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Survey: Blockchain CEOs, Firms and Consultants Wary yet Confident

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) and the blockchain industry as a whole are the subjects of a new survey published by marketing firm TGE that shows respondents to appear extremely cautious yet confident.

The survey, which had 319 respondents from nations including the USA, UK, Hong Kong and South Korea, was set out by TGE so that it could quantify the space and “…to provide recommendations to investors, participants and companies seeking funding and investment over the near to medium term”.

ICO perceptions

This survey did not appear to be a run-of-the-mill public perceptions study. Instead, it had its boxes checked by CEOs, firms, and consultants, allowing for the results to be taken perhaps a little more seriously than others.

With regards to sentiments surrounding the muddied ICO markets, the survey concluded that results are “leaning positive” despite bear market conditions. However, upon closer examination, the study indicated a mixed mood among those surveyed. Looking optimistically, 19% were very confident about this facet of the industry with 23% somewhat confident and 36% as neutral. Going against this, 23% were non-confident and 14% were “not confident at all”.

ICOs have a checkered history of fraudulent activities and scams that have resulted in varied responses from the governments around the world. While some like China and South Korea currently have bans on the digital crowdfunding method, others such as Malta have implemented accommodating regulations.

In the middle of these polarizing divides, there are entities such as the European Union and other nations who are actively pursuing the appropriate regulatory standards.

ICOs are a significant branch of the blockchain industry that has allowed for numerous startups and enterprises to raise their desired capital. For nations pursuing blockchain technologies, ICOs are argued to be an essential business practice in this new global race and banning them could be extremely damaging for a domestic blockchain industry, hence the ongoing debates that regularly occur.

This broad issue is reflected in the survey where, under the question of “What do you feel are the greatest challenges to ICOs?”, with the top three answers: “ICO fraudsters”, “Lack of regulation” and “Lack of governance”. Interestingly, both “regulation” and “bad press” followed the top-three spots.

Blockchain industry views

The versatile blockchain has been touted as the disruptive technology of this generation and so the survey queried participants as to which sectors they viewed as the greatest opportunities for blockchain. The top five in rank order were: basic financial services (lending, interest) [26%], health and life sciences (medical) [25%], IT security [23%], advanced financial services (derivatives, structured products) [20%], and education [19%].

In the enduring bear market, there have been numerous claims that the cryptocurrency markets have hit their bottom and shouldn’t go any lower. One of the questions asks participants whether or not they agree with a statement made by pro-crypto former hedge fund manager, Michael Novogratz, who said: “I think we put in a low yesterday”, adding in a separate interview that cryptocurrency markets have hit a “seller fatigue”. Over 50% either strongly agreed or agreed.


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Saudi University’s New Blockchain Lab To Examine Tokenized Services

New York-based blockchain tech company Blocktech is moving into academia, announcing a new partnership with a Saudi university.

Blockchain labs are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the industry for research, as a backbone to a sound strategy of strong blockchain development. Also, many academics with both a business and technology background based at American universities have been praising blockchain technology for its broad range of applications and future potential.

Blockchain labs seem to hold no boundaries at the moment with major educational institutions joining the space. The latest blockchain lab project in Taibah University in Madinah, Saudi Arabia will begin work on “bonding curves for tokenized services and curation markets for data integrity,” alongside Nick Spanos’ Zap Oracle Platform, under the direction of expert AI professional Professor Walaa Alharthi. Responding to the success of her recent trip to Blocktech in New York where she worked with Spanos, CEO and Founder of Blocktech and a known blockchain expert, she said:

“Mr. Spanos gave a keynote address at Taibah University earlier this year that opened our eyes to the immediate relevance and importance of blockchain. Our team was honored to be invited to New York to train with an original pioneer of this technology. We are excited to share what we learned with our students while using the vast applications of blockchain technologies to serve the entire region.”

The professor said that the lab will work alongside the University’s Faculties of Computer Science, Law and Business with a view to “catalyzing blockchain adoption in the Middle East.” The idea will be to eventually extend the use of blockchain solutions beyond key sectors such as finance, oil and gas, and supply chain management.”

Taibah University, founded in 2003, with an enrolment of 70,000 students across all different fields of study sees the inclusion of a blockchain lab in line with its aim of preparing its graduates for the needs of today’s market across a range of fields including emerging technologies.

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Ethereum Gets A Thumbs Up From JP Morgan

The Australian Financial Review reports that JP Morgan has given Ethereum a solid thumbs up with its commitment to Quorum.

Described by JP Morgan as “an enterprise-focused version of Ethereum” Quorum continues to find favor with the bank, according to the head of blockchain initiatives. Umar Farooq has been praising its use for tokenizing gold bars in custody by other financial institutions, this despite frequent disparaging comments made by the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, about cryptocurrency’s flagship digital currency, Bitcoin. Farooq commented recently:

“There are people outside our firm using Quorum to tokenize gold, for instance. They wrap a gold bar into a tamper-proof case electronically tagged, and they can track the gold bar from the mine to endpoint – with the use case being, if you know it’s a socially responsible mine, someone will be willing to pay a higher spread on that gold versus if you don’t know where it comes from. Diamonds is another example … We are the only financial player that owns the entire stack, from the application to the protocol. We are big believers in Ethereum.”

Dimon still maintains that the emphasis in the financial sector should remain on the blockchain, rather than Bitcoin which he maintains, he has unintentionally become the spokesperson against, arguing, “I didn’t want to be the spokesperson against Bitcoin. I just don’t give a ….., that’s the point…Blockchain is real, it’s a technology, but Bitcoin isn’t the same as a fiat currency.”

The New York global banking giant is flexing its blockchain muscle to speed up international payments with its Interbank Information Network (IIN) launched in 2017. The Quorum-based blockchain has attracted the Union Bank of the Philippines as its first user. Among other banks on the network will be Australia’s ANZ, one of the country’s big four, and Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

When it comes to cryptocurrency, JP Morgan appears to vacillate between rejection, tolerance or possible adoption, depending on the spokesperson at any given time, many of whom have now moved on, some to launch their own startups, such as Amber Baldet, the original face of the Quorum project.

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“Institutional Investment Class” Morgan Stanley’s New Catchall for Crypto

A new report published by American multinational investment bank Morgan Stanley has redefined cryptocurrency as an “institutional investment class”.

The report was initiated after research revealed that current trading trends are flowing towards institutional investors who are increasingly wanting to invest in cryptocurrencies, so much so that Morgan Stanley have had its eyes firmly set on institutional investor potential for some months.

This led to rumors recently that the bank was intending following in the footsteps of some other Wall Street financial institutions offering crypto-related services by dealing in contracts that gave investors “synthetic exposure to the performance of Bitcoin”.

Still unconfirmed but if the rumors turn out to have substance, then investors will be given the option to go long or short using what is described as a “price return swap”, with Morgan Stanley adding its own charge to each transaction that it facilitates, according to a source close to the investment bank.

It is of little surprise then, that the New York financial giant has chosen this time to re-examine the way it looks at cryptocurrency. The new report, titled ‘Bitcoin Decrypted: A Brief Teach-In and Implications’, updated the classification of digital assets based on statistics from the last six months.

The report also examines problems reported by customers in relation to crypto as an investment class, such as regulatory uncertainty and a lack of regulations. These are areas that Morgan Stanley would like to address if it is seriously deciding on targeting institutional cryptocurrency investors, with a view to offering clients the chance to trade in Bitcoin derivative, as it has hinted in the past.

On a positive note for the bank, if this is to be their direction moving forward, is the reports mention of Fidelity’s new crypto services division, Coinbase’s fundraising round and positive regulatory developments. The report also notes that institutional investor confidence is rising at the expense of retail investment which has all but come to a standstill. The report states that institutional investors have gained “full confidence” in the market over the past six months.


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Ready Steady Go: On Your Marks for the Stablecoin Steeple Chase

With Japanese regulators confirming that stablecoins do not fit the definition of cryptocurrencies outlined in the country’s Payment Services Act, the stablecoin chase seems well and truly on in that country and, so it appears, everywhere else.

As Bitcoin News reported yesterday, according to the FSA, firms issuing stablecoins in Japan need not register for licenses, though they may need to register for issuing payment instruments. Significantly, this clarification of the FSA’s 2017 guidelines means that large stablecoin transactions, up to JPY 1 million (around USD 9,000) can be made unhindered by the same guidelines which apply to other transactions.

A stablecoin is a cryptocurrency pegged against something of widely-accepted value such as a state currency, typically the US dollar, giving it price-stable characteristics. It is seen by some as a safe hedge against the volatility of conventional cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. Currently, they are underutilized apart from traders using them to guard their positions during bear markets.

What is the current state of play in the apparent rush towards stablecoins? There seems to be no stopping the charge as the London Block Exchange (LBX) announced its plans to launch the LBXPeg, a stablecoin backed by the UK pound recently.

LBX has stated the current stablecoin market needs disruption due to many firms’ lack of transparency, commenting that “many available stablecoin offerings are inadequate for the needs of businesses, traders and consumers” and citing “opaque management structures, distribution schedules, and auditing processes”.

Nick Tomaino, founder of @1confirmation, calls stablecoins “the holy grail of cryptocurrency”, suggesting that coins such as Bitcoin were too prone to volatility. Tomaino suggests that the US dollar is a fiat working example of stability. The dollar falls down as a stablecoin, primarily because it lacks user control being dependent on the Federal Reserve and the US banking system.

The Winkevoss Twin would clearly agree with Tomiano’s “holy grail” epithet, given their recent success with the New York regulator. The Gemini Dollar, launched by the Winklevoss twins, will allow users a one-to-one exchange on the US dollar on the Ethereum blockchain.

A Hong Kong-based blockchain investment firm is also planning to launch a new stablecoin backed by the Japanese yen. The company, Grandshores Technology Group, will launch the funding round in late 2018 or early 2019. Grandshore feels that the stablecoins will have mileage on release. It argues:

“We believe cryptocurrency traders and exchanges will be potential takers of these stablecoins… We are entering the next stage of blockchain evolution, a stage which is akin to when computer operating system was transiting from MS-DOS to MS-Windows.”

Australia company Bill Trade, which launches its own coin next year, sees stablecoins as solving “one of the principal issues that may drive investors seeking steady returns and merchants that currently accept traditional currency away from digital currencies: volatility”.

The chase is on.


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Paper Claiming Bitcoin Will Cause Catastrophic Global Warming Filled with Inaccuracies

A new paper published in scientific journal Nature titled ‘Bitcoin emissions alone could push global warming above 2 °C’ appears to be filled with inaccuracies that misdirect this dire prediction. 

The Paris Agreement was signed by 176 countries and is designed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions so anthropogenic global warming does not exceed 2 °C, which some scientists say would be catastrophic. The paper states that drought, wildfires, storms, heatwaves, floods and sea level rise will become more common if the 2 °C threshold is breached. Sea levels will certainly rise in such a scenario due to melting polar ice caps, and heatwaves will become more common since the planet will become warmer.

As for the other catastrophes like drought, floods, and storms, they will shift locations as the climate changes due to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, but not necessarily increase on average. Places that are not used to floods might start getting floods, while places plagued with floods might be relieved of their flooding problems, for example.

From 1860 to 2014. 584.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide (GtC) was released by human activity, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels. There has been 0.9 °C of global warming during the same period of time. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide block longwave infrared radiation from going out to space, reflecting it back to the Earth, which warms the planet. However, it is important to note that not all of the temperature increase can be blamed on greenhouse gas emissions, since changes in solar heating and other non-linear systems in the ocean and atmosphere play essential roles in climate change.

The paper estimates that it will take 231.4 to 744.8 GtC being released to reach the 2 °C anthropogenic global warming threshold, and this range seems to appropriately account for non-linear systems in the ocean and atmosphere, whose effects on the climate are difficult to predict when aggregated.

Digiconomist, a popular site for tracking Bitcoin mining energy consumption, is referenced in the paper. Digiconomist assumes that 60% of mining revenue is spent on operational costs, and with the assumption of USD 0.05 per KWh, and 0.7 kg of CO2 released per KWh, this yields an emission of 33.5 megatons of CO2 (MtCO2) annually.

A study in June 2018 found that the real energy consumption of Bitcoin mining was half of what Digiconomist says. The study calculated the energy consumption based on the spectrum of Bitcoin mining rig hardware, rather than the overly simplistic calculation that Digiconomist utilizes. Further, the study found that Bitcoin mining is fueled primarily by renewable energy like hydroelectric and geothermal power, since electricity rates are much cheaper near major sources of renewable energy. Therefore, greenhouse gas emissions are possibly less than half of those calculated by Digiconomist.

The paper being discussed in this article used their own methods to calculate Bitcoin mining greenhouse gas emissions and somehow came up with 69 MtCO2 per year. This is more than double the Digiconomist estimate.

The paper then uses an average of dishwashers, electricity, and credit cards to estimate how fast Bitcoin will proliferate globally. There are 314.2 billion cashless transactions per year according to the paper, of which Bitcoin represents 0.033%. The paper extrapolates that Bitcoin will represent all of these cashless transactions in less than 100 years.

Doing the math, for Bitcoin to achieve 314.2 billion transactions per year there would have to be 6 million transactions per block. Some totally full blocks that are 1.2 MB have 3,000 transactions. Thus, the block size would have to be 2.4 GB in the future according to this paper’s calculations, assuming 3,000 transactions is equal to 1.2 mb. This would be completely unsustainable for the Bitcoin network, and would not happen. Second layer solutions like Lightning Network, which use practically no electricity, would be implemented before block sizes are increased beyond the current 1.2 MB approximate limit.

The end results of this paper’s calculations show Bitcoin mining cumulatively releasing 500+ GtC by 2040, equivalent to all of humanity’s CO2 emissions since 1860. By 2060, the projection shows 1,000+ GtC being released by Bitcoin mining.

Summing up the inaccuracies in the paper: scalability is mishandled, since second layer solutions like Lightning Network will be used instead of increasing block size to allow more on-chain transactions. A significant fraction of Bitcoin mining is powered by renewable energy, which barely releases greenhouse gases relative to fossil fuels; the paper does not account for renewable energy at all. The estimates of Bitcoin’s energy consumption are double that of Digiconomist, and the latter has been scrutinized for overestimating by about 100%.


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Dubai Gets First Government-Endorsed Blockchain Platform

IBM has launched yet another blockchain solution to its rapidly expanding range of applications, this time with Emirates company Smart Dubai.

The Dubai government has got behind Smart Dubai and IBM’s “Dubai Blockchain Platform”, endorsing it as the first of its kind, not only in the UAE but in the whole of the Middle East.

The newly-launched blockchain platform will enable lower operational costs for organizations as well as maintaining data in-country and conduction translations locally. The IBM mainframe tech LinuxOne is currently capable of 6.2 billion web transactions a day.

The locally-built platform opens the doors to the UAE for advancing its blockchain footprint in the region and globally, as well as drastically improving and digitalizing many government services. Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office (SDO), spoke of Dubai as an early player and somewhat of a trendsetter in adopting some of the fundamentals of DLT early on, commenting:

“Dubai has been a pioneer in blockchain technology since its inception, while other major cities around the world were reluctant to embrace it for city-wide implementation,” adding that it was largely due to IMBs “wealth of insight and expertise in the advanced tech industries” that such projects were possible, promising that the Emirate would have “ the world’s first fully digitized government by 2021.”

Dr Aisha went on to predict that Dubai could be the blockchain center of the future through such projects as Dubai Blockchain Strategy. HE Wesam Lootah, CEO of the Smart Dubai Government Establishment (SDG), commented, “Blockchain provides an added layer of trust and transparency among government organizations and businesses and helps make collaboration more efficient.”

The Dubai Pay Blockchain Settlement and Reconciliation System launched last month will be now be positioned on the new platform, enabling rapid real-time payment services with other government entities, banks and financial institutions removing the original 45-day delays.

Dubai is a forward-thinking player in the blockchain environment; its enthusiasm for new technology is not simply limited to banking. This year, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Marketing (DTCM) launched Tourism 2.0, a blockchain-enabled marketplace connecting buyers to hotels and tour operators.

Dubai also recently launched Artbank, the world’s first digital bank for art which uses cryptocurrency for trading in artworks. The program has been initiated as part of the Dubai 10X initiative which seeks to place the Gulf state ten years ahead of the world in all sectors.

The 2nd edition of the UNLOCK Conference will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 15-16 January 2019 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. This will be a global meeting of the most powerful players in the crypto and blockchain fields, and is proud to announce a media partnership with the event.


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US Firm Chooses Token-Based Solution to Clean Up Indonesia’s Plastic Waste

US Cleaning Supplies Firm SC Johnson has announced that it plans to launch blockchain rewards-based recycling centers in Indonesia to help solve the problem of plastic pollution.

The company, which also which owns such brands as Glade, Ziploc and Mr Muscle, will open eight centers with the support of Plastic Bank using a tokens-for-waste payment system for local users.

Plastic Bank was the featured in the award-winning documentary A Plastic Ocean. They received the prestigious Sustainia Community Award at COP21, the Beacon For Change Award at COP23, the RCBC Innovation Award. Recently, their new blockchain exchange and incentives platform received an IBM Beacon Award.

Recent research has shown that that five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for more than 55% of the plastic waste leaking into the ocean. Indonesia, currently participating in a number of blockchain programmes, is also a significant contributor to ocean pollution.

The first disposal center opened this week on 28 October on the Indonesian Island of Bali. They allow users to exchange plastic waste for digital tokens which can then be used to purchase goods and services. SC Johnson suggested that the risk of loss or theft of funds will be limited due to the tokens being supported by blockchain.

The founder of Plastic Bank, David Katz, suggests that blockchain is the tool that can combat ocean pollution with such innovations, and the new project could also reduce poverty in Indonesia. Another decentralized program, in this case run by the UN, has had huge success in Jordan over the past two years as the UN Women program continues to offer incentives to refugees using a blockchain salary system.

A Norwegian company has recently come up with its own way of freeing the oceans of plastic waste with a similar tokens program. The project launched by Empower enables the public to remove plastic waste to any certified recycling station and be rewarded with waste tokens.

The idea draws on a system that has been in operation for some time throughout Norway where plastic bottles can be returned to shops for between 15 and 30 cents a bottle. There are also other incentives through the system for both users and manufacturers, the latter with an environmental tax exemption based on waste quotas.


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Israeli Startups Head over Heels with Blockchain, Acknowledge Learning Process

The Israeli Blockchain Association (IBA) has announced in a press release that there are now 200 DLT-related startups in the country, but that there is still more to be done.

Israel has been slow to embrace cryptocurrency as part of an expanding fintech industry in the country, particularly given the country’s geographical position on the fringes of Europe. Recently, however, the rate of startup investment and blockchain research has begun to gain some pace, as the country looks to the US and Europe and their enthusiastic embracing of new technologies and AI.

The newly-released IBA Israeli Blockchain Startup Map figures highlight the pace at which Israel has taken to developing the technology to promote business. The Association describes itself as “an organization whose primary objective is to educate, develop and empower Israel’s distributed ledger technology (DLT) community, encourage best practices and connect it with global leaders in the blockchain space”.

The report goes on to claim that 57 startups are specifically using blockchain and 37 are focused on the protocols and core infrastructure sectors, with a handful of other startups operating in the security sector of the economy.

However, 20 blockchain projects were unsuccessful and ceased operating since the beginning of 2018. The failures have been put down to lack of research and technical knowledge as to how DLT operates, before launching projects. Roma Gold, the Founding Partner of the IBA, commented that ICOs are becoming less popular, but institutional investment in blockchain is very much on the rise:

“The Israeli blockchain ecosystem is presently experiencing both a boost and a transformation… Today, fewer startup founders are coming out of morally questionable markets, such as binary options, and gambling. Instead, more institutional players are starting to enter the market. In essence, the market is going through self-purification.”

Israel is not afraid to seek help in this new field and crypto-friendly Switzerland is certainly a good friend to have given its experience in the sector. Recently, Switzerland’s Minister of Finance Ueli Maurer and State Secretary for International Financial Matters Joerg Gasser discussed terms for entering the Israeli market with high-ranking state officials during a Swiss delegation visit to the Middle East.

Part of the terms of this agreement concluded that both sides would cooperate with each other in areas of financial technology regulation and cryptocurrencies, as well as both parties sharing their history of success and failures in regulating the blockchain industry.


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Vietnam Telecom Firm Launches Blockchain Powered Database for Hospitals

Vietnam’s largest telecom company has claimed to have produced a blockchain filing system that will revolutionize medical care in that country.

The country, one of South East Asia’s sleeping tigers is hoping that blockchain can lift its fintech stature with the latest innovation designed for use in the healthcare sector.

Viettel Enterprise Solutions Corporation, a company that aspires to become Vietnam’s leader in blockchain technology, has come up with the blockchain solution for medical file management which is designed to reduce administrative costs. Viettel’s Deputy General Director Ngô Vĩnh Quý, explains that the company is fully prepared for embracing new streamlining technologies such as DLT:

“Viettel has the financial resources, human resources, network infrastructure, huge data centre, research and development facilities, large internal environment, and other advantages to learn and apply blockchain technology.”

Phạm Ngọc Sơn, director of the Core-technology Centre, is quoted suggesting that hospitals connecting to Viettel’s database could save the government huge amounts of money, arguing, “Every year Vietnam spends VNĐ2.3 – 2.5 trillion (US$100 -110 million) for patients to do medical tests again when they move from one hospital to another.”

The new system is not limited to connecting hospitals to a blockchain backed database, but also to other departments such as the Ministry of Health, provincial health departments, and medical insurance companies.

The blockchain/crypto space in Vietnam has had a chequered time over the past year with mining scandals and fraudulent ICOs leaving investors with huge losses of funds. Last year, Vietnam announced that it was considering a legal framework for the management of cryptocurrencies due to their increased popularity in the country. These moves have been reflected in other Asian countries in order to alleviate the risks of fraud.

Recently Reuters reported that Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc had instructed the State Bank of Vietnam to cease allowing financial services that relate to cryptocurrency. The directive included measures to counter money laundering and counter terrorist activity through cryptocurrency.

What the country now needs to see is successful blockchain solutions introduced into areas where Vietnam needs it most: this latest move may be a good start on the road to improving new technologies image in the country.

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