Category: future society

Remarkable Images of London Show the City’s Evolution Over Nearly 2,000 Years

Like all living things, cities have lifespans. London started as a small Roman settlement along the Thames River. Initially encompassing just a few families, today, more than 8.6 million people call the place home. So take a moment to take a journey. Here are is a series of maps, paintings, and old-time photographs that show the journey of the British capital from the past to today.

Two recent archaeological excavations, in 1999 and 2010, suggest that there were settlements near London’s Thames River as early as 4500 BC. The area saw a widespread adoption of agriculture in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

A 1974 painting of a Bronze Age farming settlement. Alan Sorrell/Museum of London Image (Source: British History Online)

The Romans founded Londinium (now called London) in 43 AD. This artist’s illustration of Londinium in 200 AD shows the city’s first bridge over the Thames River.

Image Source: Imgur

From the 7th to 11th centuries, Anglo-Saxons moved into Londinium. Their settlement was laid out in a grid pattern and grew to contain between 10,000 and 12,000 people.

An artist’s reconstruction of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum. Image Source: Sue White/University of Nottingham

Westminster Abbey, built in the 10th century, is a World Heritage Site and one of London’s oldest and most important buildings. Here it is in a 1749 painting.

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England there on Christmas Day, 1066 — just after it was completed. By the 11th century, London had the largest port in England. In the 12th century, the English royal court began to grow in size and sophistication and settled in Westminster, a neighborhood in central London.

The Old Palace at Westminster. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

In 1176, King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge. Finished in 1284, the original London Bridge would stand for over 600 years. It supported homes and shops — which weighed down its arches over time.

“View of London Bridge,” a 1632 oil painting by Claude de Jongh. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

The development of the printing press in the early 15th century made news available to the entire city and improved literacy levels. Coffeehouses also became popular spots for friendly debates.

A London coffee house, circa 1660s. Image Source: Public Domain

In the 17th century, London suffered from the Great Plague, which killed about 100,000 people. In 1666, the Great Fire broke out; it took the city a decade to rebuild.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The city became a major hub for trade throughout the 1700s, and the Port of London expanded downstream.

London Bridge, circa 1750. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

During the Georgian era (from 1714 to 1830), new districts like Mayfair formed, and new bridges over the Thames encouraged development in South London.

London’s Trafalgar Square in 1814. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the mid-19th century, London overtook Amsterdam as the Europe’s leading financial center…and the Royal Navy became the world’s leading military fleet.

London in the 19th century. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

London was the largest city in the world from 1831 until 1925, when New York City superseded it. The growing population and increased traffic led to the creation of the world’s first local, underground urban rail network in the late 1860s. An extensive sewage system was also constructed.

London Sewage system being built in 1860. Source: WikiMedia

WWII devastated London starting in 1941. As seen below, civilians hid in underground train stations to get away from air raids, which killed approximately 30,000 Londoners by the war’s end. The city then slowly began to rebuild itself.

Bomb-damaged commercial buildings line London’s Cannon Street in 1941. Source: Getty Images

The city has maintained its place as a center of global power …

Piccadilly Circus in London, circa 1950s. Image Source: Transpressnz

… and today, over 8.6 million people reside there.

Aerial panoramic cityscape view of London and the River Thames in the 2000s. Source: Getty Images.

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Elon Musk Wants to Give Power to Puerto Rico. Will it Cause More Harm Than Good?

Destruction

On September 20, the Category 4 hurricane named Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Thirty-four people died, and most of the island’s 3.4 million residents struggled to access clean water, food, and medical care in the weeks that followed.

One of the most poignant displays of the island’s continued disarray? Now, three weeks after the storm has dissipated, more than 80 percent of the island is still without power. The storm damaged all facets of the power grid — how power is generated, how power is transmitted, and how power is distributed — making the process of repair far more challenging than on neighboring islands, New Scientist reports. Officials estimate that it could take months for citizens to get their electricity back, or even longer.

That is, unless Elon Musk steps in.

Prompted by a Twitter user, on October 5th, Musk noted that Tesla could get involved in restoring the island’s power. Notably, this power would be clean and renewable:

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Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s governor, promptly responded to Musk’s tweet. Rossello tweeted that an initial phone call between the two was promising:

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The two men recognized the great potential in the wake of Puerto Rico’s destruction. “Although in the short-term the object would be to bring power to the largest number of people, we shouldn’t sacrifice this opportunity to have an energy system that is resilient, modern, and can be at cutting edge on the global level,” Rossello said in a subsequent press conference.

A Shift In The Business

Neither Rossello nor Musk has provided much detail about what the plan would look like. But on smaller islands, Tesla has installed a microgrid, a distributed network of batteries and solar panels that operates independently of the standard electric grid. The solar panels collect energy when they can; the batteries store that energy for later use.

This kind of distributed system can bring electricity to those residents more quickly than repairing the traditional electrical grid. That’s clearly a good thing.

But could the shift away from traditional systems ultimately punish citizens?

Right now, the government-owned corporation Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) supplies power to all of the island. That power is generated primarily through burning petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which is imported. If more individual homes are outfitted with their own sources of power generation, they will become less reliant on PREPA. This trend is happening elsewhere in the United States, too, from New York to Arizona.

This shift could be financially more disruptive than straightforward privatization, in which government-owned utilities (power, waste management, water) are handed to private companies that run each part of the process. That is because privately owned companies are heavily regulated so that they don’t jack up prices and take advantage of consumers. But the combination of regulation and competing companies that answer to shareholders who want to turn a profit often means that consumers don’t see much difference in how much they pay for power; in some cases, individuals even pay less in privatized systems.

“There have been a lot of studies on the cost of electricity generation for public and private utilities. It makes no difference. There’s a wide range of results, with no real pattern as to whether public or private was better [for citizens],” John Donahue, the faculty chair of the Masters of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told Futurism.

“Musk’s pitch might be good news for rate payers, bad news for electricity workers.”

“As a customer in a privatized system, you can be confident there will be incentives in place,” Frank Wolak, an economics professor at Stanford University, told Futurism. But, he notes, there are downsides, too: “If you’re working in the privatized system, you won’t do as well. You could lose your job.”

To this end, a push towards individualized power generation could come with a similar trade-off for citizens, at least at first: they might pay less for electricity on a monthly basis, but those employed by the power company might lose their jobs.

“Musk’s pitch might be good news for rate payers, bad news for electricity workers. That’s probably the bottom line,” Donahue said.

Risky Renewables?

Shifting to the microgrid also comes with new risks that weren’t present in the traditional power system. The solar panels and battery packs are expensive; users often need years to recoup their investment. Musk isn’t letting on how much he’s going to charge for Tesla’s systems, or who will be paying for it, but given Puerto Rico’s sizable debt, it might be a tough decision if the government uses an outsized portion of its recovery funds to restore power using Tesla’s tech.

It’s particularly knotty because the island will probably have to rebuild its traditional grid anyway. The batteries that store energy aren’t as efficient, and they need to give people access to electricity 24/7, Wolak said. So when the Sun isn’t shining, everyone will need backup power from the grid all at the same time. The supply and demand of electricity will fluctuate dramatically, causing a headache for the power company, which will need to generate that power only intermittently and can’t loop in to a larger grid due to Puerto Rico’s isolation.

“You hear people talk about how Denmark’s electricity is 80 percent renewable. But it’s interconnected with the rest of Europe. So they can install a lot of wind, but if the wind isn’t blowing [Denmark] gets electricity from other regions,” Wolak said. The same thing is happening in California, where natural gas powers homes to make up for solar’s down time. “Puerto Rico is an island. If there’s no sun or wind, there’s no transmission line to Miami.”

“It’s not going to be the lowest-cost way to get electricity back up.”

“[Installing a microgrid] would effectively amount to discarding a lot of capacity that’s already there,” Wolak said. “It’s not going to be the lowest-cost way to get electricity back up.” Moreover, installing a microgrid in a market of this size has never been done, Wolak said. And it’s a gamble to see if it will work — a politically palatable one, but a gamble nonetheless. “Everyone loves renewables. But this is not something that we have a proof of concept anywhere,” Wolak said. “Maybe it’s not the best time to do it for Puerto Rico as it’s trying to recover.”

We may soon find out if the gamble pays off. Just a week after Musk spoke with Rossello, a shipment of Tesla’s Powerpacks was spotted at Puerto Rico’s airport.

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A U.S. Political Candidate Just Pledged to Make All Decisions via an App Poll

By the People

Technology has the potential to radically change how elected officials perform their duties, and at least one political candidate thinks now’s the time to take advantage of that potential. If Camilo Casas is elected to the city council in Boulder, Colorado, this November, he promises he will not make any decision by himself. Instead, he plans to put that power in the hands of the people via a liquid democracy app called Parti.Vote.

Casas built the app himself, and as he explained to Motherboard, he designed it to facilitate a liquid democracy. The idea is that instead of simply hoping their elected representatives support their stance on issues, citizens will be empowered to directly affect policy-making by voting through the app.

If Casas were to be elected, citizens of Boulder would sign up for the app online, with Casas’ team vetting each person to prevent fraud. Casas would then vote according to how the people in the community did through the app. For example, if more than 50 percent voted “yes” on an issue or policy, Casas would vote the same way, regardless of his personal stance on the issue. Only when the citizen votes resulted in a tie would he be forced to decide based on his own beliefs.

Casas’ hope is that by effectively handing over his power as an elected official to an app, he’ll be able to create a liquid democracy that is more equitable than the representative one we currently have in the U.S. “I personally am convinced that when you have to lobby a constituency rather than an elected office you will on average get more democratic and consensual outcomes,” he told Motherboard.

For the People?

The idea of using technology to empower voters to directly influence policy has its appeal. If he is elected, Casas’ vote would actually represent the will of the people — the ideal outcome for a democratic system but one that was impractical in the pre-internet world. Democracy would get a more transparent tinge, and citizens could become more invested in policy-making knowing they have the ability to directly influence it.

However, Casas’ proposal isn’t without its risks. For one, technologically savvy citizens could be overrepresented as their smartphone-lacking counterparts metaphorically stay home from the polls. As with anything digital, the possibility of hacking or fraud must also be taken into account.

Still, Casas is convinced that Parti.Vote represents a step in the right direction. “We’re not trying to build the perfect system of democratic participation,” he explained. “We’re trying to improve the system we have.”

He isn’t alone in his belief that we should use technology to create a liquid democracy. The makers of the Sovereign app propose using blockchain to give people a direct say on important issues, while a candidate for New York City’s public advocate post wants to rely on an app called NYSpeaks to solicit direct feedback. Meanwhile, another blockchain-based app called Flux supported 13 candidates in Australia’s 2016 federal elections.

While Casas admits that a win in November is “rather unlikely,” he is drawing attention to an important issue simply by running: We have the technology to improve our political system. Isn’t it time we try using it?

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Apple’s Co-Founder Just Launched a New Tech Education Startup

You’ve Been Accepted to Woz U, From Apple

In order to train the next generation of tech workers capable of taking key roles in high-paying technology jobs, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is launching a new startup known as Woz U.

Called a “digital institute,” the Arizona-based institution hopes to provide a quick and affordable way for people to learn new skills applicable to the realm of computer science. These skills would be invaluable to workers who wish to stay relevant and desirable in a market that’s embracing computers and robotics.

In the past, Wozniak has expressed his own concerns about the impact of artificial intelligence, saying they may eventually “think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.” Earlier this month, a survey revealed that a number of IT leaders believe 60 percent of jobs could be replaced by automation by 2022.

Making Tech More Approachable

In addition to speed and affordability, Wozniak explains that Woz U is also meant to make the tech industry less intimidating, and hopes to prove to people they’re capable of understanding it.

“People often are afraid to choose a technology-based career because they think they can’t do it,” he said in a statement. “I know they can, and I want to show them how.”

Woz U will launch on October 13 with online programs, and there are plans to build a number of campuses in 30 cities around the world. Initially, there will only be programs training computer support specialists and software developers. In time, the programs will be expanded to cover data science, mobile applications and cybersecurity.

Woz U's Computer Support Specialist Curriculum. Image Credit: Woz U
Woz U breakdown for a Computer Support Specialist. Image Credit: Woz U

Following that, Woz U will collaborate with K-12 schools to incorporate science, tech, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programs, as well as an an accelerator program “to identify and develop elite tech talent.”

“My entire life I have worked to build, develop and create a better world through technology and I have always respected education,” continued Wozniak. “Now is the time for Woz U, and we are only getting started.”

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Google Is Spending $1 Billion to Prepare U.S. Workers for the Jobs of Tomorrow

Grow With Google

Companies working with artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies are expected to benefit dramatically from the big changes automation will bring to the world of work. Workers themselves, on the other hand, could be facing a future of unemployment and poverty. To ensure humans still have a place in the workforce of tomorrow, Google has established the Grow with Google initiative.

As company CEO Sundar Pichai explained during yesterday’s Grow with Google announcement event in Pittsburgh, PA, Google plans to distribute $1 billion over the next five years to nonprofits that specialize in training workers and helping new businesses get off the ground.

$10 million from the fund has already been committed to Goodwill. The company plans to use that money to implement the Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator, which aims to prepare members of the American workforce for jobs that require a high level of technological know-how.

Google will also embark upon a tour of the U.S., visiting libraries and community organizations to dish out training sessions and career advice as part of a commitment to deliver one million hours of employee volunteering over the span of the project.

Tomorrow’s Workforce

Google isn’t the only tech giant investing a significant amount of money in programs to ensure that people are ready for the jobs that will be available in the coming years.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
Click to View Full Infographic

In May 2017, Apple announced plans to set up a $1 billion fund to help foster manufacturing roles in the U.S., and the company also has plans to fund coding workshops. Microsoft also recently announced their TechSpark program to help prepare for workers for coming economic changes by improving their digital skills and computer literacy.

Automation isn’t guaranteed to devastate the workforce, but it is almost certain to disrupt it. The benefits of the technology are simply too great to ignore, so companies are going to want to implement it whenever possible. Thanks to the likes of Google, we have the opportunity to train the people most likely to be affected by this change, thereby ensuring that nobody gets left behind in this new era of automation.

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Here’s How Online Dating Has Transformed the Fabric of Society Itself

It’s a Match!

Digital match-making services have done more than just change how we find our perfect squeeze; they’re changing the fundamental nature of our social networks.

According to a pair of researchers investigating online dating, the way we’re looking for love (and lust) is connecting communities in completely novel ways, breaking down boundaries and possibly even making for stronger long-term relationships.

It wasn’t all that long ago that most relationships would begin with a smile and a handshake, rather than a click or a swipe.

That began to change in the mid-1990s, when websites like Match.com merged traditional lonely-heart classifieds with the convenience of the internet.

Today there’s a wide variety of sites and apps to suit your tastes, lifestyle, sexuality, and budget, from Tinder and Bumble for a quick swipe to like, to OKCupid and eHarmony for those who want their wit to show with their words.

Any stigma over online dating has slowly evaporated over the years. 15 percent of Americans admit to having used online dating, and 5 percent of those who are married or committed long-term relationships stating they met their spouse online.

Love in the Digital Age

Not only has digital technology made dating easier for romantic hopefuls, the data collected by such sites has been a boon for researchers curious about human mating habits.

But it’s clear that the digital revolution hasn’t only been shaped by the human appetite for sex and companionship; it’s changed the way we form relationships.

Economists Josue Ortega from the University of Essex and Philipp Hergovich from the University of Vienna wanted to know just how the rise of digital match-making has affected the nature of society.

Society can be modelled as a web of interlinked nodes, where individuals are the node and the link describes how well they know one another.

Most people are tightly connected with about a hundred nodes, including close friends and family, and loosely connected with others.

We can trace pathways through relationships to all come to Kevin Bacon – or nearly any other figure on the planet – in surprisingly few steps.

“Those weak ties serve as bridges between our group of close friends and other clustered groups, allowing us to connect to the global community,” Ortega and Hergovich told MIT Technology Review.

Even just a few decades ago most new connections were just a jump or two away inside an existing network. A bar, a sporting team, church, or college would typically provide the perfect environment for those first hot sparks.

Not any more.

For heterosexual couples, online dating has risen to second place – just below ‘met through friends’ – as the context for that first introduction. Among homosexual couples, digital match-making has skyrocketed.

Image Credit: Josue Ortega/University of Essex, Philipp Hergovich/University of Vienna

And the knock-on effect is profound.

“People who meet online tend to be complete strangers,” say the researchers.

As far as networks go, this is like building new highways between towns, rather than taking the local backroads. Just a few random new paths between different node villages can completely change how a network functions.

Take interracial relationships, for example, long held to be a measure of the general social distances within a population.

Once illegal in many states, and long taboo, marriage between different ethnic groups in the US has slowly been on the rise since the mid-20th century.

The increase steepened at the turn of the 21st century in line with the rise in online dating, and then even further as swipe-to-match apps like Tinder went mainstream around 2014 (it launched in late 2012).

While there are almost certainly a variety of influences, the network changes resulting from online dating fits the observations perfectly.

“Our model predicts nearly complete racial integration upon the emergence of online dating, even if the number of partners that individuals meet from newly formed ties is small,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

Marriages online were also predicted by the model to be more robust and less likely to end in divorce, a hypothesis which is supported by a study conducted in 2013.

The study is currently available online on the pre-publish website arxiv.com, so it has not completed its full peer-review process just yet.

It can often seem as if the online world reinforces our echo chambers and leads us to become more insular, especially when it comes to social media.

It’s nice to have some evidence that the relationships we make online are also breaking down boundaries and making for stronger connections.

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Vladimir Putin: Russia Will Issue its Own Cryptocurrency

 

Russian-styled Cryptos

At a closed-door meeting in Moscow, Vladimir Putin officially called for a state-run blockchain-based digital currency which will be called “CryptoRuble,” according to local Russian publication AIF, first mentioned by CoinTelegraph. The CryptoRuble might put an end to some of crypto’s most challenging weeks in Russia, where the government blocked cryptocurrency exchanges despite a repeated show of interest for digital cash.

“I so confidently declare that we will launch a [cryptocurrency] for one simple reason: if we do not, then in 2 months our neighbors in the Eurasian Economic Community will do it,” Russian communications minister Nikolay Nikiforov said, as reported by AIF.

Yet despite the announcement, there seems to be no indication that the government will withdraw its cryptocurrency ban. On the contrary, Nikiforov said that the creation of CryptoRuble will not translate to a legalization of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It does, however, confirm Russia’s previously expressed interest in blockchain technologies, like Bitcoin’s rival Ethereum.

What About Decentralization?

The CryptoRuble won’t be a typical crypto coin, as it won’t be open for miners. Instead, the government would be the only one able to issue, control, and maintain the currency. CryptoRubles could be exchanged for Rubles anytime, with a 13 percent tax levied on owners unable to declare the source of their crypto coins. A similar 13 percent tax would be incurred by transactions involving the buying and selling of CryptoRubles.

“It will, most likely, be a closed model with a certain volume of regulated emissions,” Nikiforov explained. The minister added that further details are still in development, adding that a Russian cryptocurrency should use Russian cryptography.

While this guarantees the same type of security that blockchain-based coins provide, there’s one apparently major difference. It seems that the CryptoRuble doesn’t run on the same decentralized model that makes blockchain and crypto coins unique and popular. Still, it’s a first step to Russian cryptocurrency adoption, which experts predict will be the key for a blockchain revolution.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Elon Musk Teased the Idea of Getting an Internet Connection on Mars

Internet on Mars

On Saturday, Elon Musk participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum on Reddit in which he answered questions pertaining to about SpaceX’s latest rocket, the “BFR,” as a follow up to his IAC 2017 talk. One user put forth the idea of internet on Mars, asking, “Does SpaceX have any interest in putting more satellites in orbit around Mars (or even rockets) for internet/communications before we get feet on the ground? Or are the current 5-6 active ones we have there sufficient?”

Musk, who was expertly playful and comical throughout the AMA, responded, “If anyone wants to build a high bandwidth comm link to Mars, please do.”

So, is the idea of internet on Mars truly feasible, or is it just an outlandish fantasy right now? One Reddit user had some pretty keen insight into its potential:

The concept of an internet connection on Mars is kinda awesome. You could theoretically make an internet protocol that would mirror a subset of the internet near Mars. A user would need to queue up the parts of the internet they wanted available and the servers would sync the relevant data. There could be a standard format for pages to be Mars renderable since server-side communication is impractical.

This exploration of the concept prompted Musk to simply reply, “Nerd” — which the user it was directed at and others in the thread took as an ultimate sign of respect.

Within the Realm of Possibility

Of course, Musk also dug a little bit deeper, “But, yes, it would make sense to strip the headers out and do a UDP-style feed with extreme compression and a CRC check to confirm the packet is good, then do a batch resend of the CRC-failed packets. Something like that. Earth to Mars is over 22 light-minutes at max distance.” he continued, “3 light-minutes at closest distance. So you could Snapchat, I suppose. If that’s a thing in the future.”

Could there one day be internet on Mars? Image Credit: NASA
Could there one day be internet on Mars? Image Credit: NASA

This is not the first time that the idea of an interplanetary internet has come up. Back in 2015, Musk suggested the idea of placing hundreds of satellites 1,200 km (750 miles) above Earth to help accomplish this task. He even told Bloomberg Businessweek that, “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.” The theory of this plan rests on the fact that light travels faster in the vacuum of space than through Earth’s atmosphere.

Newsweek also discussed the topic last September with Josh Boehm, a former SpaceX employee. It seems as though, currently, the satellites and infrastructure necessary to make this a reality aren’t in place. But, since humans haven’t reached Mars yet or even begun the journey, there is still a few years to build a Martian internet.

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Congressional Report: A North Korean EMP Attack Would Kill “90% of all Americans”

Vulnerable to EMPs

North Korea has a weapon capable of crippling the United States’s power grid, and U.S. congress has now been warned of the full threat that it poses. An EMP attack could lead to the deaths of up to “90 percent of Americans.”

In a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on Thursday, members of the recently defunded EMP Commission informed congress of the devastation an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack could inflict on the country. In a commissioned report, former EMP Commissions chairman, William Graham, and its former chief of staff, Peter Vincent Pry, referred to North Korea using an EMP as a “doomsday scenario,” citing Kim Jong-Un’s well-documented threats to turn the U.S. to “ashes.”

It could use its demonstrated satellite launcher to carry a nuclear weapon over the South Polar region and detonate it…over the United States to create a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse … The result could be to shut down the U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period, leading to the death within a year of up to 90 percent of all Americans.

This isn’t the first time U.S. vulnerabilities to an EMP attack have been discussed, In 2014, Forbes’ Peter Kelly-Detwiler wrote that such a threat, if acted upon, could make 9/11 look childish by comparison.

“There have been an enormous increase in our dependency on electronics, computers, and microelectronics,” said Graham during a interview with Forbes. “An attack may never happen. But the more vulnerable the U.S. is to such an attack, the more likely it is to be used against us.”

Failing to Act

According to Graham and Pry, the U.S. has ignored concerns about North Korea’s capabilities for quite some time. In the last six months alone, the former EMP Commission provided information regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons — including how many nukes it has, its ability to create miniaturized weapons, and how far away it was from developing hydrogen bombs. The organizations critics, however, openly dismissed the warnings.

Now that the EMP Commission’s predictions have been confirmed by North Korea’s recent displays of power, the threats of an EMP attack should be taken seriously. Even the Doomsday Clock has been moved forward as a result of North Korea’s nuclear tests — a relatively small thing to be impacted, but the symbolism is significant.

“It is critical, therefore, that the U.S. national leadership address the EMP threat as a critical and existential issue, and give a high priority to assuring the leadership is engaged and the necessary steps are taken to protect the country from EMP,” the experts reported to a Homeland Security subcommittee.

Congress’ discussion about North Korea’s EMP capabilities comes not too long after South Korea revealed its own bombs that could disrupt a nation’s electrical equipment. South Korea’s military said it would use these “blackout bombs” against North Korea if it appeared to be preparing to make a move. However, the South Korea said no such preparations have been observed — yet.

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The Age of the Hacker: Equifax Took Down Website Amidst New Cybersecurity Fears

Equifax Error

The persistent woes of Equifax — the credit reporting agency responsible for the massive data- breach affecting about 143 million customers earlier this year — are continuing to incite new cybersecurity fears. Last week, the Equifax website featured an error message as the site went down after what appeared to be yet another potential breach.

Late on Wednesday, Ars Technica reported that independent security analyst Randy Abrams discovered the Equifax page was redirecting him to fraudulent Adobe Flash updates. He found that, when clicked, the download links would infect computers with adware. He ran into the phony Flash links on at least three times and shared a video of what he encountered on YouTube.

“We are aware of the situation identified on the equifax.com website in the credit report assistance link,” Equifax spokesman Wyatt Jefferies said in a statement. “Our IT and Security teams are looking into this matter and, out of an abundance of caution, have temporarily taken this page offline. When it becomes available or we have more information to share, we will.”

After the investigation was completed, the company stated the incident was not a breach, as reported by Endgadget. The website was back online by the weekend.

Privacy in a Digital Age

Meanwhile, Congress is considering a national credit freeze in the wake of the Equifax fiasco. Representative Patrick McHenry (R, North Carolina), who introduced the bill, explained, “It protects Americans by creating a national credit freeze that actually works. Finally, it prohibits the largest credit reporting agencies from continuing to rely upon the most sensitive of Americans’ personal information: our Social Security numbers.”

While this isn’t necessarily a bad temporary countermeasure, it does ignore the new cybersecurity fears we are beginning to face as a society. Ending reliance on Social Security numbers is a good thing to do. However, in a time when a single weapon could cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that wipes out the power grid of the entire country, destroys our electronics, and creates “an existential crisis like nothing the world has ever witnessed,” loss of information and operations also demand the attention of Congress.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
Click to View Full Infographic

Further into the future, privacy issues will include protecting brain implants from hackers who attempt to access the human mind itself, and deciding how brain scanning should be used for — and against — citizens. Just as important, the neuroethical discussion needs to start now.

A proactive, science-based approach will be essential to mastering cybersecurity, cognitive privacy, and similar challenges, and both technical and legislative solutions will need to be implemented. Meanwhile, quantum encryption and computing are coming soon, and blockchain is already here, all offering new ways to protect information from prying eyes, if not EMPs.

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Experts Urge U.S. Military to “Develop and Deploy Enhanced-EMP Nuclear Weapons”

EMP Calamity

In a statement, experts recommended to Congress that the U.S. military strengthen its ballistic missile defenses — including the deployment of space-based defenses — with the specific aim of protecting the U.S. from potential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks. They also recommended the development and deployment of enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons and other means to deter attacks on the United States by North Korea.

An EMP attack has the potential to “shut down the U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period,” according to the assessment delivered Thursday at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing, “Empty Threat or Serious Danger: Assessing North Korea’s Risk to the Homeland.” William Graham and Peter Vincent Pry — Chairman and Chief of Staff, respectively, for the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack (the EMP Commission) — provided the sobering statement.

Image Credit: WikiImages/Pixabay
Image Credit: WikiImages/Pixabay

The EMP Commission was established in 2001 to advise Congress, the Department of Defense (DoD), the President, and other agencies on any nuclear EMP threats. It was re-established with a broader charter in 2015 so its focus would include all manmade EMP threats, including cyber attacks, sabotage, and what they call “Combined-Arms Cyber Warfare.” However, their funding was recently terminated, as reported by Newsmax, in the same month as North Korea detonated a “Super-EMP” weapon.

The Detailed Recommendations

The report pointed out that, six months ago, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were believed to be primitive, but the U.S. now approximates that the country has 60 nuclear weapons and can reach the United States with those weapons. The EMP Commission urged Congress to recognize the dire threat posed by EMP weapons, which can be devastating even when used with “primitive, low-yield” nuclear weapons.

Moreover, while much of the focus regarding North Korea has centered on its ability to reach a city with a missile, the EMP Commission argued that the threat from an EMP attack has been mostly ignored:

EMP attack does not require an accurate guidance system because the area of effect, having a radius of hundreds or thousands of kilometers, is so large … North Korea could make an EMP attack against the United States by launching a short-range missile off a freighter or submarine or by lofting a warhead to 30 kilometers burst height by balloon … even a balloon-lofted warhead detonated at 30 kilometers altitude could blackout the Eastern Electric Power Grid that supports most of the population and generates 75 percent of U.S. electricity.

Their bottom line recommendations?

We recommend the development and deployment of enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons and other means to deter adversary attack on the United States. Enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons, called by the Russians Super-EMP weapons, can be developed without nuclear testing … We recommend strengthening U.S. ballistic missile defenses — including deployment of space-based defenses considered by the Strategic Defense Initiative — and that these be designed and postured to also protect the U.S. from EMP attack.

In a nation utterly dependent on being online and having power, a single nuclear warhead detonated above us — even without much precision — could have apocalyptic consequences, creating, as Peter Kelly-Detwiler put it in Forbes, “an existential crisis like nothing the world has never witnessed.” The challenge for the U.S. — and every developed county — will be to take the necessary preemptive responses while at the same time avoiding the unintentional escalation of this precarious situation.

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Bitcoin Price Goes Over $5,800, Setting a New All-Time High Record in Less Than 24 Hours

Bitcoin prices surged past the $5,300 mark on Thursday, closing at $5,363 — only to reach a new all-time high value at $5,856.10 some time early Friday morning, after markets had opened at a $5,439.

The increase in value comes after Russia banned Bitcoin and expressed interest in rival Ethereum. The Russian ban followed previous moves against cryptocurrencies by South Korea and China, which included prohibiting initial coin offerings (ICOs). The market, it would seem, finally got over the fears incited by these moves.

bitcoin-price-surge-coindesk
Image credit: Coindesk

At the time of writing, revitalized Bitcoin is now at $5,714.95 marking a more than 13 percent increase in value in less than one day, and an over 30 percent increase in just one week. It isn’t the only cryptocurrency benefitting from the price surge, as the overall cryptocurrency market cap peaked at $171.94 billion early Friday morning — almost reaching a high comparable to that of September 1, when it reached $172.5 billion. Bitcoin, which makes up more than 55 percent of the whole crypto market, capped at $95.5 billion today (Friday, Oct 13).

Cryptocurrencies are no stranger to fluctuations in prices, which critics are always quick to note. Experts say crypto is destined to be more than a fad however, and that Bitcoin’s popularity will herald a bigger blockchain revolution. Whatever the case may be, experts expect Bitcoin to go as high as $6,000 by the end of the year, and over $10,000 by the first half of 2018.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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The U.S. State Department is Embracing Blockchain to “Advance Diplomacy”

Welcoming Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology can be a powerful tool if you know how to use it effectively. The technology behind Bitcoin is being eyed by countries like China to collect taxes and is expected to radically change how U.S. institutions operate. Even states like Illinois are open to using it to replace birth certificates, while organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have expressed a desire to use it against future epidemics.

Now, CoinDesk reports that the U.S. State Department is also looking into utilizing Blockchain technologies to “advance diplomacy and development objectives.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan put forward the idea while speaking at the Blockchain@State forum held in Washington DC earlier this week, claiming that Blockchain technology could play a key role in the restructuring plan initially proposed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“This forum has implications for our ongoing redesign efforts,” said Sullivan. “We’re interested to learn whether blockchain technology can have direct applications to many of the key features of our proposed redesign.”

Using Blockchain for Aid, Democracy, and Corruption

CoinDesk writes that several ideas were discussed regarding how a blockchain could be implemented to improve various aspects of the State Department, including how it provides foreign aid, promotes democracy, and improves governance and political institutions in U.S.-allied countries.

Beyond that, Sullivan suggested the technology could also help deal with matters of fraud and corruption in a government’s control over land title registries.

The U.S. government has been a bit slower than other countries when it comes to addressing the tech, and potentially adopting it. But despite this, many blockchain companies participated in the forum, with several reportedly supporting Sullivan’s ideas for incorporating blockchain technology.

“We’re particularly excited that the U.S. is waking up, big time, and realizing that this is a transformative technology,” said Joseph Lubin, founder of the blockchain development firm ConsenSys, which co-sponsored the event. “There are other smaller players who are embracing this technology strongly, but we do want to see America get out in front of this and transform society with it.”

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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After Falling in September, Bitcoin Breaks Previous Records

Bitcoin is back in a big way. After a few tumultuous weeks caused by some intense government regulation from states like China and South Korea, and fears of impending bans in Russia, Bitcoin has been able to rally and surpass its previous record value established in early September.

Prices soared to $5,314.06 at the point of writing, beating the previous record of $5,013.91. Prices were expected to take a dip after the cryptocurrency hit the $5,000 point as some investors likely had sell orders placed for that milestone. However, China’s announcements about the temporary ban followed by other developments played a major role in the tumult that followed.

Image credit: CoinDesk
Bitcoin’s value is taking a wild ride. Image Credit: CoinDesk

Bitcoin prices have achieved 424 percent growth since the beginning of the year, proving that the cryptocurrency is particularly resilient, contrary to some assumptions.

Bitcoin could be back on track with its meteoric rise. Experts seem to be unphased by the rollercoaster changes of the past few weeks. Speaking during CNBC’s Fast Money segment, former Fortress Investment Group hedge fund manager turned cryptocurrency investor Mike Novogratz predicted that Bitcoin will reach heights above $10,000 in the next six to ten months.

The cryptocurrency market is anything but stable. There is no definitive way to predict how it will perform in the coming days, let alone weeks or months. Still, whether crypto is a bubble or not, there’s no doubt that it is disrupting the financial sector.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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A New $15 Billion Project Is Set to Utterly Transform Our World

Going All In: A $15 Billion Project

To advance research and development on artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things, Alibaba is dedicating $15 billion in funding over the next three years to create the next generation of such technology.

As reported by Bloomberg, the company shared its plans in an emailed statement, shortly after Chief Technical Officer Jeff Zhang made the announcement at the company’s Computing Conference 2017 in Hangzhou, China. This is the beginning of its global research program, now known as Alibaba DAMO Academy — “DAMO” an acronym for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook.

As part of the program, Alibaba intends to build seven new R&D labs across the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, and Singapore. Over 100 scientists worldwide who specialize in different aspects of AI, quantum computing, and the IoT will also be hired.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Alibaba Chief Technical Officer Jeff Zhang said the new labs will go a long way to “help solve issues that Alibaba is currently facing across its business lines. It will also be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology.”

More Than Labs and Scientists

Alongside new labs, Alibaba’s multi-billion dollar investment will also go towards funding various collaborations with universities, with the University of California at Berkeley already on board. Additionally, the company has tapped a number of professors from the likes of Princeton and Harvard to sit on an advisory board.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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Alibaba’s increased focus on AI and quantum computing is a significant one, with both expected to dramatically change the world. The company already has a “smart warehouse” run by 60 robots, which saw an productivity increase 300 percent. That percentage can only rise if the company’s program is a success, though it does raise some concerns about automation and its impact on jobs.

Fortunately, according to CNBC, the company has a “commitment to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million jobs in 20 years.” We’ll have to wait and see what Alibaba comes up with in the coming years, but it’s a clear sign it’s prepared to see this through, and has the resources necessary to move the world forward.

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World Bank Chief: Robots Have Put Us on a Dangerous “Crash Course”

Education for Automation

More and more experts agree that the world job market is in for a disruption that is unprecedented, or at least that hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution. In a decade or so, automation born from artificial intelligence (AI) development is expected to take over jobs in a number of industries — from transportation to manufacturing, finance, and even information technology. To prepare for job displacement, particularly those considered to be minimum income work, some experts have been advocating for a universal basic income.

For World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, there might be another equally necessary course of action. Speaking to an audience at Columbia University in New York, prior to the World Bank’s annual meeting in Washington D.C., Kim said that it’s important for policymakers to invest in education and health.

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In the face of the looming intelligent automation and political threats against economic development—such as growing resistance against globalism—Kim warned that the world is following a “crash course.”

“If your aspirations start to rise but then there’s no opportunity it can lead to fragility, conflict, violence,” Kim explained to the BBC. “This is the crash course we’re going down.” Hence, there’s a need to create more opportunities for people, which starts by investing on human capital. This marks a change in the World Bank’s development approach.

Automation and Human Jobs

It’s normal for any meaningful development to have a good and bad side, and automation is a product of how good technology has become. AI has given birth to autonomous systems that will let cars, ships, and even planes operate themselves more safely, or run stores and factories more cost-effectively. Then, of course, as machines get better at doing work human beings used to do, it becomes more efficient to “hire” them instead.

Many have chosen to look at this intelligent automation with gloomy expectations, but some see a potential for humankind to progress. Google chief engineer and famous “future teller” Ray Kurzweil said that automation would give rise to new jobs—professions which haven’t been invented yet, he said. Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk said something similar, noting how automation would give humanity more time to pursue leisure.

In any case, both ideas seem to agree with the World Bank president’s point: to prepare for automation, one has to invest in people. “The one thing you know for sure that you’ll need, in whatever the economy looks like in the future, is people who can learn,” Kim told the BBC. “We want to create a sense of urgency to invest in people that we think is necessary given the way […] the global economy is changing.”

Automation will happen—in fact, it’s already begun. The only thing we can do now is to make sure humankind is ready to accept the new economy it will bring. What’s clear is that humanity’s ingenuity will surely find a way to cope.

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Latest Prediction Puts Bitcoin at $10k by April 2018

As Bitcoin prices remain stable, experts predict a continued increase in value. In a recent interview featured in CNBC‘s “Fast Money” segment, former Fortress Investment Group hedge fund manager turned cryptocurrency investor Mike Novogratz said the rise in value isn’t likely to stop any time soon.

“I’m pretty confident to say it’s going higher,” he said on Wednesday, adding that “It would not surprise [me] if in the next six to 10 months we’re over $10,000.” Just last week, other experts predicted bitcoin prices would reach $6,000 by the end of the year, though still warning against volatility.

Indeed, many have pointed out that cryptocurrencies tend to be unstable. For Novogratz, however, this volatility is normal. “Yes, it’s a bubble, it’s going to be one of the great manias of all time,” he explained. “Bitcoin happens to be the bellwether of this entire decentralized revolution, so it’s the easiest way people get gain exposure to it. […] Things like Ethereum I think will be the public utility of this new space.” This blockchain revolution, he added, would “change the way we live.”

Despite fears of a dip in prices due to Russia’s cryptocurrency ban, recent numbers show that bitcoin prices have stayed at the upper $4,000 mark after closing at another all-time high on Monday. The Russian ban comes after China and South Korea made similar moves against cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs).

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Harvard Professor: “In the Long Run, the Price of Bitcoin Will Collapse”

Futures Market

This summer, the total value of the bitcoin market reached $160 billion, almost 10 times what it was at the beginning of 2017. Now, a leading economic expert is warning investors that while cryptocurrencies may very well be the financial wave of the future, the value of bitcoin will collapse eventually.

Kenneth Rogoff is a professor of economics at Harvard University, and from 2001 to 2003, he served as the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. In an opinion piece published by The Guardian this week, he praises the technology underpinning bitcoin, but says he believes too many factors are working against the currency for its value to continue to increase indefinitely.

In the article, he argues that bitcoin evangelists who expect the currency to become ubiquitous are just setting themselves up for disappointment.

“It is folly to think that bitcoin will ever be allowed to supplant central-bank-issued money,” wrote Rogoff. “It is one thing for governments to allow small anonymous transactions with virtual currencies; indeed, this would be desirable. But it is an entirely different matter for governments to allow large-scale anonymous payments, which would make it extremely difficult to collect taxes or counter criminal activity.”

Bad for Bitcoin

Bitcoin was once the only cryptocurrency with any real cachet, and it’s still the most popular. However, a variety of competing alt-coins and tokens have emerged in recent years, with the likes of ether and ripple quickly establishing themselves within the crypto market.

External competition isn’t the only reason Rogoff believes bitcoin will collapse, though. According to the economist, governments could end up crippling the currency’s value if the current “free-for-all” crypto landscape changes too much or too quickly. He holds the opinion that regulation is unavoidable, as governments are going to want to keep an eye on transactions to cut down on tax evasion and other crimes.

Rogoff points to Japan as an example. Bitcoin is already very popular in the Asian nation, and it appears set to grow even more so thanks to relaxed regulation. However, if the country decides to draft and enforce new legislation or if its banks are successful in their attempts to create an alternative cryptocurrency, bitcoin’s value could suffer.

Rogoff doesn’t say when bitcoin will collapse, though, so actually taking action based on his prediction is futile. Meanwhile, other experts have shared far more concrete predictions for bitcoin’s future, and many of those are also far more optimistic.

Ronnie Moas of Standpoint Research believes bitcoin’s value could reach $20,000 in the next three years, while veteran trader masterluc has predicted that bitcoin will be worth $15,000 before the end of 2017. As for regulations having an impact on the crypto’s future value, economists at the central bank of Finland believe blockchain technology is self-regulating and that governments likely couldn’t regulate it even if they wanted to.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Russia Moves to Block Cryptocurrency Exchanges

No Crypto in Russia

Russians looking forward to incorporating cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin into their lives awoke to less-than-stellar news Tuesday morning, as Russia now intends to block cryptocurrency exchanges and the websites that offer them.

As reported by Reuters, Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov called cryptocurrencies “dubious” during a conference in Moscow. He went on to add that digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are something people shouldn’t be able to easily access.

“We can not stand apart. We can not give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” said Shetsov. According to CoinTelegraph, the deputy governor further backed up the decision, saying financial instruments based on digital currencies are nearly impossible to support; additional regulations would need to be put into place to prevent the Russian domestic market from dealing in cryptocurrencies.

As for the ban’s effect on digital currencies, CNBC reports that Bitcoin experienced a $600 drop in value around the same time as the announcement, though it quickly recovered soon after.

Yet Another Ban

Russia’s decision comes after China and South Korea imposed similar bans on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings, though China’s is said to be temporary. For Russia, specifically, it comes as a bit of a surprise. It was only last month that the country struck a deal to create Ethereum Russia, and soon after, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov stated plans were in the works to legalize cryptocurrencies.

How the US Can Fight Russian Cyberattacks?
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“The state understands indeed that crypto-currencies are real. There is no sense in banning them, there is a need to regulate them,” said Siluanov at the time.

The ban may only be temporary considering these plans, and may have only been enacted until proper regulations are put forward later this year. If the ban is permanent, however, it will be yet another market digital currency has lost a foothold on, and another potential setback to the currency’s worldwide adoption.

 

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Richard Branson: Universal Basic Income Will Protect Us From the Threat of AI

Universal Basic Income: A Safety Net?

Billionaire entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently sat down with Business Insider Nordic (BI Nordic) during the Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki. A few months ago, Branson joined other tech elites to support Universal Basic Income (UBI). In a blog post from mid-August, Branson stated that “most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered.”

Now, in discussing Finland’s UBI experiment, Branson told the BI Nordic reporters that a safety net provided by a basic income could help counter the effects of artificial intelligence and increased automation. He said, “Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.”

Image credit: Nordic Business Forum
Image credit: Nordic Business Forum

“Entrepreneurially Minded”

Many business leaders in the tech sector have voiced support of basic income programs which would see everyone receive unconditional payments to facilitate a basic level of comfort. There are basic income experiments being conducted or planned in regions all around the world.  Experts assert that while the age of automation may be approaching at a slow crawl, it is coming.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

“Obviously AI is a challenge to the world in that there’s a possibility that it will take a lot of jobs away. [..] It’s up to all of us to be entrepreneurially minded enough to create those new jobs,” Branson said.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the World Government Summit in February, referring to the inevitability of mass-scale automation. “I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.” As long as more automation awaits us in the future, we will need to devise a way to ensure that jobs lost do not result in widespread poverty. Universal Basic Income is a realistic, practical way to remedy this, and right now, no one has a better alternative.

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Reports Indicate That Sweden Will Stop Using Cash by 2023

Is Cash Dead?

Have you noticed that, over the years, you’ve begun to use your cards or mobile pay apps much more frequently than cash? You’re not alone in this, and this trend has been on the rise in other countries around the world. In China, for example, cash is quickly on its way out, with mobile payments doubling in the last year. Sweden has also been forgoing cash an at increasing rate over the last several years, and experts predict that it’s only a short matter of time before the country is entirely cashless.

In fact, Sweden may be completely digital in just a few years, if researchers Niklas Arvidsson of KTH and Jonas Hedman of Copenhagen School of Economics are to be believed. The pair estimate that cash will no longer be used or accepted by Swedish retailers by 2023, at the earliest.

Polling various Swedish retailers revealed that about half expect to stop accepting cash by 2025. Currently, 97 percent of all retailers accept cash payments, but only 18 percent of all transactions actually involve cash.

Card or Smartphone?

Interestingly, mobile payments are performing rather poorly. Credit and Debit cards are the primary way people pay, with mobile pay apps accounting for only 0.4 percent. It’s unclear why only a small amount of people seem to use them; it could be a matter of convenience, trust, or simply knowing how. According to Arvidsson, people are generally comfortable with paying digitally in some way, even if they never see the money leave their hands.

“We are a small country that has had a very stable democracy for a long time,” Arvidsson said. “For us, it’s no problem that the money is only visible on an internet site – we trust it.”

Consumers are largely facilitating the change, though banks have also done their part to push people away from cash, as they want to reduce the risk of robbery. Retailers share this sentiment.

“We wanted to minimise the risk of robberies and it’s quicker with the customers when they pay by card,” says bakery manager Victoria Nilsson, speaking with the BBC in September. “It’s been mainly positive reactions.”

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Cash Is Quickly Becoming Obsolete in China

Do You Take Cash?

There are more ways to pay for goods and services now than ever before, and as such paper money seems increasingly old-fashioned. In China, cash is all but dead thanks to more convenient options.

Last year, the volume of mobile payments in China more than doubled, surging to a total of $5 trillion. Figures from the first three months of 2017 suggest that Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two services that dominate the market, with the former accounting for 54 percent of transactions, and the latter making up 40 percent.

CLSA, a research investment company based in Hong Kong, predicts that electronic payments in China will reach a volume of $45 trillion by 2021. Even now, everything from bike rental to fast food can be paid for with a smartphone — and sometimes cash isn’t a valid form of payment.

Loose Change

The ubiquity of smartphones makes it easy to conduct fast, secure payments whether you’re sending money to a friend, or paying for something in a store. However, it may well be that the current rise of digital transactions is simply an intermediary step.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
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If cash is indeed on its way out, cryptocurrency seems to be its heir apparent. It offers up all the same benefits in terms of convenience and accessibility, but with the added protection of a digital ledger, and technological advantages like smart contracts.

That being said, a cashless future isn’t without its drawbacks. Most digital transactions are easier to track than cash payments — with certain cryptocurrencies serving as notable exceptions — which provides more methods of data collection to companies and organizations that have an interest in tracking consumer behavior to allocate advertising and marketing for optimum exposure.

 

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Google’s Internet-Beaming Balloons Will Soon Be Floating Over Puerto Rico

Project Loon to the Rescue

Google has received a license from the FCC to deploy its Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico and parts of the Virgin Islands. Google will be able to provide coverage there until April 4, 2018. If all goes according to plan, the helium balloons will provide emergency LTE cellular reception to local governments and residents, allowing them to contact family and friends. It will also enable them to reestablish communication with the outside world and manage relief efforts. At the time of writing, it is uncertain how much of Puerto Rico will be covered, which areas of the Virgin Islands will be covered, or how many balloons Google will deploy.

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This will not be the first time Google has sent its helium LTE coverage providers to assist in the wake of a disaster; the balloons gave Peruvians coverage after extreme flooding wiped out power and has also tested disaster relief initiatives in France, Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. However, in Peru the problem was simpler because Google was already working together with a local telecom provider to provide disaster relief, so the structure for getting signals to and from the balloons was already in place.

As Google and Project Loon arrive in Puerto Rico, they’ll be starting with nothing in place. At this point, Puerto Rico’s telecom companies may not be able to formally partner with Google and provide any resources toward this collaboration, but obviously Google intends to make connectivity happen if it can. In a statement to Engadget, Google’s Alphabet X lab, home to Project Loon, said partnership with local telecom networks is critical to success: “To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.”

Meeting the Challenge

Project Loon uses its balloon network at 65,000 feet in the air to receive signals from a telecom partners on the ground, and then sends them to cellphone users. According to Mashable, the Peruvian project leader said the balloons sent 160 GB of data as they floated over an area about the size of Sweden, “enough data to send and receive around 30 million WhatsApp messages, or 2 million emails.”

Image Credit: Google/X Company, Project Loon
Image Credit: Google/X Company, Project Loon

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, more than 75 percent of its cellphone towers remain offline, and power has yet to be restored to almost 90 percent of the island. The situation remains fairly desperate for the island and its 3.5 million inhabitants, who are American citizens. Hopefully this initiative will prove successful.

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The Reports Are In: AI and Robots Will Significantly Threaten Jobs in 5 Years

The Robots Are Coming to Threaten Jobs

A study from Redwood Software and Sapio Research released October 4th revealed that IT leaders believe automation could impact 60% of businesses by 2022 and threaten jobs in the process. Now, a new, separate report from PwC, the second biggest professional services firm worldwide, suggests a similar timeline; one in which people may need to practice and learn new skills — or be left behind as automation takes over.

The report, titled Workforce of the Future, surveyed 10,000 people across China, India, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. to “better understand the future of work.” Of those, nearly 37% think artificial intelligence and robotics will put their jobs at risk; in 2014, 33% had a similar concern.

A startling scenario the report envisions for the future is one in which “typical” jobs — jobs people can steadily advance in through promotions — no longer exist, prompting the aforementioned move to develop new skills. Speaking with CNBC, PwC principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader Jeff Hesse says automation is already forcing people out, though it’s not consistent across every field.

“It varies a bit by industry,” explains Hesse, “but over the next five years we’re going to see the need for workers to change their skills at an accelerating pace.” If the report’s results are anything to go by, people are ready for change: 74% expressed a willingness to “learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable in the future.”

As of March 2017, PwC reports about 38% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being affected by automation by the early 2030s, with Germany closely behind at 35%; the UK at 30%; and Japan at 21%.

Required Skills and Alternative Incomes

Last year, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said there were three skills people would need to survive in a job market that continues to embrace technology: science, engineering and economics. They don’t need to be experts, but they need to understand what people in each field are capable of. In the case of robotics, those with knowledge about managing automatic software programs will be highly sought after. Hesse also suggests people research which skills their fields will be in need of.

You can’t talk about the rise of robotics and automation without asking about those unable to adjust or unwilling to learn a new skill. 56% of the people PwC surveyed think governments should take any steps necessary to protect jobs, presumably so people without technical prowess can continue to work and earn an income.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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Of course, the concept of a universal basic income has also been suggested as a possible step to offset automation’s potential to threaten jobs. The idea has been gaining a lot of support and is being talked about more, though there are still many who think there are better options. Gates, for example, believes the idea could work, but the world doesn’t have the means to pull it off just yet. Former Vice President Joe Biden believes a future that makes jobs and hard work a priority is better for everyone.

“While I appreciate concerns from Silicon Valley executives about what their innovations may do to American incomes, I believe they’re selling American workers short,” said Biden. “All of us together can make choices to shape a better future. Our workers, our businesses, our communities, and our nation deserves nothing less.”

Automation is happening more slowly than expected, but it’s a clear, impending challenge that needs to be prepared for. Whether the answer is a cash payment from governments, better job training, or other solutions, a decision needs to be made before we’re scrambling for short-term solutions.

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Schools Are Officially Accepting Bitcoin for Tuition

Using Bitcoin for Tuition Payments

Bitcoin has been used to buy homes, and countries like Venezuela and Vietnam are beginning to truly embrace the currency. Now, certain universities are adopting the payment method of bitcoin for tuition, albeit with a few caveats.

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland announced the decision to accept bitcoin payments this week, saying it is an indication of “its ability to disseminate knowledge on cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain, as well as its desire to gain experience in the practical aspects of this novel area.” The university offers courses focused on financing, economics, music, and more, meaning it was really only a matter of time before it invited bitcoin inside its walls.

Lucerne doesn’t handle the bitcoin transactions, instead entrusting all bitcoin payments to processing firm Bitcoin Suisse AG. The company will use a banking system similar to an e-banking portal, enabling the school to accept the digital currency without having to maintain possession of it. Bitcoin payments are converted into Swiss francs once a week, or once a day if more than 10,000 Swiss francs are acquired.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

“Bitcoin Suisse AG bears the risk of any exchange rate losses and currency fluctuations,” explains Lucerne.

Students who use bitcoin for tuition will incur a 1% payment fee, which Bitcoin.com notes is much less than traditional payment fees. Lucerne doesn’t expect many of its students to pay with bitcoin initially, but believes those who understand the currency will be among the first to take advantage of the option.

“Those most likely to avail themselves of this opportunity will either be already familiar with the concept of financial services and blockchain or interested in pursuing continuing and executive education opportunities in this subject area,” the university added.

Expanding Curriculum

According to Bitcoin.com, Lucerne isn’t the only university that’s started to accept bitcoin. Last December, business school ESMT Berlin became the first German university to accept the cryptocurrency as payment, calling it “the most well-developed blockchain application.” Even earlier than that, The University of Nicosia in Cyprus announced that it was the first school in the world to adopt bitcoin in 2013, while King’s College was the first U.S. college to do so in 2014. Despite these colleges’ efforts, many people are unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies and how they work. As a society, we’re a long way out from being to use them for all of our transactions.

As bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become more popular and widely accepted, expect to see universities around the world to not only accept them as payment, but also introduce courses focused on blockchain technology. As reported by CoinTelegraph, the financial industry has a large demand for people with blockchain expertise, but the supply currently isn’t there. Fortunately, universities in the U.S., Europe, and Russia have incorporated such courses, including Duke University, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, the aforementioned University of Nicosia, and the National University of Science and Technology.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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One of the World’s Largest Airlines Is Looking Into Blockchain Technology

Blockchain Takes Flight

Aircraft maintenance is, obviously, a crucial part of any airline business. Keeping tabs with replacement parts on in-service planes is necessary to avoid serious complications in flight. Which is why Air France KLM is putting a premium on its ability to keep their airplanes in tip-top shape, and they’ve decided to employ blockchain technology to do so.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

Speaking in a webinar together with Microsoft and software for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) systems provider Ramco Aviation, Air France talked about the benefits of relying on digital currency technology. James Kornberg, Air France KLM business unit director of innovation, said that he is working with his team to come up with a clear business case for blockchain use in improving maintenance processes and work flows. “The use case has to be realistic,” he said, Aviation Today reports. “The four features of blockchain are resilience, traceability, integrity and disintermediation are well suited to the aviation supply chain.”

Expanded Value

Blockchain, the innovative technology that powers cryptocurrencies, isn’t just useful for financial transactions. Already, this decentralized digital ledger have found use in storing medical data, in managing power grids, as a potentially new internet, and even in how we distribute aid. Now, airline companies are taking the technology by the wings.

Kornberg pointed out, however, that airline data has to completely transition to digital first before they can fully take advantage of what blockchain has to offer. “In the aviation industry, we still have a lot of our data that is not digitalized, still a lot of analog data, the first step, and that’s what we’re doing at the moment,” he added.

Apart from Air France’s idea of using it to keep track of maintenance needs, blockchain has the capacity to transform the entire commercial airline transportation industry. “The characteristics of the airline industry—and also the broader travel industry—align very well with the capabilities of the blockchain,” an Accenture write-up notes. The key is in how blockchain handles data. Airline companies can employ blockchain to improve ticketing services by using smart-contracts, managing loyalty points, as well as in keeping passenger information and data more secure.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Malware That Hijacks Your Computer to Mine Cryptocurrency Is Swarming Across the Internet

Revenue Scheming

Last month, visitors of BitTorrent search engine/piracy website The Pirate Bay noticed their central processing unit (CPU) usage spike. However, the problem wasn’t related to the illegal downloading taking place on the site (that’s another issue entirely). This same kind of increased CPU usage was experienced by users of the entirely legal online streaming service Showtime some days later.

Ultimately, users realized that both The Pirate Bay and Showtime had employed cryptocurrency mining malware to turn visitors’ computers into satellite cryptocurrency miners. Showtime has since said that they’ve removed the errant code, but they didn’t clarify whether it was implemented on purpose or if the site was hacked. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand, admitted that the addition of this code was part of a 24-hour test and said they’ve removed it.

The above are just two examples of what is becoming a growing trend amongst websites. Instead of relying on ad placements — the most common revenue source for non-subscription-based websites — sites are turning to cryptocurrency mining. In fact, a company called Coinhive released a tool specifically for use by website owners looking to earn money without displaying ads.

The problem is that Coinhive has also become popular with malware developers, who have embedded it in Chrome extensions, hacked sites, and various other corners of the internet. These tools mine less-popular cryptos, such as Monero and zCash, which have features that make their transactions untraceable by authorities.

Raising Concerns

Indeed, the act of secretly turning other peoples’ computers into personal crypto miners is now rampant. From January to August of this year, cryptocurrency mining attacks that target enterprise websites have grown sixfold, according to IBM X-Force’s security team. Cybersecurity advisor Kaspersky Lab reported a similar trend amongst their users. Some 1.6 million of their clients had their computers infected by cryptocurrency mining malware this year, and the problem has apparently been growing since last year.

Obviously, this raises concerns that might spell trouble for the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. Cryptocurrency mining is an integral part of blockchain technology — it’s how hosts are rewarded for keeping tabs on the transactions in their respective networks, which can be costly in terms of hardware and electricity needs.

The key to a blockchain’s security is that no single individual handles all of the ledger’s transactions. Instead, they’re scattered across numerous CPUs owned by miners. While legitimate miners use their own PCs, though, those employing crypto-mining malware are taking advantage of other peoples’ computers and essentially compromising them.

Clearly, such a setup would have some appeal as an alternative source of income for website owners. However, infecting unsuspecting users with cryptocurrency mining malware is a violation of their privacy and safety — not to mention a nuisance that slows down their computers. Thankfully, a standard ad blocker is currently enough to prevent the embedding of these mining tools.

If website owners were to inform users beforehand that such a tool exists when they visit a website, perhaps this could become a legitimate source of revenue. That’s one of the many issues nations should consider as they develop regulations to govern blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Receives 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Established in 2007, the organization works to ensure that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is observed and enforced.

ICAN is comprised of non-governmental groups from approximately a hundred countries. It has been deeply influential in convincing states to agree to the terms of the Humanitarian Pledge, which serves to promote the continued stigmatization and eventual elimination of nuclear weaponry. To date, 108 countries have committed to the pledge.

There are currently 15,000 known nuclear weapons scattered around the world. Some countries are in the process of modernizing their arsenal, while others are producing these weapons for the first time.

“The disarmament of nuclear weapons never goes out of date,” said ICAN’s executive director Beatrice Fihn in an interview with NBC News. “I do think that there is a popular belief among the people all over the world that the world has become more dangerous and that…the threat of nuclear conflict has come closer.”

Making a Stand

Even while honoring ICAN’s accomplishments, the committee responsible for handing out the prize made sure to reiterate that there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty,” read the press release announcing the winner of the 2017 prize. “The Committee wishes to emphasize that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states.”

The committee went on to express a desire for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to spur further action from states currently in possession of nuclear weapons.

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Blockchain Is Helping Thousands of Migrants Get Paid for Their Labor

Pay Packet

Maybank Singapore has announced plans to use blockchain to give migrant workers access to their earnings. The company will use InfoCorp Technologies’ CrossPay network to cater to the 16,800 laborers living in the Tuas View Dormitory, with a further trial set for a smaller community of 2,000 in Mandai.

Doomsday Vault: The World’s Seed Bank Backup
Click to View Full Infographic

CrossPay is a mobile app that will facilitate cashless transactions within the dormitory. Residents will be able to pay for goods and services, with their identities tracked via blockchain. An initial trial will get underway at a supermarket before the end of 2017, with plans to expand it out to other merchants.

The aim is to confine as much of the workers’ financial activity as possible to the cashless CrossPay platform. When sellers want to cash out of the system, they’ll be able to settle payments with the dormitory operator through Maybank.

New Money

The decision to introduce CrossPay in this fashion is a response to the fact that many migrant workers in Singapore have little to no experience using a conventional bank account. Upon arrival in the country, it can be difficult for them to access these services.

“These solutions are not suitable for migrant workers as many of them have no experience with banking services,” said InfoCorp CEO Roy Lai, referring to existing cashless payment platforms that require a bank account, according to a report from the Business Times. “Introducing CrossPay to migrant workers therefore makes sense as it is a solution that specifically caters to their needs.”

Thousands of Syrian refugees stationed in Jordan’s Azraq camp purchase food with an eye-scan, which records the transactions on a blockchain computing platform. The U.N. agency behind the futuristic system began with a one-month pilot including 10,000 of more than 50,000 refugees dwelling in Azraq, to cut costs and seek out troublesome bottlenecks. The project is due to help more than 100,000 refugees in camps across Jordan by yearend, according to a Reuters report.

All around the world, the way we use money is changing. It remains to be seen whether regulation can keep up with the technology at hand.

 

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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In 2013, Every Single Yahoo Account Was Hacked. Here’s How to Fix That.

The biggest hack of all time just got a whole lot bigger. On Wednesday, Yahoo announced that it now believes a staggering three billion user accounts were stolen in 2013 — up from the one billion figure it gave in December 2016.

In a statement, Yahoo has said it has informed its users about the breach. The company said:

Subsequent to Yahoo’s acquisition by Verizon, and during integration, the company recently obtained new intelligence and now believes, following an investigation with the assistance of outside forensic experts, that all Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft.

If you’re affected, you’re probably asking yourself what you can do right now. There are two answers: Protect your logins on other services, and delete your Yahoo account.

1. Protect your logins

It can’t be said enough: You should use a strong, unique password for every website or service on which you have an account. This means if any one service gets hacked, your other accounts won’t be compromised too.

Hackers will often trawl through user databases stolen in hacks and try the stolen login details on other sites. This means a user who reuses a password can be re-victimised over and over again. In the summer of 2016, we saw a spate of hacks of celebrities and high-profile figures on Twitter — everyone from Drake to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg got hit. Twitter itself wasn’t hacked, but it looks as if the victims reused passwords on services that were, like LinkedIn and Tumblr.

So if you’ve used the same password you used for your Yahoo account anywhere else, you should change those accounts. Now.

And while you’re at it, you should review those other accounts for suspicious activity — especially if they have access to your credit card or financial information.

Of course, passwords — especially strong ones — are a pain to remember. And that’s why security experts recommend you use a password manager app to store them. An app like LastPass or Dashlane will store all your passwords, so you only have to remember one — the one to access the app.

Similarly, Yahoo recommends that you change the security questions for other accounts if you re-used them from Yahoo. Otherwise, even if an attacker can’t guess your password, they might still be able to use them to reset it.

Also: If it’s available, activate two-factor authentication. It creates a second barrier to entry by sending a unique code to your phone, so even if an account’s password is compromised, the attacker still can’t get in unless the person also has access to your phone (though there are some devious ways hackers try to get around it). It is available on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and most other major web services.

On a long-enough time frame, everyone gets hacked. But by having unique passwords and two-factor authentication, you can limit the damage.

If you’re in the US, Yahoo also suggests putting a “fraud alert” on your credit file, as well as a “security freeze” (which will cost money to place). You can read more about this step over on Yahoo’s website.

2. Delete your account

Do you own a Flickr page you never use? A Tumblr you haven’t checked since 2014? A Yahoo Mail account you haven’t sent an email from in over a decade? It might be time to pull the plug, permanently.

First of all, back up your data! You don’t want to lose old emails and photos. Luckily, Yahoo has put together an easy-to-follow walk-through on how to do that here. (Important note: This includes all your Flickr photos.)

Done that? Great. Now head over to the “Delete Your Account” page. It should look something like this.

BI

When you click “Continue,” it’ll ask you to enter some information — (maybe your email, or your password or Captcha) to prove who you are, and just like that, you’re done.

Once you confirm you want to delete your account, it’ll normally take between 40 and 180 days to process. This is to stop people from maliciously or fraudulently deleting other people’s accounts if they gain access — and it means if you get cold feet straight after, it’s not too late.

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A New Snapchat Project Transports Massive Sculptures Worldwide

Snapchat is partnering with artist Jeff Koons to introduce a new augmented reality project this week that will allow its users to project and view his sculptures at various places around the world. These places include Central Park in New York, Roundhouse Park in Canada, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

The tech behind the project, called Artwork All Around You, is similar to what enables the app’s popular dancing hot dog. As TechCrunch explains, while users are using the Snapchat app and near one of Koons’ virtual pieces, they’ll see a special Snapchat Lens on screen. Users will then be directed to look at a particular spot in the area until the white location marker is on display, which will then be replaced by the art sculpture.

“Discover Koons’ innovative digital installations scattered across the world to experience them for yourself, and learn a little more about them,” reads the Snapchat Art page related to the project. Koons’ art pieces include Balloon Dog, Balloon Rabbit, Balloon Popeye, and Play-Doh.

At Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on October 2, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said he wants to inspire people with the new project, saying, “the fact we can bring these ginormous sculptures anywhere in the world is just the beginning of inspiring young people all over the world to create with our cameras.”

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This Innovative Farm Grows Food Three Times Faster Than a Regular Garden

Eat Lokal

Ikea is no longer content to help people simply design their kitchens — the Scandinavian retailer is now considering ways to help customers grow the food cooked in them through Lokal, a prototype mini-farm capable of growing greens and herbs indoors.

Developed by Ikea’s Space10 innovation lab, Lokal is based around a hydroponic farming system that uses LEDs to grow produce on stackable trays. The system’s designers claim that Lokal greens grow roughly three times more quickly than those found in a traditional garden, using 90 percent less water in the process.

Image Credit: Space10

The design team is currently testing out a method of integrating sensors into the system’s growing trays, which would allow at-home farmers to check the status of their crop from their smartphone via Google Home. The idea of using machine learning to analyze data collected by the community of Lokal gardeners is also being considered.

Growing Up

Ikea has yet to decide whether or not Lokal will be sold in stores, and according to Michael La Cour, Managing Director of IKEA Food Services, the project is still in its early stages and needs more development before it could be ready for retail.

The Rise Of Vertical Farms [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

However, whether or not Lokal makes it to an Ikea near you, vertical farming is clearly on the rise. This new methodology can be incredibly efficient and has already been employed in a retail environment in an effort to give customers access to the freshest possible produce. It also has the potential to help solve the growing food shortage crisis as the world’s population continues skyward.

Many people like to be as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to their food, but not everyone has the space for a traditional garden or access to an allotment. Vertical farming gives just about anyone access to home-grown produce, so if a major company like Ikea can develop a straightforward kit to help would-be agriculturists get started, it has the potential to be a big success.

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Disney Built a Blockchain — Can It Compete With Ethereum?

From animatronics to digital animation, the Walt Disney Company has long been a pioneer in emerging technology. And blockchain technology is no exception.

In 2014, Disney’s tech-focused Seattle office started building what’s now known as Dragonchain, a blockchain protocol designed to allow for more data privacy than is possible on other enterprise-oriented blockchains like Ethereum. The idea was to develop a secure asset management system to be used internally.

However, Disney dropped the project in 2016 and decided to make it open source. Soon after, a group of former Disney employees founded the Dragonchain Foundation, a non-profit which manages upkeep of the protocol.

Now, they’re looking to build a commercial business — called Dragonchain Inc. — on top of the platform to help other companies quickly and easily start using blockchain.

But first they need to raise money to do so.

Gap in the Market

It’s commonly believed in blockchain circles that the technology could some day make up an entirely new infrastructural layer of the internet, replacing traditional contracts and payment systems used in industries like law and real estate, because the design of the technology makes it difficult to commit fraud.

Dragonchain Inc. chief business officer George Sarhanis (left) and CEO Joe Roets. Image Source: Dragonchain

This promise has drawn in research and development funds from industry powerhouses including IBM and Cisco, which have joined various unifying organizations such as Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance to better understand how this new technology can be leveraged commercially.

But many large corporations, such as Disney, have been hesitant to put their own data on public blockchains because the design would leave much of their proprietary and sensitive data open to prying eyes. The hope for Dragonchain is that other companies feel the same way.

Joe Roets, now CEO of Dragonchain Inc., was one of the engineers behind the original project at Disney.

“Disney was very forward thinking and wanted to know how people use different tech,” Roets said. “We started building things. It took two years to build out the platform, give or take.”

Roets described Dragonchain Inc’s platform as a “turn key” product, which makes it easier for companies to build what they want on top of the Dragonchain blockchain protocol, without investing in expensive and hard-to-find technological expertise.

Roets said that while it is possible to build security and encryption on top of a public blockchain, it’s a costly and time-consuming project. With Dragonchain, the encryption and obfuscation is built in.

“We realized some of the real world problems are that companies have access to traditional engineers, but they don’t necessarily have a crypto background,” Roets said . “If you go even further into blockchain, you need an economist or a game theory expert.”

More Private Than Ethereum

Like the technology behind the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ethereum, Dragonchain is a digital ledger that uses complex algorithms to document transactions in a way that cannot be easily modified. Every blockchain contains a complete history of everything that has happened on it, which makes it harder for fraud to occur in financial transactions. Unlike the public bitcoin and ethereum protocols, however, Dragonchain is a hybrid. This means some information is private, and some is public.

“The main difference would be that with ethereum or any public blockchains, your data is out there,” Roets said. “You can do certain things to obfuscate your data. You could encrypt it. But it won’t matter in 10 years or 20 years.”

While Disney originally built the project as a private blockchain, this method doesn’t have the same authenticity benefits as a public or hybrid protocol. Having some of the data public is vital to making the technology effective in protecting fraud. That’s because the ability to spread data across a decentralized network is a key component of authenticating the validity of transactions. The blockchain usually requires consensus from multiple companies and computers in order to make a change to the blockchain’s history. Theoretically, this makes it difficult for solo actors to delete receipts for their own benefit.

Initial Coin Offering

Whether or not Dragonchain Inc. is able to move forward with its commercial ambitions depends a lot on how things go over the next month.

From October 2 to November 2, Dragonchain Inc. will hold an initial coin offering (ICO), also known as a token sale, to raise money for the company. Around 238 million tokens, which the team calls “dragons,” will be available for sale to the public.

Artwork, such as Mimmo Rotella’s “Palinsesto,” is for sale by auction on Look Lateral’s website. The company is working with Dragonchain to build a secure way to authenticate and pay for art. Image Source: Look Lateral

“Disney has no involvement in Dragonchain’s initial coin offering,” a Disney spokesperson said.

ICOs are an increasing common fundraising technique in the blockchain world. Companies like Dragonchain Inc. offer up a select number of tokens that can be purchased with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. The tokens can be exchanged for goods and services within the blockchain platform. On its website, Dragonchain describes dragons as “tokenized micro-license for interaction with Dragonchain commercial platform services.”

While tokens are not currencies, they can be traded on token exchanges for higher or lower cash value than they were purchased for. Not every investor necessarily wants to use services within Dragonchain. Some may see it as an investment that could generate gains in the longterm.

Those that do want to use the service will have access to three different commercial products. The first is a developer-friendly platform for building new projects on top of Dragonchain. There’s also a marketplace that has a library of pre-built smart contracts and features to make the building process faster. The company will also fund an incubator for teams that want to develop projects on top of the protocol.

Several companies are already working on Dragonchain to develop new tools and businesses.

Look Lateral is an Italian fine art site which is using Dragonchain to create proof of authenticity for the art that it sells on its platform. Some pieces of art on the site cost over $100,000, so the blockchain will function as a way of paying for art, as well as a record of ownership. In the art world, this is referred to as “provenance.”

Another company called LifeID is working to build a secure identity platform on the blockchain. This would allow users to verify that they are who they say they are in digital and physical spaces, without relying on state-issued IDs, or corporately-owned social media, like Facebook profiles.

Dragonchain Inc’s ICO begins October 2.

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Goldman Sachs Is Considering Ways to Facilitate the Trading of Cryptocurrencies

Banks and Bitcoin

Goldman Sachs is considering ways to incorporate bitcoin and other digital currencies into their trading operations, according to people familiar with the banking company’s plans.

Those sources tell The Wall Street Journal that the development is still in its earliest stages and was inspired by client curiosity. “In response to client interest in digital currencies, we are exploring how best to serve them in this space,” a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman told the WSJ.

According to the WSJ, Goldman Sachs intends to serve their own investors who have bet on bitcoin to be the next big thing. If done properly, their operation could lead to the creation of new markets that operate in much the same way as the markets used to buy shares in a company. Being the first to create such an operation would also put Goldman Sachs in a prime position to further expand the market.

“The smartest Wall Street firms have an opportunity to lead the market in offering financial services to the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry,” Matthew Goetz, CEO of cryptocurrency investment firm BlockTower Capital and former Goldman Sachs vice president, told CNBC. “I think it behooves the smart and more forward-thinking firms to be involved in cryptocurrency, given the number of new services and business lines that will stem from it as this important new industry continues to build and institutionalize.”

New Markets

Goldman Sachs isn’t the first financial institution to explore blockchain technology, nor is this the first time they’ve expressed interest in it — they even have a page of their website dedicated to explaining the tech. However, they are the first blue-chip Wall Street firm to consider facilitating the trading of cryptocurrencies.

While Goldman Sachs explores ways to move forward with blockchain technology, other financial institutions are being vocal about their disinterest in it. JP Morgan’s CEO has even called bitcoin “a fraud,” and this hesitation to dive into the world of cryptocurrencies is understandable. They started out as a mysterious alternative to government-backed money and were often linked to shadier dealings. Even though cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether have seen record price increases over the past year, the market still volatile.

While the WSJ‘s sources were sure to note that Goldman Sachs may not move forward with crypto trading, the fact that they’re even considering it is promising. The more institutions and governments we have exploring how cryptocurrencies can best be incorporated into society, the sooner we’ll be able to take advantage of all the benefits of blockchain.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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The CDC Wants to Use Blockchain as a Weapon Against Deadly Epidemics

Data Deluge

Blockchain technology is already revolutionizing the world of finance, and it’s set to do the same for various other industries, too. One of those industries is healthcare, and now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into ways to utilize the technology.

The CDC helps maintain public health in the U.S. by sharing information about infectious diseases with state and local health departments. However, carrying out that task in a timely and efficient manner is rather difficult.

The sensitivity of health information plays a huge factor in this difficulty. The CDC needs to make sure only medical professionals with the proper credentials have access to the data. Even tighter constraints are in place with regards to editing it.

To ensure these privacy standards are met, various processes must be carried out, and some of these processes have to be performed manually. This takes time, which might be at a premium when an epidemic takes hold. The blockchain has the potential to make this process much more efficient.

Blockchain Benefits

The CDC currently provides medical professionals with an app they can use to log information pertaining to their patients. However, personally identifiable information can’t be stored in the cloud for security reasons, and the alternative storage solution slows down the whole process.

Jim Nasr, chief software architect at the CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services, told the MIT Technology Review that this wouldn’t be the case with the blockchain. The tech would allow the same data to be stored and shared far more rapidly, while still complying with laws pertaining to user privacy and security. “Public health and blockchain really do belong together,” said Nasr.

This concept is still in its early stages, and many big questions have yet to be answered. Should local, state, or national bodies be in charge of the data? Who should be able to access it? How should patients and public health organizations be identified in the database?

Once these issues are sorted out, the CDC can move forward with blockchain implementation. Nasr and his team are currently working on several different prototypes, and they hope to start building actual applications for the technology in 2018.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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EmCash Is Dubai’s First Official Cryptocurrency

Future City, Future Cash

The government of the city of Dubai launched their own blockchain-based cryptocurrency last week. The city’s economy department partnered with one of its subsidiaries called Emcredit Limited and U.K.-based Object Tech Group, Ltd. to create emCash. This new “encrypted digital currency” is a product of partnerships Dubai has cultivated through their Accelerators Initiative and brought under the umbrella of the Dubai Economy Accelerators.

“A digital currency has varied advantages – faster processing, improved delivery time, less complexity and cost, to name a few,” Dubai Economy deputy director general Ali Ibrahim said in a press statement. “It will change the way people live and do business in Dubai, and mark a giant leap for the city in harnessing game-changing innovations to improve ease of business and quality of life.”

Officials claim that emCash uses the latest blockchain technology and works as part of payment system called emWallet. As the city’s credit bureau, Emcredit has made sure that the emWallet handles various types of transactions—from “their daily coffee and children’s school fee to utility charges and money transfers”—with a near-field communication (NFC) support through a smartphone.

The city will also have a shared platform, called Blockchain as a Service, to help Dubai government agencies use blockchain in various projects.

Investing in the Future

Blockchain’s potential as a decentralized and secure platform for transactions, financial or otherwise, isn’t lost to those with eyes to the future. Dubbed as the “city of the future,” Dubai is certainly one of those, but it isn’t the first to have an “official” cryptocurrency. The launch of the emCash, however, is only a first step.

Dubai has been working on becoming the world’s first economy that’s built on the blockchain, and with it its own cryptocurrency. This is where the city’s efforts differ, and could potentially influence economies through the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE). “Obtaining approvals from other UAE authorities will be taken into consideration if required,” Ibrahim said.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Smart Dubai, the government office responsible for encouraging innovation in the country, will be conducting government and private organization workshops over the next few months to identify those services best enhanced by blockchain. After that, the office expects that pilot projects in both the public and private sectors will begin rolling out this year.

“The fast paced environment and incredible willingness to adopt innovative technology has made Dubai the perfect place for us to do business,” said Muna Al Qassab, CEO of Emcredit Limited, in the city’s press release. “This project is a great example of the ambition we have met here, together we are essentially creating a whole new economic ecosystem.”

Disclaimer: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism and is one of our sponsors.

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Fidelity Investments Is Mining for Cryptocurrency

Investing in Crypto

Investment and financial institutions are beginning to take cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies more seriously. Among them is Fidelity Investments, which manages $2.3 trillion in assets. Fidelity, while exploring the potential of bitcoin and dipping their toes into the blockchain waters, has recently begun a cryptocurrency mining program that is already generating a profit.

At the 2017 Consensus conference, Fidelity’s CEO Abigail Johnson said, “We set up a small bitcoin and ethereum mining operation…that miraculously now is actually making a lot of money.” The company started mining to learn more about the process.

Crypto mining, thankfully, doesn’t involve any pickaxes or collapsible underground tunnels. Instead, it is a process in which crypto transactions are verified and added to the blockchain — or public ledger. This process also allows for the creation of new bitcoin.

Financial Mining

The applications of blockchain technologies, and specifically cryptocurrencies, extend well beyond financial transactions. As more (and larger) companies show interest and seriously invest in a blockchain-based future, these technologies will grow in potential. Mining is becoming increasingly commonplace. Some individuals are trying to turn a profit with it, but right now it’s only a realistic moneymaking method (which is debated) for large institutions.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
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Fidelity has set the stage as a massive firm confident in venturing into crypto mining, so perhaps blockchain technologies will continue to be taken more seriously and adopted by a greater number of bigger organizations. Johnson will hopefully pave the way for others with a large presence to get involved. She has mined about 200,000 satoshis so far, according to a report in The Financial Times, and by the looks of it, she and Fidelity will continue to push forward as major supporters of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency mining.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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South Korea Has Banned the Sale of All New Cryptocurrencies

Banning New ICOs

Today, South Korea announced a ban on initial coin offerings (ICO), the method through which many cryptocurrency startups raise funds. As reported by Reuters, the ban comes after the Financial Services Commission (FSC) in Seoul ultimately decided ICOs need to be controlled and monitored before being widely accepted.

The FSC’s concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. Cryptocurrencies have been used to raise a significant amount of money for legitimate operations this year, but they’ve also been used in phishing scams and other cyber crimes.

“Raising funds through ICOs seem to be on the rise globally, and our assessment is that ICOs are increasing in South Korea as well,” South Korea’s financial regulator wrote in a statement, adding that “stern penalties” would befall anyone that continues to issue ICOs. The details of those penalties were not revealed, however.

South Korea’s announcement follows a similar decision made by China earlier this month, though that ban may be temporary. The U.S., Canada, and Hong Kong have also issued warnings about ICOs, but none have outright banned the practice.

Impact on Bitcoin and Ether

According to Bloomberg, digital currencies like bitcoin and ether experienced a small drop in price following the ban — 5.7 percent for ether and 3.5 percent for bitcoin — but both have already recovered.

Thomas Glucksmann, head of marketing at bitcoin exchange company Gatecoin, told Bloomberg a drop in value following such an announcement is to be expected, as traders in crypto markets would immediately turn to selling off the currencies.

“The majority of ICO tokens are being issued through the Ethereum platform,” he said. “At any sign of vulnerability, the first reaction would be a mass selloff in ether. That’s why the price of ether is susceptible.”

South Korea notes that the ban doesn’t mean it accepts the trading of cryptocurrencies within the financial market. For now, the nation will continue to observe operations to see what other regulations can or should be implemented. That said, it’s currently unclear how, exactly, the country would attempt to regulate crypto.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Illinois Is Experimenting with Blockchains to Replace Physical Birth Certificates

Blockchains and Birth Certificates

The state of Illinois is testing a new way for people to prove their identities, albeit without the need to request their birth certificates and wait weeks for it to arrive in the mail. The state aims to give citizens more control of their data, as well as provide solace in knowing it’s more secure than ever.

To accomplish this task, the state is turning to the same blockchain technology that companies like Bitcoin and Ethereum utilize for their own networks. In August, the Illinois Blockchain Initiative — a collaboration launched by the state to explore blockchain and distributed ledger technology — announced it’s partnering with self-sovereign identity solutions firm Evernym to create an online ledger that’s only accessible to the owner of the ID and any other individuals they’re granted access. It’s very similar to how the technology could be used to track and share information between hospitals.

“The successful transition to an identity ecosystem that is truly self-sovereign requires conversion of ‘breeder documents’, such as birth certificates, which serve as the basis for obtaining other documents,” explained Evernym’s Chief Trust Officer Drummond Reed last month. “Digitizing these foundational documents in a state the size and importance of Illinois will make a major contribution to the larger effort of solving the online identity problem.”

More Than Just Illinois

According to New Scientist, citing a report published earlier this month from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, governments in the UK, Brazil, and others are also interested in the idea. If implemented, it would be a radical shift in the way information is stored, and how it’s accessed. However, due to the nature of distributed ledgers and their near permanence, a mistake such as a simple misspelling of a name can have cause lasting issues, similar to having a hyphen joining two names present on a birth certificate, but not on a driver’s license.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Guide to Urban Living in the 80s [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Their benefits could certainly outweigh the risks, though, as having one’s information be more secure and safe from hacking is never a bad thing; people are still unhappy with Equifax’s own data breach, after all.

Expect blockchains to continue to be used to alter the various institutions we’ve come to live with. It’s already been tested to see how it can impact the way we vote, so it was only a matter of time before it expanded to bigger, more live changing projects.

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Japan Is Testing a New Digital Currency to Offset Cash Spending

Introducing J-Coin

Japanese banks are working together to introduce a new digital currency ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The currency, called J-Coin, would exist alongside the Japanese Yen and could be exchanged for the traditional currency at a one-to-one rate. Users would access the currency through a mobile app which uses QR codes to operate in stores.

Yasuhiro Sato, president and chief executive officer of Mizuho Financial Group, which is leading development on the currency, told the Financial Times he believes that J-Coin is “quite ahead of [credit and debit] cards, because when you use the cards the shops pay a certain fee.”

J-Coin is also meant to impact the country’s heavy use of cash, which accounts for 70 percent of all transactions.

“We like cash, because Japan is a very safety-conscious country, but cash is not so productive so we have to change the structure from cash to electronic money,” added Sato.

Successful Adoption

It’s unclear if the digital currency will be accepted or even successful. Alongside its own development, the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) is testing a blockchain-based currency called the MUFG coin, which could affect J-Coin in the future.

While the company has been asked about joining other banks supporting J-Coin, it has responded by saying that it wants “MUFG coin’s results and know-how to be used across Japan, including by other banks, but have not decided on what concrete measures to take.” Over 1,600 MUFG employees currently use the currency to pay for expenses.

It’s widely known that banks need to address the impending changes expected to be caused by digital disruption, but if the digital currency is implemented successfully, it could bring an additional  ¥10bn to Japan’s economy.

According to MIT’s Technology Review, if everything goes well, Japan would join a number of other countries experimenting with cryptocurrencies. Venezuela, for example, is said to be in the midst of shifting to Bitcoin to deal with hyperinflation.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Blockchain Is Radically Transforming Society’s Oldest Institutions

Banking Everywhere

From our ancestors exchanging livestock tens of thousands of years ago to the brokers trading stocks on Wall Street today, bartering is a foundational aspect of human society. Throughout history, we have traded what we have for what we need, and through these transactions, we have survived.

As we made the transition from trading in cattle and grains to dollars and cents, we started relying more and more heavily on financial institutions such as banks, investment firms, and lenders to help us manage our assets. As of 2015, 93 percent of U.S. households had at least one checking or savings account, and that’s not including the millions of people who also have mortgages, credit cards, or other ties to the finance industry.

For decades, nearly every aspect of our lives has involved a third-party financial institution in some way, but despite their ubiquity, these institutions are fundamentally flawed. Unexpected fees and slow transaction times can regularly leave users frustrated, but even those problems are relatively benign compared to other, more foundational issues.

Because they store data on centralized servers, banks and other traditional financial institutions are susceptible to security breaches. In some cases, those breaches can lead to the loss of huge sums of money, such as when hackers stole $80 million from Bangladesh’s central bank in 2016. In other instances, identities are the target, like when a Brazilian bank’s website was hijacked for five hours in April, during which account holders willingly supplied the hackers with sensitive personal information.

These institutions also have barriers to entry that prevent some from participating in them. For example, a single past mistake like a bounced check can leave a person blacklisted from opening a bank account for several years, and in some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, women aren’t even allowed to open accounts without permission from their husbands.

For these reasons and others, a whopping 38 percent of the adult population worldwide doesn’t have a bank account. That’s roughly 2 billion people who are largely unable to participate in the world economy as it currently operates.

Thankfully, an alternative to traditional finance has emerged in the form of the blockchain.

Enter: The Blockchain

A blockchain is a distributed digital ledger, which means it doesn’t have one centralized authority verifying and recording transactions (like a bank or a brokerage does). Instead, when two parties want to trade blockchain assets (better known as cryptocurrencies), the request is sent out to a network of computers. These “nodes” individually verify and record the transaction on their identical copy of the ledger, and a group of these transactions will become one timestamped block on the blockchain.

This process can be completed within seconds, and because it is distributed (and not confined to one central server), a blockchain is protected against the security issues that plague traditional finance institutions. Anyone can participate in the blockchain economy, and transactions can be completed anonymously, further protecting individuals’ identities.

Over the last year, these various benefits have caused interest in cryptocurrencies to skyrocket. From a relatively paltry $17 billion in January, the global cryptocurrency market cap has grown to $126 billion. Wall Street traders are turning their attention to cryptocurrency exchanges, and instead of debit cards, customers are now using their crypto wallets to buy everything from coffee to video games.

Despite this growth, however, the blockchain economy is still in its nascent stages, and all of the kinks haven’t been worked out yet.

One of the biggest issues involves how cryptocurrencies are traded. While the blockchain itself is decentralized, the major exchanges used for the buying and selling of assets are not. That means that, just like banks, these exchanges are susceptible to security breaches, so when traders entrust them with their funds, they are leaving themselves vulnerable. In fact, just a few months ago, one of the largest bitcoin exchanges was hacked, compromising the data of 30,000 customers and leading to the loss of an estimated $870,000.

Because trading is spread out over dozens of exchanges, individual exchanges can also have problems meeting volume demands as interest in crypto grows. This lack of liquidity can force traders to pay higher fees, as well as lead to “flash crashes” that can send the value of a cryptocurrency plummeting from hundreds of dollars (or more) down to mere cents in just a single second.

Of course, there have been attempts to make decentralized exchanges, but these, too, are problematic. For example, they have inherently higher latency, higher fees, less fluidity, and an increased potential for unfairness than centralized exchanges.

But new, alternative ways to exchange cryptocurrencies are emerging, and they could help solve many of the ongoing issues. One of these newest contenders is AirSwap, which is a platform that is built off of a truly peer-to-peer model.

Peer-To-Peer Trading

AirSwap is a new way to trade Ethereum tokens. Unlike bitcoin, which is essentially a form of digital money, a token offers its holder some utility within a system, such as voting power, access to special features, or an amount of a virtual currency. Because Ethereum’s decentralized platform was designed specifically to support token networks, it has become the go-to blockchain for anyone looking to launch a new token.

When ready to trade these tokens, members of the AirSwap community can announce that they are interested in trading and connect directly with other members — no third party required. To ensure they’re getting a fair deal, AirSwap provides real-time price suggestions before committing to a transaction, both for sellers and buyers.

AirSwap members can even build their own storefronts, creating new ERC20 tokens from the ground up and seamlessly bringing them to market.

Because tokens are in the possession of either the buyer (the “maker” of the order) or the seller (the “taker” of the order) right up until a smart contract is executed on the Ethereum blockchain, the AirSwap protocol eliminates the opportunity for theft provided by centralized exchanges. Liquidity is no longer a problem either, as sellers aren’t beholden to the asset price set by the exchange. Because each deal is negotiated directly between the two parties and not set up through the blockchain, the problems of decentralized exchanges are also eliminated.

AirSwap takes everything that makes the blockchain itself revolutionary — its high level of security, lack of a centralized authority, and low barrier to entry — and applies it to the trading of blockchain assets. All that token traders need to do to take advantage of this new decentralized exchange is purchase the AirSwap Token (AST), which will launch on October 10. After that, they’ll be free to use AirSwap to frictionlessly manage their tokenized assets in this new era of finance.


The preceding communication has been paid for by AirSwap, and Futurism has a small financial stake in AirSwap’s token launch. This communication is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer or solicitation to sell shares or securities in AirSwap or any related or associated company. The AirSwap tokens are not being structured or sold as securities or any other form of investment product, and consequently, none of the information presented herein is intended to form the basis for any investment decision, and no specific recommendations are intended. This communication does not constitute investment advice or solicitation for investment. Futurism expressly disclaims any and all responsibility for any direct or consequential loss or damage of any kind whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from: (i) reliance on any information contained herein, (ii) any error, omission or inaccuracy in any such information or (iii) any action resulting from such information.

Each recipient of this communication expressly acknowledges that the AirSwap tokens are being sold solely for the purpose of providing purchasers of such tokens with access to the services associated with the tokens, and that such persons are not being offered, and will not be purchasing, any tokens for any other purposes, including, but not limited to, any investment, speculative or other financial purpose. Each recipient further acknowledges that they are aware of the commercial risks associated with AirSwap and the network associated with its tokens.

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The Showtime Question: Should Companies Be Allowed to Use Your Computer to Mine Crypto?

Mining Money

A significant portion of internet users don’t like seeing ads. To avoid these sometimes distracting pop-ups and banners, they may install ad-blockers on their browser or turn exclusively to ad-free sites. Meanwhile, advertisers are spending larger and larger portions of their ad budgets with big online players like Google and Facebook. This is causing internet ad revenues to plummet for sites that may rely on that money to stay afloat.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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Now, BitTorrent search engine The Pirate Bay and the Showtime streaming service have been caught monetizing their online visitors another way: by using their systems to mine cryptocurrency.

Both sites were found to be sending mining code to users’ computers, and both have now stopped this practice.

The Pirate Bay acknowledged the situation, claiming that it was simply a test. “We really want to get rid of all the ads,” read a statement published by The Pirate Bay. “But we also need enough money to keep the site running.” Showtime, meanwhile, has yet to respond to questions.

Selling Your System

Using visitors’ systems to mine cryptocurrency would provide a potent new revenue stream for sites and services, but whether users would agree to it is another question entirely.

When a site uses a visitor’s computer to mine cryptocurrency, they take up a portion of the system’s resources. At its least intrusive, this practice might cause the system to run a bit slower. In an extreme scenario, it could tear through the battery of a portable device or even inflate a home’s electric bill.

The biggest problem with this particular discovery is that neither The Pirate Bay nor Showtime warned users in advance about their plans. While some users might agree to give up a bit of processing power in exchange for an ad-free experience, most would likely agree that running code on someone’s system without their permission is rather dishonest.

If users don’t agree to the practice, it doesn’t stand much of a chance of gaining traction as a new revenue source for sites — a standard ad blocker will impede mining code just as easily as it blots out ad content.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Get Ready for the First Smartphone Designed for the Blockchain Generation

Sirin Labs, the company behind that ridiculously priced Android phone, now has another smartphone to share with the world, and unlike its $14,000 predecessor, this one is expected to cost just $999.

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.

Image Credit: Sirin Labs

Sirin Labs founder and CEO Moshe Hogeg told Business Insider that the company’s line of Finney devices, which will include an all-in-one PC, will be capable of sharing data, battery power, and processing power wirelessly — although a cable would be necessary at times.

“The Finney family of devices will be the first of their kind to be specifically designed for the needs of the blockchain generation, combining an ultra-secure blockchain-enabled environment, with the functionality and essentials of Android OS,” Sirin said in a press release.

blockchain cryptocurrency finney smartphone
Image Credit: Sirin Labs

The Finney is obviously intended for a still-niche market, and Sirin Labs’ CMO Nimrod May told Digital Trends they know that: “This is an early adopter community — for now — but we believe there is a large market opportunity right behind them.”

To raise money to fund the development of these devices, Sirin Labs plans to launch a crowdsale event this October. Once built, these device have the potential to help facilitate the eventual mass adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which some experts believe is nearly inevitable.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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In the Future, You Might Get Paid for the Data You Share Online

Precious Data

In a highly interconnected globalized world, data is everything. Regarding the economics of “big data,” some people have called data the new oil. Companies get precious bits of information from us — which, more often than not, we give for free in exchange for some form of personalized web service, such as signing up for an email account.

“The defense of this practice is that these companies provide ‘free’ services, and that they deserve some reward for their innovation and ingenuity,” John Danaher, from NUI Galway’s School of Law, told Digital Trends. “That may well be true, but I would argue that the rewards they receive are disproportionate.”

Companies are able to collect data from consumers, whether it’s direct personal information or behavioral in nature, through the different web services we make use of. Some might ask us to click on a few tick boxes or answer a CAPTCHA question, or even ask us personal questions — such as what we like in a relationship. The data we provide is used to train machine learning systems to perform their algorithms better.

So, one might ask: are we being cheated here? Should consumers get more from the data we share or provide to companies? Virtual reality (VR) pioneer Jaron Lanier certainly thinks so. In his book, Who Owns the Future?, he suggests a potential micropayment model.

Defining Useful Data

Under Lanier’s micropayment scheme, for all data that companies find useful — like in perfecting machine learning algorithms that feed off that data — the person who provided the information should be given some form of recompense. It’s a model similar to the existing one that Google and Apple have when it comes to content creators: these individuals get paid for a successful YouTube video, for instance, where success is defined by certain metrics.

In the same way, the most useful data can easily be determined using a formula that accounts for where the data originated and how important it was in training a system to perform certain functions. This means that the relative value of data would differ from one type to the next.

The rationale for such a scheme becomes even more convincing when you consider the future of employment in the face of growing intelligent automation. After all, aren’t smart robots trained using data provided by humans? Together with universal basic income models, perhaps micropayment for data would help in covering for the jobs we may lose as a consequence of automation.

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This Latin American Country Could Adopt Bitcoin as an Official Currency

From Bolivars to Bitcoin

In order to deal with ever-growing issues with hyperinflation, the country of Venezuela may soon decide to adopt a new currency: Bitcoin.

As explained by CoinTelegraph, Bitcoin has been the subject of a massive amount of mining and purchasing over the last few months, leading to a number of rumors regarding the country’s desire to incorporate it into their financial structure.

According to Daniel Osorio, from Andean Capital Advisors, Venezuela may be on the verge of forgoing their Bolivar currency. During an interview last week, he told CNBC “we may well be witnessing the first ‘Bitcoinization’ of a sovereign state.”

Osorio went on to explain that Venezuela is more than a week behind on a substantial bond interest payment. At present, it doesn’t have the money to address it or manage the economy. A simple lunch can now cost up to 200,000 Bolivars ($8-$10) prompting people to resort to using Bitcoin or money wires of other foreign currency. Bitcoin is appealing because it’s independent of the black market and tied to a fixed exchange platform, making it difficult to exploit.

First in Line

In August, Venezuela was listed as the top country with a failing currency ahead of Colombia and Argentina, with all ten countries listed expected to turn to Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies in the near future.

The “bitcoinization” of Venezuela hasn’t happened, despite what many would like to say, so we’ll have to wait to see what actually becomes of the situation. If it does completely shift, however, it could be used as another selling point to get people to adopt the biggest crypto out there.

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Want to Learn More About Ethereum? Ethereum Co-Founder Explains His Cryptocurrency

Etherum co-founder Vitalik Buterin was one of the key speakers at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt, which was held last week in San Francisco. Asked to explain what Ethereum is to the average user, Buterin defined a blockchain from the perspective of those who understand its current most popular use — in cryptocurrencies, specifically Bitcoin.

Buterin said that a blockchain can keep track of how much money a person has at any given time — or what he calls “cryptoeconomics.” But, while that’s the initial use of a blockchain, Buterin and his colleagues have found that such a decentralized system of keeping tabs on transaction records can extend to a far wider range of applications. He calls this “general purpose watching,” and it’s at the heart of what Ethereum is.

“The core idea behind Ethereum is: you can have a general purpose watching,” Buterin told the audience at Disrupt SF. “We can have a blockchain where instead of a blockchain working like a Swiss army knife where you have five different tools for five different categories of applications, you have a blockchain that understands general-purpose programming language.”

Indeed, Ethereum is considered to be the world’s foremost enterprise blockchain, with applications that extend beyond just cryptocurrencies. Ethereum has found use in manufacturing, shipping, and even in the music industry. Ethereum’s applications continue to expand, including the possibility of replacing credit card companies, a mass adoption that could disrupt many of today’s industries.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Crypto Debit Cards Are Paving the Way for Cryptocurrency Mass Adoption

Improving Crypto Usability

Cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain technology upon which these digital coins are built, have continued to make headlines in recent months. However, despite its growing appeal, the usability of cryptos remains limited; a hurdle that has kept it from achieving more rapid, widespread adoption. That might soon change, though, thanks to the growing popularity of crypto debit cards.

Crypto debit cards work like your regular flat debit cards, as they exist in a cashless payment infrastructure, but come with the added bonuses cryptocurrencies provide. Instead of being connected to a bank account, as traditional debit cards are, crypto debit cards are linked to a digital currency wallet.

One example is Centra Card, which supports several popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Zcash, and Dash. Since cryptocurrencies aren’t bound by banking laws specific to a country, crypto debit cards can actually be used in any mainstream commercial environment.

Towards Mass Adoption

There are still several issues that need to be resolved if cryptocurrencies are to become a more widely accepted form of currency. Government regulation is one, as well as price volatility concerns. When these problems have been solved, we might be in for a revolution. Mass adoption of crypto would change how we conduct transactions — and not just financial ones. In the mean time, crypto debit cards can help bridge the gap.

“A crypto debit card allows users to use their crypto wallets in a retail setting easily and with low friction,” blockchain-based “global consensus engine” Trive CEO David Mondrus said, according to Coin Telegraph. “I’ve travelled extensively in the US and abroad using my crypto debit card. It’s been a real life-saver at times.”

Crypto debit cards are convenient for travelers because they allow for easy cryptocurrency conversion to different currencies. These can also be a life saver in places where local currency has been deteriorating. Crypto debit cards may also help more people invest in cryptocurrencies without losing their purchasing power.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Walmart Is Testing a New Service That Brings Groceries Straight to Your Fridge

From Home Delivery to Fridge Delivery

Walmart wants to make it easier for your online orders and groceries to get to your home and into your fridge. The idea cuts the consumer out of the delivery, unpacking, and storing process entirely.

The company announced on September 22 that it’s partnering with August Home, which specializes in smart locks and smart home accessories, to make this possible.

“What if Walmart could help busy families like mine ensure my fridge was always well-stocked?” asked Sloan Eddleston, Walmart’s vice president of e-commerce strategy and business operations, in a blog post. “What if we created a service that not only did my grocery shopping and brought everything to my home, but even went so far as to put it directly into my fridge?

After an order is placed, the delivery driver(s) will pick up the items and bring them to your home. If no one answers the door, using a one-time passcode to unlock the August smart lock, the driver will drop off non-perishables in the foyer and place the rest of your groceries in the refrigerator. After leaving, the door locks automatically behind them.

Consumers will be able to track the entire delivery through notifications, or watch the entire delivery take place via August’s smart cameras and the August app.

Test Phase

The service is only available to a small number of August Home customers in Silicon Valley who volunteered to test it out, but Walmart hopes to expand the service’s reach in the future.

In the blog post, Eddleston states the new service developed out of “an obsession in saving our customers not just money but also time.” Taken another way, it could be seen as another step the company is taking to combat Amazon, which is currently seen to be the most convenient online retailer.

While it’s certainly an interesting evolution of home delivery, it may take some time for people to get used to the idea of strangers entering in their homes when they’re not there. It’s also unclear if this will work for those living in apartments, who may require the approval of the building’s management. If the service does prove to be successful and without risk, however, it could put Walmart one step closer to stepping out of Amazon’s rather large shadow.

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Watch Live as Experts Tackle Our Planet’s Most Critical Issues

Toward Sustainable Development

Every year, the United Nations (U.N.) holds a week-long event as part of its General Assembly. This event, which runs from September 19-25 at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, brings together academics, innovators, and world leaders to discuss the world’s most pressing issues.

One of the many issues covered is the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Described as “a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity,” the U.N.’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) focus on areas that are deemed critical for the survival of humanity and the continued well-being of the planet.

Condensed into 17 fine points, the SDGs include things like the eradication of poverty, securing a quality education for all, obtaining universal gender equality, transitioning to affordable clean energy, and taking immediate climate action.

Of course, most of us probably have a thing or two to say about these issues and how they can be solved. Moreover, any conversation about how to solve the world’s problems that excludes basically all of the people in the world is a little shortsighted. To this end, ideally, everyday people would be able to participate in the discussion.

And now they can, thanks to an innovative program called the Global People’s Summit + Social Good.

Working in tandem with the U.N., it is the “first-ever global virtual summit exploring social innovation, disruptive technology, film and media, and the power of mobilizing networks to address some of the most challenging issues of our time.”

In short, it’s an opportunity for all people to have a voice in matters that are important for the future of the world. William Kennedy, Acting Head of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, spoke of this partnership in a press release:

The United Nations was created to bring nations together to find common ground and build sustainable peace and prosperity. Our partnership with the Global People’s Summit allows us to leverage innovative technology to invite the world, not just the leaders, to join these conversations. In a digital media age, we need to adopt innovative ways to empower global voices and put them at the heart of the work of the United Nations.

Online Conversations for the Greater Good

Technology has made engagement and participation possible on an unprecedented global scale. The summit, convened by The Barmada Group in collaboration with a handful of international development organizations, seeks to anchor on the U.N.’s 17 sustainable development goals. The summit’s more than 55 speakers cover topics like pollution and recycling, social activism, the future of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), the ongoing refugee crisis, and more.

To bring the discussion to the attention of global leaders and influencers inside the U.N., an interactive digital wall has been installed for the duration of the Global Goals Week that’s running parallel to the U.N. General Assembly. This digital wall will feature tweets and social media posts with the #GlobalPeopleSummit hashtag.

“The objective of the summit is to inspire social change. We aim to ignite global engagement and build communities to fight inequality, climate change, and address critical global challenges,” the Global People’s Summit founder and global curator, Hazami Barmada, said in a press statement. “The summit aims to take conversations out of exclusive conference rooms and put them in the public sphere. Transforming the world is only possible if we begin to more effectively engage global networks and unlock capacity for action.”

So, whether you want to actively participate in the discussion or just to be a witness to this historic summit, you can take your seat at the table by signing up at the website of Global People’s Summit. As U.N. SDG Action Campaign director Mitchell Toomey said, efforts like this are needed “to bring together governments, technology leaders, and relevant partners to share key knowledge and tools while inspiring collective action.”

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Y Combinator is Helping People Invest in Startups Using Blockchain

Smart Investment

Y Combinator wants to give people another way to invest in the startups it works with, utilizing the blockchain and cryptocurrency to offer wider access. Sam Altman, the company’s president, expressed a desire to “democratize” the process speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

It’s thought that Y Combinator is currently investigating how cryptocurrency might be used to broaden the investment pool. There are various legal factors that need to be taken into consideration before such a system can be put in place.

The idea of using these platforms for investments is broadly similar to the initial coin offerings (ICOs) that are often used to launch a new cryptocurrency. However, Altman had some pointed remarks about the nature of ICOs in their current form.

“Do I think ICOs are silly, bordering on scams? Yes, they are,” he argued. “But, there are a few that are important, and the blockchain is more important than not…ICOs need to be regulated.”

Crypto Crowdfunding

ICOs have come under scrutiny in recent weeks. China just enforced a ban on the practice, which caused tremors across the cryptocurrency market, but authorities have since explained that this is a temporary measure intended to allow for proper regulations to be put in place.

Six EdTech Startups Democratizing Education [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

It’s not difficult to see why there’s some trepidation about the legality of ICOs. It’s a largely unregulated form of crowdfunding that’s capable of bringing in huge amounts of money — in July, Tezos ran an ICO that accrued over $230 million in cryptocurrency.

However, the nature of ICOs demonstrate how cryptocurrency might be used by companies like Y Combinator to create room at the table for people who aren’t necessarily high-net-worth investors.

“More of the wealth creation here is not available to most people,” said Altman, speaking about Silicon Valley. “And I think that’s very bad in a society with already so much wealth inequality.”

 

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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People in Two U.S. States Will Get $1,000 a Month in a New Basic Income Trial

$1,000 for 1,000

Startup incubator Y Combinator is expanding their research into the benefits of universal basic income (UBI).

In a new blog post published on the company’s website this week, they reveal their plans to pick 3,000 individuals from two states at random to receive a monthly cash handout. 1,000 participants will receive $1,000 per month for a period up to five years, while the other 2,000 will receive $50 per month, serving as the control group.

“A randomized trial is considered one of the best ways to evaluate the impact of a proposed social policy,” wrote research director Elizabeth Rhodes. “By comparing a group of people who receive a basic income to an otherwise identical group of people who do not, we can isolate and quantify the effects of a basic income.”

This study will draw on lessons learned from the one-year project that Y Combinator recently carried out in Oakland. The sample size used in that experiment was too small to offer up the desired insights into UBI, but its goal was primarily to establish the proper procedure for this large-scale trial.

Show Me the Money

Y Combinator hopes to find out how basic income can help people respond to economic instability and uncertainty, or perhaps even find alternatives to UBI that achieve the same purpose. The overarching goal of this trial is to advance the debate about the future of work.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
Click to View Full Infographic

Silicon Valley is certainly being vocal when it comes to UBI. The likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have shared their support for the idea, along with others.

Despite this support, however, UBI isn’t the kind of policy that can be put into place without extensive testing. Other trials are already in the works in countries like Scotland, Canada, and Finland, and unlike Y Combinator’s study, those projects have government support.

With millions of people at risk of unemployment due to advancing technology, any and all potential solutions to keep these people above the poverty line are worth considering.

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Elon Musk’s Latest Future Investment? Programs Revolutionizing Education

Investing in Education

Despite being involved with a number of companies intent on making the future happen (or perhaps because of it) Elon Musk has always been interested with education. His efforts include a competition that helps students and startups develop working models for the futuristic hyperloop. More recently, Musk has donated $15 million to an XPRIZE program called Global Learning.

The XPRIZE Foundation is a non-profit organization that designs and promotes public competitions that seek to bring about technological developments beneficial to humanity. One of their programs is the Global Learning XPRIZE, the goal of which is to “empower children to take control of their learning.” More specifically, the program “challenges teams from around the world to develop open source and scalable software” to help children in developing countries teach themselves basic literacy and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

On Monday, five finalists were chosen to advance in the contest, each receiving a $1-million milestone prize. The team’s education technology solutions will be put to a field test in Tanzania this November, in partnership with UNESCO and the World Food Program (WFP).

Investing in the Future

The five finalists, which include CCI from New York, Chimple from India, Berkeley-based Kitkit School, a program called onebillion, and RoboTutor from Pittsburgh, will have to demonstrate proficiency gains in about 4,000 children in 150 Tanzanian villages after 15 months. The one that achieves this — to be announced on April 2019 — will receive the $10 million grand prize.

elon musk global learning xprize education
Image credit: UNESCO
According to UNESCO, some 250 million children around the world lack basic arithmetic skills and 1.6 million teachers are needed to fill the gap. “The leading solutions born from this competition could provide the key to unlocking literacy for children most in need, giving them access to an education they otherwise wouldn’t have,” XPRIZE Foundation CEO Marcus Shingles told Forbes. As for Musk investing in Global Learning XPRIZE, it shouldn’t really be surprising. Investing in education, after all, is one of the surest routes to a better future.

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More Than 80% of Children Have an Online Presence by the Age of Two

Sharenting

A toddler with birthday cake smeared across his face, grins delightedly at his mother. Minutes later, the image appears on Facebook. A not uncommon scenario – 42% of UK parents share photos of their children online with half of these parents sharing photos at least once a month.

Image Source: mogletho/ Flickr Commons

Welcome to the world of “sharenting” – where more than 80% of children are said to have an online presence by the age of two. This is a world where the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday.

But while a recent report from OFCOM confirms many parents do share images of their children online, the report also indicates that more than half (56%) of parents don’t. Most of these non-sharenting parents (87%) actively choose not to do so to protect their children’s private lives.

Over Sharing

Parents often have good reasons for sharenting. It allows them to find and share parenting advice, to obtain emotional and practical support, and to maintain contact with relatives and friends.

Increasingly, though, concerns are being raised about “oversharenting” – when parents share too much, or, share inappropriate information. Sharenting can result in the identification of a child’s home, childcare or play location or the disclosure of identifying information which could pose risks to the child.

While many sharenters says they are conscious of the potential impact of their actions, and they consider their children’s views before sharenting, a recent House of Lords report on the matter suggests not all parents do. The “growing up with the internet” report reveals some parents share information they know will embarrass their children – and some never consider their children’s interests before they post.

A recent survey for CBBC Newsround also warns that a quarter of children who’ve had their photographs sharented have been embarrassed or worried by these actions.

Think of the Kids

Police in France and Germany have taken concrete steps to address sharenting concerns. They have posted Facebook warnings, telling parents of the dangers of sharenting, and stressing the importance of protecting children’s private lives.

Back in the UK, some academics have suggested the government should educate parents to ensure they understand the importance of protecting their child’s digital identity. But should the “nanny state” really be interfering in family life by telling parents how and when they can share their children’s information?

It’s clearly a tricky area to regulate, but it could be that the government’s recently published data protection bill may provide at least a partial answer.

In its 2017 manifesto, the Conservative party pledged to:

Give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information.

In the recent Queen’s Speech, the government confirmed its commitment to reforming data protection law. And in August, it published a statement of intent providing more detail of its proposed reforms. In relation to the so-called “right to be forgotten” or “right to erasure”, the government states that:

Individuals will be able to ask for their personal data to be erased.

Users will also be able to ask social media platforms to delete information they posted during their childhood. In certain circumstances, social media companies will be required to delete any or all of a user’s posts. The statement explains:

For example, a post on social media made as a child would normally be deleted upon request, subject to very narrow exemptions.

The primary purpose of the data protection bill is to bring the new EU General Data Protection Regulation into UK law. This is to ensure UK law continues to accord with European data protection law post-Brexit – which is essential if UK companies are to continue to trade with their European counterparts.

It could also provide a solution for children whose parents like to sharent, because the new laws specify that an individual or organisation must obtain explicit consent or have some other legitimate basis to share an individual’s personal data. In real terms, this means that before a parent shares their child’s information online they should ask whether the child agrees.

Of course, this doesn’t mean parents are suddenly going to start asking for their children’s consent to sharent. But if a parent doesn’t obtain their child’s consent, or the child decides in the future that they are no longer happy for that sharented information to be online, the bill also provides another possible solution. Children could use the “right to erasure” to ask for social network providers and other websites to remove sharented information. Not perhaps a perfect answer, but for now it’s one way to put a stop to those embarrassing mugshots ending up in cyberspace for years to come.

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Bitcoin Was Just Used to Pay for a New Home in Texas

Texas-based real estate brokerage firm Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty has completed the first-ever sale of a real estate property using just bitcoin.

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency has long moved on from its shadowy past to become a legitimate currency used to purchase Starbucks coffeeXbox games, and now, a newly built custom home with grand entertaining areas, a master suite, and a chef-worthy kitchen.

The price of the home hasn’t been disclosed, but more important than that is the ease of the overall transaction. The buyer simply transferred the bitcoin to the seller, who then converted it into U.S. dollars.

“In all of my 33 years of closing transactions, I honestly couldn’t have expected something so unique to go so smoothly,” Kuper Sotheby’s Sheryl Lowe, the buyer’s agent, said in a press release. “In a matter of 10 minutes, the bitcoin was changed to U.S. dollars and the deal was done!”

This real estate transaction is further proof that bitcoin isn’t “a fraud,” as some have claimed. It’s also another example of the increasing acceptance of cryptocurrencies, which are poised to revolutionize a variety of industries beyond finance, from transportation to entertainment to politics.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Google’s New Payment App Uses Ultrasonic Frequencies to Transfer Cash

Fast Finances

Google has launched a new mobile payment app in India called Tez for iOS and Android devices. Named after a Hindi word meaning ‘fast,’ it allows users to make swift, secure cash transfers using technology known as audio QR.

While India is home to 300 million smartphone users, many of these devices are entry level or mid-tier, and don’t feature near-field communication technology. As a result, they don’t support services like Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.

Tez forges a connection between the two devices taking part in the transaction using ultrasonic frequencies, which are inaudible to human ears. As a result, there’s no need to share bank account information or even a telephone number.

The service is protected by Tez Shield, a platform devised by Google that’s able to detect fraudulent usage, and keeps user identities under wraps.

Quicker Than Cash

In November 2016, the Indian government announced a ban on cash bills worth more than 500 rupees ($7.77). This decision removed more than 85 percent of the country’s currency from circulation, and as a rush, digital transactions have seen a sharp increase in popularity.

Google isn’t the only company attempting to field an app fulfilling this purpose to the Indian market. Whatsapp is apparently in talks with the National Payments Corporation of India — the governing body behind the Unified Payments Interface platform that links Tez up to users’ bank accounts — in the hopes of launching its own service.

For the moment, Google is pitching Tez squarely at the Indian marketplace. However, if it proves to be successful, the company hopes to release the app in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand.

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Joe Biden Just Chose a Side in the Universal Basic Income Debate

Biden Won’t Back UBI

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a economic safety net system in which everyone — regardless of their age, employment status, economic status, household size, or other factors — is guaranteed a minimum income. In other words, it’s guaranteed money that everyone gets just for being a part of society. This salary is intended to provide people with enough money to meet their basic needs without any strings attached.

Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator, Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Stewart Butterfield of Slack and Flickr, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, are just some of the big names who have publicly supported UBI. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now taking the opposite position, arguing that the US needs to “build a future that puts work first.”

Image Credit: David Lienemann/Wiki Commons
Image Credit: David Lienemann/Wiki Commons

“Our children and grandchildren deserve the promise we’ve had: the skills to get ahead, the chance to earn a paycheck, and a steady job that rewards hard work,” Biden wrote in a Biden Institute blog post. “While I appreciate concerns from Silicon Valley executives about what their innovations may do to American incomes, I believe they’re selling American workers short.” He finished the post by saying, “All of us together can make choices to shape a better future. Our workers, our businesses, our communities, and our nation deserves nothing less.”

UBI and the Future

According to McKinsey & Co., 45 percent of jobs today will be gone within 20 years because of automation. Although the US has already endured massive changes in its economy and job market, when it transformed from a society of farmers (84% in 1810) to what we are today (only 2% of the population are farmers), automation will cause a change that’s both larger and faster than we’ve ever seen before. UBI could mitigate against the effects of rapid technological unemployment and allow people to transition into new kinds of work as the economy changes.

The Overseas Development Institute recently conducted a meta-analysis of over 160 studies spanning 30 countries and 56 cash transfer programs. They found positive results from these programs in education, employment, health and nutrition, and savings and investment. So, while Biden is calling to train people for the jobs of the future, he may be underestimating the importance of a tool like UBI in transitioning the American public to that future.

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True, Bitcoin May Become Corrupt. But Banks Already Are.

Too Big to Fail

The financial crisis of the late 2000s had the potential to cripple the nation. Big banks played a major role in that economic disaster, and many ended up paying fines for facilitating the conditions that lead up to the crash in 2008.

So, when big banking executives start calling cryptocurrencies corrupt schemes, the accusations raise a few eyebrows.

Last week, JP Morgan CEO James Dimon leveled several criticisms at the original cryptocurrency, bitcoin, calling it a “fraud,” saying it’s “just not a real thing,” and claiming that “eventually it will be closed.” While Dimon is not the first to criticize crypto, his assertions are particularly noteworthy given his own company’s past transgressions.

Image credit: Zach Copley/Flickr
Image credit: Zach Copley/Flickr

Not only has JP Morgan been fined billions of dollars for their role in the financial crisis, they have also been fined for a slew of other corrupt and illegal practices both before and since. The bank seems particularly susceptible to fines arising from discrimination based on sex and race, the manipulation of key interest rates, and corrupt hiring practices.

JP Morgan isn’t the only bank to do wrong, either. According to Business Insider, between 2012 and 2016, the world’s top 20 banks were hit with nearly $354 billion in misconduct charges. That was an increase of nearly a third compared to the previous five years.

In the United States, this issue is of increasing concern as the current administration is working to undermine (and perhaps even completely repeal) the consumer protections of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law — an act that established a host of new governmental agencies in response to the financial crisis of 2008. These agencies are tasked with overseeing a number of aspects of the act and, by extension, various aspects of the banking system.

Looking to the Blockchain

Banks rely on centralization and the aggregation of power and authority, which makes their abuse of power all the more alarming. Conversely, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether are decentralized, meaning that the authority and power doesn’t reside in the hands of one executive (or bank). This decentralization has led some economists to believe that bitcoin and ether could be appropriate solutions to some of the problems inherent in our current financial system.

According to a report filed by economists at the Central Bank of Finland, the decentralized Bitcoin network, by its very nature, already effectively regulates itself: “There is no need to regulate it because, as a system, it is committed to the protocol as is and the transaction fees it charges the users are determined by the users independently of the miners’ efforts.”

While the future of cryptocurrencies is uncertain, the accusations levied at them by banking executives may say more about the execs than the crypto — do these higher ups truly believe what they are saying or are they members of an unscrupulous industry that’s desperately afraid their era of (relatively) free reign over the economy is coming to an end?

As we consider the future of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the important thing to keep in mind is that while these systems could eventually become corrupt, many of the big banks critical of them already are.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Let’s Have a Heart to Heart: Are Blockchain Tokens Really Nothing More Than “A Scheme?”

Opportunity or Trap?

For seemingly every expert making bold claims that cryptocurrencies are the future of finance and are capable of “freeing humanity from tyranny,” there’s another expert decrying the rise of bitcoin and the like as nothing more than an unstable “bubble” built on hype and bound to pop.

Perhaps the strongest criticism levied at crypto companies, however, is that they’re massive scams — that they don’t deliver anything of material value and are intentionally designed to make money for those at the top by taking advantage of those at the bottom.

Case in point: “In my view, digital currencies are nothing but an unfounded fad (or perhaps even a pyramid scheme), based on a willingness to ascribe value to something that has little or none beyond what people will pay for it,” Howard Marks, Co-Chairman of Oaktree Capital Group.

So, who is right? Is crypto a legitimate new type of finance system or a modern take on snake oil, one peddled by supposed tech revolutionaries instead of seedy profiteers? In order to answer this question, it is important to first understand how token launches (sometimes called “ICOs” or “Initial Coin Offerings”) work in relation to IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) — to understand how crypto startups are funded in comparison to other companies.

Understanding the Terms

When a private company decides it wants to start raising funds from the public, it has what’s known as an initial public offering (IPO). For a certain fee, interested investors can purchase shares in the company. Those shares make these investors, by law, part owners in the company and entitled to dividends if the company makes a profit.

The IPO process is typically facilitated by a team of experts — lawyers, accountants, underwriters, etc. — and it is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a non-partisan agency of the federal government with two primary objectives:

  • Ensure that the companies raising fund are telling potential investors the truth about their business, including any potential risks to investing
  • Ensure that the people facilitating the process, such as stockbrokers and exchanges, put investors’ interests first and treat them fairly and honestly

To meet these objectives, the SEC will require that a company register before their IPO, submit their financial statements to be audited, and meet a number of other requirements. In theory, the SEC acts as an unbiased third-party in the IPO process, ensuring that everything is aboveboard.

One very important point to note is that basically all brokerage firms require investors to meet some qualifications before they can participate in an IPO. Generally, you have to have a certain amount of money or a set number of transactions, which means that a vast majority of society is not able to participate.

This is the big difference between an IPO and the launch of a new blockchain token — token launches put the power, and the responsibility, in your hands.

Instead of venture funding, many blockchain startups have a token launch or an ICO. It is important to note that many individuals operating in the blockchain space, and other experts, prefer the term “token launch” instead of “ICO.” This is because some blockchain tokens/transactions do not qualify as “investment contracts,” meaning that they are not considered securities, and so the term ICO (given its similarity to IPO) may be confusing.

A Securities Law Framework for Blockchain Tokens” sums the problem with the term ICO, noting that tokens have many different applications and utilities:

There are many different types of blockchain tokens, each with varying characteristics and uses. Some blockchain tokens, like Bitcoin, function as a digital currency. Others can represent a right to tangible assets like gold or real estate. Blockchain tokens can also be used in new protocols and networks to create distributed applications…some tokens, depending on their features, may be subject to U.S. federal or state securities laws.

But, and this is the notable thing, not all tokens will have these features and be subject to security laws. With this in mind, for the purposes of clarity, we will be referring to the launch of a new blockchain token as “token launches.”

As Balaji Srinivasan, board partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, explained in an essay on Medium, the fundraising process that drives some token launches is a bit “like a Kickstarter on steroids.”

To raise funds through a token launch, a company will sell a certain percentage of the total amount of their crypto upfront. Purchasers of these crypto coins are not legally part owners in the company, and they don’t earn dividends if the company prospers. The success of their investment is based on the market value of the coin. In other words, as long as they can sell their cryptocurrency for a value higher than what they paid for it, they can make a profit.

Unlike the IPO process, token launches are unregulated. Companies aren’t required to adhere to a path set forth by the SEC or any other government agency, which means there is no third party ensuring that either side is telling the truth or meeting any certain requirements.

Token launches do tend to follow a certain format, however, and it starts with the company’s founders writing a white paper providing details on their startup. This paper can be any length or format, but it will usually include the company’s strategy and goals, as well as their plans for funding (the amount of money they hope to raise, the per-token cost, the duration of their token launch, etc.). Ideally, these white papers should provide a comprehensive business plan for interested parties.

If the company does not meet their minimum funding goals, the money is returned to the would-be supporters and the token launch is considered unsuccessful.

Risks vs. Rewards

According to one crypto investment expert (who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity), the token launch process can benefit both investors and innovators looking to get their projects off the ground.

“Token launches allow the broadest amount of participation we have seen yet,” they explained. “They’re a pure way to go from a creator of an idea directly to investors without a large number of middlemen. They allow investors to get in at an earlier level than an IPO. They allow anyone anywhere in the word to easily participate with very low minimum investments.”

In this respect, token launches are all about total participation and democratizing power. Instead of just a few wealthy participants, anyone can participate in a token launch or even host their own token launch, allowing individuals in impoverished areas (or who are faced with other economic or social barriers) to participate in the global economy.

“Crypto is complicated, exciting, and the future.”

Unfortunately, token launches also carry with them several inherent risks due to their unregulated nature.

“With token launches, people are able to raise large amounts of money with very little evidence they can deliver,” the expert noted. This is mostly a matter of supply and demand. Crypto has the potential to deliver high returns, so investors are eager to jump into the market. Unfortunately, the supply of crypto projects isn’t yet enough to meet this demand, which leads to investors who are more willing to take greater risks on companies with less evidence they can deliver on their claims.

“Investors are also willing to accept a longer lag between when they give their money to a token launch and when [the company] builds a product — another example of moving further out the risk spectrum,” they continued. “This dynamic lends itself well to a Ponzi scheme, where a company does a token launch, promises a product in six months, builds nothing, and then uses the money raised to market and execute another token launch two months later.”

Investors in OneCoin know the dangers of investing in crypto startups all too well. Founded by Bulgarian national Rjua Ignatova, the company raised more than $350 million before Ignatova and nearly two dozen of OneCoin’s promoters were arrested for running a fraudulent business.

This, of course, is important to note: Just because token launches are not regulated does not mean that they are held to no standards and are free to do whatever they like. Those who act with malicious intent can still be held accountable, though this is admittedly a long and painstaking process.

After the arrest, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Tushar Doshi told The Indian Express, “It is clear that this is a Ponzi scheme,” but that fact obviously wasn’t clear to the thousands of investors who put money into the operation. How were they supposed to know where OneCoin landed on legitimate-to-scam spectrum of business models before putting money into it?

The Point: Don’t Invest Blindly

In the end, the expert consensus indicates that, although some cryptocurrencies and token launches are nothing more than schemes, there are a great many projects that are genuine and can (and have) delivered.

Indeed, some major financial institutions are already developing their own cryptocurrencies to ensure that they’re not left behind if the economy does undergo this major transition, and even JP Morgan is looking into ways to incorporate blockchain into their operations.

Furthermore, more than a billion people worldwide don’t have a way to identify themselves, and they can’t open bank accounts and participate in the traditional economy as a result. A cryptocurrency like bitcoin has no such barrier to entry.

With this in mind, according to experts, the best way for investors to ensure they don’t fall victim to the crypto scheme is to do their due diligence. This is the big difference between an IPO and the launch of a new blockchain token — token launches put the power, and the responsibility, in your hands.

So, how do you safeguard yourself?

“Investing in token launches is a really hard business,” the expert asserted. “I’d say the most important things are knowing the team and their business plan. If the team has a history of hopping from one project to the next, they’re probably going to hop on your project. If they can’t explain their business plan in a way that makes sense to you, they probably don’t understand well what they are doing.”

Following this advice could have prevented OneCoin’s many investors from falling victim to the scam, as it raised many red flags online long before arrests were made.

As The Cointelegraph pointed out, Ignatova’s qualification were inconsistent between her resume, personal websites, and OneCoin’s website, and several of the company’s directors had been linked to scam operations in the past. When combined with several other eyebrow-raising factors — the promise of huge returns, constantly moving goal posts, and a refusal to accept payment in crypto — the illegitimacy of the operation seems obvious in hindsight.

Of course, as previously mentioned and as evidenced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether, not every crypto will be a scam, and some can deliver remarkable returns. Over the course of eight years, bitcoin has increased in value from eight-hundredths of a cent to more than $4,000 per coin. Ether has seen its own value surge over the last year, and Ethereum is now the blockchain technology of choice for some of the world’s biggest tech and finance companies, including Microsoft, JP Morgan, and Intel.

No doubt anyone who bought in when either of those cryptos was in its infancy now thinks the gamble was worth it. As our expert explained, “Crypto is complicated, exciting, and the future,” so as long as investors understand that token launches, by their very nature, are riskier than traditional investments, investing in them can be a potentially rewarding — and highly profitable — experience.


This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity. The term ICO has been changed to “token launch” throughout. 

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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China Signed a $300 Million Lab-Grown Meat Deal with Israel

Fresh From the Lab

China has signed a trade agreement with Israel worth $300 million that will see the country import lab-grown meats produced by three companies: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future. This move is part of China’s ongoing effort to address its most pressing environmental problems.

Future Food: Menu of 2030
Click to View Full Infographic

The Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Export Institute were involved in brokering the deal with China. Both organizations were in attendance at the inaugural lab-made meat conference, which took place in Haifa, Israel this past May.

Israel is emerging as a major player in the nascent lab-grown meat industry, but plenty of research is also going on in the US. Memphis Meats recently received investments from Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates, while Hampton Creek expects to sell its products commercially as early as next year. Even mainstream brands like Tyson foods are making plays to get in on the ground floor.

This particular kind of lab-grown meat is produced using animal cells, so it’s not completely slaughter-free — even if it does reduce the number of creatures killed for food overall. Scientists are researching a completely synthetic substitute. For the time being, lab-grown meat is poised to at least reduce the strain on the environment that’s caused by the farming of livestock.

Environmentally Friendly

It’s estimated that 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock, with cattle being the biggest culprit. If we didn’t need to farm so many cows to produce beef products, we could reduce these emissions considerably.

Last year, he Chinese government announced plans to encourage citizens to eat less meat, in an effort to reduce the country’s consumption by 50 percent. As it stands, around $13.5 billion worth of meat is imported into the country every year.

While $300 million may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to $10 billion, there are hopes that this partnership will be successful enough to prompt a larger investment. “This could put [lab-made] meat onto the radar of Chinese officials who have the capacity to steer billions of dollars into this technology,” commented head of the Good Food Initiative, Bruce Friedrich, according to a report by Quartz.

Lab-grown meat is also cheaper and healthier than traditional meat. It may take a while for the general public to get on board, but it seems like its advantages will soon be too much to ignore.

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The U.S. is No Longer the World’s Largest Bitcoin Market

Japan has risen above the U.S. in the worldwide rankings for the largest bitcoin exchange market. The country now accounts for roughly 48 percent of the global market share, reaching a high of 51 percent over the weekend.

This is thanks in no small part to the Chinese government’s recent rulings on the cryptocurrency. The nation first issued a ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs) and then requested that exchanges and trading platforms cease operations by the end of September, granting an extension until October 30 for OKCoin and Huobi.

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Those deadlines are still weeks away, but traders aren’t waiting around. Many that were previously operating in China have taking their activity to Japan, causing the spike in the nation’s market share — and reducing China’s from 15 percent to less than seven percent in just three days.

It remains to be seen whether Japan’s current position will hold or is a fleeting surge. One Chinese official has claimed that the country’s ban on ICOs is a temporary measure, but the country’s position in the cryptocurrency market might be forever changed if the current situation drags on too long.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Is the New iPhone Designed for Cybersafety?

Meet the New iPhone

As eager customers meet the new iPhone, they’ll explore the latest installment in Apple’s decade-long drive to make sleeker and sexier phones. But to me as a scholar of cybersecurity, these revolutionary innovations have not come without compromises.

Image Source: portal gda/ Flickr Commons

Early iPhones literally put the “smart” in the smartphone, connecting texting, internet connectivity and telephone capabilities in one intuitive device. But many of Apple’s decisions about the iPhone were driven by design – including wanting to be different or to make things simpler – rather than for practical reasons.

Many of these innovations – some starting in the very first iPhone – became standards that other device makers eventually followed. And while Apple has steadily strengthened the encryption of the data on its phones, other developments have made people less safe and secure.

The Lights Went Out

Among Apple’s earliest design decisions was to exclude an incoming email indicator light – the little blinking LED that was common in many smartphones in 2007. LEDs could be programmed to flash differently, even using different colors to indicate whom an incoming email was from. That made it possible for people to be alerted to new messages – and decide whether to ignore them or respond – from afar.

Its absence meant that the only way for users of the iPhone to know of unread messages was by interacting with the phone’s screen – which many people now do countless times each day, in hopes of seeing a new email or other notification message. In psychology, we call this a “variable reinforcement mechanism” – when rewards are received at unpredictable intervals – which is the basis for how slot machines in Las Vegas keep someone playing.

This new distraction has complicated social interactions and makes people physically less safe, causing both distracted driving and even inattentive walking.

Email Loses its Head, Literally

Another problem with iOS Mail is a major design flaw: It does not display full email headers – the part of each message that tells users where the email is coming from. These can be viewed on all computer-based email programs – and shortened versions are available on Android email programs.

Cybersecurity awareness trainers regularly tell users to always review header data to assess an email’s legitimacy. But this information is completely unavailable on Apple iOS Mail – meaning even if you suspect a spear-phishing email, there is really no way to detect it – which is another reason that more people fall victim to spear-phishing attacks on their phones than on their computers.

Safari Gets Dangerous

The iOS web browser is another casualty of iOS’s minimalism, because Apple designers removed important security indicators. For instance, all encrypted websites – where the URL displays that little lock icon next to the website’s name – possess an encryption certificate. This certificate helps verify the true identity of a webpage and can be viewed on all desktop computer browsers by simply clicking on the lock icon. It can also be viewed on the Google Chrome browser for iOS by simply tapping on the lock icon.

But there is no way to view the certificate using the iPhone’s Safari – meaning if a webpage appears suspicious, there is no way to verify its authenticity.

Everyone Knows Where You Stand

A major iPhone innovation – building in high-quality front and back cameras and photo-sharing capabilities – completely changed how people capture and display their memories and helped drive the rise of social media. But the iPhone’s camera captures more than just selfies.

The iPhone defaults to doing something many smartphones now can do: including in each image file metadatawith the date, time and location details – latitude and longitude – where the photo was taken. Most users remain unaware that most online services include this information in posted pictures – making it possible for anyone to know exactly where the photograph someone just shared was taken. A criminal could use that information to find out when a person is not at home and burglarize the place then, as the infamous Hollywood “Bling Ring” did with social media posts.

In the 10 years since the first iPhone arrived, cyberattacks have evolved and the cybersecurity stakes are higher for individuals. The main concern used to be viruses targeting corporate networks; now the biggest problem is attackers targeting users directly using spear-phishing emails and spoofed websites.

Today, unsafe decisions are far easier to make on your phone than on your computer. And more people now use their phones for doing more things than ever before. Making phones slimmer, shinier and sexier is great. But making sure every user can make cybersafe decisions is yet to be “Designed by Apple.” Here’s hoping the next iPhone does that.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 7:10 p.m. on September 12, 2017, to clarify that the iPhone is not the only smartphone that saves location information in photos.

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This Illegal Piracy Site is “Borrowing” Visitors’ Computers to Mine Cryptocurrency

Secret Testing

According to TorrentFreak, a popular piracy website called The Pirate Bay has secretly been testing a Javascript cryptocurrency miner on their page that allocates a huge chunk of their visitors’ central processing units (CPUs) to the task of mining digital coins.

The website in question was created to assist people in illegally downloading files (movies, games, and music), then hijacked the users’ computers in order to mine digital money. The scheme appears to be the piracy website’s attempt at earning revenue.

It’s no secret that most websites generate income through ad placements — a platform that’s largely unavailable for a piracy website like Pirate Bay. That’s why they’re resorting to mining cryptocurrencies. This potentially new revenue stream, however, isn’t sitting well with its users, as they are caught by surprise when their computer’s CPU usage spike sharply, making their computers run more slowly.

“That really is serious, so hopefully we can get some action on it quickly. And perhaps get some attention for the uploading and commenting bugs while they’re at it,” a Pirate Bay user named “Sid” wrote in a comment, according to TorrentFreak.

A Question of Regulation

Whether this is a viable alternative to ad revenue or not, The Pirate Bay told TorrentFreak that they’re testing it for 24 hours. This development raises an important point regarding cryptocurrency and mining. Piracy is bad, yes — but exploiting users isn’t a good strategy for any website. With the rise of cryptos like Bitcoin, mining has become a widely established practice. Everyone who can afford to spend a few bucks on a dedicated CPU, and pay for electricity to maintain a blockchain, can mine digital coins.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

However, just like how cryptocurrency has been subjected to questions of regulation, perhaps mining should be looked at the same way. Many say that cryptos like Bitcoin have to be regulated, although there’s yet to be a global consensus on the way to go about this. How this regulation extends to mining is another matter altogether. Should we, for example, enact certain policies to restrict who can mine cryptos, or subject erring users to penalties?

Decentralization is one of the defining points of blockchain and cryptocurrency use, and some see regulation is a potential threat to that. Clearly, a balance must be struck, otherwise people are left unprotected and exposed to potentially exploitative methods — like those who “borrow” your CPU to earn a few virtual coins.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Millions of “Citizen Scientists” are Transforming our World From Their Homes

Citizen Science

Andrew Grey, a mechanic from Australia, was able to discover an entire star system through analyzing data from the Kepler Space Telescope. Grey is among the millions of “citizen scientists,” ordinary people with a curiosity and interest in science, who help researchers with their projects in order to expand the collective knowledge of humanity. Although science has always been the province of ordinary people to some extent, advances in technology have democratized science in a much more radical way.

“This is a collaborative endeavor that anyone could get involved in,” Oxford University astrophysicist Chris Lintott told The Christian Science Monitor. Lintott is also the cofounder of Zooniverse, a citizen science project platform that allows anyone to participate in a range of projects online from home.

The Milky Way Project, now on Zooniverse, is another example of citizen scientists helping classify images from space. In this case, volunteers study infrared images from the Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE satellite observatory in order to classify various objects. Citizen scientists helped astronomers source “yellowballs,” star-forming regions, as part of this project.

Citizen scientists can advance research in almost any field, and so long as pattern recognition is part of a project, it has the potential to become a citizen science endeavor. According to Lintott, anyone can identify patterns in data, graphs, or images after a short tutorial. And while machine learning enables computers to recognize patterns, the human brain gets distracted easily — and in this case, that’s actually a benefit. Lintott told The CSM that distracted observers are the ones who notice unusual things in data sets.

A professional scientist himself, Lintott commented to The CSM, “people think that we’re intelligent, but science is easy and we need your help.”

Crowdsourcing Science

Recent opportunities for non-scientists to contribute and advance science and research have been plentiful. On the Zooniverse platform, a project designed to help Hurricane Irma victims has begun. In this project, citizen scientists are assessing pre- and post-hurricane satellite imagery in order to help experts produce a heat map of urgent priorities for response teams.

In July 2017, NASA asked citizen scientists to participate in an experiment during the August solar eclipse. Participants were asked to collect cloud and air temperature data and report it using smartphones. The observations made by citizen scientists will be used to produce an interactive map.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

Director of the Harvard University Program on Science, Technology and Society, Sheila Jasanoff, pointed out to The CSM that citizen science isn’t always organized or directed by professional scientists. As she put it, “citizens generating knowledge in places where official organs have failed them” can also result in great projects, like the Flint, Michigan drinking water testing project that led to the widespread public health investigation.

There are many resources out there for finding citizen science projects and getting involved. The Zooniverse platform has many opportunities, as do iNaturalist, Crowdcrafting, and CitSci.org. For projects suitable for kids, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s citizen science section, or National Geographic’s citizen science projects, each classified by grade level. Who knows — you might discover the next “yellowball” area of space that turns out to be something really cool and significant, and no matter what, you’ll be advancing human understanding in many scientific fields.

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You Can Now Trade “Tokenized” U.S. Dollars on the Ethereum Network

Dollars to Tokens

Token currency provider Tether is bringing tokenized USD to Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. This means that users can turn their regular currency into tokens, which makes using it on the exchange simpler and more predictable.

Tether, in partnership with the Ethereum trading and information community hub Ethfinex, announced the launch of ERC20 Tether tokens on September 11th, allowing tokenized USD to be exchanged on the Ethereum network, and hopefully eliminating the delays people often experienced when dealing with businesses and banks.

“The number of tokens and assets being tokenized on top of the Ethereum platform is growing rapidly, with many proving disruptive to traditional business models,” said Project Lead at Ethfinex Will Harborne. “By enabling all ERC20 compatible applications and protocols to integrate tokenized USD, we expect to see enhanced efficiency and further stability on the Ethereum network.”

After depositing their US dollars, Tether users will see their money converted into a digital currency known as “Tether,” symbolized as “₮.” Each Tether will have a name and symbol attached that represents the asset, which can then be traded or transferred as an aforementioned ERC20 token. In the future, currencies like euros and yen will also be supported.

Following the announcement, TokenCard revealed it will also begin supporting Tether, allowing users to use their tokenized currency just as they would use traditional money with a Token debit card.

Changes to Society

Cryptocurrencies are often seen to be troublesome or too unpredictable to rely on, but Tether and Ethereum’s new endeavor seeks to change that. Ethfinex stated a key part of this new partnership meant developing currencies that could easily be used in everyday scenarios, such as paying bills or salaries.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

“We believe this development will not only open up the world of cryptocurrencies to more mainstream consumers, but also set the standard, and encourage other companies to be more innovative and accessible in their product and service offering at this pivotal time for money and payments,” said Tether co-founder Craig Sellars.

Aside from cryptocurrencies, blockchains are also changing the world in a number of ways, continuing to show that it can be used for much more than just currency. So far, it has been used to change the way we vote, improve air travel, and may soon impact the entertainment industry. If companies like Tether, Ethfinex, and Ethereum get their way, the way we think and use money could soon be changed forever.

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90 Percent of Vehicles in the U.S. Could Be Electric by the Early 2040s

Horses for Courses

A new study by researchers from the International Monetary Fund and Georgetown University suggests that electric vehicles might be more popular that their gas- and diesel-powered equivalents sooner rather than later. Their findings suggest that by 2040, it’s possible that 90 percent of passenger vehicles in the US, Canada, Europe, and similarly wealthy nations could be electric.

The study compared the seemingly imminent transition to electric vehicles to the shift from horses and buggies to cars in the early 20th century. Despite driving being quite unlike steering a buggy — and the fact that buying a car was of equivalent expense to the average person as buying a $137,000 auto would have been in 2015 — it only took ten or fifteen years for horses and buggies to be replaced as the primary mode of transport.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The researchers investigated two scenarios; one based on how quickly the public adopted Henry Ford’s Model T cars, and the other based on the pace at which they abandoned the horse and buggy. A significant number of people started using public transport at this time, so it wasn’t a case of every horse and buggy that was put out of commission being replaced by a Model T.

Based on the latter metric — referred to as the slow-adoption scenario — electric vehicles will make up 5 percent of all vehicles in the US by the end of the 2020s, a figure that will rise to 36 percent by the early 2040s. If the fast-adoption scenario comes to pass, 30 percent of vehicles will be electric by the late 2020s, and a staggering 93 percent will be by the early 2040s.

Shifting Gears

Other studies have predicted a slightly slower rate of adoption. For instance, Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that only 54 percent of new car sales in 2040 will be electric. However, the consensus seems to be that gas- and diesel-powered cars are on their way out, even if it’s difficult to determine how long the changeover will take.

The cost of electric vehicles will be a huge factor in how quickly things progress. Tesla’s Model 3 could be a gamechanger, with its price tag of $35,000 — assuming that the company can fulfill the massive demand.

Other automakers are also getting in on the action. Volkswagen recently stated its intention to offer electric versions of its entire fleet by 2030, and high-end manufacturers like Porsche are prepping their own electric vehicles.

The auto industry is preparing for major upheaval, but government bodies are doing everything in their power to ensure these changes come to pass quickly. The UK will ban new gas- and diesel-powered cars in 2040, and China is working on a timetable for similar legislation.

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New Flexible, Organic Battery Could Revolutionize Medical Implants

Flexible Power

Scientists from Queen’s University, Belfast have designed a new flexible, organic battery that may change the way that we power medical implants. Currently, medical devices like pacemakers are powered by rigid batteries made of metal, which can make the devices uncomfortable. They also do not break down, so they must be removed after a certain period of time.

This new flexible, organic battery can hold three times as much charge as its conventional counterpart and offers obvious environmental benefits since it is decomposable. The device suffers from no leakage problems and is non-flammable. It is also a more comfortable option for patients, since it is flexible and can move with the body.

Image Credit: Queen's University Belfast
Image Credit: Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Geetha Srinivasan, the research leader at Queen’s University’s Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) research centre, explained to the BBC how the flexible supercapacitor could power medical devices, “In medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators there are two implants, one which is fitted in the heart and another which holds the metal based, rigid batteries—this is implanted under the skin,” Dr. Srinivasan said. “The implant under the skin is wired to the device and can cause patients discomfort as it is rubs against the skin. For this reason batteries need to be compatible to the human body and ideally we would like them to be flexible so that they can adapt to body shapes.”

Foldable Electronics

This new battery would be safer than current batteries, because it does not use any flammable solvents, and carries no risk of explosion. Its lightweight flexibility would also translate well to applications in consumer electronics, such as foldable laptops and phones which are for now constrained by rigid batteries, among other design parameters.

And, although current batteries are complicated to recycle since they contain toxic materials, organic batteries would decompose over time without any trouble. This is possible because they are designed to be manufactured with organic composites using biomaterials like cellulose, or “natural feedstock,” instead of costly and non-biodegradable metals or semiconductors. However, despite their capacity to degrade, the batteries are safe from decomposition inside the human body, as they begin to break down only once they breach 270 degrees C.

Image Credit: Queen's University Belfast
Image Credit: Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Srinivasan told the BBC she is confident that the battery could easily be commercialized with the right funding in place and she thinks that it could be powering electronic devices within the next five years.

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Expert: “We Are Spiraling Towards A Dystopian Future Where a Few Tech Companies Control Our Lives”

Who Controls the World?

There’s a growing concern that tech companies like Google and Amazon are becoming so large, they will soon be in control of every aspect of our lives. It’s easy to understand where the worries come from — Amazon is one of the largest online retailers in the world, and the go-to solution for the majority of modern shoppers; Google is the owner of what is, essentially, the default search engine, and also owns YouTube — arguably the easiest to use, and most popular video streaming service.

Between the two companies, they play a role in how people shop (Amazon.com; Google Express), search for information (Google.com), entertain themselves (Amazon Instant Video; YouTube), and communicate with their services (Alexa, Amazon Echo, and Google Assistant). If left unchecked, the growing consensus is they’ll become too big to stop, and will eventually stifle competition, since current laws and regulations in place aren’t enough to slow them down.

According to USA Today, Amazon alone sells over 50 percent of books sold in the U.S., has a 45 percent market share in cloud computing, and has about a 40 percent share of the online grocery market. As for Google, it has over an 80 percent share of the search engine market (as of August 2017), and has been previously reported to be capable of controlling what’s published and what’s seen using its search engine.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen echoed those fears in a speech at the 2017 Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Washington D.C. on September 12. During her speech, she stated “we are spiraling towards a dystopian future where a few giant technology companies will ultimately gain sustained control over our economic lives.”

However, Ohlhausen doesn’t actually believe this to be the case, citing the early 2000’s merger between AOL and Time Warner, and where AOL is today, as proof that market dominance requires more than a larger market share. She argues that as long as companies like Amazon and Google continue to grow through smart decision-making and popularity, their actions are acceptable and not subject to any regulations, which primarily focus on consumer welfare.

Regulating Tech Companies

Not everyone thinks like this of course. Groups like the New America Foundation have repeatedly criticized Amazon, pointing to how it subverts regulations by drawing attention to it’s overall convenience, and lower prices.

“We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output,” said Lina Khan, a fellow of the organizations Open Markets program, back in January.

Speaking to USA Today in June, Khan said it’s as if CEO Jeff Bezos created a map of antitrust laws specifically to determine the best ways to avoid them.

It’s unclear what companies with substantial influence like Google, Amazon, and Facebook would do if they no longer had competition or regulations to worry about, but it’s undeniable they each continue to expand in unexpected ways.

Ohlhausen ended her speech saying she and the FTC “vigorously supported policy positions that they sometimes love and sometimes hate.” Perhaps it’s time for a conversation she doesn’t necessarily agree with; one discussing the pros and cons of tech company’s seemingly unhindered growths.

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JPMorgan CEO Says That Bitcoin Is a “Fraud”

The New Tulip Bulb?

Bitcoin is a “fraud,” according James Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase — the largest of the “big four” American banks.

Dimon made this assertion during the Delivering Alpha conference in New York City on Tuesday, and he went on to state that the cryptocurrency is “just not a real thing” and that “eventually it will be closed.”

In an appearance at another event earlier in the day, Dimon compared bitcoin to “tulip mania.” This phrase is something of a shorthand for an economic bubble, a situation where an asset’s price is far higher than its intrinsic value. It originates from a period of time during the Dutch golden age in the 1600s when tulip bulbs prices briefly swelled incredibly high before crashing dramatically.

Dimon said that bitcoin investors are taking a big risk because the cryptocurrency doesn’t have legal support. He went on to state that he would immediately fire any JPMorgan trader who was trading bitcoin, explaining, “It’s against our rules, and they are stupid.”

Banks and Bitcoin

Banks like JPMorgan have a vested interest in keeping bitcoin at bay. If “the flippening” comes to pass — a point at which cryptocurrency overtakes traditional money in terms of usage — banks are going to have to scramble to find their place in the new economic landscape.

Some major financial institutions are already developing their own cryptocurrencies to ensure that they’re not left behind if the economy does undergo this major transition, and even JP Morgan is looking into ways to incorporate blockchain — the technology behind bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — into their operations.

Furthermore, cryptocurrencies and tulips aren’t particularly comparable as the former offers tangible utility. More than a billion people worldwide don’t have a way to identify themselves, and they can’t open bank accounts and participate in the traditional economy as a result. A cryptocurrency like bitcoin has no such barrier to entry.

While Dimon is clearly skeptical of cryptocurrencies, they are inarguably on the rise right now, and many other experts are predicting further growth. Still, no one knows for sure whether they will be the future of finance.

Because cryptocurrencies aren’t backed by governments, they do carry additional risks, and bitcoin prices could drop just as quickly as they have risen. Alternatively, widespread adoption of crypto could prompt government involvement — signs that this might be about to happen in the U.S. and elsewhere have already emerged. For now, all we can do is wait to see where this upward trend in crypto leads.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Hillary Clinton Almost Ran For President on a Policy Backed By Universal Basic Income

A New Kind of Net

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a system in which every member of society—regardless of their economic situation, age, household size, employment status, and so on—is guaranteed a minimum income. In other words, it’s money that you get for simply being alive.

This no-strings-attached income is meant to provide individuals with the money that they need in order to provide for all their basic life necessities. As such, a number of innovators and experts herald it as the “social security net of the future.”

And as the threat of automation continues to loom, and new UBI trials continue to pop up around the world, it’s an idea that is gaining more and more traction.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
Click to View Full Infographic

Indeed, Canada, Kenya, and Finland are just some of the nations that are already investigating how UBI might work in practice, and some of the most successful people in the world—like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg—are getting behind the idea.

Now, a new voice is lending support to research into UBI.

In her latest book, What HappenedHillary Clinton asserts that she seriously considered a proposal for universal basic income for all Americans. The idea would have been funded by carbon and financial transaction taxes but, ultimately, she asserts that she abandoned the proposal because, at the time, she thought that it wasn’t truly “realistic.”

Now, it seems that she is rethinking that initial assessment.

Rethinking Old Ideas

To clarify, Clinton asserts that, in the end, she scrapped her UBI plans because they seemed to be at odds with her stance on renewable energy, as funding it could have “perversely encourag[ed] the continued extraction of fossil fuels.”

Here is the relevant transcript from her text, as reported by Vox:

Before I ran for President, I read a book called With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough, by Peter Barnes, which explored the idea of creating a new fund that would use revenue from shared national resources to pay a dividend to every citizen, much like how the Alaska Permanent Fund distributes the state’s oil royalties every year. Shared national resources include oil and gas extracted from public lands and the public airwaves used by broadcasters and mobile phone companies, but that gets you only so far. If you view the nation’s financial system as a shared resource, then you can start raising real money from things like a financial transactions tax. Same with the air we breathe and carbon pricing.

Once you capitalize the fund, you can provide every American with a modest basic income every year. Besides cash in people’s pockets, it would also be a way of making every American feel more connected to our country and to one another—part of something bigger than ourselves. I was fascinated by this idea, as was my husband, and we spent weeks working with our policy team to see if it could be viable enough to include in my campaign. We would call it ‘Alaska for America.’ Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the numbers work. To provide a meaningful dividend each year to every citizen, you’d have to raise enormous sums of money, and that would either mean a lot of new taxes or cannibalizing other important programs. We decided it was exciting but not realistic, and left it on the shelf. That was the responsible decision. I

If you aren’t aware, the Alaska Permanent Fund was created by Alaska Constitution Article IX, Section 15. It’s goals, according to the official website, are as follows: To provide a means of conserving a portion of the state’s revenue from mineral resources to benefit all generations of Alaskans; to maintain safety of principal while maximizing total return; to be a savings device managed to allow maximum use of disposable income for purposes designated by law.

Thus, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, ‘Alaska for America’ would have established a universal basic income for all Americans.

The final passage of the text in this section is what is most notable. Clinton writes, “I wonder now whether we should have thrown caution to the wind and embraced ‘Alaska for America’ as a long-term goal and figured out the details later.”

While the jury is still out on whether or not the system is truly viable, and at what scale it is viable, the fact that so many notable voices are seriously contemplating the idea is, at the very least, worthy of note.

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Economists Assert There Is No Need to Regulate Bitcoin

Bitcoin Revolution

In what is sure to be a well needed shot in the arm for Bitcoin after a tumultuous few weeks in the cryptocurrency market, economists at the central bank of Finland have released a paper that calls Bitcoin’s economic system “revolutionary.” With the currency operating on a blockchain, the researchers contend that a degree of protection exists to make the system safe from those who wish to manipulate it. The group finds that:

Bitcoin is a monopoly run by a protocol, not by a managing organization. Familiar monopolies are run by managing organizations with discretion to determine and then change prices, offerings and rules. Monopolies are often regulated to prevent or at least mitigate their abuse of power.

The researcher go even further to say that Bitcoin cannot be regulated. “There is no need to regulate it because as a system it is committed to the protocol as is and the transaction fees it charges the users are determined by the users independently of the miners’ efforts.”

It must be noted that the views expressed in this paper do not represent the official stance of the Bank of Finland.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Growing Crypto-Community

Other nations have been joining in on embracing Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. A few weeks ago, Vietnam announced that it will begin the process to legally recognize cryptocurrency by the end of 2018, then adding framework to tax it by 2019. While, not official, this research points that Finland may be headed in a similar direction.

Other nongovernmental experts are also lining up to support cryptocurrencies. Some are even suggesting that crypto could become a valuable supplement for pensions, bringing retirement back to the realm of reality for future seniors.

Of course, how something looks on paper isn’t always how it works out in practice, especially when discussing systems as complex as structuring economies. However, Bitcoin is notable for the progress it has shown thus far. We will remain vigilant to how the cryptomarket grows and the blockchain platform evolves with it.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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These Clothes Grow with Your Child and Are a Step Towards Sustainable Fashion

Fashion-Forward Infants

Each year, college students and recent graduates submit their creations to the James Dyson Awards to be recognized for achievement in design and engineering. National winners were recently announced and included a cup for Parkinson’s sufferers, a smart pill bottle to help fight opioid addiction, and a novel new way to clothe kids.

The Future of Fashion: 3D Printed Clothing
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The latter was designed by Ryan Yasin from London. Yasin has a degree in aeronautical engineering and used the principles he learned during his studies to create a material that grows with kids as they mature. His clothing can help save parents some of the thousands of dollars they spend prividing clothes for their children within the first three years of their lives.

The clothing is made from a waterproof, machine-washable fabric that is specially pleated to unfold as the child grows. Yasin has dubbed his line Petit Pli. So far, he has developed over 500 prototypes and will use his prize money to help his business also expand.

Image credit: Petit Pli
Image credit: Petit Pli

Novel Solutions

While this one product can’t have a gigantic impact on increasing sustainability in the textile and clothing industries, Yasin is determined to make a stand with his company. The material used in the clothing is recyclable and is also aiming to price his products to be able to ethically pay everyone along the supply chain.

Children grow out of their clothing at a much faster rate before they reach their third year. Children’s clothing makers and retailers capitalize on this and often charge parents prices similar to what they may pay for their own or older siblings’ clothing, but get much less utility as the kids rapidly outgrow them. Yasin’s products could help reduce the amount of waste produced from kids’ clothes, to say nothing of the recyclable-value of his materials.

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According to Chinese Official, China’s Ban on Initial Coin Offerings is Only Temporary

A Temporary Situation

China may account for the lion’s share of bitcoin mining, but that doesn’t mean the nation is blindly in support of all things cryptocurrency-related. Last week, Chinese regulators announced a ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs), the method through which many blockchain-based startups raise funds, citing the potential for ICOs to be used for money laundering or the financing of terrorist organizations.

However, new details have emerged that reveal this ban may not be permanent.

Sci-Tech Priorities in China’s Latest Five Year Plan
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The source of these details is Hu Bing, a researcher at the Chinese government-supported Institute of Finance and Banking. During an interview with Chinese television network CCTV-13, Bing explained that last week’s “ban” isn’t actually a ban at all — ICOs have simply been “paused” while the government hashes out the appropriate regulations.

While they consider various policies for ICOs and those investing in them, the government will also consider the potential for an ICO licensing program. This would involve startups securing a license through the Chinese government prior to their ICO, which, in theory, would ensure only legitimate companies are able to use the method to raise funds.

Growing Pains

Knowing that the Chinese government intends for their “ban” on ICOs to be temporary should assuage the fears of those who were concerned it was a sign of trouble ahead for blockchain technology. In fact, this temporary pause is essentially a good omen — one of the world’s most powerful economies is putting in a significant amount of effort to ensure that a solid foundation for the technology is in place. That effort wouldn’t be necessary if they thought it was going to be a passing fad.

All new technologies go through growing pains. Some of those pains may be caused by the tech itself — even Google needed five years to figure out how to make augmented reality (AR) functional in their Glass device. Some may be a matter of figuring out how to best integrate a new technology into current society through laws and regulations — those are the kinds of challenges creators of autonomous driving systems, artificial intelligences, and gene editing are currently facing.

Blockchain is no different. The technology has already shown remarkable potential to change our world for the better, and as more people recognize this potential, more will want to invest in it. By putting policies in place that protect those investors from fraud, nations can ensure that blockchain lives up to its potential for good while minimizing the collateral damage caused by those looking to take advantage of enthusiastic supporters.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Russia is Planning to Legalize Crypto, According to Finance Minister

Legalize It

The Russian government is working on a plan to introduce new laws pertaining to cryptocurrencies. Finance minister Anton Siluanov confirmed at the Moscow Financial Forum that new regulation is in the works, but he maintained that these changes will ultimately benefit those who have invested in the crypto market.

“The state understands indeed that crypto-currencies are real,” said Siluanov. “There is no sense in banning them, there is a need to regulate them.”

It’s expected that these regulations will be completely developed by the end of 2017. They’re likely to stipulate that anyone purchasing cryptocurrencies will need to be registered, and offer up a clear delineation of what the government deems acceptable in terms of how funds are bought and circulated.

Siluanov asserted that anyone currently buying cryptocurrency runs a greater risk because there’s no external oversight. He compared an ideal system to the protections offered when buying securities like treasury bonds.

Crypto Control

As cryptocurrency continues to grow in popularity, governments all over the world are attempting to lay down legislation before its seemingly imminent mainstream adoption. Australian authorities have been considering incorporating cryptocurrency, and in the U.S., a bill is expected to be submitted to Congress later this month.

However, it remains to be seen how Russia’s legislation will work in practice. China recently implemented a ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs) which prompted widespread unrest in the cryptocurrency community and potentially caused last week’s trend of double-digit drops.

Chinese authorities have claimed that the ban is temporary and merely a method of introducing the policies required for legal ICOs. But, as it now stands, countries like Russia and China have the potential to majorly affect the value of cryptocurrencies if and when they enforce new legislation. So, as investors closely track the progress of legal frameworks, it will be interesting to see how government involvement affects the future of cryptocurrencies.

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Richard Branson Just Endorsed Basic Income — Here Are 10 Other Tech Moguls Who Support the Radical Idea

It might seem odd for tech entrepreneurs to take an interest in income distribution policy. But an increasing number of high-profile Silicon Valley executives are endorsing universal basic income(UBI), a system in which everyone receives a standard amount of money just for being alive.

Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson became the latest mogul to endorse the radical idea, writing in a blog post that “most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered.”

sir richard branson universal basic income finland automation
Image Source: Twitter/ Richard Branson

On the one hand, basic income is a way to reduce poverty, but tech folks like Branson also see it as a way to solve the growing problem of robot automation, which they themselves are helping to create.

Here are some of the highest-profile entrepreneurs who have endorsed UBI.

Stewart Butterfield

Basic income advocates have long argued that the security of getting regular income would encourage people to take risks and invest.

Butterfield, CEO of the messaging app Slack, seemed to agree when he wrote on Twitter in early August that “giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism.”

Pierre Omidyar

In February, the eBay founder donated$493,000 through his philanthropic organization, Omidyar Network, to an experiment in basic income taking place in Kenya later this year.

The experiment is put on by GiveDirectly, a charity that delivers cash transfers to people in East Africa as a means to lift the from poverty.

The findings will be “unlike those of any past study and provide evidence-based arguments to shed light on the discussions around the future of work and poverty alleviation policies,” according to a February statement.

Andrew Ng

In the wake of Donald Trump winning the US election, Ng, co-founder of Coursera and chief scientist at Baidu, wrote on Twitterthat “More than ever, we need basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.”

Ng has expressed his support for basic income before. In January, he said at the Deep Learning Summit that basic income deserves serious consideration. He also claimed the government should help fund lifelong education to keep the workforce strong.

Sam Altman

The president of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s largest start-up incubator, Altman has repeatedly come out in favor of basic income, arguing that the robot-run economy will almost certainly materialize this century.

Y Combinator has launched a basic income experiment in Oakland, California to see how the system works in reality. Roughly 100 people are receiving $2,000 a month, no matter what.

Elon Musk

elon musk tesla driverless coast-to-coast
Elon Musk interviewed by Chris Anderson at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Image Source: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, told CNBC in a recent interviewthat “there’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.”

He added that he couldn’t foresee any other solutions to the threat of robots taking everyone’s jobs than a system of basic income. Since automation would make cause both unemployment and economic output to rise, society might have no choice but to distribute a portion of the money to everyone equally.

Bill Gross

In his May 2016 investment outlook, Gross, co-founder of investment advisory firm Pacific Investment Management, suggested the US should spend money on “a revolutionary new idea called UBI — universal basic income.”

UBI emerged in the 1960s, so technically it isn’t new, but Gross understands that it’s still radical to most people. “If more and more workers are going to be displaced by robots, then they will need money to live on, will they not? And if that strikes you as a form of socialism, I would suggest we get used to it,” he said.

Ray Kurzweil

Kurzweil, a futurist and the co-founder of Singularity University, has expressed an interest in UBI to cover the basic necessities in life.

In a recent Q&A at Singularity University, he said people who are no longer forced to work for a monthly paycheck could instead pursue their passions.

“You’ll do something that you enjoy,” he said. “That you have a passion for. Why don’t we just call that work?”

Albert Wenger

A founder of several companies and now a partner at venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, Wenger has written extensively about the benefits of UBI on his blog.

Most people, Wenger wrote in May, “have resigned themselves to the fact that their earlier dreams of what they wanted to do in life will not be realized.” He says economic inequality is to blame, and a future of basic income could help rectify those missed opportunities.

Tim O’Reilly

O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, has said he doesn’t necessarily believe the hype that automation will threaten US employment. But he does acknowledge that UBI is a good idea and “just the beginning of the discussion.”

For O’Reilly, what’s important is that work gives people both meaning and identity.

That’s how a basic income system could truly be successful, he says. It would reshape the definition of work itself, and give people more flexibility to do the things that feel most personally fulfilling.

Chris Hughes

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is an active supporter of UBI, telling NPR in September that the system could go a long way toward rebuilding Americans’ faith in an economy many people see as “broken in many ways.”

“Rather than try to restructure our economy so it looks like the 1950s, I think we have to be honest with ourselves,” he said.

Since jobs are already disappearing, Hughes urges people to consider what systems we’ll need to create if millions more follow.

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Estonia Could Be the First Country in the World to Introduce Its Own Cryptocurrency

Birth of the Estcoin

Estonia is mulling over the idea of issuing its own cryptocurrency, known as estcoins, which would make the country the first in the world to complete an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). Previously, China has tested its own coin, and Russia demonstrates an interest in Ethereum.

The proposal is an extension of Estonia’s e-Residency program, which allows non-residents and people who want to establish a business in the country virtually to take advantage of elements of the government’s online infrastructure.

A blog post from the project manager of the e-Residency program, Kaspar Korjus, states that the program currently receives more applications in a week than there are births across the whole of Estonia in the same timeframe.

One of the biggest concerns for any government looking to accept crypto tokens is the threat of illicit usage. One of the requirements expected to be included in the cryptocurrency bill, which is set to be submitted to the US Congress, is a demonstration that the currency can’t be used for money laundering.

Estcoin could dodge this thorny issue by being tied to the digital profiles associated with e-Residency. This idea is backed by Vitalik Buterin — a co-founder of Ethereum — who has been advising the Estonian government on the project.

“An ICO within the e-Residency ecosystem would create a strong incentive alignment between e-residents and this fund, and beyond the economic aspect makes the e-residents feel like more of a community since there are more things they can do together,” said Buterin.

The New Digital Nation

While Estonia is using the term estcoin at the moment, there are hopes that the project could stretch far beyond the Baltic state.

“Its use could grow far bigger than Estonia,” writes Korjus. “The same thing is happening to e-Residency as a whole, which was initially thought of as a way to be part of the Estonian nation but is now creating a new global digital nation, powered by the Republic of Estonia.”

This kind of project has the potential to further blur the boundaries between nation states. A business owner could be a virtual resident of Estonia, and use the country as the home base for their company — without ever stepping foot there.

The world is changing, and Estonia clearly wants to remain on the cutting edge. Keeping abreast of dcryptocurrency developments could have huge benefits for the country as a whole, as the proposal states that profits from estcoin could be poured into a “community-run VC fund.”

The authors of the proposal are currently gauging interest, but plan to demonstrate how the project would benefit Estonia. It’s expected that estcoin would start as a pilot project before being scaled up as demand rises.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team are personal investors in cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Microsoft’s Speech Recognition is Now as Good as a Human Transcriber

Incredible Accuracy

Microsoft recently announced that its conversational system for speech recognition has achieved a 5.1 percent error rate, its best performance to date. This beats the 5.9 percent error rate achieved in October of 2016 and put its accuracy at the same level as professional human transcribers, who can listen to text multiple times, access cultural context, and collaborate with other transcribers.

After the 2016 study, other researchers set the human parity rate at a 5.1 percent error rate. Therefore, even using the more conservative standard, the system has achieved human parity.

Image Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr

The recordings that formed the basis of both studies came from the Switchboard collection, a research collection of thousands of telephone conversations used to test speech recognition systems since the early 1990s. The most recent study was conducted by a team from Microsoft AI and Research with the aim of improving accuracy and achieving human parity, even despite human advantages such as ability to cooperate and make use of context and experience.

The Whole Picture

Researchers in this study reduced the error rate by around 12 percent, primarily by improving the language and neural net-based acoustic models of Microsoft’s speech recognition system. Significantly, they also enabled the system’s speech recognizer to make use of entire conversations instead of just snippets, which allowed it to more ably predict what phrases or words would most probably come next.

This also allowed the system to more successfully adapt its transcriptions to context, just as humans do naturally in conversation. In other words, the researchers taught the system to more capably take in the whole picture when working to understand what it was hearing. Microsoft’s speech recognition system is used right now in Cortana, Microsoft Cognitive Services, and Presentation Translator. In the future, human-like speech recognition software will be essential to creating AI that humans can interact and work with as easily as they would a human collaborator.

A 5.1 percent word error rate for the speech recognition is an important accomplishment, but many challenges remain for the speech research community. According to Microsoft technical fellow Xuedong Huang, using distant microphones to achieve human levels of recognition in noisy environments, achieving higher levels of recognition for accented speech, and recognizing languages and speaking styles using only limited training data are still more distant goals.

Moreover, taking this technology beyond transcribing and into deeper comprehension — such as understanding of intent and meaning — is another goal, and the next major frontier for speech technology and artificial intelligence.

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Mark Cuban Just Backed a “People-Driven” $20 Million Token Fund

Blockchain is about more than just Bitcoin, or even cryptocurrency in general: it is a platform that has to potential to transform the way we connect to each other. The field is currently saturated, and still growing, with blockchain platforms and cryptocurrencies seemingly popping up daily. In an email to Forbes, celebrity investor Mark Cuban wrote, “Like Amazon and Google came out of the internet bubble there will be winners and losers in cryptocurrencies. It’s too hard to buy for most people, harder to trust that it won’t be hacked, and even harder for most to understand.”

Cuban cast a vote of confidence for one emerging crypto venture fund, 1confirmation. The fund is hoping to completely revamp how business is done in digital space. Its founder, Coinbase alum Nick Tomaino, envisions a people-driven platform. “The most interesting and useful thing about blockchains is their ability to empower people in new ways. Blockchains put power in the hands of people, and take it away from large institutions,” he said in an interview with CoinDesk.

Tomaino is looking to raise $20 million to invest in cryptographic assets and create a token economy. This new organizational structure will be comprised of decentralized networks, in which these tokens incentivize people from various backgrounds to contribute to the growth of the ecosystem. In theory, the growth of the network will increase the value of the tokens.

The fund is only in its infancy, along with many other offerings in the field. It is also a field that is too young, and growing too rapidly, to make too many bold predictions about the possibility of specific successes and failures.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team are personal investors in cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Bitcoin Cash Price Rises While Bitcoin and Ethereum Drop

Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Ethereum experienced a few changes since Monday, with some rising to new heights and others dipping down.

As reported by Business Insider, both Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two biggest cryptocurrencies, have seen a single-digit percentage drop, while Bitcoin Cash has seen a double-digit rise.

Bitcoin dropped 2.2 percent against the US dollar as of Tuesday morning, and is now valued at $4,004.67. Ethereum, which recently announced its Metropolis update, saw a slightly larger drop than Bitcoin, dropping 3 percent to $310.32. This drop continued the currency’s struggles to hit $350, and it’s unclear how the Metropolis update will further affect Ether token prices.

bitcoin cryptocurrency ethereum bitcoin cash
Bitcoin’s 2.2 percent drop. Image Credit: Business Insider

Although Bitcoin Cash only split from Bitcoin very recently, at the beginning of August, it quickly became the third-biggest cryptocurrency in the world. Compared to the top two, Bitcoin Cash rose by 15.6 percent, to $696.39. As impressive as this may be, Business Insider notes the young currency managed to top $1,000 last weekend, but skepticism about it’s staying power caused it to fall sharply.

Expect prices to fluctuate, as they often tend to do, especially when regarding Bitcoin. Trusted trader masterluc predicts the top digital currency will hit $15,000 by the end of 2017.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Congress Is Reportedly Drafting a Bill That Will “Mainstream Digital Currency”

The Bitcoin Bill

Members of the U.S. Congress are drafting legislation that would protect certain forms of cryptocurrency from being used for illegal activities while helping cultivate mainstream adoption. Reports indicate that at least one Republican senator and two Republican congressmen are working on the bill.

According to a source who spoke to The Daily Caller, the goals of the legislation are to prevent cryptocurrency from being considered as a form of security or investment, to protect transfers against taxation, and to ensure the federal government does not interfere with cryptocurrencies.

Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol

This interference is an issue we’ve seen crop up in recent months. In May, the Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017 sought to introduce a provision that would require anyone in possession of more than $10,000 in cryptocurrency to disclose it when passing a U.S. customs checkpoint — this is problematic given that a virtual currency like bitcoin is always considered to be on someone’s person.

Only cryptocurrencies that are compliant with a set of minimum requirements will be afforded the protections proposed in the bill, and the source claims a new, government-compliant digital currency is in the works: “There is a new entity that is considering issuing a brand new digital currency that is compliant with anti-money laundering laws unlike any other in circulation.”

Cleaning Up Crypto

Many cryptocurrencies offer anonymity as one of their selling points, and most users have legitimate reasons for wanting to have their identities protected. Unfortunately, being able to distance oneself from nefarious transactions is certainly an advantage for various types of criminal activity, and lawmakers obviously have a problem with that.

The hope is that the legislation will help prevent the currencies from being used by drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminal entities, while clearing the path for others to take advantage of their benefits.

“The bottom line is that Congress needs to remove all the obstacles to a vibrant digital currency that has voluntarily taken the initiative to keep the bad guys from using it,” said The Daily Caller’s source. “The center piece of the plan is to mainstream digital currency so it can be treated just like the American dollar.”

Without seeing the bill in its entirety, it’s difficult to say whether it will foster the next stage of cryptocurrency’s mainstream acceptance or instead undercut too much of its advantage over fiat money. The proposal is expected to be filed in September 2017, so we shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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A New Blockchain Platform is Taking on Ethereum

New Kid on the Blockchain

Cryptocurrency is on the rise and, as a result, there’s no shortage of companies looking to establish themselves as an essential part of the trading process. In addition to organizations fielding new coins, there are firms that handle other pieces of infrastructure, like Blockchain specialist NEO (formerly known as AntShares).

NEO’s biggest competition is currently Ethereum, the blockchain platform behind the prosperous Ether token. Both offer support for programming languages — Vitalik Buterin, who originally conceived Ethereum, has felt that the absence of such support has been a major detriment to cryptocurrency — but the group behind NEO maintains that its implementation has several advantages.

Smart contracts are automated agreements between traders that can call upon all kinds of different checks and triggers, ranging from a particular date to the balance of a particular account. NEO allows developers to write smart contracts and other projects using familiar programming languages like .NET and Java, with plans to support Python, Go, and JS in the future.

NEO also diverts from the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum in eschewing the need for anonymity. The platform uses a digital identity system that’s intended to help it integrate with the real-world economy. Digital identity is expected to give NEO a major advantage as it attempts to spur adoption in its origin country China.

Bitcoin and Ethereum use proof-of-work (POW) to validate transactions, but NEO instead uses a delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance (dBFT) consensus method.

“POW has strong availability, but it also has a big disadvantage, because it cannot ensure finality. Forks and lone blocks will occur easily,” explained company co-founder and CEO Da Hongfei. “dBFT ensures finality, which means that once a transaction is confirmed by a block, it is confirmed permanently without being rolled back or revoked. In our point of view, finality is far more important than availability in an important financial system.”

The One?

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to really make a splash, and it still leads the pack. However, it is still too early to determine the ramifications of its recent fork, which could turn out to be either a blessing or a curse.

NEO has been designed with a focus on avoiding the security issues that might prompt a fork. Reliability and stability are a big priority for its creators, having seen projects like Bitcoin Unlimited come undone as a result of such issues.

It certainly seems like NEO is being set up to fulfill the needs of tomorrow’s cryptocurrency market. That being said, competition from the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum won’t be easy to overcome.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Another Silicon Valley Billionaire is in Favor of Universal Basic Income

Follow the Money

As automation becomes more and more ingrained in everyday tech, we’re likely to see robots taking on all kinds of jobs previously staffed by humans. This will most likely leave many out of the job they were previously qualified for. Universal basic income (UBI) is often touted as a solution to this problem, and support for the idea is growing in Silicon Valley.

Flickr and Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield is the latest tech billionaire to declare that he’s backing UBI.

“Doesn’t have to be much, but giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism,” Butterfield said on Twitter earlier this month. His stance echoes recent comments made by Sir Richard Branson regarding UBI’s potential to encourage people to start their own business ventures and independent projects.

Billionaire’s Row

Many of the wealthiest in the tech industry have been very vocal about the need for UBI. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been particularly outspoken, recently predicting that the rise of automation will force the government’s hand in introducing UBI.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also made his support known, and Bill Gates expressed an interest, although he maintains that we’re not yet ready to make such a leap.

Of course, there are dissenting voices too. Dallas Mavericks owners and AXS TV chairman Mark Cuban has stated his opinion that UBI would be one of the “worst possible responses” to a lack of paid work caused by automation.

The biggest question with UBI is where the money would come from. Some have argued that taxing robots is the way to go, while others think that current welfare practices could successfully be reformed to fit a new landscape. It would no doubt take a lot of work to get UBI up and running on a large scale — but if it was, it has the potential to change a lot of lives for the better.

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Innovative Technology Would Not Be Possible Without Scientific Research

What does hailing a ride with Uber have to do with 19th-century geometry and Einstein’s theory of relativity? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Uber and other location-based mobile applications rely on GPS to link users with available cars nearby. GPS technology requires a network of satellites that transmit data to and from Earth; but satellites wouldn’t relay information correctly if their clocks failed to account for the fact that time is different in space — a tenet of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And Einstein’s famous theory relies on Riemannian geometry, which was proposed in the 19th century to explain how spaces and curves interact — but dismissed as derivative and effectively useless in its time.

The point is not just that mathematicians don’t always get their due. This example highlights an ongoing controversy about the value of basic science and scholarship. How much are marketplace innovations, which drive broad economic prosperity, actually linked to basic scientific research?

It’s an important question. Plenty of tax dollars and other funds go toward the research performed in academic centers, government labs and other facilities. But what kind of return are we as a society recouping on this large investment in new discoveries? Does scientific research reliably lead to usable practical advances?

Not surprisingly, there are strongly opposing viewpoints on the value of basic research. For example, after World War II the founder of the National Science Foundation characterized scientific research as a valuable fund of new knowledge from which applications could be drawn. In contrast, the “ivory tower” view of academic endeavors suggests that science is an isolated activity that rarely pays off in practical application. Related is the idea that marketplace innovation rarely relies on the work of universities or government labs.

If one perspective is more accurate than the other, it has major implications for policy — specifically, the extent to which governments fund scientific research. In the meantime, federal spending on basic research (as a share of GDP or a share of the federal budget) has been in decline over the last several decades.

So we designed a study to investigate the links between patentable inventions and scientific research.

How Many Degrees of Separation?

Past research on this topic often studied whether scientists themselves at universities and other research institutions produced patents or started businesses; that would support a direct link between scientists and application. The problem with such studies is that scientists’ discoveries, like those of Riemann described above, can be applied by anyone who comes to know about them, even at a much later date — not only by the original investigators. Moreover, a given discovery may lead to other research that is ultimately applied, meaning there can be a highly indirect link between research and the innovations that it supports in the end.

To account for direct and indirect links between basic research and related applications, we looked for connections between all 4.8 million patents granted between 1976 and 2015 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and all 32 million journal articles published since World War II, as indexed by the Web of Science database.

Most patents are filed by businesses, representing potentially marketable innovations. And most research articles flow from universities and other research settings. So these measures help trace not only links from science to invention, but also the flows of knowledge from nonprofit research institutions to firms. (Only in the past decade has the large volume of data required to run such a study been available in accessible form; our research has benefited directly from the Big Data era.)

To find connections, we created a “social network” style map, which connects patents and science papers using the citations in each. This method harnesses the fact that both papers and patents provide references to work on which they are based. We wrote an algorithm that found the shortest distance between any two items — based on the number of intermediary papers or patents cited — effectively identifying the “scientific pedigree” of a given patent/invention, if any.

Science Doesn’t Stay in the Ivory Tower

We found remarkably widespread linkages between scientific research and future practical applications.

While some scientific papers are never cited by any future work, among research articles that receive at least one citation, a full 80 percent could be linked forward to a future patent. Meanwhile, 61 percent of patents linked backward to at least one research article. In fact, most papers and patents across scientific fields were at a distance of only two to four items from the other domain, on average.

Not surprisingly, the average distance from patents of scientific works in more abstract fields like mathematics was higher than that in more naturally applicable domains like computer science, where the average distance was closer to one, suggesting more direct links between research and application. Importantly, the patents with the most impact (by measures connected to market valuation) tended to be the most science-intensive, relying more directly on scientific advances than other patents did.

Overall, our findings suggest that basic research matters. Scientific advances are not like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear. Rather, looking across the corpus of science, we find widespread connections to future patents — especially to the most valuable patents.

Aim for Pasteur’s Quadrant

Our study also has important implications for how to maximize the potential impact of scientific research. That is, how can scientists best choose what to study in the first place?

The romantic view of science is that it’s driven mainly by curiosity: A scholar chooses a line of research because he or she happens to find it fascinating, regardless of its applicability — in fact, a focus on application may be seen by some as at odds with “real” science.

In contrast, our results showed that research that was closest to application was more likely to have impact within science itself. In particular, research articles that are directly cited by patents tend to become “home runs” within science — those rare, exceptionally highly cited papers that other scientists draw upon. So a focus on real-world problems may boost not only direct applications but also new science, bringing potentially profound advances in our understanding of the world.

Research exists along two continua: How much is it driven by curiosity and how much by a search for real-world solutions? Image Credit: Climate Etc., CC BY-SA

This type of application-oriented research is said to fall into “Pasteur’s Quadrant,” named for the famous 19th-century scientist. As a researcher, Louis Pasteur focused substantially on practical issues such as food safety. Yet his efforts to remove harmful germs from milk, for example, led him simultaneously toward one of the most important insights of modern biology: that germs cause specific diseases.

So it’s ultimately not just about basic versus applied research. Both are important, but it appears especially fruitful to do work that straddles the line, as Pasteur did: science-driven inquiry framed by and aimed at real-world problems.

In short, we found that a remarkably high share of scientific research links forward to usable practical advances. Most of the linkages are indirect, showing the manifold and unexpected ways in which basic research can pay off in ultimate practical applications. Yet the science most directly linked to application turns out to have a major impact within science itself. Following Pasteur’s example may be an especially reliable way to hit the ball out of the park.

The post Innovative Technology Would Not Be Possible Without Scientific Research appeared first on Futurism.

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