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IBM’s Food Trust Blockchain Goes Live, Carrefour Jumps in First

Multinational tech giant IBM has been leaving a significant imprint on the retail industry lately with the use of blockchain technology, and it’s doing again with the latest project, Food Trust.

IBM, not content with providing foodchain solutions for mega-retailer Walmart, has now hooked up with French supermarket giant Carrefour in order to launch blockchain based Food Trust, enabling the chain to price its products more accurately.

The recent IBM/Walmart project came up with a farm-to-store tracking system based on blockchain technology which Walmart committed 100 of its suppliers to adhere to. Both Walmart and IBM have been at the forefront of DLT since its conception and both companies are eager to promote the use of new technology in sectors including business and commerce. Walmart has become a primary mover in the industry in pushing blockchain forward with numerous patents pending.

The latest IBM deal with Carrefour, now operating in over 12,000 locations around the globe, offers three individual retailing solutions using DLT. The first of which, called “Trace” offers a sophisticated system of tracking products from source, which also factors in shipping and production costs, allowing the retailer to arrive at a fair price to pass on to customers.

Other aspects of Food Trust in its present early form focus establishes how goods fit retailers “Fair Trade” or “Organic” tags in order to be accurately listed on the blockchain, adding to buyer confidence.

Carrefour itself is no stranger to using emerging technologies in recent months and made a recent impact on the French farming sector this year with its blockchain based system which began tracking its chicken supply. This provided customers with an egg to table history by using a smartphone to scan a code on the packaging to obtain details on each stage of production, including origins, earlier location, feed and where the meat was finally processed.

Carrefour may be the first to use the latest IBM system, but now Food Trust is live and it’s there to be used by all in the food industry moving forward.

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People’s Bank of China Looks for Crypto Experts to Join Ranks

China’s central bank is seeking four cryptocurrency specialists that can assist the bank in developing a platform to facilitate crypto transactions.

The Digital Money Institute at the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) appears to be looking to expand its operations further into the field of cryptocurrency with its new recruits, two of whom are required to join as engineers, as well as two experts in economic law and finance.

In an advertisement placed on PBoC’s website, the engineers are said to be needed to develop both a big data platform and a chip processor. Specific responsibilities are listed, including developing the required software systems, encryption technology and security models, as well as research and development of the terminal chip technology that will facilitate the cryptocurrency transactions.

The legal and financial experts are required for legal research aspects, cited as including analysis of risk management and economic mechanisms.

In the wake of recent reports that PBoC is looking to launch its own stable coin, the job advertisement also lists policy research on ”legal digital currency” as a requirement of the successful applicant.

Earlier this week, an op-ed published by PBoC affiliate publication CN Finance called for China to launch its own yuan-backed stablecoin in order to prevent any negative externalities of US-backed stablecoins on other fiats.

The article outlines the benefit of having such a stablecoin: ”[it] uses the advantages of blockchain technology as much as possible, while trying not to challenge the legal currency, basically bypasses the commercial bank, and implements global cross-border payment.”

The PBoc has issued multiple warnings to investors regarding the dangers of cryptocurrency trading and has issued a national ban. The CN Finance op-ed advises that the ban remains firm alongside a yuan stablecoin.

 

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Indian Prime Minister Gives “Life Changing” DLT Full Backing

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out in favor of giving support to distributed ledger technology (DLT), outlining its potential to change lives.

Modi sees emerging technologies such as blockchain boosting the Indian economy and creating a more buoyant employment landscape which could change the lives of “the last person waiting in the queue”.

These are encouraging words for an industry which is seen to be struggling this year, not helped by a controversial crypto ban which is under enforcement, and a sluggish performance to date by the government in passing helpful blockchain legislation.

Research conducted by Incrypt earlier this year found that 80% of developers could be forced to move abroad due to the distinct lack of regulatory frameworks in India. According to hiring solutions provider Belong Technologies, only 5,000 (0.25%) of the 2 million blockchain developers in India have the right blockchain skills.

The survey indicated that “the delay in putting together a framework for blockchain is causing India to lose out on jobs, drag in capital infusion, lack of innovation for local problems, talent flight, and setback in global positioning”.

These new comments could mark a positive change for the development and legislation of blockchain technology and help in retaining the skill needed to push into mainstream adoption across the sectors. A recent move in Hyderabad to create a blockchain district show some state governments’ willingness to take the next step. The Hyderabad project would see multinational IT services provider Tech Mahindra join forces with Telangana state government for the construction of the hub in the state capital.

Although the prime minister has waxed lyrical regarding blockchain on more than one occasion, the government will need to lead from the front and implement such plans as those in Telangana to show that it is serious.

The potential for blockchain in the Indian farming sector is huge as the second biggest global producer of wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, silk, groundnuts and dozens more produce. It is also the second biggest harvester of vegetables and fruit, representing 8.6% and 10.9% of overall production, respectively. Agricultural supply chains, often victims of mismanagements and corruption in India, will benefit enormously from a DLT adaptation, a fact not lost on Modi in a speech made earlier this year:

“The responsibility of helping our farmers rests on the shoulders of the new generation. Agricultural students will add value addition to the farmers in our country. There is one important technology in agriculture-artificial intelligence. In the coming days, blockchain technology will also play a huge role.”

 

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Singaporean Financial Regulator to Help Crypto Exchanges with Wary Banks

The Singaporean financial regulator has stated that it is willing to support cryptocurrency firms that are having problems with setting up bank accounts in the city.

Some crypto firms have complained against Singapore’s banking system which they argue has resulted in account closures or companies simply not being able to open business accounts. This has resulted in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) stepping in an attempt to alleviate the problem.

MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon that has said that from the point of view of the banks, he can understand their concerns, arguing they should not allow “an extremely lax regulatory environment in order to attract that kind of business”, referring to the cryptocurrency industry. He added:

“What we are trying to do is to bring the banks and cryptocurrency fintech startups together to see if there is some understanding they can reach… I hope we can bring minds together on this so that we can get over this hurdle.”

Singapore has expressed in the past that it has no desire to follow the Japanese pro-crypto stance on cryptocurrency but on the other hand, is keen to push fintech forward in order create tech jobs and boost the economy. This, however, doesn’t include embracing crypto exchanges in the same way that Japan has. This view is clearly reflected in the stance that many of Singapore’s banks have taken. Menon defends this concern arguing:

“The nature of this business is a bit different, so banks may need to employ other ways in which they can establish bona fide… some of these activities are indeed quite opaque. I would not blame the banks for not opening the bank accounts.”

The problem is not unique to Singapore, as banks in other countries have been reticent to offer services to crypto firms due to concerns about money laundering and financial crime, despite numerous claims that figures are exaggerated. Even European counties such as the Irish Republic have had similar problems where banks have closed crypto exchange accounts.

However, blockchain development is fast becoming a major part of Singapore’s fintech environment. With the recent news that Singapore-based Venture Capital firm Golden Gate Ventures is to launch a $10 million fund targeting crypto and blockchain startups, the country continues to push forward with its DLT investment, with one eye on crypto.

 

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Facebook Needs to Expand New Blockchain Team

Facebook is continuing to expand its recently formed blockchain team under its head, ex-Coinbase director David Marcus.

A team of high profile players from the IT and blockchain/crypto environment is taking shape and with the latest position coming available, Facebook will be searching for some big shoes to fit the role. The latest position on the team is for a Global Brand Development Lead, as described in its rather vague job description:

“Our ultimate goal is to help billions of people with access to things they don’t have now – that could be things like equitable financial services, it could be new ways to save, it could be new ways to share information.”

Facebook mentions that its internal startup is “exploring lots of areas of interest across all facets of blockchain technology”, which appears to be leaving the door ajar for those that feel they might have the attributes to add to the social media’ giants blockchain aspirations at some stage in the future.

With David Marcus the former head of the Facebook messenger app, under whose guidance, its user base exploded to over 1 billion people, and Evan Chang as Blockchain Engineering Director, the company is clearly planning to stake a claim in the industry.

Other roles that need filling as part of Facebook’s blockchain push include a Head of Global Community & Media Director, Head of Brand, Product Marketing Lead, Head of Business Development & Partnerships, Strategic Planning & Operations Lead, Software Engineer, and finally a Software Engineering Manager to be based in Tel Aviv.

Marcus originally intended to create “a small group to explore how to best leverage blockchain for Facebook”, when he made his plans known in May of this year, but Facebook is a big company and the positions advertised demonstrate just how technically unequipped it is for the intended job in hand.

 

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Blockchain Technology in Protecting Children’s Rights

Humanitarian Blockchain

a BitcoinNews.com series

   Part 2: Blockchain Technology in Protecting Children’s Rights

Welcome to the second instalment of the Bitcoin News Humanitarian Blockchain Series. According to Human Rights Watch, over 70 million children around the world work in hazardous conditions in agriculture, mining, domestic labor and other sectors.  We look at how blockchain is impacting upon these statistics to make the world a safer place for children.

A project is set to be launched this year, using blockchain, in order to provide manufacturers of devices such as iPhones genuine information that guarantees that the cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries is not mined by children. The tracking of cobalt in the Congo is an enormous problem due to numerous informal mining sites, many of them being worked by children. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), devastated by a protracted war which has caused the death of 5.4 million people, is listed as the world’s poorest nation.

The US Department of Labor identifies 148 different consumer goods produced by child or forced labor around the world including beef, sugar, bricks, coffee and other products originating from 76 countries. With gold at the top of this consumer list, the report cites 21 countries in which “children help mine gold, climbing into unstable shafts, carrying and crushing heavy loads of ore, and often using toxic mercury to process the gold”.

Blockchain will offer much-increased supply chain transparency until a solution to finding an alternative source to cobalt can be found by phone companies and car manufacturers. Amnesty International is currently exploring the possibility of implementing blockchain technology to address the problem of child labor by enabling consumers to register a specific mine to make their purchase. Unregistered illegal mines would, therefore, be easily identifiable through blockchain.

This year, UNICEF published a website enabling crypto mining through donors’ computer power called “The Hope Page”. It mined Monero through Coinhive, a crypto-mining service. This was the second time that UNICEF had used cryptocurrency to fund its overseas projects. In February, it launched a similar program to support children in Syria, affected by the lengthy civil war in that country, using donors’ computers to mine Ether.

The donated funds went to UNICEF Australia’s current mission in Bangladesh for the Rohingya crisis, providing humanitarian relief for both children and their mothers, ensuring that they receive life-saving supplies such as safe drinking water, food, and vaccines.

Director of UNICEF France, Sébastien Lyon, commented on its current focus on using blockchain technology and accepting cryptocurrency donations to implement some of its projects around the world to support children’s well- being:

“Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology used for charitable purposes offers a new opportunity to appeal to the generosity of the public and continue to develop our operations with children in the countries of intervention.”

This year, the Global Bank raised USD 73 million for the two-year bond called “bondi”, due to the involvement of one of Australia’s “Big 4” banks. The funds were raised via the Global Bank’s funding arm, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The target was originally between USD 50 million and USD 100 million, aimed at supporting a range of sustainability projects in developing countries around the globe.

One of the World Bank’s main priorities is that children have access to health care, education, water and sanitation, and energy. Recent projects funded by the World Bank include improving agricultural research in Afghanistan, fighting hunger in Afghan villages, and improving infrastructure in the Palestine territories.

In many parts of the world, conditions for children are appalling, often requiring that they work for long hours in dangerous locations with little pay. In the jewelry retail sector, children working at source have often been injured and killed when working in small-scale gold or diamond mining pits.

This industry is clearly one that would benefit from blockchain in terms of addressing children’s vulnerability as they are forced to work for disreputable employers with little regard for the health or safety of their often under-aged workers. For the customer at point-of-sale, it is currently very difficult to know exactly the origins of the gold or diamonds in an item of jewelry, or whether it has been tainted by human rights abuses involving children. With more consumers beginning to demand responsible sourcing, retailers now have a supply chain solution at their fingertips by utilizing DLT. Retailers are able to take the emerging technology path and change their ways of conducting business, putting pressure on those at source to extract minerals using a much-improved code of ethics.

The missing element is education, and the dissemination of information, which are both badly needed to encourage industry to adopt this vital tool to change children’s lives and protect children’s rights around the globe.

 

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UN Women and WFP Unite with Blockchain Project for Syrian Refugees

As an extension of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Building Blocks project for Syrian refugees in Jordan, blockchain will now be utilized to support both the Zaatari and Azray refugee camps.

Since last year, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed cryptocurrency-based food vouchers to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, bypassing bureaucracy and getting aid to where it’s needed. The new project initiated by the WFP and UN Women was announced last month and will support the UN Women’s “cash for work” program currently running at both camps.

The “cash for work” program has been organized by host countries enabling Syrian refugees to support local communities and offering them the opportunity to put something back into their new homeland. Typically paid tasks include collecting waste, assisting with projects building homes, roads, and local schools, and in some cases working in education and the health industry as assistants. In areas which have seen destruction due to conflict and have since been liberated, refugees may be asked to assist with repairing infrastructure.

Cash transfers as part of the scheme have traditionally been made available to refugees via banking services, but with the new scheme, those women who assist in the UN Women cash program will be able to access their funds directly without a third party with accounts securely stored on a blockchain network.

Women will able to pay for goods at participating supermarkets in Jordan by using one of a network of eye-scanners at their local supermarket, linking their cash to the Building Blocks program which was introduced for refugees at the Azraq camp in 2017. UN Women is also trying to increase financial literacy rates among women by offering seminars at their “Oases”, encouraging recipients to examine their Building Blocks accounts online. Oases are safe spaces for women and children to congregate in the camps, where they can meet others and learn. They are usually funded through overseas aid and the host nation.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka explained the thinking behind its plans for women refugees in Jordan:

“We know that women in crisis situations and displacement settings tend to have lower digital literacy than men, and often lack access to the technology and connectivity that are so critical in today’s world.”

Ngcuka adds that such projects are designed to accelerate, as she put it, “progress towards women’s economic empowerment on a large scale”.

Humanitarian organizations have pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by such crises and consequently are often forced to become the primary breadwinners while taking care of their children and families as an extra burden.

Robert Opp, Director of Innovation at WFP, points out that it is a desire for “social good” which is driving the current use of blockchain technology by the organization:

“Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger. Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies… using blockchain can be a qualitative leap, not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community.”

 

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Election day in Québec: Where Does Crypto Mining Go from Here?

The Canadian French-speaking province of Québec goes to the polls today, but what could this mean for the future of the region’s vibrant cryptocurrency mining economy?

The outcome of the 1 October parliamentary elections could have a significant impact on the future of Bitcoin mining, as the incumbent Liberal government clings on to power by a thread.

The parties in the race are for the 2018 general election include The Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ), Coalition for Quebec’s Future (CAQ), Solidarity Quebec (QS), Quebec Party (PQ) and Green Party of Quebec (PVQ). At this stage, only one party – the Coalition for Quebec’s Future (CAQ) – has a feasible chance of taking power, with Parti Québécois running third; two political bodies at some point expressing a wish to advance blockchain in the province.

The incumbent Liberals have recently applied the brakes when it comes to Bitcoin mining in the state, ordering Hydro Québec, the state-owned electricity supplier, to restrict the sale of power and raise the tariffs of blockchain companies charges. Although the Liberal government has blamed the lack of grid capacity on recent actions, critics are far more cynical, arguing that the government lacks vision and is driving away valuable business which should be boosting Québec’s economy.

“These measures immediately damaged numerous mining operations in Quebec and deterred investors who went elsewhere… The crypto community is really not happy about that,” maintains former Les Affairs columnist François Remy. Francis Pouliot, Montreal cryptocurrency pundit went further, saying in June that “the Québec Bitcoin Eldorado is dead”. Remy sees the two close runners as parties who could lift the industry in the province:

“The (Liberal) government is about to lose the elections, and the other political parties, like Parti Québécois and CAQ seem more opened to blockchain… They want to attract these companies, to support them and use cheap electricity and cold climate as a competitive advantage for the Québec economy.”

Quebec became a mecca for North American companies in late 2017 offering both cheap hydroelectricity and cold weather – crypto mining’s two absolute essentials for a healthy profit. As more companies moved to the region, Hydro-Québec began to report that the demand for power was beginning to impact on the grid due to the surge in crypto mining and the increase in data center construction in the province.

As reported in June by Bitcoin News, this led to a moratorium on new mining in the province which resulted in a 500MW electricity pool being allocated to blockchain customers, which would then be auctioned off, based on tariffs companies would be happy to pay. This remains the status quo until further discussions set for November.

How keen both the CAQ and the Parti Québécois will be to become parties who show a real willingness to advance new technology in the region and tackle such problems, will remain to be seen until after today’s closely-run election.

 

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John McAfee: Crypto Frees Employees from “Subtle and Refined Slavery”

The founder of software company McAfee Associates has suggested that blockchain and crypto have given new freedoms to the working community whom he sees as “hired slaves”.

Giving an interview at the recent CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise event, John McAfee claims that blockchain is creating a “permissionless” society, freeing employees from a system of a “subtle and refined slavery”.

McAfee asserts that the current status quo is one which restricts the individual from fulfilling the requirements of enforced regulations at every step, arguing that a largely decentralized society would enable employees to fulfill their potential. He argues, “We live in a system of permission. Every legislation, every law, every regulatory agency, every regulatory body, is designed to control our thoughts or actions or movements.”

He gave the example of cryptocurrency as an illustration of how a new found financial freedom can be utilized by removing middlemen who profit from the established systems put in place by large institutions:

“If you want to send Bitcoin, Ethereum or Monero, who do I have to ask? Only the peer… We are creating a permissionless society… We are not slaves for our jobs, we are not slaves to the government, we are slaves to the entire system.”

McAfee’s views are shared by many and have become the driving force behind cryptocurrency adoption on both an individual, and more gradually, at a governmental level, as more nations begin to review outmoded and restrictive methods of conducting financial services. The adoption of blockchain technology is far-reaching and is beginning to make an impact in all sectors across the globe. A new World Economic Forum (WEF) report indicates that blockchain has the influence to transform the global trade industry:

“Paper-based, manual processes, some created centuries ago, lead to complexity and delays, introduce errors and risks, and stand in the way of reliable, real-time information gathering and tracking required for credible financing decisions.”

Michele Orzan, digital leader of WEF Europe, maintains that it is government services which could benefit the most from blockchain, followed by public and civic leadership. This would have a major impact on solving social issues globally, as can already be seen by numerous projects on the African continent where lives are being changed for the better, through social projects backed by blockchain.

 

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Students Now Expect Blockchain Courses at Universities

As blockchain courses become of a feature on university campuses around the world, so does the expectancy from companies and students that these courses are there to provide a future for the burgeoning industry.

Educational institutions in the United States are mounting an academic response to the emerging industry, which, due to the cautious public and skeptical governmental approach to cryptocurrencies and blockchain, may come as a surprise. However, now that the markets have cooled off, the monetary value of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies comes second to the value of the underpinning tech.

The industry realizes this and as such has been putting its money where its mouth is with increasing investment going into education from some of its leaders. Ripple is just one, announcing a USD 50 million University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) this year partnering with 17 universities around the world, reports Business Wire.

Some big names were on the Ripple educational hitlist, including Princeton University, MIT, and University College London (UCL). Several universities across the US, along with others in South Korea, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, India, Brazil, Cyprus and Australia are also included in the project, giving the initiative a distinctly international flavor.

Both Columbia University and Stanford University opened blockchain research centers this summer, hot on the trails of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Add to these, Miami University in Ohio, Montclair State University, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others and the direction of the industry in the US alone is very clear; there’s no way but up.

This is what students expect to see now, realizing the importance of new technology and how it’s a perfect fit for numerous sectors, with the potential to offer a range of employment opportunities. As University of Pennsylvania legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach indicates, this is the new direction in education for many:

“There is rapidly growing student interest… They’re seeing opportunities with companies that want students to work in this area, which include both blockchain-focused startups as well as major companies. Wharton [School of the University of Pennsylvania] sends people to all the Fortune 500 companies, and investment banks and technology firms. A very high percentage of those leading firms now have blockchain or distributed ledger projects, and they’re looking for expertise in that area.”

Job search site Glassdoor.com now lists more than 2,700 blockchain-related positions, indicating that the work is there if students can gain the skills. However, running the courses is not always easy according to Andrew Myers, a computer science professor at Cornell University:

“Blockchain as a technology requires that you understand a bunch of other things first: cryptography, distributed systems, operating systems… Before you know it, you’ve got a pretty long prerequisite chain. To really teach a full-blown blockchain course, you need textbooks, and a lot of that knowledge just hasn’t been distilled into a form that lets you really teach a good undergraduate-level course yet.”

It’s unlikely that colleges trend towards providing these courses is likely to abate though, and some major educational institutions are already realizing that undergraduate courses in blockchain will add even more credibility to an industry which is gaining respect by the day.

 

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