Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blockchain AI: Consensus as the Mechanism to foster ‘Friendly’ AI

The blockchain is the decentralized public ledger upon which cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin run; the blockchain is possibly the next Internet; the blockchain is an information technology; the blockchain is a trustless network; the blockchain is an M2M/IOT payment network for the machine economy; and the blockchain is a consensus model at scale, the mechanism we have been waiting for that could help to usher in an era of friendly machine intelligence. The blockchain’s consensus mechanism could be instrumental in the connected world of Bitcoin which necessarily accommodates communication between humans and machines, and the possibility of increasingly autonomous machine actions and entities which could lead to artificial intelligence and a technological singularity (a moment when machine intelligence supersedes human intelligence).

Large Possibility Space for Intelligence
Speculatively looking towards the longer term, there may be a large possibility space of intelligence that includes humans, enhanced humans, different forms of human-machine hybrids, digital mind uploads, and different forms of artificial intelligence like simulated brains and advanced machine learning algorithms. These intelligences would likely not be operating in isolation, but would be connected to communications networks. To achieve their goals, digital intelligences will want to conduct certain transactions over the network, many of which could be managed by blockchain and other consensus mechanisms.

Only Friendly AIs are able to get their Transactions Executed
One of the real benefits of consensus models is that they could possibly enforce friendly AI, which is to say cooperative, moral players within a society. In decentralized trust networks, an agent’s reputation (where agents themselves remain pseudonymous) could be an important factor in whether its transactions could be executed, such that malicious players cannot get their transactions executed or recognized on the network. (It does not matter if malicious players masquerade as bonafide players since the reputation requirement and network incentives elicit good behavior from all players, malicious and bonafide alike). Some of the key network operations that any digital intelligence may want executed are secure access, authentication and validation, and economic exchange. Effectively, any network transaction that any intelligent agent cares about to conduct their goals will require some form of access or authentication that is consensus-signed, which cannot be obtained unless the agent has a good (benevolent) reputational standing on the network. This is how Friendly AI could be effectuated in a blockchain consensus-based model.

The Blockchain Consensus-Recommended Data is a High-Resolution Information Technology
The blockchain is an information technology, a consensus-derived third tier of modulated, denser, freer-flowing information. Level one is dumb, unenhanced, unmodulated data; level two is socially-recommended data, data elements enriched by social network peer recommendation, and now, level three is blockchain consensus-recommended data, data’s highest-yet recommendation level per group consensus-supported accuracy and quality. Consensus data is data that comes with crowd-voted confirmation of quality, the vote of a populace standing behind the data quality, effectuated by a seamless automated nonce-mining mechanism. Possibly, the blockchain is precisely the kind of scalable information authentication and validation mechanism necessary to expand to a global and eventually beyond-planetary society. The blockchain as an information technology provides high-resolution modulation regarding the quality and authenticity of information.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Counterparty/Ethereum: Why Bitcoin topped $450 today (was under $350 last week)

In the heated development space for Bitcoin 2.0 protocol projects (Figure 1), on November 12, 2014, Counterparty announced that they ported the open-source Ethereum programming language onto their own platform. Ethereum is regarded as one of the most advanced Bitcoin 2.0 projects, a general-purpose Turing-complete cryptocurrency platform. Turing-complete in this sense means able to run any cryptocurrency protocol and any cryptocoin, essentially a universal crypto-platform (the platform wins, not any specific cryptocurrency). Now Counterparty can do this too, serve as a Turing-complete platform, and possibly in a better way than Ethereum since Counterparty is already running on the existing architecture, the Bitcoin blockchain (with 90% cryptocurrency market cap), the de facto standard, already-launched, worldwide, secure platform.

Figure 1: Sample List of Bitcoin 2.0 Protocol Projects. 
(Extended from work by Piotr Piaseki)

This is Good News for All Parties (not just Counterparty): Bitcoin 2.0 is Just Beginning 
This does not mean 'game-over' for Ethereum, or 'game-won' to Counterparty. It is a sign of the dynamism in the space and the rapid innovation that open-source software communities enable (both Ethereum and Counterparty's software is all open-source). Every different project is able to examine and work with the code of the other projects and bring in any and all implementations. It means that good ideas can take seed more rapidly, be improved through iteration, and allow space for the next good ideas. Ethereum and Counterparty both have deep visions for the whole future architecture of the blockchain, and establishing early 'plumbing' foundations can help everyone progress to the next levels. In the seething hive of Bitcoin innovation, these kinds of announcements would be expected to continue, both since the blockchain industry is in early stages of development, and especially due to the open-source code liquidity of the industry.

Smart Contracts
The great benefit is that now Counterparty may be able to quickly launch the ability to do smart contracts on their platform, since Ethereum is known for its intricate focus on smart contract functionality. Smart contracts is the capacity to do more elaborate transactions on the blockchain, moving beyond simple buy-sell currency arrangements to more sophisticated contracts such as a loan with ongoing payments and interest rate resets. However, even before the Ethereum port, Counterparty did have some degree of smart contract capability (certainly for the basic smart contracts that are not even yet widely-used), as does the Bitcoin blockchain itself, and other solutions like Colored Coins and Coinprism. Other Bitcoin 2.0 protocol projects such has Ripple have their own smart contract facility, Codius.

The key point is that the blockchain industry is currently building out the infrastructure, the enabling layers in a protocol stack, the plumbing of the new layers of the Internet. There is tremendous functionality fungibility across blockchain protocols and platforms. In the blockchain plumbing layer, it might be possible to do some degree of smart contracts and tokenized altcoin issuance and multi-sig wallets on all cryptoplatforms. The questions are therefore 1) which Bitcoin protocol 2.0 platforms will emerge as standard after the intense innovation and development phase, and 2) which platforms will prove to be the most secure and raid/theft-free, and 3) at the higher level, which will be the new value-added services (the Netscape, Amazon, and Uber of the future) built atop the Bitcoin protocol plumbing protocol layers.

Take-Away Message 
The important take-away message is that the Bitcoin 2.0 protocols space may only heat up with more announcements to be expected, and more projects forming, merging, dying, and cross-implementing. Also that there could continue to be substantial volatility in the price of Bitcoin. The Counterparty announcement should be seen as support for the overall blockchain industry and underlines the clear demand to move beyond Bitcoin 1.0 currency (even as this segment is still developing) to Bitcoin 2.0 contracts. This has always been part of the initial vision set forth by Satoshi Nakamoto:
"The [Bitcoin] design supports a tremendous variety of possible transaction types that I designed years ago. Escrow transactions, bonded contracts, third party arbitration, multi-party signature, etc. If Bitcoin catches on in a big way, these are things we’ll want to explore in the future, but they all had to be designed at the beginning to make sure they would be possible later." (Nakamoto). 
Reference: Nakamoto, S. (2010). Re: Transactions and Scripts: DUP HASH160 ... EQUALVERIFY CHECKSIG. Bitcointalk.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bitcoin 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0: Currency, Contracts, and Applications, beyond Financial Markets

Bitcoin 1.0 is currency - the deployment of cryptocurrencies in applications related to cash such as currency transfer, remittance, and digital payment systems. Bitcoin 2.0 is contracts - the whole slate of economic, market, and financial applications using the blockchain that are more extensive than simple cash transactions like stocks, bonds, futures, loans, mortgages, titles, smart property, and smart contracts. Bitcoin 3.0 is blockchain applications beyond currency, finance, and markets, particularly in the areas of government, health, science, literacy, culture, and art. 
Bitcoin and blockchain technology is much more than a digital currency, the blockchain is an information technology, potentially on the order of the Internet (‘the next Internet’), but even more pervasive and quickly-configuring. 
Prevalence of Decentralized Models 
Even if the currently developing models of Bitcoin and blockchain technology are not the final paradigm (there are many problematic flaws), the bigger trend, decentralized models as a class, could have a pronounced impact. If not the blockchain industry, there would probably be something else, and in fact there probably will be other complements to the blockchain industry anyway. It is just that the blockchain industry is one of the first identifiable large-scale implementations of decentralization models, conceived and executed at a new and more complex level of human activity.

Decentralized models have the potential to reorganize all manner of human activity, and quickly, because they are trustless, the friction of the search and trust-establishment process in previous models of human interaction is eliminated. This could mean greatly accelerated rates and levels of activity, on a much greater humanity-level scale. The blockchain (decentralized network coordination technology) could emerge as a fundamental infrastructure element in the model to scale humanity to its next levels of orders-of-magnitude-larger progress.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Next Disruptive Computing Paradigm: Connected World of Bitcoin

One model of understanding the modern world is through computing paradigms, with a new paradigm arising on the order of one per decade (Figure1). First, there were the mainframe and PC (personal computer) paradigms, and then the Internet revolutionized everything. Mobile and social networking has been the most recent paradigm. The current paradigm is that of the Connected World which includes Bitcoin/blockchain technology as the economic overlay to what is increasingly becoming a seamlessly connected world of multi-device computing that comprises wearable computing, Internet-of-Things (IOT) sensors, smartphones, tablets, laptops, Quantified Self-Tracking devices (i.e.; Fitbit), smarthome, smartcar, and smartcity. Bitcoin and the underlying blockchain technology could be the next major disruptive technology and worldwide computing paradigm, on the order of the Internet in terms of the potential for pervasively reconfiguring of all human activity as the Internet did. Blockchain technology could be deployed and adopted much more quickly too, given the network effect that so many humans worldwide are already linked through the Internet and cellular network technologies.

Figure 1. Disruptive Computing Paradigms.
(Extended from: You say you want a revolution?)
Mainframe, PC, Internet, Social-Mobile, Connected World.

Just as Paradigm 4 functionality (social-mobile (i.e.; mobile apps for everything and sociality as a website property (liking, commenting, friending, forum participation)) has become an expected feature of technology properties, so too could Paradigm 5 functionality. Paradigm 5 functionality could be the experience of a continuously-connected seamless physical-world multi-device computing layer, with a blockchain technology overlay for payments, and not just payments, but micropayments, decentralized exchange, token earning and spending, digital asset invocation and transfer, and smart contract issuance and execution; all as the economic layer the web never had. Apple Pay (Apple’s token-based app-based eWallet) could be the critical intermediary step in moving to a full-fledged cryptocurrency world where the blockchain becomes the seamless economic layer of the web. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Connected World Wearables Free Cognitive Surplus

The immediate reaction to the Connected World (26 billion devices by 2020 as predicted by Gartner; more than four connected devices per human; or really 1 for some and 20 for others) is the notion that man is becoming infantilized: over-tracked, over-surveilled, and over-directed by technology, and certainly over-dependent upon technology. We no longer seem able to think for ourselves with the cloud automatically piloting all aspects of day-to-day life with reminders, notifications, and ambiently-updating data. Worse, our lives seem automated and automatonish; where is the caprice and serendipity, the humanness?

What is the Connected World?
Increasingly we are living in a seamlessly connected world of multi-device computing that includes wearable computing, Internet-of-Things (IOT) sensors, smartphones, tablets, laptops, Quantified Self-Tracking devices (i.e.; Fitbit), smarthome, smartcar, and smartcity. We enjoy the benefits of the automation that comes with this: cloud linkage of quantified-self wearable sensor data, online social profiles, calendaring, email, smart home controls, and smart transport connected to smart city data feeds. Google automatically wakes us up in the morning (knowing our schedule (Google calendar) and our biorhythms (sleep monitor)). Google contacts continuously monitor our glucose level, and in cahoots with MyBasis (number of steps walked) and Vessyl (drink detection), recommend food and drink choices during the day, and give us our fitness profile, calories consumed, and health biostatus reports at the end of the day. Apple HealthKit (iOS 8) automatically records and uploads 200 different biometrics to the cloud. Apply Pay automates payment. Amazon Fresh quadcopter drones could circle our homes with replenishment supplies within one hour of detecting an empty milk bottle. NFC/iBeacon proximity marketing could push-notify us at the aisle level when we are in the store. TrackR alerts us if we have lost our wallet or keys, and loved ones track our geo-presence and send us haptic hugs through our MyTJacket.

Cognitive Surplus Unleashed
The easy knee-jerk reaction is that this is bad news - the Connected World means the infantilization of man by technology. However, going beyond this, it must be asked what is really happening at the higher level with the connected world, and how this could be beneficial. In fact, what is happening at the higher level is that huge classes of human time-occupying planning and coordination activities are being removed from human purview and pushed onto technology. Currently we spend exorbitant amounts of time and energy on coordination, planning, and organizing our activity, and dynamically updating and re-organizing it on demand; all the while also engaged in the subordinate activity of seeking and obtaining information related to planning and coordination. Planning and coordination constitutes 100% of our time sometimes. What Connected World cloud technologies do at the higher level is automate all of this. 
The Connected World relocates planning as a whole class of human cognitive activity, it is outsourced to technology. 
While many people might enjoy relinquishing planning and coordination as a class of human cognitive activity, others might regard it as a humanness that should be preserved, that is some how unnatural to discard. However, the more relevant question is what we will do with all of the time saved once technology has automated our planning and coordination activities. The Connected World as automated life-planning could free up over 50% of our time and allow us to more fully cogitate higher-level problems and develop new learning and interest areas. The Connected World is the automation and outsourcing of lower-level cognitive tasks that currently consume prodigious amount of our time and effort. In the newly-freed cognitive expansiveness, we could become engaged in new classes of problems, and more fully actualize our potential as humans.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

iSchools: Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies

The perfect merger of academic rigor and contemporary thinking has come together in the concept of iSchools, which give practical consideration and interesting learning opportunities to the most relevant issue of our time: information. So far there are over 50 worldwide iSchools; a global pool, like bitcoin for academia. The March 2014 conference was held in Berlin and the March 2015 conference will be at UC Irvine. With higher education under reinvention pressure from all directions, the possibility of making institutional learning relevant again cannot be underscored enough.

iSchools are the perfect venue to take up not just the practical agenda within the information technology field but also the theoretical, philosophical, and societal dimensions of the impact of information technology. There have started to be some conferences regarding ‘big data theory’ (Theory of Big Data, University College London, Jan 2015), and a calling out of the need for ‘big data theory’ (Big Data Needs a Big Theory to Go with It, Scientific American, Rise of Big Data underscores need for theory, Science News). These efforts are good, but mostly concern having theory to explain the internal operations of the field, not its greater societal and philosophical effect. In addition to how ‘big data theory’ is currently being conceptualized, an explicit consideration of the general theoretical and social impact of information technology is needed. Floridi’s distinction re: philosophy of information is apt; the main focus is how the field changes society, not the internecine methods of the field.

Research Agenda:
Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies 
Here is a thumbnail sketch of a research agenda for Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies. Early examples of topics taken up at institutes and think tanks (like Data&Society) are a good start and should be expanded and included in the academic setting. A more appropriately robust agenda will consider the broad theoretical, social, and philosophical impact of the classes of information technology below that are dramatically reshaping the world, including specifically how our ideas of self and world, and future possibilities are changing.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Bitcoin Newbie Series: How to Get and Spend Bitcoin

We aren't used to authority being a peer-to-peer responsibility as opposed to something imposed by a centralized institution. Authority floating freely has already happened in information - when information became decentralized with blogging and the restructuring of the media industry, and in entertainment, where individuals became their own taste-makers. In these cases individuals must examine content and think for themselves about its quality and validity. The bitcoin revolution is the same thing happening now with currency, economics, finance, and monetary policy. It might seem harder to let go of centralized authority in matters of government and economics as opposed to culture and information but we will mature into it (The number one 'still-not-getting-it' question with bitcoin - "But who is running it all?"). Ultimately we could have as many currencies as twitter handles and blogs, all of which may be fully useful and accepted in their own hyperlocal contexts. Blockchain technology is push (user pushes relevant information for this transaction only) not pull (credit card/bank info on file to be pulled anytime authorized). Financial intermediaries operating on blockchain technology (i.e.; Overstock) would not have information stores to have to protect that are inevitably hacked (i.e.; Target, Chase, etc.).

Terminology
The word bitcoin is confusing because it means three different things. Bitcoin is used to refer to 1) the underlying technology concept (more appropriately called the blockchain, a decentralized ledger that allows individuals to engage in transactions without having to rely on a trusted third-party intermediary), 2) the technology protocol for the implementation of blockchain technology (individuals engaging in peer-to-peer currency transactions via encrypted electronic wallets with miners recording these transactions in the blockchain ledger), and 3) the actual currency itself. It is as if when Paypal launched, they would have called the Internet Paypal, upon which the Paypal protocol was run to transfer funds, and the currency of these funds was Paypal. More precisely, these 3 uses of bitcoin should be delineated as:
  1. The underlying blockchain technology (an information technology akin as a ‘class of thing’ to the Internet) 
  2. The Bitcoin protocol that runs on the blockchain for the tracking and transfer of cryptocurrency funds
  3. The Bitcoin currency (denoted as btc)

The blockchain is a record of where all the btc are, all the addresses they are associated with now, and this history over all time. It is continually updated, every 10 minutes, a new block (a new page is placed in the record book) with all the latest transactions.

Bitcoin is a digital currency. This means that you do not have physical custody of your btc, they are not in your physical possession, they are not on your computer or mobile wallet; they live on the Internet and are associated with addresses (like an email address but too complicated to store in mind). Per your address and encryption key (stored in the digital wallet on your mobile phone or computer), you have the authority to move your btc around and transact them. 'Stolen bitcoin' is a matter of having insecure storage and sharing of passwords and private keys.

How to get Bitcoin? (after step 1, get yourself a digital wallet mobile app like BlockchainInfo or Mycelium
  • (Easiest) Receive bitcoin as a gift or payment from someone else
  • Buy bitcoin locally through bitcoin meetups or Satoshi Square trading events
  • Exchange USD or other traditional currency for bitcoin without giving out your personal identifying information: Circle 
  • Exchange USD for bitcoin where you do specify your personal details at one of the exchanges/markets like Coinbase 
  • Buy bitcoin locally from an individual via LocalBitcoins or (coming) OpenBazaar 
  • Gift yourself bitcoin with giftcards: use Gyft, Purse.io, Brawker, or Amazon giftcards 

Where to spend Bitcoin?
What is the Bitcoin Exchange Rate? 

How to accept Bitcoin if you are a merchant (save on merchant processing fees, welcome bitcoin customers):
Intro Presentation: Beginner Bitcoin Workshop
Advanced Presentation: Blockchain: The Information Technology of the Future

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blockchain Health - Remunerative Health Data Commons & HealthCoin RFPs

The bigger concept behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin is blockchain technology. The blockchain (a chain of transaction blocks) is a public transaction ledger, automatically downloaded and stored digitally in electronic wallet applications; a digital record of all transactions in a certain asset class like bitcoin. There can be different kinds of blockchains (ledgers) for recording and tracking different kinds of assets. Blockchain health is the idea of using blockchain technology for health-related applications.

At least four principal blockchain health ideas have been articulated so far:
  • Blockchain Personal Health Record Storage – Personal health records would be stored and administered via blockchain like a vast electronic EMR system. Taking advantage of the pseudonymous (e.g.; coded to a digital address not a name) nature of blockchain technology, personal health records would be encoded as digital assets and put on the blockchain just like other assets like currency (bitcoin, litecoin, dogecoin, etc.). Users would permission doctors and other parties into their records as needed via their private key. In addition to creating vast repositories of medical health data records, the blockchain could also be a mechanism for quantified self data commons to amass and analyze data for preventive medicine purposes.
  • Blockchain Health Research Commons - Health research could be conducted by aggregating personal health records stored on the blockchain. Users may feel more comfortable contributing their personal health data to a public data commons like a blockchain 1) in an encrypted pseudonymous form, and 2) for some amount of remuneration via bitcoin, or different kinds of healthcoin (which could denominate HSA dollars and be spent back into health services). The benefit of storing health data on the blockchain is that it can be analyzed but remain private. DNA.bits is a startup in the blockchain health research space.
  • Blockchain Health Document Confirmation Services - Confirming that certain kinds of health information exist like proof-of-insurance, test results, prescriptions, status, condition, treatment, and physician referrals are just a few examples of health document-related services often required. The ‘notary function’ is a standard application envisioned for blockchain technology. This is the digital encoding of all manner of important documents (driver’s license, identity card, passport, home/auto titles, auto insurance, etc.) to the blockchain, which can be verified in seconds with encryption technology as opposed to hours and days with traditional manual technology.
  • Doctor Vendor RFP Services – doctors and health practices could bid to supply medical services needed by patient-consumers. Like Uber drivers bid for driver assignments with consumers, doctor practices could bid for hip replacements and other needed health services, at minimum bringing some degree of price transparency and improved efficiency to the health sector. Further, this bidding could be automated via tradenets. 
More Information: 
The Institute for Blockchain Studies
Presentation (summary) and slides:  Blockchain: The Information Technology of the Future

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bitcoin Newbie? How to get Started

Consult this primer: Getting Started with Bitcoin from bitcoin.org (an industry-supported foundation), and FAQ.

Step 1: Get yourself a wallet (app/client) such as Coinbase, Blockchain, Electrum (beginner's guide), Mycelium (Android), Bitcoin-Qt (now Bitcoin Core). 

Step 2. Obtain some Bitcoin - Ideally someone will have given you some, or you can buy some from someone local. Another possibility is gifting yourself some with eGifter or other services.You can always convert dollars to bitcoin. You will need to provide your identity if you are going to transfer dollars into bitcoin with one of the wallet services (such as via ACH, wire or credit card).

Step 3. Advanced - Mixing Transactions. When you actually go to do transactions, you may wish to use a mixing service like Send Shared (SharedCoin) to mask the funds original source by mixing them with other funds. Services typically charge a 1% fee.

Step 4: Check out the local Bitcoin community and the increasing number of ways to spend and earn Bitcoin. OpenBazaar is a decentralized marketplace for instantly trading with anyone using Bitcoin - local anonymous trading - maybe supplanting or augmenting eBay and CraigsList. LocalBitCoins remains an expanding local resource for buying and selling Bitcoin, and there are of course Bitcoin ATMs and kiosks.

Where did Bitcoin come from? 
The primordial Bitcoin or stone blockchain is Rai stones on the Island of Yap, used exactly as in the current purpose, as a public ledger of economic transactions inspectable by all.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Proximity Marketing: Opportunity for Rich-Attribute Conveyance

Real-time Location-based Services (RT-LBS or just RT-LS) is an important new concept in mobile marketing. These offerings are starting to tout the ability to deliver information and services based on the real-time location of a person. Some key examples are receiving a mobile phone-based notification of a restaurant offer while walking in a downtown area or a product coupon while shopping in a specific grocery aisle. (Although there would need to be a saturation algorithm adjustment as potential customers flock to a location.) As is true generally with the advent of newtech, there is a much richer level of attribute conveyance beyond that of economic incentive that could be demonstrated in new applications. For example, why not broadcast key real-time attributes that a user has affinity for beyond or in addition to price such as ambiance, noise level, wait time, including for example near real-time photos from the establishment. A time-to-be-seated comparison with map overlay app can be imagined, upleveling the concept from the harangue of groupon discounts.

For indoor locations where there is no line-of-sight to GPS, there are other solutions, and this is where imminent progress is being made. There are WiFi networks (where even having WiFi enabled is enough know that ‘you are here’ or at least that your phone is ‘here’), Bluetooth Low Energy (per most smartphones), and now iBeacon and similar technologies. iBeacon, etc. is essentially an RFID technology where there would be a beacon on each grocery store aisle that could track customers and deliver coupons or other notifications. However, Bluetooth would need to be enabled which most smartphone keep off. In all of the industry promoted excitement over proximity marketing with real-time couponing, one cannot help but notice that truly revolutionary progress, for example auto-checkout per item-level RFID tags or some other mechanism remains a hard, expensive, and unsolved problem. What about remote hover cam item selection and personalized drone delivery?

For outdoor retail locations, GPS is still a good solution as it can locate a person within a meter per satellite pings. GPS resolution is already available in centimeter resolution for professionals (at $1000 and reportedly now at $500). This cost/performance curve could continue to ratchet down and centimeter-level GPS resolution could harken exciting new classes of location-based technologies, for example medical applications that require sub-body level detail.