Law firm Gowling WLG have introduced a scheme to educate their employees about blockchain, while offering rewards for participation The law firm is educating its employees about blockchain while offering rewards for participation.The ‘Gowling WLG Reward Token (GRT)’ scheme will attempt to fill an apparent blockchain information vacuum within the company, while providing the incentive of rewards to employees who participate.The project involves employee participants beginning by following a guide to create a digital wallet for depositing tokens, which can be earned or given to fellow employees via a GRT app after registration.Tokens can be exchanged for a free hot drink at either of the company’s restaurants in London or Birmingham. Open to all employees of Gowling, the launch of the education programme comes following a successful pilot, and co-chair of the firm David Brennan has expressed the importance of employees becoming sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic.“The volume around blockchain could not be louder,” said Brennan. “But it is important that anyone contributing to this adds value.”“As home to a market-leading blockchain team, we’re using this opportunity to marry education with rewards, provide grassroots awareness of the blockchain application and ensure its understanding throughout a large number of our employees.”“They are not only ambassadors for Gowling WLG’s blockchain-focused efforts, but also future consumers of the technology in their personal lives.”Furthermore, head of architecture and innovation at Gowling, Jody Jansen, described the feedback from employees following the trial as “fantastic”.“Our primary aim has always been to educate people about what blockchain is, and what it can do, but we also recognised the opportunity to use it as a way of saying thanks to individuals who are helping make a difference across the firm.”A Spring 2018 report by the firm featuring expertise from NEX Exchange, Blockchain Hub and BTL Group addressed the power that blockchain is gaining within the financial sector. Source: Aaron Hurst (information-age)
Ryan Kottenstette Contributor Ryan Kottenstette is CEO and co-founder at Cape Analytics.Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to glean information from large data sets is the greatest technology opportunity of a generation. After a decade of acquiring talent from startups and research universities, tech companies like Facebook, Google and Uber have amassed some of the best AI teams in the world.However, we are not seeing the impact we deserve beyond the tech sector. Unfortunately, progress in other industries has become collateral damage to the tech sector’s race for AI talent, and this issue has received little attention.Over the last five years, 90 percent of AI startups in Silicon Valley have been acquired by leading tech companies. These acquisitions have been largely unrelated to a successful product: Often, companies are in nascent stages and their products are either shelved by the acquiring company altogether, or the technology is embedded as a feature in another core offering. Outside of a few highly targeted cases, it’s a strategy aimed first at getting the talent in-house, then figuring out what to do with them.Source: CB InsightsOn a micro-level, this is a highly rational strategy across the tech innovation ecosystem. Leading technology companies have the capabilities, cash and scale to leverage this talent and technical expertise into profitable products down the road. For their part, venture capitalists feel safer investing at higher prices in early-stage AI companies because a lucrative technology or team acquisition provides downside protection if they are unable to build a big business. Lastly, management teams may be tempted by early acquisition offers that are priced much higher than non AI-centric companies with equivalent product maturity or market traction.In the AI arms race, though, the name of the game is not just getting ahead, but depriving competitors of the AI talent that could make them competitive. While tech companies compete for the promise of future AI-based offerings, they are not just depriving their competition of talent, but the rest of the economy, as well.On a macro-level, this hoarding strategy is undercutting 95 percent of the impact AI could have on the global economy and society at large. Aggregate revenue of the five leading U.S. tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook) represent less than 5 percent of total U.S. GDP. Yet tech giants are buying up companies and directing them to focus on R&D, rather than building AI applications for specific, non-tech industry problems that can have an impact today.Some argue that tech incumbents are best suited to bring industry-specific solutions to bear. Just look at cloud computing and how many industries have used it to increase their productivity — maybe the same will be done for AI and data services. I don’t believe this is likely to happen quickly, for two reasons: (1) tech companies have plenty of their own purposes in mind, and (2) the best AI solutions are designed around a specific problem and workflow.You can see this already playing out in a few ways:Today, your Facebook photos are automatically tagged. This is a core feature enhancement designed to increase customer engagement. Recommendations on everything from Google to Netflix to Amazon are increasingly likely to result in increased customer purchases as a result of leveraging machine learning to scan a broader array of profile information. Both of these represent core needs for major tech companies and are not likely to translate into relevant offerings for other industries. Personally, I think it’s a shame that so many great AI minds are working on comparatively incremental feature enhancements.There is a huge opportunity for AI-based products and companies targeting applications in industries outside the tech sector.Second, tech companies are building up AI workforces as part of their moonshots and experimental labs that are focused on reimagining incumbent industries on tech terms and building the core IP and research that could make this possible. History indicates that when tech companies set out to reinvent entire categories, many commonly fail at first (recall Webvan, or Marc Andreesen’s LoudCloud). Incumbents don’t react quickly enough (consider Safeway’s response to Webvan, and IBM or HP’s reaction to LoudCloud).Finally a new disruptive effort eventually succeeds a decade or two later (to complete this example, consider Amazon regarding groceries, and AWS or Opsware regarding cloud computing). In this arena, consumers and tech companies ultimately win, while major incumbents that should have had the inside track are leapfrogged because of the talent and technology gap accumulated during the initial efforts.Even when specific projects fail, tech incumbents’ research labs reap a side benefit in recruiting power: they get AI talent in through the door and allow them to continue their research, publicizing it and adding to the narrative that tech companies are the best place to conduct research (you get free lunch and dinner!).The net result of this situation is that, today, AI talent and technology are largely denied from companies outside of tech. Incumbent industries, like insurance, won’t see improvements to their bottom line because a computer can win at Go. This is unfortunate, because although industry applications may seem less “disruptive,” they could have a far more significant impact on a shorter timescale.So what can other industry leaders do? Incumbent industries must respond aggressively or risk being cut out of the next decade of innovation, which will be largely driven by AI and data analytics. This means (1) acknowledging what is at stake, (2) creating an environment to attract, retain and focus the type of talent required and (3) aggressively seeking said talent.We’ve begun to see action in a few areas:With the prospect of self-driving cars, the automotive industry faces an existential risk. Jon Lauckner at GM has been at the center of some bold moves forward, including the $1 billion acquisition of Cruise and a $500 million investment in Lyft. Ford and Delphi have also been active with acquisitions like Argo AI and NuTomony.Source: CB InsightsAgriculture also presents a good example of action in recognition of what’s at stake: Two major AI acquisitions have happened in the last five years. Monsanto acquired Climate Corporation to advance their effort into a data-driven future wherein they can provide customized insights and advice to farmers for planting crops. This past year, John Deere acquired Blue River Technology, which takes this a step further, leveraging computer vision to deliver customized insight and action on every individual plant in real time as a tractor moves through the field.To be sure, acquiring talent is far from the only means to advance as an incumbent, but building the core talent, technology and business model for future success has proven challenging for entrenched incumbents. Netflix is one of the few examples of success, innovating their way from a DVD-based business to a streaming one. Still, it was a painful transition, taking tremendous vision, cannibalization of their own sales and a 75 percent drop in share price before their fortunes turned skyward.Right now, there is a huge opportunity for AI-based products and companies targeting applications in industries outside the tech sector, and there is relatively little competition in the short and intermediate term — moonshots at major tech companies have a spotty record and largely target a distant future. In the meantime, incumbents have historically failed to capitalize on major technology transformations, and outside of the few examples mentioned, history appears poised to repeat itself unless companies take proactive measures.cameraImage Credits: agsandrew / Shutterstock
Blockchain could make it easier to discover the journey that agricultural products take, reduce the frequency and severity of food safety scares, and transform the industry.
Is it possible to track where food comes from?
Several companies have launched services allowing shoppers to see a product’s journey from farm to fork, but they often depend on retailers agreeing to be transparent.
When you pop into a store to buy fresh fruit, vegetables or meat, it’s common for the packaging to reveal which country it is from. Some upmarket brands go further by offering stories about the farm and the conditions where the food was cultivated.
Tracking an item step-by-step through the manufacturing process can be hard — and, sometimes, even manufacturers and retailers themselves aren’t sure about a product’s journey.
This is part of the reason why recent food safety scares have been so widespread: it’s been difficult — nearly impossible — to track where problems begin. However, integrating blockchain into the food chain could mean issues are detected instantly.
Food safety scares! Remind me?
There have been several in recent years… how long have you got?
In 2018, a deadly E. coli outbreak was connected to romaine lettuce that was grown in Arizona. The outbreak affected 35 states across the U.S., with five people dying and a total of almost 200 cases reported.
In 2013, a horsemeat scandal gripped Europe — and products advertised as beef were actually found to contain… yep, you guessed it, horse. It made its way into some of the continent’s biggest supermarkets. They blamed their suppliers, who in turn blamed their suppliers. The furore shook confidence and left some people refusing to buy meat all together.
Blockchain could play a big role in clamping down on food fraud because every component in a finished product would become easier to identify — speeding up recalls and also allowing consumers to find information they can trust about an item, seconds after picking it up off the shelf.
How would that work? Any examples?
Smart agriculture solutions — which boost productivity and address food demand — are thriving, and it is predicted that this industry could be worth up to $26.76 billion by 2020.
Farmers who are already using blockchain describe it as a “game changer, just like the internet.” For example, one meat company says the seemingly insignificant statistics blockchain provides, such as when pigs arrive at a factory, can have a massive effect on the final product they deliver to customers. They show blockchain results in a “detailed passport” where consumers can be assured that the meat they are consuming met strict hygiene and well-being standards — with any issues arising in the production process being identified in as little as 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, the government of Kerala is planning to introduce blockchain in the grocery supply process, with the hope of ensuring that the system will be used whenever food is being delivered to stores across the country. It is hoped this will help deliver products to millions of people on a daily basis more efficiently, as well as provide a form of “crop insurance” to ensure that farmers can be compensated quickly whenever unforeseen circumstances affect their yield.
Certification of fruit and vegetables could also be enhanced through blockchain — ensuring that information isn’t lost and streamlining the manpower needed to confirm a product’s provenance. Every shipment of fruit and vegetables is accompanied by paper certificates showing where the food has come from, validating its quality and declaring it free of disease. In Belgium, work has begun to digitize some of these certificates so they are placed on a blockchain instead.
Food safety’s great, but what about food prices? They’re constantly rising.
Blockchain could eliminate paper-based processes and cut costs, with these savings passed on to you.
Getting rid of middlemen would minimize transaction fees, and decentralization would also make it easier for smaller farms to compete with larger corporations.
For example, blockchain concepts such as PavoCoin are entering the fray — giving smaller farmers access to attainable financial services, such as the ability to pre-sell crops via smart contracts, helping them to improve the quality and quantity of their harvests, and providing consumers with greater amounts of information about the food they are buying. The company says, farmers in Stockton and in Dixon, California, have recently started using the system. A third installation is planned in Merced soon.
Optimizing farming would empower farmers of all scales with the information, resources and security they need to have higher yields, more lucrative crops. This would drive prices down for the average consumer and increase accessibility to higher quality goods. Higher yields also pump more money into the agricultural ecosystem, increasing the availability of farmed goods.
But wouldn’t farmers be out of pocket from lower prices?
On the contrary, smart contracts could ensure they are paid fairly for their hard work without delay — and smaller farms would have a larger market for selling their fresh produce.
Blockchain empowerment has the potential to shift farmers, who do the hardest work, from being price takers to price setters, forcing downstream cost reductions.
Blockchain would also allow premium brands to stand out from the crowd — and justify why their free range or organic produce is worth the extra money. This is because the provenance of their goods can be easily traced, giving consumers confidence that they are getting added value from a high-end product.
The agricultural sector would also find it easier to figure out how much their crops are worth by comparing the money being offered by a distributor to the sums paid to their rivals in earlier purchases, giving all farmers the opportunity to earn the money they deserve.
Is there any way to get fresh food on store shelves faster?
Inefficiencies in the supply chain can often mean delays before produce is ready for sale, but automated processes through blockchain could speed things along nicely.
There could also be less chance of food going to waste because agricultural businesses and retailers would be able to gauge the demand for certain products and adjust supply accordingly. This spare capacity can then be devoted to other crops — eliminating food waste.
Blockchain’s ability to tackle food waste, and the power that smart contracts can have in ensuring farmers get paid fairly and don’t go out of business, could help the world cater to rising levels of demand — helping eradicate food safety issues, poverty and political instability.
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