doing so, it will join the likes of Japan, which in April changed their regulations that now considers bitcoin a legal form of payment.

 

Featured image from Flickr via Paul Saad.

The World Bank Launches Blockchain Lab to End World Poverty

The world’s biggest international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance has launched a blockchain lab aimed at improving life in developing nations.

Established in 1944, the World Bank Group is located in Washington, D.C., with more than 10,000 employees worldwide in over 120 countries.

With more than one billion people living in poverty worldwide in addition to inequality rising in many developing nations, the World Bank set itself two goals to be reached by 2030:

  1. End extreme poverty by decreasing the percentage of people living on less than $1.90 a day to no more than 3 percent; and
  1. Promote shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40 percent for every country.

Speaking at George Washington University, in 2013, Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group President, said that extreme poverty was ‘the defining moral issue of our time. As a result, it was imperative that the bank takes bold steps and not be afraid of taking ‘smart risks’ that would support projects that could potentially change a country or region.

So much so, that the World Bank has now turned its attention to the blockchain to pilot projects that could improve social outcomes and governance in developing nations.

In a report from CoinDesk, Denis Robitaille, vice president and chief information officer of the World Bank’s technology division, explained that the blockchain lab would work with its technology and non-profit partners to develop solutions that could be utilised. This could mean that blockchain use cases will soon be seen among the bank’s more than 80 client countries.

It is envisaged that through the distributed ledger technology, eliminating poverty and improving people’s way of life will be achieved. Not only that, but as the blockchain is an immutable ledger, it is hoped that the technology will help nations to be more trustful with institutions again.

Blockchain Risks

And yet, while there are certainly benefits from the technology, there are risks to also take into account. Namely, energy and environmental consumption issues.

Randeep Sudan, a digital strategy and government analytics advisor at the World Bank, noted the high amount of electricity needed for bitcoin mining and that any plans with the blockchain should be taken cautiously.

Sudan said:

“These are hugely energy intensive efforts. Obviously, one would have to think about the implications as far as energy consumption as we pursue this technology.”

The UN and the Blockchain

The World Bank joins the likes of the United Nations which is also looking into the potential that the blockchain could have on the planet.

Just recently, it was reported that the UN was considering the technology as a way to monitor and fight climate change. At a meeting in May, experts at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, explained that the distributed ledger could ‘play a major role in tackling climate change.’

Alexandre Gellert Paris, associate programme officer at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said:

“As countries, regions, cities and businesses work to rapidly implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement, they need to make use of all innovative and cutting-edge technologies available. Blockchain could contribute to greater stakeholder involvement, transparency and engagement and help bring trust and further innovative solutions in the fight against climate change, leading to enhanced climate actions.”

Even though the blockchain is being employed in many use cases, support from the UN indicates the impact it is having and how it could be used to monitor carbon asset transactions and clean energy trading in the future.

As climate change continues to impact our lives with debates circulating it continuing to divide people’s opinion, the blockchain could be the ideal solution.

Of course, before it can reach this stage, more research will need to be undertaken in a technology that is, essentially, still developing.

Humanitarian Aid Calls for the Blockchain

Similar to the World Bank, the UN has also set itself several goals that it aims to reach by 2030. Setting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN hopes to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all within the next 13 years. One of which is its Zero Hunger goal.

With such a mammoth task ahead of it, the UN is going to need all the help and assistance it can get if it wants to meet its goals by 2030.

What better way to do this, then, then by using an innovative technology designed to make the tracking and tracing of things easy?

At the end of May, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it had completed its trial that sent money directly to 10,000 Syrian refugees. The success of the trial indicated the impact the technology can have and the significant number of people is can help. By providing digital currency-based vouchers, the refugees were then able to redeem them at markets involved in the trial.

With the completion of the trial the WFP is planning to extend the number of refugees it can reach to 100,000 by August 2017. By the end of the year, the agency hopes to reach the entire Jordanian population.

While these are just a few use cases of the blockchain within major agencies, they highlight the growth the technology is making and how it’s not simply being used within finance anymore.

A lot can happen in the next 13 years and many improvements and advancements can be achieved. It is hoped that within that time, the World Bank and the UN are able to meet their goals, which will improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Even though the blockchain is still in the early stages of its development, it is already showing that it has the potential to transform our day-to-day lives. Many organisations just need to be brave and bold enough to research it, which could end up helping to feed millions, cut carbon emissions and protect our planet for future generations to enjoy.

Where we’ll be in 13 years is anyone’s guess, but hopefully we’ll be far better off than what we are now and that goals set have been reached.

Featured image from Flickr via Sean Ellis.

Artist’s Impression of Bitcoin Paper Bills Illustrates a Beautiful Currency

Bitcoin as we know it doesn’t exist in a paper form, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular, but there are many who may have wondered what bitcoin paper bills would look like if it was in circulation.

Well now, we can have some idea of what they may look like.

In a project called Block Bills, Los Angeles-based artist Matthias Dörfelt has created visual representations of bitcoin paper bills by choosing, at random, 64 blocks on the bitcoin blockchain, by picking each of the block’s unique hash, which helps to identify it.

Each bitcoin paper bill has been designed to colourfully represent different fundamentals linked to the digital currency.

In the top right-hand corner, there is a number that represents the transfer volume, which replaces the typical denoting figure that is seen on fiat currencies. Furthermore, where a signature from the treasurer in any given country is found, there is the name Satoshi, the inventor of bitcoin, which is handwritten by Dörfelt.

Numbers along the bottom right represent the timestamp when the bitcoin was mined while the dots on the left indicate a history of all the transactions. Not only that, but the colours of each bitcoin paper bill represents a different volume: the lighter the bill, the lower the volume while a darker colour indicates a high volume.

Lastly, each bill has in its centre a blurred image that could represent a human being. The idea here, according to the artist, was to produce the visual representation of privacy and anonymity that bitcoin delivers.

He said:

“In some way, the project is a loose data visualisation, but I mainly wanted to make the bills be interesting on their own as artworks.”

While the creation of the bitcoin paper bills may have only been for artistic reasons, it does help present the digital currency in a different light. Not only that, but it makes it more accessible to people and gives bitcoin more weight that makes it easier to understand.

For many people, if there is something in existence that we can’t physically hold, the idea around it might not seem real, but thanks to Dörfelt it now can be.

Art and the Blockchain

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that artists have embraced the technology world in their work. By doing so, they make it accessible to people in their day-to-day lives.

Last September, Berlin-based New Zealand artist Simon Denny, reimagined traditional finance and how alternative futures could exist across different sectors worldwide through the blockchain technology.

Focusing on three blockchain companies: Digital Asset Holdings LLC, 21 Inc. and Ethereum, Denny used full-length, cut-out images of them, placing them among larger-than-life special editions of the board game ‘Risk’ and Pokémon cartoons. By doing so, the artist was trying to imagine what the three companies believe needs to be achieved for a new world order.

By focusing on the blockchain within the art world it could suggest that the distributed ledger has achieved a new level of status higher than bitcoin. Saying that, though, the blockchain can often come across as a complicated subject matter, but when explored through art it can turn something difficult into something understandable in easy ways.

In the report, Denny said that it was important to get people outside of finance and technology interested in the blockchain and the potential it can provide people in their lives:

“I think that work that is being done by blockchain visionary companies right now has the potential to change some of the most fundamental societal building blocks from which our world is built. Money, sovereignty, trust: These are the things which are potentially at stake here, and are being reimagined by very smart, very active people.”

With the blockchain gaining such status and believed to have more potential than bitcoin, it could be that we see more blockchain-based art exhibits in the near future.

Bitcoin Paper Bills

If, however, there were bitcoin banknotes in existence, what could this do to its value?

One of the reasons that the digital currency is so popular is because it is a decentralised currency where no central government has control over it. Thought up in the days of the 2008 financial crisis, there is no one person in complete control as to how bitcoin should be governed.

As such its value has increased exponentially with millions of people of the opinion that bitcoin could eventually become a mainstream currency that replaces fiat transactions.

So, if bitcoin paper bills were in circulation, would they increase or decrease the value of it? After all, someone would have to be in control of the number of banknotes in existence, which would require a continued supply to keep up with demand.

Sure, this could potentially push the value of the currency up, but the main reason behind bitcoin is so that the public aren’t putting their complete trust into one person. What if the circulating of the bills came to a halt? What then?

People would be angry that they had trusted and believed in something and we would just revert back to how it was before: distrust with the monetary system, believing that those in charge are simply pocketing the profits and getting away with it.

The world has been, and in some cases continues to be, there, so it’s unlikely that they will want a repeat of an old show.

So while the idea of bitcoin paper bills may seem like an idea, it’s only a fanciful one that won’t happen any time soon. For now, we can simply enjoy the benefits that the digital currency is providing millions of people around the world and how it is changing our ideas as to how we pay for things.

Technology is changing and it seems that the bitcoin community is intent on having the digital currency lead the way for major changes that we might not think possible now, but could become very real in the not-so-distant future.

Featured image from Flickr via tiendientu vietnam.

Google’s Director of Engineering Says He Won’t be Investing in Bitcoin

A man known for his ability to make uncanny predictions with future innovations has said that he won’t be putting money into bitcoin, stating that the digital currency won’t be the replacement for fiat currencies.

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, made these comments at the Exponential Finance Summit, a New York City technology conference that was hosted by Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank.

Speaking in front of 700 senior executives and technologists, Kurzweil explained his concerns regarding the most popular digital currency on the market. According to him, bitcoin lacks the stability needed that gives a currency added value, which makes people more likely to trust it and use it.

He said:

“Ultimately, people need to have confidence in their currency and bitcoin in particular has not really demonstrated that. It’s had a good year, but a very rocky life before that.”

Because of the currency’s inability to remain stable he believes this undermines its value.

He adds:

“I wouldn’t put my money into it.”

Such comments are unlikely to go down well within the bitcoin community considering 2017 has proven to be a good year for it. On 11 June, it was reported that the digital currency had hit the $3,000 mark for the first time in its history after hovering between the $2,700 and $2,900 range the previous week.

Yet, while it finally reached a new all-time high, it didn’t stay up for long, once again highlighting that the currency remains a volatile asset.

On 12 June, bitcoin’s price dropped by around $300 in one hour from $2,980 to a low of $2,650, according to CoinDesk. The drop, however, was short-lived, with prices rebounding back to $2,900 30 minutes later on CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index (BPI).

This news further gives credence to Kurzweil’s thinking and the fact that the digital currency still has a long way to go before it can shed its volatility despite the fact that it is up 200 percent in 2017.

Other Critics of Bitcoin

With Kurzweil’s current thinking, he joins the ranks of fellow bitcoin critics such as Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffet who once claimed that the digital currency was ‘a mirage,’ and that people should stay away from it.

In a 2014 report from CNBC, Buffet is reported as saying that ‘the idea that it has some huge intrinsic value is just a joke in my view.’

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, has spoken out in the past and said that ‘bitcoin is doomed.’ In 2015, Dimon is reported to have said:

“It’s just not going to happen … there is no government that is going to put up with it for long. It’s kind of cute now, a lot of senators and congressmen will say ‘I support Silicon Valley innovation,’ but there will be no currency that gets around government controls.”

More recently American billionaire and investor Mark Cuban took to Twitter to state that ‘bitcoin is in a bubble,’ after it achieved a record high of $2,900 on 6 June. This despite the fact that the digital currency is outperforming stock market benchmarks such as the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

And yet, while bitcoin is continuing to make headway and is steadily increasing its price and market value, there will always be critics who will predict its downfall.

Blockchain Has More Potential Than Bitcoin

Of course, while Kurzweil remains weary on the cryptocurrency, he takes a keen interest in the currency’s distributed ledger, the blockchain.

For him, this is where change is likely to take place stating that it could be implemented by national governments, but that more people need to have increased confidence in it first.

He said that the blockchain provides the transparency to change the way countries mint their fiat currencies.

He said:

“Providing greater transparency, and blockchain does provide that, could be something adopted by leading currencies like the existing national currencies.”

Cuban also shares the view that it is the blockchain that will be more valuable in the future. One of his recent tweets reads:

“I think blockchain is very valuable and will be at the core of most transactions in the future. Healthcare, finance etc. all will use it.”

The Federal Reserve Bank has also spoken in the past about how the blockchain has more potential. The Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari is reported as saying that the blockchain could be adopted in the future compared to the digital currency.

Presenting a speech at the MN High Tech Association 2017 Spring Conference in May, Kashkari, said:

“I think sentiment has shifted in the markets. I would say I think conventional wisdom now is that blockchain and the underlying technology is probably more interesting and has more potential than maybe bitcoin does by itself.”

While the blockchain is still in the early stages of its development, it’s interesting to see that so much interest is being placed on it and the future changes it can make to delivering a more efficient and tamper-proof system.

Recently, the Dubai government announced that they have signed a new agreement with ObjectTech, a U.K.-based blockchain startup, to create digital passports for entry at Dubai International Airport. It’s hoped that by doing so, it will put an end to manual passport verification for seamless entry.

According to the agreement, ObjectTech will be working with Dubai’s Immigration and Visas Department to develop the world’s first ‘gate-less border,’ as it combines the abilities of biometric verification and the immutability of the blockchain technology.

This is just one example of how bitcoin’s distributed ledger is being employed in innovative ways that may not has seemed possible before.

Whether the blockchain will be adopted more in the future remains to be seen; however, bitcoin also remains a valuable source for people, particularly those who are disenfranchised and without access to traditional banking services.

While the digital currency may still be a volatile asset, it is a popular currency that many people are investing in. Its price will invariably go up just as it will also go down as different factors impact its price. Even though critics will remain, bitcoin continues to achieve new heights as it works at becoming the next big currency.

Featured image from Flickr via YEKRA_Stills2.

You Can Now Buy Gold In A Bitcoin-Like System

The road to mainstream adoption of the Bitcoin is a long and hard one, but the Bitcoin is seeing global adaption every single day for the payment system as well as for the Blockchain technology. Now BitGold, a site allowing people to buy and sell gold peer-to-peer, announced it will be using the Bitcoin technology for their site.

BitGold will be using the Bitcoin technology to offer free vault storage with a payments-network attached, enabling a banking platform for gold. BitGold has been in beta mode for a few months, but has finally been made available for the general public, fully insured with no storage fees and lots of payment methods.

BitGold received $3.5 million in funding in December of 2014 to take their platform to the next step, with the funding round being mainly funded by PortVesta Holdings, PowerOne Capital and Soros Brothers Investments.

“We are excited to unveil the BitGold platform, an architecture and technology that’s taken years of careful planning and execution, which now allows users to seamlessly use gold again as a store of value and medium for payments. As a global asset, gold is recognized in nearly every culture as a long term protector of value, but has been a poor medium of exchange compared to the advances in money technology.” said Co-founder and CEO, Roy Sebag.

“We felt that gold needed the modernization and mobilization that’s now happening in the global payments revolution. We have built a financial services platform that is as close to being counterparty-free as possible, enabling economic transactions within the existing global financial system to be settled in full reserved gold bullion.” He added.

BitGold is a third-party provider who doesn’t take responsibility for deposits and such, but simply provides a service-platform for those interested in buying and selling gold with others around the globe in a safe environment, where all transactions are accounted for.

Simply put, the customers can store their gold where they wish in the world and then buy more or sell some through the platform. The gold will be easy to acquire and access through the platform and funds will be instantly accessible.

“At BitGold we have a mission to democratize global access to gold for stable savings, and to make gold useful in micro-transactions using the internet or mobile phones,” said co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Josh Crumb.

“No matter where you live in the world, gold has held value over time relative to costs like food and energy that we require as humans, making it one the most important savings tools for most of the human population. We believe that by broadening access to a commodity-money that holds value we can help combat the rise in wealth inequality and the short-termism.” Crumb added.

Seeing a company using the Bitcoin technology shows how far the Bitcoin industry has come as whole, with more industries being inspired to use the technology as well. This could lead to the Bitcoin gaining some more mainstream acknowledgement, which can only benefit the Bitcoin as a whole in the long run.

It will be interesting to see if the concept will become a success in the gold industry or if it is ahead of its time, similar to what the Bitcoin is currently seen by many.