Weekend Briefing No. 207

Welcome to the weekend. Over the last 18 months I’ve been learning more about cryptocurrencies and blockchain. This week’s briefing will be heavily (but not exclusively) focused on these topics.

I have a special interest in smart contracts and how blockchain can be leveraged for positive social / environmental impact.  Our firm is starting to do some work in this area. I’m playing around with the idea of a separate newsletter (probably not weekly at first) about the legal side of crypto and blockchain. What do you think? Is this a good idea? If you’re interested, sign up here.

Lastly, I wanted to explain the sections at the bottom of the briefing. From the Community is about featuring the work our community is doing. If you wrote a book, an article or dropped an album, let me know and I’ll drop it in here (if it makes sense). Feedback Loop is just emails I get – positive or negative – about the previous week’s briefing. Weekend Wisdom is simply a quote I thought you might find thought-provoking.

Prime Numbers

55,000,000,000 – According to the Tesla, Elon Musk’s compensation package will be “entirely contingent” on whether Tesla reaches a series of astronomical financial milestones, including a $650B valuation. It’s a “100% at-risk performance award” — and if Elon manages to hit his goals, he could add as much as $55B to his net worth.

355 –  The number of private jets that have arrived in Davos has spiked 355% in the last few days. More than 1,000 aircraft have landed at a quartet of regional airports near the WEF at an average daily rate of 218.

10 – More than 10% of $3.7 billion raised in ICOs has been stolen according to a report by Ernst & Young.

Blockchain & Child

Blockchain, the key technology behind Bitcoin, is a new network that helps decentralize trade, and allows for more peer-to-peer transactions. WIRED challenged political scientist and blockchain researcher Bettina Warburg to explain blockchain technology to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert. This video is surprisingly approachable and compelling view on blockchain. Which explanation made the most sense to you. WIRED (18 minutes)

Blockchain & Internet

The true believers behind blockchain platforms like Ethereum argue that a network of distributed trust is one of those advances in software architecture that will prove, in the long run, to have historic significance. That promise has helped fuel the huge jump in cryptocurrency valuations. But in a way, the Bitcoin bubble may ultimately turn out to be a distraction from the true significance of the blockchain. The real promise of these new technologies, many of their evangelists believe, lies not in displacing our currencies but in replacing much of what we now think of as the internet, while at the same time returning the online world to a more decentralized and egalitarian system. If you believe the evangelists, the blockchain is the future. But it is also a way of getting back to the internet’s roots. New York Times Magazine (22 minutes)

Blockchain & Fish

A new certification system, launched by blockchain company Viant and the World Wild Fund for Nature provides a step-by-step way to verify a fish’s journey from the ocean to the market and ultimately to the dinner plate. The new initiative is the latest example of how blockchain can transform supply chains and preserve the integrity of the food supply. The fish are tagged with a QR code right after they are caught and are tracked as they move through the supply chain. Viant built its Ethereum-based blockchain platform with the help of Microsoft Azure and the Brooklyn-based incubator ConsenSys. The fish tracking tool is just one use of its technology. Fortune (6 minutes)

Bitcoin & Energy

In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. All of the computers trying to mine tokens are in a computational race trying to find a particular, somewhat, random answer to a math algorithm. The algorithm is so complicated that the only way to find the desired answer is to make lots of different guesses. The more guesses a computer makes, the better its chances of winning. But each time the computers try new guesses, they use computational power and electricity. The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. New York Times (6 minutes)

AI & the Planet

One of the reports released at the WEF this week focused on the positive impact AI can have on the planet. Some ideas were: 1) Autonomous and connected vehicles. AI will be vital in the widespread transition to autonomous connected electric vehicles (EVs), which will ultimately transform shorthaul mobility while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and delivering cleaner air. 2) Distributed energy grids. AI can enhance the predictability of demand and supply for renewables, improve energy storage and load management, assist in the integration and reliability of renewables and enable dynamic pricing and trading thus creating market incentives. 3) Smart agriculture. Precision agriculture (including precision nutrition) is expected to increasingly involve automated data collection and decision-making at the farm level. This promises to increase the resource efficiency of the agriculture industry, lowering the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides, which are creating runoff that currently finds its way into rivers, oceans and insect populations, causing damage to important ecosystems. World Economic Forum (31 minutes)

Climate Change & Child Marriage

Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people. But come quickly, while it’s still here. The rise in sea level is eating away much of the arable land. One of the paradoxes of climate change is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — end up being most harmed by it. Bangladesh is expected to be particularly badly hit by rising oceans because much of the country is only a few feet above sea level. The loss of farm land makes it increasingly difficult to support a family and, at least in Bangladesh, climate changes appear to be increasing the numbers of girls who are forced to marry, a three-year academic study in Bangladesh concluded. New York Times (7 minutes)

Whoppers & Net Neutrality

A brilliant new Burger King ad is trying to teach customers about net neutrality, using Whoppers to criticize the recent repeal of regulations that proponents said ensured equal access to the Internet. In the ad, Burger King customers discover that the typical Whopper price only gets them a “slow access Whopper pass,” meaning they’ll have to wait longer for their burger unless they pay as much as $26 to receive their food quickly. The spot features Burger King employees explaining the new rules to angry and confused customers by calling it “Whopper neutrality.” YouTube (3 minutes)

From the Community

Kathleen Kelly Janus launched her book Social Startup Success about launching and scaling a high impact non-profit. I enjoyed hearing about it at the New York book launch party this week.

Fennie Wang of the Ixo Foundation discusses how Proof of Impact works on this episode of FutureTech Podcast.

Jay Coen Gilbert wrote an article about how the Black Rock letter could be a watershed moment in Forbes.

Ross Baird of Village Capital wrote an article about What beer can teach us about why 82% of the world’s wealth created last year went to 1% of it’s people.

Feedback Loop

These briefings are awesome! Particularly love “Doing the work” but the whole thing is great. –Lorraine Smith

Weekend Wisdom

“When you compromise and fail, that really hurts. It hurts even more than failing at what you love… You can fail at what you don’t love so you might as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made.” — Jim Carrey

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.