Tag Archives: Blockchain

Russia Adopts Blockchain In Response To US Sanctions

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Russia’s largest exchange group has announced plans to trade cryptocurrencies on the Moscow Exchange.

The central depository for the Moscow Exchange, National Settlement Depository (NSD), announced that it is developing a platform to provide accounting services for digital assets like cryptocurrencies.

The platform looks to be build a unit of account, very important in the volatile crypto-space, for people to value their assets in and have access to through a wallet platform.

In short, the Moscow Exchange is taking a page out of Dan Larimer’s BitShares and its OpenLedger exchange to provide trading and accounting and banking services all validated and accessible through the blockchain.

In essence, by the end of 2018, cryptos will be trading on the Moscow Exchange and integrated into the banking system to stand beside stocks, bonds and other derivative assets.

CEO Eddie Astanin:

“Our goal is to create a secure and user-friendly accounting infrastructure for digital assets. We consider the platform would not only provide technological and legal protection of all parties involved, but also extend variety of post-trade services for investors, custodians and new institutions emerging in this sector of economy.”

Building Blockchains off the Putin/Buterin Meeting

This is yet another example of Russia’s rapid response to the changing environment of cryptos.  Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Ethereum designer, Vitalik Buterin, in May at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum must have been truly eye-opening for Putin.

Since then I can almost not keep up with the news flow coming out of Russia relative to the widespread adoption of the blockchain to rapidly modernize those areas of its economy that need it in order to compete over the next generation or two.

Putin, ever the long-game strategist, must have had a ‘eureka’ moment talking with Buterin about Ethereum for people close to the Kremlin to be reacting this quickly.

And the news this morning that Buterin is working on the fix for Ethereum’s scaling issues is welcome news on this front as well.

Blockchains as Sanctions Defense

But this goes deeper than just banking modernization, which is a priority for the Russian government.  These moves into crypto are direct responses to the new sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S.

These are moves to make Russia a diversified destination for capital fleeing the chaos of the Western political breakdown that we are watching unfold before our eyes in real time.

There has been a lot of smoke about Russia (and China) backing their national currencies with Gold. And, while as a gold bug, I appreciate this sentiment I also understand that Russia couldn’t do that in this environment without creating insane capital flow issues in the current environment.

The better plan is to loosen central bank policy, issue some ruble-denominated debt (or yuan) while building up the crypto infrastructure to absorb those capital flows without creating dislocations within the ruble market.

This creates a more natural and organic flow of capital into the country without it causing social upheaval. Like the announcement of Russian Miner Coin, his move by the NSD is just another building block in the foundation of a more resilient Russian financial system to better coordinate the flow of capital and smooth the development of the chain of production.

This, in turn, limits the effects of U.S. sanctions. Once the market comes to the conclusion that Russia treats capital better than the U.S. does, the current trickle will become a torrent. And Russia has to be ready to handle this.

Diversifying into the blockchain is one of those important avenues.

Source: Coindesk

 

 

Goldman $3915 Bitcoin Target

Having ‘nailed’ the price action recently in Bitcoin (calling the recent pull back, extension beyond $3,000, with a target of $3,915), Goldman notes that it’s getting harder for institutional investors to ignore the rise of cryptocurrencies.

Last month Goldman’s chief technician, Sheba Jafari, issued their forecast of where bitcoin is headed next. Recall, that as we first reported three weeks ago, Jafari said that “due to popular demand, it’s worth taking a quick look at Bitcoin here” and warned that “the market has come close (enough?) to reaching its extended (2.618) target for a 3rd of V-waves from the inception low at 3,134.” She concluded that she was “wary of a near-term top ahead of 3,134” and urged clients to “consider re-establishing bullish exposure between 2,330 and no lower than 1,915.”

She was right: on the very day the note came out, both bitcoin and ethereum hit their all time highs and shortly after suffered their biggest drop in over two years.

So what does Jafari thinks will happen next? According to the Goldman technician, Bitcoin is now “in wave IV of a sequence that started at the late-’10/early-’11 lows. Wave III came close enough to reaching its 2.618 extended target at 3,135. Wave IV has already retraced between 23.6% and 38.2% of the move since Jan. ‘15 to 2,330/ 1,915.”

What does this mean for the uninitiated? In short, while bitcoin remains in Wave IV, it could go up… or down. She explains:

It’s worth keeping in mind that fourth waves tend to be messy/complex. This means that it could remain sideways/overlapping for a little while longer. At this point, it’s important to look for either an ABC pattern or a more triangular ABCDE. The former would target somewhere close to 1,856; providing a much cleaner setup from which to consider getting back into the uptrend. The latter would hold within a 2,076/3,000 range for an extended period of time.

However, at that point the next major breakout higher would take place, one which would take bitcoin as high as $3,915.

Either way, eventually expecting one more leg higher; a 5th wave. From current levels, [Bitcoin] has a minimum target that goes out to 3,212 (if equal to the length of wave I). There’s potential to extend as far as 3,915 (if 1.618 times the length of wave I). It just might take time to get there.

Goldman’s analyst concludes with the following summary: “[Bitcoin] could consolidate sideways for a while longer. Shouldn’t go much further than 1,857. Eventually targeting at least 3,212.

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And now, Goldman offers an FAQ for the institutional investor…

The debate has shifted from the legitimacy of the ‘fiat of the internet’ to how fast new entrants are raising funds. The hype cycle is in full effect with Bitcoin, the first, largest and most widely recognized cryptocurrency up almost 200% YTD (v 11% for the S&P 500) and a host of other emerging ‘alt coins’ growing in scope and presence (witness the growth of Ethereum).

Whether or not you believe in the merit of investing in cryptocurrencies (you know who you are) real dollars are at work here and warrant watching especially in light of the growing world of initial coin offerings (ICOs) and fundraising that now exceeds Internet Angel and Seed investing.

FAQs:

1. Two Sides To The Coin: Is Cryptocurrency a “Currency” or “Commodity”?

Answer: It depends who you ask. The complexity exists because coins have attributes of a currency (e.g. presented and trusted by some medium of exchange) and commodity (e.g. limited resource). The classification of cryptocurrencies varies by country, government and even application. In the U.S., the IRS has ruled that virtual currency does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. For tax purposes, the IRS treats virtual currency as property. 

2. How Big Is The Cryptocurrency Market?

Answer: Nearly $120 billion. Bitcoin remains the largest and accounts for nearly 50% of the total market cap (Exhibit 5).

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There are currently over 800 cryptocurrencies out there, though just 9 have a market cap in excess of $1 billion.

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While its growth has been impressive, the aggregate market cap of cryptocurrencies equates to less than 2% of the value of all the mined gold in the world.

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3. What Is Ethereum? 

Answer: A Platform 1st, a Cryptocurrency 2nd. Ethereum differs primarily from Bitcoin in the latter is set up to be an alternative to ‘real money’ while the former is more of a platform set up to run any decentralized application and automatically execute “smart contracts” when certain conditions are met. Ethereum offers a digital currency like Bitcoin – called Ether – but this is just one component of its smart contract execution and primarily used to facilitate and reward using the network. However, the rise of Ethereum has not come without setbacks, including the ~$60 million hack of “The DAO”, a venture capital like organization with the mission of “investing” in Ethereum-related start-ups and projects (and is no longer operational today).

4. How Does One Trade Cryptocurrencies in the United States?

Answer: Digital Exchanges, Block Trades and (soon to be) Options. Individual investors can trade virtual coins on various online exchanges. Institutional traders have largely stayed out of the cryptocurrency market due to its relatively small size, structure of mandates and volatility, but block trading exists to facilitate the execution of larger orders. In addition, Bitcoin options exist and are traded on offshore exchanges. Futures and options may also be coming to the US soon. On August 2, 2017, the CBOE entered an agreement with Gemini Trust Co to allow cash-settled Bitcoin futures on CBOE Futures Exchange in 4Q-17 or early 2018.

5. What is an Initial Coin Offering (ICO)?

Answer: Fundraiser through token sales. The amount of money funding ICOs has grown exponentially and the speed at which money is raised via a white paper and internet browser has sounded the alarm bells from parties including the SEC and the People’s Bank of China. According to Coin Schedule, ICOs have raised $1.25 billion this year, outpacing global Angel & Seed stage Internet VC funding in recent months.

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The Tezos blockchain raised a record breaking $232 million worth of Bitcoin and Ether through an ICO completed last month. The next closest? Bancor’s ICO which raised $150 million in mid-June. And the speed of ICOs is an added benefit: Gnosis raised more than $12 million in under 15 minutes.

Source: ZeroHedge

The Math Of Bitcoin And Why It’s Not Yet In A Bubble [video]

I have read many articles lately claiming that Bitcoin is in a bubble.  Some proclaim it similar to the famous Great Tulip bubble of 1637… but that comparison is only for those who do not understand the significance of what is happening currently with blockchain technology.  If you are new to Bitcoin and blockchain technology, I would suggest that it’s highly important for you to take the time to research the basics of how it works and why it’s different – simply Google “how does Bitcoin work.”

The main argument of those who proclaim it to be in a bubble is that the people buying it at these prices are not buying it for its original purpose – which they believe to be enabling transactions.  Yes, it is being used for transactions, much more than 100,000 businesses now take Bitcoin for transactions.  But instead naysayers believe that others are buying it as an “investment” and thus will surely be burned.

For me, and I believe most who understand what is happening, we are not buying it for either of those reasons.  We own it because we see it acting as a “store of value,” where nothing else priced in dollars is.  With interest rates artificially low (manipulated by central banks), a normal person cannot earn even near the pace of actual inflation with any type of traditional savings account.  Bonds are artificially in a bubble, stocks are artificially in a bubble, real estate is in yet another bubble, everywhere one who understands bubble dynamics looks they see a bubble (but not Bitcoin, people are trading in their worth less and less dollars for them).  The bubble is the dollar – the world’s “reserve” and “petro” dollar is being drowned by central banks all over the globe, not just our own “FED.”

And thus there is no store of value to be found.  This is a terribly ugly situation for people who believe in hard work and saving to get ahead; to someday retire comfortably.  Retirees on fixed incomes simply cannot, and will not be able to keep up as the impossible math of dollar debt continues on its vertical ascent.

We would love to love gold and silver, but those too, are manipulated by central banks who own the majority of it.  They manipulate and derivative the markets to artificially keep devaluation of the dollar hidden.

Control of the dollar is centralized with the banks, that’s why we refer to them as “central” banks.  All the power and control resides with them; as private individuals were wrongly, and illegally, given the power to “coin” money with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

What makes Bitcoin a better store of value?

1.  It is decentralized.  This is huge!  It means that it is not under the control of central banks, and thus cannot be manipulated directly by them.  This is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect, it is a game changer as it changes the WHO is behind it – something that gold and silver do not do because central banks have printed “money” to buy the majority of it.

Caution – Central banks may be able to indirectly manipulate blockchain currencies in the future if they create ETFs and other derivatives based upon them.  This, however, will not change the underlying store of value, and when it happens I would encourage you not to own the derivative, but to instead buy Bitcoin directly, again because it’s not in control of the central banks, is decentralized versus their centralized everything which makes them vulnerable.  Yes – Central Banks can print dollars and use them to buy Bitcoin, but that will only drive the price up and cause others to enter as well.  In the end they cannot manipulate what they don’t control.

Even if central banks were to “ban” exchanges in one country, all one will have to do is join an exchange overseas.  This has the central banks trumped, it cannot be stopped.

To better understand the power of decentralization, please take the time to watch the video at the end of this post, or (click on this link).

2.  Unlike tulips, dollars, or even precious metals, Bitcoin is strictly limited in its supply.  This is where the math comes in.  Bitcoin was founded in 2008 and there will ultimately be only 21 million Bitcoin ever mined.  Today we are approaching the 80% mark, the remaining 20% will take years to mine, and the “mining” gets more difficult and slow as we go.

This is a hard feature built into the coding.  It’s what makes Bitcoin a store of value – the more money that comes in, the more each Bitcoin is worth.  As I type, that is $2,774.00 per Bitcoin according to Coinbase where you can go to open an account, much like a brokerage account (there are currently 7.3 million Coinbase users).  Of course you can buy Bitcoin in any increment, you don’t have to buy them in whole units.

People all over the world can buy, own, and transact in Bitcoin.  There are now 7.3 billion people on the planet, so if all 21 million Bitcoin were distributed evenly to every person on the planet, each person would have only .0028767 of one bitcoin!

Another way of stating that math is that only 1 person out of every 347.6 people can possibly ever own a whole Bitcoin.

Today the market cap of Bitcoin is $45.17 Billion.  The more money that comes in, the higher the market cap, the higher the price of Bitcoin.

Many analysts start to compare Bitcoin’s market cap with that of large companies like Apple, whose current market cap is 18 times that of Bitcoin’s at $810 Billion.

But here’s the deal.  Bitcoin is not a company, it is a form of money.  Unlike dollars, there will not be an endless supply.  In fact, if you took the entire M2 money supply of the United States, currently $13.5 trillion, and put it all into Bitcoin instead, then each Bitcoin would be worth $642,857.  But Bitcoin is not just traded in dollars – it’s traded in every currency in the world.  And right now global M2 money supply is calculated as roughly $72 trillion, or $3.4 million per Bitcoin.

It’s true that other blockchain currencies are springing up like daisies, or tulips.  But their market caps combined are just now rivaling that of Bitcoin’s.  So, yes, they will be “diluting” bitcoin’s math.  Not all crypto currencies have hard limits to their supply, and that will mean that they will always be worth less.  Right now Ethereum is in second place with a market cap of about $24 billion compared to Bitcoin’s $45 billion.  Litecoin is another cryptocurrency designed to be “silver” compared to Bitcoin’s “gold.”  There will only be 84 million Litecoins ever mined, exactly 4 times the amount of Bitcoins.  However, Litecoins are currently trading for roughly 1/100th the price of Bitcoin, I would expect the math to eventually catch up as more people become aware of Litecoin’s also limited supply.

3.  Bitcoin is a better store of value because it is secure.  Decentralization and encryption make it secure.  It can be stored in electronic cyber “vaults” where you keep a hard copy of the encryption cypher.  This means that your exchange can be hacked, your computer hacked, but your bitcoin don’t actually reside in either!  They reside on someone else’s computer somewhere – and only you have the code to get to it.  Thus they cannot be confiscated by a government, a banker, or a hacker.

I liken this to the pursuit of freedom versus the pursuit of security.  When you pursue freedom, you get security at very little cost.  That’s what decentralization does.  Bitcoin is the pursuit of freedom – whereas centralized systems, such as central banking, or even socialism, are the pursuit of security and the abandonment of freedom.

Pursue freedom!

4.  Bitcoin transactions are stored on a public ledger, all confirmed transactions are included in the blockchain.  Again, decentralized bookkeeping is less vulnerable and more secure than centralized legers.  This is where Ethereum, another blockchain currency, shines.  Ethereum is built upon an encrypted ledger and can be used for many purposes, not just as a currency.

One use is that these encrypted ledgers will enable safe and secure online voting one day soon.

Someday Bitcoin will, in fact, be in a bubble.  But that day is not now, not even close.  The great thing about all cryptocurrencies is that they can and do exist alongside of whatever “money” we use for our transactions.  They also exist alongside of gold/silver, and may in fact be drawing money that otherwise would be seeking a store of value there.

So I say, let competition reign!  I will use dollars for transactions because I have to (for now), but I will use cryptocurrencies, gold, and silver to park my dollars so that the central banks cannot destroy their value.  And that in a nutshell is why Bitcoin is NOT in a bubble, and won’t be for quite some time.

That said, do expect many sharp pullbacks along the way.  Remember that NOTHING moves in a straight line, EVERYTHING moves in waves.  You need to pullback to fuel the next push higher – this is true with all waves.   The chart shape is definitely showing parabolic growth, but I expect that when looked at across many more years this will simply be a part of building a base.

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So how will we know that a true bubble has formed?  For me I know that cryptocurrencies are the future and that they will trade alongside sovereign currencies and will eventually replace them.  I will NOT own any cryptocurrency created or “managed” by a bank.  Until the market cap of Bitcoin rivals that of the United States, I will not be convinced that growth has stalled.  There are, of course, other signs we can look for.

As a review, here are HYMAN MINSKY’S SEVEN BUBBLE STAGES:

The late Hyman Minsky, Ph.D., was a famous economist who taught for Washington University’s Economics department for more than 25 years prior to his death in 1996. He studied recurring instability of markets and developed the idea that there are seven stages in any economic bubble:

Stage One – Disturbance:

Every financial bubble begins with a disturbance. It could be the invention of a new technology, such as the Internet (Bitcoin). It may be a shift in laws or economic policy. The creation of ERISA or unexpected reductions of interest rates are examples. No matter what the cause, the outlook changes for one sector of the economy.

Stage Two – Expansion/Prices Start to Increase:

Following the disturbance, prices in that sector start to rise. Initially, the increase is barely noticed. Usually, these higher prices reflect some underlying improvement in fundamentals. As the price increases gain momentum, more people start to notice.

*I THINK THIS IS WHERE BITCOIN IS NOW

Stage Three – Euphoria/Easy Credit:

Increasing prices do not, by themselves, create a bubble. Every financial bubble needs fuel; cheap and easy credit is, in most cases, that fuel (central banks creating it still like mad). Without it, there can’t be speculation. Without it, the consequences of the disturbance die down and the sector returns to a normal state within the bounds of “historical” ratios or measurements. When a bubble starts, that sector is inundated by outsiders; people who normally would not be there (not yet with Bitcoin). Without cheap and easy credit, the outsiders can’t participate.

The rise in cheap and easy credit is often associated with financial innovation. Many times, a new way of financing is developed that does not reflect the risk involved. In 1929, stock prices were propelled into the stratosphere with the ability to trade via a margin account. Housing prices today skyrocketed as interest-only, variable rate, and reverse amortization mortgages emerged as a viable means for financing overpriced real estate purchases. The latest financing strategy is 40, or even 50 year mortgages.

Stage Four – Over-trading/Prices Reach a Peak:

As the effects of cheap and easy credit digs deeper, the market begins to accelerate. Overtrading lifts up volumes and spot shortages emerge. Prices start to zoom, and easy profits are made. This brings in more outsiders, and prices run out of control. This is the point that amateurs, the foolish, the greedy, and the desperate enter the market. Just as a fire is fed by more fuel, a financial bubble needs cheap and easy credit and more outsiders.

(I believe stage 4 is still in the distant future for Bitcoin)

Stage Five – Market Reversal/Insider Profit Taking:

Some wise voices will stand up and say that the bubble can no longer continue. They argue that long run fundamentals, the ratios and measurements, defy sound economic practices. In the bubble, these arguments disappear within one over-riding fact – the price is still rising. The voices of the wise are ignored by the greedy who justify the now insane prices with the euphoric claim that the world has fundamentally changed and this new world means higher prices. Then along comes the cruelest lie of them all, “There will most likely be a ‘soft’ landing!”

This stage can be cruel, as the very people who shouldn’t be buying are. They are the ones who will be hurt the most. The true professionals have found their ‘greater fool’ and are well on their way to the next ‘hot’ sector.  Those who did not enter the market are caught in a dilemma. They know that they have missed the beginning of the bubble. They are bombarded daily with stories of easy riches and friends who are amassing great wealth. The strong will not enter at stage five and reconcile themselves to the missed opportunity. The ‘fool’ may even realize that prices can’t keep rising forever… however, they just can’t act on their knowledge. Everything appears safe as long as they quit at least one day before the bubble bursts. The weak provide the final fuel for the fire and eventually get burned late in stage six or seven.

Stage Six – Financial Crisis/Panic:

A bubble requires many people who believe in a bright future, and so long as the euphoria continues, the bubble is sustained. Just as the euphoria takes hold of the outsiders, the insiders remember what’s real. They lose their faith and begin to sneak out the exit. They understand their segment, and they recognize that it has all gone too far. The savvy are long gone, while those who understand the possible outcome begin to slowly cash out. Typically, the insiders try to sneak away unnoticed, and sometimes they get away without notice. Whether the outsiders see the insiders leave or not, insider profit taking signals the beginning of the end.

(This is where I believe Stocks, Bonds, Real Estate, Auto prices, Student loans, etc. are today; although it is wise to remember that the best performing markets in terms of percentage rise are the ones where hyperinflation is occurring – Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and today Venezuela.  An interesting thought is that we may see cryptocurrencies appear to be inflating while real assets move to another round of deflation – dollars seek safety/store of value)

Stage seven – Revulsion/Lender of Last Resort:

Sometimes, panic of the insiders infects the outsiders. Other times, it is the end of cheap and easy credit or some unanticipated piece of news. But whatever it is, euphoria is replaced with revulsion. The building is on fire and everyone starts to run for the door. Outsiders start to sell, but there are no buyers. Panic sets in, prices start to tumble downwards, credit dries up, and losses start to accumulate.

(When this happens to stocks, I expect Bitcoin and other cryptos to benefit).

By Nathan Martin | Economic Edge Blog

Ethereum Forecast To Surpass Bitcoin By 2018

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Back on  February 27, when bitcoin was trading in the mid-teens, we wrote Step aside bitcoin, there is a new blockchain kid in town.”

In recent days, the world’s second most popular digital currency, Ethereum, has been surging (despite its embarrassing hack last June when some $59 million worth of “ethers” were stolen forcing the blockchain to implement a hard fork to undo the damage), prompting many to wonder if some big announcement was imminent. It appears that yet again someone “leaked” because on Monday, an alliance of some of the world’s most advanced financial and tech companies including JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Intel and more than two dozen other companies teamed up to develop standards and technology to make it easier for enterprises to use blockchain code Ethereum – not bitcoin – in the latest push by large firms to move toward the holy grail of a post-central bank world in which every transaction is duly tracked: a distributed ledger systems.

Commenting on the sharp – for the time – rise in ETH price (which had moved from $13 to $15), we said “the move may be just the beginning if most corporations adopt Ethereum as the distributed ledger standard: Accenture released a report last month arguing that blockchain technology could save the 10 largest banks $8 billion to $12 billion a year in infrastructure costs — or 30 percent of their total costs in that area.” Since then most corporations have indeed adopted Ethereum as the distributed ledger standard.

* * *

Three months later, and with Ethereum 15x higher at $230, Bloomberg today writes: “Step aside, bitcoin. There’s another digital token in town that’s winning over the hearts and wallets of cryptocurrency enthusiasts across the globe.”

It’s not just the lede that is familiar, it’s everything else too, especially the forecast.

The value of ether – the digital currency linked to the ethereum blockchain – could surpass that of bitcoin by the end of 2018, according to Olaf Carlson-Wee, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency hedge fund Polychain Capital who was interviewed by Bloomberg.

What we’ve seen in ethereum is a much richer, organic developer ecosystem develop very, very quickly, which is what has driven ethereum’s price growth, which has actually been much more aggressive than bitcoin,” said Carlson-Wee, in an interview on Bloomberg Television Tuesday.

As we previously reported, while Ethereum suffered an embarrassing hack last summer resulting in the theft in millions of ether, the cryptocurrency has drawn the interest of industries from finance to health care because its blockchain does far more than let bitcoin users send value from one person to another. “Its advocates think it could be a universally accessible machine for running businesses, as the technology allows people to do more complex actions in a shared and decentralized manner.

Which is why ethereum is gaining increasingly more converts. Carlson-Wee wasn’t the first to forecast a bright future for ethereum. Fred Wilson, co-founder and managing partner at Union Square Ventures, laid out an even more ambitious timeline for the cryptocurrency in an interview earlier this month.

“The market cap of ethereum will bypass the market cap of bitcoin by the end of the year,” said Wilson, who is also chairman of the board at Etsy.

In fact, if one looks at the relative market share of various cryptocurrencues, and extrapolates current trends, ethereum could surpass bitcoin in just a few months.

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Bitcoin currently dominates a little less than half of the digital currency market, down from almost 90 percent three months ago, according to Coinmarketcap.com data. Meanwhile, ethereum has quadrupled its share, which now represents more than a quarter of the pie.

Indicatively, as of this moment, the market cap of Bitcoin is $37 billion, 75% higher than Ethereum. If the optimsitic forecasts are accurate, Ethereum, which is currently offered at $230, will cost roughly $400 next time we look at  it, if not more. What is more interesting is that while bitcoin hit an all time high of approximately $2900 one week ago, it has failed to recapture the highs, even as ethereum has continued surging ever higher, perhaps a sign of a broad momentum shift from the legacy “cryptocoin” to the “up and comer.”

“We’re absolutely still in the infrastructure building phase,” Carlson-Wee said. “But I do think within one to two years, we’ll start to see the first viral applications that are user facing.”

In any case, for readers interested in putting money into either extremely volatile crypto, be prepared, in fact assume, a complete loss of your investment as chasing such speculative manias rarely has a happy ending. Then again, trying to time the peak of any bubble is a fool’s endeavor. Just look at the S&P.

Bitcoin’s growth has started to catch up to its fundamentals, which is likely what has been driving its astronomical gain as of late, he said. Others have attributed the surge to speculation, as well as increased interest in Asia and adoption by established companies.

Impressive performance aside, more than $150 has been knocked off bitcoin’s price since late last week amid concerns about transaction speed, safety and a possible price bubble.

Source: ZeroHedge

Bitcoin for Dummies — What Is It, and How Does It Work?

https://s15-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=http%3A%2F%2Ft1.gstatic.com%2Fimages%3Fq%3Dtbn%3AANd9GcRMCd_GXEMKjkXEHr4gy73dZHkGe6R_iRHCqa2N-eAOmfl4129Gfg&sp=44a211d30ef62402d875b5e9aafa3f9e&anticache=277451You might have been hearing about Bitcoin more frequently in the past few years. Recently it made a lot of news because of the ransomware attacks that affected countries around the world by demanding Bitcoin ransom to release embargoed documents on computers. So what the heck is Bitcoin, and how does it work?

First, let’s get this out of the way: bitcoin is money. It’s money as much as the dollar or euro or yen is money. And it’s fully interconvertible with these or any other currencies. Bitcoin is different than these national currencies in many key ways, however, because Bitcoin is a type of digital money that basically runs itself without any government intervention and minimal regulation.

Bitcoin is both the network for using the currency as well as the currency itself. It’s usually denoted Bitcoin (big B) when talking about the network and bitcoin (small b) when talking about the actual currency. For example, I have about four bitcoin in my online wallet, and I use the Bitcoin network to send payments.

How do you get bitcoin? There are two ways: Either you buy bitcoin, or you mine bitcoin. Buying bitcoin is quite easy. There are many online exchanges that will sell you bitcoin in exchange for whatever currency you normally use (dollars, etc.). I use Coinbase to buy my bitcoin, and it’s the most mainstream and scrutinized of the current exchanges. It was founded by Wall Street types in order to help Bitcoin become more mainstream. There are many others you can use, such as Kraken or CoinMama.

You can also buy bitcoin in person at various bitcoin ATMs around the world. There are now about 1,200 such ATMs in 60 countries around the world, and they’re growing rapidly. Here’s a site that allows you to find the nearest ATM.

Last, you can buy bitcoin through real people by using localbitcoins.com to find people in your area who will sell you bitcoin without going through an online exchange at all.

The second way to get bitcoin is by ”mining” them. You mine bitcoin using fast computers specially built for doing this. These specialized machines crunch numbers to discover the right codes. Every 10 minutes, the Bitcoin network releases a new block of bitcoin and the party or parties who discovered the right codes gets that block of coins (currently 12.5 coins per block). Bitmain is one of the bigger mining machine manufacturers and their newest model, the T9, sells for about one bitcoin.

This number crunching for “mining” is why bitcoin is referred to as a “crypto currency”: it’s all about using very large numbers that take massive computing power to preserve the integrity of the system and avoid hacking. The Bitcoin system basically turns electricity into money.

Security concerns?

So far, Bitcoin has never been hacked. There’s a common misconception that it has. Many companies that buy and sell bitcoin — bitcoin exchanges — have been hacked. Most famously, MtGox, one of the earliest exchanges, was hacked in 2013 and people lost a lot of money. But even then the Bitcoin network wasn’t hacked. Only the exchange was hacked.

That said, security is very important for those buying and selling bitcoin because the code itself is the currency. It’s a string of numbers and letters called a “hash key.” If someone has your hash keys, they have your bitcoin. There’s nothing extra beyond the hash key.

Your bitcoin are kept generally in an online wallet at an exchange like Coinbase or Xapo. Here’s a site that compares the security of the various means for storing bitcoin. Coinbase wins that comparison currently for online wallets and the Ledger Nano wins for hardware wallets.

You can also keep your bitcoin in an online “vault,” which adds extra layers of security for bitcoin that you don’t plan to use for a while. For example, it takes a couple of days to withdraw bitcoin from the Coinbase vault, and various types of authentication are required before the transaction is complete.

For those who want to take matters more into their own hands and avoid having to trust an online wallet or vault, you can keep your bitcoin in a physical hard drive, or you can even just write your codes by hand on paper and keep them in your physical wallet in your pocket.

Personally, I use a variety of online wallets and vaults in order to prevent any single mishap or hack from hitting me too hard. I can’t be bothered with keeping the codes offline but maybe I will one day as an extra layer of security.

How much is Bitcoin worth?

The price of one bitcoin has grown from nothing in 2009 when the Bitcoin network was created to more than $1,800 in May. If you had invested $1,000 in bitcoin in 2010, you would be sitting on more than $12 million now. How has it gone up so much? Well, because increasing numbers of investors have decided to place their confidence in the system.

We can look at the stats to get a good feel for how fast Bitcoin has grown. Blockchain.info keeps detailed stats.

» The number of bitcoin in circulation has grown from zero in the beginning of 2009 to almost 16.5 million now, with only about 4.5 million more to mine (but this will take about a century to complete because mining becomes intentionally more and more difficult).

» The Bitcoin price grew from nothing to almost $1,200 at the end of 2013, plummeted to around $200 in 2014, and rose again to more than $1,800 in May.

» Bitcoin’s market capitalization has gyrated similarly, but is now about $30 billion, up from zero in 2009 and $12 billion at the end of 2016, and is enjoying a strong upward trend in 2017.

» All crypto currencies combined now have a market cap over $60 billion, including Ripple, Ethereum, Litcoin and many others, many of which are also on very strong upward trajectories.

» The number of Bitcoin wallet users (required to buy and conduct business using bitcoin) has grown from zero in 2009 to more than 7 million by mid-2016 and 14 million now.

» Bitcoin daily transactions have grown from nothing in 2009 to 210,000 in mid-2016 and more than 350,000 by May.

So we’re seeing the Bitcoin system roughly doubling in size each year, and there’s little reason to believe that this rate of growth will slow down at this point. If anything, it’s likely to increase.

What does “deflationary” currency mean?

Bitcoin is different than regular money in that there’s a limit to how many can be created: just 21 million. Ever. The idea behind this limit is that the value of this currency can’t be inflated away by policymakers. The dollar loses about 2 percent in value each year because of planned inflation, and this provides a strong incentive to invest rather than save — and that’s literally why the Federal Reserve has a target inflation rate of 2 to 3 percent.

Bitcoin is the opposite: It’s designed to always increase in value, so simply buying and holding may be a very good investment strategy. This is why Bitcoin is described as a “deflationary” currency rather than an inflationary currency.

There’s also a limit on how small each Bitcoin can be divided: into 100 million parts. This tiny part of a bitcoin is called a satoshi, in honor of its mysterious and anonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto.

What is the blockchain?

The magic ingredient in Bitcoin is the distribution of trust in a vast electronic network. This distribution moots the need for the “centralization of trust” that is the function of central banks like the Federal Reserve. Central banks issue money, control interest rates and act as a lender of last resort in “fiat currency” systems like in the United States. The distribution of trust to the network performs these roles in the Bitcoin ecosystem. This trust network is called the “blockchain,” and it is the heart of Bitcoin.

The blockchain is an electronic record (ledger) of all bitcoin transactions that is stored on every node of the ever-increasing network of the Bitcoin ecosystem. Because it is completely distributed and constantly updated in real time, using very difficult cryptographic keys that require massive amounts of computing power, the blockchain can’t be shut down by any outside force. This fully decentralized system renders Bitcoin as a system practically immune from hackers. As mentioned above, individual bitcoin exchanges can and have been hacked, but Bitcoin itself has never been hacked.

The beauty of the blockchain and Bitcoin ecosystem is that it allows any person or people using it to avoid the centralized (and often abusive) power of central banks and of national governments entirely. ABN Amro bank chief said it well in 2015: “What the Internet has done for information and the way we communicate, the blockchain will do for value and the way we look at trust. The financial world is going to flip upside-down.”

We are witnessing that upside-down flip right now in real time. This is why we’ve seen literally $30 billion in new money come into the Bitcoin and other crypto currency space in the past six months alone.

Obviously, the decentralized nature and independence from government influence has appealed to libertarians and techno-optimists since Bitcoin’s creation. Bitcoin long has had a bad rep because it’s been used by various versions of the Silk Road website to buy and sell drugs and other illegal items. But there’s far more to Bitcoin than illegal drugs.

Bitcoin is now accepted by thousands of companies and vendors around the world. Japan recently recognized Bitcoin as a legitimate currency, and this means that more than 260,000 stores in Japan soon will start accepting Bitcoin.

We are very likely seeing the beginning of a very large wave of growth for Bitcoin and other crypto currencies like Ethereum.

Investing in Bitcoin

How should you invest in Bitcoin? I’ve always advised people that you shouldn’t invest anything in Bitcoin that you don’t mind losing. That’s generally still good advice because this currency and the technology behind it are still very new. They could just disappear for a variety of reasons.

But the highly positive trends in terms of wallet growth, acceptance by businesses and governments, as well as market cap and price, discussed above have led me recently to change my mind a little and suggest that Bitcoin should in fact be a part of any smart investor’s portfolio.

It shouldn’t be a large part, but it should definitely be a part of it. With returns like we’ve seen on Bitcoin in the past eight years, it’s reasonable to accept some risk.

Will Bitcoin change the world?

The last thing I’ll look at is the revolutionary potential for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in terms of how they may change the world. I wrote a piece in 2015 looking at how Bitcoin may stop China from replacing the United States on the world stage. This would be a good thing and could happen if enough Chinese simply start to prefer using bitcoin instead of yuan to conduct business. If China can’t control its currency it can’t control the world.

I also looked in a piece last year at whether Bitcoin is likely to be the future of money more generally. I concluded then and still believe that Bitcoin (or maybe some other coin built on the blockchain) will probably either grow in the next couple of decades to become a global currency or shrink down such that it becomes just an interesting historical footnote.

What happens if Bitcoin or something like it does replace national fiat currencies around the world? First, it makes it much harder for nations to raise massive amounts of money through printing or borrowing. This means that deficit spending will shrink or even go away. And, according to at least some Bitcoin libertarian optimists, this would also stop nations from waging war as much because they’d have to finance such wars as they go, with real money, rather than using deficit spending. A more peaceful world would indeed be a nice consequence of the Bitcoin revolution.

In closing, Bitcoin is a potentially transformative new type of currency that promises to create a more borderless and peaceful world, and an increasing flow of information and goods. It also may well lead to many unpredictable effects that we’ll simply have to sit back and watch as they unfold.

By Tom Hunt | Noozhawk

How Block Chain Will Revolutionize More Than Money

In proof we trust

Blockchain technology will revolutionize far more than money: it will change your life. Here’s how it actually works,

https://omicron.aeon.co/images/481d971e-a2c4-47d3-b015-0da8bc460b79/header_ESSAY-census--515298898_master.jpg

The impact of record-keeping on the course of history cannot be overstated. For example, the act of preserving Judaism and Christianity in written form enabled both to outlive the plethora of other contemporary religions, which were preserved only orally. William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, was still being used to settle land disputes as late as the 1960s. Today there is a new system of digital record-keeping. Its impact could be equally large. It is called the blockchain.

Imagine an enormous digital record. Anyone with internet access can look at the information within: it is open for all to see. Nobody is in charge of this record. It is not maintained by a person, a company or a government department, but by 8,000-9,000 computers at different locations around the world in a distributed network. Participation is quite voluntary. The computers’ owners choose to add their machines to the network because, in exchange for their computer’s services, they sometimes receive payment. You can add your computer to the network, if you so wish.

All the information in the record is permanent – it cannot be changed – and each of the computers keeps a copy of the record to ensure this. If you wanted to hack the system, you would have to hack every computer on the network – and this has so far proved impossible, despite many trying, including the US National Security Agency’s finest. The collective power of all these computers is greater than the world’s top 500 supercomputers combined.

New information is added to the record every few minutes, but it can be added only when all the computers signal their approval, which they do as soon as they have satisfactory proof that the information to be added is correct. Everybody knows how the system works, but nobody can change how it works. It is fully automated. Human decision-making or behavior doesn’t enter into it.

If a company or a government department were in charge of the record, it would be vulnerable – if the company went bust or the government department shut down, for example. But with a distributed record there is no single point of vulnerability. It is decentralized. At times, some computers might go awry, but that doesn’t matter. The copies on all the other computers and their unanimous approval for new information to be added will mean the record itself is safe.

This is possibly the most significant and detailed record in all history, an open-source structure of permanent memory, which grows organically. It is known as the block chain. It is the breakthrough tech behind the digital cash system, Bitcoin, but its impact will soon be far wider than just alternative money.

Many struggle to understand what is so special about Bitcoin. We all have accounts online with pounds, dollars, euros or some other national currency. That money is completely digital, it doesn’t exist in the real world – it is just numbers in a digital ledger somewhere. Only about 3 per cent of national currency actually exists in physical form; the rest is digital. I have supermarket rewards points and air miles as well. These don’t exist physically either, but they are still tokens to be exchanged for some kind of good or service, albeit with a limited scope; so they’re money too. Why has the world got so excited about Bitcoin?

To understand this, it is important to distinguish between money and cash.

If I’m standing in a shop and I give the shopkeeper 50 pence for a bar of chocolate, that is a cash transaction. The money passes straight from me to him and it involves nobody else: it is direct and frictionless. But if I buy that bar of chocolate with a credit card, the transaction involves a payment processor of some kind (often more than one). There is, in other words, a middle man.

The same goes for those pounds, dollars or euros I have in the accounts online. I have to go through a middle man if I want to spend them – perhaps a bank, PayPal or a credit-card company. If I want to spend those supermarket rewards points or those air miles, there is the supermarket or airline to go through.

Since the early 1980s, computer coders had been trying to find a way of digitally replicating the cash transaction – that direct, frictionless, A-to-B transaction – but nobody could find a way. The problem was known as the problem of ‘double-spending’. If I send you an email, a photo or a video – any form of computer code – you can, if you want, copy and paste that code and send it to one or a hundred or a million different people. But if you can do that with money, the money quickly becomes useless. Nobody could find a way around it without using a middle man of some kind to verify and process transactions, at which point it is no longer cash. By the mid 2000s, coders had all but given up on the idea. It was deemed unsolvable. Then, in late 2008, quietly announced on an out-of-the-way mailing list, along came Bitcoin.

On a dollar bill you will see the words: ‘In God we trust.’ Bitcoin aficionados are fond of saying: ‘In proof we trust’

By late 2009, coders were waking up to the fact that its inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, had cracked the problem of double spending. The solution was the block chain, the automated record with nobody in charge. It replaces the middle man. Rather than a bank process a transaction, transactions are processed by those 8,000-9,000 computers distributed across the Bitcoin network in the collective tradition of open-source collaboration. When those computers have their cryptographic and mathematical proof (a process that takes very little time), they approve the transaction and it is then complete. The payment information – the time, the amount, the wallet addresses – is added to the database; or, to use correct terminology, another block of data is added to the chain of information – hence the name block chain. It is, simply, a chain of information blocks.

Money requires trust – trust in central banks, commercial banks, other large institutions, trust in the paper itself. On a dollar bill you will see the words: ‘In God we trust.’ Bitcoin aficionados are fond of saying: ‘In proof we trust.’ The block chain, which works transparently by automation and mathematical and cryptographic proof, has removed the need for that trust. It has enabled people to pay digital cash directly from one person to another, as easily as you might send a text or an email, with no need for a middle man.

So the best way to understand Bitcoin is, simply: cash for the internet. It is not going to replace the US dollar or anything like that, as some of the diehard advocates will tell you, but it does have many uses. And, on a practical level, it works.

Testament to this is the rise of the online black market. Perhaps £1 million-worth of illegal goods and services are traded through dark marketplaces every day and the means of payment is Bitcoin. Bitcoin has facilitated this rapid rise. (I should stress that even though every Bitcoin transaction, no matter how small, is recorded on the blockchain, the identity of the person making that transaction can be hidden if desired – hence its appeal). In the financial grand scheme of things, £1 million a day is not very much, but the fact that ordinary people on the black market are using Bitcoin on a practical, day-to-day basis as a way of paying for goods and services demonstrates that the tech works. I’m not endorsing black markets, but it’s worth noting that they are often the first to embrace a new tech. They were the first to turn the internet to profit, for example. Without deep pools of debt or venture capital to fall back on, black markets have to make new tech work quickly and practically.

But Bitcoin’s potential use goes far beyond dark markets. Consider why we might want to use cash in the physical world. You use it for small payments – a bar of chocolate or a newspaper from your corner shop, for example. There is the same need online. I might want to read an article in The Times. I don’t want to take out an annual subscription – but I do want to read that article. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a system where I could make a micropayment to read that article? It is not worth a payment processor’s time to process a payment that small, but with internet cash, you don’t need a processor. You can pay cash and it costs nothing to process – it is direct. This potential use could usher in a new era of paid content. No longer will online content-providers have to be so squeezed, and give out so much material for nothing in the hope of somehow recouping later, now that the tech is there to make and receive payment for small amounts in exchange for content.

We also use cash for quick payments, direct payments and tipping. You are walking past a busker, for example, and you throw him a coin. Soon you will able to tip an online content-provider for his or her YouTube video, song or blog entry, again as easily and quickly as you click ‘like’ on the screen. Even if I pay my restaurant bill with a card, I’ll often tip the waiter in cash. That way I know the waiter will receive the money rather than some unscrupulous employer. I like to pay cash in markets, where a lot of small businesses start out because a cash payment goes directly to the business owner without middle men shaving off their percentages. The same principle of quick, cheap, direct payment will apply online. Cheap processing costs are essential for low-margin businesses. Internet cash will have a use there, too. It also has potential use in the remittance business, which is currently dominated by the likes of Western Union. For those working oversees who want to send money home, remittance and foreign exchange charges can often amount to as much as 20 per cent of the amount transferred. With Bitcoin that cost can be removed.

Some of us also use cash for payments we want kept private. Private does not necessarily mean illegal. You might be buying a present for your wedding anniversary and don’t want your spouse to know. You might be making a donation to a cause or charity and want anonymity. You might be doing something naughty: many of those who had their Ashley Madison details leaked would have preferred to have been able to pay for their membership with cash – and thus have preserved their anonymity.

More significantly, cash is vital to the 3.5 billion people – half of the world’s population – who are ‘un-banked’, shut out of the financial system and so excluded from e-commerce. With Bitcoin, the only barrier to entry is internet access.

Bitcoin is currently experiencing some governance and scalability issues. Even so, the tech works, and coders are now developing ways to use block chain tech for purposes beyond an alternative money system. From 2017, you will start to see some of the early applications creeping into your electronic lives.

One application is in decentralized messaging. Just as you can send cash to somebody else with no intermediary using Bitcoin, so can you send messages – without Gmail, iMessage, WhatsApp, or whoever the provider is, having access to what’s being said. The same goes for social media. What you say will be between you and your friends or followers. Twitter or Facebook will have no access to it. The implications for privacy are enormous, raising a range of issues in the ongoing government surveillance discussion.

We’ll see decentralized storage and cloud computing as well, considerably reducing the risk of storing data with a single provider. A company called Trustonic is working on a new block chain-based mobile phone operating system to compete with Android and Mac OS.

Just as the block chain records where a bitcoin is at any given moment, and thus who owns it, so can block chain be used to record the ownership of any asset and then to trade ownership of that asset. This has huge implications for the way stocks, bonds and futures, indeed all financial assets, are registered and traded. Registrars, stock markets, investment banks – disruption lies ahead for all of them. Their monopolies are all under threat from block chain technology.

Land and property ownership can also be recorded and traded on a block chain. Honduras, where ownership disputes over beachfront property are commonplace, is already developing ways to record its land registries on a block chain. In the UK, as much as 50 per cent of land is still unregistered, according to the investigative reporter Kevin Cahill’s book Who Owns Britain? (2001). The ownership of vehicles, tickets, diamonds, gold – just about anything – can be recorded and traded using block chain technology – even the contents of your music and film libraries (though copyright law may inhibit that). Block chain tokens will be as good as any deed of ownership – and will be significantly cheaper to provide.

The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar has won many prizes for his work on ownership. His central thesis is that lack of clear property title is what has held back so many in the Third World for so long. Who owns what needs to be clear, recognized  and protected – otherwise there will be no investment and development will be limited. But if ownership is clear, people can trade, exchange and prosper. The block chain will, its keenest advocates hope, go some way to addressing that.

Smart contracts could disrupt the legal profession and make it affordable to all, just as the internet has done with music and publishing

Once ownership is clear, then contract rights and property rights follow. This brings us to the next wave of development in block chain tech: automated contracts, or to use the jargon, ‘smart contracts’, a term coined by the US programmer Nick Szabo. We are moving beyond ownership into contracts that simultaneously represent ownership of a property and the conditions that come with that ownership. It is all very well knowing that a bond, say, is owned by a certain person, but that bond may come with certain conditions – it might generate interest, it might need to be repaid by a certain time, it might incur penalties, if certain criteria are not met. These conditions could be encoded in a block chain and all the corresponding actions automated.

Whether it is the initial agreement, the arbitration of a dispute or its execution, every stage of a contract has, historically, been evaluated and acted on by people. A smart contract automates the rules, checks the conditions and then acts on them, minimizing human involvement – and thus cost. Even complicated business arrangements can be coded and packaged as a smart contract for a fraction of the cost of drafting, disputing or executing a traditional contract.

One of the criticisms of the current legal system is that only the very rich or those on legal aid can afford it: everyone else is excluded. Smart contracts have the potential to disrupt the legal profession and make it affordable to all, just as the internet has done with both music and publishing.

This all has enormous implications for the way we do business. It is possible that block chain tech will do the work of bankers, lawyers, administrators and registrars to a much higher standard for a fraction of the price.

As well as ownership, block chain tech can prove authenticity. From notarization – the authentication of documents – to certification, the applications are multi fold. It is of particular use to manufacturers, particularly of designer goods and top-end electrical goods, where the value is the brand. We will know that this is a genuine Louis Vuitton bag, because it was recorded on the block chain at the time of its manufacture.

Block chain tech will also have a role to play in the authentication of you. At the moment, we use a system of usernames and passwords to prove identity online. It is clunky and vulnerable to fraud. We won’t be using that for much longer. One company is even looking at a block chain tech system to replace current car- and home-locking systems. Once inside your home, block chain tech will find use in the internet of things, linking your home network to the cloud and the electrical devices around your home.

From identity, it is a small step to reputation. Think of the importance of a TripAdvisor or eBay rating, or a positive Amazon review. Online reputation has become essential to a seller’s business model and has brought about a wholesale improvement in standards. Thanks to TripAdvisor, what was an ordinary hotel will now treat you like a king or queen in order to ensure you give it five stars. The service you get from an Uber driver is likely to be much better than that of an ordinary cabbie, because he or she wants a good rating.

There will be no suspect recounts in Florida! The block chain will also usher in the possibility of more direct democracy

The feedback system has been fundamental to the success of the online black market, too. Bad sellers get bad ratings. Good sellers get good ones. Buyers go to the sellers with good ratings. The black market is no longer the rip-off shop without recourse it once was. The feedback system has made the role of trading standards authorities, consumer protection groups and other business regulators redundant. They look clunky, slow and out of date.

Once your online reputation can be stored on the block chain (ie not held by one company such as TripAdvisor, but decentralized) everyone will want a good one. The need to preserve and protect reputation will mean, simply, that people behave better. Sony is looking at ways to harness this whereby your education reputation is put on the block chain – the grades you got at school, your university degree, your work experience, your qualifications, your resumé, the endorsements you receive from people you’ve done business with. LinkedIn is probably doing something similar. There is an obvious use for this in medical records too, but also in criminal records – not just for individuals, but for companies. If, say, a mining company has a bad reputation for polluting the environment, it might be less likely to win a commission for a project, or to get permission to build it.

We are also seeing the development of new voting apps. The implications of this are enormous. Elections and referenda are expensive undertakings – the campaigning, the staff, the counting of the ballot papers. But you will soon be able to vote from your mobile phone in a way that is 10 times more secure than the current US or UK systems, at a fraction of the cost and fraud-free. What’s more, you will be able to audit your vote to make sure it is counted, while preserving your anonymity. Not even a corrupt government will be able to manipulate such a system, once it is in place. There will be no suspect recounts in Florida! The block chain will also usher in the possibility of more direct democracy: once the cost and possibility of fraud are eliminated, there are fewer excuses for not going back to the electorate on key issues.

Few have seen this coming, but this new technology is about to change the way we interact online. The revolution will not be televised, it will be cryptographically time-stamped on the block chain. And the block chain, originally devised to solve the conundrum of digital cash, could prove to be something much more significant: a digital Domesday Book for the 21st century, and so much more.

by Dominic Frisby | Aeon

Swift Is Hacked Again. The Bitcoin/Blockchain Fat Lady Sings.

Summary

  • With the second hack of Swift, the day of firewalls and permission systems are suddenly numbered.
  • This time it wasn’t hacked data — it was the banks’ money that was hacked.
  • Bank security is rapidly deteriorating.
  • It is time to adopt some kind of distributed ledger.

I see the bad moon arising. I see trouble on the way. I see earthquakes and lightnin’. I see bad times today.

— Creedence Clearwater Revival

The SWIFT payment system failed again this week. The tone of Swift’s announcement intimated the end of life on the planet earth as we know it. Swift’s description of the system’s attackers was apocalyptic, and did nothing to minimize the skills of the attackers, adding that the funds seized might be, of course, reinvested to give the hackers a kind of turboboost of evil. My sources tell me the culprit is Brainiac from the planet Zod.

Of course there is nothing funny about this situation, even if Swift’s “chicken little” corporate reaction was pretty funny. The real lesson of this event is deadly earnest and, I believe, fully anticipated by most specialists in the security of our financial system. This event, though, was the Fat Lady’s Song. The banks, exchanges, clearers like Swift, DDTC, and so on, are going to have to share something with the public that insiders already know.

The party is over for the old, permissioned, firewall based, electronic fortress, concept of trust-in-payments systems. And the alternative is very far from obvious.

The buzzwords, the sweethearts of the fintech movement, are systems known as distributed ledgers. Two words are about to become part of everyone’s vocabulary: Bitcoin and blockchain. There are multitudes of manifestations of these two intimately related electronic phenomena. If you are new to the subject of Bitcoin and blockchain, the learning curve is steep.

The significance of the second Swift failure is this. Trust-based systems, such as those upon which the current payments systems operate, are becoming more expensive to protect at a rapidly increasing rate. The horse race between hackers and firewall builders is being won by hackers in spite of the rapidly increasing spending on internet security.

And these most recent hacks took bank’s money, not customer money. That is a game changer.

Since God invented dirt, the banks have been soooo regretful about the lengthy delays and inefficiencies inherent in our transactions system. They’re so sorry, they tell us, about the three days you wait between transactions and payments. And they really regret all those fees that you pay and inconveniences you experience with foreign exchange transactions.

What bunk. The banks, as a whole, make hundreds of billions a year on these inefficiencies.

The point of the article is this. Now that the bank’s own money is being stolen, the financial world will be singing from one hymnal. The time of distributed ledgers is here. There is no longer a question that distributed ledgers will replace our current method of securing transactions. The firewall system no longer has a constituency after the Swift debacle.

What are the implications for investors? First, there is nothing yet you can invest in directly. It is possible to purchase a thing called a crypto-currency. The most prominent of these is called Bitcoin. However, unless you spend the necessary months of research to grasp the underlying determinants of the value of Bitcoin, I have an emphatic one-word recommendation. Don’t. This investment is incredibly risky, and those who provide confident forecasts of its future value are deluded or worse.

The future of transactions reminds me a little of the invasion of Europe by Genghis Khan. In the distributed ledger business, Genghis Khan is Bitcoin. There is no corporate presence sponsoring Bitcoin. It is open source. The key significance of Bitcoin/blockchain is that this particular distributed ledger is, at the moment, prohibitively expensive to hack. Its disadvantages include a lack of governance. Advocates will rightly argue that a lack of governance has its benefits – obvious to anyone who considers the problems with having a government – but there are also disputes in the Bitcoin community and no clear way to resolve them.

Genghis Kahn’s competition, the Pope and Kings of distributed ledgers, are the usual suspects – primarily the big banks. But also the big accounting firms and the major IT firms are involved. I wonder if the Pope and the Kings were afraid to speak the name of Genghis Kahn. One thing is for sure, the Big Business side of the distributed ledger debate is afraid to speak the name Bitcoin. Honest.

Almost universally, if the equity capital of a distributed ledger advocate exceeds one billion market value, the advocate will never use the word Bitcoin in a discussion of distributed ledgers. Blockchain is the magic term they use. I find this annoying since the developers of Bitcoin coined the term blockchain and would have copyrighted it if they had not been open-source kind of guys who don’t do that sort of thing.

It is much, much, too early to tell how this combat is going to sort itself out. There is a shortage of practical uses of the technology from any source. The number of practical uses at the moment is zero. But the word “inevitable” is no longer too strong.

Investment recommendations? I’ve got a few. My very long term bet is that the big banks (Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK), Bank of America , Citigroup (NYSE:C), Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), among others) will be the big losers. Likewise, the big accounting firms. All have invested billions. For them, pocket change, but pocket change invested pointlessly.

An exception: I find of particular interest Goldman’s entry into retail banking with a strong aversion to brick and mortar branches. These both are wise decisions. I have a buy on Goldman — and its awareness of, and willingness to place bets upon, the outcome of fintech is one reason I think Goldman’s long term strength is assured. In the distributed ledger future, branches disappear.

The distributed ledger contest will ultimately boil down to a contest between the major IT firms (IBM (NYSE:IBM), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)) (read: Pope and Kings) on one hand, and the loose governance of Bitcoin (The Great Kahn) on the other hand.

Do not, however, look here for a standard analysis of funds invested and rates of return. This is a game that will have one winner, and the game is winner-take-all. A thinking IT firm like IBM realizes that this is a contest it must enter. This is positive for the future of IBM’s stock, but I am a long way from knowing where IBM is going to jump, or whether I approve of their plan — which is, at the moment, very diffuse.

This is also not a time to look at the fintech component of IBM’s blockchain-oriented financials. It is far too early and the financials, nearly irrelevant. In this mega-contest for the future of distributed ledgers, it is not so much about dollars invested as intellectual resources expended and risks taken.

It is perhaps prudent at the moment for Big Blue to have a finger in every pie. But when a fully informed decision can be made, the winner of this contest will be the player with the most information and best instincts. And the earliest to make the right commitment. Then we can ask old fashioned questions like: What are the implications for IBM’s financials?

On the big firm side, IBM in particular has two things working for them. They are tight with the big banks and accounting firms on the one hand, yet comfortable in the world of open source on the other. I see them with a development role in devising the apps the banks and accountants will be ultimately reduced to offering in the transactions world. Those will be some monster apps, but Apps is Apps. They’re not where the big bucks are. The big distributed ledger itself is the real prize. IBM, or another big IT firm, will need to ramp up quickly to seize it.

IBM and its ilk will also be potentially better able to make decisions than the loosely structured management of Bitcoin/blockchain. But IBM should learn to say the word “Bitcoin.” The term was totally missing from their initial press release. It’s a clear sign of fear or hubris. And I don’t think IBM has a reason to fear, as its banking customers and the accounting firms do.

What of the Bitcoin community? For all of their pretensions of computer power/economics-based decision-making ala the internet, the Bitcoin community is not the free-wheeling fun-loving band it makes itself out to be. Bitcoin-land has a management problem of its own. There is indeed a hierarchy of Bitcoin/blockchain management, albeit informal. And this management has disputes. A very important current dispute is whether and how the blockchain will grow. This is no small matter. Because if Bitcoin will matter a year from now, it needs to grow like Topsy, and now.

Who will win the battle for the One Big Global Distributed Ledger? Too soon to call, but the stakes are enormous.

by Kurt Drew | Seeking Alpha