Michael del Castillo: «Dark Wallet: A Radical Way to Bitcoin»

«Cody Wilson is a twenty-five-year-old former law student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the inventor of the Liberator, a gun made almost entirely from plastic pieces created with a 3-D printer; he also uploaded to the Internet a blueprint that anyone could use to print such a gun.

»Wilson, who espouses libertarian views, created the blueprint to make a point: information should be free. Not everyone agreed with him. In May, after Wilson successfully fired the gun at a range near Austin and posted the design online, the State Department requested that those files be removed from the Web site of his nonprofit, Defense Distributed.

»Wilson complied—but not before the files had been downloaded two hundred thousand times, igniting a debate about whether there should be limits to the free flow of information over the Internet, and over the role of the government in enforcing those restrictions.

»Wilson lives in “a utopian world in which contraband will be only a notional concept, because enforcement will require policing ideas and blueprints, not simply goods,” Jacob Silverman wrote in a piece about Wilson and the Liberator in May.

»A native of Cabot, Arkansas—a small suburb of Little Rock—Wilson said that the State Department’s action persuaded him to drop out of law school and pursue revolutionary activities full-time. In fact, he had been planning his next endeavor for a while. When Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, booted Defense Distributed’s campaign in August, 2012, for violating its terms of service—Indiegogo said the project related to the sale of firearms; Wilson said it was for the creation of information—Wilson began to raise money by asking people to support him using a currency called Bitcoin: encrypted, difficult-to-trace bits of code that function like cash and can be exchanged over the Internet without a bank or a PayPal account.

»Wilson said that he eventually raised two hundred bitcoins for the Liberator—the equivalent of twenty-seven thousand dollars, according to the current exchange rate. His efforts attracted the attention of a twenty-five-year-old Brit named Amir Taaki, who e-mailed him with an invitation to speak at the Bitcoin 2012 Conference, in London. He accepted.

»Wilson and Taaki met in person for the first time in January of 2013, when Taaki took Wilson to visit a workspace for hackers is Bratislava, Slovakia, and to anarchist squats in London. They reconnected in Berlin that July and began hashing out a plan to use the as of yet unregulated, untaxed, nearly untraceable currency in a way that would, like the Liberator, undermine the ability of governments to regulate the activities of their citizens.

»In the Bitcoin world, where banks no longer serve as intermediaries between people and their money, bank accounts have been replaced by online “wallets” that people can use to virtually store and send bitcoins.

»Wilson and Taaki’s project, tentatively known as Dark Wallet, is a simple wallet designed to be easier to use for people who aren’t tech-savvy; they hope that in turn accelerates the currency’s rate of adoption around the world. The wallet will be open-source and free to use. Eventually, Wilson and Taaki hope to create a vast stable of Bitcoin-related tools.

»The goal, for Wilson, is similar to what he tried to do with the Liberator: use technology to remove government intervention from his life, and from the lives of like-minded people.

»Unlike many current Bitcoin wallets, which can be difficult to download and cumbersome to use, Wilson and Taaki are designing Dark Wallet, they told me, as an easy-to-install plug-in that sits discreetly on users’ Chrome or Firefox browsers. Made for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, Dark Wallet would move most of the energy-sucking process of insuring there’s only one of each bitcoin in circulation, and that they aren’t spent in two places at the same time, to separate servers.

»Wilson still lives in Austin, working remotely on Dark Wallet with Taaki, who lives in an anarchist compound called Calafou, outside of Barcelona, and writes most of the code behind the wallet. Taaki and Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, a periodical covering the currency, are part of a Calafou-based organization called unSystem, which came up with the idea for the wallet; they’re working with a team of developers from around the world. Wilson, who will manage the development team behind Dark Wallet, making sure they meet their targets on time, is also producing a video and other material for a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the project.

»Dark Wallet should be ready sometime in January or February of 2014, Taaki said, though he’s not committing to anything. “It’ll launch when it’s ready,” he said. And the details of an upcoming crowdfunding campaign have still yet to be solidified, though Taaki and Wilson expect it to launch sometime in October.

»The person or group that, in 2008, created Bitcoin—that is, released the protocol that defined what Bitcoin would be—called itself Satoshi Nakamoto. The online comments that Satoshi Nakamoto made before disappearing completely, in 2012, indicate that the creator of Bitcoin, like Wilson, was deeply mistrustful of economic institutions and designed the currency to be intentionally subversive.

»Bitcoin is created, or “mined,” as it’s called, by powerful computers that race to solve complex math problems and are rewarded for their work with the encrypted code that is a bitcoin. Today there are 11.7 million of the coins in existence, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, though their value fluctuates dramatically. Nakamoto set the number of coins entering circulation to halve every four years until 2140, when they will plateau at twenty-one million coins and never be produced again.

»Because no one can arbitrarily decide to print more bitcoins, and because no banks intermediate the storage and spending of the currency, the value of a bitcoin is determined by market demand. Wilson finds this very attractive.

»But where a currency exists, capitalism will inevitably find it. In recent months, Bitcoin has caught the attention of entrepreneurs, many funded by venture-capital firms, who have begun building Bitcoin-related start-ups. The companies include exchanges where people can trade bitcoins, along with services that let people store and spend the currency in places ranging from Amazon-style online markets to brick-and-mortar bars and restaurants.

»The mainstream entrepreneurs who are interested in Bitcoin have found a haven in a nonprofit called the Bitcoin Foundation. Writing about Bitcoin in April, Maria Bustillos described its executives as a “rational and sober group of adult administrators” who stand in contrast with the image of Bitcoin users as “wild-eyed kids camping out in half-deserted lofts.” Members of the foundation met in August with several federal agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the F.B.I., and the Secret Service. On the surface, the meeting was an educational exercise, meant to explain how Bitcoin works, but many observers assume it was a step toward regulating the currency.

»The foundation, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, calls itself an advocacy group “dedicated to serving the business, technology, government relations, and public affairs needs of the Bitcoin community.” One goal, according to Jon Matonis, its executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, is to educate both public and private interests—including the government—about how the currency operates. (“The Foundation is not pro-regulation as some have claimed, but it is pro-education,” Matonis has written, adding that he supports “bitcoin education for legislative and regulatory entities” and that “lobbying on behalf of Bitcoin is not necessarily anti-market.”)

»Wilson, not surprisingly, sees working with the government as a betrayal of Bitcoin’s fundamental purpose. “The public faces of Bitcoin are acting as counter-revolutionaries,” he told me. “They’re actively working to try to diffuse it, and to pollute it.” He was referring, he said, not only to the Bitcoin Foundation but to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in New York and Silicon Valley who increasingly embrace the currency as a way to profit, but don’t share his revolutionary aims. (Matonis said he is aware of Wilson’s concerns. “I don’t see my role as advancing crony capitalism,” he said.)

»Wilson believes Bitcoin should remain the backbone of a separate economy that undermines the government’s ability to collect taxes and to control the value of currency—not be subsumed into the mainstream economy.

»“The state is basically allowed because we have all chosen to use these certain institutions to channel our activity and commerce,” he told me. “But when we are enabled, through alternative means and technologies, to channel our commerce as we will, channel our production as we will, the state simply disappears.”

»Not everyone agrees, of course, that society would benefit from the disappearance of governments. Wilson used the Liberator to make the point that the government shouldn’t regulate the flow of information; he wants to use Bitcoin to help build an economy outside of the government’s reach.

»But his ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, would also leave services like roads, libraries, fire fighting, and policing in the hands of the private sector—whose interests may not be aligned, Wilson’s critics argue, with those of the public at large.

»Wilson knows that he could see blowback for his stance against the foundation: as a self-described “crypto-anarchist,” perhaps he shouldn’t be so concerned with who is or isn’t determining the currency’s future. And if the U.S. government attempts to regulate the currency, which seems likely, Wilson will also find himself once again in direct opposition to the government.

»Wilson and the suit-and-tie-wearing people at the Bitcoin Foundation share a common interest in bringing Bitcoin to as many people as possible. The foundation seems willing to play nicely with the establishment, and has been open to hearing about the interests of old-school players like venture capitalists and government regulators. Wilson, however, who was only recently firing an illicit gun into the desert, isn’t looking only for a new currency but for another way to liberate himself—and others—from government oversight.»

The New Yorker


Susan Linn: «Marketing Drowns Out Innovation»

«Creativity — our ability to invent, conjure, envision, think divergently, and change the status quo — is essential to a thriving democracy and is rooted in children’s creative play. Yet as a society, we seem to do just about everything we can to prevent even very young children from playing. Over-scheduling, lack of access to green space and early emphasis on rote learning are a few of the barriers we’ve constructed. Another primary culprit is today’s unprecedented convergence of unfettered commercialism and ubiquitous screen media.

»A commercialized, screen-saturated culture deprives children of what’s essential to creativity: time, space and silence. A commercialized, screen-saturated culture deprives children of what’s essential to creativity: time, space and silence. Children constantly bombarded with stimulation are so busy reacting that they never learn how to generate. Instantaneous access to an endless array of videos, television, apps and games may stave off boredom. But those stretches of having “nothing to do” are exactly what foster the creative intersection of children’s inner world and their immediate surroundings.

»The current crush of licensed toys also deters creativity, especially those that sing, dance and talk at the press of a button. Children play less creatively with media-linked toys, which arrive with predetermined names, voices, personalities and scripts. Try making Elmo or Dora into anyone but themselves. Kids also play less creatively with kits — construction sets or packaged art projects designed to achieve one specific end result. The toys that nurture creativity suggest possibilities, but don’t insist on who or what they are and how they must be used. They just lie there, waiting to be transformed.

»The childhood experience of initiating transformation, and finding the inner resources of flexibility and stamina to bring it to fruition, is the foundation of life-long creativity. Amid the glitter and noise of screen-based commercialism, we need to actively carve out commercial-free, screen-free time and space for children.»

Room for Debate, The New York Times


Adam Mazmanian: «Looking for innovation on disaster communication»

«The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy played host recently to a brainstorming session designed to generate ideas for using technology in disaster relief and recovery that included participants from the public and private sectors and non-profits. It was the latest in a series of “innovation jams” convened by OSTP in order to fast-track solutions to knotty problems.

»One key problem facing first responders is how to cope with the fire hose of information coming from mainstream media and personal accounts on social media.

»The Federal Emergency Management Association maintains a small digital engagement team to monitor social media for trends that might indicate need, but it’s nothing like a virtual 911. The American Red Cross has trained about 160 digital volunteers that can exchange information across social networks in times of crisis, a service launched in the wake of Hurricane Irene in 2011.

»According to Wendy Harman, director of information management at the American Red Cross, adding digital volunteers is a slow process because the organization’s social media staff is stretched thin and it’s hard to find time for training.

»Harman, who was at the OSTP event, collaborated on a project that has the potential to help organize digital information in a crisis. The group developed a rapid prototype of a system that automatically identifies and tags information related to a particular disaster, whether it comes from news organizations or social media feeds. The idea is to give responders on the ground a picture of what’s happening. Such an idea is useful, Harman said, because of the problem of trying to provide structure to the unstructured data flow of social media. The Red Cross does some of the same work in their digital center. “We’re not an individual response organization, but we can pick up trends and see gaps in service,” she said.

»Molly Turner, director of public policy at the online vacation rental network Airbnb, said the session was more like a San Francisco hackathon than a government event. “It was very informal, with the least amount of talking-at I’ve ever received.” Senior officials from FEMA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services participated in brainstorming sessions. “They provided Play-Doh, origami, toothpicks, and glue,” Turner said. “They knew that some people like to visualize and physically prototype things as they brainstorm.”

»Turner worked on a plan tentatively called Disaster Relief Innovation Vendor Engine (DRIVE), which would aggregate links to providers of needed goods and services for disaster victims. The idea is to bring together services that people might already use, such as travel sites, social networks and shopping sites to direct services to people in need. “We recognize that it’s hard to create new habits after a disaster. It’s more effective to rely on existing habits and existing platforms,” she said. The idea is an outgrowth of a service provided by Airbnb during Hurricane Sandy, when it organized members who wanted to donate unused lodging to people seeking shelter.

»The effort also produced a prototype for a platform to let disaster survivors who need medicine or power for an electric-powered medical device communicate their needs to disaster responders, who can tap into transportation networks to make deliveries.

»These sessions are a signature of Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, who has tried to bring a startup mentality to government in his time at the White House. Harman said it was “luxurious to spend a day brainstorming like that,” noting that non-profits typically can’t afford to convene these kind of events.

»The investment in the meet-up could pay off, if stakeholders follow through on promised innovations that could filter back into the public sector. According to Turner this is already happening – she’s been emailing with her collaborators to push her DRIVE project forward.»



Karan Girotra: «The Four Biggest Innovation Myths, Debunked»

«Sitting under an apple tree may have played a part in Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation but it takes more than an epiphany to innovate.

»The notion that innovation starts with a sudden flash of insight, an electric light bulb or an Archimedes in the bathtub moment, is far from accurate. Innovation takes time and effort. It’s less an idea and more a process. Here are the four big myths which, more often than not, act as barriers to innovation and the development of new concepts and designs.

»Myth 1: It’s about a BIG idea

»Perhaps the most widespread misconception is that innovation comes from one big, brilliant idea. The odds are that you’re more likely to be struck down by lightning while waiting. Finding an idea is like hunting for buried treasure in a desert. You can wander around hoping to stumble on the treasure or starting digging in one spot and trust you’ll get lucky. A more systematic approach is to dig many holes – in other words to come up with lots of quick, short, descriptions of ideas and work from there.

»If you look deeper into the creative process of people or industries that make their mark, there is rarely one defining moment. In the pharmaceutical industry for example, people don’t say “Let me come up with the smartest idea for the newest drug”, they come up with hundreds of thousands of compounds and what follows is a systematic iterative process to finally get to a drug that works.

»An example of a business that has done very well is Pixar, the computer animation film company responsible for many innovative and financially successful movies. If you look at their creative process, it’s not one person that comes in and pitches a film. There will be dozens of people pitching hundreds of ideas about cars, birds, superheroes. They will select a number of ideas and work on them, developing characters, expanding on the subject before moving onto a plot. The whole process can take three to five years to become a feature film.

»Companies and individuals thinking about innovation need to encourage a pool of ideas and adopt a systematic selection and refinement process; a funnel approach converging the multitude of ideas down to a handful of projects that can be pushed to rapid completion.

»The challenge in this approach is to broaden the mouth of the funnel, expanding access to new ideas and information, and to narrow the neck through stringent screening processes so limited resources can be spent on selected projects with the highest expected result.

»Myth 2: Innovation is about new products or technology

»It can be, but innovation can also be focused on improving processes and systems within the company. Business model innovation looks at disrupting the way things are done and bringing in new approaches that contribute to a business’s success.

»There’s no argument that Henry Ford made an impact on the car industry, but he didn’t really come up with any new technology. What he developed was a new way of making cars – the assembly line or standardised business model which revolutionised the car industry. Similarly Toyota became famous for introducing the ground-breaking “Just-in-Time” production approach completely changing management philosophy and practices.

»And then there’s Dell DELL +0.25% Inc. The multinational computer technology firm’s success didn’t come from inventing better computers but from the introduction of a new model of online selling and its “Build–To-Order” model of manufacturing.

»Business model innovation entails relatively lower degrees of difficulty and uncertainty than traditional forms of product innovation and demands neither a new breakthrough technology nor the creation of a new brand market. It delivers existing products based on existing technologies to existing markets. As such, it’s inherently less risky than product innovation and can be introduced in both small and large companies and in sectors where other types of innovation often fail. It often involves changes that are invisible to the outside world, bringing advantages that are harder to copy and easier to sustain.

»Myth 3: A good idea is instantly recognisable

»It isn’t. If you look at data measuring the predictability of a successful idea, it’s surprisingly low, even amongst people who know the industry well.

»Nobody knows how the market will respond to a new product or system. It’s a matter of looking at and testing all the ideas, developing those that look the most promising and slowly weeding out those that don’t. As part of the funnel mechanism, mentioned earlier, hundreds perhaps thousands of concepts, are put through hurdles. Does the idea make sense? Is it financially feasible? Assumptions must be tested and ideas taken through market studies and competitive analysis. Along the way, getting feedback from a diverse group of experts unrelated to the project is key.

»Myth 4: Get funding ASAP

»Once an idea’s been identified the next step is finding the big money to develop it. The conventional approach if you have a big idea is to go ‘all in’. This may be the case if you’re pressed for time but chances are if you take this path you will lose a lot of money along the way.

»Going big makes sense if you know a good idea from bad but, as noted, a lot of testing needs to be done before this can be assured. Low cost processes have the ability to change and refine ideas through every step of the funnel process, weeding out ideas that don’t work so resources can be focused on the most attractive opportunities. This process is known as “pivoting” and implies the need to stay flexible and let the business model evolve.

»There’s a lot of quick, cheap testing that can be done to gather information about what will work and what won’t. A new product to come out of one of the Identifying New Business Models MBA module at INSEAD was Knixwear – sweat resistant, absorbent and odour reducing underwear for women, which shows how fundamental and low-cost testing can be. Variants of the idea were explored using data about women post-pregnancy and by surveying the student population. The product was tested on campus using simple simulations such as moistening the prototype and asking students to wear it and judge its comfort level. Another involved getting people to hold the test fabric on their hand and test how dry it felt and for how long.

»The product was later launched through the crowd-funding platform Indiegogo raising C$60,450 -more than one and half times the target.

»The bottom line is that innovation takes more than brilliance. It takes courage, it takes time, it takes tenacity and, first and foremost, it takes action.»


This post was originally published at INSEAD Knowledge.

Karan Girotra is Assistant Professor of Technology and Operations Management at INSEAD. More about the author


Posts Collection on Innovation

Coleção de postagens sobre inovação do 27 ao 30 de Agosto

Posts Collection on Innovation, August 21-23

Coleção de mensagens sobre inovação do 13 ao 16 de Agosto

Colección de post sobre innovación del 6 al 11 de agosto

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Posts Collection on Innovation, July 8-11

Colección de post sobre innovación del 1 al 4 de julio

Posts Collection on Innovation, August 21-23

And... What is «Innovation»? Why do we talk about it so much?

Do we need it? What can the innovation do for us?

Some answers that I have read these days are:

Innovation does not mean «unique», says Andrew Reid. Then, if you want to be innovator as a way of differentiation, forget it! (Innovating is to live, simply!) Well, he says many things from his experience and I like that he think about the customer and the companies. In summary – Data are not the way. You can have your customer in your mind but out of the effect of your activity.

Frédéric Dufays and Benjamin Huybrechts remind us that the new enterprises have a collective nature to accept the complex challenge to run our society.

In Canada, the goals of innovation in its important cattle sector focus on costs and, above all, on quality by investment on scientific research.

A great innovation speaks Spanish and Portuguese – Is the Red Latinoamericana Contra el Trabajo Infantil, Latin-American Network against Child Labour. This network pursues to achieve the roadmap established by the Global Child Labour Conference in The Hague, at May 2010.

Murilo Ferreira manages the Brazilian great mining company Vale and the innovation that he brought was the simplicity. Only three priorities take up his efforts. These decisions are wise and their colleagues celebrate it as the way to revert the excesses of the business in the past.

In Portugal, Daniel Deusdado claims for opportunities and employment for the digital natives. His article is worthy to read, poetic and realistic!