It’s a balmy 80 degrees on a mid-December day in Singapore, and something is puzzling Allen Day, a 41-year-old data scientist. Using the tools he has developed at Google, he can see a mysterious concerted usage of artificial intelligence on the blockchain for Ethereum.
Ether is the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency (after bitcoin and XRP), and it still sports a market cap of some $11 billion despite losing 83% of its value in 2018. Peering into its blockchain—the distributed database of transactions underpinning the cryptocurrency—Day detects a “whole bunch” of “autonomous agents” moving funds around “in an automated fashion.”
While he doesn’t yet know who has created the AI, he suspects they could be the agents of cryptocurrency exchanges trading among themselves in order to artificially inflate ether’s price.
“It’s not really just single agents doing things on their own,” Day says from Google’s Asia-Pacific headquarters. “They’re forming with other agents to have some larger group effect.”
Day’s official title is senior developer advocate for Google Cloud, but he describes his role as “customer zero” for the company’s cloud computing efforts.
As such it’s his job to anticipate demand before a product even exists, and he thinks making the blockchain more accessible is the next big thing.
Just as Google enabled (and ultimately profited) from making the internet more usable 20 years ago, its next billions may come from shining a bright light on blockchains. If Day is successful, the world will know whether blockchain’s real usage is living up to its hype.
Danish researcher Thomas Silkjaer is using Google’s BigQuery to map publicly available information about XRP cryptocurrency addresses. The craters represent some of cryptocurrency’s largest exchanges.
Last year Day and a small team of open-source developers quietly began loading data for the entire Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains into Google’s big-data analytics platform, BigQuery. Then, with the help of lead developer Evgeny Medvedev, he created a suite of sophisticated software to search the data.
In spite of a total lack of publicity, word of the project spread quickly among crypto-minded coders. In the past year, more than 500 projects were created using the new tools, trying to do everything from predicting the price of bitcoin to analyzing wealth disparity among ether holders.
When it comes to cloud computing, Google is far behind Amazon and Microsoft. Last year Google pocketed an estimated $3 billion in revenue from cloud services. Amazon and Microsoft, meanwhile, generated about $27 billion and $10 billion, respectively.
Day is hoping that his project, known as Blockchain ETL (extract, transform, load), will help even the playing field. But even here Google is trying to catch up. Amazon entered blockchain in a big way in 2018 with a suite of tools for building and managing distributed ledgers.
Microsoft got into the space in 2015, when it released tools for Ethereum’s blockchain. It now hosts a range of services as part of its Azure Blockchain Workbench. But while Amazon and Microsoft are focusing on making it easier to build blockchain apps, Day is focusing on exposing how blockchains are actually being used, and by whom.
“In the future, moving more economic activity on chain won’t just require a consensus level of trust,” says Day, referring to the core validating mechanism of blockchain technology.
“It will require having some trust in knowing about who it is you’re actually interacting with.” In other words, if blockchain is to go mainstream, some of its beloved anonymity features will have to be abandoned.
A native of Placer County, California, Day got his first computer at the age of 5 and a few years later started writing simple programs. A fascination with volcanoes and dinosaurs turned his interest to life sciences, and he ultimately graduated from the University of Oregon with a dual degree in biology and Mandarin in 2000. From there he headed to UCLA to pursue a doctorate in human genetics and helped build a computer program to browse the genome.
This Silkjaer image uses data for the XRP cryptocurrency to show the movement of funds across the entire ledger of transactions, culminating in a snapshot of funds in an actual user’s wallet.
It was at UCLA where Day began relying on distributed computing, a concept that is core to blockchains, which store their data on a large network of individual computers. In the early 2000s Day needed to analyze the massive amounts of data that make up the human genome. To solve this problem he hooked many small computers together, vastly increasing their power.
“Distributed-systems technology has been in my tool kit for a while,” Day says.
“I could see there were interesting characteristics of blockchains that could run a global supercomputer.”
Hired in 2016 to work in the health and bioinformatics areas of Google, Day segued to blockchains, the hottest distributed-computing effort on the planet. But the talents he had honed—sequencing genomes for infectious diseases in real time and using AI to increase rice yields—were not easily applied to decoding blockchain.
Before Day and Medvedev released their tools, just searching a blockchain required specialized software called “block explorers,” which let users hunt only for specific transactions, each labeled with a unique tangle of 26-plus alphanumeric characters. Google’s Blockchain ETL, by contrast, lets users make more generalized searches of entire ecosystems of transactions.
To demonstrate how customers could use Blockchain ETL to make improvements to the crypto economy, Day has used his tools to examine the so-called hard fork, or an irrevocable split in a blockchain database, that created a new cryptocurrency—bitcoin cash—from bitcoin in the summer of 2017.
This particular split was the result of a Hatfield and McCoy “war” within the bitcoin community between a group who wanted to leave bitcoin as it was and another who wanted to develop a currency that, like cash, was cheaper and faster to use for small payments.
Using Google’s BigQuery, Day discovered that bitcoin cash, rather than increasing so-called micro-transactions, as the defecting developers claimed, was actually being hoarded among big holders of bitcoin cash.
“I’m very interested to quantify what’s happening so that we can see where the legitimate use cases are for blockchain,” Day says. “Then we can move to the next use case and develop out what these technologies are really appropriate for.”
Day’s work is inspiring others. Tomasz Kolinko is a Warsaw-based programmer and the creator of a service that analyzes smart contracts, a feature of certain blockchains that is designed to transparently enforce contractual obligations like collateralized loans but with less reliance on third parties, like lawyers. Kolinko was frustrated with his blockchain queries.
In December, Kolinko met Day at a hackathon in Singapore. Within a month of the meeting, Kolinko was using Google’s tools to search for a smart contract feature called a “selfdestruct,” designed to limit a contract’s life span. Using his own software in conjunction with Day’s, Kolinko took 23 seconds to search 1.2 million smart contracts—something that would have taken hours before.
The result: Almost 700 of them had left open a selfdestruct feature that would let anyone instantly kill the smart contract, whether that person was authorized or not. “In the past you couldn’t just easily check all the contracts that were using it,” Kolinko says. “This tool is both the most scary and most inspiring I’ve ever built.”
Day is now expanding beyond bitcoin and ethereum. Litecoin, zcash, dash, bitcoin cash, ethereum classic and dogecoin are being added to BigQuery. Independent developers are loading their own crypto data sets on Google.
Last August, a Dutch developer named Wietse Wind uploaded the entire 400 gigabytes of transaction data from Ripple’s XRP blockchain, another popular cryptocurrency, into BigQuery.
Wind’s data, which he updates every 15 minutes, prompted a Danish designer named Thomas Silkjaer to create a heat map of crypto flows. The resulting colorful orb reveals at a glance more than a million crypto wallets, including big exchanges like Binance and London’s crypto debit card startup Wirex, which are neck deep in XRP transactions.
“Google has been a bit of a sleeping giant in blockchain,” says BlockApps CEO Kieren James-Lubin, who is partnering with Google to sell enterprise blockchain apps.
In addition to Day’s work, Google has filed numerous patents related to the blockchain, including one in 2018 to use a “lattice” of interoperating blockchains to increase security, a big deal in a world where untold millions of crypto have been stolen by hackers.
The company is also pushing its developers to build apps on the Ethereum blockchain, and Google’s venture arm, GV, has made a number of significant investments in crypto startups.
The giant, it seems, is waking up.
-Michael del Castillo; Forbes Staff
‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’
Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?
Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.
They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.
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What feasible solutions can artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?
AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.
For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.
There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?
The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.
Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.
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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.
Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?
Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.
There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.
A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.
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What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?
The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.
The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.
If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.
Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future
With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.
Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.
Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.
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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.
“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.
An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.
Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.
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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.
The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable.
“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.
A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.
“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.
“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”
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Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.
According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.
Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.
The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.
It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.
Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’
Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.
A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.
In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.
“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.
“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.”
While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.
Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.
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Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year.
Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.
She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.
“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.”
She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.
“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.
Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).
One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.
The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.
Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.
“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.
Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment.
This story is developing.
-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes
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