## Blockchain and decentralization hold big implications for society

### Chris Clark on the blockchain's potential to disrupt the financial industry, from contracts to mortgages to government taxation.

Bitcoin has come a long way from initially being perceived as a pipe dream or fake money. In a recent interview, Chris Clark, a software developer, entrepreneur, physicist, and author of Bitcoin Internals, recalled a story of one of the first bitcoin transactions: someone was congratulated on their “free pizza” after paying in the neighborhood of 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas. “Now that would be worth, I don’t know, like millions of dollars,” noted Clark.

While Clark said he regrets not getting involved in bitcoin back in 2010-2011, when “bitcoins were super cheap,” he has since researched and written a technical guide to bitcoin, Bitcoin Internals, and expanded his research into the blockchain, looking at the value of blockchain technology for businesses and the potential impacts of decentralization. In our conversation, he described the early evolution direction:

“Right now, we can see that people are kind of looking at bitcoin mostly as just a regular payment system. While I do think that’s definitely a very important innovation, what we’re seeing is a lot of new technologies coming out that are more about things like smart contracts and decentralized organizations, which are right now really in their infancy. I think that those are actually going to be much bigger in overall impact than the payment system itself.”

Comment: 1

## Physical and virtual are blurring together

### Key signals from hardware, software, manufacturing, and the Internet of Things.

This essay updates a November 2013 article. We’ve expanded it in light of the success of our first Solid conference in May 2014, where we tested many of these ideas, and the announcement of our next Solid conference in June 2015. In addition to this update, you can stay in the loop on the latest developments in the space through our weekly newsletter.

Real and virtual are crashing together. On one side is hardware that acts like software: IP-addressable, programmable with high-level procedural languages and APIs, able to be stitched into loosely coupled systems — the mashups of a new era. On the other is software that’s newly capable of dealing with the complex subtleties of the physical world — ingesting huge amounts of data, learning from it, and making decisions in real time.

The result is an entirely new medium that’s just beginning to emerge. We can see it in Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Spaxels, which are LED-equipped quadcopters that make up a drone swarm to render a three-dimensional pixel field; in Baxter, which layers emotive software onto an industrial robot so that anyone can operate it safely and efficiently; in OpenXC, which gives even hobbyist-level programmers access to the software in their cars; and in SmartThings, which ties web services to light switches.

The new medium is something broader than terms like “Internet of Things,” “Industrial Internet,” or “connected devices” suggest. It’s an entirely new discipline that’s being built by software developers, roboticists, manufacturers, hardware engineers, artists, and designers. Read more…

### Exploring open web crawl data — what if you had your own copy of the entire web, and you could do with it whatever you want?

For the last few millennia, libraries have been the custodians of human knowledge. By collecting books, and making them findable and accessible, they have done an incredible service to humanity. Our modern society, culture, science, and technology are all founded upon ideas that were transmitted through books and libraries.

Then the web came along, and allowed us to also publish all the stuff that wasn’t good enough to put in books, and do it all much faster and cheaper. Although the average quality of material you find on the web is quite poor, there are some pockets of excellence, and in aggregate, the sum of all web content is probably even more amazing than all libraries put together.

Google (and a few brave contenders like Bing, Baidu, DuckDuckGo and Blekko) have kindly indexed it all for us, acting as the web’s librarians. Without search engines, it would be terribly difficult to actually find anything, so hats off to them. However, what comes next, after search engines? It seems unlikely that search engines are the last thing we’re going to do with the web. Read more…

## Three strategies for designing for behavior change

### Behavioral design strategies provide high-level direction for how a product should be designed.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from our recent book Designing for Behavior Change, by Steve Wendel. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

How can a product help its users pass all the way through the Action Funnel and actually take action? There are three big strategies that a company can choose from to change behavior and help users take action. Two of them come straight from the research literature and from the difference between deliberative and intuitive actions. The third is less obvious, but immensely powerful — it’s called cheating.

The conscious, deliberative route is the one that most of us are familiar with already — it entails encouraging people to take action, and them consciously deciding to do it. Users have to pass through all five stages of the Action Funnel, and often spend considerable time on the conscious evaluation stage.

The intuitive route is a bit more complex. Recall from Chapter 1 that our lightning-fast, automatic, and intuitive reactions arise from a mix of various elements: associations we’ve learned between things, specific habits we’ve built up, our current mindset, and a myriad of built-in shortcuts (heuristics) that save our minds work but can lead us astray. Of these, habits are the most promising route to developing a sustainable path to behavior change because there are clear, systematic ways to form them. And once they are formed, they allow the user to pass effortlessly through two of the stages of the Action Funnel — the conscious evaluation and the assessment of the right timing for action. Read more…

Comment

## The revolution in biology is here, now

### Biological products have always seemed far off. BioFabricate showed that they're not.

Installation view of The Living’s Hy-Fi, the winning project of The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1’s 2014 Young Architects Program. Photograph by Kris Graves.

The BioFabricate summit in New York rearranged my thinking. BioFabricate was about the intersection of manufacturing and biology: not just “we can make cool new microbes,” but using biology to manufacture products for the real world. Biological products have always seemed far off. But they’re not: the revolution in biology is clearly here now, just unevenly distributed.

The products discussed at BioFabricate aren’t what I thought they’d be. I’ve been asked plenty of times (and I’ve asked plenty of times), “what’s the killer product for synthetic biology?” BioFabricate convinced me that that’s the wrong question. We may never have some kind of biological iPod. That isn’t the right way to think.

What I saw, instead, was real products that you might never notice. Bricks made from sand that are held together by microbes designed to excrete the binder. Bricks and packing material made from fungus (mycelium)Plastic excreted by bacteria that consume waste methane from sewage plants. You wouldn’t know, or care, whether your plastic Lego blocks are made from petroleum or from bacteria, but there’s a huge ecological difference. You wouldn’t know, or care, what goes into the bricks used in the new school, but the construction boom in Dubai has made a desert city one of the world’s largest importers of sand. Wind-blown desert sand isn’t useful for industrial brickmaking, but the microbes have no problem making bricks from it. And you may not care whether packing materials are made of styrofoam or fungus, but I despise the bag of packing peanuts sitting in my basement waiting to be recycled. You can throw the fungal packing material into the garden, and it will decompose into fertilizer in a couple of days. Read more…

The article quotes direct operating costs (essentially fuel) that are roughly $0.10 for a 2-kilogram payload, delivered 10 kilometers. (For US-residents, that’s 4.4 pounds and about six miles). That’s reasonable enough. The problem comes when he compares it to Amazon’s current shipping costs, of$2 to \$8. But it sounds roughly like what Amazon pays to UPS or FedEx. And that’s not for delivering four pounds within a six-mile range. And it’s not just the fuel cost: it’s the entire cost, including maintenance, administrative overhead, executive bonuses, and (oh, yes) the driver’s salary. Read more…