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August 18, 2018
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cryptocurrency

Incentivai launches to simulate how hackers break blockchains

in Apps/Artificial Intelligence/blockchain/cryptocurrency/Delhi/Developer/Enterprise/Incentivai/India/machine learning/Politics/Startups/TC/Y Combinator by

Cryptocurrency projects can crash and burn if developers don’t predict how humans will abuse their blockchains. Once a decentralized digital economy is released into the wild and the coins start to fly, it’s tough to implement fixes to the smart contracts that govern them. That’s why Incentivai is coming out of stealth today with its artificial intelligence simulations that test not just for security holes, but for how greedy or illogical humans can crater a blockchain community. Crypto developers can use Incentivai’s service to fix their systems before they go live.

“There are many ways to check the code of a smart contract, but there’s no way to make sure the economy you’ve created works as expected,” says Incentivai’s solo founder Piotr Grudzień. “I came up with the idea to build a simulation with machine learning agents that behave like humans so you can look into the future and see what your system is likely to behave like.”

Incentivai will graduate from Y Combinator next week and already has a few customers. They can either pay Incentivai to audit their project and produce a report, or they can host the AI simulation tool like a software-as-a-service. The first deployments of blockchains it’s checked will go out in a few months, and the startup has released some case studies to prove its worth.

“People do theoretical work or logic to prove that under certain conditions, this is the optimal strategy for the user. But users are not rational. There’s lots of unpredictable behavior that’s difficult to model,” Grudzień explains. Incentivai explores those illogical trading strategies so developers don’t have to tear out their hair trying to imagine them.

Protecting crypto from the human x-factor

There’s no rewind button in the blockchain world. The immutable and irreversible qualities of this decentralized technology prevent inventors from meddling with it once in use, for better or worse. If developers don’t foresee how users could make false claims and bribe others to approve them, or take other actions to screw over the system, they might not be able to thwart the attack. But given the right open-ended incentives (hence the startup’s name), AI agents will try everything they can to earn the most money, exposing the conceptual flaws in the project’s architecture.

“The strategy is the same as what DeepMind does with AlphaGo, testing different strategies,” Grudzień explains. He developed his AI chops earning a masters at Cambridge before working on natural language processing research for Microsoft.

Here’s how Incentivai works. First a developer writes the smart contracts they want to test for a product like selling insurance on the blockchain. Incentivai tells its AI agents what to optimize for and lays out all the possible actions they could take. The agents can have different identities, like a hacker trying to grab as much money as they can, a faker filing false claims or a speculator that cares about maximizing coin price while ignoring its functionality.

Incentivai then tweaks these agents to make them more or less risk averse, or care more or less about whether they disrupt the blockchain system in its totality. The startup monitors the agents and pulls out insights about how to change the system.

For example, Incentivai might learn that uneven token distribution leads to pump and dump schemes, so the developer should more evenly divide tokens and give fewer to early users. Or it might find that an insurance product where users vote on what claims should be approved needs to increase its bond price that voters pay for verifying a false claim so that it’s not profitable for voters to take bribes from fraudsters.

Grudzień has done some predictions about his own startup too. He thinks that if the use of decentralized apps rises, there will be a lot of startups trying to copy his approach to security services. He says there are already some doing token engineering audits, incentive design and consultancy, but he hasn’t seen anyone else with a functional simulation product that’s produced case studies. “As the industry matures, I think we’ll see more and more complex economic systems that need this.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build “Login with Coinbase”

in Apps/blockchain/coinbase/cryptocurrency/decentralized apps/Decentralized identity/Decentralized Systems/Delhi/Exit/Fundings & Exits/India/M&A/mobile/Politics/Social/Startups by

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop a “login with Coinbase” identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded last year that was building identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and one other co-founder are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the “Login with Coinbase” product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says “No one really understood what we’re building”, and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance or Coinbase”. Coinbase “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the “Login with Coinbase” platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, says Srinivasan. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This made turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their sign up flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed this morning that it’s working on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction”, Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your social security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Decentralized Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well positions it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Ethereum’s falling price splits the crypto community

in Bitcoin/blockchain/blockchains/cryptocurrencies/cryptocurrency/Delhi/Economy/ethereum/Finance/Flash/golden gate ventures/India/initial coin offering/Kenrick Drijkoningen/kin/money/Politics/TC by

Hello And Welcome Back To The Latest Edition Of All The Cryptos Are Getting Rekt Right Now.

Crypto bloodbaths have become fairly common in 2018 — mainly because of the insane growth in 2017 — but we’ve not covered them all because they are so numerous and often include so-called ‘flash crashes’ or small drops, but the fall happening today is worth noting for several wider reasons.

Primarily that’s because this is a major test for Ether — the token associated with the Ethereum Foundation that is the second largest cryptocurrency by volume — has been on a downward spiral with little sign of change.

Ether, which is the preferred platform of choice for most developers building on the blockchain, is down nearly 17 percent over the past day. That’s erased billions of dollars in paper (crypto) value as the bear market for cryptocurrencies continues to pull markets south.

The drop also marks the first time ever that the price of an Ether has fallen below its valuation over one year: one Ether is worth $266 right now at the time of writing, versus $304 on August 14 2017. The token has been steadily falling since early May, when its peak value was $808, and as the lynchpin for many ICO project tokens, its demise has sent the value of most other tokens down, too.

Just looking at Coinmarketcap.com this morning, all but two of the top 100 tokens are down over the last 24 hours with many losing 10-25 percent of their value over the past day. Bitcoin, too, has dropped below $6,000, having topped $8,000 for a time last month.

Ether’s plummet below $300 has sparked a mixed debate among those in the crypto community. The token had been held as visionary, an improvement on Bitcoin that gives developers a platform to build on — whether it be decentralized apps, decentralized systems or more — but that hasn’t been reflected in in this months-long price retreat.

Certainly, two founders who spoke TechCrunch and have held ICOs expressed a belief that Ether “needs to find some price stability” to allow the focus to become about product and not just ‘get rich’ speculation. Of course, it helps that the two founders and many of those who held token sales have long since sold the Ether or Bitcoin they raised in exchange for fiat currency. Indeed, if their token sale was last year, the chances are they got a lot more real-world cash than they initially bargained for or would get now.

But still, the idea of consistency is shared by others who are in crypto professionally. That includes investors like Kenrick Drijkoningen, who is in the midst of raising a $10 million fund for LuneX, a spinout of Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures.

In an interview last week, Drijkoningen told TechCrunch that raising a fund and doing deals in a ‘low tide’ market like now beats attempting to do the same amid a frothy period with hype and peak valuations — one Ether was worth nearly $1,400 in January, for example. A number of others VCs have long said that, ultimately, stability is good for the ecosystem.

Vitalik Buterin is the creator of Ethereum

But, on the other side, there are more pessimistic voices.

Among some investors canvassed by TechCrunch, the sense is that with the downturn of the ICO funding boom that fueled much of Ethereum’s rise, there may be less incentive to hold as the broader market’s interest in the cryptocurrency wanes.

For one Bitcoin bull, the intrinsic value of Bitcoin as an immutable, decentralized ledger acts as a more powerful draw than the perceived mutability and centralization that the Ethereum platform offers.

“People are also beginning to understand the unique value of an immutable, decentralized ledger, and recognize that Ethereum is not that,” the investor wrote in an email.

Another long-term problem that Ethereum faces, according to this investor, is that the promise of decentralized apps backed by the token is yet to be released. Crypto Kitties, a smash hit earlier this year, has faded and now there’s competition as Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is adding nodes and apps — referred to as LApps — which can operate in a similar but leverage the Bitcoin ledger.

It’s still early days, of course, and markets will always rise and fall, but this is the first big test for Ether and Ethereum. Beyond the sport of price speculation, it’ll be worth watching to see where this heads next.

Note: One of the authors of this post — Jon Russell — owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Crypto mining giant Bitmain on target for $10B revenue this year

in bitcoin mining/Bitmain/blockchain/cryptocurrency/Delhi/Hardware/India/Jihan Wu/nvidia/Politics by

During a gold rush, Silicon Valley’s line is to always invest in picks and shovels instead of mining. Sometimes it pays just to do both.

TechCrunch has learned through a company fundraise overview that Beijing-based mining equipment seller Bitmain hit a quarterly revenue of approximately $2 billion in Q1 of this year. Despite a slump in bitcoin prices since the beginning of the year, the company is on track to become the first blockchain-focused company to achieve $10 billion in annual revenue, assuming that the cryptocurrency market doesn’t drop further.

Fortune has previously reported that the company had $1.1 billion in profits in the same quarter, a number in line with these revenue numbers, given a net margin of around 50%.

That growth is extraordinary. From the same source seen by TechCrunch, Bitmain’s revenues last year were $2.5 billion, and around $300 million just the year before that. The company reportedly raised a major venture round of $300-400 million from investors including Sequoia China, at a valuation of $12 billion.

For comparison, popular cryptocurrency wallet Coinbase made $1 billion in revenue in 2017. In addition, Nvidia, a company based out of California that also makes computer chips, generated revenues of $9.7 billion in its 2018 fiscal year (2017 calendar year). Nvidia’s revenues were $3.21 billion in Q1 fiscal year 2019 (Feb-April 2018), and historical revenue figures show a general seasonal uptrend in revenue from Q1 through Q4.

The same overview also shows that Bitmain is exploring an IPO with a valuation between $40-50 billion. That would represent a significant uptick from its most recent valuation, and is almost certainly dependent on the vitality of the broader blockchain ecosystem.

Several of Bitmain’s competitors have filed for IPO since the beginning of 2018 but most of them are significantly smaller in size. For example, Hong Kong- based company Canaan Creative filed for an IPO in May, and the latest was that it was aiming for $1 billion to $2 billion in fundraising with 2017 revenue of USD $204 million.

When contacted for this story, Bitmain declined to comment on the specific numbers TechCrunch has acquired.

A Brief Overview of Bitmain

Bitmain is the world’s dominant producer of cryptocurrency mining chips known as ASICs, or Application-Specific Integrated Circuit. It was founded by Jihan Wu and Micree Zhang in 2013, and the company is currently headquartered in Beijing.

As the story goes, back in 2011, when Wu read Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper on Bitcoin, he emptied his bank account to buy them. Back then, one bitcoin could be purchased for under a dollar. And by 2013, Wu and Zhang decided to build an ASIC chip specifically for bitcoin mining and founded Bitmain. Wu was just 28 at the time.

Cryptocurrency mining is the process of checking and adding new transactions to bitcoin’s immutable ledger, called the blockchain. The blockchain is formed by digital blocks, where transactions are recorded. The act of mining is essentially using math to solve for a cryptographic hash, or an unique signature if you will, to identify new blocks.

The general mining process requires massive processing power and incurs hefty energy costs. In exchange for those expenses, miners are rewarded with a number of bitcoins for each block they add onto the blockchain. Currently, in the case of Bitcoin, the reward for every block discovered is 12.5 bitcoins. At the current average trailing bitcoin price of approximately $6,500, that’s $81,250 up for grabs every 10 minutes, or $11.7 million dollars a day.

Bitmain has several business segments. The first and primary one is selling mining machines outfitted with Bitmain’s chips that are usually a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each. For example, the latest Antminer S9 model is listed as $3,319. Secondly, you can rent Bitmain’s mining machines to mine cryptocurrencies.

Third, you can participate to mine bitcoin as part of Bitmain’s mining pool. A mining pool is a joint group of cryptocurrency miners who combine their computational resources over a network. Bitmain’s two mining pools, Bitmain’s AntPool and BTC.com, collectively control more than 38 percent of the world’s Bitcoin mining power per BTC.com at the moment.

The future of Bitmain is Closely Tied with the Crypto Market

Bitcoin mining is a massive business with influence over energy prices across the world. (LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite its rapid rise to success, Bitmain is ultimately dependent on the price of cryptocurrencies and overall crypto market fluctuations. When there is a bull crypto market, investors would be willing to give a different valuation multiple to the company than if it were in a bear market. In a bear market, the margins are reduced for both the company as well as for its customers, as the economics of mining cryptocurrrncies are no longer as compelling. For example, at the end of 2014, Mt. Gox, a famous Bitcoin exchange at the time, was hacked, spurring a crash in cryptocurrency prices.

Subsequently, Bitmain went through a bitcoin drought as Bitcoin prices hit low points, and its ASIC chips did not see much demand. It was not appealing to miners to pay for expensive electricity bills to mine a digital currency that was falling in value. But fast forward to now, we have gone through several bull and bear crypto market cycles. According to Frost & Sullivan, in 2017, Bitmain is estimated to have ~67% of the market share in bitcoin mining hardware, and generated 60% of computing power.

Canaan Creative IPO filing. Compay A is Bitmain

One of the fundamental challenges facing any cryptocurrency mining manufacturer such as Bitmain is that the valuation of the company is largely based off of the price of cryptocurrencies. The market in the first half of 2018 has shown that no one really knows when bitcoin prices and the cryptocurrency market will start picking up again Additionally, according to Frost & Sullivan, the ASIC-based blockchain hardware market, which is the market segment that includes Bitmain and Canaan, will see its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) slow to around 57.7% annually between 2017 to 2020, down from 247.6% between 2013 and 2017.

Nonetheless, it seems that Bitmain has planned well ahead to prepare for these macro risks and exposures. The company has raised significant private funding and has been expanding its business into mining new coins and creating new chips outside of cryptocurrency applications.

First, with it’s existing mining rigs, Bitmain can essentially broaden into all SHA256-related coins. So coins such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, can all be mined on Bitmain’s equipment. The limitation here is largely how fast they can build up more mining equipment and mining centers. The company has broadened it’s geographic reach by developing new mining centers. Most recently, Bitmain revealed that it will build a $500 mn blockchain data center and mining facility in Texas as part of its expansion into the U.S. market, aiming for operations to begin by early 2019.

Secondly, Bitmain is also looking to launch their own AI chips by the end of 2018. Interestingly, the AI chips are called Sophons, originated from the key alien technology in the famous trilogy, the Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin. If things go as planned, Bitmain’s Sophon units could be training neural networks in data centers around the world. Bitmain’s CEO Wu once said that in 5 years, 40% of revenues could come from AI chips.

Lastly, Bitmain has been equipping itself with cash. Lots of it, from a number of the top and largest investors in Asia. Two months ago, China Money Network reported that Bitmain raised a series B round, led by Sequoia Capital China, DST, GIC, Coatue in a $400 million raise, putting the company at a value of $12 billion. Just last week, Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent and Japan’s Softbank, another tech giant whose 15% stake in Uber makes it the drive-hailing app’s largest shareholder, also joined the investor base.

For Bitmain, there are many reasons to stay private as a company, including keeping its quarterly financials private as well as dealing with market fluctuations and the ongoing volatility and uncertainty in the cryptocurrency world. However, the con is that early employees may not get liquidity in their stock options until much later.

Wu has said that a Bitmain IPO would be a “landmark” for both the company and the cryptocurrency space. However, with the current rich crypto private market financing, it’s not so bad of an idea to continue to raise private money and stay out of the public eye. Once Bitmain’s financials become more diversified and cryptocurrency becomes more widely adopted worldwide, the world may then be ready for this $10bn revenue blockchain company.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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