Western Union Exploring Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

Western Union is exploring the use of blockchain and cryptocurrency to help connect the cash and digital worlds.

They have access to over half a million retail locations as well over a billion bank accounts through the banks themselves. In that regard, they consider themselves as an on- and off-ramp for global money movement.

Western Union President, Odilon Almeida, discusses three things that need to be solved to establish a broadly accepted digital currency:

1) volatility
2) governance
3) compliance

They are running a pilot program with Ripple.

Almeida says they consider it would be just an additional currency. They already operate with 130 currencies. He says it may simply represent one more option they offer customers.

What is a Neural Network?

A neural network is a computer system modeled on the human brain and nervous system and is trained to recognize patterns.

The patterns they recognize are numerical, but all real-world data, whether images, sound, text or time series, can be translated.

There are many neural network variants, but in this video introduction, a basic model is demonstrated.

When talking about neurons in a computer, it’s just something that holds a number.

A series of connected neurons comprise a layer.

And a neural network is a series of neuron layers.

Neural networks cluster and classify data.

They are used to group unlabeled data according to similarities among the example inputs, and they classify data when they have a labeled set of data for comparison.

In this video, the idea it to learn patterns from an image to read a hand-drawn number.

Much of machine learning comes down to having a good grasp of linear algebra.

In brief, this type of neural network is based upon different types of mathematical averages and biases that build upon recognizing parts of images to recognizing a complete image.

Blockchain Overview

BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY

Blockchain is a new class of information technology which combines cryptography with distributed computing.

Those technologies have been around for decades.

in 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto combined them in a new ways to establish a model for a network of computers to collaborate towards maintaining a shared and secure database.

In simple terms, blockchain as a technology, is simply a distributed secure database.

This database consists of a string of blocks, each one a record of data that has been encrypted and given a unique identifier, called a hash.

Mining computers on the network validate transactions, add them to the block they’re building and then broadcast the completed block to other nodes so that all in the network have a copy of the database.

Because there is no central authority to verify the ongoing updated data, the blockchain relies upon a distributed consensus algorithm. In order to make an entry on to the blockchain database all the computers have to agree about its state so that no one computer can make an alteration without the consensus of others.

Once completed, a block of data gets put into the blockchain as a permanent record. Each time a block gets completed, a new one is generated. Hence, there is a countless string of blocks in a blockchain all connected to one another, like links in a chain, in proper, linear, chronological order.

The blockchain was designed so that transactions are immutable, meaning they are unchangeable and cannot be deleted.

Each block contains a hash value that is dependent upon the hash of the previous block. So they’re all linked together. If one is changed, then all the other blocks in the chain going forward will be altered, making any such change fully observable. This makes the data tamper-proof.

The previous info outlines what could be described as blockchain 1.0, which function largely as simply databases. But the technology continues to evolve.

The second generation already provides the capacity to execute any computer code on the blockchain. The system is evolving to become a globally distributed cloud-computing infrastructure.

It remains very much a work-in-progress.

DISTRIBUTED LEDGERS

As a permanent and secure database, blockchain serves as a suitable storage place for records or transactions that involve value or in some way needs to be a secure and trusted source of information.

These secure, distributed records, are called distributed ledgers.

A distributed ledger is a consensus of replicated, shared and synchronized digital data geographically dispersed across multiple sites.

Such ledgers can be used for any type of data storage, such as inventory or monetary transactions.

Distributed ledger technology enables the replacement of a multiplicity of private databases within each organization, with one shared database that is accessible and trusted by all parties involved.

Blockchain enables trust between parties that might not otherwise trust each other.

The result greatly strengthens collaboration between organizations or between individuals, peer-to-peer, without dependency on third party centralized institutions.

This greatly increases efficiencies between collaborating companies in a variety of industries.

SMART CONTRACTS

Second generation blockchains offer the opportunity to automate the workings of these networks through smart contracts.

Smart contracts are computer code stored inside a blockchain, which encode contractual agreements.

These smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement or operation written into lines of code, which are stored and executed on the blockchain.

For example, a potential financial smart contract might automatically increase an amount of interest for some stored money, once it exceeds a certain value. Additionally, smart contracts can be used to automate many basic operations on the network, disintermediating the need for third-party institutions.

TOKEN ECONOMIES

Blockchain is a new organization paradigm for the discovery, validation and transfer of all discrete units of value and the development of distributed organizations via token market systems.

A token is a quantified unit of value that is recorded on the blockchain. This value may be of any kind. It might be “likes” on social media, it might be a currency, it might be the integrity of an ecosystem, or it might be an electrical unit.

Token networks are a network of independent nodes that act autonomously but through incentive structures and the signalling system of the market, self-organize to create emergent coordination and thus a distributed management system.

Blockchain is not just an information technology, it’s an institutional technology that enables us to design incentive structures in the form of token economies. In such a way this can convert centralized organizations into distributed markets via token economics.

This has the potential to organize human activity on a larger scale than has been previously possible.

the great design innovation of blockchain is its capacity to coordinate a network of autonomous nodes towards maintaining a shared infrastructure.

Though adding a layer of trust and value exchange to the internet, blockchain merges our newly developed information networks with the institutional structures that sit on top of them. This strengthens the networks as a new mode for organizing society and economy.

By merging technology and economics it enables us to redesign institutional structures and ultimately re-conceptualize how we organize every aspect of society, economy and even technology, based on networks or autonomous nodes that are incentivized to collaborate.

Much of what blockchain has to offer will only be possible with the parallel development of the Internet of Things and advanced analytics, all of which are combining to form the next generation of internet, of which the blockchain will be a critical infrastructure.

Blockchain Culture and Aspirations

This video introduces a curriculum for gaining a working understanding of the blockchain and its implications to various sectors of society.

For developers, blockchain is a set of protocols and encryption technologies for securely storing data on a distributed network.

For business and finance, blockchain is a distributed ledger and the technology underlying the explosion of new digital currencies.

For technologists, blockchain is the driving force behind the next generation of the internet.

For others, blockchain is a tool for reshaping society and the global economy, leading us to a more decentralized world.

Malta as ‘Blockchain Island’

Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world, with a population of less than 500,000. The island is a speck in the Mediterranean Sea, between Europe and Africa.

Malta gained its national independence from Great Britain in 1964.

As a small country with limited natural resources, they have the willingness and ability to move quickly to adopt new opportunities that can grow their economy.

Malta has made itself very welcoming to blockchain and cryptocurrency companies by establishing friendly regulation and low taxes for such businesses.

Hence, capital, start-ups and talent are leaving less friendly jurisdictions to set up shop in Malta.

So far, the welcoming hand has benefited Malta with a new influx of revenue for the country.

The above video includes interviews with the Finance Minister of Malta, Edward Scicluna; Changpeng Zhao (Binance); John McAfee; Tim Byun (OKEX ); Alexandre Dreyfus (chiliZ); and Marc Taverner (Bitfury).

Blockchain Security Facts and Myths re Industrial Control

Richard R. Brooks, from Clemson University, speaks at the Industrial Cybersecurity Conference 2019, about blockchain and smart contracts.

Brooks notes that true blockchains are distributed, decentralized, trustless and theoretically immutable.

Following are additional notes.

Blockchain security is partly based upon its systemic decentralization, as opposed to central authority.

In Etherium, smart contracts are embedded in the money.

Hyperledger is a modular styled blockchain.

Scrybe: a blockchain ledger for clinical trials

Some of the open problems he discusses re blockchain include:

  • Wallet exploits lead to theft
  • Fake wallets lead to theft
  • Mining has many alternatives
  • Applications other than currency are probably a better fit

Brooks describes the blockchain audit application as a particularly good idea.

He states that smart contracts are a good way to remove single-point of failure in a system.

Side chains are a way to make blockchains more efficient.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

Science fiction has been depicting the good and bad of artificial intelligence for years. Artificial intelligence is everywhere and becoming a critical part of our everyday lives.

If intelligence is the use of data to make predictions, then artificial intelligence systems are primed to take over thousands of jobs and change every aspect of society.

But new jobs, like repairing robots and the ever-increasing need for software programmers are also on the rise.

Regardless, the future is uncertain on the ultimate applications and benefits of AI.

Using Blockchain to Restore Privacy

Privacy expert, Steve Shillingford, speaks about privacy and blockchain at TEDx Salt Lake City.

Shillingford notes that the web has evolved from a decentralized platform to a tool controlled by a few corporate and government interests.

He further expresses that he knows this because he helped create the technology to accomplish that.

Following are additional notes from his talk.

Our digital world does not square with our analog experience. Almost everything we do without our phones is our analog experience.

The intrusive and unsafe digital world has left us feeling unsure and uncertain.

According to a PEW study, 93% have agree they have lost control of their personal identify. 9 out of 10 expressed lack of confidence in govt and private institutions.

But we can bring back the original intent of the internet.

Unlike anytime in history, people are becoming aware of these violations and are starting to take actions. One way is by reducing use of social media.

For some people cutting out the intermediary is a movement.

Hence, blockchain is shifting the power back to people.

We can decide what information of ours is accessed, shared and stored, without middlemen or caretakers.

With blockchain, entries can not be modified or changed without the author’s consent.

Blockchain puts freedom, trust and privacy back in the hands of the people.

In the offline world we have control of our personal safety, at least by determining where we go. With blockchain, we can take control back from powerful companies and big governments.

Blockchain gives us the power to live online, the way we live offline.

Blockchain will provide a safer and more connected world.

Steve Shillingford is an entrepreneur, technologist, and cybersecurity expert.” Steve Shillingford is an entrepreneur, technologist and cyber security expert. He is Founder and CEO of Anonyome Labs, maker of MySudo. A reformed data miner, Steve is a staunch consumer privacy advocate with more than 25 years of experience driving innovation and growth at industry-leading technology companies.

Blockchain + AI = Decentralized Artificial Intelligence

Siraj Raval discusses artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.

He notes that machine learning – AI – is not new. It’s been around since the 1950s.

However, in recent years, one facet of AI, neural networks, has engendered the model of deep learning, which has outperformed all prior machine learning models.

Hence, all big AI advancements noways are coming from neural networks.

In contrast to AI, he describes blockchain as an immutable data structure that no one owns.

Raval depicts AI and blockchain as a ying and yang.

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

More specifically, he describes AI (“yin”) as probabilistic (subject to or involving chance variation) and changing, using algorithms to guess at reality.

He describes blockchains (“yang”) as determininistic (forces and factors cause things to happen in a way that cannot be changed) and permanent, using algorithms and cryptography to record reality.

Raval refers to our personal data as the most valuable asset we have and yet we give it away for free to companies in exchange for free services.

Hence, decentralized apps are an important idea, which can also be called web 3.0, which he considers one of the most exciting developments today.

More specifically, he describes decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) or decentralized apps (Dapp) as a solution to data management.

DAO is a computational process that runs autonomously, on a decentralized infrastructure with resource manipulation. “It’s code that can own stuff.”

Instead of one central authority owning it, the participants have ownership.

Raval states that the future is AI and blockchain.

He also cautions against the downside of decentralized apps using AI and blockchain, such as machines running independent from the control of humans.

Raval ends with a rap about AI and blockchain.

Siraj Raval is a Dapp developer & entrepreneur. He is founder of a crowdfunding platform for developers called Havi, has developed several iOS apps including Meetup, and has worked on a host of open source work.

The Evolution of Blockchain

Nicola Morris speaks about blockchain and its opportunity to transform commerce.

Morris dissects the mechanisms of blockchain as well as its possibilities, and examines how this system can create more trust and transparency across the many ways we buy, sell, or analyze value.

She describes how the current database systems used in commerce are exchanging value, but that blockchain is more effective and efficient.

Morris describes the blockchain benefits of speed, transparency and truth.

She depicts blockchain, in its most fundamental form, as a ledger which keep track of transactions, except it’s on multiple computers, which makes the record viewable to others.

Also, a transaction recorded on a block is immutable, or unchangeable.

Since the data is available to others, there’s trust and transparency.

This is a massive development since there are so many intermediaries whose reason for existence is based upon lack of trust and transparency (think bankers and many aspects of banking). Hence, blockchain eliminates middlemen and reduces commerce friction.

However, things are not perfect yet and there is lack of regulatory governance. So, although the evolution of blockchain will not occur overnight, we will get there.

Morris uses the development of the internet as a parallel analogy to the evolution of blockchain, with the difference that blockchain is new and the internet has had a few decades to evolve into a meaningful global platform of communication.

Morris believes blockchain will democratize and revolutionize commerce.

Nicola Morris leads the WEX corporate development team and is responsible for corporate strategy, M&A, marketing, and new business ventures, including our businesses in Latin America and Australia. Prior to joining WEX, Morris worked at Verizon Communications, where she was focused on new business opportunities, identifying M&A targets and creating communications related to Verizon’s growth strategy. Morris has also previously worked at Digex, Iridium and for the U.S. government. She currently serves as a trustee on the Portland Symphony Orchestra Board and as a director on the Center for Grieving Children’s Board.