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Megvii Technology, the Beijing-based artificial intelligence startup known in particular for its facial recognition brand Face++, has filed for a public listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Its prospectus did not disclose share pricing or when the IPO will take place, but Reuters reports that the company plans to raise between $500 million and $1 billion and list in the fourth quarter of this year. Megvii’s investors include Alibaba, Ant Financial and the Bank of China. Its last funding round was a Series D of $750 million announced in May that reportedly brought its valuation to more than $4 billion.
Founded by three Tsinghua University graduates in 2011, Megvii is among China’s leading AI startups, with its peers (and rivals) including SenseTime and Yitu. Its clients include Alibaba, Ant Financial, Lenovo, China Mobile and Chinese government entities.
The company’s decision to list in Hong Kong comes against the backdrop of an economic recession and political unrest, including pro-democracy demonstrations, factors that have contributed to a slump in the value of the benchmark Hang Seng index. Last month, Alibaba reportedly decided to postpone its Hong Kong listing until the political and economic environment becomes more favorable.
Megvii’s prospectus discloses both rapid growth in revenue and widening losses, which the company attributes to changes in the fair value of its preferred shares and investment in research and development. Its revenue grew from 67.8 million RMB in 2016 to 1.42 billion RMB in 2018, representing a compound annual growth rate of about 359%. In the first six months of 2019, it made 948.9 million RMB. Between 2016 and 2018, however, its losses increased from 342.8 million RMB to 3.35 billion RMB, and in the first half of this year, Megvii has already lost 5.2 billion RMB.
Investment risks listed by Megvii include high R&D costs, the U.S.-China trade war and negative publicity over facial recognition technology. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published a report that linked Face++ to a mobile app used by Chinese police and officials for mass surveillance of Uighurs in Xinjiang, but it later added a correction that said Megvii’s technology had not been used in the app. Megvii’s prospectus alluded to the report, saying that in spite of the correction, the report “still caused significant damages to our reputation which are difficult to completely mitigate.”
The company also said that despite internal measures to prevent misuse of Megvii’s tech, it cannot assure investors that those measures “will always be effective,” and that AI technology’s risks and challenges include “misuse by third parties for inappropriate purposes, for purposes breaching public confidence or even violate applicable laws and regulations in China and other jurisdictions, bias applications or mass surveillance, that could affect user perception, public opinions and their adoption.”
From a macroeconomic perspective, Megvii’s investment risks include the restrictions and tariffs placed on Chinese exports to the U.S. as part of the ongoing trade war. It also cited reports that Megvii is among the Chinese tech companies the U.S. government may add to trade blacklists. “Although we are not aware of, nor have we received any notification, that we have been added as a target of any such restrictions as of the date this Document, the existence of such media reports itself has already damaged our reputation and diverted our management’s attention,” the prospectus said. “Whether or not we will be included as a target for economic and trade restrictions is beyond our control.”
South African tech solutions startup Black Beard has rebranded to Basalt as it prepares to further expand globally.
Founded in 2017, Black Beard leverages the latest technologies to build transformative solutions for some of Africa’s biggest multinationals, including Standard Bank, Discovery, Investec Property and OUTsurance.
Given its evolution into a multinational, full-service tech company with offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and soon in Kyiv, London and Sydney, Black Beard has rebranded to Basalt.
Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Wayne Zwiers said in a fast-changing business ecosystem the company needed to differentiate and develop a brand positioning that truly reflected its ethos, team and expertise.
“While Basalt retains Black Beard’s quest for the ‘next best’, we’re also more certain of who we are, our key skills and expertise, and how we can harness our ideas to break new ground for clients and partners,” he said.
“Basalt sits at the intersection of technology and humanity, allowing both to propel businesses and organisations into a future characterised by innovation and energy. We revolutionise companies and sectors by harnessing tech solutions that are grounded in humanity.”
Many signs indicate that the Indian economy is under grave stress, affecting nearly all sectors. “India’s economy is in a deep mess,” due to initiatives such as demonetization and GST, some lawmakers say, as they urge the government to handle the situation “which is intensifying on a daily basis.”
India is facing an economic slowdown not seen in 70 years, Rajiv Kumar, the vice-chairman of Indian policy think tank Niti Aayog, explained at the Hero Mindmine summit last week. The current liquidity crisis has forced businesses to survive on cash since lenders have stopped funding them, he described. “Within the private sector nobody is ready to lend, everyone is sitting on cash.” The vice-chairman was quoted by local media as saying:
This is an unprecedented situation for the government of India. In the last 70 years nobody had faced this sort of situation where the entire financial system is under threat and nobody is trusting anybody else.
Randeep Surjewala, a spokesperson for the Congress political party (Congress), concurs that this is India’s worst liquidity crisis in 70 years, calling for the government to take immediate action. Parliament Member and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Friday that the “Government’s own economic advisors have finally acknowledged what we cautioned for long – India’s economy is in a deep mess.”
Every Sector Is Suffering
Parliament Member and Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari held a press briefing Friday regarding the financial downturn. The former Union Minister commended Niti Aayog’s vice chairman for admitting that the current stress in the financial sector is unprecedented. However, he added that Kumar’s statement requires a slight amendment, declaring that “It’s not just the financial sector, it’s the Indian economy.”
Chief Minister of the India state of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, told the press that the “Crisis situation in [the] Indian economy as reflected in the statement of Vice Chairman, Niti Aayog, is a matter of grave concern for the entire nation,” emphasizing:
Almost all sectors are facing problems, lakhs [100,000s] of people are losing jobs.
Tewari shares the sentiment, stating that “Every sector of the economy is under grave stress,” pointing out that over three crore (30 million) people are currently facing a threat of becoming unemployed. According to textile industry participants, “this is perhaps the worst period which the industry has seen in the past 7 decades,” Tewari conveyed during the press briefing. The “inner-wear industry” is also suffering, he noted, adding that “The tea industry is facing [an] unprecedented crisis.”
In a press conference, Parliament Member and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi raised the issue of the slowdown in the automobile sector, with reports suggesting thousands of job losses there and in ancillary industries. Moreover, the real estate sector has a huge amount of unsold inventory while fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies have reported a decline in volume growth. Singhvi also named several other issues, including crashing stock prices, the rising fiscal deficit, falling GDP figures, the continuous weakening of the rupee, and falling foreign direct and portfolio investments, PTI reported.
Auto Industry and Shadow Banking Crisis
A Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) crisis, also called a shadow-banking crisis, lies at the heart of the current economic slump in India. In recent years, shadow banks helped fund nearly 55-60% of commercial vehicles both new and used, 30% of passenger cars and nearly 65% of the two-wheelers in India, according to rating agency ICRA.
Following last year’s collapse of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS), shadow banks have dramatically slashed lending. The year-long shadow-banking crisis has sent the credit profiles of Indian companies to a 19-month low in July, according to a Care Ratings index. In her July budget speech, the finance minister announced a series of reliefs to NBFCs facing a cash crunch. Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cut its benchmark interest rate last week for the fourth time this year.
“The slowdown in the (NBFC) sector has dragged down vehicle sales growth,” A.M. Karthik, financial sector head at ICRA, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “Now the auto slowdown is becoming more visible as the liquidity squeeze continues.”
Some 286 dealerships across India have shut down in the last 18 months due to rising costs for inventory management, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association (FADA), which says that the Indian auto sector faces its biggest slump in nearly two decades. Passenger vehicle sales fell for eight straight months until June, the news outlet described, noting that sales dropped 20.55% in May – the sharpest recorded fall in 18 years. PTI publication wrote:
Sales have fallen in 12 out of 13 months since July 2018, underscoring the sharp slowdown in the world’s fourth-largest automobile market.
Demonetization, GST, and Other Issues
Kumar said the government needs to take “extraordinary steps” to handle the ongoing economic slowdown, IANS publication reported. “It takes a lot of courage to break the inertia … I think the government must do whatever it can to take away some of the apprehension of the private sector,” he was quoted as saying. According to him, the entire economic situation in India had changed after implementation of initiatives like Modi’s 2016 demonetization, the GST (Goods and Service Tax), and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
Former Minister of External Affairs and Congress member Salman Khurshid told the news outlet that the Indian economy needed a fundamental operation and restructuring, reiterating that the demonetization and the GST are the reasons behind the slowdown. Another Congress spokesperson, Pawan Khera, told the publication that “We have been raising concerns of unemployment, a complete downward trend of the economy, adventurism being indulged in by the prime minister such as in demonetization and GST. These are blunders which are monumental.”
Surjewala also slammed the government for its decision on demonetization and GST. “Three years after the introduction of the faulty GST, India continues to suffer massive shortfalls in revenue,” he opined, adding that “five years of economic mismanagement with sr. economic advisors resigning one after another, 2 RBI govs. leaving in quick succession, Economic quackery like demonetization, Are we surprised that the rupee is Asia’s worst-performing currency?”
Finance Minister’s Reply
After being criticized for her silence, Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman held an unprecedented press conference Friday to address the country’s economic concerns, local media reported. Among other initiatives to boost the economy, she announced capital infusion of Rs 70,000 crore into public sector banks to boost lending and improve liquidity in the financial system. Funding will also increase for housing finance companies as well as the National Housing Bank (NHB).
Sitharaman claimed that, despite the slowdown, India’s economy is still doing better than other countries such as the U.S. and China. Congress disagreed, tweeting that “You cannot make a growth rate comparison without looking at base levels … Our growth rate may be higher than US & China, but they are a $21 trill & $14.8 trill economies respectively, we are $2.8 trill.”
Further disputing the finance minister’s explanation, Congress wrote, “She may have also forgotten that in 2008 during the global recession, our economy remained stable because of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s policies,” emphasizing:
FM says India’s economy is down because of global situation – conveniently ignoring the simultaneous destruction by Demonetisation & GST … India is in dire need of an FM with a basic understanding of economics.
Despite his statement about the unprecedented financial slowdown, Kumar assured people on Twitter that “There is no need to panic or spread panic,” adding that “the government has been taking bold steps to accelerate our economy & will continue to do so.” Tewari is less confident. “The government does not have a clue as to how they are going to handle this crisis in the Indian economy which is intensifying on a daily basis,” he said during Friday’s press conference at his party’s headquarters.
Bold Reforms, Private Sector, Remonetization
Niti Aayog’s vice-chairman has asked the government not to hold back due payments to the private sector. Regarding the country’s NBFC crisis, he said the government would need to “eliminate apprehension from the minds of private sector players” to boost investments.
Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan also sees investments from the private sector as a solution. In an interview with CNBC TV18 last week, he said that the government needs to fix the immediate problems in power and non-bank financial sectors. The former central bank governor believes that “a fresh set of reforms” is needed to incentivize the private sector to invest to boost the economy and growth rate, stating:
We also need a new set of reforms, which energize [the] private sector to invest.
“SOPs (standard operating procedures), stimulus of one kind or the other are not going to be that useful in the longer-term especially given the very tight fiscal situation that we have,” he told the media outlet. “Instead bold reforms, well thought out jumping off the cliff but really, seriously thought out reforms in a variety of areas which energize the Indian people, energize the Indian markets and energize Indian business.”
Congress’ Gandhi suggested the government should “remonetize the economy, by putting money back in the hands of the needy & not the greedy.” Meanwhile, the Indian government is deliberating on a bill which seeks to ban cryptocurrencies, and the supreme court has ordered the RBI to reply to crypto exchanges’ representation.
What do you think of the economic situation in India? Do you think crypto can help the Indian economy? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Business World.
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The second iteration of the programme, which kicks off on September 9, will offer a deeply-focused, intense period of strategising, creating and executing geared to immerse participants in the practical realities of running a business. The programme will predominantly focus on assisting promising black entrepreneurs build and scale their businesses.
“We plan on getting really stuck in with the companies at both an operational and strategic level, really driving their business growth. We’ll be working alongside companies to write code, make sales calls and close commercial contracts,” said programme director Pieter Strydom.
As a further benefit provided by the SA SME Fund, Akro startups now also have access to a ZAR1 million (US$66,000) gap-closing fund. Startups can apply to have some of their mission-critical costs, including services such as accounting and tax compliance, product development costs and legal fees, covered, provided that these services get startups closer to investment readiness.
The programme is split into two phases – a Core Phase and an Extended Phase. The Core Phase is an eight-week, intensive programme that includes a rigorous workshopping, events and mentorship schedule, and the Extended Phase is a 12-week period of weekly mentoring and accountability management to ensure the benefits of the Core Phase are extended into the future.
Startups do not have to sell any equity when they join the accelerator programme. Investment discussions will commence after the completion of the eight-week core programme.
“As we’re generally going to be working with relatively early-stage startups, we want to give them the opportunity to build and scale as much as possible over that 8-week period before they have to sell equity. Importantly, the investments made after the Core Programme need to generate a return for the investor, so startups have to be able to demonstrate that they’ve found product-market fit and have the ability to scale their business,” said Philani Sangweni, chief executive officer (CEO) of Akro Accelerate.
“The idea is that if an investment is made, it will give a startup sufficient runway to build and scale their business until they’re able to raise a more significant angel or Series A round from a S12J fund or a strategic investor.”
Applying startups can be pre-revenue or post-revenue, but must have a prototype or minimum viable product that can be developed into a production-ready version within two to five months. More than one founder, as well as at least one technical co-founder per startup, is preferable. Applications are open here until August 30.
Johannesburg-based ed-tech startup IDEA Digital Education is deploying interactive and data-driven educational content to thousands of students on three continents.
Founded in 2014 by Dr Corrin Varady, IDEA Digital Education creates learning content for students and teachers in STEM subjects across grades R-12. Its low cost, outcome-driven, core curriculum solution is focused on English second-language students through self-paced and self-directed content.
Varady knows a thing or two about education, having established the World Youth Education Trust for students in East Africa in 2005. The trust still works today to reintegrate child soldiers back into their communities via counselling education, but after realising the limitations of private schools in terms of both cost and scalability, Varady moved on to launch IDEA.
He told Disrupt Africa the startup’s key differentiator is that it is completely interactive, and data-driven, with every piece of content driving feedback and proficiency data.
“Our Unique Identification (UID) tracking structure allows us to see what we could do better such that we can amend the content and inform a student or teacher of where they need to focus their remediation or extension,” said Varady.
“We currently record all user content usage from pixel coordinates, right and wrong answers, and click intervals to be able to inform truly individualised and adaptive learning through a machine learning framework.”
IDEA works both online and offline, having enabled a “live” environment in rural and remote schools while providing the same IDEA content and analytical solution.
“We are not a platform, we are not assessments, and we are not just content, but all of the above,” Varady said, adding that IDEA is striving to be a global education solution.
So far, so good. The startup now has more than 100 team members across eight countries, and has developed a suite of products with over 1,800 curriculum topics, 38,000 animations, videos and interactive activities, and more than 11,000 assessments. In South Africa, together with the national Department of Basic Education and the Western Cape Government, it has launched curriculum-aligned digital content and training programmes for government school teachers and students, and it has also launched programmes in South Sudan, Tanzania, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“We have completed our first two versions of our solution. We have sizeable government school and low-income private school traction and our product is being used by over 189,000 students on a weekly basis and 1,040,000 subscribers within the school term,” said Varady.
The IDEA platform has a demonstrable impact on learning outcomes. Its 2018 results showed a 20-30 per cent increase in numeracy and literacy at Grade 1-3 compared to students who either undertook another programme or no programme at all, and an average of 35 per cent increase in scientific literacy in Grade 8 students.
“We have increased our assessment rigour by partnering with local education services NGOs for independent testing, which we expect to see at the end of 2019 in the final year government systemics,” Varady said.
IDEA runs on Software as a Service (SaaS) and Content as a Service (CaaS) models on a 12-36 month subscription basis, and has been seed funded by private family trusts both in Australia and South Africa. Expansion is the name of the game between now and 2023.
“We will be opening operations teams alongside our existing Johannesburg and Nairobi offices, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Our product plan is to take our existing, deployed content and transform the home language accessibility of it for multiple markets,” said Varady.
“Also in 2020, we will personalise learning through an AI framework, meaning every student’s learning journey is unique. From a student success point of view, we have already started globalising our delivery and success having run our team out of South Africa and servicing East Africa.”
“We are working to grow into other markets and develop an advanced technology platform that allows us to turn our interactive content into globally accessible, personalised learning software,” he said. “Our challenges are making our platform more scalable and personal so that it can reach more individual students in more markets without such a traditional, operations-heavy footprint.”
Software developers Rosco Kalis and Gabriel Cardona have been steadily working on Cashscript, a high-level programming language for Bitcoin Cash. When the language is tied to certain opcodes, specific schemes can be built that allow for autonomous and decision-based transactions. While testing Cashscript’s capabilities, the two engineers recently deployed an oracle, forfeits, an onchain wager, and a recurring payments contract.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH) development is in full swing and over the last six months the tempo has really started to pick up. Things like the Simple Ledger Protocol, Schnorr signatures, opcodes, Cashshuffle, the programming language Spedn, and token dividend payments have galvanized the network’s versatility. Another project that’s seeing steady development is Cashscript, a high-level language for BCH created by the software developer Rosco Kalis.
I was asked by @cgcardona to wrap up a checkdatasig example for CashScript. So yesterday I put together a contract utilising CDS and oracles to enforce HODLing until a certain BCH/USD price has been reached. CDS opens the doors to awesome functionality!https://t.co/upTvNB9SmB
News.Bitcoin.com reported on Cashscript in May, when Kalis discussed the number of innovative concepts that can stem from using Cashscript. The main focus for Cashscript developers is to make it easier for other engineers to plug a Cashscript contract into any web application. “For this workflow as well as the syntax of the language we took a lot of inspiration from Ethereum’s Solidity language and Web3.js / Truffle libraries,” Kalis told our newsdesk at the time.
Since then, Kalis and other developers like Gabriel Cardona, the creator of Bitbox, have been eagerly showing the BCH community what Cashscript is capable of doing. “Cashscript is a paradigm shift in expressiveness for BCH contracts,” Cardona explained this week while highlighting a bunch of experiments. For instance, Cardona showed the BCH community on Twitter how the Mecenas contract was replicated in Cashscript. Mecenas was a contract developed by Karol Trzeszczkowski that allows for recurring BCH payments. After redesigning the covenant-based smart contract solution in Cashscript, the developer asserted that “Large contracts like this is where Cashscript really shines.” On August 24, Cardona also tweeted that last year in Milan at the Satoshi’s Vision Conference, BCH engineer Awemany revealed a solution to the zero-confirmation problem by using a concept called “Zero-Confirmation Forfeits.” So the developer decided to replicate the zero-confirmation forfeit idea using the Cashscript language.
While showing the ported Cashscript examples on Twitter, Cardona also tipped his hat to developers who helped initiate these ideas like Tendo Pein, Karol Trzeszczkowski, Rosco Kalis, Emil Oldenburg, Chris Pacia, and Tobias Ruck. The next day on August 25, Cardona showed the public a wager contract from Emil Oldenburgs’s onchain bet example from “Taking OP_Checkdatasig out for a test drive.” The new wager contract was written in Cashscript, which executes an onchain bet between two parties and can only be settled by block height and price signed by an oracle. “Noncustodial financial services are about to change everything,” Cardona exclaimed. In another example, Kalis and Cardona produced an oracle using Cashscript and OP_Checkdatasig. The contract forces holding onto the asset until a certain price target has been reached. The “Hodl-Vault” contract specifications state:
A minimum block is provided to ensure that oracle price entries from before this block are disregarded: When the BCH price was $1,000 in the past, an oracle entry with the old block number and price can not be used. Instead, a message with a block number and price from after the minBlock needs to be passed. This contract serves as a simple example of OP_Checkdatasig-based contracts.
After the contract was created, Spedn creator Tendo Pein tweeted: “BCH supports hodling better than BTC.” “Anything BTC can do, BCH can do better,” Cardona replied. On the Reddit forum r/btc, BCH supporters welcomed the innovation stemming from the Cashscript language. Cashscript can allow for many types of autonomous and decision-based transactions like oracles, zero-conf forfeits, digital good purchases via PGP signature, Pay to ID, cold wallet timeout, enforced multi-signature signing order, stablecoins, covenants, secure multi-party computation, blind escrows and spending constraints. “[It’s] going to be exciting to see what people can come up with using these new features,” one BCH supporter said after reading about the innovations Cashscript could prime in the future.
Non Custodial Financial Services are about to change everything.
Oracles and Decision-Based Transactions Without the Need for a Custodian’s Decision
One of the biggest conversations stemming from the r/btc post about Cashscript was the use of oracles. Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts and blockchain developers believe that the BCH blockchain could provide verifiable multi-sourced facts, so people can use a trustless oracle for better decisions. Oracles are neutral by design and can allow the BCH chain to verify enough valid data to prove something is true or false, which then would essentially trigger decision-based transactions based on the outcome.
Since ancient times, humans have used oracles to make hard decisions, execute bets and wagers, and provide validated reports. The opcode OP_Checkdatasig has brought the idea of blockchain oracle concepts using the BCH chain to the forefront. The opcode can check the validation of certain signatures, and return two different outcomes in an autonomous fashion. This means BCH-powered oracles can provide a definitive outcome for things like sporting events, election results, and prediction markets. But it would do so in a way that removes the need for a third party or custodian’s decision.
Developers have already proven these types of decision-based transactions can work without changing the current BCH rule set. People have built onchain wagers, oracles, digital currency inheritance schemes and even a game of onchain chess. It’s still very early, but Cashscript is maturing fast and BCH developers can utilize the language right now to execute these types of decision-based transactions into their workflow. As Cardona highlighted earlier this week, noncustodial financial services will decimate the current way we deal with money. Innovations like OP_Checkdatasig, Cashscript, Spedn, and Schnorr help to realize this goal.
What do you think about the Cashscript language and developers creating unique types of decision-based transactions with Cashscript and OP_Checkdatasig? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.
Image credits: Shutterstock, Jamie Redman, Github, Cashscript, and Twitter.
The rise of cryptocurrency is changing the philanthropic world by causing the redistribution of wealth from old money to visionary innovators and early tech adopters. The new crypto rich invest their donations by supporting scientific research in groundbreaking fields that may one day enable humanity to cure aging, reverse death and completely change the relationship between work and income.
Examining the record of donations made by the crypto rich reveals a pattern of support for goals that others may feel belong in the pages of science fiction novels. Having benefited greatly from recognizing the potential of peer to peer electronic cash earlier than the masses, it is no surprise that they have great optimism in the power of technology to radically change our lives for the better.
One of the main benefactors of this type of donation focus is the SENS Research Foundation located in Mountain View, California. The non-profit SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) defines its goal as working to develop, promote, and ensure widespread access to therapies that cure and prevent the diseases and disabilities of aging. Unlike the traditional medical approach of only treating or managing old age problems as they kick in, this approach focuses on comprehensively repairing the damage that builds up in our bodies over time, thus mitigating the aging process as much as possible.
In the early 2000s, Michael Novogratz donated to the research organization and the Pineapple Fund gave SENS $2 million in BTC last year. Moreover, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin also donated $2.4 million to SENS in 2018 and another $350,000 in January 2019. The regenerative medical therapy organization also raised another $4.1 million in cryptocurrencies last year in addition to the Pineapple Fund donation.
The chief science officer of SENS, British biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, talked about the relationship between his venture and crypto proponents last year and detailed that many have donated to the research organization. “I’m not in this to do science for the sake of doing science,” de Grey explained. “I’m in it for the ultimate goal.” He further revealed that a few anonymous donors have given SENS $1 million each and other cryptocurrency personalities are also long-term donors of the foundation.
The Cryogenics Connection
Another main benefactor of donations made by crypto personalities is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. This nonprofit based in Scottsdale, Arizona, advocates for, researches, and performs cryonics. This entails the freezing of the whole human corpse or just the brain in liquid nitrogen after legal death, with hopes of resurrecting the individual when the requisite technology is developed in the future.
According to reports, a number of crypto rich have anonymously donated to Alcor’s cryonics research. The top connection between the field and cryptocurrency is that Alcor might be preserving the body of a man some believe to be Satoshi Nakamoto himself. Hal Finney is the computer scientist who received the very first bitcoin transaction and helped get the network up and running during its first year. On Aug. 28, 2014, Finney’s body was taken to an Alcor facility soon after his death and underwent the cryogenic process. In May 2018 the foundation announced that cryptocurrency enthusiast Brad Armstrong gave it a $5 million research contribution, being held in the name of the “Hal Finney Cryonics Research Fund”.
Another connection between cryptocurrency and cryogenics is that computer scientist Ralph Merkle, known for creating cryptographic hashing, the Merkle tree and other inventions, is also a researcher and advocate of cryonics. He reportedly knows a few crypto people who have donated to cryonics and also helped raise funds for Alcor.
Universal Basic Income and MDMA
A more economic research topic, but one that could have drastic implications for human society no less than curing aging or cheating death, is Universal Basic Income. UBI is one of the hottest economic debate topics of the last couple of years, talked about as a possible solution to technological unemployment, preventing humans from falling behind once robots take over all the jobs. The idea has even gained support from various politicians around the world recently such as U.S. democratic candidate Andrew Yang.
Basically the UBI plan is to provide everyone with a stipend so that they can live their lives without worrying about making enough money from work just to survive. This raises several questions as it goes against how many believe the world should function and it will also be an unprecedented experiment in the human condition. The Pineapple Fund made a $5 million donation to the organization Give Directly in 2017 to sponsor cash transfers to people living in extreme poverty in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda where it is possible to test the UBI concept before it’s implemented in more expensive regions of the world. The Pineapple Fund has also donated more than $1 million to aid in the research of using MDMA as a treatment for PTSD.
Crypto rich and well-known community personalities have of course donated to other causes than the above mentioned scientific research projects. To list a few examples, Justin Sun gave $3 million to the Binance Charity Foundation, $250,000 to the ALS association and over $4.5 to Glide which aims to alleviate poverty. John McAfee donated a 27-foot boat worth $1.1 million to the Belize Coast Guard. The CEO of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, even signed the Giving Pledge, the drive started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates for rich people to give away the majority of their wealth instead of leaving it to their heirs.
What do you think about the fields of scientific research the crypto rich donate to? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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No one remembers the first Mt. Gox hack. It was a small sum, even by 2011’s standards, and the exchange reimbursed all users. The incident was to prove significant, however, for it set in motion a string of attacks on other bitcoin platforms that began the very next day. By the time the dust had settled six weeks later, four separate thefts had occurred, culminating in the loss of more than 178,000 bitcoins.
Summer 2011 was a heady time for the internet. Twitter was still good, deplatforming had yet to become a thing, and free speech was taken for granted. Back then, you could say what you liked, how you liked, to whoever you liked, and if that person didn’t like it, they could turn off their computer and go for a long walk in the sunshine, which solved the problem. Anyone with any sense wasn’t walking anywhere in mid-2011, however, because everything that mattered was happening on the internet, and it was riveting.
For purveyors of the illicit, the insurrectionary, and the innovative, June 2011 might just go down as the most exciting month on the internet yet. It began with Gawker blowing Silk Road wide open on June 1, and would culminate, on June 25, with hacker group Lulzsec releasing its last data dump, comprising millions of passwords and sensitive data from scores of corporations. Sandwiched in between all this chaos were two noteworthy bitcoin hacks that weren’t of Lulzsec’s doing. The first, on June 19, was the first exchange hack in Bitcoin history, with the second occurring a day later as a direct result of this incursion.
Mt. Gox Gets Goxxed
Before Mt. Gox became so synonymous with failure as to spawn a verb describing the act of getting rekt, it was a successful exchange that was at the heart of everything that was happening in Bitcoin. It was to suffer its first hack, however, a little over a year into its life as a bitcoin exchange, and just three months after Mark Karpeles had taken over its operations. The incident occurred as a result of this ownership change, which entitled the former owner to a share of revenue, and with the administrator access to audit their earnings.
On June 19, someone hacked into the admin account and generated vast amounts of BTC on the Gox orderbook. Doing so drove the price of BTC from dollars all the way down to a cent. The hackers then bought the cheap BTC with their own accounts and withdrew their cheaply gotten gains. They weren’t the only ones to profit from the BTC flash sale going on, with other Mt. Gox users making the most of the opportunity.
‘I’m Kevin, Here’s My Side’
In an account of how they capitalized on the mishap, Bitcointalk user “toasty” wrote on June 20, 2011: “I’m Kevin and I’m the guy who bought 259,684 BTC for under $3,000 yesterday. I really wanted to keep this as quiet as possible, but I don’t feel I can anymore. Here’s my side of what happened.” He went on:
“I was watching, like many of you, a gigantic sell order burning through the bids. Mt Gox doesn’t execute trades very quickly, so we were watching this huge order slowly eat up every buy order on the books. The price started at around $17.50, and within minutes was below $10. At this point, I realized this wasn’t merely a large seller willing to accept some losses. This was someone attempting to crash the market by selling a huge percentage of the market’s total bitcoins at once.”
Despite the exchange “running slower than molasses at the time,” toasty eventually “got a buy order in, offering to buy as many bitcoins as I could for $0.0101. The site stopped responding completely for a while, probably from so many people hitting refresh to see what was going on. When I got back in, I saw in my account:
“I had just purchased over 250,000 bitcoins for $2613. At the trading price immediately before this large sell order happened, that number would have been worth nearly $5 million. After I regained my breath, I tried to figure out what to do.”
Two Strikes in Two Days
Despite withdrawal limits that were meant to be in place, both toasty and the real hacker managed to withdraw significant quantities of coins – toasty alone made off with 643 BTC. There followed an intense debate on the Bitcointalk forum about who was to blame for the theft, and whether toasty was entitled to his bargain bitcoins. The value of the 2,643 BTC Gox lost in the hack was valued at $47,000 at the time, and the exchange made full restitution to users who lost funds in the incident. It was powerless, though, to prevent a second hack which occurred within 24 hours of the breach.
On June 20, 2011, as toasty was confessing to his opportunistic trade and pondering what to do with his riches, the Bitcoin community was rocked by a second strike. Users of wallet service Mybitcoin.com reported that their accounts had been breached and their BTC stolen. It quickly became clear that the Mt. Gox database had been accessed during the hack, and that identical passwords and usernames on Mybitcoin had been plundered.
The pseudonymous operator of Mybitcoin acknowledged: “We’ve concluded that around 1% of the users on the leaked Mtgox password file had their Bitcoins stolen on MyBitcoin.” In total, 4,019 BTC worth $72,000 were stolen, with Mybitcoin covering their losses.
The Summer of Lulz
June 2011 was a dramatic month, as the world began awakening to Bitcoin, set to a montage of Lulzsec hacks complete with heavy trolling of the three-letter agencies that were on their tail. The action didn’t let up either, for the next month there was more drama in these intersecting worlds (Lulzsec accepted donations in BTC, and were as enamored with bitcoin as many bitcoiners were with them). On July 18, the Anonymous-affiliated group exited retirement to hack the website of British newspaper The Sun, planting a fake story that owner Rupert Murdoch had died after ingesting palladium.
On July 26, Polish exchange Bitomat lost its wallet file containing 17,000 BTC. Three days later, Mybitcoin, the wallet service that had been breached along with Mt. Gox in June, exit scammed with 154,406 BTC, only half of which were ever recovered. To cover its 17,000 BTC losses, meanwhile, Bitomat was put up for sale, and in August 2011 a buyer was found: Mark Karpeles. The Mt. Gox CEO agreed to cover its debt, and welcomed Bitomat’s users to his Tokyo-based exchange. The deed was performed partly to restore faith in the still fragile Bitcoin ecosystem. Subsequent bitcoin hacks involving Mt. Gox would prove larger and harder for its CEO to absorb, but all that was still years away.
Bitcoin History is a multipart series from news.Bitcoin.com charting pivotal moments in the evolution of the world’s first cryptocurrency. Read part 15 here.
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On August 23, Bitcoin.com released a new application called the SLP Dividend Calculator. The new platform allows users to build a transaction to make dividend payments to any Simple Ledger Protocol (SLP) token holder.
Testing the New SLP Dividend Calculator From Bitcoin.com
Over the last year, SLP tokens have been extremely popular among BCH proponents, and so far supporters have made thousands of unique coins on the BCH chain. As time has progressed, the SLP ecosystem has matured a great deal and there are many third-party solutions supporting the token infrastructure. This week, Bitcoin.com added a new platform to our Tools.Bitcoin.com portal called the SLP Dividend Calculator. The application provides users with the ability to make grouped dividend payments to specific SLP token holders. For instance, if you distributed fractions of an SLP token to a group of three people, then you could enter the token’s ID and send funds to all three holders at a specific point in time. With the ability to pay BCH dividend payments to SLP token holders, the new tool opens the door to all kinds of real-world use cases.
After the new tool was released, I decided to test the service in order to highlight just how easy it is to use the new Bitcoin.com SLP Dividend Calculator. I tested the app with my cousin, Andrew Brow, because back in June I sent him some custom SLP tokens called “Andy Coin (ABC)” just to show him how simple it is to create tokens. At the time I created 21 million ABC coins and sent 10 million to my cousin’s Badger wallet. Last night I opened up the SLP Dividend Calculator and pasted the token’s unique ID number into the first window.
Sent an SLP dividend payment flawlessly just now. Sent the funds and paid the unique payment code that said “Paying 0.003176 #BCH to holders of SLP Token ID…” It paid perfectly splitting the funds between addresses, confirming in 1 block. Was also a Schnorr transaction. 👏 pic.twitter.com/CnpIpjrB2g
Then I decided to pay $1 to the Andy Coin token holders, which means it will be split in half between both of us, because we are both ABC token holders. The SLP Dividend Calculator can pay a lot more than just two addresses, but for this test two was enough. After making sure the SLP token ID and the number of funds I wanted to send were correct, I decided to make the funds available at the last confirmed block height. You can also choose to broadcast it as is in the latest mempool state or you can choose a custom block height as well.
The service gives you two choices after the customization is complete: you can either press the button “Start over” or “Build the transaction.” After I chose to build the transaction, the application showed me exactly what would happen after I paid the unique payment invoice. The SLP balances were scanned at block height 597121 and I sent a dividend payment of 0.003176 BCH, which would be paid to the token holders of the Andy Coin token ID number. The platform also told me that two addresses would receive a BCH dividend payment after I paid the QR invoice code through Pay.Bitcoin.com. Any wallet that supports invoices, like the Bitcoin.com Wallet, can pay the invoice by copying the URI scheme or scanning the QR code. I used the Electron Cash wallet to pay the invoice, because I had some available funds in the wallet and I wanted to see exactly how the transaction was built and executed from the client perspective.
Opening the Door to a Decentralized Stock Market, Trust Payments and Bearer Bonds
After paying the invoice, the transaction broadcasted and my cousin Andrew and I were both sent $0.50 in BCH each. The transactions confirmed in the following block and the entire test can be seen on Bitcoin.com’s Block Explorer or Simpleledger.info as well. The tool could be used for a variety of interesting dividend payment ideas. For instance, Bitcoin.com’s executive chairman, Roger Ver, recently sent BCH dividend payments to Cashgames.Bitcoin.com Dividend Test Token (CGT) holders for being Cashgames.Bitcoin.com patrons.
A person with four children could create four separate non-fungible (NFT1) tokens with the kids’ names attached to them and call them Trust Tokens. After a specific block height, the Trust Tokens can be sent a BCH dividend payment in order to leave an inheritance to the children. Or a business could have people invest in the company by initiating an initial coin offering (ICO) and token holders could reap the profits in the form of dividend payments over time.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the variety of concepts that can derive from people using the Bitcoin.com SLP Dividend Calculator. Since the application was launched, a bunch of BCH supporters have tested the platform to send funds to certain token holders. “Fantastic,” one BCH enthusiast wrote on the Reddit forum r/btc. “[This] gives us decentralized stock market… dead easy to use.”
“Holy crap the new SLP dividend tool is awesome. Just played around with it and sent all holders of the MIS token their share of .01 BCH just to test it out,” another BCH user said on Twitter. “This is magic internet money for reals.” If you have created SLP tokens you can try sending a dividend payment to token holders by using the SLP Dividend Calculator. The process takes less than two minutes to complete and you don’t need to be a tech wiz to use the new tool. Check out the platform at Tools.Bitcoin.com and send your first BCH dividend payment today.
What do you think about the new SLP Dividend Calculator? Let us know what you think about this new tool and concept in the comments section below.
Do you need to track down a Bitcoin transaction? With our Block Explorer tool, you can search by transaction ID, address, or block hash to find specific details. You can also search for SLP token transactions on the Bitcoin.com Block Explorer as well.
Negative interest rates, a common occurrence in Europe these days, are unpleasant for both banks and clients. And financial institutions have been increasingly transferring the bulk of the burden on to their customers. Some political factions in Germany, however, aren’t happy with the trend and are pushing for adequate protection for the ordinary small saver, who is often their voter too.
Bavarian Leader Wants Berlin to Outlaw Punitive Interest
Germany needs to ban banks from passing negative rates to retail clients and it has to do so with a law. That’s according to Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, the largest and richest German state, and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU). The local official with national prominence recently opened a front against subzero rates announcing an initiative in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the federal parliament, to exempt deposits of up to €100,000 from the punitive interest.
According to Söder, negative interest rates do not correspond to the financial culture in the country. German savers are already losing billions due to the low interest rates of the European Central Bank (ECB), he recently told Bild. The German politician thinks a change of course is necessary in terms of interest rate policy at European level. Berlin should make it clear to Christine Lagarde, nominated to become the next ECB president, that negative rates are not a sensible way forward, Söder stressed.
The head of the Bavarian executive power thinks it’s absurd when even banks that have ‘savings’ in their name have to resort to imposing negative interest rates which thus make saving unattractive. “We need a legal ban in Germany that prevents these negative rates from being passed on to small savers,” the official insisted. Unlike small depositors, wealthier savers have started looking for and some have already found alternative investment opportunities. He further commented:
Banks would have to balance their costs differently. Saving must be rewarded and not punished.
Push Against Subzero Rates Gathers Support
The initiative for a ban on punitive interest rates has already garnered political backing on national level. Söder’s proposal was welcomed by Wolfgang Steiger, secretary general of the Economic Council of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). While CSU is based only in Bavaria, its larger counterpart, the CDU, is present in all other 15 states of the Bundesrepublik. The two conservative sister parties form a common parliamentary group in the Bundestag called the Unionsfraktion.
With these interest rates, Steiger noted recently, German savers pay for the rescue of the euro. Prime Minister Söder rightly demands a shift in the European monetary policy, he stressed, calling his colleague’s efforts important. CDU’s high-ranking representative elaborated that in a functioning competitive order, private property must be protected from arbitrary interference and stated:
Zero and negative interest rates are nothing but expropriation. It is therefore high time for the ECB to reduce its so-called unconventional monetary policy, stop the creeping financing of sovereign debt, and allow interest rates that reward savers and not punish them.
Speaking to the German press, Wolfgang Steiger bluntly warned that the pensions of millions of people are literarally sinking. This, in his view, undermines basic trust in politics while also inflicting permanent damage to the cohesion of society.
Söder’s effort received support from another corner of the political spectrum. The idea sounds good according to Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and vice chancellor in Angela Merkel’s coalition government. Scholz, who is a representative of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), indicated he is willing to check if small savers can be protected from penalty interest by law. “Negative interest rates are a real burden for private savers,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Finance told the Bild. That’s why the ministry is now examining closely whether it’s legally possible to prevent them.
Scholz expects interest rates to remain very low in the next few years. Last week, he was quoted by Reuters saying that companies should seize the opportunity for near-zero borrowing costs to boost private sector investment. He pointed to the United States, where businesses and entrepreneurs are much more willing to put money into new projects. “My wish is that we also achieve such a cultural change here,” Scholz emphasized and added: “Don’t do it my way. I simply put it in my savings account.”
The German finance minister also noted that central banks are currently pursuing a loose monetary policy. The ECB has already signaled it’s planning more measures to stimulate the euro zone economy in order to avoid recession, including a new rate cut to an all-time low of -0.50% in September and restoring quantitative easing efforts in October by purchasing assets worth €15 billion ($16.6 billion).
Some Doubt a Ban on Negative Rates Is Going to Work
A move to ban negative interest rates in Germany is likely to face some challenges. Financial institutions in the Eurozone are now forced to pay a subzero, -0.40% penalty on their deposits with the European Central Bank (ECB). And they are obliged to keep mandatory reserves there. Under these unfavorable conditions, 115 banks are already partially passing on the punitive rates to their private and business clients, an analysis conducted by the German financial portal Biallo shows. Preventing them from doing so with legal means may involve dealing with certain constitutional issues and hence take time to accomplish.
Doubts have been expressed by representatives of legal and financial circles in the Federal Republic as well. According to Daniela Bergdolt from the German Bar Association, the country’s legislature has the power to introduce such restrictions, but a law banning negative rates for small savers would still be difficult to implement because of obligations to provide equal treatment to all depositors. A prohibition would also breach the autonomy of the financial institutions through government intervention in their business.
Others think a ban on subzero rates would be unlawful and push banks into an even deeper earnings crisis. Some have already rejected Söder’s initiative. According to the German Savings Bank Association, statutory prohibitions won’t help in any way. The lenders would pass on the negative interest, which they themselves have to pay to the ECB, regardless of the imposed restrictions. That could be done through higher account management fees, for example. Besides, a German law would not change the risky monetary policy of the European Central Bank in any way.
Danske Bank Investigated for Overcharging Clients
European banks, however, owe customers fair treatment after all, as a recent case in Denmark shows. The country’s financial regulator has prepared a draft report for the police about Danske Bank’s practice of overcharging some of its clients. The Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) revealed earlier this summer it was investigating the major Danish bank for continuing to sell its Flexinvest Fri investment product despite expectations for poor performance which remained hidden from customers, according to Reuters and the local daily Jyllands Posten. The institution knew the return after fees would be less than the 0% rate on the deposit accounts.
Following these revelations, Jesper Nielsen, Danske’s interim CEO at the time and head of its domestic bank, was fired. And in June, the credit institution promised to compensate investors with 400 million Danish kroner (almost $60 million). Details came out while the bank’s management was trying hard to restore public trust after its name was involved in a huge money laundering scandal in Europe. In damage control mode, the bank recently announced it’s not planning to impose negative rates on personal savings accounts or introduce additional fees for its wealthy depositors.
If you don’t want to be punished with negative interest rates and excessive bank fees, cryptocurrencies offer an attractive alternative. You can save in decentralized digital assets using the services of platforms like Cred which, in partnership with Bitcoin.com, provides you with up to 10% interest on your BCH and BTC holdings.
Do you expect Germany to adopt a law banning subzero interest rates on savings? Share your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.
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