Amazon Presents Its Quasi-Blockchain Solution, Platform for Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric

On Nov. 28, e-commerce giant Amazon announced two blockchain-related products: Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) and Amazon Managed Blockchain. The company hence marked its further expansion into the field of blockchain technology, which started with blockchain-related patents and collaborations that Amazon has seemingly chose over working with cryptocurrencies, per se.

So what are those new projects and are they going to change the crypto industry?

QLDB: Cryptographic, but centralized database

As per Amazon’s website, QLDB is a ledger database designed to provide “transparent, immutable and cryptographically verifiable log of transactions,” which is overseen by “a central trusted authority.”

Thus, all changes are purportedly recorded on-chain, while the new product is also able to automatically scale to “execute 2–3X as many transactions than ledgers in common blockchain frameworks.” Indeed, Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), reportedly stated that the QLDB “will be really scalable, you’ll have a much more flexible and robust set of APIs [application program interfaces] for you to make any kind of changes or adjustments to the ledger database.”

Additionally, QLDB allegedly uses a cryptographic hash function (SHA-256) to generate a secure output file of data’s change history, serving as a proof that “validates the integrity of data changes.”

“With QLDB, your data’s change history is immutable — it cannot be altered or deleted — and using cryptography, you can easily verify that there have been no unintended modifications to your application’s data,” according to the description on Amazon’s website.

Walter Montes, co-founder of the Costa Rican Blockchain Community, told Cointelegraph that — being a centralized product — QLDB cannot be compared to decentralized solutions, although it does attempt to do so in its roadmap:

“It makes no sense to compare things like transactions per second from a centralized service to a decentralized one. There are reasons why these things are decentralized and these are not merely technical ones. Amazon seems to miss the point by comparing QLDB with a blockchain.”

Even if one attempts to compare QLDB with permissioned blockchains, which are common among industry-level corporations because of their security, there are major distinctions between the two, says Montes:

“Permissioned blockchains handle cryptography in a decentralized way, which provides properties like historical evidence […] Another relevant point is the value of the smart contracts or chaincodes, which function as agreed and signed rules on how to modify the data. At least in the public information, they only address the immutability promise, but what about the governing rules of data? Without that, they only log whatever happens, with no real proactive control.”

That technically makes QLDB a database, argues Eyal Shani, a blockchain researcher and former software engineer, as well as Aykesubir consultant:

“QLDB is a normal database from that sense, [while] a blockchain database is also an immutable ledger […] the QLDB tech is another layer of software which eases the development of ledger-like software.”

Montes also agrees that QLDB resembles a conventional database, adding that its cryptography feature still makes it inferior to blockchains in terms of safety.

“Cryptography may calm down some users but doesn’t provide the security and robustness that a blockchain provides. [It is more] like a marketing tool.”

Moreover, the fact that there is a central authority overseeing the whole process might make it less reliable among competing businesses:

“Imagine six banks of the same size trusting one of them (a competitor) to hold a ‘cryptographically linked-list’ that they can verify. They simply won’t trust it. [Instead], they’d end up creating their own data store and then checking data versions daily. Cryptography is there in part to verify things, but when you can’t even do that, it falls short.”

Why QLDB avoids decentralization?

So who are the potential users of Amazon’s QLDB solution? Perhaps those who have become skeptical of the blockchain buzzword, now that the hype has begun to settle, suggests Shani:

“Some believe in that as much as Satoshi and some don’t want to hear about decentralization, possibly because of the bad reputation it had and the excessive amount of speculators in the cryptosphere.

“It’s marketing buzz, we see it with artificial intelligence and [the] Internet of Things, too. That may continue to happen until creating a real decentralized blockchain is as easy as creating a database today.”

Therefore, with further development of blockchain comes greater adoption. It might take more time until decentralization becomes a more trusted solution among corporations looking to shield their data from tampering:

“Decentralization of trust as a concept is something that could fundamentally disrupt some industries, but it’ll take time until we get there. The public and the regulators would have to change their mindset in order for that to happen fully […] Meanwhile, the use of blockchain-like applications and tokenization of assets is already a big jump to many industries and will ease the change into blockchains in the long run.”

Amazon Managed Blockchain: Add-on to QLDB or independent blockchain solution?

Amazon Managed Blockchain, which was announced along with the QLDB, “makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks using the popular open source frameworks HyperledgerFabric and Ethereum,” but also works with QLDB itself, according to the company’s website.

Further, the product automatically scales depending on the needs of specific applications and is deployed in managing certificates, inviting new users to the network and tracing metrics, such as memory and storage resources and usage of computer, Amazon argues. AWS CEO Andy Jassy claims that this service “is going to make it much easier to use the two most popular blockchain frameworks [Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric].”

Shani questions that argument by stating that Ethereum and Hyperledger blockchains are already “easily” set up in the industry’s present circumstances. The blockchain researcher also emphasizes the vagueness of Amazon’s press release:

“Governance in distributed protocol is an important aspect, but it’s unclear in what manner Amazon achieves this. If they implemented it in a centralized manner, how different is that from QLDB?”

Montes, in turn, doesn’t believe that a managed blockchain service offering may be around for long because “it limits open scalability (in a technology that is based on network-effects) by locking it up into a single cloud provider.” However, such solutions might be useful for testing and proof-of-concept (PoC) operations, he adds.

Still, the fact that a company as large as Amazon announced new blockchain-related products might seem like a healthy sign for the industry.

“From a macro point of view, the more research and development being done around Ethereum, the more the protocol strengthens and grows into a global adoption as a standard,” Shani concludes.

Blockchain Could ‘Speed up the Economy,’ Says Nigerian Presidential Candidate

The presidential candidate of Nigeria’s leading opposition party has promised to support blockchain and cryptocurrency, local news outlet the DailyPost article reported Nov. 24.

The Nigerian news outlet reportedly analyzed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar’s “Get Nigeria Working Again” policy that he reportedly promised to enact if he is elected president February 16, 2019.

DailyPost reports that in the document, the politician declared that “he aims to speed up the economy positively through blockchain and cryptocurrency.”

According to DailyPost, Abubakar stated that to unlock “the potentials of the new economy” PDP “shall promote the production of a comprehensive policy on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.”

DailyPost also quoted Abubakar platform as stating “regulation will provide clarity” in this “industry that consists of 1,800 currency types.” The terms of the mandate are also promised to be “managed in a way that provides job opportunities as well as income for the government and people of Nigeria.”

As Cointelegraph reported in mid-October, the Nigerian government has been partnering with local startups to develop blockchain in the country. In March, Nigerian regulator Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) warned against the use of cryptocurrencies because transactions are not insured.

West Virginia Secretary of State Reports Successful Blockchain Voting in 2018 Midterm Elections

The Secretary of State of the U.S. state of West Virginia Mac Warner reported a successful first instance of remote blockchain voting in an official announcement Nov. 15.

Warner stated that in the 2018 midterm elections, 144 military personnel stationed overseas from 24 counties were able to cast their ballots on a mobile, blockchain-based platform called Voatz, adding:

“This is a first-in-the-nation project that allowed uniformed services members and overseas citizens to use a mobile application to cast a ballot secured by blockchain technology.”

Voting for the general elections on the platform started in September, when absentee balloting opened in West Virginia.

The first trial of the new platform took place during the state’s primary elections in April. Blockchain-based ballots were then restricted to a select group of voters such as deployed military members and other citizens eligible to vote absentee under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and their spouses and dependents.

The Voatz system was initially developed to address the issue of low voter participation among members of the military. According to Symantec — the firm behind the Voatz system — only 368,516, or 18 percent of the 2 million service members and their families serving overseas received ballots in 2016. After counting rejections and tardy ballots, only 11 percent of said votes were counted.

While Warner noted the project’s success, his deputy chief of staff Michael Queen told the Washington Post that they have no plans for expanding the program beyond military personnel serving overseas:

“Secretary Warner has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting.”

According to data from the United States Elections Project, West Virginia ranks 44th of 50 states in voter participation at 42.6 percent.

Some experts have expressed concern over the safety of mobile voting. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, claimed:

“Mobile voting is a horrific idea. It’s Internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”

Conversely, Bradley Tusk of Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies has encouraged mobile voting, stating that it can turn out more voters, and as a result, “democracy would work a lot better.” Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies helped fund the Voatz app’s development.

IMF Vows to Continue ‘Devoting Attention’ to Blockchain, Cryptocurrency in Fintech Drive

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it plans to use its ongoing research and experimentation with blockchain as an “anchor” for its future policy on the technology in comments Nov. 12.

Speaking on a panel with Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse during the Singapore Fintech Festival 2018, IMF Deputy General Counsel Ross Leckow highlighted three areas the organization has been “active” in regarding blockchain, cryptocurrency and more.

“The IMF is devoting a lot of attention to fintech and in particular to blockchain,” he told the audience, continuing:

“But we think that it’s difficult to talk about blockchain without considering it in light of the other new technologies that are forming part of the fintech debate.”

For Leckow, these include artificial intelligence (AI), so-called distributed ledger technology (DLT), cryptoassets and several others.

He further underscored the continued research efforts underway at the the IMF regarding cryptocurrency and blockchain, referring to the various documents published in recent years.

Member banks and governments, he added, were demonstrating considerable interest in guidance on how to handle and regulate the emerging sector.

“Given the demand for advice in this area, at our annual meeting in Bali last month, we and the World Bank jointly launched an initiative called the Bali Fintech Agenda, which we think is the first comprehensive framework of issues that countries need to think about when designing policy around fintech,” Leckow said.

“This will be an anchor for much of our work going forward.”

Malta to Develop AI Strategy Following Success as ‘Blockchain Island’

The Maltese government has announced the formation of a taskforce to develop a national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, Cointelegraph reports Tuesday, Nov. 1 from the Malta Blockchain Summit.

The Junior Minister for Financial services, Digital economy and Innovation, Silvio Schembri announced the launch of the governmental initiative “Malta.ai,” stating that Malta is aiming to become a top AI nation. He said that the country would develop a friendly regulatory environment for AI much in the same way as it has done for blockchain technology:

“After successfully positioning Malta as the ‘Blockchain Island,’ by being the first in the world to regulate DLT (distributed ledger technology) products and services, we now would like to position Malta amongst the top 10 countries in the world with an artificial intelligence policy.”

The government has already launched a website for its national AI strategy. According to official statements at the Malta Blockchain Summit, AI projects will be monitored by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority — the same organization that monitors DLT. The government’s objectives are:

“…to dialogue with stakeholders, to build awareness of the key topics and issues that will inform a national AI Framework, consult on a policy that considers for ethically aligned, transparent and socially responsible AI, identify regulatory and fiscal measures to strengthen Malta’s appeal as a hub for foreign investment in this sector and identify the underlying skill base and infrastructure needed to support AI.”

Malta.ai will collaborate with SingularityNET, a decentralized marketplace for AI services, in a pilot project to “explore a citizenship test for robots in the process of drafting new regulation for AI.”

SingularityNET, which is working with renowned robot Sophia built by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, has launched its own AGI token, with a total market capitalization reaching nearly $33 million according to CoinMarketCap.

Malta has gained a reputation as a proactive and friendly jurisdiction for blockchain and crypto-related business. The government announced its intention to make the country a leader in DLT in February of this year.

In early July, the country’s Parliament passed three bills setting a clear regulatory framework and legal environment for both the crypto and blockchain industries. The country has since become a popular area for crypto-related startups, including global crypto exchanges like BinanceOKex, and BitPay.