A fresh study offers concerning data about the strength of democracy in the United States and beyond
What a week for news — I suppose we say that every week these days. Facebook again finds itself in the center of the storm, but is at least attempting to lead the coverage, as opposed to be the brunt of it. Democracy is found to be in peril (we’ve an entire track on that at the Shift Forum this year), open banking starts in the UK, blockchain continues to be debated (and crypto currencies crashed, again), and again, capitalism is seen as the root of many evils — even by the CEO of the largest manager of capital on the planet. Read on for the stories dominating my newsfeed these days (and not Facebook’s News Feed…)
This annual survey from Freedom House sparked a mini deluge of coverage, with the US ranking slipping for the seventh straight year, and Trump getting the lion’s share of blame. Money quote: “While Freedom House has tracked a slow trend of decline in the US over the last seven years, that decline accelerated in 2017 due to “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency.”
Or, how to get three stories into one headline. Happy Friday.
It was a week crammed with worthy stories, so here’s a bit of a retrospective, with a dollop of today’s most interesting stuff on top. Enjoy, and have a great weekend (oh, and by the way, the Shift Forum agenda is up. And it’s awesome. More on that in my next column).
It’s as if they read my piece last Friday! But of course these changes have been in the works for more than a year. Unfortunately, this changes nothing in the ad model, which is the driver of the toxic externalities. MQ: “Thursday’s changes raise questions of whether people may end up seeing more content that reinforces their own ideologies if they end up frequently interacting with posts and videos that reflect the similar views of their friends or family. And bogus news may still spread — if a relative or friend posts a link with an inaccurate news article that is widely commented on, that post will be prominently displayed.” Also: Did Zuck Just Drop Acid?
A survey of the early stages of a financial revolution
Beyond the hype around Bitcoin, there is a quieter revolution taking place as various governments and industries explore the potential uses of digital currencies and their underlying blockchain technologies. Governments as diverse as Russia, Japan, China and Dubai are developing state cryptocurrencies to supplement (and maybe even eventually replace?) their more tangible fiat currencies. Meanwhile, a whole range of industries from banking and finance to insurance and big tech are looking to streamline systems, lower costs, and explore new revenue streams by leveraging tokenized systems and public and private blockchain platforms.
As with any emerging and disruptive technologies, there are those industries and companies which sense new opportunities and want to get ahead of the game through early exploration and adoption, while others wait to see how things will shake out.
I host a podcast which takes deep dives into science, tech, and sociological topics. I do this via interviews with world-class experts who have the patience to engage in truly unhurried discussions of their fields. My episodes are untethered from the headlines, as they’re meant to resonate with future as well as present-day listeners, ideally over a span of years.
Occasionally, though, things happen to line up with current events. And was that ever the case this week — as today’s episode is about cryptocurrencies, which have been repeatedly dashing price records, even as Bitcoin debuted on the futures markets this past Sunday.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Bitcoin/blockchain today, but it’s on everyone’s mind as we close the week. From the coverage I’ve got stacked up in my browser tabs after a morning of perusing the more interesting stories from the past few days, it’s clear we’re all obsessed. So instead of the regular mix of six or seven unrelated stories, I’m going to focus today’s Money Quote column on our favorite speculative bubble, and see what sense we can make out of it, including some background reading. Given that Bitcoin futures trading officially starts next week, it seems a bit of weekend study is in order. Onwards…
I can’t vouch for the integrity of all the information in this long and clearly detailed overview, but it’s been shared widely on Medium and helped me make sense of some of the finer and more technical points around Bitcoin’s architecture. The piece covers many of the technology’s limitations, affordances, and potentials, and is a good place to start if you’re familiar, but not deeply literate in the space.
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Bitcoin prices are on a tear, and so is blockchain and ICO hype. Are you as confused as I am? Let’s figure out why.
“This is the Internet in 1993!”
I heard this statement several times at an industry conference I attended earlier this month, and it had been ringing in my ears for any number of reasons well before then. It all feels so familiar, and yet this time, it also feels utterly foreign.
A conversation with Andreas M. Antonopoulos, author of Mastering Bitcoin and The Internet of Money, one of the world’s leading experts on bitcoin and blockchain.
I met Andreas M. Antonopoulos at the inaugural edition of Singularity University Canada Summit in Toronto earlier this fall, where he was breaking down bitcoin/blockchain for a large crowd of business leaders, entrepreneurs and thinkers at Evergreen Brickworks, a former quarry and industrial site reserved for the event. The flurry of emerging conversations around bitcoin and blockchain, the billion-dollar valuations, and the specialized jargon can make blockchain an intimidating topic to wade through. Is the hype justified? Consider:
Bitcoin (BTC) went over $6,200 this week, as the total crypto market cap approached $180 billion.
Budgets aren’t just lists of priorities; they are statements of purpose and expressions of ideals. A U.S. president’s budget is only an advisory to Congress, which has constitutional authority over government spending. But presidents usually put a lot of care and energy into their budgets — particularly their first ones — because they provide leaders with a chance to say, “This is what I really care about.”
Based on his new budget proposal, President Trump cares very much about spending $54 billion more on the military and building a wall on the Mexican border. He does not care about funding for the State Department’s diplomacy, environmental protection, scientific research, the arts and humanities, and many other functions of government that he has proposed to cut back on or eliminate (Vox). These aren’t just ostensibly elitist institutions like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities; they also include agencies dedicated to helping the kind of struggling heartland communities that elected Trump, like the Appalachian Regional Commission and Meals on Wheels.