Sometimes we grow weary or uninterested in what we spend the lion’s share of our hours doing, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we’ll have ten different jobs before age forty on average. For professional roles, we can expect to change careers 5-7 times, and even more surprisingly approximately 30% of the total workforce will now change jobs every 12 months!
If you’ve been listening to the Crypto101 podcast for a while, the thought may have already occurred to you: maybe a career move to the blockchain is something I should explore. If it hasn’t until now, join Matthew Aaron for his interview with Luka Horvat — head of talent operations at Toptal. Luka’s agency specializes in connecting programmers and designers with clients searching for expertise in blockchain applications.
Currently there is a surge in the growth of blockchain companies, which Toptal indicates has resulted in a 700% increase in demand for relevant talent. The explosive growth this subset of the technology sector has experienced coincides with a massive influx of investment which supports these projects in their most nascent stages. In other words, it’s an opportune time to enter the field.
New projects are launching daily and require skilled coders to bring concepts to fruition. Just as in the early days of the internet (where people with a working knowledge of HTML were indispensable), blockchain coders have become utterly essential and in high demand.
What do you need to know to become in-demand in this field, however?
Firstly, Luka suggests that a firm grasp of coding fundamentals is necessary. There are many routes to this destination such as traditional university-based study, utilizing self-instruction via online or book-format tutorials or even YouTube videos. Next, a good understanding of distributed systems and cryptography are necessary to cement the foundation on which blockchain coding is built. The key thing to remember is that it is not the method by which this information is obtained but rather that a candidate has a firm grasp and working ability to employ it.
To move beyond the general to the specific, there are several specific blockchain programming languages to specialize in. Among the most utilized (as of the time of this writing) are Hyperledger and the smart contract language Solidity Aspiring coders would also do well to check out the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance.
When it comes to these specific areas, there are little to no formal resources to draw from — this technology is extremely new and changes so rapidly that book and course-based forms of instruction simply aren’t able to be developed quickly enough. Those wishing to get their hands dirty will spend their time more productively getting involved with communities that are actively working on projects. It may be wise to make note of the fact that most blockchain development is focused on backend services rather than user interface, and the latter could potentially be an area of particularly profitable expertise.
Luckily, the vast majority of blockchain development is open-source! Developers can be reached and collaborated with, and newcomers eager to assist are usually welcome. Telegram and Github are good resources to find community projects that are ripe for extra help.
The most important aspect in becoming employable in the blockchain field is to find one particular skill area and to become an expert in it. Projects are seeking practical, real-world solutions and functional implementations rather generalist approaches to blockchain.
Once you feel comfortable with the aforementioned, it is time to look for that potential next employer. Topal utilizes a mixture of online exams and live interviews to vet candidates and is able to match competent individuals with up-and-coming teams. Applicants should be prepared to navigate several dozen questions and to submit a final working blockchain project (your choice) to demonstrate the functional application of that skill set.
Finally, Luka astutely points out that paying attention to what large institutional entities are working on to implement blockchain technology with their existing or developing services. These are likely the best prospect for long-term employment due to longevity and resources available to them.
Thanks again to Luka at Toptal for his insights around taking those first steps toward a new career path in blockchain technology. Check out his interview with Matthew on the Crypto101 podcast HERE.
In the latest ICO101 podcast Aaron Paul interviewed Dan Gailey, founder of Synapse.ai to discuss one of the newest ICOs in the space.
Every time we scroll through Facebook, buy a book online or click a link in a tweet, we are offering up something of ourselves to giant data collectors. These entities have every ‘right’ to collect our data too, we gave it to them when we signed the 47 pages of terms and conditions when we signed up for their service. These companies have complete control over what has been called ‘the attention economy.’
We haven’t been conditioned to think of our purchasing habits, online behaviour or even our attention as an asset, as something with value. But the Facebooks and Amazons of the world know full well that your attention is money.
Synapse.ai wants to offer a way for everyday people to take ownership of their data and in the process offer up as much or as little as they want to aid in building machine learning and peer to peer sharing of information resources.
“Data is the new oil,” reads the tagline on their website.
The idea is that by becoming a user of Synapse.ai you are taking control of your data instead of just giving it away for free. The way this will work is via trade between users in the synapse marketplace (alpha open now) using the SYN tokens. Everyday users will then have the ability to offer what data they wish to other users requesting it of them for a payment of SYN tokens. This may be as simple as where one spends their online attention.
For those wanting to learn more about the details of how this will work, this is not the space, but I would recommend consulting their whitepaper.
However, we at ICO101 aren’t here to promote but to educate and investigate. As it stands, I do have a few questions regarding this project:
One of my questions was asked by Aaron. It seems the success of Synapse.ai is predicated on data collectors agreeing to now pay for data they are already getting for free — or, far less believable — users rejecting their iPhones and Facebook accounts by refusing to sign off on the terms and conditions of use. There has to be an agreement from both data sellers and buyers on a fair attribution of value, and that Synapse.ai is the marketplace for such a transaction.
“I wholeheartedly believe that the models that they’ve [Facebook, Amazon etc.] built, are fundamentally flawed, on the condition that this network is rolled out and people are participating in it.”
This is an important belief to hold if you are establishing a marketplace for data, and he is right, their models are flawed, at least in the way that they essentially vacuum up data from millions of people every day for free and then spin that data into further profit.
Aaron was not convinced that these tech giants will change their ways so easily, however. Neither am I. Aaron asked a version of, “Why would someone like Apple agree to start buying data they are receiving for free?”
“What will happen is, the data that Apple can get by building this pipeline [to] you to participate in their network will have to comingle with the network that we’re building. I think we will see more and more companies adopting — in phased aspects — the network that we are trying to get [into] the hands of everyone.”
From this, it appears that it will be a slow and steady method of Synapse.ai collecting user’s data, at the user’s discretion for some time and then in the future perhaps an Apple or Facebook, or some company not yet thought of will come along and place value on these stores of data. At that point, that company may wish to participate in the data marketplace run by Synapse.ai.
However, who sets the value of my data, my attention? If it is a user-decided, say I believe my online activities for a week are worth xSYN tokens, what is stopping other people from valuing their online activity for a week at half that? Will my data still be worth purchasing? However, if it is the buyers or the governance layer of Synapse.ai who sets the value of my data, have I really taken ownership of anything? Am I not just being incentivised to give up more of myself for a small fee? Sure, this is better than the system we currently live under, but by how much?
Another problem that Synapse.ai faces is the problem of fraudulent or spammy data entry. As it currently stands, users are incentivised to share data but it is unclear how the system will safeguard against users inventing and submitting false data. There is a monetary incentive for people to add as much info as possible, true or false. This can simply be a problem in terms of clutter and fake accounts — similar to other data collection platforms like twitter and facebook right now — but there is also an ethical consideration.
The data, Synapse.ai wants to collect and trade in will be used for machine learning, it is in everyone’s interest that this machine learning is predicated on reliable and helpful information. An AI algorithm designed to provide information to you based on thousands of other users data will be corrupted and probably unhelpful if the data set was populated largely by Russian bots.
Overall I think machine learning, the attention economy and taking ownership of our data is are important and exciting areas, especially when paired with blockchain technology. Synapse.ai is one of a few promising start-ups attempting to provide solutions.
If you have answers to the questions above, please let us know in the comments!
With a hard cap of $15mil, Synapse.ai’s token sale is in stage 2 and is still live. Synapse.ai is offering free tokens when you sign up through this ICO101 exclusive link. Gailey mentioned that the developer portal is in early alpha and wallets are in development with the intention of being released before the end of the token sale on March 12th.
Before we begin I need to make clear that what you will read below are the developing opinions of a perpetual student. I am still very much an infant in cryptoland. I am not an energy expert. I am not a market expert. If you believe my opinions to be ill-founded — by all means, educate me.
That being said, we need to talk about Power Ledger (POWR). In the latest episode of Crypto 101, Matthew interviewed Dr Jemma Green, POWR’s co-founder and Chair. Boasting the slogan “The Democratisation of Power” Power Ledger claims to be a disruptive technology project in the energy sector with the intention of building a peer-to-peer market platform for trading electricity.
POWR wants to allow those of us with solar panels (what they call prosumers) to sell their excess power to those who do not (consumers). When I hear this it sounds awesome. Finally, we can take control of our energy production and consumption and enter into a new sharing economy within our local communities. We can trade locally, efficiently, ethically, and without need of giant energy corporations halting innovation. This is it. This is the beginning of the democratisation of energy, right?
One of the revelations of the podcast was in Dr Green’s elaboration on how the marketplace will actually work. Here is where my head cocked and my brow furrowed a little. POWR is designed in a way that requires BOTH the prosumers and consumers to sign up with their energy provider to be ALLOWED to use the grid to conduct their trades. POWR refers to these energy providers under their unique branding of “Application Hosts.” An Application Host is any centralised power company who already controls the distribution infrastructure and power supply for the houses entering into what was promised to be — but is now looking a lot less like — a peer-to-peer relationship.
POWR is designed so that these Application Hosts sell their regular customers Sparkz — a POWR trading token. People can use these Sparkz to buy power from their neighbours who are looking to sell their surplus. Sparkz are tied to fiat currency. Green mentions in the podcast that 1 Spark = 1 of whatever the lowest denomination of a local currency, (so here in Australia that would be 1 cent). Though their website uses the example 1 Spark = 1 dollar — something worth clarifying before buying (scroll to the 11th Question under ‘technical’). Whatever the value, it will be tied to the local fiat.
So, the way that the system works is by first identifying everyday people who are concerned about energy usage and cost, who want to “democratise power” and participate in the sharing economy using blockchain technology. Then setting up a system where they can only do so with the blessing of the giant energy corporations who already own the infrastructure and dominate supply.
When this occurred to me I assumed I had to be mistaken, I must have missed some key protocol or governance layer that would keep the centralised power-houses out of this initiative. Maybe these giant companies won’t be allowed to become Application Hosts? Only smaller start-ups or local solar farms would be?
One of POWR’s website FAQs reads “Do you envisage that a very large scale generator or retailer would become an Application Host?” POWR’s official answer:
“A large-scale retailer, yes for sure, a large-scale generator could also become an Application Host.”
Great. So we are back to negotiating with the energy companies. These are the same energy companies, who for decades, have largely resisted the science of climate change and the overwhelming consumer outcry for clean energy because trading in planet-destroying fossil fuels is far more profitable. Now we, on the cusp of a truly disruptive, innovative revolution in blockchain technology, are stood, hands wringing, heads down, stuttering and stammering, asking for THEIR permission to play with energy on the blockchain!
In the featured introduction video on their website, Green makes reference to a successful trial conducted at the National Lifestyle Villages in Busselton. In my search for any public report or information regarding this trial, I found nothing published by POWR themselves. Unless we count 3 short sentences in their whitepaper boasting it as a “huge success” — great, share this success with us! Show me why it was a success!
I can think of one reason why the trial might have been a success — by all accounts, it did not involve a centralised power company acting as the middle-man. There was no giant supplier selling Sparkz to people wanting to purchase excess solar from their neighbours. It seems (and remember I am only working from inferences here because there is just so little information about this trial) that the POWR team organised an in-house arrangement with the National Lifestyle Villages where they created a closed solar system to test the feasibility of trading excess power via blockchain technology.
If I am understanding this correctly, the success of the trial simply shows the success of trading on the blockchain — which we already know. They tested how sharing excess energy between neighbours is a good idea — which we already know. They tested how increasing the sense of ownership of everyday consumers over their power usage and generation is a good idea — again, we know.
The trial was a “success” because it was a test of a true peer-to-peer energy economy. But that doesn’t seem to be what POWR will implement in the real world.
If there was any doubt about the model POWR is proposing for the real world in their attempt to “democratise power” it was cleared up with this quote from Green:
“I have solar panels on my roof. I sign up with my electricity company to sell my surplus electricity to my neighbour. My neighbour buys Sparkz from the energy company. I sell them my electricity and I receive Sparkz. So I have $20 of Sparkz in my wallet. Then I want to get the $20, so I give the power company my Sparkz and they give me $20.”
No joke, I listened to this about 15 times, trying to un-cock my head and un-furrow my brow. Neither happened.
What Green is describing, is a more convoluted version of what is already happening between houses with solar panels and those without. Those with solar generation as part of their energy set-up, already sell their excess power back to the energy companies, who pay them what is called a “feed-in tariff.” Then the companies simply sell from their stocks of energy (of which the solar surplus is part) on to households demanding it.
So if POWR is just a more convoluted way of doing what is already being done — just with a little blockchain sprinkled on top — then the benefits must surely come down to price, right? It must be cheaper to purchase power with Sparkz than it is to just purchase power directly from an energy provider.
Why would this be the case? The energy providers (Application Hosts) are the ones SELLING the Sparkz in the first place. POWR users are still trading in the energy company’s commodity, on their infrastructure, with their permission. Why would they add this blockchain model to their already exorbitantly-successful arrangement if it was only going to be profitable to their dependant consumers? A profit to customers is a loss to providers. It is a closed system between us and them.
The cost of Sparkz are fixed to fiat, the cost of energy won’t be different just because you’re buying it from your neighbour with Sparkz. You bought the Sparkz from the energy company. That same energy company is allowing your neighbour to “sell” their energy.
It’s a game.
I keep thinking I must be missing something here. Is this really it? Is this the proposal?
The cost of energy consumption in my state of Queensland is anywhere up to 12c per kWh and the average feed-in tariff is around 7c per kWh. Meaning the energy company is netting approximately 5c per kWh on excess electricity generated by households with solar. Do you not think they will factor this in when we come knocking on their door asking for permission to trade our electricity locally for digital tokens among ourselves?
Another factor to consider are taxes. This will obviously differ from country to country, and Green says as much. But ultimately those selling energy on the Power Ledger will be generating an income. Green admits:
“Like any income you make in the year, you need to declare that on your tax return.”
However, in Australia, feed-in tariffs — selling energy back to the grid — is NOT taxable. So if I am selling power back to the grid without POWR, that 7c per kWh is deducted from my energy costs, tax-free, straight into my back pocket. If I were to use Sparkz instead, I would be paying tax on that sale. What is the point?
No, honestly. Am I missing the point?
Another hidden detail is the fact that surely POWR intends to make a profit from this whole setup too. Though I have not been able to find any public information on how much of a cut they will receive for each transaction. If you find this, please share!
If this all seems a bit confusing, don’t worry, POWR’s introduction video concludes with the question: ‘how do we make sure it works?’ Their answer was more or less “trust us, we are experts” — I don’t know about you but I think answers like this are pure bullshit.
If I had any doubt about where my train of thought was leading me in researching POWR and listening to the podcast, it was completely obliterated when Green was asked about how decentralised POWR truly was. Who can participate, everyone? If so, how might we judge the ethics of the use of profits made by people selling their energy? The classic cryptocurrency moral question. Green had this to say:
“You can’t get on the network unless you have an account with an electricity company… a citizen that is worthy of having an electricity account with a regulated electricity company… You can’t trade peer to peer unless your energy retailer verifies your meter and allows you to do that”
That about sums it up for me. This is not the democratisation of the power industry. This is a child asking their parents for play money so they can pretend to buy what’s in the fridge.
Do not get me wrong, I want a project whose goal is to democratise and decentralise the way we consume and pay for power to succeed. We need a project like that to succeed. But is POWR it? I understand it is a complicated space, but this doesn’t feel like our best effort at decentralising the energy market.
On the cover page of their whitepaper POWR states:
“We believe empowering individuals and communities to co-create their energy future will underpin the development of a power system that is resilient, low-cost, zero-carbon and owned by the people of the world.”
Yeah, I do too. So why aren’t we doing that?
As I mentioned, I want to be educated about this. I would love it if these impressions were misguided. If I haven’t understood the project, please tell me why below.
Let’s be frank: Many in the cryptosphere were lured by the promise of quick or effortless gains, a more secure future or even fantasies of driving previously-unattainable luxury vehicles across the lunar landscape.
While self-interest serves as the initial draw, learning about the blockchain to understand how crytpocurrencies work we begin to also see the potential it holds in transforming the world in other ways. Perhaps to change not only our lives, but of those who aren’t in such privileged financial situations.
The momentum around blockchain technology is ramping up, and global banks have begun looking into its implementation. Current blockchain scalability is ill-equipped to handle their transaction volume, however.
Humaniq plans to use blockchain technology to bypass the traditional top-down approach of large financial entities and instead meet the individuals where they are, via access from smartphones.
So, what is Humaniq? Can I invest in it? When moon???
First, let’s look at what banks actually do. Basically, banks facilitate financial transactions and are custodians of value and assets. Individuals and groups form symbiotic relationships with banks – the capital you ask them to store becomes their temporary investment, generating profit. The aggregate of these individuals, business entities and banks are an interlocking system.
But what happens if you live outside that system? You are unbanked.
Traditional banking systems fail to reach the unbanked essentially because it is not profitable. There is too great a risk in managing accounts for individuals without any proof of identity and anyway, the interface (whether brick-and-mortar or digital) simply doesn’t exist.
To utilize Humaniq, however, there is only one minor hurdle: an ultra-low-priced smartphone (sales of which are rapidly gaining traction in emerging markets). There’s no need for any kind of pre-existing banking infrastructure.
Humaniq’s goal is to become a banking platform which validates identity, stores value and facilitates peer-to-peer transaction – all in one singular application. With these prerequisite aspects in place, its users may then integrate with traditional banking systems.
How is it done?
Humaniq will utilize three components: the mobile app (which acts as a token wallet and performs identity verification), the Humaniq servers (to connect these identities to the blockchain), and Ethereum smart contracts (which enable the transactions and platform to be built on).
HMQ Digital Passports
Users first create a unique and secure digital identity using biometrics (facial and emotional recognition) and 4-tier authentication.
Poof! A digital asset has just been created.
Data is collected about the user, however its sale is not Humaniq’s goal, it is instead to empower each user by giving them proof of identity.
Following an ICO phase to generate startup capital, the HMQ token will launch. Users will be rewarded immediately with the HMQ token via a minting (rather than mining) process. Whole-number increments are used to accommodate users who lack the understanding of fractional numbers. Further tokens are rewarded for referring others to the platform, and there is a firm limit on the number of HMQ which can be minted for each person. The app includes a chat application which facilitates peer-to-peer communication and transactions.
Each country will have its own blockchain, acting in essence as a microcosm of the surrounding cryptoeconomy. Stability, utility, adoption and scaling are reinforced by an emphasis on incentivizing users with digital identities and a medium of exchange. Humaniq is to absorb the end users’ network fees initially and will support the use of independent nodes in the future.
Cryptocurrency enthusiasts in developing regions will serve to educate and facilitate adoption of Humaniq’s services. This activity will be incentivized by compensation in cryptocurrency, and recruits in several African nations are already in place.
So, will HMQ moon?
Maybe – but maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps the blockchain revolution can transform the lives of the brilliant individuals in developing nations who may otherwise never gain access to the necessary resources needed to develop their skills and improve their quality of life. Humaniq (Human IQ) can, if nothing else, direct our attention to thinking about someone else’s moon – the one we may already take for granted.
The old adage warns us not to witness the production of two things in life: sausage and laws. I prefer bacon myself, but when it comes to the laws that govern our lives, citizens of all nations have an inherent interest in their creation and implementation – regardless of how much they might actually lay eyes upon. Unfortunately, many people don’t enjoy the privilege of civic mechanisms or legal recourse that facilitate the proposal and legislative consideration of ideas conceived by the general public. In the case of Brazil, even when such a mechanism is provided for in the constitution, logistical challenges and government corruption doom the majority of these public petitions before they begin.
Enter the possibilities of blockchain technology, where the fundamentals of a distributed ledger are being harnessed to overcome these hurdles of the past. Brazilians have a constitutional right to have their public petitions heard by Congress if they are endorsed by at least 1% of the electorate. In a diverse nation of 207 million with nearly 150 million voters and variable internet access, gathering and verifying the required signatures has been a monumental task. The results of successful petitions are even more discouraging, yielding the passage of only four laws. Without a modern method for verification, the petitioners rely upon individual legislators to adopt proposals as their own, a risky venture for both parties in a nation with a declining democratic environment. According to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Brazil’s democracy index score has fallen since 2014:
One of the primary computing platforms thriving in the current blockchain technology renaissance is Ethereum. Released in 2015, the Ethereum platform is open source, public and blockchain-based with high “smart contract” functionality that utilizes a global infrastructure network to thwart third party interference. Simply put, the Ethereum protocol presents itself as an ideal solution for Brazil’s need to record, preserve and independently verify data (signatures). Two innovative Brazilians recognized this potential and strengthened their collaboration and resolve during the Ethereum Foundation’s annual developers conference in Mexico last November.
Everton Fraga (left, Ethereum software engineer) and Ricardo Fernandes Paixao (right, Professor and Congressional economic advisor) view the use of blockchain technology as a way to finally implement the public petition provision within their nation’s constitution. A government-backed mobile application could transform the signature-gathering process from pickup trucks with crates of physical paper into a digital on-ramp into the Ethereum blockchain. Daily hashing could then attach batches of signatures to encrypted transactions with, perhaps most importantly, one-way capability for verification. At that point, the record of signatures has been permanently recorded on the distributed ledger without the need for third party verification.
The political landscape in Brazil is highly volatile amidst recent scandals that have entangled dozens of top government and business leaders. Leading up to national elections in October, many leaders are trying to establish a forward-looking agenda while considering all kinds of proposals for reform and beneficial progress, including this petition process enhancement. For now, Fraga, Paixao, and the countless Brazilians they represent must eagerly await their government’s decision and the potential impact of Ethereum blockchain technology on the democratic nature of their country.
About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.