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The Weekend Read: Nov 6

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: 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.

The Weekend Read: Mar 22

Greetings from Palo Alto, where I am attending the Blockchain Global Impact Conference. And escaping the never ending winter of 2015.
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  1. Identity Management

As expected, the topic of identity has been hotly debated at the conference workshops this weekend. Our discussions bogged down when we tried to address the seemingly intractable problem of bridging the gap between digital and real-world identity; namely, can you authenticate one with the other without having to trust a third party? My crude view at the moment is that we can’t, at least for now, and instead should focus on 1. Identifying and improving the trusted “on-ramps” to a digital identity and 2. Leveraging the trusted-party-endorsed digital identities to remove inefficiencies and empower end users. #1 seems straightforward with the plethora of 2fa/biometrics, but as this article shows, there are still many challenges

  1. (de) Central Governments

The love notes to distributed ledgers continues last week with the UK Treasury’s Digital Currencies response paper, which lays out fairly succinctly the benefits and risks associated with the use of digital currencies:

“…the ‘distributed ledger’ technology that underpins digital currencies has significant future promise as an innovation in payments technology.”

The report was widely lauded as both a win for the blockchain world and for the UK as a ‘bitcoin friendly’ place to do business, as the key next steps include moderate regulation combined with an earmarked budget to study the space further.

  1. Intel Joins the Blockchain Technology Race

“Digital currencies like Bitcoin have captured the imagination of the press,” notes the Intel post. “Related startups are generating a great deal of VC [venture capitalist] interest and investment because of the potential significance of any disruption of the financial payment industry. Its fundamental technical innovation is the decentralized transaction ledger called the ‘block-chain.’ It allows bitcoin to prevent double-spending of currency by recording all transactions in an open ledger without the need for a central authority. Such a distributed, public, secure, peer-to-peer transaction record enables not just the exchange of bitcoins but many secondary uses that the research and startup community are exploring such as digital marketplaces.”

  1. On the potential of closed-system blockchains

Noted bitcoin skeptic Izabella Kaminska of the FT has a fairly surprising post on the possible benefits of closed-loop ledgers. As many of our readers may know, this is also our focus. I have been thinking a bit recently about the oft-cited analogy of bitcoin as Internet 1995. Companies back then did not rush headlong into public networks but instead spent considerable time and effort on building intranets, as the risks inherent (real or perceived) in the public internet and ‘cloud’ were too great. A case can be made for the same evolution in the blockchain world. Perhaps we are in for 5-8 years of distributed ledgers built within a defined ‘sandbox’ until a truly public blockchain world can safely emerge:

If blockchain is to make an impact in any sphere it must be in a non exploitative and cost transparent way. Call it a raison d’etre participation structure, where nodes are incentivised to fund or work for the system because they themselves benefit from the services being cleared. [snip] The same dynamics, we believe, apply to blockchain. For it to work, a raison d’etre closed structure where participants get repaid in kind not in profit is needed.

  1. Banking services (86 the bank…)

Business Insider highlights a graphic from the recent GS report on The Future of Finance:

screen shot 2015-03-20 at 8.54.37 am

Couple this with Facebook’s announcement of enabling payments via their Messenger app. More and more we see non-banks attempt to unbundle banking services, which should definitely worry banks, as the last battle that banks would want to fight for the attention and business of millennials would be a brand war…