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Can the Saudi Kingdom Move with the Times in a Blockchain World?

After Saudi Arabia’s first blockchain meeting, Translating Blockchain KSA 2018, the country is showing signs of incorporating new technologies to diminish the relevance of oil production.

Since 1938, the Kingdom has since become the world’s largest oil producer and exporter, controlling the world’s second-largest oil reserves with the sixth-largest gas reserves and is the only Arab country in the G20.

Also, the country still struggles with bridging the gap between history and modernity, having been projected into wealth by the discovery of oil before the Second World War. The kingdom has drawn criticism from advanced economies over various civil and social rights issues, which it intends to be based under religious laws under the absolute rule of the Saudi royal family.

This is sometimes a huge contradiction coming from a society which would rather present a more advanced and contemporary image. Saudi’s Vision 2030 is key to this change as outlined by Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz:

“The second pillar of our vision is our determination to become a global investment powerhouse. Our nation holds strong investment capabilities, which we will harness to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues… Our country is rich in its natural resources. We are not dependent solely on oil for our energy needs… our real wealth lies in the ambition of our people and the potential of our younger generation.”

In keeping with the new Saudi direction and this new image as proposed by Saudi Vision 2030, blockchain has been seen as a pivotal technology. This has resulted in the Riyadh Municipality partnering with IMB this year to strengthen blockchain in order to streamline government services and transactions. Computerized reasoning, IoT, and blockchain are fast becoming a priority in a country which wants to advance its economy and its technological footprint, while also moving away from its reliance on oil by cultivating new business models.

Takreem El Tohamy General Manager, IBM MEA has indicated that the city of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, is already planning to incorporate DLT as a means to enhance and digitalize its current record keeping through working with computerized arrangements supplier Elm.

 

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Dubai Forms Task Force to Implement Blockchain Legal System Platform

The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) courts have reported they will be collaborating with the government supported Smart Dubai initiative to form a task force with a goal to implement a blockchain platform that enhances the country’s legal system.

The project has been dubbed the ‘Court of Blockchain‘, with the government concluding that decentralization would benefit the legal system by streamlining the sector and easing the protocol for sharing information. It hopes to build the network itself on a blockchain, utilizing smart contracts for courts to share data. The need for such time-consuming tasks as document duplication will be eliminated, the DIFC said.

A press release regarding the task force cites the future of the two partners as handling public and private blockchain disputes, as well as verifying regulatory and contractual terms of smart contracts, utilizing their combined expertise.

The first steps for the partnership will include research and development to configure court data onto the blockchain, allowing real-time authentication for institutions in order to improve communication efficiency between actors across the legal system.

The DIFC is the primary entity that handles civil and commercial financial disputes relating to Dubai.

The Smart Dubai initiative

The task force is part of the country’s Smart Dubai initiative, a plan to push the emirate to the forefront of technological innovation. Pursuing the various use cases for blockchain is a big part of the research; the Smart Dubai Office’s director general, Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, said that it plans to run ”100% of applicable government transactions on blockchain by 2020“.

Dr Bishr acknowledged that such a strategy would require strong institutions to uphold such disruptive policies, noting that the partnership with DIFC courts would help support the changes. She described the completed blockchain legal platform as ”the world’s first disruptive court”, boldly stating this as a pursuit of the true power of blockchain technology.

The Smart Dubai initiative is set to position the country as a global technology leader by 2020.

Another aspect of the strategy includes Dubai’s tourism business to business blockchain marketplace Tourism 2.0, which connects businesses in the tourism sector with one another across the country.

 

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Australian Sugar Cane Farmers Opt for Blockchain Solution to Lift Profits

Queensland Sugar Ltd (QSL) has announced a partnership with Queensland Cane Growers in Australia to build a blockchain for sugar provenance, writes IT News.

Queensland Sugar Limited is an Australian unlisted public company principally involved in the marketing, export and supply of bulk raw sugar. The company employs approximately 160 people, is based in Brisbane and is jointly owned by the sugar growers and millers of Queensland.

The four-year project has received a USD 2.25 million smart farm grant from the federal government in order to promote greater food chain clarity to soft drink makers and demonstrate ethical and sustainable growing standards.

The Australian sugarcane industry is primarily located along Australia’s eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales. Approximately 4,400 cane farms grow sugarcane on around 380,000 hectares annually.  They supply 24 mills, owned by eight separate milling companies. The vast majority of cane farms are owned by sole proprietors or family partnerships. The mill ownership structures are a combination of publicly-owned entities, privately-held companies limited by guarantee, and co-operatives.

A government statement said, “Big sugar buyers, who are seeking more and more sustainably grown product, are likely to pay more in future for sustainably grown and fully traceable sugar as their customers ask for it.”

Federal minister for agriculture and water resources David Littleproud cited US soft drink icon Coca-Cola, saying that it “has a plan to source 100% of its sugar from sustainable sources by 2020”, indicating that this is very much the future for companies growing a widely-used product such as sugar.

He went on to suggest that blockchain used in this way with assurances to buyers that crops are harvested using a sustainable practice would inevitably impact on the price, giving farmers a better revenue for their yield.

House of Representatives Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, said that she could see Queensland sugar prices improving for farmers in the future by using blockchain technology.

 

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MIT Media Lab’s Enigma Pioneers Blockchain-Based Secret Smart Contracts

Enigma is a blockchain-based platform developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab that facilitates secret smart contracts. On 30 June 2018, Enigma announced the launch of its testnet, which developers can use to start experimenting with secret smart contract technology. The MIT Media Lab is not forking any existing blockchain; instead, it is building Enigma from scratch.

The goal of Enigma is for decentralized applications to become widely adopted, and the Enigma team believes the development of secret smart contract technology is essential for this to occur. Enigma secret smart contracts hide the origin of a transaction and can be executed on the blockchain without being decrypted. This is beneficial since it will ensure that no government, organization, or hacker can view the inner-workings of decentralized blockchain-based apps, let alone interfere with them or manipulate them.

On the testnet, nodes will not be allowed or necessary since this is just an experimental phase. When the mainnet goes live, users will be allowed to run nodes to secure the network and earn fees in the process, and there will also be security deposits to reduce bad behavior. At this point, Enigma cannot be integrated with Ethereum-based decentralized apps, but when the mainnet goes live, that is expected to be possible.

Ultimately, the Enigma team foresees that secret smart contracts will become the new standard, and this will help decentralized apps transform from novelties into necessities.

 

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‘World’s First’ Crypto Art Auction to Sell Andy Warhol Painting via Blockchain

Blockchain platform Maecenas announced Wednesday its plans to hold the “world’s first cryptocurrency art auction”, featuring a piece by famed artist Andy Warhol, as reported by Cointelegraph.

Crypto-friendly art auction

The auction will be held at UK fine art gallery Dadiani Syndicate on 20 June, with a 49% ownership stake of Andy Warhol’s 14 Small Electric Chairs up for sale. The piece is part of Warhol’s 1980 Reversal series, currently valued at USD 5.6 million, with a reserve price set for the part-ownership at USD 4 million.

Digital certificates will be issued confirming part-ownership upon purchase via the Maecenas blockchain platform. The acquisition can be made with either Maecenas’s ART token, Bitcoin, or Ether. To make the purchase of Warhol’s piece, buyers must be fully KYC and AML compliant.

Maecenas offers immutable purchase history and ownership information, connecting investors and art dealers on the platform while running a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain for this particular piece.

Cryptocurrency is becoming an increasingly popular payment method for art investors. In 2017, the Dadiani gallery began accepting cryptocurrency payment methods, as did the luxury market alternative Dadiani Syndicate which accepts Bitcoin, Ether and Litecoin.

Blockchain solutions

Blockchain can offer a practical solution to issues regarding copyright, ownership, and authenticity, problems faced in the art industry but certainly not restricted to it.

Sam Radocchia, co-founder of art blockchain authentification platform Chronicled described the main ambitions of the company as ”improving provenance and reducing art forgery“.

Registering art on the blockchain creates a cryptographic link between a physical work and the blockchain, meaning once it is registered, its identity can be automatically authenticated for potential buyers. This eliminates any forgeries or shady dealings from taking place.

There is also the added benefit of being able to monitor pieces of art while they are traveling. Blockchain has the potential to let buyers track the entire journey of their purchase on a mobile app, ensuring what they receive is true to what they paid for.

 

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Thousands of Payment Channels Now Open as Bitcoin Lightning Network Grows Rapidly

The Bitcoin lightning network has seen rapid growth since its first transaction in December 2017. There were just 89 lightning payment channels on 19 January 2018, but now there are over 6,600.

The lightning network is a scalability solution for Bitcoin that can massively reduce transaction fees while drastically increasing transactions per second. The lightning network was developed and launched during a time when Bitcoin transaction fees hit all-time highs of nearly 60 USD, making it practically unusable as a currency. The high fees were the result of people sending more transactions than the network could handle, over a quarter million transactions were unconfirmed and sitting in the mempool on 22 December 2017.

A payment channel on the lightning network is created when two users send Bitcoins into a multi-signature wallet, and the transaction opening the channel is stored on the blockchain. The users can then send bitcoins back and forth to each other completely off-chain, using smart contract technology. A ledger is kept by both parties, and after each lightning network transaction between the parties, they sign an updated ledger with their private keys.

Users can send an infinite amount of transactions through a lightning network channel without paying any transaction fees, and all the payments occur within a fraction of a second rather than the average of 10 minutes that it takes for transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain to confirm.

Either party involved with a lightning network channel can broadcast the last valid ledger which was signed by both parties to the blockchain, at which point the bitcoins locked up in the multi-signature address will be disbursed to both parties according to the final ledger entry. This is designed so that neither party in a channel can back out of a payment that has already been agreed upon and mutually signed.

Essentially, when using the lightning network there are only two transactions ever recorded on the Bitcoin blockchain for each payment channel; the transaction which creates the channel and the transaction which ends the channel, and all transactions in-between are off-chain.

This has the potential to allow for many orders of magnitude more Bitcoin transactions per second than the blockchain can handle by itself. Right now there are less than 10 Bitcoin transactions per second, but the lightning network could handle millions or billions of transactions per second, blowing Visa out of the water.

The lightning network still has some development to undergo before it is perfected and made impervious to hacks, but the fact that there are thousands of payment channels now open is a good indicator that it is functional. The lightning network will provide the framework for solving Bitcoin’s scalability problem over a long term. It will allow Bitcoin to be useful as a currency no matter how high the price or transaction volume gets, and therefore the lightning network is essential for Bitcoin becoming a widely adopted global currency.

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Intel and Filament Push for a Blockchain IoT Future

Enterprise blockchain developer Filament, which receives significant Intel investment, has released an Internet of Things(IoT)-optimized, USB Blocklet chip.

Filament chief executive Clift-Jennings explained, “Many products, not all, have the ability to connect to USB. These are for manufacturing lines – we have a version of a USB product that plugs into the onboard diagnostics port in vehicles. It’s very much trying to drive toward machines being transactive in nature.”

Blockchain can be used to increase transparency between designers, service providers, and end users, making license management safer, providing production-quality data and becoming resilient against counterfeiting via secure design storage.

Counterfeiting and product integrity

According to BusinessWire, the global total of counterfeited goods has increased to USD 1.2 trillion. Counterfeiting of clothing and textiles primarily affects profits, whereas fraudulent components for machinery, cosmetics, and consumables can have a more detrimental effect by risking health and safety. It is believed that up to 10% of aircraft parts are counterfeit. The outsourcing of services causes difficulty in tracking the source and quality of components, as well as where maintenance is carried out.

The global distribution of manufactured components, must take steps to guarantee the security of plans, and provide data that is tamper-proof and in line with regulations and production standards. This must be achieved while preventing the misuse of plans to manufacture counterfeit goods.

Blockchain IoT shaping the future

Data drives innovation so the ability to share or sell manufacturing data on a ledger could fast track other businesses. Autonomous cars are going to rely heavily on driver data to increase safety in their transition to level 5 (the highest level of autonomy). Having existing hardware produced by IBM or Filament with a variety of companies from Microsoft to Amazon offering blockchain API frameworks, this could quickly accelerate blockchain proof of concept in the industry and change how data is shared an analyzed.

Big companies such as Mastercard are already looking at the applications for blockchain to track goods, providing consumers with product integrity. This could then extend right through to the manufacturing level with the use IoT-optimized hardware.

Intel’s investment in Filament is part of their blockchain initiative for large-scale industrial IoT deployments. The vice president and general manager of Intel, Doug Fisher said, “At Intel, we believe the future of IoT will be enabled by smart, connected, secure edge-devices that drive a data-based economy.”

 

Image source: Saginaw Future Inc. – CIGNYS Corporation has three advanced manufacturing facilities in Saginaw County.
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10% of Bitcoin Miners Merge-Mine RSK Smart Contract Sidechain

Rootstock (RSK), the first Bitcoin smart contract sidechain, has announced that 10% of all Bitcoin miners are now securing the RSK blockchain. This makes RSK extremely secure since that is a tremendous amount of hashing power.

Smart contracts are a major advancement in the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology world. They allow users to enter into conditional agreements and lock up a certain amount of cryptocurrency until conditions are met. This provides the building blocks for the development of decentralized applications that are directly integrated with the blockchain.

Ethereum has consistently been the second most popular cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin and currently has a market cap of over USD 70 billion. The reason for its popularity is that it has smart contract technology integrated into its protocol, used by many blockchain-based applications.

It is not possible to directly add smart contracts to the Bitcoin blockchain without controversial protocol changes. RSK founders found a solution in creating a sidechain which supports smart contracts and is directly linked to the Bitcoin blockchain.

RSK has its own native cryptocurrency called Smart Bitcoins, but they are directly pegged to real Bitcoins. When a user deposits Bitcoin for an RSK smart contract it remains on the Bitcoin blockchain and is locked up for the duration of the contract, and an equivalent amount of Smart Bitcoins on the RSK sidechain are put into the smart contract. This is done so that RSK smart contracts truly are Bitcoin-based, rather than using their own independent cryptocurrency which would compete with Bitcoin.

Currently, the RSK sidechain can handle 100 transactions per second, with block confirmation times of 10 seconds, but it soon hopes to release a version of RSK called Lumino that has Lightning Network technology and can handle 20,000 transactions per second.

The RSK sidechain can be merged-mined with Bitcoin, meaning that machines mining Bitcoin don’t have to use any additional power or resources to participate in securing and maintaining the RSK network. Miners are rewarded with transaction fees from the RSK network, so it is logical and profitable that every single Bitcoin miner would merge-mine RSK to get extra money. Due to this, the developers of RSK expect much more hashing power to join its network in the long term.

RSK is fully operational and can be used to build decentralized apps that use Bitcoin and directly interact with the Bitcoin blockchain. This gives Bitcoin capabilities similar to Ethereum and will help make Bitcoin use more widespread.

 

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Singapore Government to Launch Blockchain Challenge

The Singapore government has announced that it will be launching a blockchain challenge that will reward winning projects with development funding.

Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) stated that the challenge’s aim is to promote awareness and adoption of the technology. IMDA is hoping the challenge will bring more companies into the ecosystem and explore the potential that blockchain technology holds for the future.

The Singapore government has put forth the task to create a successful Minimum Viable Product (MVP)or Proofs-of-Concept (PoC) solving industry challenges.

The challenge guidelines state that the agency is looking at targeting two categories of blockchain applications: “enterprise” and “transformation.” Its preferences lean towards distributed ledger technology that can either streamline business operations or a technology that enables business operations to be seamless in any sector.

The IMDA said participants that are shortlisted will have a maximum of six months to produce either the MVP or PoC.

The winning teams for the enterprise section will compete for an award of USD 38,000 while those in the transformation category will be awarded USD 76,000.

In recent news, Philip Heah, senior director of sectoral transformation stated: “To ensure every business is a digital business, Singapore’s Digital Economy requires technologies which can accelerate sector transformation. Through the IMDA Blockchain Challenge, we will drive awareness and spur development and adoption of this promising technology throughout our economy, including non-fintech segments.”.

Along with the challenge, the Singapore government has called for a more comprehensive spectrum of adoption. It aims to focus on the all-encompassing integrated blockchain technologies and development for broad industrial adoption.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond is expected to announce a government taskforce which is focused primarily on cryptocurrency regulations and harnessing potential benefits of its underlying technology. The Exchequer is set to be joined by the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority, all taking place at the International Fintech Conference.

Additionally, the British government aims to remove the barriers big conglomerates face in the sector, making it easier for them to participate in the blockchain industry.

The British government has not dismissed the idea of cryptocurrencies; they are working on a resolution to regulate, with Prime Minister Theresa May stating her concerns over the potential illicit activities related with use of these currencies.

Bloomberg reported May as saying: “The risk that criminals can use cryptocurrencies means Britain and other governments should be looking at them “very seriously… Technology companies must focus on the issue of social responsibility, especially in the areas of terrorism and child pornography.”.

 

 

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Virtual Reality and Blockchain The New Matrix

What are virtual and augmented realities?

Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) are two up-and-coming technologies that will be soon shaping the future. VR is a computer-generated, three-dimensional environment rendered to replicate an existing or imaginary place. Users are completely immersed in this cyberspace and as the technology evolves, it will no longer be limited to the primary senses of sight and sound. Newer systems are finding ways to emulate touch, taste, smell and even emotions. AR is similar to VR but is an overlay of the simulated environment on top of our own reality.       

How can virtual reality benefit from blockchain?

VR and AR are finding their way into more real-world applications. As their uses grow, certain issues arise regarding data infrastructure and licensing. Currently, applications are centralized and suffer from server speeds bottlenecking their performance when too many users are logged in. With a decentralized solution, audio and visual data can be stored in the blockchain to alleviate these issues. User data for accounts encoded into smart contracts will create an unforgeable contract of ownership because of network verification.

VR is heavily dependant on the quality of its visual and auditory samples as these depict realism. As VR becomes more widely adopted, these resources will need to copyright protection, and have details of their ownership rights and authors readily available. VR/AR is a new technology, without a standardized set of codecs to use. This is the perfect time in the technology cycle to implement a new standard that will reap the benefits of what blockchain has to offer. Blockchain could create a database of sensory samples with the rights of the developers and any other information cryptographically encoded within the sample. Seen as the blockchain is in a constant state of synchronization the sample information would always be up to date. Timestamps on financial transactions would keep a record of events such as royalties being paid for a sample.

A new world

Dot Blockchain Music has already designed its own codec and is taking steps to make blockchain the security that the music and audio industry needs. Metadata in standard codecs isn’t always easily accessible. Dot Blockchain Music will bind metadata to the music which will be verified by the network and be rendered unplayable without that information. With licensing information embedded in the song and the use of smart contracts, this could change the way in which royalties are collected and how security regarding user rights of material is achieved.

In future, getting to work may be as simple as going to the study and putting your VR headset on. In your VR environment you would earn cryptocurrency for your completed tasks and your funds would then be available in the real world. Jobs such as teaching, entertainment and design are perfect for VR as they are remotely accessible. ImmVRse is one of the many companies in the industry that have already adopted blockchain technology in this manner. 

Decentraland is a virtual platform powered by the Ethereum blockchain, using smart contracts to verify ownership of land in the virtual world. Users can go about creating their own in-depth world to visit casinos, attend workshops, shop with friends or even drive a car.

With the rapid advancements in these sectors, the world as we know it today will become indistinguishable from the heavily augmented/virtual world of tomorrow. One thing is for certain, there’s a need for a stable, secure infrastructure for this metaverse and blockchain promises to be that solution.

More on Blockchain in VR/AR:

PR:LUCYD AND INDE FORM STRATEGIC ALLIANCE INDE to Provide Augmented Reality Apps for Lucyd

PR: Lucyd and Roomful Form Strategic Alliance— Roomful to Provide Their AR/VR App Platform for Lucyd Smartglasses

PR:A Hybrid-Decentralised Marketplace And Content Sharing Platform Poised To Disrupt The Virtual Reality Industry

Vivid Announces Release of World’s First Social AR Crypto Management Tool

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