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US Senate to Review Blockchain Energy Efficiency

The US Senate is preparing for another blockchain hearing next week, this time to discuss its energy efficiency and implications.

The 23-member Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold the “Energy Efficiency of Blockchain and Similar Technologies” hearing on 21August to discuss the issues and practical implications of its widespread adoption on the energy sector.

A specific focus will be placed on the potential increase in energy consumption and subsequent electricity price rises, with the discussion based on estimating the most likely outcomes in the near future as the technology evolves.

The committee will also consider similar decentralized technologies, focusing also on the cybersecurity possibilities for energy industry applications. It will debate considering how blockchain could, in fact, be used to improve the security of computing systems that supply energy across the country.

This appears to be the first committee meeting from the Senate to explicitly discuss blockchains role and future in the energy sector.

The entirety of the hearing will be broadcast live on the committee’s website via webcam, with witness testimony also available on the site from the start of the hearing.

Renewable energy in blockchain

While Bitcoin has received criticism over the accused unsustainability of the mining process as was the case in Washington State recently, there is a significant movement in the community to develop a climate responsible solution to the problems of energy consumption.

A Lichtenstein-based startup called Solareum has developed a decentralized marketplace platform for renewables, with an aim to make solar energy more readily available and affordable to people internationally.

Another blockchain project, HashByte, allows users to rent hash-power from companies to limit wastefulness, as well opening up its own centers across Europe that utilize only renewable energy in their operations.

Unfortunately, the Senate has a poor record when it comes to staying fully up to date and informed on the most recent cases in technology as recently seen in the now notorious interview with Mark Zuckerberg, so blockchain advocates can only hope they have done their research this time.


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Indonesia Knowledge-Sharing Blockchain Hub Launches in Jakarta

The Indonesia Blockchain Hub was launched in Jakarta this week, described as a center for the sharing of industry knowledge, both locally and internationally.

The centee was opened in partnership with the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce (KADIN), Indonesia Blockchain Association (ABI), BEKRAF and HARA, an agritech startup.

The ABI has become instrumental in promoting blockchain in the South East Asian country through accelerating understanding, utilization, advancement and technological inventiveness in relation to the fourth industrial revolution. South East Asia’s largest economy is seeing both public and private sectors investing in applying blockchain technology to address issues surrounding the storage and application of data within the country in a number of sectors.

Banks for one, are looking at DLT with more interest, as discovered by a survey published last year indicating that about 80% of financial institution executives see blockchain impacting future markets. Rico Ustahavia Frans, director of digital banking and technology at Bank Mandiri, Indonesia’s second-biggest bank by assets, said it was currently looking at applying blockchain, once regulators had formulated guidelines for banking and financial institutions.

The launch of the new hub has to be a feather in Indonesia’s cap and signals its intent to become a significant player on the world stage in adopting the new technology. HARA CEO and co-founder of the hub, Regi Wahyu, sees blockchain being integrated into a range of areas of Indonesian society:

“We believe that data transparency as enabled by blockchain technology will help the bottom of the societal pyramid to improve their welfare… [which] will lead to improvement in business and economic performance. Based on HARA’s experience… there remain challenges in explaining the socio-economic impact of blockchain for business, regulators, and the society in general.”

Wahyu added that there is a need in the country for a platform which can extend blockchain knowledge in the community, one of the aims of the new hub. The Indonesia Blockchain Hub along with the IBA is now one of a growing number of bodies set up to support the dissemination of blockchain awareness in the country and share information. Another is the blockchain-focused coworking space Blockchain Space.

A number of government institutions, including the postal service, now utilize blockchain solutions across the country as its deployment spreads to different sectors of society.


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Bitcoin Taproot for Anonymous Smart Contracts

Bitcoin developer Greg Maxwell has finished coding Taproot, a scheme that will make smart contracts hidden on the blockchain. However, Schnorr signatures need to be added to Bitcoin for Taproot to work, as well as Merkalized Abstract Syntax Trees (MAST). Taproot is named after the way Bitcoin smart contracts represent the root of a plant, with a thick central path and small alternatives that branch off.

As it is now, smart contracts can be created with Bitcoin using multiple signature (multi-sig) transactions. These sort of transactions require private keys from multiple people or they won’t be sent. This is quite rudimentary though, which is why MAST was developed. MAST allows conditions to be set on the signatures required, just in case one of the private key holders disappears or refuses to sign. With MAST users can set a time limit until only one signature is required, and any variation of this sort of thing, so Bitcoins that require multi-sig don’t get lost.

When multi-sig transactions associated with smart contracts are broadcast to the blockchain they are quite obvious in the block explorer, since they are different than all other transactions. Taproot increases anonymity by making multi-sig transactions look like a normal transaction. When Taproot is implemented, Lightning Network transactions won’t look different on the Bitcoin blockchain, since Lightning Network uses multi-sig smart contracts.

However, with the current Bitcoin signature scheme, Taproot won’t function properly. Bitcoin needs to be updated to Schnorr, a signature algorithm that is supposedly much better than the current algorithm. Schnorr allows signature data to be mashed together, which is essential for Taproot since it merges multiple keys into a single key.

For Bitcoin to be updated to add Schnorr and MAST, it would require the consensus of developers. If consensus is achieved, they would upload a new version of Bitcoin to their repository. Then, the Bitcoin world can choose to adopt the new version or not. Bitcoin updates often lead to controversy, as was seen with the vicious SegWit battle that caused Bitcoin Cash to form. It remains to be seen how the community will collectively respond to the Bitcoin updates needed to make Taproot a reality.


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China Aerospace Industry Turns to Blockchain for Invoicing Issues

The Chinese State Aerospace Industry is looking to utilizing blockchain technology to update some of its electronic invoicing.

According to a government announcement posted by State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Ltd will be fulfilling state plans for using blockchain for invoicing for tax purposes.

The government website article reportedly suggested that 1.31 billion electronic invoices were circulating its system in 2017 and forecast that this would rise to 54.55 billion by 2020. The article claims that the government has issued some 2.5 billion such invoices to date which cover such services as delivery, filing, inspection and tax reimbursement.

With a system which appears to be severely overburdened, it appears to be also suffering from other issues such as over-reporting along with false reports and traceability problems. China Aerospace’s blockchain system for electronic invoices is designed to overcome some of these administrative hurdles and what it has called “pain points” and streamline tax data sharing making it more efficient and cost-effective.

In May, the State Administration of Taxation in China’s fourth-largest city Shenzhen teamed up with tech giant Tencent to deal with a similar issue relating to tax loopholes and accountability. That blockchain system targets efficient circulation and issuance of tax invoices and protects the authenticity of legal documents.

In other news from China, Ripple has suggested that it is targeting the country with a DLT solution to speed up cross-border payments. Jeremy Light, vice president of European Union strategic accounts at Ripple confirmed:

“China is definitely of interest, it is definitely a target… China is definitely a country and region of interest.”

Ripple’s interest in the region is no secret after it struck a deal earlier this year with Hong Kong-based financial services firm LianLian International targeting cross-border transactions.


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Law Expert Advocates for Blockchain Use in Legal System

In an article for Lawyer Monthly, legal technology expert Paul Sachs advocated for the use of blockchain in the legal system and court proceedings, focusing on the UK in his discussion.

Sachs preceded his in-depth analysis of how blockchain could be utilized by stating a necessity for substance to be included in the growing discussion around the technology’s potential use cases; his analysis does just this.

Increased security

The most significant contribution of blockchain in law, as Sachs sees, it is the potential it has in transforming security and protecting evidence during a trial. He notes that the UK courts are currently going through a GBP 1 billion modernization effort partially focused on digitizing processes to increase work efficiency.

For courts to move away from paper, instituting new technology poses a risk, especially in that digital evidence can be altered. Sachs writes that particularly when there is a long time between the original submission and the court date, data must be provably fully compliant with security and business processes.

The solution: an immutable network of evidence that can be presented in a courtroom with no questions as to the authenticity of the data. These are the strongest features of blockchain by design.

Blockchain may be a public artifact, Sachs discusses, but legal evidence would not be revealed to the public, merely IDs and hash codes. He writes: ”In this way, it becomes an incorruptible digital ledger.” Each transaction of the evidence would be recorded on the blockchain, while the evidence itself would remain completely private.

This removes the opportunity for any wrongdoers to forge documents or edit photographs once the evidence has been uploaded to the blockchain. It also could be just the beginning of further innovation in the legal sector with security now guaranteed, as Sachs outlines.

Blockchain in the UK

Sachs’ vision for blockchain in the legal system may well be established given the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) blockchain bullishness. It recently announced the establishment of a collaborative entity, the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN), to pursue innovations.

The network’s purpose is founded on the concept of establishing a global blockchain knowledge-sharing “sandbox”.

The Bank of England has also nearly finalized its Proof of Concept (PoC) project that is looking to establish a Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) service to meet new financial challenges emerging from the changing landscape.


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Academia in China Receive Millions for Blockchain, E-Payment, AI Research

More funding is being pumped into the blockchain infrastructure in China as four universities are receiving a grant for an interdisciplinary research effort to examine artificial intelligence (AI), enhancing the security of electronic payment systems and blockchain technology applications.


The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School has partnered with the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) to work on the research project; the project grant value sits at HKD 157 million (approximately USD 20 million).

According to a local media outlet China News, the project is to be captained by professor Tan Jiayin, a renowned academic. His most prominent work, ‘Strengthening Hong Kong’s Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Center’, places him as a perfect candidate for the role as it gave focus to network security, blockchain and AI.

The academic institutions will be studying these emerging industries and challenges to explore and discuss the future of Hong Kong’s bid to become a global financial hub. Additionally, Tan welcomes the participation of banks as there will be relevant research into digital currencies, financial product design and distribution services.

Crypto skeptic, blockchain savant

China is taking a radically different path to the rest of the world when it comes to the multi-faceted world of blockchain technologies. The nation notoriously banned cryptocurrency trading and initial coin offerings, which led many to believe that this would be a nation untouched by the blockchain boom.

This year, however, this has come undone to some degree. Recent surveys have found that almost a quarter of Hong Kong residents have some interest in purchasing cryptocurrencies, despite the ban, with some respondents citing lack of regulation as a contributing factor to their skepticism.

There has also been a dramatic increase of blockchain-related companies emerging in China. Recent research figures show that companies with the word blockchain in their title name has risen from 555 in 2017 to 3,078 in 2018.

That figure comes as no surprise as major Chinese cities have seen eye-watering levels of governmental and private funding pumped into blockchain startups as well as other blockchain-related projects.

The city of Hangzhou received USD 1.6 billion for blockchain projects with some of the funding opening a blockchain industrial park in the city, and Nanjing City obtained USD 1.48 billion to support academic innovations, startups and established companies seeking to integrate blockchain technology into their business.


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China’s IT Ministry Focuses on Blockchain for Data Security

The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has listed a blockchain research laboratory in its list of key labs for the year, published by the government department on Monday.

The MIIT is looking to accelerate blockchain adoption by building a strong ecosystem to support a variety of industry sectors and the expansion of the technology across these fields.

This particular lab has been titled the Key Laboratory of Blockchain Technology and Data Security Industry and Information Technology, listed as supervised by National Industrial Information Security Development Research Center.

Several proposals for accelerating blockchain adoption has come from the MIIT recently, as reported by local news outlets. Xinhuanet details that the MIIT’s interest is focused on the expansion of blockchain outside of the financial sector into the Internet of Things, intelligent manufacturing, and supply chain management to name a few.

The ministry plans to expand the reach of blockchain promotion in areas especially regarding strengthening computing power, storage capacity, building a good industrial ecology, and promoting the healthy development of the blockchain industry.

The article also acknowledges that the MIIT is aware of accompanying risks to the infant industry, including the possibility of technical loopholes.

July saw the MIIT’s deputy director call for the country to work collaboratively to foster blockchain’s growth on an industrial scale in a statement posted on the department’s website, where he also praised the technology’s security potential with regard to preventing “information tampering and forgery“.

The post added that it would be particularly beneficial to harness blockchain as a core technology while realizing it “from a strategic perspective”.

Despite China’s harsh stance on cryptocurrency, the country has been an international spearhead for blockchain development research. Even president Xi Jinping has been vocal on the positive potential of blockchain, saying he expects technological breakthroughs to be achieved with the country’s research.


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Two Microsoft Patents Pending to Tighten Blockchain Security via TEE

Microsoft has applied for two new patents which would give the computer giant the potential to utilize trusted execution environments (TEEs) in its blockchain network.

A TEE in general terms offers an execution space that provides a higher level of security than a rich mobile operating system open and more functionality than a “secure element”. In more technical terms, Wikipedia describes it as:

“A trusted execution environment is a secure area of the main processor. It guarantees code and data loaded inside to be protected with respect to confidentiality and integrity.”

A TEE, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office, will store “a pre-determined type of blockchain or other security protocol code” in a “validation node”. TEE attestation will verify participants of any system where they possess matching information held within the blockchain node, which is simply a point able to receive, store and send data within the network.

A TEE may be useful in order to set up a consortium blockchain network, for example, the storage of a pre-determined blockchain list allowing secure access for members of the consortium. Also, the new technology could help verify blockchain transactions on similar networks where several pre-authorized entities must interact. This would enable direct on-chain recording without needing to decrypt certain encrypted transactions.

Reportedly, the submissions for patents were filed by Microsoft a year ago in June of 2017 but notably, Microsoft now offers blockchain application via its Azure platform, such as the newly-launched Blockchain Workbench. This promises to streamline blockchain-based application development. As one of the most popular cloud computing services, Azure provides web developers and programmers numerous different types of servers, computers and databases for rent.


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World Bank Mandates First Ever Blockchain Bond

The World Bank has mandated the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) to authorize the world’s first blockchain bond. The foreign bond issued in Australian dollars has been dubbed bond-i, an acronym for Blockchain Offered New Debt Instrument, as well as a reference to Sydney’s Bondi Beach.


A joint press release from the World Bank and the CBA describes bond-i as the first of its kind to be fully managed with blockchain technology. The bonds will be entirely created, allocated and transferred using distributed ledger technology to secure every transaction.

Noting the benefits of applying blockchain technology to bonds, the two organizations wrote in the press release that blockchain is capable of streamlining the processes of a number of debt capital market intermediaries and agents. Several benefits of this are listed, including simplifying raising capital and trading securities, improving the efficiency of operations and augmenting oversight of regulations.

Arunma Oteh, World Bank Treasurer, said: ”We believe that emerging technologies, equally offer transformative, yet prudent possibilities for us to continue to innovate, respond to investor needs and strengthen markets.”

The World Bank and CBA have built a private, Ethereum-based blockchain platform on which bonds will be issued and distributed. The CBA said that they were open to using alternative blockchain networks as the space continues to evolve.

Sophie Gilder, Head of Blockchain Innovation Labs at the CBA said that bond-i is a significant step in unlocking the revolutionary potential of blockchain in financial services and markets.

Investor interest in bond-i has already been strong, according to the World Bank, although it plans further consultations with investors prior to launching the transaction.

The World Bank will run its operations for the bond from Washington, DC, with the institution already responsible for issuing between USD 50-60 billion annually in bonds for sustainable development.


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Chinese IT Ministry Seeks “Industrial” Scale Blockchain

The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIT) is reportedly looking at ways it can push forward its plans for blockchain integration into the financial sector and other industries.

The MIT, established in March 2008, is the state agency responsible for regulation and development of the postal service, internet, wireless, broadcasting, communications, production of electronic and information goods, software industry and the promotion of the national knowledge economy, according to Wikipedia.

A local media report says the MIT wants to progress the use of the new technology forward as it sees it very much in its initial stage. This would involve expanding blockchain, which is principally being utilized in the financial sector, into areas such as supply chain management and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Being a local news report, the news is highly likely to represent more of a government statement than an objective view but it suggests that the government wants to accelerate blockchain in China. The reports says that MIT wants the country to “unite” to provide “a healthy and orderly development of the industry”, according to China Money Network.  It added this will need to be done on an “industrial” scale to integrate it into all areas of Chinese society.

It appears that infrastructures will need to be updated to provide this long-term plan, as the report suggests that MIT wants to involve local departments in boosting the capacity of computing power and storage.

The agency recently released a statement suggesting that the country had experienced “exponential” growth last year along with research by He Baohong of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), that only 8% of blockchain projects launched are still in operation; a fact that the Chinese government would be keen to change.

On 23 July, ConsenSys and the Xiong’an government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a “dream city” project, marking the first time that Xiong’an has publicly recruited a foreign development studio to aid in its blockchain efforts.

This is one of several technological fields that the government has listed as part of a cutting-edge plan to transform Xiong’an into a leading tech hub for the country.


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