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Blog2018-07-19T19:58:54+00:00

From My Vantage Point

The Rise of Decentralized Finance

Too much, too soon? That is the question hovering over decentralized finance, which in 2020 is having a moment … and then some.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in January, it was a $1 billion business. By July, some $4 billion was tied up in DeFi, and the only thing matching its momentum was the hyperbole surrounding it.

“How Decentralized Finance Can Change the World Economy,” read an Aug. 10 Tech Times headline.

“How DeFi Will Reshape Financial Services,” read an Entrepreneur headline from six days earlier.

“The Great Potential Of Decentralized Finance in 2020,” read another Entrepreneur headline, on July 21.

While there was some wariness of this being a bubble, others believe that decentralized finance is merely scratching the surface of its potential, that it will indeed disrupt the financial industry badly in need of it.

In other words, the best is yet to come.

So what is decentralized finance? As its name suggests, it is a monetary system that operates without the need of a central authority, like a bank or governmental body. Rather, it is built on public blockchains, particularly Ethereum. Put another way, people can create decentralized apps — i.e., Dapps — on these blockchains, the most common of which allow users to lend or borrow cryptocurrencies.

Ethereum, released in 2015, offers the second-most valuable cryptocurrency, behind Bitcoin, and is the first blockchain to feature both smart-contract technology and its own programming language. Vitalik Buterin, the driving force behind Ethereum, went so far as to call it “the foundational platform for everything” upon its release, touting its potential impact on sectors ranging from supply chains to elections, and from ecommerce to real estate. Others seem to agree about its potential, having labeled Ethereum “the world computer,” while noting in particular what it might mean for DeFi.

Tech CEO Rod Beckstrom offers the best explanation of the latter concept. Author of the 2008 book The Starfish and the Spider, he uses those two creatures to analogize organizations. While some, he said in 2009, have a centralized management structure reminiscent of the spider’s central nervous system, others are like the starfish, which does not. If you were to cut off one of its five arms, it would grow back. If you were to cut off all of them, five new starfish would be formed. It is, he believes, “perfectly decentralized.”

And so it is with DeFi, which as mentioned earlier is expected to change the face of finance. The industry is, Framework Ventures founder Michael Anderson said at the Global DeFi Summit on Aug. 6, “the largest single market in the world,” and in his estimation has not undergone significant innovation in four decades. DeFi, with its promises of agility, interoperability and transparency, can be expected to change that. In fact, Anderson added, forward thinkers in the field will in time come to be viewed as “the new Goldman Sachs.”

That is far from a novel viewpoint. Observers believe DeFi has the potential to reach the world’s vast unbanked population, estimated to be somewhere between 1.7 billion people (according to Tech Times) and 40 percent of the global population (according to Securities.io). Other experts see traditional financial professionals migrating to DeFi, and legacy fintech being rendered obsolete.

Kain Warwick, founder of the DeFi derivatives platform Synthetix, told Cointelegraph.com that DeFi is still in its “very early phases,” but is optimistic about where it is headed. The same holds true for Yuan Gao, Neo Global Development’s head of marketing, who told Neo News Today that a “major transition” is underway.

And right now, there are no signs of stopping.

The Challenges of Standardizing CBD

The CBD industry only continues to grow over time, with recent projections predicting that its U.S. market will surpass $20 billion by 2024. Many have taken to CBD products as relief from conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. As cannabis restrictions are relaxed in some states, some experts predict that more CBD products will be sold in general retail stores than dedicated dispensaries. However, standardizing the industry is currently a challenge without a clear solution. 

The issues with CBD stem from a lack of quality-control standards. Modern consumers are more informed than ever and willing to take health into their hands. With the meteoric rise of CBD, companies are rushing to put products on shelves without ensuring transparency and accurate labelling. Shoddy products may turn consumers away, particularly if there’s no way of verifying quality. With inconsistent information available, some may simply resort to buying the products with the best marketing. 

However, there are some available resources to ensure that CBD products are safe. Before buying any cannabis product, take the time to confirm that the manufacturer’s products are subject to independent, third-party testing by accredited cannabis laboratories.  These are labs which have attested to the quality and purity of the products being sold and have affirmed that those products have been produced using the industry’s best manufacturing practices.  Ethical, law-abiding suppliers will be happy to provide you with a copy of their test results upon request; and many post their Certificate of Analysis documents (COAs) on their websites for optimal consumer convenience. 

Such measures exist in lieu of consistent standards for the industry. Both the federal government and private companies have attempted to implement their own quality standards for CBD. Medical Marijuana, Inc. claims that it is the first cannabis company to create strict quality standards. The company tests at the cultivation, harvest and manufacturing stages of the process with the intent of detecting contamination at any point. 

Another company, Allure Organics, has implemented traceability measures aimed at helping track where and how plants are grown, how CBD was extracted, and how long it was stored. Other companies have experimented with traceability measures, including the use of blockchain to trace the life cycle of a CBD product. This information is publicly available for consumer use.

The U.S. government has also stepped in to clarify some of the measures associated with CBD. All hemp-derived CBD products were made legal as of December 2019 with the passing of the 2019 U.S. Farm Bill, but inconsistencies with local health laws have made it difficult for retailers to sell without violating the law at some level. The Food and Drug Administration has currently not approved CBD use in food or dietary supplements, creating some measure of uncertainty with the growth of the industry. In addition, the lack of testing standards has further obfuscated health and safety information associated with CBD products.

The White House has requested that the FDA establish consistent standards for CBD across the country. While the FDA has released some health and safety information about product use, they have not come to any conclusions regarding health benefits or risks associated with CBD. This is unlikely to change any time soon as the agency awaits further research that might help set sweeping standards for the industry.

Still, this hasn’t stopped consumers from flocking to CBD products in hopes of helping to manage a myriad of conditions. The industry will continue to grow — but the outcome of FDA-supported research could bolster or chill its growth in time.

How Distributed Ledger Technology Can Revolutionize Healthcare

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the need for increased innovation into sharper focus, especially in the healthcare field. As the outbreak has spread, so, too, has the realization that things need to be done faster and more efficiently/effectively than before. The result has been advances that bring with them the likelihood of better care and improved outcomes in the short term, and a more efficient system over the long haul.

This would be nothing new, by the way, as history is littered with examples of cataclysm leading to innovation:

  • The Black Death (1331-3153) wiped out over half of the European population but led to the demise of the feudal system, not to mention arcane medical practices based on religion as opposed to science.
  • The Boston Smallpox Epidemic (1721-22) ignited a spirited debate about inoculations which spilled over to print and spawned the first independent newspaper. 
  • The Spanish Flu outbreak (1918-19) opened up more opportunities for women in the workforce.
  • The SARS outbreak (2003) strengthened ecommerce in Asia.

It would not be the least bit surprising, then, if a similar reset occurs now. That seems particularly likely in healthcare technology, especially as it pertains to the sector’s adoption of distributed ledger technology (DLT), the immutable online ledger. Even before the pandemic, it was projected that healthcare spending on DLT would reach $1.4 billion by 2024, part of a larger trend that has seen spending on that technology triple across all sectors since 2017, with the expectation that it will reach $16 billion by 2023.

To date, however, DLT has not made much of a dent in healthcare. Only 11 percent of the executives polled by Business Insider believed that that industry has made noteworthy strides with DLT. That placed healthcare behind financial services (46 percent), manufacturing (12 percent) and energy/utilities (12 percent).

That financial services paced the pack is hardly a shock, given DLT’s long association with cryptocurrencies. Yet it seems likely that precious few industries won’t be touched by DLT in the years to come, and healthcare-wise it can make its greatest impact on electronic medical records (EMRs).

Already widely used, EMRs (often called electronic health records, or EHRs) make it easier for healthcare professionals to store and share patient data, though there are the ever-present security concerns. One in three doctors responding to a Deloitte poll cited such worries as the primary reason they would hesitate to adopt telemedicine platforms.

DLT, while not perfect, can help alleviate these concerns, as any new data entered into the system must be rubber-stamped by the physician and the patient, then undergo vetting against an already existing ledger. Neither party has sole jurisdiction over the information; either one can secure a copy. In short, everyone is assured access, control and security.

DLT shows great promise within the medical field, and if it has not been completely realized during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely to happen at some point in the very near future. History would suggest as much, as innovation has always been humankind’s response to past crises. And certainly healthcare’s need for DLT appears to be obvious.

Expanding the Full Potential of Broadband

As noted in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties were already poor, and were set back that much more when fire ravaged a local manufacturing plant in 2005. But a local phone cooperative used stimulus money (not to mention a few mules) to wire every building, giving the area lightning-fast wireless access and attracting Internet-based jobs. With the arrival of the innovation, the local economy was reborn.

This story is a perfect example of how the Internet is vital to the future of society as it has become essential to modern living, similar to how electricity became a staple in the early 1900s. That’s because it facilitates education and economic growth and promotes conversations that fuel and inspire community.

As 5G now comes into play to foster faster transfers of broadband between each interconnected smart device, the telecommunications industry will begin to capitalize on the opportunities that these new broadband technologies have to offer us. Outlooks centered on the progress for the broadband sector predict slow, but hopeful growth. 

The Future of Broadband: 100% Connectivity by 2030

If deployment of broadband remains the same, the United States is on track to achieve 100% connectivity by 2030. Many underserved areas that are not currently wired will prove difficult to service for economic or topographical reasons. To close the digital divide, the public and private sector will need a serious commitment to achieve 100% connectivity through key strategies.

Among these strategies, effective mapping and smart government funding can help the connectivity goal become a reality. By improving mapping, for instance, it could help officials making funding decisions by indicating where those gaps exist. However, technologies like low-Earth orbit satellites can reach difficult-to-wire areas. While they are not yet in operation, it is likely these technologies will continue evolving during the 2020s. 

SpaceX’s Starlink project is one such entity trying to provide faster broadband to the world through their satellite technology. The robust broadband installation in areas that have difficulty with access or where it’s impossible to wire could be a game changer for people, local businesses and the industry, at large.

Further community broadband initiatives will hasten the pace of adoption in low-competition regions. Local municipal broadband initiatives have already installed connectivity in hundreds of communities. Over the next decade, researchers expect that the many laws and regulations which ordinarily roadblock such solutions, will be eliminated due to more engaged citizens who are better acquainted with broadband policy issues, thanks to the upcoming election cycle and the awareness of digital disparity.

Rural Economic Growth in the Next Decade

Similar to the manufacturing plant in Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley counties, broadband can support further rural economic growth by offering a boost for businesses and residents who are struggling to keep up or have been left behind in the digital economy. The World Bank reports that a 10 percent increase in broadband implementation can deliver a 1.21 percent bump in GDP growth. This means offering broadband to only two million new rural American residents can add $4.8 billion to the United States economy each year.

Broadband is increasingly used in commerce today and expanding services and increasing access and utilization of digital tools and tech resources by small businesses in rural communities will likely stimulate up to $80 billion in revenue. At the same time, it can reduce rural unemployment rates and create new jobs through remote working and online services. Online learning and career training can also help rural workers raise their earning potential by 29 percent as they obtain higher education degrees and vocational skills. 

2020 Broadband Predictions 

Despite previously slow deployment rates across the United States, the past decade was a true period of exponential change and innovation for broadband. In this new decade, key trends and developments in the broadband industry are setting the pace for further growth.

This year alone, broadband will be live in all major U.S. cities. Next generation 5G mobile service is already being used in major U.S. cities like San Francisco and Chicago across all networks. In 2020, carriers in other major cities like New York City are rolling out their 5G strategies and infrastructures as more devices are released that support the baseband. If all goes to plan, despite supply chain and other economic delays caused by the coronavirus, it’s plausible that every major market in the country will have at least one new provider offering commercially-viable 5G services.

While we are currently in an economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of installing efficient broadband operations with 5G capabilities to both rural and urban communities shows promise to jumpstart the economy. As businesses and hospitals crucially rely on more interconnect devices and communications to support public and private sector stability, progress won’t falter due to the importance and growth of broadband — not only in America, but across the world.

When Implementing New Business Technologies, Proceed with Caution

Cloud computing, increasingly commonplace in business settings nowadays, affords companies the opportunity to optimize their space, reduce operational costs, and store data securely. Implementing cloud-based operations is, however, easier said than done; it requires technical capabilities, employee cooperation, and time. 

As with all innovation, a deliberate approach works best. Top-down communication is critical, so that everybody understands what the goal is, how this new technology is going to be rolled out and what training is involved.

The importance of training cannot be overstated. Training will not only empower employees; it will also cut costs drastically and make them feel secure about their place in the organization. An evaluation of the technical abilities of your team gives a fair idea of whom to train. Most popular cloud platforms offer training packages and entry-level certification packages. Once your employees start getting comfortable with the whole process, a follow-up professional course is recommended.

Having your employees study only generic online courses is not always worthwhile. Transition to the cloud happens effectively when the courses are need-based. Generic courses are best for entry-level studying, which has to be followed up by professional courses that cater to the specific needs of your organization.

Benefits of the Cloud

For starters, access to a company’s data is markedly simplified; it is available at the touch of a button or a keystroke. That saves on the cost of maintaining physical servers to manage the data.

Moreover, there’s the matter of security. The top cloud providers are very adept at protecting your data, though it is best to use those providers in combination with another storage system. The cloud is not impregnable, as shown in the iCloud hack of 2017, but with the proper encryption and dual-authentication protection, a company can protect itself as much as possible.

Other benefits include consistency in data usage and effective management of available resources.

Just Do It

A business might have concerns over introducing a new concept like the cloud into a tried-and-tested setup, but the transition can be made easier if a company’s IT professionals prioritize moving everyday systems, like email and contacts, from the old system to the new one.

That is the foundation of a successful move, as is security; it goes without saying that backup up all data is critical. The other thing that needs to be guarded against is the needless duplication of information. That serves no one well.

Employee productivity increases manifold with the infusion of fresh, new technologies. Migrating to a cloud platform is made easy with a lot of help from your existing workforce. Get a lowdown on which platform to choose, and which package to choose for your needs. This will help make the migration to the cloud easier on your organization.

Are Autonomous Bikes a Good Idea?

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are stalled. The breezy predictions of widespread rollouts by most major automobile manufacturers have been revised and readjusted. Some CEOs of those companies spoke optimistically about achieving full autonomy — Level 5, in the parlance — in 2020. Or maybe 2021. Or the early 2020s.

Now, it’s not quite clear when that might be achieved, though Tesla head Elon Musk continues to insist that his company will be producing fully autonomous vehicles by the end of 2020. Much depends, however, on how quickly 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) realizes wide dissemination, and that too remains up in the air. The best guess is that coverage will improve dramatically in 2020, and that 5G will be available in most areas of the U.S. by 2022. That breakthrough will reduce latency for all electronic devices, which is especially critical to the operation of an AV.

In the meantime we have seen technology proceed down a path that is at once parallel and literally slower with the advent of autonomous bicycles. Particularly notable is the development in 2019 of a Chinese bike featuring a neuromorphic computer chip (i.e., a chip that approximates the structure of the human brain, in that it is comprised of artificial neurons). That enabled the bike to proceed on its merry way — to navigate a track, avoid obstacles and even respond to voice commands.

Recent years have also seen the development at MIT of something called the Persuasive Electric Vehicle (PEV), an adult-sized tricycle that might one day be of use for ride-sharing services — not to mention package delivery services, as it features a secure box for parcels. A company called Scootbe also introduced a three-wheeled self-propelled scooter, while BMW came out with the prototype for a self-driving motorcycle.

The work of a company called Jump, which is owned by Uber, is also notable, as it developed a bike with a swappable battery — something that is of great importance to bike-sharing services, as it precludes the need to return the entire bike to a central location for charging; rather, the battery is simply replaced, and the rider goes on his or her way.

There were also unconfirmed reports in early 2019 that Uber was hoping to make further inroads in the micromobility space, compelling Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation systems analyst for the Center of Automotive Research, to tweet out his dismay. As noted in a post on The Verge, Dennis called autonomous bikes “the worst new mobility idea yet,” and enumerated the problems on an extensive Twitter thread:

  • A stabilization system would prove to be both costly and weighty:
  • Sensors would need to be more durable than those on cars:
  • Developing a suitable computer unit (a problem apparently addressed by the subsequent introduction of the neuromorphic chip); and
  • The swappable battery might be easy to change, but it is also easy to steal.

Dennis emphasized that while it might be possible to develop the necessary technology, he doesn’t believe autonomous bikes can be part of a sound business model.

While that might be true, there are also environmental considerations. As Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Vice.com: “Any technology that gets people out of cars is intriguing and worth exploring,” before adding that he favors “a zero-emissions bike over anything with a tailpipe.”

It seems safe to say, then, that developments will continue in this space — that not only ride-sharing services, but those people seeking alternate means to a car that burns fossil fuel, will see value in an autonomous bicycle.

By |January 24th, 2020|Tags: , , , |