Tech innovation needs to find a balance in 2019

2018 put the spotlight on technological innovation, much of it venturing into uncharted territory where regulations will be needed before long. Amidst all the newcomers and startups, one old friend stands out as becoming more and more integral to our way of life, and that is the Internet.

Its reach into every industry is unstoppable, and as we move on from an app-centred era, there is going to be more engagement between policymakers and the technology innovators.

Steve Case, in his excellent thought piece at Medium, sums up the scenario:

“Investors will need to understand policy as well. In the Internet’s First Wave, the focus was on technology risk — can they build it. In the Second Wave, the key risk factor became market risk — there was little doubt it could be built, but considerable concern over which of the many app competitors would break through. In the Third Wave, policy risk will be front and center — can the entrepreneurs navigate the complex regulatory waters to successfully bring their product or service to market.”

Indeed, investors, entrepreneurs and governments will all be trying to find the right balance between regulation and innovation, as Case points out. This is necessary for the protection of society whilst also being open-minded about the potential of technology to improve life.

But what happened in the tech world during 2018 that has brought the issue of regulation versus innovation into focus? First there were the revelations about Facebook’s use of user data, which brought down on it the wrath of governments, as well as users. This is likely to mean the emergence of regulations to rein Facebook in.

There were also some serious data breaches affecting consumers. Privacy and security are no longer a given, which means consumers are no longer as confident when using online service providers.

Self-driving cars were a great story until a pedestrian got killed. They are still on the agenda for development, but now “innovators and policymakers need to work together to establish practices for safety and security (including cybersecurity),” Case suggests.

Space exploration got more interesting as it suddenly broke out of being controlled by NASA and other government-related agencies. This sector went commercial with SpaceX, and it is an exciting opportunity for innovation, but again we will need regulations for commercial ventures that protect the sector without stifling innovation.

2019 will be a year of finding the balance in these and other tech sectors.

U.S. government takes the Internet backwards!

U.S. government takes the Internet backwards

On Monday 23rd April, net neutrality in the USA ceased to exist. The net neutrality rules introduced during the Obama era prevented Internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or prioritising Internet traffic.

According to a report from Business Insider, this could lead to a whole new era of ‘build your own Internet.’ One company, is already piloting a programme in Venice, California, and guess who it is? Yes, it’s WeTransfer!

WeTransfer, as many of you will be aware is the file transfer company that businesses use on a regular basis when files, especially those with high resolution images, are just to big to be sent via email. The company, which started in Venice, CA, is partnering with another Los Angeles outfit called Community Broadband Project “to create a “mesh network” — a decentralized series of wireless routers that allow customers to get online without going through an ISP.”

What is a mesh network?

The short answer is that a mesh network is usually local. It can be created when households in an area install routers, called ‘nodes’ that are then connected to local antennas. And, that creates a local network.

The FCC is taking the country back in time

WeTransfer’s President, Damian Bradfield believes that what the U.S. government is doing via the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking the country backwards in time to an era when a provider could tell you whether you could access Skype or BitTorrent. He said: “Fundamentally we believe the power shouldn’t be with the ISPs to make those sorts of decisions.”

Grassroots resistance

What WeTransfer is doing is a form of grassroots resistance to the end of net neutrality. Mesh networks can sidestep the influence of powerful ISPs like AT&T. Until now, the use of this type of network has been confined to rural areas with little or no broadband coverage, but it may now become more widespread.

WeTransfer alongside the Community Broadband Project is offering an independent connection to households in the Venice area. “We were looking for a way that not only we could benefit from an internet that is net neutral, but also some degree educate people around us that there is an alternative,” Bradfield said.

WeTransfer is funding the project and it is still in the beta testing stage in the Venice area. Eventually they hope to offer a service that is cheaper than those of the large ISPs.

Ultimately, WeTransfer wants the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules. States such as California, Oregon, and Washington are in the process of passing their own state-level net neutrality laws. However, he is not hopeful about a return to net neutrality, because the FCC commissioner Ajit Pai is against the Obama-era rules. But, as several states and companies are suing the FCC over this, perhaps there is some hope it might change.

 

 

 

What will happen after the Bitcoin fork?

 

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We are only days away from one of the biggest events in Bitcoin’s history – the Segwit2x fork that will happen around 16th November. Needless to say there is a lot of discussion in the crypto press about what this will mean for the leading digital currency.

In the last week we have seen Bitcoin’s value shoot up to a new record high and then correct itself; a series of movements that is typical of the various crypto coins. We have also seen a number of companies in the financial mainstream talking up the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, which has energised the market, but the introductions of Segwit2x is a step that for many is one into the unknown.

So far this new technical roadmap for Bitcoin seems to have support from its miners, but nobody is sure whether this November fork will change the code for existing Bitcoin, or whether it will lead to a new coin. Some are already talking about Bitcoin 2x, indicating that this is the route they think it will take.

It is of course one of the largest changes to the platform that has ever taken place, so it is uncharted territory and there are commentators who point out that previous forks have created unforeseen changes for users and investors. Consequently, there is some apprehension about the fallout after Segwit2x.

What is Segwit2x?

What is Segwit2x? Coindesk describes it as, “ both a proposal that seeks to change Bitcoin’s technology and a formal written agreement reached between certain parties interested in that change.” It also represents something that we haven’t seen on the blockchain before and it has its supporters and dissenters.

For or against Segwit2x?

Because Bitcoin is an open-source protocol, it relies on a group of volunteer and startup-sponsored developers to fix bugs, propose changes and maintain operations. This group are not in favour of Segwit2x and have been saying they have nothing to do with it for months. The miners – these are the people who solve the algorithms and approve transactions haven’t said very much. Originally they supported the fork, but now they appear to have less confidence in it. If they don’t support it, this could contribute to the outcomes of the fork.

Startups are the ones who are giving it the strongest support, because they use the Bitcoin protocol to offer services to their customers. They have the most ‘real life’ interaction with the technology and they are optimistic about how changes to the blockchain will correct any concerns users have about scalability. However, even they are preparing for worst-case scenario.

 

It seems that we will have to wait until the fork actually happens, because it’s impossible to make a prediction. Some say it is doomed to fail, others that it makes no sense: I say wait and see. We’ll know the truth before the end of November.

 

 

 

 

 

Ethereum vs Bitcoin in 2017

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One of the questions I often get asked is this: will Ethereum outperform Bitcoin in 2017? It is very interesting, because right now it appears that Bitcoin is still King of Crypto. But in my opinion that might all change by the end of this year, and if not, then we will surely see some dramatic changes in 2018. I’m not the only person who thinks this; most of the cryptocurrency analysts also share this view.

It is true that Bitcoin has the advantage of being a ‘first mover’ in the crypto market, and the coin that introduced blockchain technology to the market. It also made blockchain more widely accepted; for example, Goldman Sachs has just created a microsite dedicated to explaining the advantages of blockchain technology.

Bitcoin’s value has also seen a meteoric rise of over 500 percent in the last five years, which appears to make it unassailable, but the emergence of Etehereum, Litecoin and Ripple is challenging Bitcoin, because the others are gaining in popularity with both investors and the corporate entities. For me, Ethereum is particularly interesting and it’s the blockchain product with the most potential right now to outperform Bitcoin.

Some say that Ethereum got a helping hand when Vladimir Putin met the founder of Ethereum to create a Russian cryptocurrency. Even if that wasn;t the case, there are still many observers who believe it can perform better than Bitcoin this year. The key reason for this is its platform.

Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum is much more than just a cryptocurrency. It is THE platform for smart contracts and presently, Ethereum is leading innovations in the digital currency world. In fact, there are three reasons to be enthusiastic about Ethereum’s prospects:

  1. It aims to create decentralised software applications. Its system allows for simultaneous operations worldwide. This unique feature could lead to the creation of a new generation of decentralised businesses. This decentralised environment could ultimately challenge the status quo in finance, government, manufacturing, and much more.
  2. It is the platform for Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). 2017 is the year in which the crowdsales that fundraise for startups really took off, and Ethereum is the technology behind them all.
  3. It has the potential to replace stock markets with peer-to-peer applications and it can develop a real sharing economy. In this respect it will outperform disruptive businesses like Uber.

In my opinion, because Ethereum is so much more than just a cryptocurrency this factor will enable it to outpace Bitcoin. It has the potential to revolutionise the way a multitude of businesses operate globally, so if you take the long view, Ethereum is the one to really watch.