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UNICEF Innovation Fund to Invest in Blockchain-Related Projects

The UNICEF Innovation Fund will invest $100,000 in six international firms to develop blockchain-based projects.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is investing $100,000 in six companies for developing blockchain projects, according to an announcement published Dec. 10.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund was launched specifically to finance early stage and open-source technology that can benefit children. The fund identifies solutions in tech areas like blockchain, machine learning, quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and others.

Today’s announcement reads that the Fund will invest up to $100,000 in Argentinian software development firm Atix Labs, Mexican tech companies Onesmart and Prescrypto, Indian startup Statwig, Tunisian apps development startup Utopixar, and web apps development firm W3 Engineers from Bangladesh.

The companies will separately build prototypes and systems that aim to address global problems like transparency in healthcare delivery, affordable access to mobile communications, as well as the ability to allocate finances and resources in social initiatives.

The newly announced companies will reportedly join 20 other tech startups, which are already under management by the Fund in fields like data science, drones, and virtual reality.

Per the announcement, the investments are part of UNICEF’s larger blockchain initiative for using smart contracts for organizational efficiency, and efforts to learn about and understand distributed ledger technology (DLT).

“Blockchain technology is still at an early stage — and there is a great deal of experimentation, failure, and learning ahead of us as we see how, and where, we can use this technology to create a better world,” said Chris Fabian, Principal Adviser at UNICEF Innovation.

In April, UNICEF Australia announced an initiative that would allow the public to use their computer’s processing power to mine cryptocurrency as a donation to the charity. Tony Andres Tang, the digital brand and content manager of UNICEF Australia, rsaid that they “are transparent in the fact [they] are borrowing a computer’s processing power, and provide the ability to choose how much power is donated.”

In February, UNICEF started a kind of charity drive for Syrian children, by asking PC gamers to use their computers to mine Ethereum (ETH) and donate their earnings. UNICEF said it would use the donated Ethereum to give children access to water, education, and health and hygiene services.

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Bitmain Closes Israeli Blockchain Development Center Citing Crypto Market Conditions

Chinese mining giant Bitmain will close its Israeli blockchain and AI development center, letting its 23 local employees go.

Chinese crypto mining giant Bitmain is closing its development center in Israel and firing local employees, Israeli business news outlet Globes has learned Monday, Dec. 10.

Bitmaintech Israel — founded in 2016 to explore the use of blockchain technology, work on the Connect BTC mining pool and develop the infrastructure behind Bitmain’s artificial intelligence (AI) project Sophon — will close this week. All 23 employees will be fired, the Globes reports.

Gadi Glikberg, head of the Israeli branch as well as Bitmain vice president of international sales and marketing, is also leaving. The Globes reports that Glikberg linked the closure to the recent crypto market collapse:

“The crypto market has undergone a shake-up in the past few months, which has forced Bitmain to examine its various activities around the globe and to refocus its business in accordance with the current situation.”

Bitmain is also currently facing two lawsuits. The first one, a class action lawsuit of $5 million focused on unauthorized mining, was filed in the North District Court of California against Bitmain’s United States– and China-based entities.

The second suit was purportedly filed against Bitmain, Bitcoin.com, Roger Ver and the Kraken Bitcoin Exchange. The case alleges that the defendants jointly used unfair methods and practices to manipulate the BCH network for their benefit.

In early December, Israel has seen a crackdown on unreported crypto earnings. According to local business newspaper Calcalist, Israeli tax authorities opened tax accounts for hundreds of Israelis who allegedly concealed cryptocurrency related revenues. As cryptocurrencies are treated as a financial asset in Israel, they are subject to a 25 percent tax for private investors.

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Thailand’s Revenue Departments Tests Blockchain for Tracking Value-Added Tax Payments

Thailand’s Revenue Department is conducting tests of a blockchain system for tracking value-added tax (VAT) payments.

Thailand’s Revenue Department is testing blockchain to track value-added tax (VAT) payments, English-language media outlet Bangkok Post (BP) reports Dec. 3.

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director general of the Thai Revenue Department, said that the department “wants to use blockchain technology to prevent VAT refund fraud.” According to the BP, the nation is “on the path to becoming the first country to use the distributed ledger for tax probes if the technology is adopted.”

The article cited Nitithanprapas explaining that “blockchain is expected to help verify VAT invoices” and “root out fake invoices for VAT claims,” defining “adoption of new technologies” as his priority.

Thailand’s revenue department has also “set its sights on adopting machine learning and using artificial intelligence to learn and study tax-cheating practices” to ultimately “compel more people to enter the formal tax system.”

As Cointelegraph recently reported, the deputy secretary of the Thai Securities and Exchanges Commission recently stated that Thai-based Security Token Offerings (STOs) would break laws if they were released in international markets.

Tipsuda Thavaramara, the aforementioned deputy,explained that the regulator hasn’t decided “how to deal with STOs” yet. Moreover, Thailand also plans to legalize Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), while also authorizing crypto exchanges and legitimizing cryptocurrency through regulation.

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Chinese Central Bank Launches Testing Phase of Trade Finance Blockchain Platform

The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has officially launched the testing phase of a blockchain trade finance platform, local news outlet Shanghai Securities News reported September 4.

The Shenzhen Central Sub-branch of the People’s Bank of China, the central bank of the People’s Republic of China, has entered the trial phase of the so-called “Bay Area Trade Finance Blockchain Platform” earlier than scheduled.

The platform is aimed at conducting trade and financing activities, such as accounts receivable and trade financing. At the same time, the platform provides a regulatory system for trade finance to enable real-time monitoring of various financial activities.

According to Shanghai Securities News, the platform plans to create an “open financial and trade ecosystem based on the Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau Bay Area.” The organizations involved in the platform include Bank of China, China Construction Bank, China Merchants Bank, Ping An Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and BYD Co., Ltd.

The report states that the platform can “help banks to conduct business authenticity audit[s], reduce business costs, improve business efficiency, [and] prevent and control business risks,” as well as to assist regulators and strengthen information sharing between departments.

Earlier in August, Chinese insurance, banking, and financial services giant Ping An Insurance released a “White Paper on Smart Cities,” advocating for blockchain, AI, big data, and cloud computing technology development, promoting the creation of a “smart city.”

Back in July, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China announced that China would lead an international research group on the standardization of the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology, as Cointelegraph reported July 18.

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Korea's SBI Savings Bank Signs MoU With Blockchain and AI Specialist

South Korea’s SBI Savings Bank has signed an MoU with DAYLI Intelligence, a specialist in AI and blockchain technology, to bolster its fintech business, Money Today reports September 3.

DAYLI Intelligence provides blockchain solutions and AI-based tech infrastructure for financial institutions. The firm will reportedly assist SBI in implementing both blockchain and machine learning to maximize work efficiency and reduce costs across various financial products and services.

DAYLI will provide SBI with solutions based on ‘LoopChain,’ the protocol that it has developed alongside blockchain startup theloop as part of the ICON ecosystem. The latter is a project that aims to serve as an interoperable decentralized network connecting different blockchains.

Its modular structure reportedly comprises distributed ledger, smart contract, and management layers that can be implemented for use cases such as authentication systems, settlement, trading, and Internet of Things (IoT).

SBI will also work with DAYLI on integrating its marketing smartchat bot solution DAVinCI BOT and a machine learning data analytics tool dubbed DAVinCI LABS.

An official of SBI Savings Bank is quoted as saying that the new MoU comes as part of the bank’s attempt to spur development of fintech services and to develop a new user base in response to a “rapidly changing financial environment.”

As Cointelegraph has reported, both regulatory and legislative developments for Korea’s blockchain space have taken a positive turn in recent months.

In May, the government  indicated plans to lift its notorious blanket ban on domestic Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), which the National Assembly continues to debate, even suggesting plans to press ahead with the creation of South Korea’s own Malta-styleBlockchain island.’

Local regulators have also pledged to introduce new legislation that would be conducive to blockchain investment, and three Korean ministries are said to be working to produce the final draft of a comprehensive blockchain industry classification scheme for the country. Several days ago, a South Korean province revealed it would be issuing its own blockchain-based digital currency in a move to replace a state loyalty scheme.

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Microsoft Is Slowly (But Surely) Connecting Blockchain to Main Products

Three years ago, Microsoft Azure was the first to bring blockchain to the cloud. Now it’s connecting the technology to just about everything else.

The software giant has quietly been building bridges between its blockchain services and other, widely used infrastructure and platforms, such as Office 365 Outlook, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, Dynamics 365 CRM Online, SAP, and even Twitter, according to Matt Kerner, the general manager of Microsoft Azure. The idea is to allow Microsoft customers to port their data from these platforms into the cloud, and from there onto a blockchain.

Why? In addition to the usually touted blockchain efficiencies, one of the less-discussed benefits of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in a cloud environment like Azure, according to Microsoft, is that it amasses data from multiple companies in a standardized format at scale. The potential to mine data for all sorts of insights then becomes limitless, the company reckons.

Hence, the company is integrating tools such as Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps – which offer hundreds of connectors to thousands of applications – into Azure Blockchain Workbench, a service it launched in May to make the creation of blockchain apps easier (Workbench currently has ethereum Proof of Authority configured as the consensus protocol).

It’s all a part of the evolution of Big Data, Kerner explained. Prior to blockchain, he pointed out, cloud computing enabled departments within the same company to break out of their data silos and collaborate on heterogeneous data sets, increasing smarts through machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).  

“Blockchain empowers the next step – enabling a single, authentic data set shared across counterparties. This is already improving the way transactions happen,” Kerner told CoinDesk, adding, “We believe the same will be true with data analytics.”

Stepping back, many would argue that data is now the most valuable naturally occurring resource on the planet. As the race to prove the best data analytics intensifies, firms are springing up whose sole purpose is to structure and format data to run AI algorithms on.  

But with enterprise blockchain, you get the structured and formatted data part thrown in for free, as Kerner said many Azure customers were discovering.

“What blockchain is doing is creating a multi-party business process that is moving out of email, phone calls, spreadsheets and into a single system with a single view on the data that all of the participants can rely upon and trust,” he said.

Looking ahead, Kerner said bringing vast amounts of unstructured and siloed data into a context where it could be leveraged and even shared would drive exponential change. He said:

“Even the fiercest of competitors can onboard and mutually derive benefit from that system and find new revenue streams.”

Taking on IBM

A good example of Azure connecting and balancing components in a large and complex production environment is Insurwave, which simplifies maritime insurance for shipping hauls carried by Maersk.

The platform was built using R3’s Corda platform with help from EY and Guardtime and is now in commercial production with insurers such as Willis Towers Watson, XL Catlin, and MS Amlin.

Insurwave, which tracks cargos and adjusts insurance premiums in real time, collates all sorts of data, everything from internet of things (IoT) sensors monitoring temperature, to whether the ship is going to hit a storm, or enter a war zone or an area heavily populated with pirates. Once this data is shared on the blockchain, Power BI, a Microsoft business analytics tool, can be used to gain insights about shipping hauls, Kerner said.

Further, Ricardo Correia, a managing director and head of partner management at R3, said its relationship with Microsoft is a good deal more than Azure being Corda’s default preferred cloud.

In addition to a one-click Corda capability, Correia pointed to integrating Corda into modules within the Azure marketplace.

“This enables Corda to plug into a number of different capabilities including Azure SQL, active directory for identity access management and key vault for key management,” he said.

Some of this is already in place because of Insurwave, with deeper integration also happening in a number of use cases. Notable ones include the webJet blockchain, which aims to reconcile hotels and other travel arrangements on a single ledger, and was cited by R3’s CTO Richard Brown as an example of Corda extending beyond mainstream finance.

Widening the lens, the ability to track items in real time and share things like IoT data using a blockchain has made global trade and supply chain a leading light in terms of domains to chase. From a strategic point of view, Insurwave challenges IBM’s bid for global trade dominance, which also has Maersk in the position of flagship, so to speak.

IBM has openly stated that this was its No. 1 target. However, Correia said Microsoft is also making its mark in supply chain – perhaps with a little less fanfare. “It’s in their interest given they too have very large supply chains with a number of their product offerings,” he said.

In terms of offering blockchain as a service, IBM has championed Hyperledger Composer for the past couple of years. However, there may be some question marks over the design of Composer, at least from an IBM perspective.  

Azure’s Kerner was tactfully equivocal about Microsoft’s enterprise blockchain rivals, adding that everything is built with an eye towards enabling a consortium that’s not exclusively on Azure.

“It’s got to be open. Any meaningful consortium is going to have members who have different choices that they have made around their cloud provider and who they choose to work with,” he said.

Microsoft image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Electronics Giant LG Focuses on Development of Blockchain, AI, IoT with Branding Strategy

LG CNS, a subsidiary of South Korean multinational conglomerate LG Corporation, has announced a plan to strengthen its enterprise offerings in seven key areas including blockchain, according to an official press release published August 22.

LG CNS is planning to release new “strategic” brands for each of the seven platforms of newly developed technologies — blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), smart city, smart factory, robot service, and smart energy — in order to promote the “fourth industrial revolution” with its enterprise portfolio.

The released brandings, with similar designs but different names, are part of LG CNS’s aim develop the “efficient digital transformation of customer business by providing the core technology of the fourth industrial revolution as a platform that customers can trust,” the press release notes.

Business tech outlet ZDnet reported that LG CNS also has plans to launch a “yet-to-be-named cloud platform” by the end of 2018.

LG CNS’s blockchain platform, Monachain, was launched in May of this year with the intention to provide customers with “a new type of identification, a decentralized identifier (DID), that can be used for personal identification and online payments via smart devices.”

The “strategic branding” of the blockchain platform — which the press release describes as a combination of “science, philosophy, and arts, Leonardo Da Vinci’s monumental work, such as the Mona Lisa” — will help the platform provides its three core services: “digital certification, digital community currency, and digital supply chain management.”

In June, the Taiwanese subsidiary of Microsoft partnered with partnered with tech investment company China Binary Sale Technology and High Cloud to create a platform for enterprise blockchain development. And in July, blockchain tech consortium R3 announced that it had released a new “version” of its Corda blockchain platform aimed specifically at businesses.

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EU Parliament Study: Central Bank Digital Currencies ‘Will Reshape Competition’ in Crypto Market

A study on issues of competition in fintech, commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), was published July 20. It found that central bank-issued digital currencies could be a “remedy” for a lack of competition policy in the crypto sector:

“The arrival of permissioned cryptocurrencies promoted by banks, even by central banks, will reshape the current competition level in the cryptocurrency market, broadening the number of competitors.”

The study mentions cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) as “technological and operational paradigms that are a source of disruption for the entire sector, including monetary policy and financial stability.” Other “disruptive and innovative applications” of new technologies include “AI, cloud computing, biometrics, digital identity, blockchain, cybersecurity, RegTech, internet of things (IoT), augmented reality.”

Private digital currencies are defined separately from central bank-issued digital currencies (CBDC), noting that the CBDCs differ by being based on a “conventional bilateral settlement with a trusted central party.”

According to the study, since closed cryptocurrency systems require a supervisory authority, central banks could be considering using “permissioned cryptocurrency systems” to “complement or substitute” the currencies already used.

The study claims that CBDCs “will reshape the current competition level in the inter-cryptocurrency market” by adding to the pool of competitors:

“A potential inadequacy of traditional competition policy to address competition issues in the cryptocurrency markets can be found, suggesting direct public participation through a central-bank digital currency as a remedy.”

The competition issues, the ECON study notes, can be divided into “inter-cryptocurrency market” competition between cryptos, and “intra-cryptocurrency” market competition between service providers like wallets and exchanges.

In terms of “inter-crypto market” competition, the study reports that the “presence of network effects” and a high number of users of a cryptocurrency could provide a barrier to entry for other cryptos attempting to join the market. The study hypothesizes that this competition “may lead to potential collusive agreements between members of hypothetical cartels.”

For “intra-crypto market” competition, wallets, exchanges, and payment providers could create practices that would keep others out of the market, such as receiving inducements from miners that favor one cryptocurrency over another.

In mid-July, a new EU directive came into force that set stricter transparency rules for digital currencies to protect against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Also in July, virtual currencies were discussed for the first time at ECON’s “Monetary Dialogue” session, with five different briefing reports discussed on topics ranging from crypto and central banks to crypto and the “Eurosystem.”

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Boeing to Develop Blockchain-Enabled Unmanned Vehicles in New Partnership

Boeing is partnering with an artificial intelligence (AI) company to develop pilotless vehicles and other products using blockchain, it announced in a press release July 17.

Texas-based SparkCognition, a company which Boeing invested in in a $32 million funding round last month, will work with the aviation giant on a platform which will track unmanned air vehicles and allocate flight corridors.

As a byproduct of this development, the partnership “will also provide a standardized programming interface to support package delivery, industrial inspection and other commercial applications,” the press release explains.

A buoyant SparkCognition CEO Amir Husain said the aerospace industry will go towards the creation of a giant new market worth upwards of $3 trillion.

“[…] The urban aerial mobility opportunity will lead to the creation of the largest new market in our (lifetimes),” he added.

Coming just days before the UK’s annual Farnborough Airshow, Boeing’s is not the only plan to receive a timely announcement.

On Monday, Accenture announced it would use the event to debut a blockchain-based platform specifically targeting aircraft supply chains.

“We’re at a point in history where technological advances and societal trends are converging to demand bold solutions and a different way to travel,” Boeing’s CTO Greg Hyslop continued.

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Samsung Marries Blockchain, AI in Cello 3.0 Logistics Platform

South Korea electronics giant Samsung revealed a further blockchain implementation in an official announcement June 20, using the technology in a new logistics platform.

The platform, dubbed Cello 3.0, is the brainchild of Samsung’s IT subsidiary Samsung SDS, which will use artificial intelligence (AI) and its “logistics knowhow” to deliver it, a press release states.

“We will provide services to global e-commerce sellers with CelloSquare 3.0, which combines cutting-edge IT with Samsung SDS global logistics operation experience,” Kim Hyung-tae, vice president of the logistics business division of Samsung SDS commented.

Cello is just the latest project to surface from SDS’ blockchain experiment, the company earlier this month announcing a blockchain finance platform Nexfinance.

Within the logistics sphere, multiple operators are also leveraging the technology to improve safety, efficiency and costs, among them DHL and FedEx.

“By applying a blockchain technology that cannot be modified or stolen, it will prove the international cargo’s origin and increase the reliability of the product,” the Cello release meanwhile explains, SDS adding it also expected similar time and cost-saving benefits.

The release schedule for Cello meanwhile remains unknown.