Month: April 2018

30 Apr 2018

Ethereum Foundation Developer Proposes Smart Contract Insurance Fund

Ethereum Foundation developer Alex Van de Sande has unveiled a proposal for an insurance pool that he believes will mitigate the risk of network splits stemming from a desire to recover funds frozen due to code faults in smart contracts.

Van de Sande, who is team lead for the Mist browser, wrote in a blog post that creating a recovery contract with a dedicated insurance fund would reduce the incentive that a person or group — e.g. the owners of the more than $320 million in ETH that was rendered unspendable after Parity’s multi-signature wallet contract library self-destructed — would have to pursue a contentious hard fork to regain some or all of the value lost due to the bug.

Here’s how the system would work.

Developers would insure their smart contracts by locking up Ether for a predetermined period of years in a recovery contract. In exchange, they would receive an equal number of “recover-ether tokens,” which they could then either hold or sell to speculators.

If the Ether insured by the contracts becomes frozen (hacks and other exploits in which the tokens remain liquid would not be covered by the fund), the recovery process would allow recover-ether holders to redeem their tokens for an equivalent percentage of the pool’s funds at a 90 percent rate, with the remaining 10 percent used to fund the general insurance fund of all tokens.

On the other hand, if the lock-up period passes and no recovery process is initiated, the recover-tokens would be automatically destroyed and the issuer would receive back their locked Ether — and would keep any profits realized by selling recover-tokens at the outset.

The recovery contract would be governed by token holders, who could vote on decisions such as which contracts the fund should insure.

One hurdle to the proposed system would seem to be that the recover-tokens would likely be classified as securities by many regulatory agencies.

However, perhaps the most controversial component of Van de Sande’s proposal involves launching the fund with more than 513,000 ETH in liabilities by issuing recovery tokens to the victims of code fault in Parity’s multi-signature wallet contract library.

In addition to mitigating the risk of a contentious network split, which, to be clear, Parity says it has “no intention” of pursuing, Van de Sande argues that this would turn the victims — a group that includes many of Ethereum’s top developers — into stakeholders in the new fund. This, in turn, would likely give the pool a greater chance of gaining traction when it launches.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Source: CNN

29 Apr 2018

Split atom clouds get entangled in quantum tests

Clouds of linked-up atoms are doing the splits.

Scientists forged quantum connections between separate regions within clouds of ultracold atoms, demonstrating entanglement between thousands of particles in two different locations. Previous similar experiments had entangled several thousand atoms, but only within one entire cloud (SN Online: 3/25/15).

Now researchers have split up a cloud of entangled atoms into separate regions, either by considering two areas in a single cloud to be distinct or by actually forming two separate clouds, according to a trio of papers (found here, here and here) published in the April 27 Science. The new technique is a step toward quantum devices that make precise measurements, for example of electric fields.

Entanglement is a bizarre quantum phenomenon where separate objects, whether individual particles or groups of particles, behave as a conjoined entity. Measuring one object immediately reveals information about the other, even when the two are in different locations, such as distinct atomic clouds.

Source: SN

28 Apr 2018

Advanced Reproductive Technology is Here. But Who Decides Who Gets Access?

In November 2017, a baby named Emma Gibson was born in the state of Tennessee. Her birth, to a 25-year-old woman, was fairly typical, but one aspect made her story unique: she was conceived 24 years prior from anonymous donors, when Emma’s mother was just a year old.  The embryo had been frozen for more than two decades before it was implanted into her mother’s uterus and grew into the baby who would be named Emma.

Most media coverage hailed Emma’s birth as a medical marvel, an example of just how far reproductive technology has come in allowing people with fertility issues to start a family.

Yet, the news held a small detail that gave others pause. The organization that provided baby Emma’s embryo to her parents, the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), has policies that state they will only provide embryos to married, heterosexual couples, in addition to several health requirements. Single women and non-heterosexual couples are not eligible.

The future of reproductive technology has many excited about its potential to allow biological birth for those who might not otherwise have been capable of it. Experiments going on today, such as testing functional 3D-printed ovaries and incubating animal fetuses in artificial wombs, seem to suggest that future is well on its way, that fertility medicine has already entered the realm of what was once science fiction.

Yet, who will have access to these advances? Current trends seem to suggest that this will depend on the actions of regulators and insurance agencies, rather than the people who are affected the most.

Barriers to Reproduction in the “Lawless West”

Americans looking to procreate increasingly rely on reproductive technology to do so. About 12 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to full term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also finds that nearly 9 percent of men between 25 and 44 have reported that they or their partner have seen a doctor for some form of infertility management.

A sperm fertilizing an egg. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet regulatory and financial barriers make these options different for individuals in the U.S. than those in other countries. Experts say that the U.S. has long lagged behind the developed world in protecting individuals’ reproductive rights — access to abortion and even basic birth control continue to be a hot-button issue, as does research involving any form of human gametes. These controversies have meant that the government has always been hesitant to regulate reproduction.

“Reproductive medicine has existed in this country in an almost wholly unregulated state,” Megan Allyse, a bioethicist with the Mayo Clinic specializing in reproductive and genetic ethics, told Futurism. There’s no history of regulating this form of medicine, and it’s politically very tricky, Allyse explained; “And so efforts to regulate it run into this very complicated nexus.”

In this space collide proponents and opponents of abortion, pro-natalism, and reproductive autonomy, as well as reproductive rights advocates who want to keep regulation out altogether due to concerns it will be misused. (Compare this to the U.K., where there is an entire government agency — The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority — dedicated to regulating fertility treatments and research involving embryos.)

In reaction to this environment, most insurance companies in the U.S., including the few federally-funded public insurance options, don’t cover even basic fertility treatments, such as hormone therapy or IVF. That’s because insurance companies usually don’t consider fertility procedures and medications to be “medically necessary,” defined by as: “Health care services or supplies needed to diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease, or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.”

IVF, for example, is not medically necessary. A single IVF treatment can cost $10,000 or more; the first implantation often fails, necessitating multiple treatments and even higher costs. Most Americans have to pay these out of pocket, though fertility treatment is covered by universal healthcare in many places abroad. This high cost in the U.S. makes IVF unattainable for the average American. Though few official statistics exist, it’s likely that thousands of people in the U.S. are unable to achieve their dreams of having children simply because it is financially prohibitive.

“There is no question that, in America, you have no right to reproduce,” Antonio Gargiulo, an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) and the director of robotic surgery at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Futurism. “There is no equality of access; rich people reproduce better than poor people.”

“There is no question that, in America, you have no right to reproduce.”

While adoption is often recommended to those unable to afford IVF and other fertility treatments, the legal and screening fees incurred by adoption can also be high — according to Adopt US Kids, a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Adoption Exchange Association, adoption costs for healthy newborns start around $5,000 and can go as high as $40,000 (adoptions of older children from foster care are free).

“Essentially, those who are more socioeconomically advantaged have a much better chance of fulfilling their reproductive goals,” said Allyse.

Regulators could require insurers to cover the cost of reproductive care, or provide subsidies to help make it more affordable. But that doesn’t happen. Although 15 U.S. states have laws that mandate some form of fertility coverage, these laws can be very narrow. They can exclude certain forms of treatment, as several do with IVF; require that people seeking fertility treatments demonstrate specific medical conditions that prevent pregnancy; require a couple to demonstrate they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant “naturally” over a specific period of time (a law that excludes homosexual couples by definition); require that a person’s eggs be fertilized only with the spouse’s sperm; offer religious exemptions; or hand the decision of whether to cover treatments over to employers.

According to Allyse, the U.S. has become internationally known as “the lawless west” when it comes to reproductive medicine.

“If you can’t get something in Singapore, Israel, England, you go to the U.S., where you can get anything you’re willing to pay for,” Allyse said.

She cited the case of the “Octo-mom,” who, in 2008, received an IVF treatment that implanted ten embryos simultaneously, allowing her to give birth to octuplets. By ethical standards, transferring so many embryos alone is, arguably, irresponsible. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends transferring a single embryo at a time, since multiple embryos have been associated with increased rates of prematurity, infant death, and complications for both the parent and child. In some European countries, single embryo transfer is even mandated. But no U.S. laws require a single embryo to be implanted at once. And until there are, some doctors will be willing to implant multiple embryos as long as a patient is willing to pay.

Governing the Ungoverned

A lack of government oversight means U.S. providers of fertility treatment are free to make decisions about who receives care in ways that might be considered unethical or even illegal in other fields. This leaves the U.S. at a paradoxical nexus: Pretty much any fertility treatment is available if you can pay for it, yet you can still be refused if a clinician does not agree with your lifestyle.

For example: NEDC, the source of Emma Gibson’s embryo, determines patient qualifications for those eligible to receive embryos from a “Judeo-Christian viewpoint,” according to Jeffrey Keenan, the center’s medical director.

“[Our policy is] looking at the biological reality of a family and how God created conception,” Keenan said in an interview with Futurism. “As much as you see gay people having children, you have noticed that none of them do it on their own. It is physically and scientifically impossible for gay people to have a child. So why just because we can have someone act as a surrogate, or because we can donate into a [gay] woman, why does that make it right? It doesn’t, not in and of itself.”

Naturally, the LGBT and civil rights communities vehemently oppose such views — and increasingly, so do the courts.

“Medical care available to some people should be available to all, not based on sexual orientation or other factors,” Jenny Pizer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, an organization that provides free advocacy and legal representation to LGBT and HIV-positive people, told Futurism. In 2008, Pizer was the lead attorney in the California Supreme Court case Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, brought by a lesbian woman, Guadalupe Benitez, who had been refused IVF due to her sexuality. After a series of court battles lasting over seven years, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Benitez.

“This isn’t just a win for me personally and for other lesbian women,” Benitez told the San Francisco Gate after the ruling. (Futurism requested an interview with Benitez, but she is no longer speaking to the media about this case.) “Anyone could be the next target if doctors are allowed to pick and choose their patients based on religious views about other groups of people.”

An egg being fertilized during IVF. Image Credit: ZEISS Microscopy/Flickr

Pizer added: “LGBT people are people, just like everyone else. And for some people the desire to form a lifelong bond with another adult, and have a family together, and share a family life is as deeply personal and profoundly important as anything else in life. For a great many people it’s more important in life.”

Several other cases have been brought to the courts, including several ongoing in Florida and New Jersey. California and Maryland have had to update the language of their fertility coverage mandates to specifically forbid discrimination by sexual orientation. Yet any state Supreme Court rulings only have effects on the state level.

There was some hope that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might address the issue, and indeed, the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, from any program or facility that gets federal funding. But because private facilities that exclusively provide reproductive services — such as the NEDC, which is a non-profit — do not receive federal funding, that rule doesn’t apply.

“Anyone could be the next target if doctors are allowed to pick and choose their patients based on religious views about other groups of people.”

If anything, gatekeepers who oppose patient lifestyles seem likely to receive moregovernment protections, not fewer. The Trump administration has revealed plans to overhaul the rules governing the Health and Human Services civil rights office, which is responsible for enforcing laws that protect “fundamental rights of nondiscrimination, conscience, religious freedom, and health information privacy.” Trump’s reform will give the civil rights office a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” made to protect health workers who have “religious or moral objections”that would lead them to refuse treating certain people, such as transgender patients or people seeking abortions. The rule would prevent organizations from firing workers who expressed these objections, and it would punish facilities that prevented workers from expressing them.

Though HHS staffers and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concerns that the new rules are blurring the line between church and state, they come from current HHS leadership and promises made by the president himself, and seem likely to go through.

Pizer says she already anticipates more legal battles as a result. “We think it’s profoundly alarming,” she said. “It’s really turning the civil rights division on its head, to be aggressively asserting protections for health workers [who] don’t want to provide care to patients. The larger dynamic here is, if the government is putting out the message that people can refuse to do their job based on religious grounds, that encourages people to refuse. It’s already likely to increase something that has been a real problem.”

Allyse also noted that discrimination can be a much more insidious and hard-to-address problem in the medical field.

“Even if [providers] don’t say, ‘I won’t provide treatment because you’re in a same-sex relationship,’ they can say lots of other things,” Allyse said. Medical ethics permit providers to turn you down as a potential patient based on their own “clinical discretion,” Allyse said, and that can mean pretty much anything. “We may be making progress in terms of overt discrimination in access, but we have no real mechanism for tracking or ameliorating more tacit and covert discrimination.”

“In Good Hands,” but Still Unaffordable

Doctors working in reproductive medicine stressed to Futurism that discrimination and biases were relatively uncommon in their field; while discrimination is certainly an issue, most fertility doctors see their work as a way of providing people of all orientations autonomy over their own bodies.

“The field of reproductive endocrinology — the infertility doctors — tend to be an open-minded group who have made a lot of strides in how LGBT people build families, or in patients with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, how they build families safely,” said Pietro Bortoletto, an OB/GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We do a lot of the management for people doing gender transitions. As a whole, the field tends to be really progressive. And as long as this sort of technology and these [future] procedures live within the field of infertility, it’s in good hands.”

Discriminatory practices aside, the same experts don’t anticipate that these treatments will ever become affordable unless insurance companies choose to cover them, or are forced to.

Bortoletto and Gargiulo are part of the team at Brigham and Women’s exploring the potential development of a uterine transplant program for the hospital, though they emphasize that “no formal preparations are underway at this time.” Because uterus transplants are considered experimental, they would be offered to individuals at no cost. But even once uterine transplants become a “standard” treatment for infertility, as IVF currently is — which doctors say could happen in 10-20 years — Gargiulo predicts that nobody is ever going to pay for a uterine transplant. Just as almost nobody pays for a kidney or heart transplant out-of-pocket, the costs of this surgery are simply too high. People will need to rely on insurance companies to cover these procedures if they’re going to be done at all.

Sonogram. Image Credit: Miki Yoshihito/Flickr

To Allyse, it seems unlikely that the federal government will establish the regulation needed to make insurance companies cover such procedures, at least not anytime soon.

“There’s almost no chance [of federal regulation changing],” she said. “We currently have an administration that is significantly anti-regulatory, so the idea we would create new systems in the current political climate is doubtful to me.” For three decades, the fertility industry has successfully lobbied to keep regulation to a minimum, Allyse added. For now, it doesn’t seem likely that anything, or anyone, will be able to override that power.

However, there’s more hope that individual states, in which progressive legislation moves more quickly, could make legislative changes to improve access to fertility treatments. In 2017, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo began requiring that insurance companies provide infertility treatments to homosexual couples and single women; the state is one of the 15 that requires coverage, but previously had rules on the book that made it impossible for single people or gay couples to prove they were eligible for treatment. In Massachusetts, fertility coverage has been standard since 1987, when it became the first state to pass a law requiring that fertility treatments be covered by insurance. The state has offered its own healthcare, MassHealth, to residents of certain income brackets who cannot access the minimum standard of health care through other means. This makes Massachusetts one of the few places where nearly anyone can access fertility treatments that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

If uterine transplants became a standard procedure, they could one day be free in Massachusetts, Gargiulo marveled.

To Pizer, these remaining hurdles for reproductive equality are one of the last major barriers to equality for all sexual orientations. Regardless of the quibbling around medical necessity or insurance coverage, to advocates of equality, discrimination is discrimination.

“It’s an important priority for our movement, to allow more members of this community to live full lives who they really are, openly and honestly, and bring their whole selves into those family roles,” Pizer said.

Disclaimer: the editor of this piece was a recipient of the Mayo Clinic’s 2017 journalist residency for surgery, where she met a number of the sources quoted in this piece. The residency was paid for by the Mayo Clinic; however, neither the clinic nor any of its affiliates have editorial review privileges.

Source: Futurism

26 Apr 2018

“Transparent” Blockchain Is Pretty Darn Useful For Sharing Private Info

Two days ago, an open letter to China’s Peking University was anonymously uploaded to the Ethereum blockchain, effectively sharing it with anyone who trades or tracks the cryptocurrency.

In it, student Yue Xin writes that the university coerced her to stop looking into a decades-old controversy surrounding Gao Yan, a Peking University student who committed suicide in 1998 after being sexually assaulted by a professor, who remained on staff.

This letter had originally appeared on a more standard online platform. But it, along with several others by China’s #MeToo activists, have been vanishing from the internet, Quartz reports.

So to avoid censorship, people have started hiding text in the code of various cryptocurrencies. To upload Yue’s note, for example, the anonymous user pasted it in the notes section of a transaction. It was given the value for zero ether, meaning the note’s sole purpose was to share and distribute the letter.

Blockchains, you may recall, aren’t stored all in one place. They’re distributed — each participant stores a digital copy of the ledger. The endless horde of crypto-bros on the internet insists this feature makes blockchains transparent, ethical, and infallible. That part is debatable. But one thing is clear: anyone mining Ethereum can now read Yue Xin’s letter.

Other ethereum users called Yue’s letter historic; indeed, the uploader and the author are both brave to take such a risk in an effort to combat sexual assault. But it’s actually not the first time that a cryptocurrency transaction has been used to store something long-term on the blockchain.

Cryptocurrency exchanges have been found to contain all sorts of information, both public and encrypted. These range from the annoying (advertisements) to the cutesy (never gonna give you up!) to the illegal (Wikileaks data, software keys, and child pornography.)

This complicates things for blockchain advocates, since their whole spiel is that creating a decentralized network will lead to a better world. But now, they have to grapple with how to handle long-term and permanent storage of things added to crypto transactions. And it’s becoming pretty clear that people who post information into their transactions can’t dodge repercussions.

Source: Futurism

25 Apr 2018

Everything Is Smart In The Future, Even The Freakin’ Walls

In the future, everything is connected. Even our walls will be watching us binge watch TV on our couches.

Yes, the internet is already connected to doorbells, toasters, and light bulbs, changing the way we interact with them. Even our fridges are possessed by an AI that can shame us for not picking the free-range, organic eggs.

Now, researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University teamed up with researchers from Disney (yep, the Disney of World, Land, and Cinderella) to transform those lame, “dumb” walls into smart walls. They function as a gigantic trackpad, sensing a user and their movements.

In the paper presented at the 2018 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal, Quebec, the researchers note their goal to give walls the ability to track a user’s touch and gestures through “airborne electromagnetic noise” — more or less (mostly less) the same kind of sensing your smartphone screen does.

Their pitch had me hooked from the start: “Houses, offices, restaurants, schools, museums — walls are everywhere, yet they are inactive.” Totally. All walls do is, you know, hold up structures and separate the noisy goings-on in various rooms to, like, give people privacy and stuff. We’re tired of giving walls a free ride; it’s time walls started holding up their own weight around here.

Rather than using a camera to locate a user and track their movement, as other systems do, this system relies on a grid of “large electrodes” covered in a layer of water-based paint that conducts electricity. Water-based paint is less smelly and looks better than other conductive paints, like nickel-based ones. And all it took to connect the electrodes was copper tape. Cha-ching, goes the checkout lane at Home Depot, for a measly 20 bucks per square meter.

The result: a wall so smart, it could play a game of vertical Twister with you, and also tell if you were cheating. It can even sense if you’re holding a hair dryer really close to it through electromagnetic resonance (why you would hold a hair dryer really close to a wall is a separate question).

But the team does have some actual uses in mind for their invention: users could play videogames by using different poses to control them, change the channel on their TV with a wave of their arm, or slap the wall directly to turn off the lights, no need for light switches.

Yes, indeed, we are truly living in the future.

Source: Futurism

24 Apr 2018

How Blockchain Can Give Readers More Power On the Internet

The past few months have been, to put it mildly, unkind to Facebook. A long string of damaging reports peaked earlier this month, when it was uncovered that the social network had lost control of 50 million users’ personal data and never disclosed the breach. The discovery appears to have finally spooked the public – Facebook’s stock has plummeted, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is launching an investigation, and a rising wave of users and critics are calling to #deletefacebook.

That user anxiety is absolutely justified – in fact, critics have been warning about using Facebook being a risk to privacy for years. The social network has become a relentless and largely unaccountable tracker of its users’ movements and activities all across the web, and even in the real world.

Of course, those warnings were ignored in part because Facebook trades that data for things we really want. We love the promise of keeping in touch with friends and family, keeping up with events, and having one central way to manage it all. We like having one way to log in to an array of websites and services. We might even admit we like the convenience of seeing ads tailored to our individual tastes. As we recently described, that appeal has helped Facebook and similar networks draw attention, and revenue, away from publishers with more conventional relationships with readers.

As we process our conflicting feelings about Facebook, a key question is whether there’s some way to preserve the best features of social media while getting rid of its worst aspects, including its threat to both user privacy and the online publishing industry. The answer, thankfully, is: Absolutely. And one of the major reasons it’s possible is blockchain—the technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain promises, for a start, to revolutionize digital identity. In the present day, Facebook, Google, and Visa quite literally own your ability to prove who you are on the internet. But blockchain makes it possible for people to establish and prove their online identity independently, according to blockchain expert Kaliya Young, better known in online professional circles as Identity Woman. “Of course the identity woman has identity problems,” she laughs, explaining that many find her name challenging.

Young was part of an early-2000s Silicon Valley cognoscenti that foresaw everything from Uber to social networks and those services’ problems. In 2005, she co-founded the Internet Identity Workshop, which has since held regular workshops on a problem that, until recently, has proven mostly intractable.

“We said we need to support the development of open standards for user-centered identity so that people are empowered with their own digital roots on the internet . . . [That would] avoid the problem of one big company—the worry at the time was Microsoft—owning everyone’s identity, or governments becoming the default identity provider.”

blockchain facebook
Image credit: Pixabay

That concept is now often referred to as “self-sovereign identity.” It was a forward-looking vision, so forward-looking, in fact, that it was hard to convince foundations and nonprofits to support the work. Young found herself having to describe the very concept of a social network before she could explain why they would become a problem. It turned out there were deep technical challenges, too. According to Young, for nearly 15 years attempts at an independent identity system hit one roadblock after another.

Now blockchain, along with smartphones, has changed the equation. The system Young describes would allow individuals to create private encryption keys, stored on a blockchain and managed through their phone. Those keys could be used to prove a user’s identity online, and because blockchains are open and decentralized, Young says it “solves one of the problems that are hard to solve, which is, how do you have a root of authority, centered on the individual, that no one else owns or controls?” Systems like this are being planned and constructed right now, by players from IBMto smaller upstarts, including Sovrin and Evernym.

Such a system would also solve what Young calls the “phone home” problem, allowing users to verify their identity anywhere without requiring checking back in to a central server for verification. That means verifications aren’t actively monitored at all—Any more than the DMV knows where you’ve used your driver’s license to prove your age. One proposal among developers would even use a different identifier for every site—preventing any outside observer from correlating them to build a profile.

But none of this, Young says, means giving up the sort of personalization that benefits internet users. Young has been pushing the idea of the “Data Raindrop,” a discrete packet of data that improves a users’ experience and lets publishers sell high-quality ads but doesn’t connect directly to an individuals’ identity.

“I would be happy to say, I’m a woman, I live in Oakland, I’m over 40, I like to go camping,” Young explains. “That is information [about me] that may help you understand who your readers are. Great. That doesn’t mean you need to know who I am.”

“I’m willing to exchange information, I’m not willing to be stalked and tracked. Those are different.”

Distributed identity will also benefit publishers, creators, and consumers by cutting the greedy middleman out of their online relationships. “When I followed my favorite environmental group or my favorite band,” Young says, “I wanted to actually hear everything they have to say. And the fact that Facebook is holding them for ransom, to get that post about what they’re doing to me. Are you kidding me? This ends that whole racket.”

But all of that only matters if users actually adopt this new identity infrastructure. Here, again, blockchain offers a huge opportunity, via its most famous feature: Cryptocurrency. In the public mind, cryptocurrency and blockchain are often confused. To clarify, cryptocurrency is one of many structures that makes blockchain work, most fundamentally by providing financial incentives for the network of hosts that run servers. In the same way that money helps guide the broader economy without any central planning, cryptocurrency helps allocate resources on decentralized networks.

But those incentive systems can be much more creative than simply paying out to server operators. A recent whitepaper for a proposed blockchain-based ad network called PreVue Blockchain (who generously supported the creation of this article) proposes something wild: Actually paying readers a small portion of the revenue from ads they view in the cryptocurrency that fuels its anti-ad-fraud blockchain system. That would provide a direct incentive for the kind of opt-in data sharing Young describes, and because blockchain interoperability is becoming easier, it’s not hard to imagine a system like PreVue Blockchain working in conjunction with a decentralized identity system to handle the data.

It could go further. What if readers got small payouts for useful fact-checking contributions (ala Wikipedia) or providing feedback on content they enjoyed (or didn’t)? It becomes about much more than rewards. Readers could wind up feeling much more directly committed to publishers (not to mention more tolerant of advertising) because they would be stakeholders, in multiple ways.

Many of these ideas are in the very early stages of development. If you want to compare blockchain’s evolution to that of the world wide web, we’re in roughly 1993 right now. But the case of Facebook only drives home just how important it is. We simply can’t afford to trust centralized megacorporations to own our data, our identities, and our relationships.

And Kaliya Young (or, yes, Identity Woman) has a surprisingly upbeat message about the decentralized identity systems that will be fundamental to making that great escape: They’re just around the corner, with enough support.

“It’s not quite implementable tomorrow,” she says, “But it’s implementable next year. Please, all the people in publishing who want to support individuals having their own decentralized identifiers and connecting to their platforms, jump in and make it happen!”

Source: Futurism

23 Apr 2018

High performance in business and people

It is no surprise that effective, timely, and genuine communication helps build trust, strengthen bonds, and facilitates high performance in teams and individuals.

The latter is also true, a lack of effective communication leads to assumptions, which are generally wrong, destroys trust, and bonds between individuals and teams, and lowers efficiency, performance, and the bottom line.

A lack of trust very quickly pushes people in to the blame game.

Effective, learning organisations, high performing teams understand the importance of embracing failures, ensuring the same mistakes are not made in exactly the same way again.

A high performing team, breeds a culture that ensures people will not be punished, criticised, humiliated or ignored for genuine, honest mistakes. They will learn.

This culture takes time to build, is lost in an instant, and encourages people to speak their minds, add to the team, increasing performance and effectiveness.

The irony – many organisations are interested in profit over people. These organisations do not see clearly, and do not realise their potential.

Source: Mind Power Solutions

22 Apr 2018

Bitcoin Price Moves Towards $9,000 With Strong Momentum, Bull Market

The bitcoin price has surpassed $8,800 after rising more than 6 percent over the past 24 hours. Volumes across major cryptocurrency exchanges remain strong and the daily trading volume of the market has increased past $26 billion for the first time over the past month.

On March 21, the bitcoin price tested the $9,200 support level but failed to sustain momentum for mid-term growth and fell below the $6,500 mark within two weeks after struggling to bounce off $8,200.

At this juncture, it is likely that the bitcoin price tests the $9,200 level it had touched in late March, and a movement past that level would lead the bitcoin price to the $10,000 region by the end of April.

In November 2017, investors described the $10,000 mark as a psychological threshold and a key milestone. At the time, traders predicted the price of bitcoin to surge substantially subsequent to surpassing $10,000. Almost immediately after breaking into the $10,000 region, the bitcoin price surged to $14,000 and eventually to $20,000.

Since the initial correction of bitcoin in February, the market has not been able to demonstrate any sign of stability. The price of most alternative cryptocurrencies (altcoins) and tokens followed the short-term trend of bitcoin and the volume of regional exchanges in Japan and South Korea significantly decreased.

Fundamentally, bitcoin is in an ideal position to initiate a new rally in both the short and mid-term, given that the adoption of cryptocurrency in general has started to increase. Moveover, in late 2017, the majority of speculators who bought into the cryptocurrency market did so out of FOMO, or fear of missing out, without solid knowledge in the structure and fundamentals of cryptocurrencies.

Over the past five months, the awareness of cryptocurrency has increased drastically and a substantially large number of individuals have started to understand the basics of decentralized financial networks and cryptocurrencies.

As such, fintech company Smart Valor CEO Olga Feldmeier stated that in the next two years, the bitcoin price will reach a value of $100,000, and within 2018, the bitcoin price will surpass its previous high at $20,000.

“I believe that we will see a comeback to the height achieved at the end of 2017 this year. Over the next two years I still predict we could see it reach a value of $100,000,” Olga told The Independent.

Rise of Altcoins
Throughout this week, CCN reported that the altcoin season may have started with strong consistent performances of small cryptocurrencies and tokens. Today, several tokens like STORM have recorded a gain of above 30 percent against bitcoin and about 40 percent against the US dollar.

Investors have gained more confidence in the cryptocurrency market and are now willing to take more risks by investing in cryptocurrencies with higher volatility and lower liquidity.

Still, in an interview with FT, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin stated that the valuation of most altcoins or tokens cannot be justified and are overblown. “There’s projects that never had a soul, that are just like, ra-ra, price go up. Lambo, vrromm, buybuybuy now!” Buterin said.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Source: CNN

21 Apr 2018
Manahel Thabet

The First “Cell-Free” CRISPR Tech Is Here To Personalize Cancer Treatment

A single technology can help kill superbugs, slow cancer’s growth, and potentially help us end world hunger. No, it’s not magic. It’s science — namely, CRISPR-Cas9, the remarkable gene-editing tool.

But much like a magician, CRISPR-Cas9 won’t reveal how it pulls off its remarkable feats.

Now, a team from the Gene Editing Institute has developed a new CRISPR tool that lets researchers watch CRISPR do its thing and gives them more control in the editing process. They published their study today in the CRISPR Journal.

Cas9 is a protein that acts as the “scissors” in the editing tool that is the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Cas9 works great within a cell, but it isn’t very effective when researchers take DNA out of a cell. That’s a problem as researchers try to use the tool for new applications.

“When you’re working with CRISPR inside a cell, you’re kind of working in a black box where you can’t really observe the gears of the machinery that are doing these amazing things,” Eric Kmiec, lead researcher and director of the Gene Editing Institute, said in a press release. “You can see the results, the edits to the genes, but not necessarily how you got there, which is important for ensuring that CRISPR can be safely used to treat patients.”

To create a “cell-free” CRISPR tool, Kmiec and his colleagues replaced Cas9 with another protein: Cpf1, also known as Cas12a. With CRISPR-Cpf1, they found they could remove a molecule of DNA called a plasmid from a cell and edit it in a test tube.

According to the researchers, theirs is the first CRISPR tool that can do this, and it could be an improvement over CRISPR-Cas9 in several respects.

Second, it’s a quicker way to conduct diagnostic tests. The mutations that cause cancer aren’t the same in every patient. A doctor could use CRISPR-Cpf1 to determine the specific mutation causing the disease in a patient more quickly than with CRISPR-Cas9, according to Kmiec. This, in turn, could help that doctor determine the best treatment option for their patient.

Third, the specific cuts made by Cpf1 could be more useful than those made by Cas9. When Cas9 makes a cut, it leaves “blunt ends” on the gene. No big deal if cutting is all a researcher wants to do, but the blunt end isn’t great for attaching to a new bit of genetic code. Cpf1, on the other hand, leaves “sticky ends” that make it easier for a researcher to insert new DNA.

The Gene Editing Institute is already looking for a commercial partner to put their CRISPR-Cpf1 tool to use for cancer diagnostics, so you may see it making “magic” in labs in the not-so-distant near future.

Source: Futurism

19 Apr 2018
Manahel Thabet

Monero Price Jumps 12% as Crypto Market Posts Recovery

Monero, the 11th largest cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of nearly $3.6 billion, jumped more than 12 in the last 24 hours as its price rose to $233.74.

Monero, a privacy-centric currency, trails 10th place IOTA, which has a market cap of more than $4 billion.

Recovering $1 Billion

Monero has gained $1 billion this week, having begun the week at $167.78 with a market capitalization of $2.66 billion.

The cryptocurrency has almost recovered the capitalization it gave up over the past month; the price reached $233.53 on March 21 with a market cap of $3.732 billion. It still has a way to go, however, to reclaim the $389.03 price on Jan. 20, when its market cap topped $6.078 billion.

The price remains well above the $40 to $50 range it was in last year. Monero was among a host of cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, that allowed the market to climb to $334 billion, eyeing a move to $350 billion. Bitcoin rebounded to $8,100 over the past 24 hours after it dropped to $7,850 on April 17.

Hard Fork Brings Improvement

Monero activated its semi-annual hard fork on April 6, bringing a host of new upgrades. One particular Monero upgrade, though, threatens to split the network into two competing chains.

Monero earlier this year announced its intention to update its instance of the Cryptonight Proof-of-Work (PoW) mining algorithm at regular intervals to prevent mining hardware manufacturers from developing Monero-compatible Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) miners, as critics allege that these devices lead to mining centralization and threaten the network’s health.

ASIC chips maximize efficiency to such an extent that it becomes no longer profitable to mine with GPU miners, whose chips are general-purpose and use for everything from PC gaming to searching for extraterrestrial life.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Source: CNN