1 Bitcoin = $408
Netflix Open to Bitcoin
We’ll see where we go from here in the next 10, 15 years from a payments perspective, because countries still want to hold on to their monetary policy. But [it] sure would be nice to have bitcoin, in terms of a global currency, that you could use globally – David Wells, Netflix CFO
Paypal Adds Wences Casares to Board of Directors
PayPal lauded Xapo CEO Casares for his past entrepreneurial efforts and position as a “cryptocurrency thought leader”.
While he did not cite bitcoin specifically, Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal, aimed to position Casares as an addition to the team that would help the company with its forward-looking initiatives.
“Wences’s unique line of sight into the future of commerce is ideally aligned with PayPal’s vision of transforming the management and movement of money for people around the globe.” – Pete Rizzo
Some people are overjoyed to announce Bitcoin’s death.
Here’s a list of all 89 times Bitcoin has died…
Supported coin blacklisting; Tor node censorship in XT; cozy with regulators; etc; works for Wall Street at R3CEV now. – JJ
RAND Report Suggests Governments Attack Virtual Currencies
The RAND Corporation, an influential global policy think tank with strong defense and homeland security ties, has released a report titled “National Security Implications of Virtual Currency .”
The report was sponsored by the U.S. government through the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The research work was conducted within the International Security and National Security Implications of Virtual Currency Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense intelligence community.
The report suggests that the U.S. Department of Defense should disrupt decentralized digital currencies to prevent “unprecedented global access to information and communication services that, at its core, is agnostic to the national security interests of the United States.”
RAND researchers analyze key features of decentralized blockchain-based systems, including but not limited to virtual currencies, of which bitcoin is the best-known example.
Non-currency applications of blockchain technology, such as sophisticated systems for encrypted storage and emerging forms of decentralized web and communication services, are seen as equally threatening. In fact, one of the effects of the growing popularity of Bitcoin is an increase in the cryptography awareness and sophistication of the population at large.
“Increased awareness of block-chain technologies has, as a result, increased awareness of sophisticated cryptographic techniques for distributed consensus and computation,” note the analysts. “Venture capitalists now talk about computer-science concepts [that] would never have been the subject of discussion beyond rarefied academic circles.”
The RAND report seems to suggest pre-emptive strikes and notes that “perhaps the best strategy for the United States and its allies to thwart a VC deployment would be to target those properties of a VC that would most increase its acceptance, most notably transaction anonymity, security, and availability.”
Examples of promising cyber attacks against digital currencies and blockchain-based systems for other applications are given. – Giulio Prisco
The Exahash Era
Hashrate cracked the 1 Exahash benchmark (2.5x power increase since August 2015!)
This is the first time in history that the hashrate has crossed the one quintillion or exahash per second benchmark. – Avi Mizrahi
Stocks, Oil Falling Hard. Again.
The Dow plunged 540 points on Wednesday. It’s the latest blow in what’s already been the worst start to a year on record for the stock market. The Dow is now down more than 11% in 2016.
Oil prices crashed another 7% and broke below $27 a barrel for the first time since September 2003. It’s currently trading at $26.30 a barrel, down an incredible 29% since the beginning of the year.
“Despite improving valuations, global equities continue to get hammered,” Bespoke Investment Group wrote in a client note. The firm said the appetite for risk remains “awful.” – Matt Egan
Absolute Dependence on Intervention
It seems patently absurd that people spend a lot of energy blaming “free market capitalism” for the world’s ills when every possible market is so heavily manipulated that price discovery is completely broken and asset allocation decisions are inherently foundationless.
Now it’s all about “The Fed Put” and the utterances of central bankers. Entire media frenzies erupt over the slightest shift in timbre of the wording of an FOMC statement.
Market participants don’t do fundamental analysis anymore. Why bother? It doesn’t matter what the fundamentals are because if a microscopic number of appointed committee members (a few dozen worldwide?) decide that the fundamentals (a.k.a “reality”) won’t suit the agenda, they’ll simply issue some policy to override it. That’s why we’re here in the rabbit hole. – Mark Jeftovic
PRIVACY / SECURITY
Mycelium Working on CoinJoin
We’re working on CoinJoin (finally!) Want to help? Join here https://github.com/DanielKrawisz/shuffle-java/commits/master
COMPANIES / PROJECTS / PRODUCTS
Bitcoin Hivemind: P2P Oracle System and Prediction Marketplace
Open Bazaar Launch Possible Within Weeks
The busy Open Bazaar Reddit page has over 3,800 subscribers, and the always-active Slack room for the community is packed with about 1,200 users on their 41 channels, each of which is a topic-specific, skype-like chat room. It would be very hard to find a more active community dedicated to a single new, open-source software.
The launch date still hasn’t been nailed down yet, but the latest estimation from developers on the project is sometime during January. There is already a fully-working Debian Linux beta client available from the team within the slack community, although it isn’t easy to install, and comes with no support.
At least we can now be fairly sure what Open Bazaar will look like. Once installed, it asks you to pick a username and fill out your user profile, where most information is optional and can be used pseudonymously. Afterward, you have a button that takes you to build your store if you’d like to make one, but you can stay just a shopper if that’s all you came to do.
Here’s what my store looked like after only adding a custom banner to the top, and one test item:
Your store is where you will always land when first opening the client, although getting out of it and going to shop at other people’s stores is as simple as clicking that little eye button to the right of the address field at the top of the page.
One of the most appealing parts of Open Bazaar, besides the non-existent fees and global access, is the nearly infinite customization available to these storefronts.
By clicking the “Customize” button, that is visible when you visit your store, it immediately allows you change your header graphic and edit any of the page colors. You can take customizations even further in your profile, by choosing whole themes and changing your avatar.
There are a few more tabs on the front page of the store that make it feel and operate more like a facebook wall than an Amazon page.
Under the “About” tab, there is room for a store description plus a bunch of contact and identification links that you’d like to give. Among them is your unique Open Bazaar ID (GUID), your email address, a website link, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even a place for your PGP key. All optional, of course.
The “Followers” tab lists all of the users that follow your store’s product feed, much like how twitter lists your followers. Naturally, the “Following” tab operates the same way, but for feeds you have chosen to follow. If you click on any one of the people listed on either page you’ll go directly to their user profile page.
The end goal appears to be for Open Bazaar to become the very best place for anyone to sell anything online, period. After playing around with it for an hour or two, it is easy to see it achieving that goal in the not-too-distant future. Be sure to watch either the Slack or Reddit communities for updates on the actual launch date. – Luke Parker
The Oculus Rift is Now Four Months Backordered
Oculus Rift pre-orders opened on January 6th and were met with both excitement and resentment over the $600 price tag. That doesn’t seem to have stopped excited early-adopters from getting in line.
Oculus says that the first Rift headsets will begin shipping on March 28th. However, as day one pre-orders began to stack, folks watched as the estimated shipping date started to slip. First into April, then May, then June… and now those pre-ordering today likely won’t see their Rift until July.
At CES last week, only a few days after the Rift initially opened for pre-order, Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey said “pre-orders are going much better than I ever could have possibly expected.”
The company is surely building up stock as quickly as they can, but the sliding shipping date suggests that demand has exceeded Oculus’ manufacturing capacity. In a Q&A session on Reddit, Luckey said that the company was scaling up production to meet demand. – Ben Lang
Softbank’s Pepper Robot to Get Smarter with IBM’s Watson AI
When it launched last year, SoftBank’s emotion-reading robot Pepper sold out in just one minute despite its limited utility.
Now, Pepper’s about to get smarter thanks to a partnership with IBM to integrate Watson cognitive system into its brains.
With Watson, developers hope to help Pepper understand human emotions more thoroughly to appropriately respond and engage with its users.
Pepper is intended to be used in an enterprise setting so businesses can employ Pepper to greet customers or help at self-service kiosks. The two companies are also exploring ways to use Pepper in medical assistance and education. – Natt Garlin
Babylon Health Lets you Talk to a Doctor Through your Smartphone
AI-powered version of the app to be released within two months
DeepMind cofounders Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman are among a group of investors that are due to back Babylon Health with $25 million (£17 million) — an app that allows people to consult a doctor through their mobile phone.
The funding round, to be led by Swedish investment group AB Kinnevik, will reportedly allow Babylon to hire engineers and scientists that can build a version of its platform that is powered by artificial intelligence.
Hassabis and Suleyman are widely regarded as some of the most prominent minds in the field of artificial intelligence so they may be able to help develop the new AI-powered version of Babylon.
An AI-powered version of Babylon is expected to be released within the next two months. The AI version of the app will ask the patient a series of questions about their symptoms before giving them the advice they require.
Over 150,000 registered users have signed up to Babylon’s subscription health service, which allows people to have a video conference with one of the 100 doctors that are employed full time by Babylon. People can also use Babylon to book appointments and order medical tests.
Founder and CEO Ali Parsa told the FT that his company, which charges users £4.99 a month, has no intention of completely replacing doctors with machines. However, he believes there’s a case for using technology to facilitate the screening process and referring patients to trained medical staff when necessary.
“The challenge is how do you deal with the bottleneck that answers people’s questions, check their symptoms so that they don’t go to the doctor, and if they do, they go appropriately?”. – Sam Shead
Osaka Gas Halves Cost of Making Graphene
* One-atom-thick graphene is the world’s thinnest, but also strongest, material – 200 times tougher than steel. It is also the world’s best conductor of electricity.
* We expect graphene to become in the 21st century what steel and metal were in the 20th. We can already see its potential in a number of scientific domains. It’s not hype – Thomas Skordas
* Everybody is aiming for $80/kg to unlock the market
Osaka Gas has found a way to produce graphene, a layer of carbon just one atom thick, at half the cost of conventional methods in a development that could lead to lighter automobiles and smaller smartphones.
The Japanese gas company developed technology for making graphene from high-purity graphite. The technique involves a high-speed collision of graphite with a mixture of such substances as coal-based fluorene and water.
Osaka Gas has already begun supplying the material on a trial basis to 10 or so companies, including plastic and electronics manufacturers. It aims to bring the price down below 10,000 yen ($82.39) per kilogram by beginning full-scale production within the year. Production will likely take place at an Osaka research center for the time being, with additional equipment possibly added depending on demand.
Graphene is usually made by connecting carbon atoms from gas containing carbon in a vacuum. But graphene so produced fetches more than 20,000 yen per kilogram.
Graphene is a sheet just 1 nanometer thick in which carbon atoms are bonded together in a hexagonal lattice. The carbon atoms are tightly packed, making the material as strong as diamond. It also conducts heat and electricity well.
Thanks to these properties, graphene is expected to find wide use in industrial applications if the price falls by half. Mixing it with plastic could result in strong, light autoparts. In smartphones, graphene may be used in touch screens, electrodes and other components.
The global graphene market is estimated at 1.3 billion yen in 2013 but could grow to 100 billion yen by 2030 if prices drop, according to Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. – Nikkei
OPEC Faces a Mortal Threat From Electric Cars
The oil cartel is living in a time-warp, seemingly unaware that global energy politics have changed forever
OPEC remains defiant. Global reliance on oil and gas will continue unchanged for another quarter century. Fossil fuels will make up 78pc of the world’s energy in 2040, barely less than today.
There will be no meaningful advances in technology. Rivals will sputter and mostly waste money. The old energy order is preserved in aspic.
OPEC’s just released World Oil Outlook is a remarkable document, the apologia of a pre-modern vested interest that refuses to see the writing on the wall.
The 407-page report swats aside electric vehicles with impatience. The fleet of cars in the world will rise from 1bn to 2.1bn over the next 25 years – topping 400m in China – and 94pc will still run on petrol and diesel.
“Without a technology breakthrough, battery electric vehicles are not expected to gain significant market share in the foreseeable future,” it said. Electric cars cost too much. Their range is too short. The batteries are defective in hot or cold conditions.
OPEC says battery costs may fall by 30-50pc over the next quarter century but doubts that this will be enough to make much difference, due to “consumer resistance”.
This is a brave call given that Apple and Google have thrown their vast resources into the race for plug-in vehicles, and Tesla’s Model 3s will be on the market by 2017 for around $35,000.
Ford has just announced that it will invest $4.5bn in electric and hybrid cars, with 13 models for sale by 2020. Volkswagen is to unveil its “completely new concept car” next month, promising a new era of “affordable long-distance electromobility.”
The OPEC report is equally dismissive of Toyota’s decision to bet its future on hydrogen fuel cars, starting with the Mirai as a loss-leader. One should have thought that a decision by the world’s biggest car company to end all production of petrol and diesel cars by 2050 might be a wake-up call.
Goldman Sachs expects ‘grid-connected vehicles’ to capture 22pc of the global market within a decade, with sales of 25m a year, and by then – it says – the auto giants will think twice before investing any more money in the internal combustion engine. Once critical mass is reached, it is not hard to imagine a wholesale shift to electrification in the 2030s.
Goldman is betting that battery costs will fall by 60pc over the next five years, driven by economies of scale as much as by technology. The driving range will increase by 70pc.
This is another world from OPEC’s forecast. Even this may well be overtaken soon by further leaps in science. A team of Cambridge chemists says it has cracked the technology of a lithium-air battery with 90pc efficiency, able to power a car from London to Edinburgh on a single charge. It promises to cut costs by four-fifths, and could be on the road within a decade.
There is now a global race to win the battery prize. The US Department of Energy is funding a project by the universities of Michigan, Stanford, and Chicago, in concert with the Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. The Japan Science and Technology Agency has its own project in Osaka. South Korea and China are mobilising their research centres.
In the meantime, OPEC revenues have crashed from $1.2 trillion in 2012 to nearer $400bn with fiscal and regime pain to match.
Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the former Saudi oil minister, warned in an interview with the Telegraph fifteen years ago that this moment of reckoning was coming and he specifically cited fuel-cell technologies.
“Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones.”
They did not listen to him then, and they are not listening now. – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Hyperloop Test Run Planned for 2016
The first Hyperloop tubes have arrived in the Nevada desert for Hyperloop Technologies’ eventual test track.
The idea is to eventually use unassuming looking tubes to propel people in pods at speeds that could top 700 miles per hour.
“We actually have the whole company riveted behind achieving our own Kitty Hawk moment,” Rob Lloyd CEO of Hyperloop Technologies, said in the interview. Lloyd was referring to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina — where the Wright brothers achieved the first airplane flight.
Hyperloop Technologies is currently working on building two separate test tracks. Testing will take place during the first quarter of 2016.
Lloyd said in the CNN Money interview that the startup is planning on completing their Hyperloop in 2021 — potentially 2020 if they “continue to see the progress we are making today.”
Another California-based startup, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is also planning on building a five-mile test track in Quay Valley, California during the next few months. – Danielle Muoio
LEARNING / EDUCATION
Code School Udacity Promises Refunds If You Don’t Get a Job
Udacity, the online educational service founded by artificial intelligence guru and ex-Googler Sebastian Thrun, is offering a new set of tech degrees that guarantee a job in six months or your money back
The Silicon Valley-based startup is attaching this money-back guarantee to four of its online courses, courses designed to train machine learning engineers and software developers that build apps for Google Android devices, Apple iOS devices, and the web.
These online courses typically span about 9 months and require about 10 hours of study per week, and they’re priced at $299 a pop.
That’s about $100 above the company’s usual fee, but the idea is that students will also work closely with specialists that can help them prepare for interviews and find a job after their degree is complete. – Cade Metz
Growing Number of Seattle Neighborhoods Paying for Private Police
Residents voluntarily pay $250 per year to local company
A Seattle neighborhood is joining a trend of communities buying additional security after growing frustrations with slow police response.
“It’s not a hot area, it is really a safe neighborhood,” said Magnolia resident Joe Villarino. “But we always get hit with property crimes, which is a low priority call for (the Seattle Police Department). Like burglaries, car prowls, break-ins — those things that are not as serious as a shooting or an assault.”
But those sorts of crimes are a priority for Magnolia residents, so they found their own solution. Magnolia joined other Seattle neighborhoods that hire their own security force to supplement police presence. The first patrols began Dec. 4 after nearly a year of planning.
A passing conversation about Magnolia crime at his local Starbucks inspired Villarino to organize a community gathering at a local church to discuss the issue and gauge interest.
“Word got out pretty quickly,” he said. “By that time I got over 300 people in the room, which I didn’t anticipate.”
Ultimately, the Magnolia Community Patrol was born. Residents voluntarily pay $250 per year, which goes into a pool to pay for a mix of off-duty police officers or private security. A local company, Central Protection, provides that private security.
The entire neighborhood is covered, regardless of which neighbors pay into it or not. But those that do pay the $250 get perks. Security — either off-duty police officers or private security personnel — will check on their homes if they are gone for vacation. They will also take care of packages delivered to homes so they aren’t left out to tempt thieves.
Magnolia is the latest Seattle neighborhood to pay for its own force. It modeled its patrol from other Seattle neighborhoods, such as Laurelhurst, Windermere, and Whittier Heights, all of which have residents that pay for additional security.
“We like to call it, ‘the Seattle way.’ You are investing in your neighborhood. You’re investing in the whole neighborhood,” said Brad Renton, President of the Whittier Heights Patrol Association.
Renton said that, like Magnolia, property crimes are of chief concern in his neighborhood, aside from a few trouble spots. It’s been worth the $250.
Whittier Heights, a neighborhood in Ballard, began its patrols in January 2015. Renton, a 35-year Whittier Heights resident, said it grew out of frustration of listening to the same “sorry excuses” about why Seattle police are frequently understaffed.
“It’s a rather stunning effect,” he said. “All around us people are getting hammered, but our neighborhood is pretty much free of crime.” – Richard D. Oxley
The Singularity is Here: World GDP in Trillions (2012 $)
From Nick Bostrom’s Book Superintelligence
Gene Editing Tool Really is a Breakthrough
Every once in a while a technology comes along that completely alters the way scientists do their work.
It’s hard to imagine astronomy without a telescope or high energy physics without an accelerator. From here on in, it’s going to be impossible to imagine biology without CRISPR-Cas9.
In the three short years since the first scientific papers appeared about CRISPR-Cas9, the technique has been “spreading like wildfire,” says Ramesh Akkina, a molecular immunologist at Colorado State University.
And for 2015, the journal Science called CRISPR the “breakthrough of the year.”
Honestly, it’s stunning to witness the impact CRISPR-Cas9 has had on biology. It ranks with the most important tools invented in the past century. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins Science magazine’s breakthrough of the year next year too. – Joe Palca
Anti-Aging Pill: Metformin
Metformin is a generic diabetes drug that costs only a few cents a dose.
Widely used in humans since the Middle Ages, metformin reduces blood sugar and works on multiple pathways involved in cell growth, inflammation and metabolism — all of which constitute the major pillars of aging.
Epidemiological studies suggest that metformin reduces the risk of cancer and dementia.
TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) to be Tested on 3,000 Volunteers
To most of the scientific community, “anti-aging” is a dirty word.
A medical field historically associated with charlatans and quacks, scientists have strictly restricted the quest for a “longevity pill” to basic research. The paradigm is simple and one-toned: working on model organisms by manipulating different genes and proteins, scientists slowly tease out the molecular mechanisms that lead to — and reverse — signs of aging, with no guarantee that they’ll work in humans.
But it’s been a fruitful search: multiple drug candidates, many already on the market for immune or psychiatric disorders, have consistently delayed age-associated diseases and stretched the lifespan of fruit flies, roundworms and mice.
Yet human trials have been far beyond reach — without the FDA acknowledging “aging” as a legitimate target for drug development, researchers have had no way of pitching clinical trials to the regulatory agency.
Last year, the FDA green lighted an audacious proposal that seeks to test in 3,000 volunteers a drug that — based on animal studies — could extend human lifespan by up to 40 percent and decrease chances of getting age-related diseases.
The double-blind, multi-centered trial, Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), is the first that pushes aging as a bona fide disease — one that may eventually be tamed with drugs.
Metformin seems to fit the bill of a longevity drug. But it was the chemical’s two other perks that made it a winner to the TAME team.
First, it’s very safe. When taken as prescribed, the drug has few side effects, and those that do occur are well documented.
Second, is that in addition to extending lifespan, it also extends healthspan — the number of years that an organism remains healthy, even in old age.
“We think this is a groundbreaking, perhaps paradigm-shifting trial,” said Dr. Steven Austad, scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). – Shelly Fan
The Internet Allowed us to Learn Anything – VR Will Let us Experience Everything
Just as the Internet and smartphones have enabled the rapid and cheap sharing of information, virtual reality will be able to provide the same for experiences. That means that just as we can read, listen to, and watch videos of anything we want today, soon we’ll be able to experience stunning lifelike simulations in virtual reality.
The Internet made the world smaller. VR is about to make it exhilarating.
Soon you’ll be able to explore every city, watch every sports game, and explore the universe in VR. Content plus presence is an extremely potent combination.
We’ll be learning in virtual-reality classrooms, shopping at virtual-reality stores, and even working in virtual-reality offices.
We can only begin to speculate on the long-term consequences of this. How are cities affected when the VR office becomes the standard? How will the entertainment industry respond to live-streamed VR sports and concerts? Can we finally create a digital university that surpasses the quality of our oldest and grandest learning institutions?
Sometimes this all seems hard to fathom. Could we really see these massive changes coming in just a few short years? – Jason Ganz
The Law of Accelerating Returns
Graphic from Singularity is Near, demonstrating “Law of Accelerating Returns” in the field of computation
* The sixth paradigm – three-dimensional computing – is already underway
Moore’s Law only refers to the exponential price-performance improvements of integrated circuits (over the last 50 years).
Exponential growth has been going on for a much longer period and is occurring in other fields outside of computing, such as communication and genomics
Such exponential growth is actually described by “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” a term coined by my friend and Singularity University Chancellor/Co-founder Ray Kurzweil.
As Ray Kurzweil described in his most excellent book, The Singularity Is Near, exponential growth in computation has existed for over a century, and has gone through five different paradigms of exponential growth:
- 1st Paradigm: Electromechanical computers
- 2nd Paradigm: Relay-based computers
- 3rd Paradigm: Vacuum-tube based computers
- 4th Paradigm: Transistor-based computers
- 5th Paradigm: Integrated circuits (Moore’s Law)
Moore’s Law (the 5th paradigm of computation) is therefore a subset of a much broader exponential principle described by Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.
It’s important to note that Ray recently mentioned to me that the sixth paradigm – three-dimensional computing – is already underway. – Peter Diamandis
To paraphrase Kurzweil… The Law of Accelerating Returns also explains exponential advancement of life (biology) on this planet.
Looking at biological evolution on Earth, the first step was the emergence of DNA, which provided a digital method to record the results of evolutionary experiments.
Then, the evolution of cells, tissues, organs and a multitude of species that ultimately combined rational thought with an opposable appendage (i.e., the thumb) caused a fundamental paradigm shift from biology to technology.
The first technological steps — sharp edges, fire, the wheel — took tens of thousands of years. For people living in this era, there was little noticeable technological change in even a thousand years.
By 1000 A.D., progress was much faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two.
In the 19th century, we saw more technological change than in the nine centuries preceding it.
Then in the first 20 years of the 20th century, we saw more advancement than in all of the 19th century.
Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years’ time. The World Wide Web did not exist in anything like its present form just a decade ago, and didn’t exist at all two decades before that.
As these exponential developments continue, we will begin to unlock unfathomably productive capabilities and begin to understand how to solve the world’s most challenging problems. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive. – Peter Diamandis
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