Efficiency, transparency and security remain the watchwords of distributed ledger technology (DLT), an immutable ledger most often associated with cryptocurrency, but lately finding traction within supply chains, which in a worldwide economy have grown increasingly complex and multi-faceted.
One report indicated that over half the products made around the globe require shipment over a border another report estimated that at present banks and other financial institutions pour some $10 trillion a year into trade, and that a typical shipment requires some 30 documents. Yet another noted that the mere shipment of flowers from Kenya to Rotterdam required no fewer than 200.
DLT can make a difference. It can lead, by one estimate, to a 15-30 percent cost reduction, according to the World Trade Organization, and $1 trillion in new trade over the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum. And while there are those who argue that DLT can be difficult to implement, Frederik De Breuck, head of Fujitsu’s Blockchain Innovation Center in Brussels, argues that it can be put in place immediately, and “fit invisibly” within a company’s current structure.
As he wrote for his company’s website:
DLT essentially functions as a layer supplementing your existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or any other related software you may have in use. … Your underlying process and the interface to your software remain as they were, with the difference that you now can trust that your inventory numbers (and those of all the other participants) are more accurate, as are the prices based on the consumption of your ecosystem, and you know what has happened to the underlying data along the way.
Again, it’s a matter of improving efficiency, of bringing processes out of the pen-and-paper era and into the 21st Century. Everything is more streamlined. Redundancy is eliminated. There are fewer middlemen to include in the process, and less risk of error, fraud and waste.
That goes hand in hand with transparency, of course. All of the trading partners have access to real-time information about where a given transaction stands. And when it is completed and proof of delivery is provided, invoicing and payment is immediately triggered. Gone is the lag that exists in current payment cycles. As DeBreuck wrote, supply companies currently stipulate that payment be made within 30 days, though lags are typically far greater.
Another aspect of transparency is that it allows for improved regulatory compliance. An example offered by Forbes was that of the Rwandan government, which used blockchain to track the mining of tantalum, a resource used in electronics. A 2018 study also mentioned that DeBeers, the diamond company, used DLT to register and store documents related to those precious gems, in an attempt to restore trust in that industry.
As for DLT’s security, note that nothing is invulnerable, but if the user of each node in the chain does his or her due diligence and protects the public and private keys required to lock things down, risk can and will be minimized.
In sum, DLT can improve any supply chain enormously by making it more efficient and, ultimately, more profitable.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the second-most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis, has been touted in recent years as a medicinal extract that can be used to treat everything from stress and anxiety to back pain. While the full extent of its effectiveness is yet to be known, it has been approved by the FDA to treat certain forms of epilepsy.
With all of these potential benefits, it is unsurprising that many people want to incorporate CBD into their health routines. That being the case, it would be wise to first reevaluate one’s diet, as evidence has emerged that one high in fat enables a person to absorb cannabidiol much more readily.
That was the conclusion of a new study from the University of Minnesota, which compared the impact CBD made on epilepsy patients who ingested a fatty breakfast, as opposed to those who used the compound on an empty stomach. As Angela Birnbaum, co-author of the study and a professor at UM’s College of Pharmacy, explained it in a post on Cannabis.net:
“The type of food can make a large difference in the amount of CBD that gets absorbed into the body. Although fatty foods can increase the absorption of CBD, it can also increase the variability as not all meals contain the same amount of fat.”
Researchers found that CBD absorption was, on average, four times greater for those who took it as part of a high-fat diet, as opposed to those who fasted. Increased absorption, said Birnbaum’s co-author, Ilo Leppik, could result in lower costs on medication.
But the main conclusion is that in order for CBD to be used most effectively on patients, a specialized diet plan should be considered. Some examples of high-fat diets that are being recommended include the ketogenic diet and the paleo diet. Both have grown in popularity in recent years as healthy alternatives to the Standard American Diet, but both are somewhat controversial, given their embrace of fat and meat products. The ketogenic diet in particular is fat-based.
At the very least, it would appear such diets have their place as part of a CBD-based treatment plan. Ironically, CBD is also used as a way to mitigate appetite and control obesity. However, the aforementioned study suggested that CBD combined with high fat intake was still an effective way to lose a few pounds.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern as bacteria develop the means of fighting the drugs once meant to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections can be challenging or even impossible to treat, often requiring long hospital stays and expensive or dangerous alternatives. In the search for new and effective antibiotics, researchers believe they have found an unexpected option: cannabidiol (CBD), the primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis.
According to new research, CBD is incredibly effective at killing strains of bacteria in lab settings. In a study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland, CBD was found to be effective against several types of bacteria that are responsible for some of the most serious infections, including Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus.
Cannabidiol appears to have active antimicrobial activity and it might also help reduce tissue damage caused by the inflammation response to an infection. CBD, already approved by the FDA to treat a type of epilepsy, is currently being studied for the treatment of a variety of other conditions such as inflammation and anxiety.
The potency of CBD in the lab setting was comparable to common antibiotics daptomycin and vancomycin, but CBD was effective when exposed to bacteria resistant to those two drugs. It was even shown to effectively disrupt biofilms, or a physical buildup of bacterial cells (such as MRSA), which are responsible for chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis and endocarditis, and typically highly resistant to antibiotics.
Cannabidiol doesn’t even appear to induce resistance, a concern that would otherwise create a major roadblock in its eventual approval as an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs as a result of random mutations to the genetic code of the bacteria. This allows the bacteria to survive and pass on the mutation. Even under extended exposure to conditions that are likely to lead to resistance against commonly prescribed antibiotics, CBD remained effective. Researchers caution, however, that resistance would eventually occur, as has been the case for every antibiotic ever used.
While CBD showed astonishing promise in laboratory settings, it wasn’t effective against all types of bacteria. It worked very well against S. aureus, for example, which is a Gram-positive strain that does not have an outer membrane, making it easier to treat.
Nonetheless, researchers still aren’t exactly sure how cannabidiol works against bacteria. According to Dr. Mark Blaskovich, who led the research team in the study and collaborated with the drug discovery firm Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd., CBD may act by damaging the bacterial membrane. He still pointed out that this is not the primary mechanism of CBD’s action, however.
Many common antibiotics like penicillin work to deactivate the enzymes in the cell wall of bacteria, causing it to collapse and die. Two other main actions of antibiotics are interfering with DNA replication or disrupting protein synthesis.
The results of the laboratory testing have been promising but scientists caution that these results are still preliminary. The team is preparing an additional round of trials before moving on to animal testing and eventually human trials.
Smart cities — i.e., cities using information and communication technology to upgrade the performance of various services — are becoming more and more popular across the globe, the hope being that they ultimately improve the quality of life in their given area.
Under ideal circumstances, the use of artificial intelligence in such places will positively impact several issues. Traffic will flow more smoothly. Energy will be used more efficiently. Carbon emissions will be reduced. Crime will be curtailed.
The downside of smart cities is considerable, however, and deal with security and privacy.
A 2017 white paper co-sponsored by the United Parcel Service and the Consumer Technology Association concluded that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities, increasing the need to make urban areas more livable. That same white paper noted that while smart city projects increased by 38 percent between 2013 and 2016, most of those were in Asia, notably Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo., did sound a hopeful note in the report, however:
“Twenty-five years from now, these will just be called cities. The ‘smart’ bit will be assumed. My goal as a CIO is to ensure as we are building out, doing maintenance on all these conditions.”
Copenhagen, Denmark, has made particular inroads in the smart space, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025 and independent of fossil fuels by 2050. One of the city’s landmark projects is “Copenhagen Connecting,” which involves the collection of anonymized data through WiFi trackers mounted in streetlights, allowing for the optimization of traffic flow, reduced energy usage and decreased carbon emissions.
Other cities, like Hamburg, London, Stockholm and Amsterdam, have adopted similar measures. In Barcelona, meanwhile, sensors connect the Ministry of Justice to police stations, hospitals and the like, and other devices allow drivers to detect open parking spaces.
Elsewhere, there are such things as smart trash cans capable of alerting garbage trucks to when they are full.
But again, there are drawbacks to smart cities.
Consider privacy. Police in Tigre, Argentina, have reduced car thefts through the use of security cameras and facial recognition software, but that has led to questions, there and everywhere else, about how such data might be used by governments. Is the door not open to surveillance to a Big Brother-like existence?
Then there is the matter of security. There are those who have hacked into the smart systems operating autonomous cars and planes, not to mention the traffic sensors in Washington, D.C. — though happily none did it with sinister intent. Rather, they wanted to check and see just how vulnerable such systems might be. The implications are ominous, however: Without sophisticated safeguards, a hacker could cause untold chaos in a smart city.
On balance, however, there is great promise in such interconnected areas, and much that can be built upon in the years ahead, as the world’s population grows and more and more people gravitate toward cities.
The recent and unexpected death of Gerald Cotten, CEO of the Canadian cryptocurrency exchange platform Quadriga, has left thousands without access to their digital funds.
Cotten, just 31 at the time of his death, took to the grave all the core cold wallet keys, leaving to others the task of sorting out how to access Bitcoin, Litecoin and other cryptos held by his company’s users.
It also begs the larger question: What happens to your digital currencies if you die?
Cryptocurrencies only date back to 2009, when Bitcoin was created, and there is still some question about their staying power. As a result, most financial experts are preaching caution to investors.
But Cotten’s death brings to light an added wrinkle: What are the loved ones of crypto holders to do when the account holder suddenly passes away without leaving a record of their access keys?
Here are three tips:
- Write a Letter of Will — After making the decision to take the cryptocurrency plunge, an investor would do well to write a letter to family detailing exactly how to access their account. The letter should outline a complete access plan, provide the exact location of wallet keys, and list any PINs, passwords and multi-signatures necessary to access the funds. This letter should be attached to a greater will and stored in a safe location, like a strong box or safety deposit box.
- Educate Your Family on Cryptocurrency — Anyone heavily invested in cryptocurrency should educate their loved ones about the investment tool, preferably after a letter of will has been finalized. This will help your family make safe investment decisions with the digital currency funds when the primary account holder passes away. With education, the next of kin can safely liquidate the currency fund or roll over the investment for longer-term gains.
- Appoint an Advisor — Anyone holding a substantial cryptocurrency sum should attach a letter of will to the contact information of a trusted investment consultant who is well-versed in digital currency. Doing so gives the estate’s inheritor and/or executor the ability to immediately contact said advisor, who can provide expert advice on how best to proceed.
There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which automation will impact the American workforce, one that dates back to at least 2013, when two Oxford University professors concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs would fall by the wayside as a result of technology.
A year later, nearly 1,900 tech experts were surveyed about the future of work. Forty-eight percent were of the opinion that robots would displace many workers, while 52 percent said automation would create more jobs than it eliminated. The latter conclusion has been supported in two subsequent studies, one by Gartner in 2017 and the other by the World Economic Forum in 2018. The first surmised that the U.S. would see a net gain of 500,000 jobs by 2020 — i.e., 2.3 million created, 1.8 million lost — while the second foresaw a gain of 58 million worldwide by 2022.
More recently — in January 2019, to be precise — the Brookings Institution issued a report that reached conclusions similar to those of the Oxford professors. The biggest is that one-quarter of the American workforce, some 36 million people, faces “high exposure” to automation, meaning that machines would be able to do at least 70 percent of their jobs.
The only thing that can be said with certainty is that every job will be impacted — that they will either disappear or be revamped to a certain degree by technology. (McKinsey estimated that 30 percent of the activities in 60 percent of the occupations will be automated.) And as jobs are reinvented, workers will be forced to reinvent themselves.
It is expected, for instance, that certain occupations in the food service and hospitality industries — cooks, waitresses, hotel desk clerks — will evaporate, and that short-haul truck drivers will be displaced by autonomous vehicles. According to the World Economic Forum report, jobs in data entry, payroll and accounting are also in peril, as are those that involve physical labor. The same report deduced that there will be an increased demand for data analysts, software developers, social media specialists and occupations that involve personal interaction, such as those in sales, marketing, innovation and customer service.
These shifts in the workforce have increased the need for retraining and upskilling the rank and file. But as Brookings noted, employer-supported training was on the wane between 1996 and 2008, the last year data was collected. Moreover, the U.S. in 2016 devoted just .11 percent of its GDP to Active Labor Market Policies, which are geared toward training workers. That’s down from .26 percent in 1985, and less than every industrialized country other than Mexico.
Brookings suggested that policymakers would do well to incentivize businesses to institute training programs, possibly with a human development tax credit. But the larger point made by Brookings is that the U.S. needs to get ahead of the technological curve — that it needs to step things up on the AI/Big Data/supercomputing front. Falling further behind an autocratic state like China, the institution said, is not a promising global scenario.
Brookings further recommended that policymakers enact means to protect workers who might be forced to take lower paying jobs in the face of automation, and that those same policymakers foster the shift to a tech-based economy in small cities and rural areas, which figure to be impacted the most by such a change.
But the biggest burden falls on their workers themselves, and whether they will be adroit enough to negotiate a career path permanently altered by automation.