Bitcoin is just nine years old and the identity of its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, is still unknown. This week I came across a story of Bitcoin’s origins by someone named “Scronty.” It’s a long but compelling narrative, basically claiming there were three main founders of Bitcoin: Phil Wilson (a.k.a. Scronty, from New Zealand), Craig Wright (an Australian who has already laid claim to being Satoshi, but failed to provide proof), and American Dave Kleiman (who sadly passed away in 2013).
In other words, Wilson (pictured to the right) claims that Satoshi was a group. What’s more, according to Wilson’s narrative, he came up with the crucial blockchain concept that made Bitcoin possible.
I got in touch with Wilson via Reddit’s messaging system, where he also goes by the user name Scronty. I told him I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not, but I thought his story was (at the very least) a great explanation of how Bitcoin works and its likely inspiration. I was also titillated by the idea that Satoshi might be at least partly a New Zealander, since that’s where I hail from too.
Combining two hot tech trends in one product is bound to stir up interest, and the ICO of AI + blockchain startup SingularityNET was no exception. Its token, AGI, was sold at ten cents a piece in a token sale at the end of December. The company raised its goal of US$32,800 and the token is now trading at about US$0.40, according to CoinMarketCap.
In this post I review SingularityNET’s progress so far, and ask what could potentially derail its grand ambition to be a decentralized marketplace for AI algorithms.
Jarrod Dicker just left his executive job at The Washington Post to become CEO of a blockchain company. Dicker described his new employer, Po.et, as “a shared, open-source universal ledger designed to track ownership, attribution and the marketplace flow” of content.
When I checked out the Po.et homepage, I was immediately reminded of Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project. Xanadu was a precursor to the Web that aimed to provide a trail of ownership for all pieces of content. It was invented in the 1960s, but a working version was never released over the following few decades. When the much simpler World Wide Web was invented in the early 1990s, it put paid to Ted Nelson’s grandiose dream once and for all. But in the blockchain era, perhaps it’s time to revisit Nelson’s idea of trackable content.
It’s a question many of us have been asking, as we watch new ICOs and cryptocurrencies pop up every day: do they really need a blockchain to do that? Fortunately there’s a white paper, written by academic computer scientists, which answers this question.
The paper is written by Karl Wüst and Arthur Gervais, who work in the Department of Computer Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. On page two of seven, they make this statement:
In general, using an open or permissioned Blockchain only makes sense when multiple mutually mistrusting entities want to interact and change the state of a system, and are not willing to agree on an online trusted third party.
That last bit – “not willing to agree on an online trusted third party” – is why blockchain is so appealing to proponents of an Open Web (of which I’m one). Blockchain technology could enable the creation of fully decentralized web services. It holds the promise of getting us out of the gated communities we currently live in on the Web: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and others.
Over the weekend Andreas Brekken published a lengthy post denouncing IOTA, which had previously received a lot of hype as a cryptocurrency for Internet of Things (IoT). Brekken, who named his blog Shitcoin, concluded that “IOTA cannot be used for Internet-of-Things devices. Or anything.” Damn.
I’ll comment on Brekken’s analysis, but I also want to use this post to highlight how difficult it is to judge new blockchain projects. Many of them, and particularly ICOs hoping to raise tens of millions of dollars, either do not have a functioning product to test OR the product they do have is very difficult to use. IOTA falls into the second category, as Brekken’s long and tortuous journey to test-drive IOTA shows.
In my interview yesterday with Rod Drury, CEO of global accounting software company Xero, we discussed the pros and cons of blockchain technology from a business context. According to Rod, blockchain is most useful “when you have multiple strong actors that make up the entire network.” He thinks there are opportunities to use such blockchain technology in markets “where there’s not one dominant provider”; such as banking, settlements and investments.
This is pretty much the argument for what’s called a “permissioned blockchain,” which is a blockchain where only selected actors have control. This is different to Bitcoin, which is a public blockchain – meaning anyone can participate, for example as a node or a miner.
This afternoon I sat down with Rod Drury, founder and CEO of the global accounting software company Xero. I was keen to get his views on blockchain, given that he runs a public company with over 1.2 million subscribers – most of whom work with ledgers!
Does blockchain have any application in the accounting business? As you’ll hear in this 15-minute interview, Rod has a specific use case in mind. But it’s fair to say he’s skeptical overall on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. I think you’ll find this an illuminating interview, hearing how a successful SaaS entrepreneur views the current blockchain revolution.
Narrative is a blockchain startup that is running a token sale in a week’s time. This one caught my eye for two reasons. Firstly, it’s building a content network on a blockchain – similar to the already established Steemit. Secondly, Narrative just announced it has switched platforms. Previously it was planning to build on top of the Ethereum blockchain, as most ICOs do. But now it has switched to the Chinese version of Ethereum, Neo.
Let’s take a look at Narrative and see what chance its content network has to get traction.
We’re seeing regulators all across the world start to step in with cryptocurrencies, which is causing uncertainty in the entire blockchain ecosystem. After all, if cryptocurrencies aren’t seen as legitimate, and many blockchain startups rely on coins and tokens in order to function, then a lot of blockchain startups will run into problems gaining traction.
Here in New Zealand, banks are actively shutting down the bank accounts of our leading exchanges. This week Cryptopia (an exchange also popular overseas) and Token Room had their accounts shut down. NZBCX, another leading Bitcoin exchange, had their bank account shut down in late November. All this means that kiwis wanting to trade cryptocurrencies will have to use an overseas exchange, and there are no guarantees the banks will allow funds to be sent to those exchanges either.
At the Blockchain Connect conference in San Francisco last week, CoinDesk’s Bailey Reutzel made some useful notes from a panel of ICO investors. The following tips from Linda Xie, managing director of crypto hedge fund Scalar Capital, are especially pertinent. She talks about how to weigh up the merits, or otherwise, of a blockchain startup doing an ICO: