The Business of Blockchain: Videos and Key Takeaways

Business of Blockchain
This past April, I had the privilege of attending The Business of Blockchain event that was put on by the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. The event was a one-day conference examining the technology, ethics, and impact of blockchains. If you are a reader of our blog, you know that CRT has been focusing on practical use cases for blockchain in real estate over the last year and half.

The goal of the event was to meet pioneers in the field, gain business advantages by learning more about the technology and ultimately learning to separate real opportunities from the hype. This event was incredibly useful as it helped clarify which changes blockchain technology will be making immediately and what’s still far off in the future. A reoccurring theme of the day was how blockchains can help provide and guarantee security, identity, and ownership while still operating at the speed of the internet.

Recently, MIT has published videos from the event and I would like to share three of my favorites as well provide my key takeaways from each talk.

Blockchain: Unlocking the Power and Potential

Brian Behlendorf

Brian Behlendorf is executive director of the Hyperledger Project. Behlendorf was a primary developer of the Apache Web server, the most popular Web server software on the Internet, and a founding member of the Apache Software Foundation. He has also served on the board of the Mozilla Foundation since 2003 and the Electronic Frontier Foundation since 2013.
From the video:

  • Brian shares the exact moment of when he realized the potential for blockchain technology. His “Ah-Ha” moment came after hearing of a land title project in Honduras that was being started to protect land ownership through decentralization of records.
  • In recent history, the digitization of systems has led to the centralization of systems. Brian explains how permissioned ledgers can begin to re-decentralizing how these systems work.
  • Brian then goes on to describe the opportunity and benefits that will come from the transformation of the traditional hub and spoke models to ledgers, and specifically how the roles of intermediaries in those models will shift over time.

What Could Go Wrong? When Blockchains Fail.

Emin Gün Sirer, Cornell University

Emin Gün Sirer is an associate professor of computer science at Cornell University. His research interests span distributed systems, security, and operating systems, with a particular emphasis on digital currencies and self-organizing systems. He runs the popular blog Hacking, Distributed.
From the video:

  • Emin Gün talks about what can happen when people and companies apply blockchains in a manner that is at odds with the science that is behind them. Setting the stage for his talk, Emin covers the history of how civilizations track wealth as well as how validity, immutability and apply to blockchains.
  • In recent years there have been a number major failures based on poor implementations. Emin goes into detail about the attack on the Ethereum based smart contract, The DAO, and how it was exploited for over $50 million dollars.
  • Emin warns audience members who are interested in running private permissioned technologies. These systems are built relying heavily on the fact that the network will be resilient to attack as long as the nodes fail independently.The problem here that many implementations that we are seeing today have every node on the network running the same code, making them al susceptible to the same vulnerabilities. Emin suggests the concept of N Version programming as a possible solution.

Transformation at Scale: Building Tomorrow’s Financial Markets Today

Amber Baldet, J.P. Morgan

Amber Baldet is the Executive Director, Blockchain Program Lead at J.P. Morgan. Established in 2015, J.P. Morgan’s Blockchain Center of Excellence sets a comprehensive blockchain strategy for the Corporate and Investment Bank, while also developing cutting edge technology, curating Strategic Investments, and performing client outreach.
From the video:

  • Amber explains what the future of JP Morgan’s client services could look like and what that means for their product offerings.
  • She goes on to explain how even though her company is focused on investment banking applications, they must be built with the same ethical design standards as blockchains inorder to avoid very imbalanced systems.
  • Amber finishes her presentation with a quick overview of JP Morgans first open source software product, Quorum, that allows for private and secure transactions on a public ethereum blockchain.

If you are interested in learning more, click here to view all the videos from the Business of Blockchain Event. I’ve also included links to all of NAR’s research below.


NAR Resources

White Papers:

Projects:

Previous Posts:

External Resources

Blockchain Solutions:

NAR’s Research into Blockchain

Blockchain Real Estate
CRT Labs was launched in August 2015 with the purpose of educating the REALTOR® membership about emerging technologies that could have a potential impact on the real estate industry. Since then, we have strongly advocated for proper security and privacy in today’s smart home, developed fantastic educational material for REALTORS®, and designed innovative and affordable solutions for monitoring indoor air quality.

Today, we are excited to be discussing blockchains, which we feel have countless applications for use in our industry. The purpose of this blog post is to give a basic explanation of what blockchains are, how they differ from traditional database models, and to provide an update on NAR’s research.

What Are Blockchains?

Blockchains are digital ledgers that are shared among a distributed network of computers and interested parties. These digital ledgers are permanent and tamper-proof because the underlying technology allows each participant on the network to interact with the ledger in a secure way without the need for a central administrator.

While that might sound complex and a bit difficult to understand, the basic idea behind blockchains is actually pretty straight forward.

Simply put, blockchains provide a verifiable, trustworthy record of events or transactions.

This digital record of events, or ledger, maintains a continuing growing list of ordered entries called blocks. Each block is linked to the next in chronological order and contains cryptographically secured information that links it to the previous block (like a chain). This allows for information to be added to the ledger in a manner that is impossible to alter retroactively.

What Are the Benefits to Blockchains?

Beyond the fact that they are tamper-proof by design, there are many other advantages to using blockchains instead of traditional databases in your applications.

Some of the key benefits:

  • Each participant retains its own copy of transactions, as ledgers are not centralized and can not be controlled or altered by a single party.
  • Blockchains allow for smart contracts, meaning the ledger itself can be programmed to trigger transactions automatically based on predefined, software-based clauses.
  • Decentralization of the data removes any single point of failure.

These benefits are often overlooked due to skepticism surrounding early blockchain applications involving digital currencies like Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin is the most successful example of a blockchain application, it is important to not equate the two.

Bitcoin uses blockchain technology, but Blockchains ≠ Bitcoin.

Why Is NAR Focusing on Blockchain Research?

Personally, I believe blockchain has the potential to be one the most impactful technologies of the next few decades.  I also predict we will begin to see more and more blockchain-based applications enter the mainstream real estate industry in next few years. After financial tech and supply chain management, the real estate market will be the target for entrepreneurs trying to disrupt traditional business models.

CRT Labs believes that smart contracts could greatly reduce the cost of doing business. The automated checks and balances these smart contracts provide will help REALTORS® and their clients get to the closing table faster and with less risk involved. We are also beginning to see the public sector getting involved. Chicago’s Cook County is testing Blockchain-Based Property Title Transfer which could help protect rights to property ownership records.

NAR’s short term goals are to create practical, open source blockchain applications that highlight the positive aspects of the technology that can also be used as case studies by our industry partners. Our first project uses blockchain to provide an improved method of sharing membership engagement levels (committee service, education history, CE Tracking) across all local, state, and national levels of the association. We are hoping that this initial work will help lay the groundwork for adoption of more high-impact projects in the future.

NAR’s Progress To Date

Since September 2015, NAR and CRT labs have:

  • met with NAR committees, advisory boards, and industry partners on over twenty occasions to discuss the potential of this new technology
  • published two white papers  ( 1, 2 )
  • released the source code for the prototype that what will soon become our membership engagement tracker.

Going Forward

Over the next  few months, I will be speaking at three conferences on this topic:

CRT Labs and NAR also plan to continue developing and sharing practical blockchain solutions.


NAR Resources

White Papers:

Projects:

Previous Posts:

External Resources

Blockchain Solutions:

CES 2017 Round Up – Part 2: Products We Are Excited To Follow

Following up on last week’s CES 2017 Trends Roundup, we wanted to share five products that we saw that we are really excited to watch in 2017!

personal safety realtors occlyOccly Occly is a wearable personal safety device specifically designed to be a visual deterrent. It can be worn on the body or clipped to an accessory. Occly is armed with a panic button, four cameras that provide nearly 360 degrees of coverage, sirens, a microphone, LED lighting, wireless capabilities, and a number of automatic alarm sensors.
Shield The NVIDIA Shield is a media streaming device, similar to an Apple TV or Chromecast that allows gaming, apps, and home control in one. It also touts support for Google Home.
Flow Plume LabsFlow FLOW is a smart, connected mobile accessory to track, monitor and reduce your exposure to air pollution – indoors, outdoors and on the go.
spec sensor air quality monitorSparrow Sense SPARROW is a wearable environmental health and safety monitor that measures Carbon Monoxide (CO), along with temperature, pressure and relative humidity. It can be attached to your smartphone case, clothes, bag, purse, stroller, bike, and even placed in your car.
Solpad Solpad’s have redesigned the solar panel, integrating batteries into the panel itself, and added software and hardware to integrate it with smart homes and a mobile app. Integrating the batteries into the panels could potentially cut installation costs in half.

CES 2017 Round Up – Part 1: Watching the Smart Home Evolve

A flight home from CES 2017, credit reddit user fantomknight1

Very much like last year, the halls of CES 2017 were packed to the brim with smart home technology. Now although there were a few new products, the majority of vendors mainly showed off upgraded versions of their lights, lock, security cameras, switches and other smart home hardware. It seems the major smart home announcements at CES 2017 were about new integrations between existing products. This trend is a big win for the industry and consumers who are currently dealing with a fragmented user experience.

Alexa

For the second year in a row, Amazon’s personal voice assistant has dominated the floors of CES. Without being present in any formal capacity, the personal assistant seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Most impressively, Alexa has broken free from just being a smart home product and is now showing up in nearly all industries at CES. Vendors are building their products with Alexa built in, negating the need for consumers to even own an Amazon Echo. For example, both Ford and Volkswagon announced that the virtual assistant will be coming to their connected cars to allow search, shopping, and smart home control while driving. Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Huawei is launching an android phone that will prominently feature Alexa. Lenovo has created two versions of their own personal assistant that has Alexa built-in . The standard – starting at $129.99, and the Harmon Kardon Edition, which offers better sound quality, starting at $179.99. (very comparable to the price of an actual amazon echo).

The number of applications (or skills) available in Amazon Alexa store is increasing at an incredible rate. With only 1,000 available last June, the store now hosts over 7,000 skills that allow you do to basic things like set timers and alarms, to ordering Uber’s or Lyft’s and checking wait times at airports.

Apple’s Homekit

While Apple Homekit seems to currently to be losing the integrations “arms race”, CES 2017 was still full of vendors announcing their HomeKit Enabled Devices. Integrations with Apple take longer for third party vendors as there is a strict set of hardware and software requirements Apple imposes before it will certify a product as HomeKit compatible.

Locks:

  • Yale Real Living Assure Locks
  • Yale NexTouch Wireless Locks
  • Kwickset Premis smart lock

Lights:

  • iDevices Instant Switch
  • Lifx Plus Smart Bulbs
  • Ring Floodlight Cam

Security:

  • Withings Home Plus
  • Fibaro Motion Sensor
  • Fibary Door/Window Sensor

Other

  • Netatmo Smoke Alarm
  • Chamberline Smart Garage Opener
  • Fibaro Flood sensor

Lutron

Lutron, one of the more established Smart Home Vendors in the industry has announced new integrations with Samsung SmartThings and additional features with Nest.

With SmartThings you will now be able to control your Lutron switches and shades alongside other compatible products from within the SmartThings mobile app. That’ll let you use things like Z-wave and ZigBee motion detectors to trigger your Lutron gear. This communication is not native to the Lutron Platform however and will require you to purchase an additional piece of hardware that works as a translating device. This hardware should be available early this year.

Lutron is has also added additional functionality to its Nest integrations. Previously, you were already able to trigger Lutron gear based on communications from the Google Company’s Learning Thermostat and Protect Smoke detector. Now they have also added Nest Cam support which is a great benefit to be able to control your indoor/outdoor lighting based on motion detected on your cameras.

Google Home

Being the new comer to this space, Google’s personal assistant platform remained relatively quiet this year with only a few announcements. Besides integrating with the familiar Belkin Wemo line, Google also announced partnership with another new comer to the space, the Nvidia Shield/Spot, a media streaming device with built in AI and smart home integrations.

As they open up more of their API and hardware vendors have more time to integrate, I imagine Google Home will be the one to watch at CES 2018.

Final Thoughts

All of these integrations show a maturing smart home industry, a welcome improvement over the fragmented marketplace that existed just a year ago. The fact that consumers will no longer necessarily be silo’d into smart home walled gardens should allow greater adoption of these devices. To learn more about CRT’s CES trip, please follow us on Facebook as we discuss our findings live on Friday afternoon. Please make sure to check back here as well next week for part two of this series, where I share the products that I am most excited about for 2017.