Blockchain

Blockchain is a technology that enables distributed permission-less database of transactions, verified by the network. It is mostly known for powering the Bitcoin, but it will have an impact far broader than enabling digital currency.

Why is this important?

The blockchain is said to be a disruption on the scale of the internet itself. The most prominent impact is on the financial sector – blockchain has been claimed to replace 80-90% of the cost of Wall street (Coinfox) and there are several blockchain powered trading and investment platforms available (LTP). However, in addition to banking and financial markets, blockchain is said to disrupt any sector with legacy databases, including healthcare, insurance, real estate, government and voting (VLAB, ShapingTomorrow). Estonia is already looking into using blockchain for health care records (Quartz), and Sony is developing an education platform powered by blockchain (TechCrunch).

One of the key impacts of blockchain is that it provides a technology of trust and eliminates the need for a middleman. This will allow truly distributed systems as well as new functionality such as smart contracts (LTP). Ethereum is one blockchain app platform, which aims to make blockchain based smart contracts easy to make (Medium). MIT has developed a platform called Enigma for secure data sharing, which enables analyzing the data by external applications while keeping the data itself private (BitcoinMagazine).

Things to keep an eye on

Blockchain potential has been noted by the business community, and 55% of firms in the global securities industry are engaged in R&D around it (ChainFinance). However, it is also useful to be aware of the challenges facing blockchain, which have less to do with the technology itself, but more on how it is applied. For example Bitcoin is suffering from problems in scaling and the power in the network falling to just a handful of people (Medium).

In Finland there is growing interest in blockchain, but it is not yet in the everyday vocabulary (Digitalist). It is included in one of the recent TEKES calls and there is a new Facebook group on the subject. ETLA has made a report on the subject last Autumn (ETLA). There are some startups focusing exclusively on blockchain, such as Nordledger, ”a blockchain venture production studio”. The potential of blockchain beyond the financial sector has been recognised also in Finland. One recent interesting initiative is the Thing2Data project, which aims to provide a platform for making everyday object ”smart” by adding unique identifiers to them and utilising blockchain to store and verify the data (TiVi).

Selected articles and websites

Know more about blockchain: overview, technology, application areas and use cases
Satoshi Roundtable: Blockchain is bigger than the Internet
Blockchain-Powered Trading and Investment Platforms
More than Money: Get the gist on bitcoins, blockchains, & smart contracts
Blockchain-Enabled Smart Contracts: Applications and Challenges
Programmable blockchains in context: Ethereum’s future
Global Securities Industry Group Survey Finds 55% of Firms Engaging in Blockchain Tech R&D
The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment

 

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd

Victor Vurpillat

Global X-Network
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Education platforms

Why is this important?

Education platforms such as Class Central or EDX gather a broad range of free online courses from universities such as MIT, Harvard etc. These kinds of platform are said to democratize, demonetize and decentralize our education system. The brick and mortar campuses of the past will give way to education online and on demand. The greatest teachers will be teaching in virtual reality (Tech Crunch), reaching millions of students at an incremental cost of near zero. The educational institution business model will shift to performance based learning with tuition rebates for course completion and job guarantees upon graduation (NY Times). Learning becomes continuous and an inherent part of everything we do enabled by blockchain validated nanodegrees, leading to a learning economy (IFTF). Tenure will be a thing of the past (Super Scholar). An interesting question is what will be the impact to the popularity of different disciplines. For example, the number of liberal arts colleges has continued to decline and the focus has shifted more towards “career-oriented” education (AACU).

Things to keep an eye on

In Finland there are a few interesting examples of using platform thinking in education. One recent example is Funzi, which offers practice-oriented courses tailored to be read on mobile phones (Funzi). It has gained media attention for empowering asylum seekers to learn more about Finland (GoodNewsFinland). Another example is RailsGirls, a community focused on getting more women interested in coding and IT (RailsGirls). Started in Finland, the concept has been transferred to multiple countries and the community is expanding. Another example of exploring new ways to teach coding is SlushSmackdown, which introduces the basics of coding through a game. In basic education, both Rovio’s FunLearning initiative and the Paths to Math learning tool are exploring new ways of learning, drawing from the combination of the top-ranked Finnish education system and the opportunities arising from platforms and digitization. The Paths to math founder Maarit Rossi was chosen among the 10 finalists in the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize (GTP).

Selected articles and websites

When Virtual Reality Meets Education
Where Are They Now? Revisiting Breneman’s Study of Liberal Arts Colleges
Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast
Learning is earning in the national learning economy
Tenure a thing of the past?
Funzi empowers asylum seekers with its mobile service
Finnish game wins Europe’s biggest hackathon

Victor Vurpillat

Global X-Network

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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