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The Weekend Read: Mar 5

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Enterprise Ethereum Alliance

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance formally kicked off earlier this week with an all day meet up in JP Morgan’s Brooklyn offices. The group consists of Ethereum-focused startups and large companies, with a focus on developing standards for private Ethereum deployments. The reaction by the press was curious, as many picked up a theme of Microsoft and IBM waging a proxy war via EEA (Microsoft) and the Hyperledger project (IBM). For example, American Banker noted “the IBM-led Linux Foundation Hyperledger Project” and their use of “a mainframe in a cloud” vs Microsoft as “more focused on openness — letting organizations choose the combinations of technology that work best for them.” Coindesk followed up with an article on the decentralized nature of the new group:

Still, while the board is also designed to give members a sense of accountability, more experimental governance models are also being considered. “Everything starts as an idea, with one person,” said Lubin. “That happened. But Ethereum is moving towards decentralization.”

The press loves a simple narrative (see below for a fine example), but both groups are very diverse and seek to move the whole industry forward, as we ALL have a lot of work to do to make this technology real for business users. One theme that did persist at Tuesday’s EEA launch was the desire to keep aligned, and in some minds perhaps eventually merged, with the public Ethereum chain (not to be confused with Ethereum Classic, or Ethereum Classic Classic!). This and Bitcoin’s recent price surge are most likely what is behind the recent ramp up in the price of ether. For an older, somewhat related article on public Ethereum, I recommend this Aeon article.

Et Tu, Blockchain?

The only good thing to come out of the R3 non-story was this new Tim Swanson meme...
The only good thing to come out of the R3 non-story was this new Tim Swanson meme…

Over the last two weeks, a blockchain butterfly flapped its wings, and the next thing we knew, R3 was caught in the oddest of fake-news hurricanes. In short: a tweeted pic from a Corda meetup was coupled with the quote “GAME OVER” (perhaps an early tribute to the great Bill Paxton?) and the next thing we knew, there were all sorts of nonsense articles and blog posts. For a run down, you can read Chris Skinner’s take (and yes, his is an intentional fake news headline…) and this Bank Innovation piece (Dave Birch: I would love to meet your tailor). In shorter: it was all complete BS. Which was disappointing, but not surprising. I just finished the Michael Lewis book The Undoing Project and the one thing the book taught me was that we are all “confirmation bias” machines. Or as The New Yorker put it: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

As David Rutter pointed out in his blog post last week:

Humans are creatures of habit. As time went on, the term blockchain came to be associated with any type of distributed ledger, even as the technology matured and evolved to meet the needs of different groups of users. This isn’t an issue unique to our space. The marketing team at Canon must have spent countless hours working out how to stop people referring to all copy machines as Xeroxs.

We can see this in two other thoughtful articles that were recently published. Our very own Antony Lewis has a great take on Distributed Ledger Technology for post trade published in Tabb Group…yet the title chosen by the editors was “Applying Blockchain to Post-Trade Derivatives Processing.” Another from CFO magazine includes yours truly and does a great job in explaining why CFOs should pay attention to distributed ledger technology…which they term “Betting on Blockchain.”

Lost in the noise was the release of an 80 page report by the Aite Group. This Coindesk review of the report gives a flavor of the market landscape that Aite explored, including this key quote:

“A growing trend, adopted by five chaintech platforms and spearheaded by R3,” writes Paz, “calls for consensus taking place at the transaction level, requiring the consent of at least two counterparty nodes.”

Another bit lost was our new intro video to Corda, which declares in very plain language what Corda is (and isn’t):

But don’t just trust our word on it. Sign up for Corda training or sign up to our Slack, and see (and debate) for yourself!

Links

The Weekend Read: Jan 22

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by Todd McDonald

In the words of the ancient philosopher D.L. Roth, “I heard you missed us. We’re back!” Actually, I haven’t really heard that, but we are back anyway. A few programming notes before we start: it has been a while since the last post, but if you read the fine print of the title carefully, it is called “Weekend” and not “Weekly” read…so our only promise to the reader is to delivery a few interesting links stitched together with snarky learned prose and random jpegs during any weekend hours, and not necessarily every weekend…with that, onto the links.

News in the Spotlight: DTCC Trade Information Warehouse

We were very excited to announce earlier this month our collaboration with DTCC, IBM and Axoni, along with a large subset of our member banks, in implementing a distributed ledger solution as a piece of market infrastructure (in this case, DTCC’s Trade Information Warehouse). This project encapsulates a lot of the themes that have driven R3’s approach over the last few years, such as collaboration, focusing on the problem and a desire to move to a shared truth across the industry. The last phrase “across the industry” is important. If we are lucky enough to be successful with this implementation, we must ensure that this new piece of market infrastructure fits in and interoperates across the new “financial market operating system” that we and other firms are working hard to implement. Over the coming weeks, R3 will be speaking more about our efforts in this space and will walk through our Platform and Services strategy in more detail.

A few other related notes. A belated congratulations to the Axoni team for closing their latest round of funding. And I may be most proud of being part of an effort that got mentioned in the column of the king of informed snark, Matt Levine: “But as I often say when I read these stories: You could just have a list.” I would kindly point Mr. Levine to Richard Brown’s recent post for the answer: On distributed databases and distributed ledgers

R3 Updates

Our team just completed a very successful week in Asia, which started with our first Members Conference based in Asia, hosted in Hong Kong by our friends at AIA. R3’s Tim Grant then had the chance to inform the crowd at Next Money Fintech HK that 2017 is “The Year of the Pilot” (pic below) as everyone runs hard and fast at production implementations. We also hosted successful Corda meet ups in Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore (pic below) to round out the week.

For those who would like to stay up to date with our Corda meetup schedule, please visit our Meetup page. Our next R3 hosted event will be in NYC on Friday, February 10 at the NYC HQ of our friends at Rise (sign up here). And we are pleased to see other meetups pop up that are led by the wider community, like this one in Vancouver. For those attending the upcoming Construct event, make sure to reach out to R3’s Michael Dowling and Clemens Wan (aka Clembot).

Also a belated welcome to our friends at Credicorp to R3 as our first Spanish-speaking Latin American member! We have other announcements in the hopper, including new regulatory members, that we will be sharing in the coming weeks.

A Bunch of Links

One last thing. As we (hopefully!) mature as an industry, the weekly news items of “imagine if!” and “blockchain explained!” articles should get less relevant and definitely less interesting. So back at Blog HQ (my attic), we are thinking about how we could change our (somewhat) weekly(ish) updates so that they keep pace with people’s interest and focus. So please let us know (on LinkedIn or Twitter or directly) your views, we want to hear them. Cheers.

The Weekend Read: Oct 2

Apologies for the delay, as your author was busy wiping away Bubba Watson-sized tears of joy after watching ‘Murica make the Ryder Cup Great Again.

U.S. Fans cheer on the team at the Ryder Cup

U.S. Fans cheer on the team at the Ryder Cup

Sibo(ast)s

FoTWR’s Simon Taylor used to have a killer out of office message: “I love all your emails equally, and will respond to them as soon as I can.” So with that as inspiration, instead of having to pick, I will love each of the (many) Sibos press releases equally (even our own!) and list them below.

BackspaceChain (cont.)

Accenture’s “editable blockchain” mentioned last week prompted this response by Brian Kelly in CoinDesk:

In my view, for blockchain technology to move beyond “lab experiments”, it is critical that we embrace the features of immutability and use the tool for its intended purpose. A blockchain is a great way to keep a record that you don’t ever want changed – this is the heart and soul of a trustless system – it is a feature, not a flaw.

Interestingly, Accenture decided to respond in the comments section (!) to set (or edit, haha) the record straight:

So Accenture considers immutability very much an asset, and not a flaw. We simply believe that “absolute immutability” will become a challenge when it meets real-world compliance and risk management requirements. There needs to be a technical solution when things go wrong.

Blockchain Hype (cont.)

Vitalik Buterin gets another Vanity Fair-esque profile in this Fortune piece (which also has a bonus pic of our Mike Hearn rocking a v-neck sweater/jumper), in the wake of the second well attended DevCon in Shanghai. Pair this article with this cautionary posting from Nick Tomaino on Irrational Appcoin Exuberance:

Crypto enthusiasts (myself included) want to see these types of projects come to fruition; the visions are alluring. The projects haven’t delivered anything tangible yet though. These fundraises are getting done based on vision rather than any semblance of execution. This has been a problem on Kickstarter for years and I’m fearful we’re going to see a lot of the same in the ICO world.

IBM released a survey of over 200 global banks entitled Leading the Pack in Blockchain: Banking Trailblazers Set the Pace:

It found 15% of bank respondents intend to have fully implemented, full-scale commercial solutions in 2017. Behind them, another 65% indicated they plan to have blockchain solutions in production over the next three years.

Perhaps the report should be checked for proper usage, according to this handy, short guide by Ryan Shea on Blockchain Terminology:

The term “blockchain” is a noun, but it’s important to note the noun types that it can fit into.

Just like the term “rocket”, the term “blockchain” can be used as a concrete noun, but never as an abstract noun, like “genetic engineering”. One can say “I have a rocket”, “I see the rocket”, “there are rockets” and “we’re using rocket technology” but one cannot say “I am focused on rocket”.

Likewise, one can say “I have a blockchain”, “I see the blockchain”, “there are blockchains”, and “we’re using blockchain technology” but one cannot say “I am focused on blockchain”.

What is this Rocket you speak of? Can I get in on the pre-mine ahead of the ICO?? I want Rocket.

The Weekend Read: Back to School Edition 2016

Summer’s (unofficially) over, Hermine aint here, and it is time to get back to school.

1. Blockchain Hype

The Bloomberg article Maybe Blockchain Really Does Have Magical Powers produced a fair bit of chatter in the office this week. Some couldn’t get past the snark, but your author respects good snark when he see it. The article calls into question the hyperbole of the WEF report released this summer and also highlights our recent Corda whitepaper:

What’s new is that each transaction comes with attached code (a “smart contract”) containing standardized rules about how to decide whether it is valid. The parties download and independently run the code to verify the transaction. This is cheaper and faster than traditional reconciliation, because it eliminates the need for a bunch of back-office employees at each separate institution to reconcile transactions using their own unique sets of rules and data fields.

[SNIP] The only thing previously stopping the standardization of reconciliation processes was the unwillingness of financial institutions to collaborate. Financial institutions spend $65-80 billion on back office reconciliation every year. The employees working in back offices probably offered lots of excellent reasons why their roles couldn’t simply be standardized away.

[SNIP] Standardization of rules and data fields is a good idea that could save billions of dollars in back-office reconciliation costs. Maybe one of the biggest effects of all the blockchain hype will be getting a bunch of security-conscious egoists to come to an agreement that benefits them all. That would truly be magical.

More in don’t believe the hype: Adam Ludwin of Chain tries to slow the roll of “put a blockchain on it” enthusiasts:

It’s strange to hear chief executives pour cold water on technologies that are at the heart of their own companies. Yet that’s what Adam Ludwin, who is the CEO of blockchain company Chain, did when I met with him this month. The hype over blockchain—a new form of record keeping that relies on a shared digital ledger—is causing people to lose sight over what the technology is meant to do, according to Ludwin. “Blockchain is a database for money,” he said. “I don’t understand why people talk about it in terms of health records and home deeds and voting systems.”

Couple these articles with the recent Gartner Hype Cycle warning, and it shows how important delivery becomes as we head toward 2017.

2. Catching Up

A few updates and announcements to share:

Visa eyes new link in blockchain payments

The project is designed to cut costs, speed up settlement time and reduce credit risk in the market for moving money between banks both domestically and across borders. It could represent a challenge to the Swift interbank payment system, the main messaging system used by banks to handle large money transfers. Swift has recognised the potential threat and has itself been examining blockchain’s potential.

Swift warns banks about successful raids by hackers

Swift — the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication — warned its members that while there had been fewer publicly reported cases of banks being attacked, hackers were still on the hunt for weaknesses in their security systems. “We have seen new cases of input fraud since we last wrote to update you on these issues,” Swift said in its letter. “The attackers have followed a broadly similar modus operandi, but have specifically tailored every attack to each individual target.”

Smart Contracts Firm Taps Wall Street Vet as President, Chairman

Symbiont, a developer of software for self-executing smart contracts, has hired Wall Street veteran Caitlin Long as president and chairman.

IBM Bridges Blockchain, AI With New Business Unit

IBM is reorganizing its internal blockchain team into a business unit that encompasses its artificial intelligence and cloud computing efforts, called ‘Industry Platforms.’ In addition to the work on blockchain tech, the business unit will lead IBM’s efforts to bridge its financial services work with its Watson artificial intelligence initiative.

Key themes from the R3 summit on smart contract templates

A nice summary of our recent summit (rumor has it that there may be a follow on summit in the coming months…)

Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology

Not exactly an announcement, but this is a really cool summary of all the things to be optimistic about in technology. When you get bored of being excited and feel like trying on some dread and paranoia, check out this review: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari review – how data will destroy human freedom (!)

3. An R3 Welcome

Two big shout outs this week. A warm R3 welcome to China Merchants Bank and to Met Life!

The Weekend Read: April 9

1. Introducing

Many thanks to The Swanny for filling in for me last week. Its great to be back, as I have the pleasure to recap two pretty awesome announcements. On Tuesday, our CTO Richard Brown returned to the blogging world to announce Corda, a distributed ledger designed for, and with, financial institutions:

Corda is a distributed ledger platform designed from the ground up to record, manage and synchronise financial agreements between regulated financial institutions. It is heavily inspired by and captures the benefits of blockchain systems, without the design choices that make blockchains inappropriate for many banking scenarios.

Just reading a few pull quotes wont do the post justice, so I urge you to read it in full. I particularly liked this passage on Bitcoin as an odd architectural choice for financial institutions:

But what is often missed is that the cleverest part of Bitcoin isn’t actually its architecture; I think the cleverest part was to articulate the business problem.  We don’t tend to think of Bitcoin as being the solution to a “business problem” but it can perhaps be thought of as a wonderfully neat solution to the problem of: “how do I create a system where nobody can stop me spending my own money?”

[Yet] Satoshi Nakamoto didn’t wake up one morning wanting to “apply Blockchain to finance”. Blockchain was the tool that was invented to solve a real problem. So we have a conundrum, right?  If that’s the case, then what on earth is the argument that says blockchain has any relevance at all to banking?!

Indeed, last time I checked, banks have the inverse of my Bitcoin problem statement!

Matt Leising at Bloomberg also has a great overview of the Corda approach in this article.

The announcement was followed up with Richard’s participation in Money 2020 Europe, where his R3 panel was SRO.

On Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella used the first ever Envision event to announce an R3 – Microsoft partnership (see other coverage: WSJ, Bloomberg). We have been working closely with the Microsoft Azure team since the start of the year. The combo of Microsoft technology horsepower with the undeterred energy of the Azure team has been a massive help in launching our Global Collaborative Lab (thanks Marley!). Microsoft’s EVP of Business Development, Peggy Johnson, also commented on the partnership:

Navigating the changing digital landscape can be daunting. Success demands a trusted and collaborative network of partners – particularly in a highly regulated industry with billions of dollars and sensitive financial data at play. We’re proud that organizations like R3 trust Microsoft as a partner to build the financial technology systems of the future. With next–generation technologies like blockchain poised to disrupt the way we do business in nearly every industry, we’re committed to continue earning the trust of business leaders and their customers around the world.

Change is never easy, but with partnerships built on trust, together we can change the idea of “disruption” from a threat to an opportunity – one that will empower us all to achieve more.

2. Blockchain Announcements

Our friends at Intel announced late this week the open sourcing of their blockchain approach, dubbed Sawtooth Lake, which was also one of the five protocols tested across 40 banks in our February Lab project. Intel has provided comprehensive documentation here if folks want to dive in. Their aim is to provide “a highly modular platform for building, deploying and running distributed ledgers,” with an emphasis on unlocking the power of a Trusted Execution Environment.

IBM announced this week that they are in the midst of getting their Watson AI’s chocolate into some blockchain peanut butter via an early prototyping exercise. If they manage to get some unstructured Big Data in there they will have hit the rather elusive Disruption Trifecta. And another win for the Axoni/TradeBlock team with the announcement of their CDS trial with Markit, DTCC and 4 banks.

3. Fintech etc.

The NY Times Dealbook posted a special section on Fintech this week, called “Fintech’s Power Grab.” It highlights that the sudden focus on all things fintech by the very institutions targeted as the ‘disruptees’ may signal a turning point, with the upstarts being consumed by the big guys. It also has some cool profiles and stories, including one on Chris Larsen at Ripple.

And in a different “tradition unlike any other” yet a tradition nonetheless, the long awaited decentralized marketplace OpenBazaar went live earlier this week…and within hours started to build up quite the inventory.