Reflections on MoneyConf 2015

The organisers of the WebSummit got in touch a few weeks ago and asked me to head across to Belfast for a couple of days to chair a couple of panels at their new event MoneyConf last week. It was a great gathering of some of the big names in FinTech and it was striking just how predominant Bitcoin and/or blockchain businesses were in the conference programming.

MoneyConf 2015
My MoneyConf Panel on 16th June 2015 with Stephen Pair (BitPay), Naveed Sherwani (PeerNova), Matthieu Riou (BlockCypher)

Whilst I’ve spoken increasingly frequently in public on Bitcoin over the past couple of years or so and compered/organised the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, this was actually the first time I’ve chaired panel sessions. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect (how opinionated should you be as the chair, what to do if someone talks too much or – worse – too little etc). However, I’m happy to say that it was a blast. Both panels seemed to go down well and I’m eager to do it all over again just as soon as possible.

My MoneyConf Panel on 15th June 2015 with Damian Kimmelman (Duedil), Anil Stocker (MarketInvoice) & Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless)
My MoneyConf Panel on 15th June 2015 with Damian Kimmelman (Duedil), Anil Stocker (MarketInvoice) & Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless)

Panel MoneyConfAccording to research carried out by Goldman Sachs, 33% of millennials don’t think that they’ll need a bank in the next 5 years.

Nic Cary,, MoneyConf, Belfast, June 2015
Nic Cary,, MoneyConf, Belfast, June 2015

And, as Nic Cary pointed out, any financial institution that does not have a blockchain strategy discussion of sorts taking place in its boardroom at present is not a business that’s likely to be around in a few years’ time.

It was fascinating to hear Halsey Minor of BitReserve in conversation with Max Keiser (here’s another conversation if they’ve had since). For those of you who aren’t aware, Halsey is – there’s no other words for it – a serious player. When someone who helped to create not one but two billion dollar businesses (CNET and Salesforce)  says that the announcements that he has planned for the next few months about the evolution of BitReserve are by far the most disruptive of his entire career – take note.

One final note: Adam Ludwin of Chain and Vinny Lingham of Gyft announced a ridiculously cool collaboration in the form of blockchain-powered gift cards. I’ve just found the video here of the presentation here as well if you’re interested. So all in all, a great couple of days in Belfast. If I had to find fault with anything, it was the lack of Bitcoin ATM’s…. but you can’t have everything 😉 I for one will be heading back next year to see how the event grows that’s for sure  

Panel1 Day 2

Bitcoin v The Blockchain?

“blockchain technology…is presented as a piece of innovation on a par with the introduction of limited liability for corporations, or private property rights, or the internet itself” (The Economist)

Over recent months, we’ve seen a number of recurring themes in the Bitcoin community. Whilst the heated block size debate appears high up on that list, I wanted to touch on another key narrative that’s continuing to provoke much discussion.

Driven by rising interest levels within the mainstream financial services industry, the issue revolves around a deceptively simple question.

Can We Have Blockchains without Bitcoin?

I’ve had a number of conversations recently within traditional financial services organisations who are starting to explore the potential of blockchain technology. But one thing is clear. Whilst the technology is becoming increasingly attractive to them, Bitcoin itself is still sometimes seen as a weird crypto-anarchic-libertarian concept that must first be set aside in order to let the real work commence.

Now for those who understand Bitcoin in depth, this is surely a deeply flawed concept. When it comes to the blockchain and Bitcoin, each needs the other for survival right? And any attempt to split the two will kill the value of both.

But innovation should be welcomed in whatever form it takes – whether incremental or ‘Big Bang’ disruptive. Whilst the second option is clearly more attractive, I’d argue smaller steps are still worth taking when the true enemy is actually the status quo. The value of innovation is often subjective in any event, viewed differently according to each person’s unique mix of perspective and timescale.

So, to draw a parallel from my past life, a law firm that develops automated document assembly plans for the future will be dismissed without a second thought by those who are seeking to develop smart contracts that automate those firms themselves out of existence and vice versa. But then the technologists fail to develop an understanding of the all-too-real existing constraints and the incumbents fail to set their sights high enough.

The lesson? If opposing sides simply dismiss competing arguments without taking the time to genuinely explore their merits, both risk missing out on the subtleties. So with this post, I intend to do just that. Not to provide answers per se but to collect some key arguments from both side of the debate. Of course, it’s merely scraping the surface. But it’s worth starting with an overview.

Let’s Start With The Easy Bit – A Misunderstanding

Many who repeat the “blockchain good, bitcoin bad” refrain have overlooked one key fact. Many businesses that the press are now championing as being pioneers of blockchain technology are actually reliant on Bitcoin.

Whether that’s NASDAQ’s decision to use ‘a blockchain ledger’ on its Private Market platform, the use of ‘distributed ledgers’ to streamline financial settlement by Digital Assets Holdings (check out this recent talk by the CEO, ex-JP Morgan senior exec Blythe Masters) or even Overstock’s CryptoBond, any mention of Bitcoin itself is often abstracted by the press in favour of a focus on blockchain technology.

So it’s important to remember that each of these not-insubstantial bets have been made by people and organisations who believe that Bitcoin’s blockchain will succeed (check out the diplomatically-worded blog post by Peter at CoinCenter for a similar perspective).

For the rest of this post, I’ll call the (permissionless) blockchain that underpins Bitcoin the ‘Satoshi Blockchain’ for clarity.

The Argument for No

Secure. Public. Permanent. Immutable. Massively resilient. Just a few of the features that describe the Satoshi Blockchain. Yet all of these features cannot exist without one thing: Bitcoin miners who believe that they will earn more money than they spend if they turn on their computers to take part.

Incentive is crucial to the Satoshi Blockchain. If it will cost a miner £151 to get one Bitcoin by turning on his computer to mine when he could simply buy one for £150, which option do you think he will choose?

This mechanism beautifully balanced. And the result? Take away the bitcoins and the Satoshi Blockchain can’t function.

Unless the value of bitcoins to be won by miners exceeds the money they spend in burning electricity and investing in the capital infrastructure necessary to compete for dominance in the current mining arms race, the Satoshi Blockchain would be far less secure – and all of those fascinating projects listed above would be going nowhere.

The mining game might be preparing to undergo significant change with the resolution of the current block size impasse, just as 21 turns on its mining capacity (and BitFury their lightbulbs!). But irrespective, under the current model, it’s clear that the miners need to be paid for the system to work.

So if it’s clear that those who secure the network need a financial reward, why can’t we simply pay them with fiat currency, instead of bitcoins?

For one very good reason. Do that and you destroy one of the characteristics that has enabled Bitcoin to thrive over the years.

Censorship resistance.

In other words, if you build a permissionless system (that is open to anyone to join) that requires money, it must use a native currency. You cannot use money that is issued by a third party because there is always a risk that that third party might then censor (e.g. delay or withhold) payments. Instead, the money must be created within the system itself and it must function as a bearer instrument itself (like cash) – in other words, if you hold it, it’s yours (with no third party rights cutting across the ownership).

And this is why it is impossible to separate Bitcoin from the Satoshi Blockchain. There is simply no other way to incentivise the miners. It needs native digital money that is valuable and a guarantee that this will only be distributed according to the rules of the protocol.

The Argument for Yes

So it’s agreed then. If you want to reach decentralised consensus under adversarial conditions, you need an incentive structure.

But – hold on a second. Proof of Work (a security model that intentionally makes it very expensive to attack the network because it requires miners to burn all this electricity) is surely only necessary under certain conditions.

What if you’re a financial organisation? You don’t actually want the system to be open to everyone. You want to restrict those who have the ability to update the ledger to an agreed number of known people – because if it all goes wrong, you’ve then got someone to sue. You’re perfectly happy with the security systems that you currently use within your organisation to date and provided you control the small number of people who can update the ledger, you don’t need Proof of Work to protect the integrity of the network.

And I believe that it’s here that you see the key point emerge. Bitcoin’s model works amazingly well because it is a close-to-perfect solution for people for whom the anonymous verification of transactions carried out on a P2P basis (meaning that no third party is required) is one of the key attractions.

But within financial services, a heavily-regulated sector that views anonymity as a weakness and collectively has no desire to avoid censorship by third parties, a demand for a related type of blockchain-technology with a different feature-set appears to have emerged.

Here, there’s no need for miners. Save the money and replace them with ‘permissioned’ blockchains. This simply means that those using this private blockchain can ensure that someone who wishes to update the ledger must be authorised in advance and their identity known. Suddenly we have a very different beast. Now we have a database tool that no longer needs tokens that command a market value – because they have no need to act as an incentive. And of course, it avoids any uncomfortable questions about bitcoins within an environment that demands a high level of compliance and box-ticking.

Different Use-cases – Or A Fundamentally Different Technology?

For many, this closing of the doors and restricting access goes against the very essence of the (Satoshi) Blockchain. But there seems to be a growing understanding that as the area continues to be explored, people are most likely talking about (at least) two very different concepts. There’s an argument that the term ‘blockchain’ cannot cover both concepts.

But is a permissioned blockchain not simply a database?

In some ways, yes. But this is a database on steroids. One that contains rules about who can update the ledger and how. One that gives you conclusive evidence of when the records were changed and by whom. One that can be designed to reject any types of transactions that are deemed to be unacceptable at the outset. And one that will be reconciled globally in a fraction of the time that it currently takes and therefore can be automatically audited.

When it comes to the banking industry, it’s hard to believe that back office settlement platforms won’t move soon to decentralised ledgers. Think about the current system for a minute. Currently every bank has to spend huge amounts of time recording and continually reconciling complete records of every single transaction that takes place between them. If A sends money to B, both A and B have to record that transaction in their respective books. One transaction, two records. But what if that transaction was instead recorded automatically on one single ledger?

Clearly the financial services industry will have privacy concerns.
However, as Richard Gendall Brown explains in writing about this concept that he has called the replicated, shared ledger, these should not now be an issue. The system works because there is a single record of all transactions, a copy of which (complete, updated and protected) is held by each financial institution. Each would only be allowed to update the records that relate directly to its own dealings – and so the master record is now collectively maintained by all, allowing everyone to enjoy the benefits of a system with vastly improved efficiency.


To me, it’s clear there is a use-case for both types – and no doubt many variations in between (and beyond). Undoubtedly permissioned block chains are a significant step forwards for the financial services industry (amongst others). However, as progressive as such a change would be, it still doesn’t provide the oxygen that is so readily available within a permissionless system such as Bitcoin to nurture the truly ground-breaking innovations.

With the evidence to date, the answer to me seems to come down to this. Large financial services will inevitably focus on incremental change – because when you’re dealing with such significant sums of money and the strictures of regulation, any improvements in efficiency, no matter how small, will have massive financial benefits. Permissioned systems will therefore fill this role successfully in the shorter term.

Yet the true innovation, the moon shots and the long-term disruption must, in my view still be discovered within the Bitcoin ecosystem. It’s almost certain that the business models that will truly disrupt the existing financial sector have not yet been found. But I do believe they’re coming. So if you’re in a bank and you think that there’s even a 1% chance of Bitcoin being successful, you surely need to be thinking extremely carefully about the future and position yourself accordingly because the effects of waking up and seeingt such a day arrive are so significant.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, Blythe Masters:-

“How seriously should you take this? I would take it about as seriously as you should have taken the concept of the internet in the early 1990’s. It’s a big deal. And it is going to change the way that our financial world operates”.

NASDAQ Meets The Blockchain

And yes, it is THE blockchain. Not a different standalone implementation of blockchain technology.

When news broke late last night from WSJ writer (and previous Scottish Bitcoin Meetup guest) Michael Casey that NASDAQ, the second largest stock exchange in the US, already has 75 companies signed up in its NASDAQ Private Market to test blockchain technology to simplify handle pre-IPO trading, Twitter immediately lit up with conversation.

It soon became clear that their plan is to use the Open Assets Protocol – basically a Colored Coins implementation. If you haven’t heard of Colored Coins, it’s basically a way of connecting a ‘real world’ item with a tiny amount of Bitcoin. To exchange ownership of that ‘real world’ item, now you simply need to transfer that specific bitcoin. The benefits are clear and hugely powerful: a public record of verifiable ownership in which transfers are immediate, global and of an order of magnitude cheaper than most systems in which ownership is registered.

The reality is that this is huge news for Bitcoin and the scene in general. There’s a far wider narrative here (Bitcoin v blockchain etc) that I’m not going to touch on today. But if you think back a couple of years, this, a press release containing a quote like this really was unthinkable.

 “Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities,” said Bob Greifeld, CEO, Nasdaq. “Once you cut the apron strings of need for the physical, the opportunities we can envision blockchain providing stand to benefit not only our clients, but the broader global capital markets.”

Within the securities industry, T+3 is standard – i.e. payment and certificates for trades in securities must change hands no later than three days after the date of the transaction. Now, with blockchain technology at work, the potential is there to go after that holy grail of T+0 or real-time transactions – a system that reduces both regulatory and counterparty risk significantly whilst also releasing funds that are otherwise tied up during those three days in the current settlement process.

Anything that increases transparency through a fully-digital service that simultaneously facilitates the issuance, transfer and management of private company shares whilst slashing existing inefficiencies and remaining impervious to bad actors sounds like a pretty compelling use case to me.

Yet another application that I and many others will be watching with huge interest.


This Is A Call

I’ve just sent out a message to all of the members of the Scottish Bitcoin Meetup. In case anyone is reading this blog that isn’t signed up (why not? it’s free! and you get to hear what’s happening in the scene as it evolves in Scotland), here’s the text in full.

Hi folks,

Hope you’re all having a great Sunday.

Where It All Started

When I started the Scottish Bitcoin Meetup back, I did so for one simple reason: I’d been convinced for a long time that we were witnessing the start of a paradigm shift across technology, business and wider society. The exact form that this disruption would take was unclear but it was beyond doubt in my mind that ‘something’ was coming. Try as I might, I couldn’t find another forum in Scotland for people to get together in person and discuss what was coming. So I thought, sod it, let’s just do it myself.

Thankfully, some of you turned up to that first meetup! And many of you have continued to do so ever since. Since those early days, we’ve managed to gather in one way or another for 29 meetups to date, with two particular highlights being the first ever Scottish Bitcoin Conference taking place in August 2014 and Design In Action’s residential Creative Currencies Chiasma earlier this year where a mix of people got together to learn together and dream big about the possibilities.

Today’s Landscape

In recent times, the main Edinburgh meetup has evolved in format, to include video calls with great stalwarts of the scene from around the world. In last couple of months, for example, we’ve chatted with Coin Center, Paul and Michael from the Wall Street Journal and Victoria from ChangeTip (check out the livestream video here if you haven’t seen it yet).

All of this is going to continue. Please do try to make it along if you’re still interested as there’s some great guests lined up over the coming months (and for those of you who keep asking – yes, I’ll do my best get Andreas at some stage…!)

However, it’s become clear to me over the past six months or so that we’re seeing an evolution in the general conversation. The heady days of speculative easy money that attracted a certain type of interest in the early days are gone, replaced by a period of intense work and consolidation across the industry. In part, this is driven by the evolution of connected and parallel technologies (such as Ethereum, MaidSafe, Eris etc) but it’s also being driven by the unavoidable fact that larger financial institutions are starting to take the technology more seriously (UBS open labNew York Stock Exchange invest in Coinbase,Fidor and Ripple, Barclays, Goldman Sachs invest in Circle etc).

I’m increasingly being invited to give talks or get into conversations with ‘serious’ institutions – in common with many who follow the scene. Regardless of the narrative in the press or the details of the specific technology, there is definitely something happening that validates the feeling that most of us have held for a long time now.

So – why the rambling email?

The Future

On Tuesday 19th May at 6:30pm, there is going to be a get together in Edinburgh to which you are all invited. But this isn’t going to be a typical Bitcoin meetup. This is a group for people who want to get together in a room and roll up their sleeves. People who want to code, build projects and businesses related to blockchain tech and – put simply – stop the talking and start the doing.

To be clear, we won’t be focused exclusively on projects that relate solely to financial services. For the most part, we’re going to be technology- and sector-agnostic. We’re simply going to be focused on solving real problems. But at this stage, the plan is to sit around a table and lay the foundations of a group that will evolve over the next few months for those who consider themselves serious (either in terms of existing talents or intention to get involved) about the future of the sector in Scotland.

One important point: this gathering is in no way exclusive. So please pass this invite on as you see fit. Nor is it for ‘experts’ (whatever that term could possibly mean at this stage in any event). The only pre-requisite for attending is a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get involved moving forwards. Ideas are ten-a-penny. This group is all about whittling down some of the best and starting to execute on them. So it doesn’t matter whether you’ve just fallen down the rabbit hole recently or whether it happened years ago.

Without disclosing too much, we’ve got buy-in externally from some big names across the Bitcoin/2.0 scene. And I’m as convinced as I’ve ever been that we’ve already got the talent in Scotland.

If you’re interested, please get in touch. Whilst I’m currently co-ordinating this on behalf of what will, I hope, turn out to be a sizeable number of people, I don’t intend to lead it or dictate the direction in any way. But don’t take my word for it – all will be revealed at the first meeting!

If this chimes with you and you happen to be in Edinburgh next week, please do get in touch. As ever, the more the merrier.


Bitcoin and Transparency in Politics

So it’s General Election day. Maybe it’s me but it all feels a bit anti-climactic here in Scotland, coming as it does hard on the heels of the Referendum. Regardless of which side you were on in that process, it feels different when you’re voting ‘just’ for the next five years (as opposed to the indefinite future) of your country.

But while we’re on the subject of politics, I wanted to just flag one thing up quickly which has intrigued me about the political process this time around that’s new. And (surprise!) it relates to Bitcoin.

Some of you might know Gulnar Hasnain as one half of the team (together with Pamir) behind the awesome CoinSummit conferences. Interestingly, during this General Election campaign, Green Party candidate Gulnar became the first UK politician to start accepting Bitcoin donations. It’s a great example of how the transparency of the blockchain can be used for good in an area that’s not always known for, shall we say, impeccable behaviour.

For example, you can see every donation that was made as part of the campaign, recorded permanently and publicly here. Every. Single. Donation.

Of course, it’s not exactly taxing for anyone to follow funds donated in this way moving forwards. And for any others to audit donations in order to provide any necessary checks and balances within the electoral system. Develop the potential a little further, scale it up and then unleash that (free) technology on a country that went through the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009.

So, if you still don’t think that Bitcoin helps with real-world issues, it’s worth having a think about this. I predict that if we do end up with a government by the morning that can govern for a few years (far from a certainty at this stage) then by the time we go through the next major political event, this kind of transparency should be something that’s expected – and demanded – by the electorate.

Now where’s the popcorn? Looks like it’s a long night ahead.

The Cyber Academy Launches In Edinburgh

In a post almost exactly two years ago, I talked about a concern of mine that I’m pretty certain I share with many who work in the ‘technology’ sphere in general. To summarise, if one of the primary goals of education is to provide kids with the skills that they need to secure employment in later life, how can the teachers of today possibly keep up with the pace of progress?

As Noam Chomsky said in an interview I read this week,  “If you are teaching today what you were teaching five years ago, either the field is dead or you are“. And if the majority of kids in school today will end up working in jobs that don’t currently exist, it’s clear that finding ways to bridge that widening gap will become increasingly critical.

The thought hit me again today as  I went along to the launch of The Cyber Academy at Napier University this afternoon. The new venture, which pulls in a wide range of collaborators from across academia, government and business, is focused on developing an environment which will produce many of the people that are so badly needed as security threats continue to rise daily in our increasingly-networked society.

There were a number of interesting talks but the one that stood out for me was by John Howie who gave a great summary of just how far we’ve come and the challenges that lie ahead in a world where everyone – with a little knowhow – can use the mobile in their pocket to access any other connected device in the world. A situation which of course is only going to become more complicated if the much-trailed Internet of Things suddenly explodes (hence the blockchain solution that IBM have been investigating).

John also drew a key distinction between information security – defending data contained within your own database or system – and cyber security – a term which has no accepted definition but which he convincingly argued relates to the interconnectedness of such databases. For example, if malware attacks your system, how do other databases then react and collaborate to ensure that overall that weakness become systemic across a networked world.

It’s a great programme and credit must go to Bill Buchanan who has clearly championed and worked hard to build the idea and ultimately deliver an Academy that has the potential to gain significant importance over the next few years. From a personal perspective, I’m also intrigued to see how it evolves within our post-Snowden society. And, of course, if there’s going to be a raft of highly-skilled new cryptographers coming knocking about in the area, who knows, I *may* just happen to redirect a few towards the Scottish Bitcoin Meetups…

Bitcoin: Bigger Than Google?

One Bitcoin company that continues to cause a stir in the industry is the mysterious 21 Inc. Not only has the business remained in stealth mode since it started back in 2013, it’s captured the interest of some serious heavy-hitters (founders of PayPal, Dropbox, eBay and Expedia are involved), it’s taken investment from chipmaker Qualcomm (a massive player in the global mobile phone business). And then, to top it all off, it’s raised a total of a staggering $116 million already pre-launch.

To put it another way, the only thing that we do know is that some seasoned veterans known for delivering unusually big successes are taking a punt on the chance that this particular business might turn into something very special indeed. I’ve had two fairly high profile people on differen sides of the Atlantic tell me conflicting rumours about the nature of the company’s business so I suspect we’ll just need to wait and see.

However at the weekend, 21’s Chairman and Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasen (@balajis) managed to pique our collective interests still further when he gave a talk in which he stated that Bitcoin can be seen as bigger than Google, in terms of network footprint.

“All of Google today would represent less than 1% of mining. The sheer degree of what is happening in mining hasn’t been appreciated in the press.”

If we view the Bitcoin network as the worlds largest supercomputer, then it’s likely that this is bigger than Google in terms of computing power and power consumption.

As co-founder Muneeb Ali points out in a follow-up post on Medium, it’s not so much that we’re yet at the stage where it would be beyond Google’s ability to catch up (if they chose to do so). It’s simply the fact that for them to do so would involve massive capital expenditure. They simply don’t have the necessary hardware (ASICs in this case) to suddenly move in that direction quickly. Take on board the fact that they are one of the most cash-rich companies in the world and you get, I believe, a sense of the sheer scale of the project that we’re all so fascinated by.

Sometimes Progress Needs A Little Shove

During a number of recent conversations about technology and the rate of progress (general thrust: technologists underestimate – and the general public overestimate – how long adoption will take), I’ve been thinking about tipping points. In most cases, these appear obvious only in retrospect after a little time has passed to firmly place events in some kind of perspective.

However some events clearly have more impact than others. I read a great article today about Kathrine Switzer who ran the Boston Marathon in 1967. So far, so unremarkable you might think. Nothing unusual there –  unless you realise that women were banned from running marathons 50 years ago.

It gets better though. Not only did Switzer run in and complete the race (in a very creditable 4 hours 20), one of the organisers was so affronted when he spied the interloper, he took it upon himself to physically launch himself at her in an attempt to shove her off the road, before a male running companion removed him.

The drama was caught by a photographer whose three pictures were shared far and wide in the press, starting that same evening. As the article says, “her run, and the photos, changed the lives of all female runners”.

Only 6 years later, Switzer’s would-be assailant, Jock Semple, opened up the Boston Marathon to women (Switzer came third) and the 1984 Olympics saw the introduction of the woman’s Marathon for the first time. And today, almost half of all entrants in marathons around the world are female.

I guess sometimes rules have to be broken in order to allow widescale progress to take place. Rules that, by definition, have after all been designed for the purpose of protecting the status quo. And ironically it’s often the very people who are most opposed to progress that inadvertently lay the foundations for it to take place.

Dot Everyone and Digital Inclusion

Last night Martha Lane-Fox gave a hugely inspirational talk for the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture. You can read the transcript here (and watch it here for the next month in the UK).

In short, it’s a call to arms. As is usually the case when digital issues are publicised in front of a mainstream audience, it has inevitably provoked discussion both for and against some of the themes raised during the course of 40 minutes.

But I recommend that you watch and/or read it. I fully endorse a number of the points that she makes and if you do too, I suggest that you consider signing the petition to call on the incoming UK government to take the points raised seriously.

In short, there were three main themes: increasing general understanding and usage of the internet at all levels of society; increasing the involvement of women in technology; and addressing the burgeoning ethical and moral issues that such advances generate.

After quoting Aaron Schwartz (“It’s not ok not to understand the internet anymore”), she hit the nail on the head by pointing out the all-too-real problem that we have today. Many of those with responsibility for regulation are often woefully under-educated about the technologies that they seek to legislate. To me, this is no more clearly illustrated than within the continued debate around the value of encryption.

Whilst there may be challenges, the reality of living within an increasingly digital world is that we have the opportunity to develop new business processes within the public sector that kill off inefficient and ultimately dangerous methods that exist by default. As she points out, technology provides us with an opportunity to “save money from the cold world of paper and administration and invest more in the warm hands of doctors, nurses and teachers”.

As for the call for more women in tech? Nothing new there, perhaps. But it’s old news quite simply because it’s true. The skills gap that we are currently accelerating towards is being either wilfully or negligently ignored by those who have the power to institute widespread change from above. Seeing this  reflected within the Bitcoin community has prompted me to progress a few initiatives on this front which you’ll (hopefully) hear more about during this year but I do think we have to accept ownership for solving this problem lies with each of us as individuals.

Martha Lane Fox’s idol is Dame Stephanie Shirley, a recent visitor to Edinburgh. If you need further context, watch her talk from the Informatics Ventures event here (I’ll blog more fully about her story at some point soon).

I’ve gone on long enough. If you’ve read this, you’ve certainly got enough time to read the transcript. Perhaps even to watch the talk. And you should. You can argue with some of the finer points that she makes but Martha Lane Fox hits delivers an important talk here and one worth listening to.

Bitcoin continues to rise in the UK

I had a feeling that today was going to be an big day in the UK Bitcoin scene – and so it proved.

The news came quick and fast this afternoon. To be honest, I’ve not yet had a chance to dive into the various documents in great depth. But it’s worth summarising a few key developments here in case you missed it.

The Budget lands…with funding for digital currency research

As rumoured, the Chancellor came out in the Budget today with some positive news for the nascent digital currency scene (see point 19). He announced that £10 million of funding would be made available for the launch of a new research initiative into the future potential of digital currency technology.

Response to the Call For Information on Digital Currencies

Also you’ll remember that the HM Treasury issued a Call for Information on Digital Currencies back in November. Now they’ve finally issued the Response to the Call for Information on Digital Currencies – in essence, a framework for the regulation of digital currencies. As the last Scottish Bitcoin Meetup guest Jerry Brito at CoinCenter handily summarises, the main points relate to proposals to:-

  • Apply anti-money laundering regulation to digital currency exchanges to prevent criminal use.
  • Ensure that law enforcement bodies have the necessary training, resources, and legislation to address criminal activity conducted with Bitcoin.
  • Work with the British Standards Institute and the digital currency industry to develop a set of best practices for consumer protection that does not impose an extreme regulatory burden players in the space.
  • Launch a research initiative with leading institutions within the UK to study digital currencies and increase funding for digital currency research to £10 million.

Report on Future of UK FinTech to 2025

Finally, there’s a 68-page report published today that sets out the findings of the Chief Scientific Advisor on FinTech, Sir Mark Walport, into the future of FinTech in the UK up to 2025. This contains statements such as:-

“Digital currencies such as bitcoin have the potential to replace traditional currency and, by extension, the need for central banking and regulatory systems.”

I’m still holding to my prediction that 2015 will be a huge year for Bitcoin. It’s always felt to me that this would be the year that both legislators and the City/Wall Street made great strides into the area. The report last week by Goldman Sachs stating that “Bitcoin could shape the future of finance” is just one example. That’s not to say that there don’t remain significant hurdles ahead in a number of areas. But I do feel that we’ll be in a far different place come the end of this year than we ever have been before.