From My Vantage Point

What’s Next for Ethereum?

The general-purpose blockchain Ethereum turned five on July 30. And while it is certainly doing far more than merely toddling about, there is every expectation that it will find its footing in a number of different sectors in the years ahead.

Alternately billed as “the world computer” and “the foundational platform for everything” when it was launched in 2015, Ethereum has been deemed capable of impacting such sectors as supply chains, ecommerce, communications, healthcare, real estate, social media and even elections.

But to date it has made its biggest impact on decentralized finance (DeFi), a financial system that operates without the need of a central authority, like a bank or governmental body. In other words, decentralized apps — i.e., Dapps — can be created on Ethereum (not to mention other blockchains), with the most common of those apps making it possible for users to lend or borrow cryptocurrencies such as Ether, Ethereum’s crypto.

DeFi, a $1 billion business in January 2020, had quadrupled in value by July. It offers financial access to the world’s 1.7 billion unbanked people, and is expected to disrupt traditional banking institutions. Alex Batlin, CEO of the crypto wallet Trustology, told Decrypt.com that he could, in fact, foresee DeFi becoming the world’s most trusted global liquidity pool within the next five years. And, he added:

“As DeFi goes global and becomes reliable, more liquidity will flow there, and attract more liquidity. All of this will be enabled by decentralization, because it is safer.”

Kosala Hemachandra, founder/CEO of MEW (MyEtherWallet), agreed, informing that same outlet that “DeFi will transition from being a trendy and high-risk way to maximize gains in crypto, to a daily necessity and reality for personal finance — less risky, more usable, more reliable, and more ubiquitous.”

The rollout of Ethereum 2.0, which began in November and will be done in stages, will hasten Ethereum’s rise in other realms. This new iteration is hailed for its change from Proof of Work (i.e., a system demanding a certain amount of work to ward off hackers and such) to Proof of Stake (a system where transactions can be performed according to the amount of cryptocurrency a user holds), and draws Ethereum closer to the point where it might become, as co-founder Vitalik Buterin once wrote, “a crypto network that intends to be as generalized as possible.”

That means more decentralization in more areas. Consider that in December 2018, the U.S. government passed legislation that would make online services more easily accessible. Consider the way smart contracts, an Ethereum staple, simplify supply chain management; the World Economic Forum estimates that it could result in $1 trillion in new trade over the next 10 years. Consider the platform’s potential impact on healthcare, as blockchains have been shown to minimize instances of patient misidentification and information blocking.

Other potential use cases are real estate, as smart contracts can make transactions easier to consummate. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) has also shown potential in elections, as exemplified in West Virginia’s 2016 primary.

In short, there is still vast potential for Ethereum. Having clambered to its feet at age 5, it is now getting steadier and stronger. No telling how far it might run in the years ahead.

The 5G-IoT Marriage, and What it Will Mean for Industry

The rollout of 5G is ongoing, with all the major wireless carriers endeavoring to expand their coverage across the U.S. And as vast as the implications promise to be for everyday people — a result of 5G’s crackling download speeds and minimal latency — they are that much greater for industry.

It is expected, in fact, that 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) will, in combination with the Internet of Things (IoT), usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a.k.a., Industry 4.0. That manufacturing will be more efficient and supply chains more fluid. That retail shopping will be more personalized and smart cities more likely. That autonomous vehicles will become more commonplace and remote healthcare more widespread.

In short, the world could very well become more efficient as a result of this 5G/IoT marriage. Just consider the particulars — how 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, and offers latency that is 25 times lower. It is capable of supporting a massive number of devices at once, and is vastly more energy-efficient than its predecessor as well.

In truth, there are few industries that won’t be touched by 5G/IoT, as evidenced by the fact that the global Industrial IoT market, valued at $688 billion in 2019, is expected to explode by 2024, to $982 billion. (Other estimates have it exceeding the $1 trillion mark.) It will specifically impact such areas of industry as asset tracking, predictive maintenance, product quality and supply-chain management.

The impact of these technologies can be illustrated in the production of bladed disks (a.k.a., BLISKS), a crucial part of turbines most commonly found in jet engines. Precision is a must in the manufacturing of these items, as flaws can lead to engine failure and severe accidents. The use of sensors, which provide real-time information during the production process, ensure quality — and, in turn, profitability. In addition, increased efficiency reduces fuel consumption and the production of greenhouse gases. So there is a sustainability component as well.

How did we get here? Rewind to the 1980s, when first-generation wireless technology allowed for voice communication. 2G, which enabled texting, came along in the ‘90s, with 3G (featuring mobile broadband) available in 2000 and 4G (with ever-increasing speed) in 2010.

In the meantime, the IoT was gaining momentum. The term, coined by British innovator Kevin Ashton in 1999, showed some initial footing in industry about a decade later, but then became more commonplace in home and office settings, with the introduction of such things as smart thermostats, doorbells, lighting, etc. There are, in fact, more connected devices in the world today than there are people, and it is expected that there will be even more in the years ahead — as many as 41.6 billion of them by 2025, according to one estimate.

By the end of this year, there will be some 5.8 billion interconnected devices in industry (particularly the automotive industry) alone. More to come, to be sure. And in the meantime AT&T has taken root in dozens of U.S. cities, with Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint making inroads as well. As mentioned, that will enable these devices to be faster, more efficient and more interconnected than ever before. 

By |October 30th, 2020|Tags: , , , , , |

A Growing Concern: Using the IoT to Study Climate Change’s Impact on Trees

While the implications of the Internet of Things (IoT) have been felt in the home through the use of things like smart appliances, doorbells and virtual assistants, its potential is limitless. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it might save the planet.

There are countless examples. Consider, for instance, that Vodafone, a United Kingdom-based telecommunications company, is using IoT technologies to study how forests respond to climate change. Sensors designed to withstand cold winters and harsh climates will be attached to trees, where they will send a constant stream of data to scientists for further research. The scientists will explore how trees’ ability to store carbon may be used to mitigate climate change around the world, and the results could inform government decisions, policymakers and the public about how tree growth affects the overall environment.  This is just one of the many ways in which the IoT could help to combat climate change and improve the planet’s health and sustainability. 

One of the greatest advantages of the IoT is energy efficiency. Some predictions indicate that carbon emissions could fall by one-fifth over the next decade due to the growing digital transformation enabled by the IoT. Smart buildings making use of IoT devices and remote management consume approximately 22 percent less energy than traditional structures.

The impact of the IoT at home may be obvious, helping humans to consume less energy overall, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and limiting carbon emissions.  But,  it also has extensive potential for industry. The industrial IoT can measure industrial processes, monitor potential pollutants and air quality and track climate change processes. IoT technologies can also be used to reduce waste byproducts of industrial production, track the flow of materials and reduce reliance on fossil fuels and other natural resources.

IoT-powered LED lights not only help cut carbon emissions by 1.4 million tons each year but also help to reroute traffic and increase parking efficiency, reducing emissions and congestion. Part of the “smart grid,” IoT energy meters can help to conserve energy while meeting customer demand when it is most necessary.

IoT has huge potential for the energy sector and big infrastructure, as well. One fully automated electricity plant in Massachusetts has cut energy demand on site by 75 percent after it replaced an old-fashioned steam plant. Because it is able to monitor energy needs on a continual basis, the plant’s use and generation of electricity is far more efficient.

Scientific researchers have other uses for IoT technologies, too. Data science and the computation of massive amounts of data brought together by IoT devices can be used to shape policies, make recommendations and educate the public about climate change and effective ways to combat its threat. IoT systems are even being used to track the health of bees and detect and prevent illegal logging. Wildlife preserves and nature organizations use IoT surveillance systems to spot unlawful poaching and hunting or detect threats to the ecosystem in the area.

By monitoring the world around us while developing advanced solutions to reduce consumption both at home and in large-scale industry, it is clear that the IoT is more than a security camera in a doorbell or an app to turn on the lights at home. Instead, the IoT presents great potential as a powerful tool in the global battle to stop climate change.

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.