Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

 

What’s True Today and Tomorrow

As far back as the 1880s, people stood on the curb outside the New York Stock Exchange taking bets on political elections, and newspapers would report the odds as a way of predicting the results at the polls. In the years since economists refined the concept, and more recently, prediction markets have tapped into the wisdom of the crowds via the internet, forecasting everything from presidential races to sporting events to stock prices. The concept took a hit in 2012 when a major site shut down amid financial irregularities and pressure from US regulators. But Silicon Valley hasn’t given up on the idea. It now sees a new way of building markets that predict the future: the blockchain.

The blockchain is the global ledger that securely records transactions for the bitcoin digital currency, operating outside the control of any central authority. But so many startups and online communities are now applying the same concept to all sorts of other applications. For Joey Krug, the openness of a blockchain could deliver far more powerful prediction markets than ever before, spreading them to a much larger number of people, while keeping regulators at bay. Krug is one of the young technologists behind Augur, a San Francisco nonprofit working to build a service atop the Ethereum blockchain where anyone can launch or join these markets. “It doesn’t care where you’re from,” says Krug, a 21-year-old Thiel Fellow. “All kinds of people can trade together that weren’t able to trade before.”

Thanks to the counterintuitive dynamics that drive prediction markets, this could eventually create more specific and accurate predictions—an antidote to media pundits and pollsters who bear a little cost for getting their forecasts wrong. “You put your money where your mouth is,” says Andrew Miller, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in cryptocurrencies. But like so many other technologists, financial traders, and other freethinkers working to create strangely fascinating new services atop the blockchain idea, Krug is looking even further ahead. He believes Augur, which is still under beta test, can eventually feed real-world truths into any other online application.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form.

“It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

A prediction market is like the stock market, except that you’re not buying stock in companies. You’re buying stock in outcomes. Let’s say Donald Trump is running for president. A prediction market lets you buy “stock” in a Trump win or loss. If your prediction comes true, you get paid. If your prediction proves wrong, you get nothing.

As in the stock market, you can also sell your shares. You aim to buy low and sell high. If enough people participate, the trading price of the stock should indicate the likelihood of an outcome. If a prediction pays out at $1 and Trump’s “stock” is trading at 51 cents, that market predicts a 51 percent chance of a Trump victory. This odds-making reflects the efficient market hypothesis, an idea that won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2013. “Prices capture information,” says Erik Snowberg, an economist and political scientist at the California Institute of Technology. “If you have information that says the price is too low, you buy and the price goes up. If you have information that the price is too high, you sell.”

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form. “It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth. ‘It’s not just about predicting what is in the future. It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.’ Richard Craib

There’s always the risk that the majority will deny the facts, somehow overriding the monetary incentive. Enormous bribes could be a problem, for instance. “There may be cases where you benefit by cheating,” says Miller. “If everyone goes toward the truth, you have an incentive to go along with the truth. But if everyone deviates from the truth, there is an incentive to deviate.” Still, many people seem to have faith in the idea. The Rep now enjoys a $89 million market cap, up from $50 million at the end of February.

Ultimately, Krug hopes to create a service that feeds more than just prediction markets. Augur’s reporting engine, he believes, could serve as the foundation for other applications that rely on real-world data. As he explains, it could help automate any financial contract, from options and derivatives to insurance contracts and credit default swaps. Should you be paid because a company defaulted on its debt? Check the Augur blockchain to see if the company really did.

If Augur gains a true scale, other possibilities arise. If, say, Trump’s national security adviser steps down and Augur’s Rep-funded “reporters” verify his resignation, that fact gets burned into a blockchain. Any application can then make use of this digital fact, from Wikipedia to Facebook to Google search results. In an age when fake news bounces around Facebook’s echo chambers and presidential tweets see no difference between online hoaxes and the careful reporting of the New York Times, the possibility of creating a digital market for facts becomes a powerful idea.

Like so many ideas that bubble up from the world of bitcoin, the concepts behind Augur are both strange and perhaps overly optimistic. The instability of the Ethereum tokens that people use to make bets on these markets could undermine their accuracy, says David Rothchild, a researcher at Microsoft. And the Augur reporting engine, lacking a critical mass of participants, remains unproven. But in an age when so many people feel so unsure about not just the future but the facts in the present, such big ideas are at least worth a try.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Enterprise’s technologies that will shake things up in 2017

 Enterprise's technologies that will
shake things up in 2017

Triple-A security, the Internet of Things and AR/VR to make their marks

You think you have your hands full as an IT pro now? Just wait until blockchain, IoT, augmented and virtual reality, and these other technologies really start to take hold in 2017.

The Internet of Things – for real

Yes, yes, we know – it’s one of those long-standing tech industry jokes, like “the year of the Linux desktop” and “Java security.” But 2017 really could be the year that all the hub-bub and hype around the Internet of Things comes home to roost.

The basic concept of connected devices – broadly, things that haven’t historically been connected to the internet suddenly being connected to the internet – is nothing new. The uses to which the technology is now being put, however – smart cars, smart homes, and dramatically simplified industrial management – are potentially groundbreaking in a very “the future is here” sense.

The main problem is security, as it has been since people started thinking about IoT as a concept. There aren’t many commonly accepted standards for IoT devices – though there’s no lack of candidates – and vendors don’t seem to work as hard to make connected devices secure as they do on more traditional endpoints, like laptops and smartphones.

That has big implications for security. Even if a hacked IoT device doesn’t represent much of a threat on its own, it’s simple enough to incorporate it into a vast botnet, which is exactly what the attackers behind the Mirai botnet have been up to lately, exploiting DVRs, surveillance cameras, and other poorly secured IoT devices and making them into a zombie army able to hamstring internet access across the U.S. by attacking domain registration service provider Dyn. It’s a big challenge, according to analyst and Network World contributor Zeus Kerravala.

“[IoT security] requires strengthened network access controls, including real-time application control and visibility, IoT-supported, secure authentication methods such as PPSK, granular device policy enforcement at the edge, and centralized reporting and monitoring tools,” he said, in commenting on a new IoT security offering from Aerohive Networks.

SponsoredPost Sponsored by Honda    

Forrester Research thinks more than half a million IoT devices will be compromised in 2017, which underlines the extreme importance of security. One way or another, IoT will shake up computing in 2017 – either as a key underpinning of a host of new technologies, or the venue for further devastating cyber attacks.

Augmented reality and virtual reality will take off

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, rarely would you see them in the wild—never mind being used for business. Now, iPads and tablets are everywhere. Their use exploded. Prepare for the same thing to happen with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—with tablets and smartphones as the vehicle. According to IDC, 25% of enterprise IT organizations will be testing augmented reality business applications for use on smartphones by the end of 2017.

“This may sound relatively aggressive, but the conversations I’m having with the industry and some surveys that we’ve run talking to IT decision makers show that there’s a really strong interest around augmented reality,” said Tom Mainelli, program vice president of the devices & AR/VR group at IDC, during a recent webinar, IDC Futurescape: Worldwide Wearables and AR/VR 2017 Predictions. The end game is head-worn AR hardware, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, he said. But for a lot of enterprises, they are going to begin creating apps and back-end processes on devices that consumers and businesses already own.

Pokémon Go gave us a taste of AR, and we’ve seen retailers using AR technology. Walgreens and Toys R Us use an app called Aisle411 that guides customers to products with the store. North Face provides 360-degree videos of outdoor experiences using Oculus Rift in which the actors wear North Face clothing. Audi has a virtual experience that allows you to take a virtual test drive and to virtually see features and options on their cars. And Ashley Furniture will soon have an AR app that helps shoppers see how home furnishings fit into an existing space.

As smartphone technology improves, we will see much better AR experiences, Mainelli said. The first product working toward that is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which is based on Google’s Tango technology. It uses three cameras and multiple sensors to see where it is and capture a wide range of measurements to create an enhanced AR experience, he said.

Other AR and VR predictions from IDC:

  • In 2017, retail industry spending on AR/VR hardware, software and services will increase by 145% to more than $1 billion.
    Three out of 10 consumer-facing Fortune 5000 companies will experiment with AR or VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017.
  • By 2019, 10% of all web-based meetings will include an AR component driving disruption of the $3 billion web conferencing market.

“I really believe augmented reality is going to have the same type of impact on businesses as the PC did all those years ago,” Mainelli said. “And once developers start to figure out what they can do with this technology, business is going to change pretty dramatically. … Eventually, we will end up at a place where augmented reality really is the new way that we interface with devices, digital content, physical objects and with data.”

Triple-A protection coming to world of cyber security

It may be a brave new world in 2017 but it’s also a damn scary one for IT security professionals. Just take a look at some recent Gartner assessments of the security situation:

  • By 2020, 60% of digital businesses will suffer major service failures, due to the inability of IT security teams to manage digital risk.
  • By 2020, 60% of enterprise information security budgets will be allocated for rapid detection and response approaches, which is an increase from less than 30% in 2016.
  • By 2018, 25% of corporate data traffic will flow directly from mobile devices to the cloud, bypassing enterprise security controls.
  • Through 2018, over 50% of IoT device manufacturers will not be able to address threats because of weak authentication practices.

So what technologies are going to change this scenario back in favor of IT? The new security AAA — automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence — say proponents. When it comes to automation, security platforms will devise and execute controls based on newly detected threats and do it without human intervention. That reduces the time between a compromise and the time the threat is neutralized – reducing the window during which attackers can do damage.

Security analytics engines digest data from network gear and endpoints in search of anomalies that indicate threats. By setting a baseline for normal, these engines spot out of the ordinary behaviors and assess whether they represent malicious activity. By incorporating AI and machine learning this technology will expand its ability to detect anomalies not only in network traffic, but in the behavior of individual machines, users, and combinations of users on particular machines.

As these platforms become more sophisticated and trusted in 2017, they will be able to spot attacks in earlier stages and stop them before they become active breaches. And the big guns are all involved in making this happen: Cisco with its Tetration Analytics platform, IBM with Watson cognitive computing for cyber security; Google/Alphabet with DeepMind lab to name just a few.

Cisco’s Tetration Analytics product is a turnkey package that gathers information from hardware and software sensors and analyzes the information using big data analytics and machine learning. In the security realm, the system sets a baseline for normal network and application behavior and quickly identifies any deviation in communication patterns in real time or uses Tetration’s forensics search engine to look for other security or user behavior analytics.

“The single most important things customers can do to protect the data center is set up a whitelist of who has access to what, but it is one of the most difficult tasks to implement,” said Tom Edsall, a senior vice president and CTO with Cisco. “Tetration lets users set up a whitelist model and policies more quickly and efficiently than they could before.” This capability will address key cyber security challenges and move toward the “self-driving data center” of the future, he said. Cisco promises many new security-related applications will be layered onto Tetration.

Then we have IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which is being unleashed in corporate networks to analyze traffic in search of malware but also learning at the same time via its own experiences and by taking in white papers, threat intelligence and news about cybercrime. So over time, Watson will develop new strategies for finding attacks as they unfold. The Watson for Cybersecurity project is in beta now and likely sometime in 2017 could become a full-fledged cybersecurity service.

Separately, there is governmental research underway that could impact the cyber security world this year as well. For example, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the radical research arm of the of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wants to build a system of what it calls sensors that can monitor everything from search terms to social media output to look for early warning signs of cyber attacks.

“Cyber-attacks evolve in a phased approach. Detection typically occurs in the later phases of an attack, and analysis often occurs post-mortem to investigate and discover indicators from earlier phases. Observations of earlier attack phases, such as target reconnaissance, planning, and delivery, may enable warning of significant cyber events prior to their most damaging phases,” IARPA wrote in announcing its Cyberattack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment (CAUSE) program.

“It is expected that the technology developed under the CAUSE Program will have no ‘human in the loop.’ Experts may help develop, train, and improve the solution systems, but they will not manually generate warnings, guide the system, or filter warnings before they are delivered to the [IARPA] Team. The performer produced warnings must be machine-generated and submitted automatically…,

Bullish for blockchain

There’s no shortage of hype around blockchain’s potential to revolutionize transactions. Heading into the new year, some enterprises will put blockchain hype to the test as they start exploring its ability to reduce transaction costs, streamline partner interactions, and accelerate business processes.

Blockchains are distributed public ledgers, lauded for their ability to establish trust in the digital world by way of verifiable transactions and without the need for a middleman. The cryptocurrency bitcoin is the most familiar application. In the financial world, blockchains are expected to disrupt how financial institutions conduct payments and wire transfers, process securities trades, and handle compliance reporting, to name just a few use cases.

Outside of finance, industry watchers cite opportunities for blockchains to play a role in core business functions from the supply chain and manufacturing to legal and health care. When there’s an audit trail required – to track the provenance of finished goods, for example, or to document a real estate title – blockchain networks can be used to create verifiable, tamper-proof records in an encrypted format and without having a central authority.

Enterprise IT leaders “are not so much interested in secure, anonymous public networks like bitcoin but in closed networks that are between specific groups of people, particularly between enterprises that have to interact,” says Roger Kay, founder, and president of market intelligence firm Endpoint Technologies Associates.

In a blockchain, each page in a ledger of transactions forms a block, which is linked via a cryptographic hash to the previous block, and new transactions are authenticated across the distributed network before the next block is formed. “Blocks are always agreed on, and each one has an encrypted representation of everything that happened before, so you can tell it’s authentic. You can’t tamper with the chain at any point,” Kay says. As a trust system, “it essentially eliminates the need for a third-party guarantor.”

That’s not to say blockchain technology is mature, however. “It’s still early days,” Kay warns. Early adopters have launched hundreds of pilot projects, but there’s a long way to go before blockchain hits mainstream adoption. Among the obstacles blockchain deployments face are technical challenges, lack of standards and governance models, shortage of skills, and scalability concerns.

As 2016 closes, vendors continue to devise distributed applications and platforms based on blockchain technology, and venture capital firms continue to pour money into the effort. More than $1.4 billion has been invested in blockchain technology over the past three years, according to an August report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). More than 90 corporations have joined blockchain development consortia, and more than 2,500 patents have been filed. The WEF predicts that by 2017, 80% of banks will initiate projects that involve distributed ledger technology.

For enterprises interested in exploring how they can use blockchain and distributed ledgers, research firm Gartner recommends starting with limited-scope trials that are aimed at specific problems. Enterprises can start to investigate how distributed networks might improve business processes that are constrained by transaction inefficiency and how technology suppliers might be able to help. “The challenge for blockchain users and CIOs is to set appropriate expectations among business leaders,” Gartner writes in its 2017 strategic predictions report. “Plan for a reasonable rollout, failure, and recovery (especially through 2018); develop realistic proof of concept (POC) use cases and be agile from an IT and business perspective to follow the best path to success.”

Machine Learning – the promise of predicting the future

Historically, the challenge for organizations that want to use machine learning and cognitive computing technologies has been that it requires hiring expert data scientists who have spent their careers studying how to crunch data into artificial intelligence algorithms.

In recent years, thanks to the proliferation of public cloud computing platforms, that’s changing. Companies like Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, and IBM have all rolled out cloud-based machine learning platforms. “It’s really lowered the barrier quite a bit,” says Sam Charrington, an analyst, and blogger who tracks the machine learning market, adding that the technology is being democratized for everyday developers to use in their applications.

At its most basic level, machine learning is the process of using data to make predictions of future behavior. Most commonly it’s been used in fraud protection (training computers to detect anomalous behavior) and teaching programs to predict future revenues and customer churn. IBM has trained its Watson platform to create sophisticated chatbots for customer interaction and to help healthcare workers provide better care.

It’s still early days for adoption though a recent study by consultancy Deloitte reported that only 8% of enterprises use machine learning technology today. Allied Market Research predicts the industry is growing at a 33% compound annual growth rate and will reach $13.7 billion by 2020.

“The practice of employing algorithms to parse data, learn from it, and then make a determination … is gathering speed,” reports 451 Researcher Krishna Roy. Consumer adoption of platforms like Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri has seeded this market, but enterprise adoption has been held back by a lack of market education and integration of these systems with existing enterprise platforms. But, she notes that one day this technology could become a “fundamental part of an enterprise's analytics fabric.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Companies Focusing on Both Bitcoin and Ethereum Blockchain Development

Companies Focusing on Both Bitcoin and Ethereum Blockchain Development

The Bitcoin BlockChain

Companies and entrepreneurs all over the world are looking at blockchain technology to create new business models. Some of these projects rely on the bitcoin blockchain, whereas others seemingly favor Ethereum. Both distributed ledgers offer quite a few advantages. As a result, various companies and investors are keeping tabs on both horses in the race.

Circle

Ever since Circle started moving away from bitcoin, it was only a matter of time until the company unveiled their new plans. While Circle still uses bitcoin as a “rail” to complete global payments quickly, the team is also working on Ethereum applications. In fact, the company is using Ethereum’s blockchain for their “Spark” venture, as Ethereum’s ledger is the more mature and practical solution. An intriguing decision, although it is worth noting Spark will be interoperable with other blockchains.

Brave

The Brave browser has been well-received by the cryptocurrency community. Its ability to change the ad-viewing experience while surfing the web will have a big impact. Just yesterday, Brave announced they will provide users with an incentive. In fact, the Brave team wants to pay browser users to turn ads back on. While the browser has a bitcoin payment solution to let browser users tip their favorite content creators, this new incentive will see things done differently.

 

A digital token – called Basic Attention Token – will be released later this year. The vast majority of these coins will be sold to investors during an ICO. This new token is Ethereum-based and plays a key role in this new digital advertising platform. The source code for this new platform will be made open source on GitHub later this year.

 Storj

Even though the Storj project was designed to be based on the bitcoin blockchain from day one, it appears the team has changed their mind. In a new announcement, the company explained they are bringing the  Counterparty-based Storj token – known as SJCX – over to the Ethereum blockchain. The reason for this change is not difficult to find: mounting bitcoin transaction fees, delays, and the lack of development provided by the Counterparty platform. Another notch in the belt for Ethereum, that much is certain.

 Factom

The Factom project is quite an intriguing one. The company anchors sensitive data into the bitcoin blockchain, although they are anchoring into Ethereum as well. This dual-pronged approach will guarantee information can be kept safe and secure at all times. Moreover, this goes to show both blockchains have their role to play in the future of distributed ledger-based products and services.

Blockchain Capital

Even though Blockchain Capital is not actively developing applications and projects themselves, they are a key investor in many blockchain-based projects. Blockchain Capital has pumped millions of dollars into bitcoin blockchain-based projects, yet the focus has been divided as of late. The company has become very serious about Ethereum, and they started to deploy half of their fund toward early-stage Ethereum-oriented investments.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Bitcoin slumps as traders’ fears of a hard fork

Bitcoin slumps as traders' fears of a "hard fork"

bitcoin slumps as traders fear hard fork

Just this month the currency swelled to an intraday high of more than $1,350, but it's come crashing back down as a dispute over the underlying technology threatens to break it into two separate currencies: bitcoin and bitcoin unlimited.

Bitcoin transactions are gathered into so-called "blocks", and developers have been embroiled in a long-running debate over the size limit of a block.

Currently, there is a one-megabyte maximum on processing batches of transactions, but some in the industry want to increase the size as the network capacity increases. Others say increasing the block size would be unsafe.

The rift could cause a split, or hard fork, in the currency. If bitcoin unlimited gained enough support, it could have an impact on the underlying blockchain technology that supports bitcoin.

David Ogden
Entrepeneur

 


Courtney Goldsmith
City A.M. 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member