After the Death of Net Neutrality, We Need a Decentralized Internet 0 78

Net neutrality died more quietly than expected. It’s been almost two months since the FCC’s ruling to make internet access vulnerable to corporate meddling, thanks to FCC chairman and Verizon advocate Ajit Pai. And not much seems to have changed on the web browsing citizen’s end. Major ISPs Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have all indicated that they have no plans to block or throttle traffic, or to prioritize paid content. So rest easy, dear ones. The sharks have promised not to bite.

Of course, that’s really no reason to celebrate. As of June 11th, “there is nothing legally preventing companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily censoring entire categories of apps, sites and online services, or charging Internet users expensive new fees to access them,” notes Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit advocating for digital equality.

Fight for the Future is just one organization working for a free digital world. All around, and in part thanks to the FCC’s ruling, people are switching on to the notion that open connectivity should be a right and not a privilege. And some folks are getting a crazy idea: if we can’t have net neutrality, we may just have to build another internet.

Building Our Own Internet

That’s exactly what people have been doing in Detroit. To combat the emergence of a “digital class system,” and in response to the scarcity and prohibitive costs of ISP connection, residents and volunteer members of the Equitable Internet Initiative, or EII, are building their own internet infrastructure.

Over on the Pala Reservation in Southern California, meanwhile, indigenous communities are tired of waiting for a connection. So they’re taking matters into their own hands and repurposing unused analog TV channels to broadcast their own free and neutral internet across the rez. They call it Tribal Digital Village.

Efforts like the EII and Tribal Digital Village are proving that we can take control of our connectivity and decouple it from the stratification of economic privilege.

Reinventing the Internet Altogether

Radical community efforts to build DIY networks are inspiring and powerful. But perhaps we can go even farther. The internet still works on an old model that has plenty of room for improvement. Let’s say you’re sitting in a public library, messaging your zine collaborator across the table. There’s no direct internet connection between your phones, so your message has to go up into the nebulous cloud of internet before it bounces back down to their phone. Not entirely efficient, considering they’re sitting right there.

If you had a direct connection, the signal could just travel across the table. That would be possible using a mesh network, like the one proposed by RightMesh. In their mesh network model, every device becomes a hotspot in a decentralized connective network.

Why volunteer your device as a public hotspot? Because you get tokens, of course. This is blockchain! Like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, this is a cooperative and participatory system that relies on no centralized authority (like a corporate ISP). Everyone volunteers their device as a hotspot, gets rewarded with tokens, and just like that, we have a decentralized internet.

Without the need for ISPs, we would be free from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T. We could run open-armed through the proverbial fields of digital wildflowers. The possibilities of this go well beyond urbanite convenience. A global mesh network could bring internet connection to any part of the globe where there are phones—even phones not connected to wifi. In this system, the phones create the wifi.

An Off-the-Grid Internet

RightMesh’s stated goal is to “connect the next billion people and lift 100 million out of poverty.” They claim to be the first P2P network that requires neither infrastructure nor network connectivity to operate.

That said, they’re not alone. Blockmesh is doing something similar. Moeco’s ‘global IoT connectivity platform’ uses mesh network principles for IoT gadgets. And Open Garden allows ISP customers to ‘sell’ your underutilized connection (extra bandwidth at home, or unused data from your mobile plan) to your neighbors for tokens.

All these ideas are packed with possibility. But the point is, with the grassroots efforts of groups like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, and with blockchain innovation pushing the definition of the internet forward, we’re looking at a future where the connection is universal, accessible, fast, cheap, self-generating, decentralized and off the grid. Someday soon we might be thanking the FCC for spurring these advances.

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A tribal member of the Choctaw Nation, Brian grew up in the Silicon valley under the technological mentorship of Steve Wozniak. He's lived, worked and traveled all over the world, and now writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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How Will Blockchain Tech Impact Healthcare Investors? 0 148

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, three economic juggernauts, announced they’re teaming up to tackle healthcare, a sector of the economy that’s proven elusive for presidents and private-sector reform efforts alike.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos weighed in on healthcare costs, commenting that “reducing health care’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort.”

No question, Bezos is right. But radical reform in the U.S. healthcare system might not come from these massive, centralized global players. Instead, the world’s newest transformative technology could hold the answers and affect stock prices across the board in one of the tallest pillars of the economy.

Blockchain in healthcare, blockchain everywhere?

A 2016 Deloitte study offered up that “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform health care, placing the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data.”

Blockchain, which creates a decentralized, autonomous network of trust to share and record information, offers myriad benefits for both patients and care providers: a secure exchange of information without intermediaries, lower costs, secure patient identities, ease of sharing real-times updates across parties; smart contracts; and secure longitudinal health data for each patient.

As Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jaime Diamond know, the healthcare market is massive, offering a significant opportunity for emerging companies to reduce costs, improve care, and deliver better outcomes for patients. Right now, healthcare in the United States comprises 17% of annual GDP with an aging population providing a consistent tailwind.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) says there is “massive untapped potential” to change the healthcare sector for the better through blockchain technology. For one, Blockchain tech can secure HIPAA-compliant data sharing across networks. A number of use cases have cropped up as a result. In a comment on the opportunity tech reporter Mike Butcher said illustratively that a blockchain record could “follow you around so you could avoid yet another dose of radiation because your record said you’d already had 50 head X-rays.” Moreover a raft of applications emerged between smart contracts, data tokenization, and blockchain combinations with AI and machine learning.

Blockchain smart contracts will automate transactions and reduce inefficiency,” says entrepreneur Adryenne Ashley. “Using smart contracts to track disease, cause and effect, treatment and results will be critical to learning and understanding how each patient responds.” Having that data automatically written to the blockchain eliminates delay in data analysis and creates a bridge between practitioners and researchers, leading to cures.

Blockchain companies with tokens will introduce new commerce and incentive systems. And combining blockchain technology with advancements in AI and machine learning will provide new insights and further improve care. In 2018, several new blockchain startups are launching across various areas in healthcare, representing some of the best applications of the technology to accomplish those goals.

Big Medicine taps into data

The fragmented, inaccessible nature of current electronic medical record systems alone millions. John Halamka, the chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, developed a secure-data exchange, MedRed, and advises another blockchain company, Simply Vital Health, as it builds a platform to streamline healthcare data management and reduce the costs of bundled payments. In the Harvard Business Review, Halamka wrote that blockchain protocol can “standardize secure data exchange in a less burdensome way than previous approaches.”

The rest of the healthcare industry is following Halamka’s lead. 16% of healthcare executives surveyed by IBM have “solid plans” to implement a commercial blockchain solution this year, with 56% planning to do so by 2020.

Supply chain

IBM, one of the corporate behemoths investing in blockchain technology, sees supply chain management as one of the key areas where blockchain can make an immediate improvement. The technology will enable “more secure and transparent monitoring of transactions” which will reduce time, cost, and human error.

Gem, one of the early companies to watch in this space, has a supply chain management software platform that “boosts the ‘collective intelligence,’ or Data IQ, from previously siloed data” allowing organizations to increase efficiency, accuracy, and speed of supply chain transactions. ShipChain, too, backed by DHL’s former CEO, launched its platform to tidy up the fractured transportation and shipping industry including medical freight and hazardous materials.

Tackling fraud

A favorite target among the federal enforcement crowd–myself included–Blockchain technology could also tackle the massive amount of fraud in the healthcare market. A 2012 study by the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the RAND Corporation estimated that fraud accounted for $98 billion of total Medicare and Medicaid spending and up to $272 billion across the entire U.S. healthcare system. Through secure, immutable records, blockchain ledgers could be one of the best tools to cut down of fraud, from false reimbursements to theft of patient records to gain access to prescription drugs.

What’s in store for 2018

The story of 2017 was the meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies with plenty of bearishness coming from marquee investors. That said even after a big correction, the biggest cryptocurrencies are up thousands of percentage points over the last twelve months. The bigger story is unfolding away from volatility, as blockchain companies look to solve big problems in healthcare. Rest assured that from an investment perspective the likes of Buffett and Bezos will take notice.

5 Broken Systems that the Blockchain can Fix 0 255

blockchain

5We’ve all heard the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But lately that seems to apply less and less to many of our existing systems. From banking and education, to advertising and politics; wide scale reparations are needed. But how do we go about fixing these defective models? Enter the blockchain.

What’s been labeled the most revolutionary technology since the internet, many of us are still struggling to understand how it works, let alone get our heads around how far reaching its implications may be.

But just like AOL and email were to the internet, cryptocurrency is just the first in one of blockchain’s many uses. “Blockchain has legitimate potential to change the world,” wrote Drew Prindle at Digital Trends, and it seems, he could be right. Here are at least five broken systems that the blockchain can potentially fix.

The Supply Chain

The supply chain is full of gaping cracks and black holes industrywide. Product markups, missing merchandise, currency conversions, inaccurate recording keeping, or failure to comply with agreed-upon terms can all be fixed with blockchain technology. As a public ledger available to all, updating in real time without human interaction, there’s no longer the opportunity for occurances to go undocumented or unaccounted for.

By operating with an “if/then” logic, (if you provide 100 kilos of bananas, then I will transfer X funds into your account), smart contracts can enforce the terms without human interaction or manipulation. Once a transaction is made it is irreversible. Not only does blockchain have the potential to wipe out corruption and increase accountability, it can cut out the middlemen, making for cheaper products for the end user.

Cybersecurity

There have been plenty of headlines about hacking scandals and fraud. Research by Ernst & Young found that some 10 percent of all ICO funding had been stolen. The problem is not with the technology itself, however, but with the secondary software built to store cryptocurrency, including wallets, exchanges, and custodial services.

Andrew Hinkes, adjunct professor at NYU Law School and practicing attorney with a focus on blockchain, explains, “Generally speaking, blockchains create an audit trail of all activity by its participants, which simplifies access control and monitoring.

Blockchains can also be used for hardware and software version control and sourcing, which can simplify version control and updating issues. Using a public blockchain with proof of work consensus can remove the foibles of human mistake or manipulation.”

Online Advertising

Most of us hate advertising online. In fact, some 40 percent of all Millennials use adblockers when surfing the net. But beyond annoying pop-ups, the severity of the problem in the advertising industry is starting to come to light. A German court recently ruled that Facebook’s use of personal data and privacy settings was illegal. The Center for Humane Technology has been established in an attempt to protect people’s privacy and curb their tech addition.

Using the blockchain could soon put an end to these problems, as it democratizes data due to its transparency and decentralization. No one company is able to own or sell your personal data anymore. This means that not only are people allowed to manage their own data but they can monetize it as well, thanks to blockchain’s ability to record micro fragments and create new value opportunities.

Monetization of even the smallest amounts of data becomes possible, from the number of steps you’re taking daily recorded in your Fitbit, to how many times you click a certain ad. More and more companies are allowing consumers to authorize their data use, and monetize it by dealing directly with the companies who want to buy it. Advertisers get the data they need and consumers are rewarded for it, while having control over who uses it and how.

The Underbanked

The financial system has many problems, beyond high transaction fees, conversion rates, and transfer delays, many people are not being granted access. Larry Boyer, Certified Business Economist and President of Success Rockets comments, “One of the most promising uses for pure currencies is to help people who don’t have access to the traditional banking system. In the US, that is the rural and urban poor and developing countries.”

The unbanked can also engage in global commerce thanks to cryptocurrency. Currently, for example, it’s not profitable for the traditional banking system to service customers below a certain threshold. But with cryptocurrency, a poor farmer in Kenya or Colombia can prove creditworthiness by having the cryptocurrency in their wallet. This will open up the entire market for companies and allow more and more people access to goods and services.

Elections

We may never know what really happened in the 2016 elections, but with accusations of fraud being hurled from one side to the other, imagine if we could put an end to voter fraud once and for all? And in developing countries where rigged elections and violent protests are often par for the course, blockchain’s immutability can guarantee clean elections.

Companies like Follow My Vote make sure that all votes are permanent and impossible to tamper with. Thanks to the decentralization of the blockchain, it would be practically impossible for hackers to break in and skew the results. Since every block in the chain is linked, they would need to simultaneously change the entire blockchain, a virtually impossible feat.

The blockchain is set to revolutionize many areas of our lives for the better. And if we can put it to good use fixing just one broken system in our society, we’ll be on the right path to making amends for our current failings.

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