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Tag: future

A Personal Tribute to Alvin Toffler (1929-2016)

Alvin TofflerI met Alvin Toffler (Al to those who knew him) on June 27 2001 at a conference where we were both speaking in Santiago, Chile. Al and I were represented by the Leigh Bureau. Over the course of 48 hours, we watched a private photography show about the beauty of Chile together, had dinner, breakfast, shared the stage, shared a ride to the airport, and sat together on the long flight back to Los Angeles where he lived, while I continued to San Francisco. By a bizarre coincidence, he died in his sleep on June 27 2016 at his Bel Air residence in California.

I have sometimes mentioned my 48 hours with Alvin Toffler in private, but never in public. However, my first encounter with him went deeper. We stayed in touch after that trip, and as it is time to remember his legacy, I wanted to reminisce about my interactions with the man who influenced and marked my professional life.

In 2001, the Internet was relatively new, and during my early conversations with him, he was still very curious to learn more about its long term effects, although he was the one who predicted the information age long before any of us did. At that time, he and his long time co-author and wife, Heidi, were in the process of writing what ended-up being their last book, but it still had no title. He told me they typically take a decade to write a book, by processing a huge amount of information and connecting the dots on a wide variety of trends. I remember asking him about that book’s publish date and its title, and he didn’t know either yet. That book, later was named Revolutionary Wealth and was published in 2007. In it, the Tofflers predicted the sharing economy, as they described how we will be spending more time in self-service activities, and engaging in producing and consuming services from each other. He had coined the term “prosumer” during the 70’s and it was carried throughout his famous trilogy of books, Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift. For me, Powershift was the quintessential epitome of the Tofflers’ thinking, and to this day, I still refer to it. Actually, it was prominently listed in the bibliography of my last book, The Business Blockchain.

In the airport lounge while waiting for our flight, I noticed his veracity for reading everything he could get his hands on. He scooped every visible magazine of interest he could see around him. I left him for a few minutes to run an errand at the duty free shopping area, and when I returned to sit with him, he had already devoured a few magazines and picked the ones he was going to take with him on the plane. He introduced me to reading the Daily Yomiuri (that later became Japan News) which he was fond of. I learned he liked to read several books together at once, especially from different topics, because that helped him connect the dots in previously unimagined ways.

We boarded the flight and sat together in first class during that long flight to Los Angeles with a stop in Lima, Peru. It was a 4 hour flight to Lima but we didn’t un-board the plane. There, we stood up, stretched our legs a bit, and I recall peering from the airplane’s open door towards the lights of the city of Lima. That brief stopover was followed by an 8.5 hours overnight stretch to LA. The trip was peppered by long talks with Al, some reading, eating and sleeping. We arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-morning, and bid goodbye as we split on the passport line between US and non-US residents.

In 2004, Al connected me with Toffler Associates, their namesake strategic consulting and advisory firm whose work focuses on top companies and government agencies. I remember they invited me to participate in a think tank session for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Baltimore to help the NSA think about scenarios of the future (post 9-11). I enjoyed being part of a day and half of interactions and contributions, and it was an interesting experience.

I consider my encounter and later sporadic relationship with Alvin Toffler to have had a profound impact on my writings, research and scholarly side. I learned from him the rigors of the thought process that produces insights as a result of going through deep pockets of information and connecting the dots. He told me their first book gave them the privilege of access to a number of leaders around the world, and they each gave them a piece of insight. Their job was to assemble these insights together and connect the dots between them. Today, I am lucky that I have access to some of the brightest startup entrepreneurs in the blockchain space, and I learn from them daily.

I end this short tribute with something Al told me that was forever stuck in my mind. He said: “We are all futurists”. He went on to explain that we each have our own vision of the future, as we think about the future in our own way, based on our own experiences and outlook. What a powerful and humbling statement by someone who defined the word “futurist” and remained the very best of them.

Al, may you rest in peace up there. You were a personal inspiration and a gargantuan thinking force on our world.


Meta Webs: The Many Worlds of The Internet

The first day of the New Year brings new predictions and maybe new wisdom. It is a time of reflection, and it’s a short period when looking-back and looking-ahead blur into a big ball of thinking. At least, that’s the case for me, today on January 1st, 2016.

The Web was the linchpin for our online experiences, but it has gotten too crowded for some, and is now becoming a little too centralized. What I’m seeing is the emergence of many worlds to the Internet, besides the World Wide Web as we know it. And these mini worlds will become gradually more distinct as we go forward, although there will be plenty of linkages between them.

What I’m calling the Meta Webs is a collection of:

  • World Wide Web
  • Mobile Web
  • Social Web
  • Decentralized Web
  • AR/VR Web
  • Things Web
  • Cryptoconomy Web
  • Command Line Web

Meta Webs

The common characteristics that they all share are:

  1. A different entry point than a www.webaddress.com
  2. Users can stay in them without overtly touching other parts
  3. Ecosystems form around each one of them with distinct stakeholders, startups and investment patterns
  4. Apps aren’t automatically transferrable between them without conversions, different versions or extra effort

The World Wide Web (or Web) is where it all started. You type an address, and you see pages of content, or you get into a consumer or enterprise application that is hosted directly on servers or indirectly in computing clouds, which are really networks of computers. Desktops dominate usage of the WWW.

The Mobile Web was the first ecosystem to break free from the Web itself. Technically, you can access the Web from a mobile smartphone, and do almost everything you want from there, and sometimes more, e.g. using your smartphone as a sensor or as a command-giving device to the ambient or connected environment. We can be mobile without touching “the web”, i.e. by staying inside Apps on a mobile phone, but we can also enjoy accessing data and cloud apps that live behind the Web.

The Social Web has carved itself as a slice off the world wide web and mobile web, but it is also a destination of its own. Facebook and Twitter are its base, and one could live and stay in those two locations and not miss a whole lot about what is happening on the web. In essence, they are a socially-curated window into the big web.

Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality are areas I’m still learning about, but I can’t see them separated, because I think they might need each other. A definition from a Quora post states that “Augmented reality embeds digital information into real-world contexts, and Virtual reality creates digital contexts that behave in ways that mimic real-world analogues.” Re/Code calls it Mixed Reality, and maybe that’s how it will end-up, as a mix of online, reality, virtuality and augmentation services. I’d like to see innovation go beyond gaming and entertainment, into healthcare, education and other business applications.

Decentralized Web is one of the least developed aspects of the web. Think peer-to-peer applications where you are directly connected to other users or their services, and you don’t get the illusion of being on the web. The best old examples are when you use BitTorrent in a native mode to access files or videos straight from your computer. And new examples that will come to the fore in 2016 include specialized applications like OpenBazaar (disclosure: I’m on their BoD and an investor), where you really step into a different world that doesn’t even look like a website or a traditional app. Trust-based services via blockchains will be part of the decentralized web, so it may start to get big quickly.

The Things Web is really the Internet of Things, aka Internet of Everything. It’s when physical things become connected to the Internet in a wireless mode or via wires, and they take on a new life, as “smart things”. I’d like to see more work there, as it appears fragmented, but maybe that’s how it will always be.

The Cryptoconomy Web is the least known of the emerging Webs. I’ve started to describe How The Cryptoconomy Will be Created, and how value can be produced and moved natively when you tie a cryptocurrency (or token) to your business operations for the purpose of real value exchange between participants, therefore creating new wealth from these new types of activities. We are in the very early stages of this segment, but we will see some real examples take shape this year.

Command Line Web is also a new addition that became more visible in 2015, and some of the early services include the “bots” inside Slack, the Telegram Bot Platform, and Slash via text messaging. The basic idea is to receive answers by querying the web or services via simple command line text, such as /newpoll or “what about here /foursquare for mexican food”. Also, watch for messaging platforms like Kik who will undoubtedly incorporate more of these services, as they have hinted about it after the WeChat investment.

So, in 2016, we will begin to see more distinctive lines between these many webs, and we will also see them interact with each other. I will commit to reviewing these predictions at the end of December 2016 to assess progress in the seven categories.

Happy New Year!


The New New Age of Transparency: Ethereum's Case

transparency-imageTransparency has its rewards, but also its pitfalls. We are entering a new world where privacy is exposed, transparency is coveted, and honesty is appreciated.

In the world of corporations, Benefit Corporations are leading the way with new levels of societal and environmental impact, and with different purpose, accountability and transparency practices than traditional corporations.

In the world of the cryptoconomy, the advent of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies has enabled the creation and funding of new decentralized organizations just by creating a new cryptocurrency that is pegged to its operations and value creation. Two such prominent examples are Bitcoin and Ethereum. As soon as the Bitcoin nucleus burst out of its original cocoon, its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto set it free onto the world’s computers and developers, and swiftly disappeared as soon as he felt that Bitcoin’s future was assured.

Yesterday, Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum penned the ultimate in transparency and honesty blog post, depicting the evolution of Ethereum into its own ecosystem, about a year after the completion of its crowdsale. If Vitalik Buterin was Satoshi Nakamoto, he could have disappeared on that same day, and the state of Ethereum would have been as assured as Bitcoin’s state was in 2011 when Satoshi disappeared 3 years after publishing his famous paper.

An article on Coindesk interpreted Vitalik post as “glass half-empty”, and decided to highlight the lost capital that was due to Bitcoin’s price having fallen by ⅓ since the Ethereum crowdsale was completed. But that article clearly missed the key point of Vitalik’s post which is that the Ethereum Foundation is now maturing into its own self-sustainable ecosystem.

As I commented on the Coindesk article, who cares if $9 million vanished due to maverick Bitcoin speculators? At this point, the finances of the Ethereum Foundation have almost no bearings on the future of the Ethereum technology. Even in the worst of cases (which is far fetched) that the Ethereum Foundation didn’t exist from this point forward, the same people that have been working on it will continue their work on the same path and with the same rigour aas before. That is the beauty of open source projects with the bonus of being decentralized, which means the work gets done anywhere and everywhere.

To use analogies and metaphors, the Ethereum’s cat is totally out of the bag and the Ethereum tsunami is unstoppable.

The positive developments outlined by Vitalik in that post include the following facts:

  • the ecosystem has burst out of the Foundation’s seams and creating new companies based on Ethereum
  • over 100 DApps have been created, and many more being developed
  • $50M of venture capital being targeted towards Ethereum startups
  • technical development and progress on track, with several innovations and advancements on record
  • thousands of developers worldwide working on Ethereum technologies and platform
  • several dozens corporations investigating or piloting Ethereum, and I will add my own anecdotal data points that in almost every blockchain related meeting I’ve had in the past 2 months with startups or corporations (and I’ve had at least 50 of them), the Ethereum topic comes up as a technology being watched, respected, or adopted.

If you know startups, you know that none of them is perfect, but the good ones keep pushing forward despite internal intricacies which are largely hidden from the public. Ethereum is no different. Despite its challenges, it kept plowing ahead and delivering, if not exceeding on its promise of bringing a new generation of decentralized technologies.

In particular, Vitalik has displayed an incredible level of transparency, rivaling that of public companies and surpassing many other CEOs in his honesty and openness towards the work Ethereum is doing.

In reality, not much has really changed in Ethereum’s progress towards a bright future, based on an excellent present state. Decentralizing the proliferation of Ethereum and its multiple technologies is part of its original design and intended destiny. Ethereum would have failed if its innovations were centralized in the long term. Rather, it is on a path of decentralized universal adoption and implementations, and that is a very good thing indeed.

Ethereum has learned from Bitcoin. It has a functional Foundation, and Core developers that don’t bicker on hair splitting arguments. Everyone I know in the Ethereum ecosystem is hard working, competent, and passionate about seeing the technology being understood and adopted.

There is a new transparency standard, and it is led by organizations such as Ethereum who are not afraid of exposing their little imperfections via self-imposed transparency.

Transparency is like truth. It cuts like a knife, but whoever it offended, it heals them as soon as they understand it.

If you understand the power of decentralization and the capabilities of its corollary technologies, you will understand why we must embrace the openness and honesty of imperfect processes that lead to perfect evolutions.


The Next 10 Years: 42 Macro Predictions in Cryptography, Blockchains and Consensus Protocols

It would be interesting if we could look into a crystal ball and predict the future of Bitcoin, blockchains, cryptocurrency, decentralized applications and cryptography-based protocols and platforms.

All of this activity is under what I like to call “Crypto-Tech”, as a parallel to Info-Tech which is everything related to information technology.

At the macro level, I think the future of Crypto-Tech will unravel in ways that may not be so different from how the Internet unravelled.

From an endgame point of view; over the past 20 years, the Internet has generated impact along these 4 dimensions:

  1. New Internet-only companies have emerged.
  2. Existing organizations (and governments) have adopted the Internet inside their operations.
  3. Some industries were threatened by the Internet, and it radically changed them or hurt them.
  4. Web-based software development became a staple for any software application development.
  Fast forward 10 years from now, you could replace the word Internet by Crypto-Tech, and the same endgame would hold true:

New Crypto-Tech giants will emerge after being startups. Organizations and governments will adopt new solutions. Industries (and some companies) will be threatened and their business will get affected. And Crypto-Tech development will become part of the software development fabric.

These predictions may feel too high level, macro, meta or generic, but they are helpful as we work backwards, and get ready today for what is bound to inevitably happen, tomorrow.

So how will we get there?

In my opinion, it starts by applying innovations in software development. These innovations will unravel as follows, along the same 4 dimensions of how new technology typically permeates our world:

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 10.44.31 AM

New Companies and Behaviors

  • Online identity and reputation will be decentralized. We will own the data that belongs to us. We will self-manage our online reputations, and as we interact with various people or businesses, only the relevant slices of data will be revealed to them.
  • Cryptocurrency-only banks will emerge, offering a variety of financial services based on virtual currencies.
  • Decentralized prediction markets will enter the mainstream and offer frequent and credible predictions.
  • Distributed Autonomous Organizations will become viable, with self-governed operations and user-generated value creation that tie-back directly to services and financial rewards.
  • Spontaneous, and trusted commerce will happen between peers, without central intermediaries, and with little to no friction.
  • Content distribution and attributions will be signed on the blockchain in irrefutable ways. Ownership authenticity will be easily verifiable for digital assets and physical products alike.
  • Digital or hardware e-wallets will become mainstream, or embedded in smartphones and wearables.
  • Seamless microtransactions will be routine, as easily done as giving tips in real life.
  • Registry services for assets will exist and become more routinely done online than via visiting physical authorities.
  • Users will be able to implement business logic and agreements between them, and easily enforce them on the Internet.
  • Services where users earn cryptocurrency by performing routine services will be popular.
  • Blockchains will become large repositories of semi-private information; information that is revealed only when 2 or more parties agree to reveal it.
  • Global remittances will be routinely performed from smartphones or computers, and as easily done as sending an email.
  • Users will use blockchain-based technology without knowing about it; just like using databases.
  • There will be 10 widely and commonly used, global virtual currencies that will be considered mainstream, and their total market value will exceed $5 Trillion dollars, and represent 5% of the world’s $100 Trillion economy in 2025 (Bitcoin will still be the largest one of them).

Inside Existing Companies

  • Healthcare medical records will be instantly and permanently shared between patients and doctors, securely and routinely.
  • Legally binding governance related matters will be easily implemented across distributed teams.
  • Remote voting will be trusted, even at the country levels in legally binding political elections.
  • Trading exchanges (stocks, commodity, financial instruments) will adopt blockchain-based trust services for validating transactions, and streamlining their market-clearing activities.
  • Most banks will support routine bi-directional crypto-currency transactions (between fiat and cryptocurrency).
  • Most merchants will accept cryptocurrency as a payment choice.
  • Accounting, billing and financial packages will include cryptocurrency as standard choices, including crypto-equity.
  • Digital goods will be invisibly stamped for their origin authenticity, as a routine. Users will be given visibility into global productions by peering into the transparency of supply chains.

Threatened or Transformed

  • Any business that doesn’t combine its real-world information into a blockchain (just like the Web mirrors and extends an existing business into the online and mobile worlds).
  • Clearing houses with high latency and steep fees.
  • Any brokers that don’t offer more than what digital value offers or enables.
  • Central lenders that don’t evolve how they lend money.
  • Banks that don’t adopt crypto-technologies
  • Government services that don’t offer even more remote services, such as for registries, record keeping, licenses, and identifications.
  • Notaries that can’t operate virtually with cryptographically secured documents.
  • Anyone who is empowered to issue contracts, signatures, escrows, trusts, certifications, arbitration, trademarks, licenses, ownership proofs, wills or other private records.

Just Technology

  • Decentralized consensus protocols will become a common part of any technology stack implementations, both in public and private settings.
  • Commonly used technologies will include: Distributed Hash Tables and the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS).
  • Key-value store databases will be more commonly used.
  • Special browsers will enable unique blockchain peering capabilities.
  • Smart contract languages will proliferate.
  • Writing decentralized applications will become as popular as writing Web apps today (e.g. Ethereum as platform for that)
  • Open source protocols will be used and support the creation of new business services and products.
  • Running business logic that contains trust and verification components will be plug and play in the virtual sense.
  • Peer to peer decentralized base layers will be common in data storage, computing infrastructure, identity, and reputation.
  • Decentralized trust will be relegated to the network and embedded inside the applications instead of controlled by intermediaries.
  • University degrees in Cryptography and Game Theory will become popular.
  • More decentralized forms of cloud computing will emerge.
  All of these new scenarios will be based on cryptography-enabled solutions that will make this possible. Having learned the Internet lesson of the dot-com crash, I will end by issuing a warning that “Speed kills”. Speed in hyping what the blockchain can do will kill it, because it puts us ahead of reality, and that disconnect is guaranteed to disappoint those that expect returns faster than what is possible. So, let’s not hype this by assuming it will all happen in the next 10 months. It will happen, but over the next 10 years. There is hard work ahead. It’s a long road, and success will be along the way, not in the initial launching moments.]]>

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