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The Power of Crowd – Part Three: the Consequences of Change

Photo: Alex Holyoake

As I outlined in the earlier articles I believe we are at a crucial inflection point for the internet. While it has become integral and beneficial to many people, the way it is currently being used strays from the principles of the open web, in terms of equality of access, freedom of speech and transparency. The worldwide web has left a small group of companies holding most of the financial clout, while users are regularly exposed to invasions of privacy or censorship. At an even more basic level, the infrastructure is not in place for a large part of the global population to access the internet. The problem is that we have gone beyond the point of no return in our reliance on the internet to go about our daily lives. It will only become more pervasive in the future, but if we stick to the current model we will only perpetuate the existing problems. Therefore, we must to consider more radical reform to create a fairer, safer and more open internet, in line with the original principles behind the open web.

However, such change will also have far reaching consequences for our daily lives. It could affect how nation states interact with one another. It could alter how companies do business and require people to make more of a financial contribution to receive online services. I would contend that if we can get these changes right they will benefit everyone. We can improve privacy for individuals, protect free speech and foster fairer economic opportunities for everyone. I am not just saying this as a biased technologist. Hopefully everyone can agree the internet has had a positive impact on communities around the world. It has supported the rise of the global middle class, even if that it has left us with a lop-sided “shared” economy. What gives me hope is that there are new technologies emerging such as the decentralized web and crypto-currencies, which create the possibility of very different ways for societies to interact and trade. Philosophically this will be a heated debate, especially if it means suggesting an alternative economic model to the tried and tested ones. However, if we accept the world is filled with significant social and economic imbalances, and that the current version of the internet is helping to exacerbate them, then surely we should air the alternatives? And if a new generation of internet technologies could offer innovation, which might have a positive effect on social mobility, then shouldn’t we consider these options and the consequent effects for economic models?

There are many different ideas floating around, some have been around for a long time, some are newer. They might seem abstract in a discussion about the future of the internet, but now is surely the time for bold, if not radical departures from traditional ways of doing things. For example, if the future internet gives individuals greater control over their data, what will that mean for those online businesses who have relied on access to our personal information? If we no longer want to surrender our sensitive data in return for free services, then how should companies trade with us? If companies are allowed to continue to make significant profits from online commerce, should we consider more radical forms of taxation to improve access to the internet for the wider population? Will traditional currency still be needed in the future or would it be more efficient to turn to crypto-currencies entirely? Should we apply the model of open source software more broadly to give more universal, affordable access to products and services? Or should we do away with net neutrality and tier access so that everyone receives a form of internet service, which is commensurate with what they are prepared to paid for?

No matter what your response is to these questions, there are diverse economic and social models emerging, which turn away from many of the accepted principles of free trade economics. Below is a small sample of the theories up for discussion. Would one of these models be more appropriate than what we have today, or should we be even more radical?

Circular economy
This concept has its origins in developing a more sustainable approach to the use and disposal of resources. Rather than a linear view of production as “make, use, dispose” it reflects the cyclical model of nature where nothing is wasted. It is a stretch to suggest it can be applied wholesale to reforming the internet, but some form of circular economy could be more inclusive. Perhaps concepts such as recycling could challenge how we view ownership, with the internet enabling new models of shared or rented usage. For example, we could encourage less car ownership by enabling travellers to receive crypto-rewards for using alternative or shared forms of transport; or we could create a scheme to help less connected communities receive travel allowances from car users, taken as a crypto-tax when they use their vehicles.

Tech-Led Trustless Systems
Johann Gevers has put forward a theory that next generation technologies are encouraging the decentralization of the core pillars of society. This has the potential to enable communities to operate and govern themselves in a different way. He describes it as trustless technology, which means technology exists that removes doubt about the validity of a transaction or a user’s identity. We can guarantee an individual’s identity, be confident about privacy and be sure there won’t be cases of fraud or security breaches because the decentralised model overcomes the issues of the past. Technology of trust is decentralizing:

  • The way we talk to one another, thanks to tools such as encryption which enable more private conversations.
  • The legal system, as it offers individuals greater choice in how decisions are adjudicated.
  • Production, because 3D Printing means there is less of a need for mass production.
  • Finance through the arrival of crypto-currencies.

The biggest challenge for these trustless systems is the large number of people around the world who remain undocumented. If this approach worked it could dramatically change how we structure societies – perhaps moving away from larger sprawling urban environments to smaller communities inter-connected via the internet with like-minded communities sharing economic opportunity.

Digital Distributism
I have mentioned this before but it is a theory put forward by Douglas Rushkoff, which suggests internet culture is giving birth to companies like Etsy and peer-to-peer communities, supported by crypto-currencies. These communities are seen as less global and do not follow the model of organizations like Google and Facebook attempting to rule the world. Rather than be solely driven by profit these smaller societies seek to support everyone within the group, sharing wealth rather than taking it out for individual gain. It harks back to a time before free market economics when societies were more self-sustaining and using barter systems to trade goods and services. It does rely on individuals sacrificing personal gain to support the group and inherently if one community is in a resource rich location, then it will start with an advantage over others.

While these theories might sound like the product of a Silicon Valley brainstorm facilitated by a student of Ayn Rand, they are symbolic of the very exciting debates that are happening today. You only have to look at the emergence of events such as Sonar D+ to realise that some are already well on the path to exploring what a world powered by a different sort of internet might be like. This debate should be much broader, including representatives of every political and social persuasion, because consensus is going to be critical if we are to find the right solutions.

MaidSafe Developer Conference 2017

If someone would have told us that our first developer conference would be held 7,500 miles away from Troon we would most certainly not have believed them. However, on the 20th of February, in conjunction with our partners at MaidSafe Asia, we found ourselves Fairmont Hotel in Jakarta hosting MaidSafe Devcon 1. With a population of 300 million Indonesia is one of Asia’s most populated countries. With a thriving developer scene and a highly motivated populace, Jakarta, the country’s capital, proved to be an excellent location.

Short note about MaidSafe Asia

We first announced the intention to set up a joint venture in 2016 and we are now delighted to be able to confirm that the agreement has been signed off and the entity MaidSafe Asia has been incorporated in Singapore. As a quick refresher, the intention in setting up this partnership is to enable MaidSafe UK to focus on developing the network, scale the development team and support developers on the platform. MaidSafe Asia’s priorities are to raise awareness, reach out to developers and generally market the technology. In fact, the name MaidSafe Asia maybe somewhat misleading as we start to discuss extending the area in which the new entity operates. This is a fluid situation and we will keep everyone updated as things progress. Anyway, back to the conference.

Different attitudes

The conferences 250 attendees came from all across Indonesia with some groups even travelling from Singapore and beyond. Many of the developers were freelancers, but also included those working for companies, and some very eager students.

During the morning session, Nick introduced the high level concepts of the SAFE Network and issues with the existing Internet, and the problems caused by it’s current centralised architecture. David spoke later during the morning session, describing MaidSafe’s vision, and the benefits the platform will offer to developers.

David explains the vision

David explains the vision

Nick describes centralised threats

Nick describes centralised threats

 

What struck us speaking with local people both during and after the event was the different attitudes that both users and developers have toward data security. Both of these issues are becoming of ever increasing importance in the UK and Europe, but these concerns are not shared to the same extent in Indonesia. Developers in Indonesia are more excited by the prospect of being able to compete with large technology companies using SAFEs costless infrastructure, and the concept of Safecoin was something that also seemed to resonate, with many liking the built in revenue streams that it provides. Monetisation it seems is a more significant factor.

CoinPayments

After presenting at the main conference, David and Nick went to speak with members of the press and were joined by Coin Payments CEO Alex Alexandrov. Coin Payments, a partner of MaidSafe Asia, are the largest alt coin payment processor in the world, processing in excess of $50million of transactions per month and have 132,000 vendors across 182 different countries. Processing over 55 alt coins, including of course MaidSafeCoin, the company have been great supporters of the the SAFE Network and are great advocates of our technology. They have also created their own MaidSafeCoin wallet and offer secure coin storage via their vault. You can find out more on their website.

Getting down to business

By the time that Krishna’s developer workshop started in the afternoon session, the polite and shy audience had lost any inhibitions, and became animated and engaged as Krishna explained the networks data types, the core concepts behind the APIs, before going on to showcase the developer tutorials that have been created. It was evident from the questions that followed Krishna’s first afternoon session that the audience had taken much of the information on board.

Developers put Krishna through his paces

Developers put Krishna through his paces

Krishna explains the APIs

Krishna explains the APIs

 

Krishna’s second session focussed upon the current transition from our REST API paradigm, which while being language agnostic does not cater well for mobile devices. REST demands that the devices hold state which is problematic given the fact that mobile devices automatically disconnect from networks after very short periods. Explaining our current transition to an SDK, he gave an overview of the plans for the next few months, specifically the transitioning of the existing example applications and producing new developer documentation.

After the closing remarks the event finished with much hand shaking and more questions from the attendees whom it cannot be emphasised enough where some of the most friendly conference attendees we have ever had the pleasure to meet. It was also great to see so many female coders, who, while still outnumbered by their male counterparts, were as well represented as we have seen at any recent conference we have attended.

The following day, David and Nick gave filmed interviews with CNN Indonesia. The interviewer politely confirmed our suspicions that Indonesians are not as concerned as we are in Europe regards security and privacy of data, but are very much interested in the sharing economy and the desire to contribute to a crowd sourced Internet. Maybe in time attitudes will change, although maybe they won’t have to as the SAFE Network continues to roll out and starts to deliver the security and privacy many Britons and Europeans value so highly.

Developer Case Study – Dsensor

Decentralized Mapping Protocol Project – Dsensor

Continuing our series of case studies highlighting early stage application development on the SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) Network, Dsensor is being developed by James Littlejohn. James explored various platforms to store and protect the data he would be collecting and decided to use the SAFE Network, because it reflected his belief that the network should not be driven by economics, but be focused first and foremost on the data.

MaidSafe’s fully secure, decentralised approach supported James’ view that knowledge or data should be in the complete control of user. While it is early days, Dsensor’s use of the SAFE Network APIs in its proof of concept form shows its potential as a viable platform for the management of data. James was also attracted to the SAFE Network, because of its strong encryption, and its ability to break data into chunks before scattering it around the decentralised network of nodes. This ensures the highest possible security and privacy for users when combined with the decentralised architecture, which avoids offering hackers central points of attack on a network, as we experience in today’s centralised, server-based model.

Being open source and supported by a strong community in the SAFE Network forum also means James has ready access to experts and potential partners, who can help to build out the application and trouble-shoot any technical questions. In the future James may also explore using safecoin to incentivise participation on Dsensor.

The Problem with Science

James Littlejohn has been involved in entrepreneurial projects since the dot com boom and while investigating opportunities around text mining identified an opportunity for lifestyle linking analytics, particularly in the area of wearable tech. In the course of his evaluation he recognised a broader application to data mining and analysis in the field of scientific and academic research. James assessed a number of drivers, including emerging technologies and changing economic conditions, which were beginning to have an effect on the way research was conducted.

Firstly, walled garden applications such as Facebook and wearable technologies were becoming more prevalent, and while they were a rich source of data on human activity, access to that information was restricted. At a time when the internet is supposed to be democratising many aspects of work and social life this is endangering an important source of information on lifestyle and health patterns, which could benefit societies around the world.

Secondly, the sustained economic impact of the financial crisis was creating significant pressure on public funding for research at a time when it was needed more than ever. Technology and the availability of large amounts of data is leading to opportunities for breakthroughs in a wide variety of academic and research fields. If the funding is not available via traditional public sources then there is an urgent to find new forms of investment. The rise of alternative cryptocurrencies could potentially address this point, offering a new, fairer way to incentivise and reward individuals for participating in research projects. For example, James envisages a scenario where the grant funder might ‘tokenise’ a percentage of their funding money and issue it via a science blockchain (like Dsensor). This would help to ensure the funding could be traced directly ensuring good governance of scientific research projects and fairer access to resources.

The final driver for a new model reflects an on-going debate about the model of peer-reviewed scientific research. For a number of years there has been a recognition of some fundamental weaknesses in the model in areas such as the replicability of research. In a poll conducted by Nature in May 2016 more than 70% of researchers admitted they had tried and failed to reproduce the experiments of other scientists and more than 50% failed to reproduce their own experiments. Of course this is in part due to the nature of frontier scientific research, which is reliant on trial and error, but there are clearly inefficiencies in the process.

Furthermore, there are questions about efficiency of current research models – in 2009 Chalmers and Glaziou identified some key sources of avoidable waste in biomedical research. They estimated that the cumulative effect was that about 85% of research investment – equating to about $200 billion of the investment in 2010 – is wasted. A blockchain provides a potential solution to this reproducibility crisis as Dr. Sönke Bartling and Benedikt Fecher outline in their paper, “Blockchain for science and knowledge creation.” Although scientific research should be delivered at arm’s length from the individual contributors it is ultimately reliant on individual scientists to gather and interpret data without bias. It is also often reliant on finite data sets, controlled samples or clinical trials, thus limiting the ability to cross reference the findings against other data sources.

Given the availability of data via the internet and the rise of automation technologies, such as machine learning, James believes that if individuals have control of their information they can decide to contribute their information to research projects without the interference of third parties such as academics or technology providers. Using automation scientists, academics – and more importantly citizen scientists – can draw data from anywhere in the world beyond the confines of a specific controlled sample and review independently to provide a data driven outcome.

Building A Blockchain for Science Research – A Truth Engine for Mankind

James’ investigation of text mining approaches led him to peer to peer models, which were enabling the owners of data to take control of how and with whom their information was shared.  

It led to the development of Dsensor.org (Decentralized Mapping Protocol), a peer to peer network for science knowledge to be investigated, discovered and shared. It has been based on the principle of science “SenseMaking” and it is designed to evolve peer review to a computational consensus model.  Using Dsensor if a scientist creates a thesis and wants to test it the scientist enters the hypothesis in computational form (called a Dmap in Dsensor speak) . The Mapping protocol then automates the testing of the science, starting by trawling the Dsensor network for relevant data from other peers. That data is then sampled and ‘scored’ based on its prediction power to verify or challenge the thesis until a computation consensus is established.  Science attaining this status then becomes ‘computationally active’ in the network meaning any peer has the ability to tap into the collective knowledge and feed in their own unique sensor data get the insights from the science working for them.

James has the ambitious goal to become a “truth engine for mankind” ensuring science is based on openness, transparency and reproducible results, essentially checking the accuracy of peer review.  Dsensor intends to deliver this outcome by building a network of trustless peers, which has inherit vast complexity making it economically and technically very costly and difficult to corrupt.  Dsensor, currently at proof of concept stage utilises  the Ethereum blockchain, using its cryptography and a variant of the proof of work process to create a technological and mathematical state where even with colluding computers it is impossible to game the system.   Rather than creating complexity using a proof of work Dsensor creates uncertainty using random sampling, in particular the selection of peers from the network and data sampling techniques.  The data sampling techniques are selected by each autonomous peer and the network sampling is a property of the Protocol for selecting peers from a Distributed Hash Table. In theory once the network gains a certain size the economic cost of gaming the network with false sensor data to support a fraudulent scientific computation will become extremely costly.

Additional safeguards include the role of reproducibility in science.  This creates an immutable audit trail or “mapping accounting” entries that support the most truthful science available to the network.  These networks are called GaiaBlocks and are open to be challenged by any peer on the network.  Scoring of the science also provides a rating model for scientific research and individual peers on the network.  Peers with poor outcomes will be demoted in favour of more highly rated scientific computations.

 

Glasgow University Students To Use The SAFE Network

Since its inception in 1451, Glasgow University has built a worldwide reputation as a centre for innovations which have had a profound effect on the world. Its famous alumni have included John Logie Baird, Lord Kelvin and Adam Smith, whose global impact has left a lasting impression on the world we live in today. Continuing the trend, Glasgow University Computing Science Students will be exposed to the latest in decentralised networking technology as MaidSafe’s SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) Network puts them at the forefront of research and development into next generation Internet applications.

Students within the computer science department, under the guidance of Dr Inah Omoronyia, Lecturer in Software Engineering and Information Security, will work with the MaidSafe team, led by Scottish Engineer David Irvine. They will provide students guidance in building apps on top of the company’s platform, a secure and decentralised data and communications network that replaces the world’s data centres and servers with the spare computing capacity of the networks users. This comes at a time of great debate about the future of the Internet with leading academics, including the founder of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, seeking to improve the security and privacy offered to users.

The SAFE Network provides a zero cost infrastructure for students and the current APIs enable the creation of storage and email applications. This functionality is laid out to developers in tutorials created by the company, and this will be expanded over the next few months as MaidSafe release tutorials every 2 weeks, providing increasingly more complex functionality to application developers.

MaidSafe CEO, David Irvine, commented on the partnership; “We are delighted to be working with a university with such a rich heritage and we very much look forward to using the applications created by their students. Where better to push the envelope of evolutionary thinking than the country that Voltaire opined “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”. Glasgow University has an excellent opportunity to be at the forefront of research and development in the field of Internet technologies, alongside the likes of MIT, which will further enhance its reputation – and that of Scotland – as a source of cutting edge innovation.”

Glasgow University has one of the leading computing science departments in the UK and is ranked amongst the top 100 in the world. Lecturer in Software Engineering and Information Security, Dr Inah Omoronyia confirmed “It’s a great opportunity for our students at Glasgow University to get hands-on experience with building apps for the SAFE network. Security and privacy functions is now core to modern day software systems; our students are really excited to learn new ways of building such systems using cutting-edge technology.”

MaidSafe Announces Equity Funding Round on BnktotheFuture

We wanted to share some next steps for MaidSafe and the future of the SAFE Network. On September 12th we will be launching an equity fund-raising round with BnkToTheFuture, a leading global online investment platform for qualifying investors. MaidSafe is looking to raise between £1.75m and £2m during the 30 day campaign.

Next steps

This is an important step for the company and the future of the platform coming on the back of the recent release of the SAFE alpha. We are delighted with the positive feedback we have had to date and the strong support of our community has been hugely important to us. We see this funding round as critical as we move to the next stage of development so we wanted to explain why we think this is the best way forward.

As you know launching the alpha is only one of many steps on our journey. There is a lot of work to do to build out functionality and create a robust platform that will attract users and application developers. That means we need to continue to recruit the best developer talent from around the world and build out a developer programme to support the growing interest in building on the SAFE Network. We will also be looking to develop our own applications, because we do see commercial potential for us as well as for the broader community.

Why BnkToTheFuture?

We have chosen BnktotheFuture for a number of reasons. They have a large online community of qualified investors, interested in the decentralised technology sector. There is a strong relationship with the crypto-communities, which is important to us, and investors will be able to invest in both traditional currency, bitcoin and even some of the more liquid altcoins like Ether. Above all it also means we will remain in control of our strategy and roadmap, which is really important to us as we want the SAFE Network to be available for everyone to use and develop on. This is why the core code-base is open-sourced, to encourage the establishment of a strong community around the technology. Furthermore, we have transferred the core intellectual property (IP) to a Scottish charity (The MaidSafe Foundation) to help ensure that MaidSafe is not seen to benefit unfairly from ownership of the network (although we hold a license in perpetuity to allow us to utilise and license the technology to partner companies).

We appreciate all your support so far and hope you will see this news as further evidence that the SAFE Network is on the fast track to becoming a viable alternative to today’s insecure, unreliable worldwide web. With this investment round we are seeking to accelerate progress further by adding functionality and working towards the beta version and beyond. I hope you will continue to contribute to this exciting journey, because we believe a secure, decentralised approach to the internet will present huge opportunities for users and developers alike.

SAFE Network Alpha Release

After 5 months of testing and 8 test nets it is our pleasure to announce the immediate availability of the alpha release of the SAFE Network. This represents another significant milestone on the way to creating a new, decentralised Internet.

Launcher and demo app

The release is available Windows, Mac and Linux, and comes with 2 components, the Launcher and the Demo App, each with their own installer. You can download both from the alpha page of our website.

The Launcher enables users to create their own account and access the network without providing their credentials (comprised of an account secret and account password) or giving third party applications access to them. This secure gateway enables users to stay in control of their details.

The Demo App must be run alongside Launcher and enables users to create their own SAFE webpage and public ID, store and retrieve private data and share public content. Users can also upload and host existing websites on the SAFE Network without charge.

This alpha release is focused on use of the client software. In a couple of weeks we will provide Vault installers to enable users to contribute their own computing resources. Running 2 parallel networks will enable us to provide a more stable network for end users and app developers, while also enabling ongoing development of the vault, which has a much more active code base at present. Once we are happy with performance, we will revert back to having one network.

As with any alpha software caveats apply to this release and users should be aware that data on the network will be wiped from time to time and there is a possibility that your data will be lost.

Not just for end users

The demo app is the first of several apps currently under development and with an updated release of SAFE Launcher APIs we anticipate that this list will increase in the coming weeks and months. We encourage any developers thinking about creating an app on the network to get in touch and we will help in anyway we can. In this vein a new developer focused SAFE Network forum will be launched next week, more details to follow…

Onward and upward

This is the first of several alpha releases that MaidSafe will make. Future versions will improve performance and increase stability, combine the Client and Vault networks, as well as adding features such as; contact management, messaging, test safecoin and safecoin wallets. More information on our rollout strategy is available here.

This is an incredibly exciting time for MaidSafe and the SAFE Network community. There is a growing movement to return to the original principles of the open web and decentralise the Internet. We believe our technology can contribute to this initiative and that is why we standby our vision to open source the technology so that all users and developers can benefit from it. We believe this is essential to fulfil our commitment to develop a decentralised network that gives users back control and offers far greater protections than today’s Worldwide Web.

Of course, we could not have got this far without the support of all our shareholders and community members. Thanks for all your help, we hope you enjoy the alpha and we look forward to hearing all your feedback! With your input we will iterate the network as quickly as possible to improve it and bring new innovations.

Community Engagement Program

We are happy to announce the Community Engagement Program (CEP). The purpose of this process is to match developers with immediate and fundamental SAFE Network requirements. This will take the form of a community funded ‘Kickstarter’ like process to encourage teams to bid for projects, accessing part of the 5 million available MAID fund for bounties, community projects…etc…put forward within the MaidSafeCoin announcement.

Each project will be identified up front as being in demand and then teams (or individuals) will propose a costed solution (in MaidSafeCoin) for each small proposal. It is anticipated that these will be mostly small (6 weeks or less) projects and will primarily cover end user applications, but may also include core components.

This proposed process is essentially an experiment to see if this way of working is both effective and scalable moving forward, only by running/cycling through this way of working will we truly understand its feasibility. The CEP will not replace the bounty program, which is more effective for smaller and specific pieces of work.

Applicants will be responding to a set of requirements established initially by MaidSafe and adapted to take into account community feedback. The community themselves will of course complement and expand on this process as it becomes more established, incorporating community based proposals. It is the intention that CEP projects will be 50% funded (in MaidSafeCoin) by MaidSafe and 50% by the community. If projects achieve less than 100% of the projected costs, it is up to them if they proceed. MaidSafe will assign a member of the company, whose skills and experience best suit the project, to oversee and act as the main point of contact. The following forum post explains the process in more detail.

The first project MaidSafe are seeking proposals for is a SAFE Network browser that is able to render standard web content and also enable web applications to invoke the APIs exposed by the Launcher. A mechanism to provide SAFE-only URLs as well as html…etc… is expected.  We would love to have your proposals, please submit them to the proposals category within the forum.

Good luck!