IBM announced today that their Kenyan research lab is prepared to roll out a new blockchain-based microlending solution, prepared in partnership with Twiga Foods.   Twiga Foods is a Nairobi-based business-to-business coordination platform for kiosks and food stalls in Africa that had previously expressed interest in extending financial service offerings to its customers.

While Twiga Foods was interested in ways that they could offer access to working capital to their customers, many of the businesses did not have credit scores or another existing way to assess their creditworthiness.  Fortunately, IBM researchers had a solution and proposed using both machine learning applied to mobile phone data, including purchase and repayment patterns, in order to build a picture of a business’s financial health.    In the past, IBM has successfully used similar data in partnerships with an African bank and with a mobile service provider.  In those projects, over $3 million in loans were processed.

Grant Brooke, co-founder of Twiga Foods said, “Previously, we were focused on helping farmers distribute bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes to 2,600 kiosks across Kenya, but we soon realized that we could help them sell even more produce with access to working capital. It’s simple, if the food vendors can sell more, we can distribute more, growing both of our businesses.”Late last year, Twiga Foods and IBM tested the viability of their concept by running a pilot project with 220 Kenyan small food kiosks, referred to locally as “mom mbogas” in Swahili.  The eight-week pilot involved over 220 loans issued to participants, with the average loan amount around $30 USD (3,020 KES).   During the pilot project, participating retailers saw an increase in profits of approximately 6%, and orders increased by approximately 30%.   The microloans were issued as 6 to 8 day advances, and participants were charged between 1% and 2% interest.

 

Using blockchain allows a level of transparency within the lending process for all parties, including the lender, the borrower, and their banks.  Since no one party can unilaterally alter or add to the blockchain, it can be an effective way to reduce fraud and misrepresentation.  Blockchain technology can also be a very efficient way of processing financial transactions, as it can execute a series of “smart contracts” simultaneously.

“We analyzed purchase records from a mobile device and then apply machine learning algorithms to predict creditworthiness, in turn giving lenders the confidence they need to provide microloans to small businesses. Once the credit score is determined, we used a blockchain, based on the Hyperledger Fabric, to manage the entire lending process from application to receiving offers to accepting the terms to repayment,” said Isaac Markus, a researcher on the inclusive financial services group at IBM Research in Kenya.

 

IBM and Twiga Foods hope to expand the project to include other vendors and suppliers, both within Kenya and in other countries, by the end of 2018.

On April 6th, at 16:44:02 UTC (block 1546000), the privacy-oriented cryptocurrency Monero successfully performed its scheduled hard fork. Which, among other updates, hardened the cryptocurrency against ASIC miners.

As a result of the PoW change, various forks have appeared that intend to maintain the old blockchain, stating that the existence of ASICs for the cryptocurrency is good.

ASIC Resistance

The Monero community first began to suspect that an ASIC was in play in January, when the hashrate began to increase rapidly. Though at the time, the Monero community believed that developing an ASIC for CryptoNote would be prohibitively expensive.

Monero reported hash rate – bitinfocharts.com

The suspicions were proved correct when Bitmain announced its AntMiner X3 ASIC in mid-march alongside other ASIC announcements. Though these announcements occurred not long after the Monero team announced that it would be changing the PoW algorithm to set back any ASIC miners.

Other features added

One of the notable changes made over the hard fork is support for the ledger nano hardware wallet. Otherwise, sub-addresses and multi-signature wallets were added to the reference wallet.

You can read the full changelog on the Monero team’s blog post.

Results

While the full extent of the hashrate drop is still unknown, the difficulty algorithm has begun to lower the difficulty. At the time of writing, monerod reported a network hashrate of 645.63 MH/s and a difficulty of 77475745059. It is expected that the difficulty and therefore reported hashrate will have normalized around block 1546720.

ethereum mining

A proposal to adopt a hard fork to maintain ASIC resistance is quickly building support among Ethereum users in response to reports that the first Ethash ASIC miners are already in production.

Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 958, submitted by Ethereum developer Piper Merriam on Thursday, proposes that Ethereum take measures to maintain ASIC resistance and ensure that the network’s hashrate remains decentralized.

“I believe it is the accepted wisdom that ASIC based mining leads to increases [in] centralization when compared to GPU mining,” Merriam wrote.

The proposal was sparked by recent reports that Chinese mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain has developed and is currently producing an Ethash miner that uses Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) chips.

ASIC miners are vastly more efficient than GPU miners, but — as Merriam noted — their development tends to centralize mining hashpower into the hands of a small group of miners and mining pools, particularly since Bitmain is by far the dominant ASIC manufacturer.

Since Ethereum is one of several cryptocurrencies that use the Ethash Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus algorithm, the release of an Ethash ASIC miner promises to fundamentally alter the nature of Ethereum mining.

However, since ASICs are only useful for a single purpose, they can be rendered obsolete (or “bricked”) by adopting a hard fork to modify the mining algorithm.

Monero, for instance, recently modified its instance of the Cryptonight PoW algorithm after Bitmain released the first Cryptonight ASIC, and its developers have said that they will preemptively alter the consensus algorithm every six months to discourage manufacturers from attempting to develop Monero-compatible ASICs in the future.

There are varying opinions about whether ASICs are helpful or harmful — Bitcoin mining has been dominated by ASICs for years — but forking to maintain ASIC resistance appears to have support in the Ethereum community.

At the conclusion of the EIP, Merriam asked users to up- or downvote the EIP to indicate whether they support adopting a fork to improve the network’s ASIC resistance. At the time of writing, the hypothetical fork had overwhelming support, with 550 votes in favor and just 26 against.

That’s a small sample size, but it’s not the first informal survey to find broad support for preserving ASIC resistance. A day prior, Ethereum developer Vlad Zamfir asked a similar question on Twitter, and his poll found that 57 percent of the 6,903 respondents favored a hard fork while just 13 percent opposed it.

Featured Image from Pixabay

West Virginia has become the first ever U.S. state to offer internet voting supported by blockchain technology.  The West Virginia government is testing the technology as part of a pilot program, so that deployed members of the military and their dependents have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming Senate primary election on May 8th, without actually being physically present at traditional ballots.

A statement made on the Secretary of State’s website calls the current process for absentee military voters, “cumbersome to complete,” and hopes this blockchain-based solution will alleviate any issues. The report further states that finding solutions to allow military members to participate in voting more easily was among West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s top priorities since taking office.

Warner said:

“Our military service personnel fight every day across the globe to protect our way of life. They deserve to vote as much as anyone, and we owe it to them to make the process as easy as possible,” “Whether a Soldier is without mail service in the mountains of Afghanistan, or a Sailor is in a submarine under the polar icecap, they deserve the opportunity to participate easily in our democracy. They should have a voice in choosing who sends them into harm’s way.”

The technology powered by Boston-based startup Voatz works by recording votes on the blockchain. A voter’s identity is verified using biometric tools such as a fingerprint or facial scan. Not only does this mean that miscount potential is eliminated, but voters can see their vote directly on the blockchain, and the vote can be cast from anywhere in the world with internet access. The move makes voting as transparent and accurate as possible, with the hope of increasing both trust and participation.

“West Virginia is taking the lead in providing safe, secure and accurate voting systems to encourage voter participation at every level,” said Secretary Warner. “We’re working hard to increase the level of confidence citizens have in our election process. Increased confidence results in increased participation.”

Warner and his team will gauge success via a number of metrics, including voter participation. But Warner is also concerned about the app’s user-friendliness, stating that “Not only are we looking forward to military voters participating in this pilot project, we’re asking for their input on the user-friendly nature of the mobile application itself.”

The pilot program, which is a joint venture between the Office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Voatz, Tusk/Montgomery Philanthropies, New America and the Blockchain Trust Accelerator, is limited to voters in just two counties – Harrison and Monongalia County – for the time being. However, according to Warner, the plan is to expand across all 55 of the state’s counties during the 2018 general election in November if the program is deemed a success.

 

In spite of the current price dip across the cryptocurrency ecosystem, development on blockchain based tools and platforms continues unaffected. One example of that development happened on March 13th, when DelegateCall was the first DApp to go live on Loom Network.

What is Loom Network?

Announced in October 2017, and going live on the 14th of March, Loom Network is a framework for building highly scalable distributed applications. It makes use of ethereum sidechains to increase DApps performance and to store application more effectively. Loom Networks allow developers to build new blockchain based tools and platforms on a robust framework.

What is DelegateCall?

“Telegram isn’t ideal for developer discussion. Questions get lost in the chatter, and great answers get washed away with time.”

DelegateCall is a Loom Network based StackOverflow-like platform, designed for knowledge sharing. Like StackOverflow, users can ask questions, and others can answer them. Any answers submitted are ranked based on votes from other users. And users who have received votes for answering questions can redeem them for a tradable ERC-20 token. This means that users have an incentive to answer questions and share their knowledge.

Loom built DelegateCall because it wanted a place that its community to share knowledge. Loom also feels that those sharing their knowledge should be rewarded, as both an incentive and as a token of gratitude. DelegateCall provides a good platform for asking questions and sharing knowledge. While also rewarding users and providing a good interface for future users looking for answers. Otherwise, DelegateCall may also find itself being used by Loom as a great demonstration of what can be built on Loom Networks.

Unhindered development of blockchain based tools

The announcement of DelegateCall is a great example of the passion some developers have for blockchain technology. Passionate developers driving blockchain development means that no matter how far the price falls or raises, there will always be some development around blockchains. There are always new tools and platforms in development.