Woz’s Technological Optimism Suggests Promise for Bitcoin, Blockchain 9 5715

The earliest Macintosh PowerBook was chunky and dark gray. It featured a built in trackball, where the touchpad is on today’s Macbook, and little rotating peg legs to elevate the keyboard at an ergonomic tilt. The screen was black and white. You could open it on your desk at school, and tuck it into its special carrying case to sling it over your shoulder when Mom came to pick you up.

Going to school with Steve Wozniak’s kids in Los Gatos, California, meant having special access to cutting edge technology, like the Macintosh PowerBook in 1992. Along with five other students from our small school in the Santa Cruz mountains, I went to after school classes at Woz’s office to learn about Apple computers and emerging technology.

The first day, Woz taught us to dismantle and reassemble a desktop Macintosh, showing us all the pieces and what they did, with diagrams on the whiteboard. We learned the difference between random access memory (RAM) and the storage space on a hard disk, between a hard disk and a floppy disk. We learned how to navigate the innovative GUI that used windows (while PCs were still using DOS) to access the Apple utilities and adjust the settings for peak performance.

A great advocate for the intelligence and capacity of children, Woz challenged us with sophisticated knowledge and trusted us with expensive equipment, eager to see what creative uses we would put them to. He showed us the first version of Adobe Photoshop, a new technology that shook the public into doubting the integrity of photographs. Along with it, we had early model digital cameras called Canon XapShots, which used tiny floppy disks to store around 50 pictures at a time. The day he brought in America Online version 1.0, we were ecstatic that we could chat with each other from different rooms.

Woz was childlike himself, especially in his enthusiasm for developing technology. When laser pens were new, you could always find one clipped to the collar of his Hard Rock Cafe tshirt. He seemed to like them more for playing tricks on people than for any practical purpose.

Me (in the awesome blue sweatshirt) with Woz at his office in the early 90s. Photo courtesy of Gretchen King.

Early Techs Championed by Woz Became Familiar Names

Most of the technologies Woz championed have evolved. Some went big. As dial up AOL gave way to internet browsers like Netscape, I remember sitting in our middle school’s Wozniak Library Media Center learning how to use a world wide web page called Yahoo!, the novelty of which I put to work looking up David Letterman’s recent Top 10 lists.

America Online set the original chatroom model, complete with primitive emojis. It grew so big that in 2000, the year we kids were graduating high school, it bought Time Warner for $165 billion and became AOL Time Warner, then the world’s biggest media conglomerate. Now, estranged from Time and Warner after a decade and a half of new mergers, AOL is part of the Verizon subsidiary Oath, which also owns Yahoo! and, believe it or not, Netscape, which is still around.

The success of Photoshop, of course, positioned Adobe to set industry standards, now untouchable as king of the Silicon Valley’s creativeware. Macintosh PowerBooks evolved into Macbooks. Digital photography sure became a thing. And there are exceptions, too. Those laser pens, well, occasionally you still see someone using one to disrupt their cat.

Woz on Bitcoin

Wozniak hasn’t taken his finger off the pulse of emerging tech. Still full of wonder for the promise and possibility of technological advances, he’s been outward about his enthusiasm for Bitcoin, calling it “pure digital gold,” and placing his faith ardently in its mathematical integrity.

“I believe so strongly in mathematics and purity and science as defining the world,” he told CNBC in June.

“Bitcoin is mathematically defined. There’s a certain quantity of Bitcoin,” he said, “and it’s pure. There’s no human running it. There’s no company running it, and it’s just going and going, and growing and growing, and surviving! That, to me, says something that is about—something that is natural. And nature is more important than all our human conventions.”

His journey with Bitcoin is well documented. He tried to buy some around $70, ended up not getting any until they hit $700. Then he lost a few to fraud, and when prices soared “way up in the sky,” he said he “got scared, and sold everything but one Bitcoin.”

Woz stresses that he isn’t an investor. Still a man who loves laughter, he puts a premium on happiness, not wealth, and only holds his single Bitcoin for the sake of experimentation. “Part of my happiness is not to have worries, so I sold it all — just got rid of it — except just enough to still experiment with,” he told CNBC last year.

He said he agrees with Twitter founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, that Bitcoin could be the first global currency. At New York’s Consensus, a blockchain conference last May, Dorsey said “the internet is going to have a native currency so let’s not wait for it to happen, let’s help it happen… I don’t know if it will be Bitcoin but I hope it will be.”

Woz responded: “I buy into what Jack Dorsey says, not that I necessarily believe it’s going to happen, but because I want it to be that way.”

By contrast, Woz has called federal fiat currency “kind of phony.”

…And on Blockchain

But Bitcoin isn’t blockchain. It’s just the first and most well known use of blockchain technology. Last month at New York’s NEX technology conference, Woz called blockchain a bubble, similar to the dotcom hype bubble of the early aughts. “It was a bubble, and I feel that way about blockchain,” he said on stage.

“Blockchain in all forms is so popular and being studied by so many people,” he previously said in June’s CNBC interview. “It may be long term. I do see it, as you said, as a bubble… There’s a huge amount of interest in it right now, but things aren’t going to change that rapidly. That’s what the internet bubble was about.”

When asked how long he expects it to take for blockchain to gain widespread traction, he referred to the lag between the dotcom bubble and today, when we’ve finally realized many of the dotcom era dreams: “I’m going to give it 10-15 years.”

Part of the reason for this is human adjustment to new technology. “People have to have their mindset change,” he said. “Culture and tradition, and status quo and the way things are doesn’t change that rapidly, instantly, when it’s that huge.”

His faith in blockchain appears to be mixed. But in a seeming contradiction, Woz has suggested Ethereum could be the next Apple. “Ethereum interests me because it can do things and because it’s a platform,” he said at a May tech conference in Vienna.

Woz’s view of Bitcoin as solid gold but blockchain as a bubble is the inverse of that held by Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant Financial. Last month Ma said that the “technology itself isn’t the bubble, but Bitcoin likely is.”

Bubble or No, the Future Still Seems to be Blockchain

Which way is it? Is Bitcoin the bubble while blockchain is solid, as Jack Ma says, or the other way around, as Woz indicates?

Woz’s hope for Bitcoin as the pure-form currency of the future could prove misplaced if demand for it suddenly falls off. Blockchain, meanwhile, has myriad potential uses in finance, logistics, travel, even the art world. Developers and entrepreneurs are testing the mettle of this new technology with fervor and abandon. If we’ve learned from the dotcom bubble not to bet all our chips on untested technology, we can watch it develop steadily, as the internet did around the turn of the century. And even if the hype around blockchain is a bubble, Woz is probably right about the technology’s ultimate staying power.

To say the least, he’s seen a lot of technologies come and go. Sometimes, like the novelty laser pens of the late 1990s, new tech is just a fun experiment. But Woz’s enthusiasm for Bitcoin and measured interest in blockchain platforms like Ethereum is an indicator. A mathematically pure ledger system that governs transactions with transparency and automation holds emergent promise for the childlike optimist in any of us, much the way the Macintosh PowerBook did in 1992.

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I grew up in the Silicon valley under the technological mentorship of Steve Wozniak. I'm a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, I've lived, worked and traveled all over the world, and I now write in the Pacific Northwest.

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From Pandemics to Geopolitics: Major World Events Are Proving Accelerants for Digital Economy Adoption Comments Off on From Pandemics to Geopolitics: Major World Events Are Proving Accelerants for Digital Economy Adoption 316

It seems that we’re living through one historic and global crisis after another. Our universal “pause from history” seems to be over, with both natural and man-made forces creating epic challenges that are determining a new world order as we speak. While no one can predict the future, we can look to the past and be sure that challenging times accelerate innovation and disruption at a mass scale.

Take the Coronavirus pandemic. In just one year after the start of the pandemic, almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives was impacted by rapid digital transformation. A full 85 percent of CEOs indicated that their organizations had significantly accelerated digital transformation during the COVID-19 crisis. But, it’s not just companies. From remote working via video conferencing, to grocery delivery, our ability to adapt and to adopt a digital-first way of life increased – with little proof that we’ll ever go back to the “old way of doing things.”

The same is true for the geopolitical crisis that we’re facing now, which started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We’re already seeing clues that this global catastrophe is accelerating the implementation and adoption of digital assets within a greater digital economy. Whether it’s new uses cases for crypto or increased fervor around Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDCs), countries large and small and from regions around the world are leveraging digital assets during uncertain times.

In fact, in a recent letter to shareholders, Larry Fink, CEO of Black Rock, indicated that the Russia/Ukraine conflict will fast-track the adoption of digital currencies and payment tools to, “help bring down costs of cross-border payments, for example when expatriate workers send earnings back to their families.” Fink also went on to say that the current geopolitical conflict, “will push countries to reassess currency dependencies and look to means of payments that can bring down the costs of cross-border transactions.” Fink also acknowledged that his firm is experiencing growing interest from clients around digital currencies, something that has only increased since the Ukraine crisis began.

With the increased interest in large-scale adoption of digital assets, comes new insight about how these assets behave and the psychology around why people are flocking to them. Crypto is defying traditional safe-haven assets like gold – making moves that more closely mirror the equity markets than the commodity markets.

Beyond Ukraine, the sustained volatility of fiat currencies of countries like El Salvador, Paraguay, Nigeria, and many others, make digital assets like crypto and Stablecoins more attractive.

The aforementioned geopolitical factors combined with substantial progress in overall digital economy infrastructure development, technology innovation, and user experience, has created the perfect storm for accelerated adoption and use around the world.

Crypto in Ukraine

Crypto is being used as a force for good in the form of donations. Crypto users all around the world have donated more than $80 million since the start of the invasion. Additionally, $6.5 million raised as proceeds from a Ukrainian flag NFT auctioned off by the Ethereum-based group Ukraine DAO – making it the tenth most expensive NFT ever sold.

In addition to charitable donations, Many Ukrainians have turned to crypto to avoid the obvious problems with carrying large amounts of cash and/or trying to access bank accounts locally or abroad. Specifically, Ukrainian refugees are using crypto so they can convert it into fiat currency in a new country. While still volatile, this new digital asset may help many Ukrainians survive financially for the duration of the conflict.

Recently, Ukraine signed a law that will create a legal framework for digital assets. Among other things, that law is expected to help businesses manage crypto donations more effectively. Ukraine’s expedited regulatory actions and its efficient use of crypto funds is not happening in a vacuum. In fact, this pioneering activity is being noticed throughout the world – amplifying the many use cases of digital finance tools and increasing the public’s comfort level in leveraging them in a variety of ways.

Russia Accepts Crypto for Oil

At the same time, Ukraine is demonstrating the use of digital currencies to help their people and the defense of their nation, Russia just took a major step to leverage these assets as well – some would argue a nefarious one. In a recent and sizable turn of events, a report from Russian news agency RBC revealed that Russia will now accept Bitcoin as payment for their oil. Pavel Zavalny, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy, stated that Russia will let “ally” countries trade Russian energy resources with their local currencies or in cryptocurrency.

Whether it’s a shock to some that Russia would take this bold step to evade sanctions or an inevitability by others who knew this move from Putin was coming, the point in all of it is that digital currencies are being thrust onto the international stage in new ways. Whether Russia’s use of crypto is good or bad is irrelevant. Their willingness to put Bitcoin to use in global trade has opened the door for others in the international community to use digital assets as payment mechanisms on a broad scale. This is a new chapter in the digital economy, accelerated by conflict and chaos.

China’s Digital Yuan Question

China became the world’s first major economy to pilot a digital currency in April 2020, aiming for widespread domestic use of the e-CNY, or digital yuan this year and beyond. It currently has more than a hundred million individual users and billions of yuan in transactions, according to the IMF. Plus, with China’s banning of all cryptocurrency transactions, it’s clear that the country is totally focused on the digital yuan’s success and dominance.

There’s no doubt that China wants to expand the digital yuan’s global influence, but how far are they willing to go? Could the geopolitical unrest in Russia offer China an opportunity to compete with the U.S. dollar? Could the stiff sanctions on Russia imposed by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and others give China an opening to establish digital finance supremacy there? These questions will have answers sooner than we think.

CBDCs as Efficient Money

“The history of money is entering a new chapter,” said Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director. “Countries are seeking to preserve key aspects of their traditional monetary and financial systems while experimenting with new digital forms of money.”

This is especially true in countries that are either experiencing recent unrest or have been dealing with decades of corruption, stagnation, and poor economic conditions.

  • Nigeria became the first country in Africa to launch a CBDC last October. The eNaira is stored in a digital wallet and can be used for contactless in-store payments, as well as for transferring money.
  • The seven countries that make up the Eastern Caribbean Union – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have created a form of digital currency to speed transactions and serve people without bank accounts.
  • Bitcoin became a legal tender in El Salvador, a move to boost the country’s economy, which for years has experienced low levels of economic growth. Most of the country’s population does not have a bank account and almost a quarter of the GDP comes from remittances sent from the large ex-pat community working abroad, benefitting around 360,000 households.

The move toward CBDCs continues to gain momentum, especially now as Central Banks look to bolster their economy in uncertain times. All told, around 100 countries are exploring CBDCs at one level or another. Some researching, some testing, and a few already distributing CBDC to the public (like in China). However, we will see these programs pick up speed to unprecedented levels over the next few months and years.

The Ukraine crisis has only sharpened the vision and hastened the rollout of digital asset programs in many countries around the world. The war is turning out to be the catalyst for action in the new digital economy.

A New World Order Driving a New Digital Economy:

The world’s monetary system looks to be on the edge of undergoing the biggest overhaul since the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 when the USD was declared the world’s reserve currency and the IMF and World Bank were created. The tumult and turmoil of World War II led to that historic global financial transformation. While we’re still in the midst of the Russia/Ukraine crisis and cannot predict what will transpire next, we understand that momentous geopolitical events, like the one we’re experiencing, have reverberations that go beyond the borders of conflict. Nearly 80 years after Bretton Woods, the global financial system seems to be headed toward change once again – making way for a new digital economy – at a speed and voraciousness that just didn’t exist before now.

Tal Elyashiv, Founder & Managing Partner of SPiCE VC, is a seasoned executive and serial entrepreneur. Tal is considered one of the earliest visionaries of the digital securities space – a major vertical in the blockchain & tokenization ecosystem. His deep understanding of the digital finance ecosystem has enabled him to usher in a new era of venture capitalism with the founding of SPiCE VC.

The Bitcoin Bull Run: How It Started, How It’s Going Comments Off on The Bitcoin Bull Run: How It Started, How It’s Going 995

Wherever you stand on Bitcoin, there is no question about its impact on the role of blockchain and cryptocurrency within society.  Whether we look back to Pizza Day or to its heights in 2018, the volatile nature of the cryptocurrency has garnered much speculation and media coverage. 

While many looked at the past few years as a “Crypto Winter,” others saw an opportunity for Bitcoin.  Between COVID lockdowns, political, and fiat currency concerns, Bitcoin has been on a dream run – for a moment going over the $55,000 barrier.

Why Did Bitcoin Suddenly Explode (Again)?

Elon Musk and other influencers played a role in the recent rise in Bitcoin’s price. Tesla’s recent investment in an infrastructure to accept Bitcoin payments, and Apple Pay’s introduction of BitPay, a prepaid bitcoin MasterCard, are also major markers of market adoption. But two other events occurred that set the stage for the Bitcoin bull run: a pandemic and Bitcoin Halving.

Every four years, Bitcoin miners have their processing transactions cut in half. This reduction in supply then drives up prices based on scarcity. This occured in May 2020, when the economy was already at a standstill due to the pandemic. Since the supply of crypto coins is finite many think that there is lower inflation risk with using them – this means that it may be used as a hedge against U.S. inflation. In 2020, more than 20% of all dollars currently in circulation were printed, making crypto even more alluring. 

Crypto isn’t going anywhere. This year, experts project increased use of crypto cards, emergence of new cases, and increased investing from traditional finance leaders.

Take a look at this visual deep dive on the rise of Bitcoin for more information:

Bitcoin: Once A Diamond In The Rough, Now A Treasure

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