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The Blockchain Paradox

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Pindar Wong is the chairman of VeriFi (Hong Kong) Ltd and a member of CoinDesk’s advisory board. An internet pioneer, he co­founded the first licensed Internet Service Provider in Hong Kong in 1993.

The following article originally appeared in Consensus Magazine, distributed exclusively to attendees of CoinDesk’s Consensus 2019 event.


From ethereum’s conflicted handling of The DAO attack to bitcoin’s block size “civil war,” to the new staking, baking and voting models for upgrading protocols and electing delegates in more recent blockchain projects, “governance” has long been a heated topic in blockchain communities

As pressure for capacity upgrades has grown along with blockchain adoption, communities have struggled to find an idealized “decentralized governance” model for agreeing on code changes and software forks. The difficulty is understandable. After all, the very idea of blockchain governance can seem like a paradox wrapped in a dilemma. The paradox: “How do you change something which is ‘immutable’?”

The dilemma: “In choosing between a hard fork or soft fork: do you split the very value of using a blockchain in the first place?”

I used to characterize the distinct approaches to these fundamental questions as either “on-chain” governance, where code change negotiations are baked into the protocol’s consensus mechanisms (Decred, DFINITY, EOS, Tezos), or “off-chain” governance (bitcoin, ethereum), where upgrade proposals are negotiated offline before being implemented. (Within the latter
camp I also saw further division, as some, particularly in the bitcoin community, forswear any form of off-chain governance at all.)

I say “used to” because I no longer think it’s productive to address this puzzle in purely ‘decentralized’ or ‘governance’ terms. Learning from the confusion and heartache of the past 20 years in which governments – the traditional, offline kind – have struggled to understand who “governs the Internet,” I think we need to change the taxonomy.

I suggest substituting “polycentric” for “decentralized,” and “stewardship” for “governance.”

Decentralized governance: ‘Polycentric stewardship’

While authorities took years to understand what “Internet Governance” meant, billions of hosts and multiple “stakeholders” continued to come online worldwide. This meant that, much like blockchain technology, the Internet had its own “scaling issues.” We didn’t run out of block weight or block gas limit, but we did run out of numbers to name each network interface
(IPv4 address exhaustion).

In addressing these challenges, a complex ecosystem of stewardship emerged, almost organically. The Internet’s governance came to comprise many independent but interrelated groups, each managing the development of distinctly different but equally important protocols.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) stewarded the core internet protocols that connect hosts on the network (TCP/IP, BGP, HTTPS); the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) stewarded the standards for the Web (HTML); and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) stewarded the Domain Name System (DNS), to name but a few groups.

Today, the Internet is not a single complex legal protocol agreed to by 195 nation states, but a mix of technical protocols that are voluntarily adopted by over 70,000 Autonomous Systems(AS): each of which independently operates its own network.

This complexity in the stewardship ecosystem evolved as the demand for online commercial services generated it’s many scaling challenges. But while it meant there would be no single centralized body responsible for all the policies and protocols that Internet users’ rely upon, it did leave a concentration of authority within each group. Each organically evolved its own
distinct culture and community norms, its form, to follow its unique function and pursue a common goal of stewarding the development of specific protocols and policy standards.

Together, these groups now comprise a “polycentralized” ecosystem, having many centers. I see blockchain protocol development following a similar trajectory, with complexity growing as networks become more layered (e.g. the Lightning Network), as different consensus algorithms develop, and as different kinds of specific blockchain hardware such as hardware wallets are deployed. While it’s true that the overall blockchain ecosystem is “not centralized” – that it lacks an overarching center of power or control – I would argue that it is already polycentralized.

As such, it’s not helpful to fixate on a “decentralized” ideal.

Immutability and immunity

How then can we also frame and simplify reasoning about the different roles, and complex interests, within a single family of blockchain protocols? For example, between bitcoin’s multiple stakeholders: developers, exchange operators, full-node operators, miners and end-users.

One lesson I learned from helping organise the 2015 “Scaling Bitcoin” workshops was that thoughtful protocol designers gave careful attention to the overall sustainability of an immutable blockchain. They sought to address not only classic computational “space and time” tradeoffs, such as how to process an “optimally malicious block,” but also more specific concerns with how transaction costs are externalised to the network — for example, how to manage the unspent transaction output (UTXO) set.

In 2016, I shared my learning at the MIT Bitcoin Expo, but at that time I still felt that the rough and tumble of divisive debate and stressful challenges to the network would only make the bitcoin protocol and community more robust and immune to future challenges. Drawing parallels with the evolution of biological systems and the herd immunity they develop in response to persistent threats, I concluded that bitcoin’s “antifragile” framework was working.

Unfortunately, I didn’t then have a more thorough way of reasoning what a “healthy” – i.e. sustainable – network should look like. There was no mathematical theory for measuring an ecosystem’s sustainability. So, I wasn’t seeing the overall picture and missing some of the ecosystem’s more fundamental governance challenges.

I now believe that the foundational work of Nobel economist Elinor Ostrom and euro architect Bernard Lietaer, both recently deceased, may point the way forward, to better frame discussions so that we can ask the right questions at the right time, measure what should be measured and respond accordingly.

Blockchain: A common-pool resource

Ostrom, who passed away in 2012, studied what economists call ‘common-pool resources’ (CPR), such as pastures for grazing or water for irrigation, all of which risk contention and overexploitation if overused. I think it is helpful to consider blockchain transaction capacity, the blockchain itself, and other related resources such as computation power in the same vein, as CPRs.

Before Ostrom’s research, it was thought that the only way to sustainably steward such resources was either by establishing private property rights or with government regulation. After studying hundred of cases of sustainable CPRs worldwide, Ostrom found that complex systems aren’t necessarily “chaotic” by default. She found sustainable CPRs – in Maine lobster fishermen’s common governance of their fishery, for example — and discovered a third way was possible. She identified eight helpful common ‘design principles’ for managing sustainable CPRs, together with two frameworks for reasoning: the Institutional Analysis and Design (IAD) and the Social-Ecological Systems (SES) Frameworks.

I find Ostrom’s frameworks fruitful for thinking about the tradeoffs between different blockchain CPRs: collective bandwidth, memory, disk and computational capacity, etc. Though the mapping is not exact, or one-to-one, I believe it can help future researchers develop common design principles in blockchain incentive design.

Ostrom’s IAD and SES frameworks are not enough alone. They might help us ask the right questions and compare the sustainability of different blockchain ecosystems, but how does one actually measure it for a blockchain network? Here the late Bernard Lietaer has much to offer.

Blockchain: A complex adaptive flow network

Lietaer, who died earlier this year, co-designed and implemented the European currency system’s convergence mechanism, making him, in many respects, a key architect of the euro.

He was a monetary scholar and wrote four books on the future of money. He also did pioneering work in the pre-cryptocurrency field of “complementary currencies” and in 2017 was named Chief Monetary Architect of the Bancor Protocol Foundation, which oversees the ethereum- based Bancor liquidity network for token convertibility.

Lietaer’s definition of money as “an agreement within a community to use something standardized as a medium of exchange” is among my favorites. Most importantly, he and Robert E. Ulanowicz developed a single metric for measuring the sustainability of “complex adaptive flow networks,” such as those that exist in flows of nutrients in nature or financial flows in economic networks.

The practical takeaway from a lifetime of studying real-life ecosystems is that there appears to be only a small “window of viability” between optimizing a sustainable network for greater resiliency and greater throughput. In the case of a “monoculture in money,” the implication is that a small handful of different kinds of money are needed for optimal sustainability.

This bodes well for the wider adoption of cryptocurrencies.

A new rulebook

Like a sixth sense, I see ‘dead’ governance models everywhere, all laid waste by the collision of two worlds: the world of borderless networks, as embodied in the Internet, and the world of bordered nations. From Facebook’s crisis, which prompted its CEO to cry that “The Internet Needs New Rules,” to the UK’s Brexit crisis, it’s clear that a new stewardship rulebook is required.

With their capacity to automatically enforce rules across a borderless network, blockchain protocols offer potential solutions to these deep-seated problems. But if their own governance challenges prevent them from scaling beyond their current capacity limits, that opportunity will be lost.

When addressing such challenges, we need to design blockchain ecosystems as sustainable common-pool resources. It’s this third-way approach to negotiating complex competing interests – neither chaos nor centralized control – that will allow blockchains to sustainably scale into becoming a vital element of humanity’s economic future.

Our future is decentralized not disorganized, our future is polycentric.

Lego blocks image via Shutterstock

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Top 5 Crypto Performers: XEM, XLM, XTZ, BNB, IOTA

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The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.

Market data provided by HitBTC exchange.

After the strong recovery of the past few weeks, this week saw some profit booking at the highs. However, unlike previous occasions, the dip has been shallow and some buying is visible close to support levels. This shows that the market sentiment is changing from sell on rallies to buy on dips. After the sharp move from the lows, a few weeks of consolidation is also possible.

In its report, the European Central Bank said that the impact of cryptocurrencies on the real economy is limited, as only a handful of merchants accept them due to their high volatility. However, they find some value in the stablecoins. We believe that the uses of cryptocurrencies have been increasing in the real world, and this is likely to penetrate further in the next few years. The launch of a cryptocurrency by Facebook will also speed up the adoption among the masses.

Though many people want to invest in cryptocurrencies, they are wary of the negative propaganda surrounding them. Some might even find the technology aspect of it a little difficult to understand in the beginning. To address this issue, Coinbase had started its Coinbase Earn program at the end of 2018, which was by invite only, but the exchange has now opened the program for the public.

XEM/USD

Nem (XEM) was the best performer among the major cryptocurrencies. Though it has given up some of its gains, it is still significantly higher for the week. While part of the gains would have come due to the positive sentiment across the asset class, the fundamental news also helped. The markets cheered the Catapult update, which will improve the overall NEM platform and make it more user-friendly and convenient to use. Another piece of positive news is that Zeux will add XEM on its digital payment wallet, after which its users can pay with the cryptocurrency at the merchants that accept Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. Can it continue its recovery?

XEM/USD

The XEM/USD pair is attempting to breakout of the overhead resistance of $0.085. If successful, it will complete an inverse head and shoulders pattern that has a target objective of $0.135946775. The digital currency has a horizontal resistance at $0.13125258. We expect a stiff resistance between these two levels.

A breakout of $0.14 is likely to start a new uptrend that can carry the digital currency to $0.45 with a minor resistance at $0.20. Our bullish view will be invalidated if the bears defend the overhead resistance. In such a case, a few more days of range bound action is likely. The bears will gain an upper hand on a breakdown of $0.045.

XLM/USD

On May 15, the Stellar (XLM) network briefly stopped: during the period of downtime, the network did not process any transaction. Though no one lost any money, it shows that the network needs some improvements. In separate news, the Stellar Development Foundation announced the release of a new ticker API that will provide the latest data about markets and assets on the network.

XLM/USD

The XLM/USD pair broke out of the long-term downtrend line this week, which is a bullish sign —iIt signals the end of the downtrend. The pair has also formed an inverse head and shoulders pattern, which will complete on a breakout and close above the overhead resistance of $0.14861760.

Though the bulls had scaled this level during the week, they could not sustain the breakout as sellers stepped in close to the 50-week SMA. The price has again retreated back below $0.14861760. If the bulls fail to ascend the overhead resistance, the pair might enter into a consolidation for a few weeks.

But if the price breaks out and closes (UTC time frame) above $0.14861760, it will complete the bullish reversal pattern that has a target objective of $0.22466773. Above this level, it can move to $0.2885. Our positive view will be invalidated if the digital currency plunges below the right shoulder.

XTZ/USDT

The Tezos (XTZ) community is currently voting to accept or reject the Athens A Upgrade. The voting process will close on May 29. If the upgrade is accepted, will the price move higher? Let’s see what charts project.

XTZ/USDT

The XTZ/USDT pair has broken out of the 50-week SMA, which is a positive sign. It is currently close to the overhead resistance at $1.85. A breakout and close (UTC time frame) above this level will complete a rounding bottom pattern that has a target objective of $3.37. Both the moving averages are close to completing a bullish crossover that will indicate the start of a new uptrend. The next level to watch on the upside is $4.2424.

On the other hand, if the bulls fail to ascend the resistance, the pair might consolidate between $1.85 and $1.295480 for a few weeks. A break below the moving averages will break the positive momentum that is building up.

BNB/USD

Withdrawals and deposits that had been temporarily suspended after this month’s hack of more than 7,000 BTC restarted this week. A major system upgrade was also completed during the week. Sports blockchain venture Chiliz has also announced a partnership with Binance Chain, and Binance Launchpad announced the sale of the harmony token via the lottery format on May 28. Can binance coin (BNB) extend its up move? Let’s find out.

BNB/USD

The BNB/USD pair continues to be in a strong uptrend. The 20-week EMA is sloping up and the RSI is in the overbought zone: this shows that the bulls have the upper hand. The buyers aggressively purchased the dip and propelled the price to new lifetime highs again this week, which shows that every dip is being bought.

The next level to watch on the upside is $33, which is close to the resistance line that has acted as a stiff resistance on previous occasions. If this level is also crossed, the rally can extend to $40.2919564. A drop below the recent low of $17.7997862 will turn the pair negative.

IOTA/USDT

Iota (IOTA) wants to make the ecosystem easy to use and safe for organizations, large token holders and liquidity providers. It is exploring various measures by which these players, who form an important part of the ecosystem, can be supported adequately. Iota will sponsor the first inaugural Texas Smart Cities Summit that aims to bring various visionaries to discuss the actions needed to accelerate smart city efforts across the state. Luxury fashion brand Alyx will also partner with IOTA to improve the transparency of its supply chain.

IOTA/USDT

The IOTA/USDT pair has been range bound between $0.244553 and $0.385033 for the past few weeks. The bulls had broken out of the range during the week, but failed to sustain the higher levels. If the price fails to close (UTC time frame) above the range, the consolidation will extend for a few more weeks.

On the other hand, if the price ascends the overhead resistance, it is likely to start a new uptrend that can carry the price to $0.50 and above it to $0.80. The pair will weaken if the bears sink the price below the support of the range.

Market data provided by HitBTC exchange. Charts for analysis provided by TradingView.

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My Bank Account Was Frozen for Bitcoin – And It Only Made Me Love Crypto More

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Mike the HODL Guy describes his first experience buying Bitcoin and the resulting freeze on his bank account.

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NEO Price Prediction: Long-term (NEO) Value Forecast – May 19

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  • NEO/USD still in a bullish trend outlook in spite of a notable line of declines in its market valuation.
  • The two SMAs have now formed together to define the NEO/USD trade’s movements to the north direction.

NEO/USD Long-term Trend – Bullish

  • Distribution territories: $16, $18, $20
  • Accumulation territories: $8, $6, $4

In spite of a notable decline that occurred between May 16 and 18 in the NEO/USD market valuation, the crypto-pair’s trend is yet in a bullish outlook. After a slight kind of erratic price movements in the crypto-trade on May 13, the market eventually got push to test a price value at $14 mark on May 16.

Shortly, the crypto-trade began to make a retracement move to touch the two SMAs at their touching point located a bit over $10 horizontal line. Presently, the crypto has been seemingly striving once again to regain its momentum around the touching location of the 14-day SMA and the 50-day SMA indicators. The Stochastic Oscillators are now attempting to close hairs at range 60.

Most of the trading indicators still point to the north to suggest that the bulls are in control of this crypto-market. The two trading SMAs have slightly joined together at a point a bit over $10 mark to seemingly end the correction from a high value at $14 mark. Therefore, the market is now expected to surge northwards further past its aforementioned high point.

The views and opinions expressed here do not reflect that of BitcoinExchangeGuide.com and do not constitute financial advice. Always do your own research.

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Bitcoin and Blockchain: The Tangled History of Two Tech Buzzwords

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“I’m interested in blockchain, not bitcoin.”

Admit it, you’ve heard this hundreds, if not thousands, of times. (You might have even said it yourself.) And sure, people know what you’re saying, you’re talking about the “technology underlying bitcoin” and you sound smart enough.

Once it became known – or at least presumed – that you could apply cryptography in finance, in ways similar to how it’s used in bitcoin, everyone started making sure that statement fell from their lips. And that refrain – kicked off by bitcoin itself – remains powerful today.

Sounds plausible? Sure. But, interestingly, the word “blockchain” doesn’t actually appear in the original bitcoin white paper, released back in 2008. Rather, the white paper uses the words “block” and “chain” separately many times.

It describes the word “block” as the vehicle for a bundle bitcoin transactions. Then, these blocks of are linked together, forming a “chain” of “blocks.”

bitcoin, paper

Snapshot from the bitcoin whitepaper (highlighting added)

So, who created this ultimate industry buzzword?

That damn blockchain

Turns out, the origins of the word are not quite so revolutionary.

“The word blockchain was never used in the early days,” former bitcoin developer Mike Hearn told CoinDesk. Although, Hearn did acknowledge that Satoshi often referred to bitcoin’s “proof-of-work chain” in discussions on forums.

It seems the first references to the word came about on Bitcoin Talk, a bitcoin-specific forum created by Satoshi, in July 2010 – more than a year after bitcoin’s release.

And at that time, these remarks weren’t about how innovative the technology was, but instead were complaints about how long it took to download the bitcoin “blockchain” (the entire history of bitcoin transactions).

While compared to today, the download would have far faster, according to one Bitcoin Talk user: “The initial blockchain download is quite slow.”

In other words, initially, blockchain was far from the sexy word it is today.

Blockchain mania

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the word really took hold.

But interest in the term seems to have sprung out of professional organizations and individuals hesitance to align themselves with bitcoin itself because of its bad reputation as the currency for drugs and gray economies.

“I think it [became popular] around the time people started going to Washington [D.C.] and trying to make bitcoin respectable by divorcing the currency from the underlying algorithms,” Hearn said.

To many, bitcoin the currency could be decoupled from bitcoin the blockchain protocol, and so a whole new industry of so-called “private blockchains,” devoid of a cryptocurrency, emerged. Sure enough, around that time in 2015, Google Trends data show the term surged.

Graph from Google Trends.

“Initially people said ‘block chain’, and then, thanks to a great PR campaign, we were blessed with the much improved ‘blockchain,’ single-word, probably thanks to a community-wide effort near and around the Bitcoin Talk forums,” long-time cryptocurrency developer Greg Slepak said.

Not only did it become one word, but it also came in vogue to describe any blockchain that wasn’t bitcoin’s blockchain as “a blockchain.” Bitcoin got to keep the terminology “the blockchain,” giving credence to the fact that it was the first.

Yet blockchain has become so divorced from bitcoin that both words typically see a similar spike when cryptocurrency prices start mooning. For instance, the word blockchain saw a huge uptick in Google searches in late 2017.

blockchain, google trends

Graph from Google Trends.

World’s first blockchain?

Still, it’s unclear exactly where the idea itself begins. To some, blockchains existed even before bitcoin, although that term wasn’t applied to them back then.

For instance, cryptographer Stuart Haber, whose whitepapers on timestamping were cited in the bitcoin white paper, claims to have created the first blockchain called Surety.

According to Haber, that has to be the reason why Satoshi cited his work – three times out of just nine total citations. Surety was launched in 1995 for timestamping records, and it’s still running today.

Yet, Haber admits that his version doesn’t have all the same benefits of bitcoin since it’s centralized – managed by one company.

And that highlights where things get tricky when you’re talking about a blockchain. See, there isn’t necessarily agreement on a single definition of a the technology.

The Merriam Webster dictionary actually presents a much older word for blockchain – “a chain in which the alternate links are broad blocks connected by thin side links pivoted to the ends of the blocks, used with sprocket wheels to transmit power, as in a bicycle.”

While Google defines blockchain as:

Google, blockchain

But, for those seasoned veterans of the space, even this definition is problematic. Many of these new-age private blockchains don’t record their transactions publicly.

“The term has become so widespread that it’s quickly losing meaning,” as The Verge put it earlier this year.

Blind men

Haber pointed to an Indian parable to help explain the incompatible descriptions.

In the parable, a group of blind men come upon an elephant and start touching the animal to try and figure it out what it was in front of them.

Depending on what part of the elephant each man is touching, their answer changes. For instance, one of the blind men, touching the elephant’s trunk, thinks it’s a snake, while the other, touching the elephant’s leg, exclaims it’s a tree trunk.

It’s similar when people define blockchain, Haber said.

He told CoinDesk:

“Some definitions will be completely silly, showing that people don’t understand what they’re doing, but there will also be a bunch of accurate descriptions of various parts of the vast body of work.”

As such, he argues there isn’t just one meaning.

Even though, bitcoiners believe a blockchain can only be the one and only bitcoin blockchain, like words, definitions are always evolving and changing.

Blockchain shirt image via CoinDesk archives

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Bitcoin Pizza Guy featured on Anderson Cooper’s 60 Minutes

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The beloved “Bitcoin Pizza Guy,” Laszlo Hanyecz, will be featured in the next airing of 60 Minutes where he will explain how he spent almost $800 million on pizza. Set to air on Sunday, it will be the first TV interview Hanyecz has ever given and will help bring Bitcoin to a much wider audience.

Bitcoin Pizza Guy to give the first interview on the 9th anniversary of Bitcoin Pizza Day

A computer programmer from Florida has been featured on 60 Minutes and the crypto industry has gone crazy. Set to air on Sunday, May 19th at 7 pm ET, the report has left many people wondering what the fuss is all about.

The Bitcoin Pizza is Worth $83 Million Today

Related: The Bitcoin Pizza is Worth $83 Million Today

The programmer in question is no other than Laszlo Hanyecz, the Bitcoin Pizza Guy, a legendary figure in the crypto industry. Hanyecz made history as being the first person to conduct a real-world transaction involving Bitcoin. However, a few years later, he also became known for spending a total of 100,000 BTC mostly on pizza when Bitcoin was worth less than 1 cent.

At the time of the interview, one Bitcoin was worth around $8000, which means Hanyecz spent $800 million worth of BTC on pizza. In the interview snippet, Anderson Cooper, the new host of 60 Minutes, looked flabbergasted, to say the least.

“Are there nights you wake up,” Cooper asks, “where you think, ‘I could have had $800 million… if I hadn’t bought those pizzas?’”

Hanyecz says:

“I think thinking like that is… not really good for me.”

60 Minutes brings more media attention to Bitcoin…and pizza?

Tomorrow’s 60 Minutes will be focused on cryptocurrencies and the ways they have shaped the world. Hanyecz isn’t the only well-known figure in the crypto industry that will be featured in the show – Lael Brainard, the US Federal Reserve Governor, Neha Narula, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, and Marco Streng, the CEO of Genesis Mining are all interviewed as well.

Charlie Shrem, BitInstant founder and the first person to become convicted for crypto fraud, also makes an appearance.

While the report has caused quite a media frenzy among the crypto community, it put cryptocurrencies under the spotlight. Having a network like CBS focus on the industry so much will definitely increase interest in Bitcoin.

As May 22nd, the 9th anniversary of Bitcoin Pizza Day is getting nearer, it seems that pizza is also getting more media attention. Charlie Bilello, a cryptocurrency writer and investor, recently pointed out an interesting fact. Domino’s Pizza, which went public in July 2004, has a return of almost 4,200 percent.

Google, one of the largest companies in the world, went public a month later, in August 2004. Its investors, however, have only seen a return of 2,228 percent so far.

Many attribute the incredible ROI Domino’s has seen to the new and improved business model implemented by its retired CEO, Patrick Doyle. Others have also pointed out that Domino’s switch from a restaurant to a tech company, alongside its implementation of crypto payments, is what created the most value for investors.

Watch the interview with Laszlo Hanyecz below:

[embedded content]

Filed Under: Adoption, Bitcoin, People of Blockchain

Priyeshu Garg

Priyeshu is a software engineer who is passionate about machine learning and blockchain technology. He holds an engineering degree in Computer Science Engineering and is a passionate economist. He built his first digital marketing startup when he was a teenager, and worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies along with smaller firms. When he is not solving the transportation problems at his company, he can be found writing about the blockchain or roller skating with his friends.

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