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World Economic Forum Bitcoin Discussions “Validate the Movement”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has long been a lightning rod of global discussion on economic, social and political trends. This year’s gathering in Davos, Switzerland, was no exception.

Blockchain technology emerged center stage last week as a key discussion theme, receiving praise from attendees for its cutting-edge potential. Bitcoin and the future of cryptocurrencies, too, were highly discussed topics at the forum, not just casually but also in an official session and a few panel discussions. There, cryptocurrencies were the subject of intense debate among looming questions about its long-term viability and worth.

Ahead of Davos, Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Shiller joined a growing chorus of prominent Bitcoin naysayers, telling CNBC that Bitcoin “might totally collapse and be forgotten and I think that’s a good likely outcome[,] but it could linger on for a good long time, it could be here in 100 years.”

Chatter surrounding Bitcoin’s reputation as a haven for illicit activities persisted among WEF attendees as well. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said during a panel discussion: “The fact that the anonymity, the lack of transparency and the way in which it conceals and protects money laundering and financing of terrorism and all sorts of dark trades is just not acceptable.”

In a brief interview by email with eBits.Co, WEF Member Jennifer Zhu Scott offered an alternative perspective to Shiller, Lagarde and others regarding Bitcoin’s meteoric rise and future possibilities.

“Most of the status quo are still in denial. But we are at the cusp of a complete transformation of the financial industry. The fact we are even talking about it at Davos is already a validation of progress within the [Bitcoin] movement.”

Zhu Scott is the founding principal at Radian Partners and Radian Blockchain Ventures, a firm that targets private investments in artificial intelligence and the blockchain and their applications to climate-change-related projects such as solar infrastructure and carbon-credit trading.

She said that Shiller lacks a comprehensive understanding of the underlying (blockchain) technology and its economic implications. According to Zhu Scott, Shiller’s comments on Bitcoin and those who believe in it were based on impressions instead of sound research.

“One common mistake the status quo often makes is to judge Bitcoin as the destination of the digital asset movement. For while it has certainly caught people’s imaginations, we are only seeing the very early stages of it,” said Zhu Scott, who was an active participant at this year’s forum.

She was quick to offer the reminder of how messy the internet was back in the 1990s, particularly with respect to its application to business. “Look back at those who said, ‘Because the dot-com boom is a bubble, the internet will go nowhere.’ They now sound silly. But people are making these same mistakes.”  

Zhu Scott was particularly taken aback by Shiller’s highly critical comments onstage, where he stated that Bitcoin enthusiasts are “selfish” and “in it for money.”

“It would have been like me asserting that his economic theories were hurting the little guys without understanding what GDP was. Those with a voice, such as Shiller and the other Nobel Laureates, have a responsibility to look beyond the noise and understand the fundamental shift that is happening.”

All debate aside, Zhu Scott says that the fact that we are still talking about Bitcoin after almost a decade, and the fact that Bitcoin is still alive and thriving, proves that it’s a powerful idea.

“The debate at Davos this year was important as it offers a pragmatic view on Bitcoin and the token economy,” said Zhu Scott. “It was an opportunity to acknowledge its weaknesses while also inspiring people to focus on its potential. To me, Satoshi Nakamoto’s gift to the world will likely have a much larger impact on the future monetary reality than any of the Nobel Laureates who feel so urged to offer conclusions.”

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Sora Foundation Wants to Build a Better Blockchain Community in Asia

Ask most, and you’ll hear the opinion that Asia is a minefield when it comes to cryptocurrency. The mere mention of regulatory action on the already-volatile markets sends the price of bitcoin (and consequently altcoins) into a eBits. One need only look at the recent South Korean dilemma or China’s ongoing aversion to cryptocurrency to confirm this. Clearly, the continent’s role in this emerging digital realm should not be underestimated.

The attempts by certain governments to ban the exchange of cryptocurrencies have not worked quite as intended, instead pushing the scene into the underground, where crackdowns have occurred (while more tolerant countries, such as Japan or Hong Kong, watch them flourish legally).  

Jason Fang is Managing Partner at Sora Ventures, Asia’s first crypto-backed venture capital firm dedicated to blockchain and digital currency investments, and CEO of the new Sora Foundation. In conversation with eBits.Co, Fang explained some of the intricacies of Asian-based blockchain initiatives and how this new Foundation, in cooperation with Sora Ventures, hopes to unite them to promote cooperation and development of the Asian blockchain community.

The Sora Platform is comprised of three entities: the Sora Terminal, where community members can get unbiased, free and reliable information on the latest blockchain deals from credible investors; the Exchange Alliance, which helps members access tokens and investment opportunities; and the Sora Network, which acts as a bridge for resources between blockchain communities, as well as a gateway for non-crypto resources entering the space.

Fang pointed out that Asia’s highly political environment presents a particular challenge to blockchain projects, especially regarding regulation.

“In Asia, most of the communities in the blockchain space cluster into ‘clan-like’ structures,” said Fang. “That is to say, they are hostile toward others: if one VC invests in a given project, others won’t. They’ll openly attempt to discredit each other on social media, and refuse to share resources.”

He also noted that in China there has been a significant increase in “ICO clubs” and third-party investors who charge steep membership fees (upward of 600 ETH) for access to information on the latest blockchain deals. “This leads to most Chinese tokens being highly centralized, with only 15–20 percent being made available to the community.”

Connecting disparate communities and providing access to information across the continent is a key goal of the Sora Network.

“The Sora Network acts as a bridge for blockchain communities and a gateway for non-crypto resources entering the space,” said Fang. “Since our members’ backgrounds are all in institutional funding and exchanges, we find ourselves to be more neutral, and less jaded by ideologies.”

Sora plans to build a data terminal (comparable to a simplified version of the Bloomberg Terminal) in order to compile all of the knowledge gleaned by various projects. It will provide ratings on blockchain companies, carry out analyses and provide explanations regarding the strengths and weaknesses of these companies, with input provided by the partners in the organization.

Fang hopes that the community will thus be able to access unbiased, free and reliable information, without the existing high barriers to entry.

Unlike the ICO clubs, Fang said that the Sora Foundation plans to target not just Chinese investors but those across Asia. “We’re working with Japanese and Korean teams, and will make the terminal available in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean.” 

Building on the Qtum Platform

eBits is a project that sparked a great deal of interest in 2017. Billed as “China’s Ethereum,” the Qtum blockchain is best eBits as a hybrid of both Bitcoin and Ethereum, possessing the former’s secure structure with the latter’s smart contract scripting functionality.

“Qtum has a very impressive community in Asia. We partnered with them so we can leverage their resources to help our portfolio companies,” said Fang. “They also have an impressive tech stack that is achievable and solves a lot of the real issues in Bitcoin and Ethereum. Hence, we would evaluate if there are ways for existing blockchain projects to work with Qtum in order to achieve higher performance.”

Overall, Fang painted a picture of a highly divided community in Asia where cryptocurrency is concerned. Government crackdowns have only served to further separate those operating in the space and erecting high barriers to entry when it comes to access to information.

The concept of the Sora Foundation could be a positive step for the region. By promoting unity amongst protocols and communities that were, until now, maximalist in their visions, the organization harkens back to the vital tenets that brought to life some of the most successful blockchain technologies: transparency, cooperation and community.

The Sora Foundation website can be found here.


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Mexico’s Vicente Fox Invites the Blockchain Community to Join His “Yellow Revolution”

Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox was part of a panel discussion at the Blockchain Economic Forum in Singapore on February 5, 2018, and had a number of insights on blockchain technology generally and how Mexico might make use of it to help curtail corruption and rein in the drug trade.

While President Fox openly admitted that he doesn’t understand blockchain technology that well at this point (learning more about it was a big reason he went to the conference), he does see the incredible potential for the use of a platform that democratizes data for the good of all.

In one example, he talked about how Mexico has to import $40 billion worth of corn from the United States because they aren’t growing enough, but it is a staple of the diet in Mexico. He knows there are older farmers that don’t necessarily understand technology, but they have wisdom and know how to get higher yields. What he envisions is a way for all those data points and metrics — from soil to irrigation to time of year, and what that generated in yields — and get it into an easily accessible, public format so that the “three and a half million farmers in Mexico can access that wisdom and increase their own yields for the benefit of everyone.” President Fox refers to this as the “Yellow Revolution.”

Drugs, energy and corruption are a large problem in Mexico. Something President Fox would like to see is the legalization and regulation of cannabis in the U.S., just as they did with alcohol, tobacco, abortion and same-sex marriage. By legalizing and regulating it and keeping the information about its cultivation, distribution and sale available for easy auditing, he feels that the power of the drug cartels can be minimized, which in turn can start to minimize the corruption problem.

Corruption in governments worldwide costs citizens trillions of dollars. President Fox knows there is technology that can help to hold these politicians accountable, from elections to votes on legislation, and wants to see it deployed.

When it comes to bribery, he noted, “You cannot corrupt a machine or a computer.”

Mexico is rich in natural oil reserves, but President Fox explained, “Part of our corruption that needs to be addressed is milking the pipelines. Thieves drill into our oil and gas pipelines and steal vast quantities of oil and gas directly from the pipeline.” He encouraged the blockchain community to continue to come up with innovative supply chain solutions.

President Fox wants to bring good ideas to Mexico, to inspire the proud and hardworking people there. He wants to accelerate the development of this technology to match the pace in today’s world. He knows what the problems are, and he wants to see the community excited and inspired to create the solutions that can contribute to a better world for everyone.

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Toronto Councillor: City Should “Be Ahead of the Wave” of Blockchain Tech

Toronto City Council voted today to invite the public to make “deputations” to the City Executive on March 19, 2018, about why and how blockchain technology and new cryptocurrencies can be integrated into the way the city does business.

The motion was introduced by Councillor Norm Kelly, who believes that Toronto is already well on the way to being an international innovation hub, and that the use of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies could fast-forward this process.

In an interview with eBits.Co, Councillor Kelly said:

“Toronto is a world class city and well placed to be one of the premier innovation centres in the world. We have startups and talented innovators right here that are working on the frontier of the new digital revolution.”

Kelly noted that the city has fallen behind other Canadian jurisdictions in exploring the possibilities opened up by the world of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

“The Ontario and federal governments and some of our banks are already running pilot projects to see what practical applications can come from using blockchain technology,” Kelly said.

Both the provincial and federal governments are exploring putting digital IDs on the blockchain so that each citizen would have only one ID.

The Canadian government’s National Research Council is using the Catena Blockchain Suite, built on the Ethereum blockchain, to make government research grants and funding information more transparent to the public.

“I’d rather be ahead of the wave than behind it,” Kelly said. Among other use cases, Kelly wants the city to consider whether Toronto residents should be able to use cryptocurrencies to pay property taxes, parking tickets, utility bills and land transfer taxes.

“A number of communities like Zug, Switzerland, are already taking cryptocurrencies for payments. Venezuela has its own cryptocurrency and many international charities accept bitcoin,” Kelly noted.

Toronto’s Burgeoning Blockchain Scene

Toronto is already a hotbed of crypto activity with businesses including Decentral and Coinsquare. TrueBit COO Robbie Bent estimates that the Toronto crypto community numbers about 3,000 and is growing rapidly. And the city has literally hundreds of blockchain and cryptocurrency Meetups including a Meetup for Crypto Kids.

Toronto is also home to MaRS, a world-class innovation center that is incubating a number of Bitcoin and blockchain startups.

“Toronto’s Innovation Centre MaRS is a symbol and an example of what can be done when governments partner with business to promote the future growth potential of an innovation economy,” Kelly said.

The Toronto-based Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) is only one of two in the world; the other is in Beijing, China. The BRI, which has been working on possible use cases for Toronto, has already said it will be presenting to the City Executive on March 19.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was instrumental in getting Toronto to join the BRI and agrees with Kelly that Toronto must keep up with a changing world or risk falling behind.

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