IBM
Armonk, NY, United States
Armonk, NY, United States

The International Business Machines Corporation is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation, with headquarters in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and markets computer hardware and software, and offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology.The company was founded in 1911 as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company through a merger of the Tabulating Machine Company, the International Time Recording Company, and the Computing Scale Company. CTR was changed to "International Business Machines" in 1924, using a name which had originated with CTR's Canadian subsidiary. The acronym IBM followed. Securities analysts nicknamed the company Big Blue for its size and common use of the color in products, packaging, and logo.In 2012, Fortune ranked IBM the No. 2 largest U.S. firm in terms of number of employees , the No. 4 largest in terms of market capitalization, the No. 9 most profitable, and the No. 19 largest firm in terms of revenue. Globally, the company was ranked the No. 31 largest in terms of revenue by Forbes for 2011. Other rankings for 2011/2012 include No. 1 company for leaders , No. 1 green company in the U.S. , No. 2 best global brand , No. 2 most respected company , No. 5 most admired company , and No. 18 most innovative company .IBM has 12 research laboratories worldwide, bundled into IBM Research. As of 2013 the company held the record for most patents generated by a business for 22 consecutive years. Its employees have garnered five Nobel Prizes, six Turing Awards, ten National Medals of Technology, and five National Medals of Science. Notable company inventions include the automated teller machine , the floppy disk, the hard disk drive, the magnetic stripe card, the relational database, the Universal Product Code , the financial swap, the Fortran programming language, SABRE airline reservation system, DRAM, copper wiring in semiconductors, the silicon-on-insulator semiconductor manufacturing process, and Watson artificial intelligence.IBM has constantly evolved since its inception, acquiring properties such as Kenexa and SPSS and organizations such as PwC's consulting business , spinning off companies like printer manufacturer Lexmark , and selling off product lines like its personal computer and server businesses to Lenovo . In 2014 IBM announced that it would "offload" IBM Micro Electronics semiconductor manufacturing to Global Foundries. This transition is in progress as of early 2015. Wikipedia.

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News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Grid operator Tennet and solar panel maker Sonnen GmbH have launched a pilot project that will tap home photovoltaic (PV) systems to help iron out imbalances on Germany's power network. TenneT and Sonnen's e-Services subsidiary aim to sign up 6,000 household PV producers equipped with storage batteries by the end of May. The project will be supported by blockchain technology from IBM, which works as an inexpensive transaction-processing system for tracking and recording encrypted information. It holds potential to link up small energy "prosumers" and make them independent of centralized power providers. "A home storage unit for solar power on its own is less valuable than one that can be used collectively," said Philipp Schroeder, director of sales and marketing at Bavaria-based Sonnen. "We will be able to create a big virtual power line. That is revolutionary." The two partners aim to initially pool 24 megawatts (MW) of power capacity for TenneT to use as a buffer for variable wind power. "Balancing" power is so far handled mainly by traditional power plants while surplus wind power is often dealt with by curbing turbine output or throwing output away. "We want to find out how we can reduce the waste of wind power by storing it in Sonnen batteries that we can access in the North while releasing power from solar energy stored at Sonnen batteries in southern Germany," said Urban Keussen, board chairman of the board at TenneT's German unit. Germany currently subsidizes renewable power producers with billions of euros a year, regardless of demand. Because network development lags far behind, a lot of power is wasted because the north houses most of Germany's wind turbines whose output cannot reach industrial users in the south. New transport lines, funded via grid fees charged to consumers, will take years to build. Schroeder said he saw big potential for solar pv "communities" filling gaps in the meantime. Germany has 15 million detached houses and 1.7 million photovoltaic units, but only 50,000 home storage units. Should 10 percent of all households use solar plus storage in 10 years, that would create capacity of some 6 gigawatts of power, he said, equivalent to six nuclear plants.


The 2017 study has 678 pages, 240 tables and figures. Worldwide Internet of Things (IoT) markets are poised to achieve significant growth with the use of sensors, cameras, and platforms that are used to help implement precision digital control and send alerts for all manner or management of devices and machinery. Visualization and digitization let people better control any device or mechanical thing. Providers of Industrial IoT aim to implement asset efficiency solutions. Designing the asset efficiency solution, developing the application, adapting advanced engineering knowledge for the use cases, and supplying the information platform is the composite task of the analytics engine. IBM is a premier supplier of an analytics engine with its Watson product. There is enormous variety in the Internet of things markets. Bosch supplies industrial IoT sensor technology, acquiring data from the edge, providing device management. Scalability is achieved by the Bosch IoT Suite and ProSyst IoT middleware. The Vorto code generator enables M2M modelling. PTC supplies the Thingworx Application Enablement Platform (AEP), used for creating dashboards, widgets and other user interface elements. Intel provides the Moon Island Gateway used for data aggregation at the edge, as well as horizontal infrastructure in collaboration with HP. Hitachi analytics is used to diagnose manufacturing process. Hitachi uses its analytics platform to integrate production and sensor data outputs to help visualize, analyze and diagnose a manufacture polymer mixing problems. A polymer mixing process was said to be producing inconsistent output quality, with yields dipping to 50%. Hitachi addressed the scrapping of poor batches and huge costs by addressing ever-changing product specifications and variations in a range of production parameters. Using IoT and the analytics platform, production engineers were able to stabilize the process even as new product formulations were introduced. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the next Industrial Revolution. It will impact the way all businesses, governments, and consumers interact with the physical world. 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps speed has been used in data centers for years. The jump to 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps has come rapidly as a result of the need to increase the quantity of data managed inside the data center with more analytics and more applications. Many of the Cloud 2.0 mega data centers have moved to 100 Gbps, presaging the move to 400 Gbps. One reason for the increase in speed is the growth of data consumption, attributed to smartphones, social media, video streaming, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data. Big pipes are used to cope with the huge quantities of data that are being transferred. Users, partners, suppliers and other mega-datacenters communicate using digital systems that are automated and self-healing. The effect on the business is compelling, managers have much more responsibility to create maps of strategy and work with IT to see that developers tune the software to fit the current competitive environment. The explosion of data comes from smart phone apps and IoT digital onslaught of streaming data that needs to be processed in real time to look for anomalies, look for change, set alerts, and provide automated response to shifts. “Transparency is one of the benefits of IoT that sensors bring to digital controls. The benefits of digital manufacturing, farming, and automotive vehicles are higher productivity and more efficient use of resource. Transparency in is being asked for by consumers. Consumers want to know where their food came from, how much water and chemicals were used in food preparation, and when and how the food was harvested and transported. They want to know about consistent refrigeration during transport.” Use of IoT sensors and cameras represents a key milestone in provision of value to every industry. Customized cameras are used to take photos and videos with stunning representations. Digital controls will further automate flying and driving, making ease of use, flight stability, and automated cars a reality. New materials and new designs are bringing that transformation forward. By furthering innovation, IoT continued growth is assured. The worldwide market for Internet of Things (IoT) is $16.3 billion in 2016 anticipated to reach $185.9 billion by 2023. Sensors and software analytics platforms are implemented with connectivity capability for streaming data from endpoints and using analytics to process the data in a manner that generates alerts when appropriate. The complete report provides a comprehensive analysis of Internet of Things (IoT) in different categories, illustrating the diversity of uses for digital tracking devices in industry, healthcare and consumer markets. Analytics makes the images more cogent to everyone, farmers, doctors, machine operators, the uses of IoT are quite diverse. Letting people anticipate problems that only become visible to humans days or weeks after the sensors and images detect issues is a fundamental aspect of IoT, along with generating apocopate levels of alerts. Not too many and not too few. Aerialtronics Adobe Amazon Apple AutoDesk AutoDesk CAD-in-the-Cloud Bosch Cisco Systems Digi Inter national Cybus Enevo Oy Technologies Essence General Electric GE GE Wireless Sensor Networks Google Google / Nest Learning Thermostat Google Chromecast Health Slam -IoT Slam Huawei Huawei Partners with China Telecom, Shenzhen Gas On Smart Utility IBM Corporation Infineon Technologies AG Infineon Chip Card & Security Intel Corporation Intel Acquires Mobileye Internet of Things Community KT Microsoft Microsoft Microsoft / Mojang AB Minecraft Microsoft / Skype / GroupMe Free Group Messaging MuleSoft Nokia oneM2M Panoramic Power Oracle PTC Qualcomm Samsung Samsung Agreed to Buy Harman Harman International Industries (ADITI TECHNOLOGIES) SAP Schaeffler Sierra Wireless Business and Innovation Development Sigfox Softbank Softbank “IBM Watson” Softbank Sprint Softbank Yahoo Fukuoka SoftBank HAWKS Spirent STMicroelectronics Symantec / Norton Symantec Creating Trusted Interactions Online Schneider Electric Software, Llc. Uber UIB Zebra ZTE Internet of Things (IoT) IoT Endpoints Universal IoT Platform IoT Suite Web Services Blockchain Networks Wireless Sensor Networks Security and Energy Management Healthcare Transportation Self Driving Cars Agriculture IoT Weather IoT Financial IoT Industrial IoT Manufacturing IoT Security IoT Energy Management Internet of Things IoT Security Healthcare IoT Wearable Technology Self-Driving Cars Connected Cars Rail Transportation IoT Sensor and Computing Configurations Agricultural and Weather IoT IoT chipsets …CONTINUED For more information, please visit http://www.wiseguyreports.com


News Article | April 11, 2017
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

This post is about one of the hottest topics in energy business, the blockchain. While there are many discussions already going on about the technological dimension and business cases based on the new technology, we –as usual – will focus on the institutional side again. Importantly, we intend to sketch a first general picture of the potential institutional implications of the blockchain technology in the energy sector, thereby keeping in mind that the full potential, applicability and success of this new technology is still uncertain. On 14th February 2017 energy and blockchain experts met in Vienna on the Event Horizon 2017 to discuss the potential of the blockchain technology for the energy sector. The general idea behind such events like the one in Vienna seems to be very compelling: Can we apply a decentralized ledger technology like the blockchain to a system that currently develops towards an increasingly decentralized structure (due to the diffusion of renewable electricity supply and new applications on the demand side, like electric vehicles), like the electricity system? Today, blockchain is a niche topic in energy business, with less than 2% of all startups that focus on blockchain technology targeting specifically the energy sector. However, the incumbent energy business becomes aware that blockchain is an important topic with huge potential. Now, if we take a look at the debate on the Event Horizon, we see very passionate people from different startups and a lot of enthusiasm. This is because the blockchain is based on a very good selling idea: At low costs, it uses a transparent distributed system that is based on democratic processes and replaces less transparent intermediate services. These three components (cost saving, transparency and democratic decision making) are very compelling and are, at least from our point of view, the main reason why blockchain gains some much audience at the moment. Still, blockchain is in its infancy, with many obstacles to overcome (for a more details see this post). Especially on the technical side, the blockchain technology has yet to prove that it can meet the (very high) expectations. Yli-Huumo et al. (2016) give a nice overview of the current challenges for the blockchain technology: From our perspective, especially the energy intensity is very interesting. Croman et al. (2016) calculated for BitCoin that the energy costs related to each transaction add up to 6.2$, given the current design of BitCoin (1 MB per block, latency of 10 minutes). For the future, Croman et al. (2016) project that these costs could be cut by 80% with larger block size (4 MB) and higher latency (12 seconds). So at this point, we can conclude that the blockchain is a promising technology, but far from being ready for the mass market. In a nutshell, the blockchain is a distributed, digital peer-to-peer register, which stores every transaction between two connected agents in a ledger. This ledger is distributed globally on all connected nodes. This distributed data set consists of a collection of historic data about all transactions made. Each transaction is added to the dataset as a new block (in a linear and chronological order), which results in a full record of all transactions made between two parties. As each connected note carries the same data set, algorithms can be used on each computer to verify transactions. If you want to know more about the technical details you can take a deep dive here. Currently, many different blockchains pop up. Basically, we can differentiate these chains using two criteria: Today, most blockchains are public permissionless ledgers, i.e. there is no central supervision of the ledger and the responsibility to manage the system is with its users. With permissionless blockchains, everyone can connect to the blockchain and use it for transactions. Figure 1: The difference between private and public blockchains The public blockchain uses a public and distributed ledger to verify transactions. If there needs to be an adaptation of the public blockchain, this requires in most cases consensus (or at least majority) decisions by all users. On the other hand, one institution or a group of institutions supervises a private and commissioned blockchain. Access to the private blockchain is restricted, verification is based on the private blockchain and the hosting institution is responsible for the management of the blockchain ledger. Figure 2 gives a first overview of prominent examples for permission and permissionless public and private blockchains. Obviously, a permissionless private blockchain is a theoretical construct. So far, this approach has not been used in the real world. Figure 2: Some examples for permissioned and permissionless / public and private blockchains The blockchain might change or even disrupt many sectors as it challenges the business case of intermediaries. Merz (2016) here refers to “disintermediation”. So far, many business models are based on the fact that two parties that want to execute a transaction do not have enough information about each other to process the transaction. In different markets, disintermediation has been an issue for retailers due to new digital platform providers, e.g. amazon, Uber and AirBnB (Merz 2016). Now, the blockchain technology offers the potential to substitute service of intermediates in more than just the retail business. Expectations are that private as well as public blockchains can significantly alter the electricity sector if the underlying blockchain technology proves successful. In Burger et al. (2016), experts from the incumbent energy business identify the largest potential of the blockchain in retail business. Especially Peer-2-Peer trading offers an interesting potential for the electricity sector. Figure 3: Potential applications of blockchain in the energy sector according to expert interviews conducted by Burger et al. (2016) The Brooklyn MicroGrid project by LO3 Inc. as well as Power Ledger activities in Australia nicely illustrate the potential of blockchain for local p2p trade based on the blockchain technology. In these projects decentralized energy providers (households with PV) sell locally produced electricity to their neighbours via blockchain. The combined processing of transactions of physical energy and financial resources seems to be a very promising application for the blockchain technology. However, these projects go beyond retail. They show us the potential of blockchain technology to operate the grid based on a decentralized ledger technology. If we imagine that most devices that are connected to the electricity grid have access to the same blockchain, it seems possible that these devices autonomously coordinate (e.g. via smart contracts) their electricity production or consumption not only according to market signals, but to stabilise the distribution grid. IBM (2015) uses the term “device democracy” to describe the autonomous coordinate between devices via the blockchain. Given the assumption that the autonomous coordination between the electric devices actually works (meaning that enough transactions per second are possible etc.), we can imagine that the blockchain reduces the complexity related to network operation. For example, the DSO could operate a (private) permissioned blockchain and all devices that are connected to the DSOs electricity grids have to use this blockchain to track transactions. This would give the DSO the power not only to supervise, but to intervene into the processes in the blockchain in case of emergencies. If the stability of the grid is challenged (even if smart contracts are working), the DSO could either use automated processes to secure grid stability (which he can do in any blockchain, private or public), or even stronger measures (resets, stop transactions or “hard fork” i.e. delete all transactions for a certain period). If the blockchain proves to be applicable in the energy sector, we can expect this to have significant effects. Obviously, the degree to which the blockchain might or might not change the energy sector strongly depends on the specific applications of the blockchain, the regulatory framework and many other aspects. Due to the early stage in the development of blockchain technology, it is not possible (at least for us), to foresee if and how exactly this technology will change the energy business. Some important changes, however, seem foreseeable. We identify a significant potential of blockchain to change the role concept in the electricity sector. Therefore, we speak of institutional disruption in the title. Some of the existing roles in the electricity supply chain might become obsolete (Do we still need retailers if all data is exchanged directly between the electricity producer and the consumer?), new roles and tasks might evolve and some business cases and roles might not be affected by blockchain applications at all (Does the Blockchain change the electricity generation business case?). Most prominently, the blockchain technology has the potential to influence the retail business. The degree to how the blockchain might alter the retail business can vary significantly. First, retailers could make use of the blockchain technology to increase the efficiency of their business by cutting costs. This application of the blockchain would be comparable to the current developments in the finance sector, where the incumbent financial institutions apply the blockchain technology to their established products to reduce costs. While this might offer new business opportunities in the retail sector, from an institutional perspective, the blockchain technology would not change much. Rather, we could expect institutional implications if retail becomes an autonomous application sold together with generation assets (like PV), storages or consumption devices. As a consequence, retail business would be substituted by autonomous smart contracts that are provided together with generation or consumption devices. Let’s suppose that network operation is based on smart contracts or other autonomous processes that secure frequency and voltage control as well as balancing. These autonomous processes might trigger a discussion about responsibilities: The higher the degree of automation and the higher the number of autonomous devices (generation and consumption) that can provide network services, the lower is the need for supervision. This might lead to the question how many network operators are required and whether the responsibility for network stability could be centralized or even completely decentralized. Such a development would result in a new “market structure” on the network level with either a very high concentration (with just one network operator) or a very fragmented structure with very decentralized network operators (potentially on the consumer level). This might in turn require an adaptation of the institutional design as well, e.g. the way we regulate the network operators. Concerning regulation, the blockchain might offer the potential to simplify the process of regulation and increase efficiency. Giancarlo (2016) speaks of the opportunity for regulators to get access to the golden record, the real-time ledger(s) of all regulated participants (if the regulated entities make use of the blockchains and the regulator has access to them). Then, the regulator would become able to analyse and understand all processes the regulated entities are involved in. To apply the idea of the “golden record” to the energy sector could alter regulation, for example of the distribution grid operators, to a significant extent. As described above, the network operators could use (private or public commissioned) blockchains to operate their network. For all those transaction that are executed via the blockchain, the regulator could gain full transparency by connecting to the blockchain. Furthermore, the blockchain could simplify the interaction between the regulator and the regulated entities. For example, an increased transparency for the regulator via the blockchain about the DSOs activities could change the way network operators can manage their grids. Here, current discussions in Europe focus on the question whether and how the DSO could use flexibility provided by market parties to increase the feed-in of RES. From the regulator’s perspective, the network operator’s interaction with market parties increases the risk of market distortions, at least as long as network operators are not fully unbundled from the competitive businesses in generation and retail (CEER 2015). Such reservations by the regulator are primarily driven by the missing transparency of company-internal as well as market processes. The blockchain technology might provide the necessary transparency to the regulator, which could drive the regulator to allow the DSO to interact with the market (e.g. based on smart contracts) in the blockchain. Then, the DSO might be able to more efficiently integrate RES, i.e. at lower costs than today. Furthermore, less information asymmetry might reduce the need for further unbundling of DSOs if they want to interact more closely with market parties. As discussed above, the introduction of blockchains could trigger some institutional changes in the electricity sector. These institutional changes could affect both, the retail and the network sector. We could move towards a world where generators directly sell electricity to the customers, which results in a stronger integration of generation and retail business. Potentially, retail won’t remain an independent part of the supply chain, but an automated and autonomous process conducted by the generators and consumers themselves. Furthermore, the “golden record” idea by Giancarlo (2016a) provides a basis to reduce information asymmetry between the regulator and the network operators, potentially leading to more unbundling than is the status quo. If you liked this article please let me and others know by sharing it! This might be interesting for you as well: Permalink


Alex Tapscott, pioneer and author of the bestseller Blockchain Revolution, will appear for the first time in Europe at DES2017 with his talk on Blockchain , in which he will look at why blockchain technologies (a global, open and distributed information platform) will change what we can achieve online, how we do it and who can take part. Tapscott will present his theory of how blockchain will give rise to a new development scenario in subjects as diverse as healthcare, education, government and public administration, finance or business. Alex Tapscott will be joined on the panel of speakers by Lilian P. Coral, City of Los Angeles CDO, who will present the GeoHUB portal, based on GIS technology developed by Esri, which connects information that directly affects around 4 million members of the public, businesspeople and civil servants in the city of Los Angeles. With this platform, users, public services and citizens can access more than 500 layers of maps to check information or develop their own apps. GeoHUB also uses smart maps to bring together information from all over the city, allowing police officers, firefighters and the emergency services to make critical decisions in real time, based on a single point of access and on any device. "DES is the only event of its kind worldwide that deals with the digital transformation or a comprehensive process that affects companies in all areas of business, from technologies as transformation facilitators to business culture as a foundation for success in the digital evolution," says Lluis Altés, Strategy Director of DES|Digital Business World Congress. For the full list of speakers, please visit https://www.des-madrid.com/congress/2017-speakers/ The latest edition of this major meeting on digital transformation is supported by the leaders of the international technology industry. In just two editions, DES will have become the place to go for new technologies, where companies such as Amazon, IBM, Intel, Google, Accenture and Deloitte bring new solutions for banking, industry, retail, logistics, the automotive sector, telecommunications and the energy sector, among others. More than 18,000 delegates from 40 different countries will encounter a congress with more than 450 speakers and 180 talks on technological strategy and trends, such as Blockchain , Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Cloud Computing, the Internet of Things, Big Data and Analytics and Cybersecurity. For a summary of the previous edition, you can visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXWWs1znk1I For further information about the event or if you are interested in interviewing any of the speakers, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Alex Tapscott, pioneer and author of the bestseller Blockchain Revolution, will appear for the first time in Europe at DES2017 with his talk on Blockchain , in which he will look at why blockchain technologies (a global, open and distributed information platform) will change what we can achieve online, how we do it and who can take part. Tapscott will present his theory of how blockchain will give rise to a new development scenario in subjects as diverse as healthcare, education, government and public administration, finance or business. Alex Tapscott will be joined on the panel of speakers by Lilian P. Coral, City of Los Angeles CDO, who will present the GeoHUB portal, based on GIS technology developed by Esri, which connects information that directly affects around 4 million members of the public, businesspeople and civil servants in the city of Los Angeles. With this platform, users, public services and citizens can access more than 500 layers of maps to check information or develop their own apps. GeoHUB also uses smart maps to bring together information from all over the city, allowing police officers, firefighters and the emergency services to make critical decisions in real time, based on a single point of access and on any device. "DES is the only event of its kind worldwide that deals with the digital transformation or a comprehensive process that affects companies in all areas of business, from technologies as transformation facilitators to business culture as a foundation for success in the digital evolution," says Lluis Altés, Strategy Director of DES|Digital Business World Congress. For the full list of speakers, please visit https://www.des-madrid.com/congress/2017-speakers/ The latest edition of this major meeting on digital transformation is supported by the leaders of the international technology industry. In just two editions, DES will have become the place to go for new technologies, where companies such as Amazon, IBM, Intel, Google, Accenture and Deloitte bring new solutions for banking, industry, retail, logistics, the automotive sector, telecommunications and the energy sector, among others. More than 18,000 delegates from 40 different countries will encounter a congress with more than 450 speakers and 180 talks on technological strategy and trends, such as Blockchain , Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Cloud Computing, the Internet of Things, Big Data and Analytics and Cybersecurity. For a summary of the previous edition, you can visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXWWs1znk1I For further information about the event or if you are interested in interviewing any of the speakers, please don't hesitate to contact us.


News Article | March 8, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Hannes Grassegger of Das Magazin reports from the Blockchain Summit on Necker Island and discovers how the global economy is being overturned by men in flip flops. A young woman waved from a red pier. The breeze pressed her short jumpsuit against her body. She waved with her right hand, while her left held her sunhat in place. The captain brought the speedboat about, the motor sputtered, and I jumped off. “Welcome to Necker,” the woman breathed, “I’m Kezzia.” She turned, “Come with me.” The air was that perfect temperature, somewhere in the low 80s, where you stop sensing your body and feel as though you are melting into the world. The crystal clear water of the Caribbean was just a few refreshing degrees cooler. The invitation said “Smart Casual”—so I wore a white dress shirt with my swim trunks. After a 36-hour journey, I had finally reached my destination: an island that for ten years has been the permanent residence of British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. Kezzia led me to a golf cart parked in the sand. I couldn’t help thinking of a video I had seen in which one of Necker Island’s accountants cheerfully recounted serving as a human platter in a naked sushi dinner after finishing her office work. In one interview, Branson laughingly told of a new housekeeper on the island who wanted to institute a rule barring romantic relationships between employees and visitors. “It lasted exactly two days,” he said. On Necker, there is no line between business and private life, at least for employees. For moments when Branson himself does not wish to be disturbed, he purchased the neighboring Mosquito Island. Only Larry Page, Branson’s kite-surfing buddy and CEO of Google, was recently allowed to buy himself a piece of land there. The occasion of my trip was a gathering of two dozen of the entrepreneurs and radical anarcho-capitalists who make up the upper echelons of the bitcoin digital currency movement. The event took birth at a private evening on Necker Island, when the organizers of a kite surf event called MaiTai had asked Branson over a drink if he would be up for bringing together all the leading minds in bitcoin—on his island. “Sure,” he said. What exactly this was all about was unclear to me, but it seemed they were getting together to plan a coup. “We look forward to welcoming you to paradise,” the invitation to the Blockchain Summit proclaimed. Only a select few dozen people received an invitation to the Necker Island summit. Originally, the group included a single woman. Following some concerned remarks on the internet, the organizers invited some more female guests. All had to undertake a strenuous journey, as the island lies on the easternmost edge of the British Virgin Islands, two hours east of Jamaica by plane. The entry fee alone was several thousand dollars per day. I had already met a few of the participants on the way here. Standing at a kiosk on the beach waiting for a ferry, wearing jeans and a green t-shirt, was Michael Zeldin, 64, a prominent anti-money-laundering expert from the United States, familiar from his many appearances on CNN. Previously a US delegate to the G7, he is now “Special Counsel” to a law firm that represents 17 of the 20 largest US banks. On the way to paradise. Photo: Hannes Grassegger Next to him, dressed in swim trunks and holding a Carib beer, was Brock Pierce. Pierce, who claims to have invented the term “user-generated content,” rose from child star to millionaire tycoon of the old New Economy by age 17. While living in Spain, he built up an online-gaming empire by mining and selling virtual currencies and weapons in computer games, thereby becoming one of the most important early digital currency entrepreneurs. He told me over a drink that, as founder and managing partner of his own venture capital firm, he is currently an investor in 34 different companies. Pierce, Zeldin, and I had received invitations to the Blockchain Summit, which was meant to bring together “the world’s greatest minds in digital innovation” to “define the future.” Essentially, what seemed to be happening was that a great deal of money and power were being gathered in the middle of the Caribbean, on a billionaire’s private island, for the purpose of plotting. The meeting would culminate in the second night’s “ Blockchain Summit Final Dinner,” a networking event with a “cocktail reception and lemur feeding.” The golf cart trundled just a few meters over a narrow, stone-lined sand track and stopped in front of a two-story wooden house. “The others are already up at lunch,” Kezzia said. “I suggest you get a drink, look around a bit, and then come join us.” She shook her head, laughing, and flitted away. From the second story I heard the murmur of guests at lunch. The ground floor was a kind of tropical pub, open on all sides. A large flatscreen played a tennis match. Reggae bubbled out from hidden speakers. On the central bar, a brown creature with a dog-like face and the body of a monkey suckled someone’s left-behind drink. Presumably this was one of the lemurs that Branson had brought over from Madagascar to save from extinction. He has introduced hundreds of species to the island in order to protect them: a “Greatest Hits” of nature. The lemur stared at me for a moment, then turned back to its drink. Branson evidently had two things on his mind when establishing his island: sex and drinks. His villa was built in Bali, then disassembled, shipped, and erected on Necker’s highest point. A wooden hot tub is enthroned on the roof, behind which waves the flag of the British Virgin Islands, the Union Jack on a blue background with the motto, Vigilate: “Be vigilant.” From here one can see the entire island: the beach house, the tennis court, the two ponds, a handful of scattered love nests, and, in the distance, a few other islands. Next to the house is a shimmering green infinity pool that looks out on an endless Caribbean horizon. Necker was also once the occasional refuge of Princess Diana. A handwritten letter to Branson testifies to her love of the place. Branson has occasionally used the island to stage ambitious meetings, such as when he brought together politicians and entrepreneurs, like Tony Blair and Larry Page, to save the world from climate change. As part of a proviso by the local government, Branson was required to build a resort here shortly after he bought it, in 1979 at the age of 28. For $65,000 a day, you can rent out the island for yourself and up to 29 of your friends. Below, I saw the solar panels that provide the island’s electricity. On a hidden pier, workers are unloading one of the boats that run constantly, supplying the island with everything it needs, including sunscreen and an energy drink called “Pussy.” We live in an age obsessed with progress, comparable to the end of the 19th century, when new technologies such as the railroad and the telephone were changing everything and generating previously undreamt-of riches. Our age, like that one, has seen an explosion in the number of the super-rich. Today, the Rockefellers are Zuckerberg, Page, Gates, and, well, Branson. There are currently around 1,800 billionaires, as measured in dollars. In the past few years, their fortunes have increased so massively that they have begun wondering what to do with all the money. At the same time, there is a valley near San Francisco full of technology entrepreneurs who need money—lots of money—for their business ventures. The goal of these entrepreneurs is to rebuild existing industries with new technology, monopolize the market, and watch the profits roll in. They call this “disruption”—as Airbnb has done in the hotel industry, or Uber in the realm of taxis. The larger the target industry, the better. Google has built a whole “vertical,” X, for testing so-called “moonshots,” ideas so megalomaniacal that anyone would consider them impossible—anyone who did not have a few billion to spare on their realization, that is. Winter is coming to the Valley soon, and it might be the first since the bubble burst first in 2001. This bubble bursting might not be as tough as the last one, most people in the tech industry hope, but who could say for sure. Nevertheless, when people congregated on the island, there was a feeling that new territories were needed for chasing unicorns—the startups that remake entire industries with multi-billion valuations and big payoffs for venture capitalists. It is just such a project that Richard Branson has in mind. With a net worth of $4.9 billion, he’s invested millions each in over a dozen startups around the globe, including $30 million in Blockchain , a popular bitcoin wallet and blockchain explorer service. In his opening speech, Branson invited the guests to rate their business plans in terms of “Scale of Effect on Society.” This was accompanied by a musical interlude by star cellist Zoë Keating, who spent the rest of her stay on Necker Island excitedly posting snapshots of Branson’s giant tortoises on Instagram. From the rooftop hot tub, I walked past a few terraces to reach a hall with a ceiling high enough to accommodate full-size palm trees. A disco ball hung from the ceiling. A few books with titles like An Optimist’s Tour of the Future or An Experiment in Industrial Democracy lay strewn across the landscape of cozy couches. On the other side of the bar, several rows of wicker chairs were set up facing a flatscreen emblazoned with the words: “ Blockchain Summit – The Vision.” It was clear to me that this was a gathering of people whose time is short and expensive. Such people do not meet just for fun, but perhaps also for fun. Nor does Branson’s choice of residence seem accidental. Branson officially relocated to Necker in 2006 for health reasons, he has said. But the British Virgin Islands—or BVI, for short—of which Necker is one, are the most popular offshore tax haven in the world. By developing a complicated network of BVI companies, Branson pays few taxes in his native land. Many English children have heard of Necker Island. It is a dream island that represents the idea that an individual can beat the state. To moderate the summit, the organizers booked one of the most renowned writers on finance technology, Wall Street Journal columnist Michael J. Casey, who last year published The Age of Crypto-Currency, a book on digital currencies like bitcoin and its underlying programming principle, the “blockchain.” The blockchain, Casey explains in the book, is a register, a vast bank-book, a digital ledger, that lists every individual transfer of bitcoin. In contrast to our current money system, in which every bank maintains its own centralized register to verify whether the correct quantities of money are being moved, the blockchain decentralizes the verification, thereby creating a “shared common ledger” stored on every connected computer. Thus, the blockchain allows every bitcoin user to take on the functions of a bank. But this is just incidental. The blockchain not only makes digital currency impossible to duplicate: In principle, Casey prophesied, the technology could even replace companies, law firms, and agencies whose main job is to manage assets. Lately, the Bitcoin community has been torn asunder by a debate over the future of the blockchain, and whether it can continue to grow as quickly and cheaply under its current design. But this was not a topic of discussion at the conference: the weather was more blue-sky. Under a sun canopy on the beach, I encountered a bunch of men in their 30s. All are in shorts, rather pasty, with the beginnings of a paunch. A bearded giant by the name of Oliver Luckett played rap on the kind of small, tube-shaped boombox often used by teenagers in parks. He told how he recently bought a $10,000 Rolls Royce on Craigslist, only to torch it with flamethrowers for the rapper’s video. It went viral, since all the video’s participants already had so many followers on the web. “A bargain, right?” he asked. The others nodded. (Luckett’s company, the Audience, also ran Obama’s social media campaign for a time. Before that, he worked for Disney. In the digital empire, he is a Minister of Propaganda.) Over on a sandbar, I saw a catamaran with a dozen people next to it. Perhaps Branson is there. “Do you want to try something?” one of the beach beaus asked. He led me over to a shack filled with surfboards, sails, and snorkels. On the wall hung a photo of Branson, grinning broadly for the camera, flying over the water as the wind blows his hair. He is on a surfboard, holding a kite-sail in front of him while a nude model hangs on him like a backpack. A Dutchman in his 50s, who introduces himself as Marc, wanted to try paddleboarding, so I decided to join him. Marc invests in startups. He flew in from Vancouver. “Why did you come?” I asked him. The trainer positions the board on some calm water for us. “Bitcoin is gradually turning into a serious thing,” Marc said as he tried to stand on the wobbly board. “Look at who’s here—a president of Samsung, a chief strategy officer of Ernst & Young. Did you hear that Obama’s favorite economist, Larry Summers, has gotten involved with a bitcoin bank? And the founder of Visa?” In the tropical pub, I ran into Michael J. Casey. He looked like one of those classic American war reporters on TV with their oversize microphones, only that he is Australian. We ordered Painkillers, an excellent coconut-based cocktail, and started chatting. “Since the crisis in 2008,” Casey said, “the financial system has been completely broken. They’ve tried to camouflage the fact by printing more dollars, but money is just a product, and now there’s a surplus of it. Look what’s happening in Switzerland. Negative interest rates. You’re actually paying to give someone money. Of course, people are looking to other assets, houses or whatever. But what are they supposed to use for currency?” Casey shook his head. “The fundamental problem of the financial crisis was that everything was too interconnected,”he continued. “Centralization. Insanely enough, it’s gotten even worse. Meanwhile, the entire international economy depends on two central banks. Do you call that stable? Bitcoin is the alternative to this broken money system.” As the evening cocktail reception approached, I walked back from the tropical pub to Branson’s villa with Luckett and an Australian man. The Australian took us to his room, which costs just over $2,000 per night. It’s a good price—typically, one must rent the entire island. For this budget rate, the Australian had to share the room with the elderly futurist Marshall Thurber. Out on the balcony, Casey filmed the sunset. “It’s such a thrilling time,” he said. “Imagine experiencing the birth of the internet. That’s about how big this is.” The first guests had arrived the day before, but no one was really clear on the specifics of the program. Back at the big hall, Casey plopped onto a sofa next to a plump bald man in a wine-red polo shirt. He was telling the story of how he wrote the constitution of Peru. This was Hernando de Soto. An advisor to governments, de Soto may be Latin America’s most renowned stronghold of market capitalism, which he sees as a tool against any evil available, most recently terrorism. When de Soto has a question about Russia, as Casey explains it, “Hernando” just calls Putin—and he picks up. Bill Clinton once called de Soto the “greatest living economist.” To ensure that Hernando could get to the meeting on time, the premier of the Virgin Islands personally faxed him a visa. De Soto has frighteningly strong, hairy arms, which he moves like a crab’s pincers. That morning, the Peruvian had primed the participants for their mission: to bring capitalism to life. For true capitalism does not yet exist. Poverty, according to the theory that brought de Soto international fame, is not exploitation, but exclusion. In other words, people are unable to participate in capitalism because they have nothing to bargain with. Slum residents, for example, build huts but cannot own them, as there is no place and no law that will register them. If they had some kind of official paper, a certified claim to the property, a title, the hut would be worth something. They could sell it, or take on debt to start a business. To raise people out of poverty, therefore, their valuables must somehow be linked to them as individuals. They must have property rights. In most countries, this is next to impossible. De Soto opened a folder of papers: the three dozen applications necessary to register a company in Peru. A “physical blockchain, ” he said, that takes hundreds of days to process. If such situations were remedied, world poverty would end, and true capitalism would blossom. The participants were rapt. Next to de Soto sat Brian Forde, a quiet man who until recently was Obama’s technology advisor. Now he is leading the Digital Currency Initiative at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as traveling around the world convincing governments and companies to give the blockchain a try. We were greeted at the dinner party by hundreds of screeching flamingos. A fire was burning, chefs stood at the buffet, and a long, white table was waiting. Other than the employees, almost no one followed the dress code, “Evening in White.” Most wore shorts. Suits are the mantel of civilization, too confining. Suddenly, a shark fin appeared in the sea behind the buffet. One of the guests giggled and tossed a chicken drumstick into the water. “Save Water, Drink Champagne,” his shirt read. I sat across from Paul Brody, a slim executive from San Francisco with short, greying hair. Cheerfully, he spoke in a nasal voice of being wiped off the tennis court by Branson at seven in the morning. “Impressive for 65!” he said. Brody had been trying out all of the island’s personal trainers. A little morning weightlifting, “all-inclusive.” I asked how much he paid to come here. “Hmm,” he calculated, “the company paid. My rate, which would be $36,000 for three days, plus the flight, plus accommodation here on the island, 8,000 … the participation fee. About $50,000.” Brody is a minor star in Silicon Valley. His husband negotiated Facebook’s purchase of Instagram. Brody himself had 6,000 people working under him at IBM, where his focus was the Internet of Things. Now he is the American “Strategy Leader” for Ernst & Young. Somehow we get onto the subject of cycling. “I love it!” he said. “I used to ride a lot until I was hit by a car. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get on a bike again until there are only self-driving cars.” Our tablemate nodded enthusiastically: “People are too fallible. We have to take them out of the equation.” Next to Brody sat Jeff Garzik, one of bitcoin’s longtime developers. At the moment, he is looking for investors to help him put mini-satellites into orbit for a special bitcoin network. “No government in the world would be able to control bitcoin anymore,” he said. Later, I ran into a group of people lounging on a sofa, passing around an e-cigarette filled with liquid marijuana. One of them, part of Branson’s service team, told me that it takes 120 people to keep the island running every day, or about three staff members per guest. He said he earned $1,200 a month—Brody’s hourly rate. Around nine o’clock the next morning, there was a breakfast buffet: bacon, eggs, tomatoes, croissants, and kale juice to detox; fair-trade granola bars and champagne bottles with a golden label that read, “Sir Richard Branson’s Private Island.” Over at the muesli bowl, I found myself suddenly face-to-face with Branson himself. “Hi!” he said, with a friendly smile. Tan and wearing a grey t-shirt and swim trunks, he has a surfer’s lion-gold, almost neon-ish mane, which goes well with his large mouth and huge teeth bordered by a darker goatee. He grabbed a glass of fruit juice and walked away with his muesli. I followed him to a veranda with a long wooden table, plenty big enough for the thirty people who are staying in Branson’s villa. The life of a billionaire, I had begun to understand, is like a reality TV competition. De Soto, Forde, Casey, and Luckett sat around Branson, all of them trying to sell him on their projects and plans in as few sentences as possible. This is an “elevator pitch”: the 90 seconds one has to try to convince the investor of a lifetime to join in a business venture. Branson, with an estimated worth of five billion dollars and a reputation for wild business ideas, is an amazing opportunity. An elevator manufacturer once suggested to Branson that he install one here on the island expressly for elevator pitches. Branson listened calmly, eating his muesli and sipping coffee. Now and then, he asked a question in his gentle voice. His pronounced stutter is well under control. When he tried to go back to the buffet, he couldn’t make it more than a few meters without being detained, to listen to a new idea or to pose for a photo that will immediately be posted online, thereby increasing the market value of the person posing with him. At around ten, we arrived at the main event. The 35 attendees, who include seven women, gather around the flatscreen in the big hall. Some of them have prepared short presentations. Brody, the star executive, explains that in the near future practically everything will be online. “Every toaster will have a chip like this one here,” he said, holding up his iPhone. “This chip has more processing power than the first iPhone,” he added enthusiastically. “This device could connect to the net. And what happens to things when they go online? We record their usage, start measuring their capacity, and try to increase it. Like fitness, thanks to Fitbit wristbands that count our steps. Like apartments, that we sublet on Airbnb when we’re away. Like cars, that you can rent when they’re not being used.” “Unused potential is everywhere,” Brody continued. If there were a method for indexing this potential and trading with it, the market would be “tremendous, unbelievable.” The blockchain, he said, is precisely the tool to manage an “internet of value,” in which “everything” would be tradeable. De Soto beamed. The blockchain would, in essence, allow capitalism to more fully move into the realm of the internet. This has always failed in the past, because in digital environments, everything is so easy to copy. Therefore nothing is scarce, which is why digital content, like music, images, and text, is almost always free, or extremely protected. The blockchain’s comprehensive ability to allocate each piece of code within its system could completely eliminate the possibility of copying a song, for example, because who has which digital copy when would be traceable. A digital magazine based on the blockchain system would have unique copies, just like a printed magazine. It could be bought and sold like a physical object. Next, a long-haired computer scientist named Patrick Deegan demonstrated one of the idea’s applications. He’s used blockchain to create digital passports that allow people to register their possessions. Deegan talks about “smart contracts”: digital agreements that execute themselves automatically, like leased cars that will not start if the installment has not been paid. Administrative staff would be unnecessary. Deegan is optimistic. The blockchain, it seems, could automate bureaucracy. It could replace millions of employees. A moonshot. Most recently, he said, the world’s most powerful banks have formed a consortium named R3 to employ such ideas. All of this dramatically serves the common good, most of the speakers say during their presentations. One speaker invoked the visionary architect Buckminster Fuller, a kind of Abraham in the epic of Silicon Valley. He handed out Fuller’s bible, Spaceship Earth, and told how “Bucky” passed on his mission in his last days: “On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate.” He then presented a rating system for humans in which people are continually evaluated. Like the taxi service Uber, where customers rate drivers and drivers rate customers, but for all of life, visible to everyone. The problem for the guests, it seems, is that the business case for Buckys vision is not obvious. The reactions in the audience were mixed. Friendly applause. To conclude, Luckett—the Rolls Royce burner—demonstrated that the development of the internet and the blockchain are not only spiritually correct, but deeply natural. Nature too is organized in networks. As proof, he showed pictures of networks of mushrooms next to visualizations of social media networks. The applause was frenetic. During a short pause, the participants gathered on the giant chess terrace for a 3D group picture. As the picture-snapping drone approached from the blue skies, everyone raised their arms in a group cheer. At lunch, served in the lower pool, the mood was euphoric. As I sank into the water, a girl launched a little boat laden with drinks in my direction. “Sake cocktail?” Next came a flower-bedecked kayak filled with sushi. A French star-chef served cuisine in his swim trunks. From the palm-leaf-covered pool bar I hear electro-pop duo Ratatat's “Cream on Chrome.” Over coconut water at the bar, I talked to an investment banker with gelled blond hair. He was high. “Fantastic, man!” he said. “My business is number one at getting money out of China. It’s complicated as hell, nothing but regulations, transparency, and limits. Huge monitoring costs … I think efficiency is going to increase tremendously.” “When everything goes through the blockchain … I could fire half my team,” he beams. “Lawyers, notaries, bankers—they just do what the blockchain does automatically.” Then a woman in a tight black dress with a huge floppy hat stole his attention. The party guests have arrived. The fresh fish was excellent, and must have been flown in from far away, as a strange virus had made the local fish inedible. A dark-haired man in his mid-thirties paddled near me. He trades in bitcoin and commutes between London and France. His eyes gleamed. “Huge sectors of government do nothing but manage assets and execute contracts,” the man said. “Not just the central banks, but the passport agencies, registration offices, land registries for real estate. All of that will be unnecessary.” As a senior venture capitalist sunk into the water next to us, still holding his Blackberry, the man whispered conspiratorially, “C’est une revolution.” We climbed out of the pool, and a thin young Arab man stood before me. “Salaam,” he said with a smile. “He’s from the Emirates,” my new friend explained as we walk toward the beach. “He could be the first big blockchain investor from there. He might be richer than Branson. In any case, Branson forbid him from bringing his bodyguards to the island.” On the beach, I grabbed a snorkel. I swam along the ocean floor, passing a ball-shaped creature. It was half a meter wide and pulsing. Strange, large fish were everywhere. Around seven, I met Tina Hui, who runs a social media site about bitcoin. She posts updates constantly, even while doing her makeup. “I can’t ever look bad,” she said, “I’m always online.” Tina was one of the few women added to the guest list after the organizers were criticized for inviting only men. The others included an aerospace engineer who works for Branson’s spaceship company, a famous attorney, and Elizabeth Rossiello, the CEO of Nairobi-based BitPesa, which provides transfer between bitcoin and local currencies in Africa. This is great for the currency’s reputation, the thinking goes, as bitcoin will never be adopted by the masses as long as it is seen as money for internet gangsters. To the same end, that morning an inconspicuous gentleman with an extreme comb-over and an apricot linen shirt—previously employed by the Department of Justice—had suggested cooperation with “state agencies.” A strategic cease-fire, so to speak. We made it to the tropical pub just in time. The chef had prepared a Moroccan-style meal, perhaps in honor of the event's special Middle Eastern guest. The table is U-shaped. There were now some seventy guests on the island. I spotted Brock Pierce, Michael Zeldin, and several ladies in dresses. Torches were stuck in the sand. Rosé from New Zealand was poured. Across from me sat Ted Rogers, who looks like the captain of a rowing team. Rogers is president of the bitcoin vault Xapo, which Larry Summers joined after ending his candidacy for president of the Federal Reserve. Bitcoin entrepreneurs have to get out of the pirates’ islands, Rogers said, and into "clean" countries. Xapo has one of its legal headquarters in Argentina, another one in Switzerland. “Switzerland could become the home of bitcoin,” he suggested. He finds the culture of privacy and the hands-off government optimal. “And the legislators are reasonable, too. You can talk to them.” He had just explained that there is an important community of bitcoin supporters in the Swiss town of Zug when Branson appeared. Zug, a small town of 30,000 inhabitants, was once Switzerland’s capital of offshore banking. Thanks to its free-market reputation, it has recently become one of the world’s leading hubs for the cryptocurrency folks. Nevertheless it’s so boring that Xapo actually resettled half an hour north, in Zürich, Switzerland’s busiest town. In January Xapo’s CEO Wences Casares joined Paypal’s board. Cello music wafted over the tennis court and the guests reclined on pillows arranged in a semi-circle, while Branson sat enthroned on a sofa with the sheikh to his left. The cellist Zoë Keating left the stage. De Soto stands. His act is next. And for a brief moment, Branson was alone. “Sir,” I said. He bows. “You signed the Sex Pistols.” He nodded, baring his teeth to smile. At the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, Branson chartered a boat on the Thames, on which the punk band famously mocked the monarch. The police got involved, of course, and the media was there, filming everything. The scandal put the Sex Pistols’ single on the charts and made Branson a lot of money. There are two kinds of billionaire. One makes money off the system. Branson makes money off its destruction. “Is it still all about the same thing as back then?” I asked. “Against the state, against banks?” “Sure, man. You got it,” Sir Richard grinned. He raised his hand for a high five. “Capital!” cried de Soto. He made a fist, scanning the crowd. “The word comes from Caesar’s head on Roman coins. From caput—head.” His voice was strong, and even the cellist was listening. “This head is the power.” De Soto raised his fist. “And this head is you.” Branson looked like a boy seeing his model airplane lift off the ground for the first time. De Soto pointed to his audience, and said: “You’re part of the creation of a new capital.” “Yes!” Branson said from his divan. “Yes!” and he began to clap. The others joined him and the applause nearly filled the island. Hannes Grassegger is an economist based in the financial capital of Zürich, Switzerland, who skipped investment banking to become the leading German reporter on digital life (Digitales Leben, as they call it). He is the author of Das Kapital bin Ich (I am Capital), a pamphlet on how to screw the NSA plus all other secret services and make a dime from it, too. Follow him on Twitter @HNSGR. This article first appeared in German in Das Magazin.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: techcrunch.com

The UK government is due to publish its long awaited Digital Strategy later today, about a year later than originally slated. Existing delays having been compounded by the shock of Brexit. Drafts of the strategy framework seen by TechCrunch suggest its scope and ambition vis-a-vis digital technologies has been pared back and repositioned vs earlier formulations of the plan, dating from December 2015 and June 2016, as the government recalibrated to factor in last summer’s referendum vote for the UK to leave the European Union. Since the earlier drafts were penned there has also of course been a change of leadership (and direction) at the top of government. And Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a new cabinet, including digital minister, Matt Hancock, who replaced Ed Vaizey. The incoming digital strategy includes what’s couched as a major a review of what AI means for the UK economy — which was trailed to the press by the government at the weekend. As the FT reported then, the review will be led by computer scientist Dame Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti, CEO of AI firm BenevolentAI, and will aim to identify areas of opportunity and commercialization for the UK’s growing AI research sector. The government will also be committing £17.3M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to fund research into robotics and AI at UK universities — so, to be clear, that’s existing funds being channeled into AI projects (rather than new money being found). The draft strategy notes that one project, led by the University of Manchester, will develop robotics technologies “capable of operating autonomously and effectively within hazardous environments such as nuclear facilities”. Another, at Imperial College London, will aim to make “major advances in the field of surgical micro-robotics”. But the document dedicates an awful lot of page space to detailing existing digital policies. And while reannouncements are a favorite spin tactic of politicians, the overall result is a Digital Strategy that feels heavy on the strategic filler. And heavily shaped by Brexit — while still lacking coherence for dealing with the short-term and longer term uncertainty triggered by the vote to the leave the EU. As one disappointed industry source who we showed the draft to put it: “If you’re going to announce a digital strategy, and you’re taking in public input, why not be bold?” Perhaps because you don’t have the ministerial resources to be bold when you’re having to expend most of your government’s energy managing Brexit. Besides the government foregrounding artificial intelligence (via official press briefing) as a technology it views as promising for fueling future growth of the UK’s digital economy, the strategy puts marked emphasis on tackling digital inclusion in the coming years, via upskilling and reskilling. Digital skills are the second of the seven “strands” the strategy focuses on, with digital connectivity being the first — a quite different structure vs the June 2016 version of the document that we reviewed (which bundled skills and connectivity into a single ‘digital foundations’ section — and expended more energy elsewhere, such as investigating the public sector potential of technologies like blockchain, and talking up putting the UK “at the heart of the European Digital Single Market”; an impossibility now, given Brexit). A portion of the final strategy details a number of UK skills training partnerships, either new or which are being expanded, from companies such as Google, HP, Cisco, IBM and BT. Google, for example, is pledging to launch a Summer of Skills program in coastal towns across the UK. And ahead of the strategy’s official publication the government is briefing these partnerships to press as “four million opportunities for learning” being created to ensure “no one is left behind” by the digital divide. On the Google program the draft says: “It will develop bespoke training programmes and bring Google experts to coach communities, tourist centres and hospitality businesses across the British coasts. This will accelerate digitisation and help boost tourism and growth in UK seaside towns. This new initiative is part of a wider digital skills programme from Google that has already trained over 150,000 people.” This again is digital strategy and spin driven by Brexit. The government has made it clear it will be prioritizing ‘control of Britain’s borders’ in its negotiations with the EU, and confirmed the UK will be leaving the Single Market, which means ending free movement of people from the EU. So UK businesses are faced with pressing questions about how they will source enough local talent quickly enough in future when there are restrictions on freedom of movement. The UK government’s answer to those worries appears to be ‘upskill for victory’ — which might be a long-term skills fix, but won’t plug any short term talent cliffs. “As we leave the European Union, it will be even more important to ensure that we continue to develop our home-grown talent, up-skill our workforce and develop the specialist digital skills needed to maintain our world leading digital sector,” is all it has to say on that. The focus on digital inclusion also looks to be a response to a wider framing of the Brexit vote as fueled by anger within certain segments of the population feeling left behind by globalization. (A sentiment that implicates technology as a contributing factor for a sense of exclusion caused by rapid change.) Tellingly, the strategy document is subtitled “a world-leading digital economy for everyone” (emphasis mine). “We must also enable people in every part of society — irrespective of age, gender, physical ability, ethnicity, health conditions, or socio-economic status — to access the opportunities of the internet,” it further notes. “If we don’t do this, our citizens, businesses and public services cannot take full advantage of the transformational benefits of the digital revolution. And if we manage it, it will benefit society too.” In terms of specific skills measures, the strategy pledges free “basic digital skills training” for adults (actually a reannouncement) — with the government saying it intends to mirror the approach taken for adult literacy and numeracy training. It also says it intends to establish a “new Digital Skills Partnership” to bring together industry players and local stakeholders with a focus on plugging digital skills gaps locally, which sounds equally like a measure to tackle regional unemployment. Another aim is to “develop the role of libraries in improving digital inclusion to make them the ‘go-to’ provider of digital access, training and support for local communities”. To boost STEM skills – to help the UK workforce gain what the government dubs “specialist skills” — it says it will implement Nigel Shadbolt’s recommendations – following his 2016 report which called for universities to do more to teach skills employers need. (A need that will clearly be all the more pressing with tighter restrictions on UK borders.) Interestingly, a 2015 draft of the strategy which we saw shows the government was kicking around various ideas for encouraging more digital talent to come into the country at that time — including creating new types of tech visas. Among the ideas on the long-list then, i.e. under PM David Cameron and minister Vaizey, were to: Later versions of the framework drop these ideas — with the government now only saying it has asked the UK’s Migration Advisory Committee to review whether the Tier 1 visa is “appropriate to deliver significant economic benefits for the UK”. “We recognise the importance which the technology sector attaches to being able to recruit highly skilled staff from the EU and around the world. As one part of this, we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to consider whether the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route is appropriate to deliver significant economic benefits for the UK, and will say more about our response to their recommendations soon,” it writes, noting that digital sector companies employ around 80,000 people from other European Union countries, out of the total 1.4 million people working in the UK’s digital sectors. A further section of the document references ongoing concern about the future status of EU workers currently employed in the UK, without offering businesses any certainty on that front — just reiterating a hope for early clarity during Brexit negotiations. But again, no certainty. The two-year Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU are due to start by the end of next month, so for the foreseeable future government ministers will be bound up with process of delivering Brexit. Which in turn means less time to devote to digital experiments to “stay at the forefront of digital change”, as one of the earlier digital strategy drafts put it. “We also recognise that digital businesses are concerned about the future status of their current staff who are EU nationals. Securing the status of, and providing certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU is one of this Government’s early priorities for the forthcoming negotiations,” the government writes now. The original intention for the digital strategy was to look ahead five years to guide the parliamentary agenda on the digital economy. Formulating the strategy took longer than billed, and even before the Brexit vote in June 2016 its release had been delayed six-months after Vaizey opted to run a public consultation to widen the pool of ideas being considered. “Challenge us — push us to do more,” he wrote at the time. It’s unclear exactly why the strategy did not appear in “early 2016” (a parliamentary committee was still wondering that in July). And perhaps if it had May’s government would have felt compelled to retain more of those challenging ideas — or be accused of seeking to U-turn on the digital economy. But, as things turned out, Vaizey’s delay overran into the looming prospect of the Brexit vote — at which point the government decided it would wait until afterwards to publish. Clearly not expecting all its best laid plans to be entirely derailed. Since June, the wait for the strategy has stretched a further eight months –- unsurprisingly, at this point, given the shock of Brexit and the change of leadership triggered by Cameron’s resignation. And while the process of formulating any strategic policy document is likely to involve plenty of ‘blue-sky thinking’ — thinking that never, ultimately, makes the cut as a bona fide policy pledge — it’s nonetheless interesting to see how a very long-list of digital ideas has been whittled down and reshuffled into this set of “seven strands”. We asked UK entrepreneur, Tom Adeyoola, co-founder and CEO of London-based startup Metail to review the strategy draft, and here’s his first-take response: “I don’t really see a strategy. It’s very disappointing that it doesn’t explicitly talk about the shock that is coming [i.e. Brexit] and how the government intends to counteract it. That’s what I want from a strategy: Here is what we are going to do to prevent brain drain. Here is what we are going to do to fill the gap from European money and here is how we are going to keep our research institutions great and prevent against the likes of Oxford thinking about setting up campuses abroad to enable and prevent loss of potential talent for research.” He dubbed Brexit the “elephant in the report”. Some of the more blue-sky-y tech ideas that were being entertained on the strategy long-list in 2015, back when Brexit was but a twinkle in Cameron’s eye, which never made the cut and/or fell down the political cracks include: encouraging as much as a third of public transport to be on-demand by 2020 and driveless cars to make up 10 per cent of traffic; reducing peak hour congestion by use of smarter, sensor-based urban traffic control systems; launching a couple of universal smart grids in UK towns; establishing a fully digitized courts system to support out-of-court settlements; building the first drone air traffic control system; and establishing a “clear ethical framework or regulatory body” for AI and synthetic biology. And while the final strategy draft does mention the societal implications of AI as an area in need of “careful consideration”, there are — yet again — no concrete policy proposal at this point. Despite calls for the government to be exact that: proactive. But apparently it’s hard to be politically proactive on too many emerging technologies with the vast task of Brexit standing in your way. Last word: a note on “diplomacy” in the 2015 strategy draft suggests the government “advocate for free movement of data inside EU”. UK-EU diplomacy in 2017 is clearly going to cut from very different cloth.


News Article | March 4, 2016
Site: www.greentechmedia.com

There's a new buzzword emerging in the energy industry: blockchain. Blockchain is commonly known as the public database created to track the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. It chronologically records and links every transaction made across the network, making Bitcoin more secure and keeping authentications decentralized. Blockchain is the reason Bitcoin can exist and transactions using it can be trusted. But the blockchain concept isn't limited to Bitcoin. Experts are now asking if it can be used to track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid. If the future two-way electric system is made up of billions of endpoints interacting with each other -- microgrids, solar systems, smart appliances, in-field distributed computing and energy management software -- how do you create a secure system that can verify instantaneous, autonomous transactions across these nodes as market conditions change? Many people believe that the blockchain can serve as the foundation of this system. "Bitcoin is largely changing finance. But moving into blockchain energy could be much bigger than Bitcoin," said Lawrence Orsini, the founder of LO3 Energy , a company building an "open-source, cryptographically secure" blockchain to manage transactions across a microgrid. Orsini joined a group of other blockchain enthusiasts and energy professionals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this week to discuss how the concept could be applied to the energy system -- primarily the fast-changing electric grid. The conversation was moderated by GTM CEO Scott Clavenna. Aside from some early demonstrations, the applicability of blockchain on the electric grid is largely theoretical. At this stage, a few early participants are designing authentication systems specifically for energy and appliances. But mostly, people are trying to wrap their heads around where the blockchain could be applied -- and how to get it started. "It's quite early. But I've been looking at the blockchain for about four years, and I've realized its potential implications across many industries, including energy," said Chris Taylor, a senior dispatcher at NRG, setting up the night's conversation. "We are on the ground floor of one of the most significant transitions in human history." In a December piece published by the Deloitte University Press on how blockchain is moving into other industries, David Schatsky and Craig Muraskin offered a clear explanation for why it's such an attractive concept: " Blockchain technology offers a way of recording transactions or any digital interaction in a way that is designed to be secure, transparent, highly resistant to outages, auditable, and efficient; as such, it carries the possibility of disrupting industries such as financial services, remaking business practices such as accounting and auditing, and enabling new business models." Energy is one of those industries that could be transformed by blockchain, argues a growing group of believers. (Although Schatsky and Muraskin point out that "there is little concrete happening" in energy at the moment.) That hasn't stopped experts from dreaming and experimenting. "We can turn Bitcoin into almost anything," said Joi Ito, the director of MIT's media lab, speaking on a panel of energy and blockchain experts. LO3 Energy has already built out two nodes that are collecting consumption and generation data across the microgrid and "feeding it into a blockchain, " said Orsini. "They're not quite ready for prime time, but [the nodes] are up and running," he said. In January, IBM and Samsung unveiled an early platform for controlling connected devices based on the blockchain concept, called ADEPT. The platform uses software developed by Ethereum that authenticates "smart contracts." Those "contracts" could be micro-transactions between appliances within a home as they react instantaneously and autonomously to changing conditions on the grid, for example. Paul Brody, the leader of Ernst & Young's technology strategy arm, called this "device democracy." “We demonstrate how, using ADEPT, a humble washer can become a semi-autonomous device capable of managing its own consumables supply, performing self-service and maintenance, and even negotiating with other peer devices both in the home and outside to optimize its environment," wrote IBM in a draft white paper on device democracy. (The final white paper can be found here.) Brody formerly worked at IBM and helped build the ADEPT platform. "We needed a completely new way to manage connected devices for the internet of things," he said. Blockchain was the place to start. In the future, all smart devices across a network -- perhaps connected by ADEPT -- will be able to securely send and receive data while autonomously reacting to market signals. And this will all be hidden to the average consumer, said Brody. "Most consumers will not know or care if their appliances run on blockchain. If I have to think about every trillionth of a kilowatt-hour I've saved, it's never going to happen," he said. Along with LO3 Energy and IBM, a Vienna-based startup called Grid Singularity is also experimenting with blockchain to authenticate energy transactions. The company is targeting developing countries, where it wants to make pay-as-you-go solar more secure. Its eventual goal is to build a blockchain platform for energy systems that can be applied to any type of transaction on the grid. Ed Hesse, the co-founder and CEO of Grid Singularity, doesn't see other platforms as full-on competitors yet. "I don’t see one universal blockchain. I see many different blockchains that overlap," said Hesse. Bitcoin proved blockchain can work. Now investors, startups and behemoths like IBM are investing real money to test how it could be applied to energy and the broader internet of things. So how would blockchain be adopted in those sectors? No one had a precise answer. Perhaps in smart meters first, then in appliances, and then across a microgrid. There are currently far more theories and proposals than real-world examples. And while regulators might like the idea of using blockchain to help monitor the grid of the future, they haven't even begun to grapple with how to support it. "You’re going to see a lot of fumbling in the dark until someone finds a light switch," concluded Brody. It's still early days conceptually for the energy blockchain. Finding early-adoption cases is important. But all the experts agreed that big thinking is just as crucial at this stage. "It would be a waste to just use the blockchain to just do meter billing," said Ito. Expect blockchain to become an increasingly popular term in energy. But don't expect much more than small pilots and conceptual frameworks for many years to come.

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