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Unlocking the potential of blockchain technology: decentralized, secure and scalable

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Blockchain Technology Concept Art


Algorand uses a unique blockchain architecture developed by MIT professor Silvio Micali to offer a decentralized, secure and scalable platform.

Algorand uses a unique architecture developed by MIT professor Silvio Micali to offer a decentralized, secure and scalable blockchain.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a country with a population of about 50,000, living on more than 1,000 islands in the remote Pacific Ocean. The country relies heavily on cross-border finance and trade, and the complexity of this system can make it difficult for citizens to efficiently obtain certain goods and financial services.

The federal government is now aiming to be the first to issue a national digital currency using blockchain technology. Officials hope the move will help citizens avoid high transaction fees, make it easier to comply with the requirements of international partners, and protect against inflation (the currency will be at a fixed rate).

The new currency will be based on blockchain technology developed by Silvio Micali, professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and commercialized by Micali’s startup, Algorand.

There has been a lot of hype that blockchain technology and related cryptocurrencies could disrupt the movement of money and other assets around the world. Skeptics of this vision say blockchain technologies are not robust enough or efficient enough for mass adoption.

Algorand believes it has solved these problems with a unique scalable architecture that does not sacrifice the traditional benefits of blockchain technology such as decentralization and security.

Silvio Micali

“The idea that something is impossible really caught my attention, because in cryptography and at MIT in general, our job is to prove the impossible is possible,” says Silvio Micali. Credit: Courtesy of Algorand

An increasing number of people are using Algorand for a wide range of applications, from creating carbon credit markets to accelerating real estate transactions and, in the case of the Marshall Islands, creating a new legal tender.

“The advent of blockchain technology has opened up a world of opportunity for countries as small as ours,” Marshall Assistant President David Paul said when the country announced its plans. “By issuing a currency that is not physically embodied in cash, that can instantly move around the world, is tamper-proof and completely secure, the Marshall Islands will finally be connected to the global financial system on its own terms.”

Starting from scratch

Mikali has long been known for his work in the fields of cryptography and security. He has been a faculty member at MIT since 1983, and was awarded a Turing Prize in 2012 with co-author and fellow MIT professor Shafi Goldwasser.

Working with others, Micali’s accomplishments include a new way for distributed parties to agree on a value or strategy, even if some of the parties are corrupt (reaching a so-called Byzantine agreement), as well as a method for allowing parties to send information to each other securely. a way that can subsequently be verified by the public (so-called verifiable random functions).

Much of Mikali’s work originated long before the advent of modern cryptocurrencies and the blockchain hype. As for the random functions tested, Micali says he knew they would be useful in some way, but he couldn’t figure out the application.

However, Micali put off the study of blockchains for years after the creation of the first blockchain-related cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, in 2008. One day, he finally entered his laboratory and asked some of his graduate students to explain this to him.

“I had two main reactions,” Micali recalls. “First, it’s a great idea. Secondly, it is a very inelegant solution. “

Of particular interest to Micali was the problem posed by the founder of another blockchain, Ethereum. The founder said that blockchains can guarantee no more than two of the following: decentralization, security, and scalability.

“The idea that something is impossible really caught my attention, because in cryptography and at MIT in general, our job is to prove the impossible is possible,” says Micali.

Micali also believes the MIT ecosystem helped him launch Algorand. Of its first 10 employees, eight were from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s not just about technology, it’s also about the entrepreneurial spirit at MIT and the fact that we’re not afraid of hardship,” says Mikali. “But the most important resource for me and Algorand is also the most important resource at MIT: people.”

In 2017, Micali started from scratch to create the best blockchain.

The term blockchain refers to records of information stored in blocks that users can add to chains. Each block contains an abbreviated version of the previous block and time-stamped information such as transaction data. As new blocks are added, the previous blocks become more difficult to modify, providing a secure ledger of transactions and other information. Many public blockchains have associated cryptocurrencies or digital assets, and information about cryptocurrency transactions is stored in the blockchain ledger.

“The problem is who can add the next block of transactions to the blockchain,” says Micali. “Because if I have the opportunity to declare something generally known, I have a lot of power. Who should have this power? “

Some blockchains select users to add and verify the next block, forcing them to devote computing power to solve cryptographic puzzles. This approach has been criticized for its inefficiency and energy intensity. Other blockchains provide users with appropriate cryptocurrency credentials to validate new blocks on behalf of everyone else. This approach has been criticized for being too centralized, as relatively few people own most of the many cryptocurrencies.

Algorand also relies on a linked cryptocurrency to validate new blocks. The company calls the currency Algo coins. However, instead of allowing the people with the most coins to check new blocks, Algorand has 1,000 token holders out of 10 billion in circulation who randomly choose themselves to check the next block.

Tokens are selected in a microsecond process that requires relatively little processing power. Random selection also makes the blockchain more secure by not giving hackers a clear goal, helping Algorand solve the Ethereum founder’s “trilemma” with a scalable, secure and decentralized blockchain.

In addition to this architecture, the Algorand community has developed additional features tailored to specific features, such as smart contracts, that can be self-executing based on predefined conditions in their code, in some cases eliminating the need for central authorities and intermediaries such as lawyers …

To make smart contracts more efficiently execute on its blockchain, Algorand created a programming language called Transaction Execution Approval Language (TEAL). TEAL returns true or false depending on whether the specified conditions are met, making it easier to create and execute contracts on the blockchain.

Since then, contracts have been used to secure financial transactions, create a market for small purchases of gold, and raise small investments in startups.

Unlocking the potential of blockchain

The Italian Society of Authors and Editors was founded in 1882 after artists organized an organization to avoid exploitation. Much has changed since its inception, with streaming conglomerates gaining tremendous power over content such as movies and music. The result is a complex copyright ecosystem in which publishers, lawyers, auditors and other intermediaries are cutting artist royalties.

But today, more than 100,000 artists in the organization have their copyrights digitally and can trade or sell those rights at public market prices on the Algorand blockchain. Artists can give permission to use their songs in certain cases while maintaining copyright.

“We like artists, but we often don’t give them what they owe,” says Mikali.

The use case fulfills the main promise of the blockchain by giving people the ability to exchange goods without the need for centralized authorities to borrow money and time. It also illustrates what has been a huge source of business for Algorand so far: the tokenization of digital assets, also known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

The app also became popular with Micali, who was happy to see people in his home country of Italy benefit from his solution.

“This shows how you can regain ownership of your own information,” says Micali. “This is a big trend because very often, to make information available, you have to transfer the rights to it to someone else, who will then become the owner of your information. It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t be doing this, but we need technology to get around it. The only way to move forward is decentralization. “





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Farming robots are the future – we must prepare now to avoid dystopia

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Dystopian Farm Robots


This illustration shows the scenario of a utopian farming robot. Credit: Natalis Lorenz.

This is no longer science fiction, farm robots are already here – and they have created two possible extremes for the future of agriculture and its impact on the environment, says agricultural economist Thomas Daum in an article published July 13, 2021 in Science & Society. Journal Trends in ecology and evolution… One of them is a utopia, in which entire parks of small intelligent robots work in harmony with nature to produce a variety of organic crops. Another is a dystopia in which large, tractor-like robots conquer the landscape with heavy machinery and artificial chemicals.

He describes the utopian scenario as a mosaic of rich green fields, streams, wild flora and fauna, where fleets of small robots powered by sustained energy flutter around the fields, their buzzing mingling with the chirping of insects and the song of birds. “It’s like a Garden of Eden,” says Daum (@ThomDaum), a research associate at the University of Hohenheim in Germany who studies agricultural development strategies. “Small robots can help conserve biodiversity and combat climate change in ways that have never been possible before.”

He suggests that a utopian scenario that is too laborious for conventional farming, but possible with robots working around the clock, 7 days a week, is likely to benefit the environment in many ways. Plants would be more varied and the soil richer in nutrients. Thanks to micro-spraying of biopesticides and laser weed removal, nearby water, insect populations and soil bacteria will also become healthier. Organic crop yields, which are now often lower than traditional crop yields, will be higher and the impact of agriculture on the environment will be greatly reduced.

Dystopian farm robots

This illustration shows the scenario of a dystopian farming robot. Credit: Natalis Lorenz.

However, he believes that a parallel future with negative environmental consequences is quite possible. In this scenario, he says, large but technologically crude robots will bulldoze the natural landscape, and multiple monocultural cultures will dominate the landscape. Large fences would isolate people, farms and wildlife from each other. Once people are removed from farms, agrochemicals and pesticides can be used more widely. The ultimate goals will be structure and control: qualities that these simpler robots excel at, but which are likely to have detrimental effects on the environment.

While he notes that it’s unlikely the future will be limited to pure utopia or pure dystopia, by creating these two scenarios, Daum hopes to spark a conversation in what he sees as a crossroads in time. “Both utopia and dystopia are possible from a technological point of view. But without the right policy barriers, we could end up in a dystopia without even wanting to, if we don’t discuss it now, ”says Daum.

But this impact is not just limited to the environment – it affects normal people as well. “Robotic farming can also specifically impact you as a consumer,” he says. “In utopia, we don’t just grow crops – we have a lot of fruits and vegetables, the relative prices of which will fall, so a healthier diet will become more affordable.”

The small robots described in Daum’s utopian scenario would also be more suitable for small farmers who would find it easier to afford or share them through services like Uber. On the contrary, he argues that a family farm is less likely to survive in a dystopian scenario: only large producers, he says, will be able to manage huge tracts of land and high costs for large machinery.

In parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, where there are currently many small farms, deliberate efforts to implement a utopian scenario offer clear advantages. The situation is more difficult in countries such as the United States, Russia or Brazil, which have historically been dominated by large farms producing large volumes of low-value grains and oilseeds. There, small robots that are less efficient at performing energy-intensive tasks like threshing corn may not always be the most cost-effective option.

“While it is true that the preconditions for small robots are more complex in these areas,” he says, “even with large robots – or a mixture of small and large ones – we can take steps towards utopia with practices like interbreeding, having hedges. agroforestry and the shift from large farms to smaller plots of land owned by large farmers. Some of these methods may even pay off to farmers when robots can do their job as previously unprofitable methods become profitable. ”

To do this, Daum said, you need to act now. While some aspects of the utopian scenario, such as laser weeding, are already developed and ready for widespread adoption, funding must go to other aspects of machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to develop robots intelligent enough to adapt to complex unstructured farming systems. Policy changes are also needed and can take the form of subsidies, regulations, or taxes. “In the European Union, for example, farmers receive money when they perform certain landscape services, such as growing many trees or rivers on their farms,” he says.

While it may seem like a dystopian scenario is more likely, it is not the only way forward. “I think utopia is achievable,” says Daum. “It won’t be as easy as a dystopia, but it’s quite possible.”

Link: “Farming robots: ecological utopia or dystopia?” Thomas Daum, July 13, 2021 Trends in ecology and evolution
DOI: 10.1016 / j.tree.2021.06.002

This work was supported by the “Companion Research Program for Agricultural Innovation”, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).





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Dynamic control of THz wavefronts due to rotation of layers of cascade metasurfaces

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Metadevice for Dynamically Controlling THz Wavefronts


Meta-device for dynamic control of THz wavefronts by rotating layers of cascade metasurfaces. Credit: Shanghai University.

Cascading metasurfaces for dynamic control of THz wave fronts

Electromagnetic (EM) waves in terahertz (THz) mode are used for critical applications in communications, security imaging, and bio and chemical sensing. This widespread applicability has led to significant technological progress. However, due to the weak interaction between natural materials and THz waves, conventional THz devices are usually cumbersome and ineffective. Although ultra-compact active devices in the THz range do exist, modern electronic and photonic approaches to dynamic control are ineffective.

Recently, the rapid development of metasurfaces has opened up new opportunities for creating highly efficient ultra-compact devices in the THz range for dynamic wavefront control. Ultra-thin metamaterials formed by subwavelength planar microstructures (i.e., metaatoms), metasurfaces allow tuning optical responses to control the fronts of electromagnetic waves. By creating metasurfaces that have certain predefined phase profiles for transmitted or reflected waves, scientists have demonstrated exciting wave manipulation effects such as abnormal light deflection, polarization manipulation, photon spin hall and holograms.

Dynamic beam steering metaservice

Demonstration of the dynamic beam steering meta-device: (a) Schematic of the meta-device, which consists of two layers of transmissive metasurfaces aligned with a motorized turntable. (b) top view (left) and (c) bottom view (right) of a SEM image of the fabricated meta-device. (d) Diagram of the experimental setup shown to characterize the meta-device. (e) Experimental and (f) simulated far-field scattering power distribution with a meta device illuminated with 0.7 THz LCP light and evolving along path I at different times. (g) Evolution of the directions of the transmitted waves on the sphere of direction k when the meta device moves along Path I and Path II, with the solid line (asterisks) denoting the results of the simulation (experiment). Here, the blue area denotes the solid angle for beam steering coverage. Credit: X. Cai et al., Doi 10.1117 / 1.AP.3.3.036003.

Moreover, the integration of active elements with individual meta-atoms within passive metasurfaces allows the creation of “active” meta-devices that can dynamically manipulate the fronts of electromagnetic waves. While active elements in deep subwavelengths are easy to find in microwave mode (e.g. PIN diodes and varactors) and successfully contribute to active meta-devices for beam steering, programmable holograms, and dynamic imaging, they are difficult to create at frequencies above THz. … This difficulty stems from size limitations and significant ohmic losses in electronic circuits. Although terahertz frequencies can drive terahertz beams uniformly, they usually cannot dynamically manipulate terahertz wave fronts. Ultimately this is due to the lack of local tuning capabilities at subwavelength depth scales in this frequency domain. Therefore, developing new approaches to avoid local customization is a priority.

As reported in Advanced PhotonicsResearchers from Shanghai University and Fudan University have developed a general structure and meta-devices to achieve dynamic control of THz wave fronts. Instead of locally controlling individual meta-atoms in the THz metasurface (for example, via a PIN diode, varactor, etc.), They change the polarization of the light beam using rotating multilayer cascade metasurfaces. They demonstrate that rotating different layers (each exhibiting a specific phase profile) in a cascade meta-device at different speeds can dynamically change the effective Jones matrix property of the entire device, achieving unusual manipulations with the wavefront and polarization characteristics of terahertz rays. Two meta-devices are demonstrated: the first meta-device can effectively redirect a normally incident THz beam for scanning in a wide range of solid angles, and the second can dynamically manipulate both the wavefront and polarization of the THz beam.

This paper proposes an attractive alternative way to achieve inexpensive dynamic control of THz waves. The researchers hope this work will inspire future applications of terahertz radars as well as bio and chemical sensing and imaging.

Reference: “Dynamic control of terahertz wavefronts with cascading metasurfaces” Xiaodong Tsai, Rong Tang, Haoyang Zhou, Qiushi Li, Shaoji Ma, Dongyi Wang, Tong Liu, Xiaohui Lin, Wei Tang, Qiong He, Shii Xiao, and Lei Zhou, June 26 … 2021, Advanced Photonics
DOI: 10.1117 / 1.AP.3.3.036003





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Take part in ESA Space Camp 2021

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Take part in ESA Space Camp 2021


Space App Camp 2021. Credit: ESA.

ESA invites up to 25 dedicated mobile app developers and AI and machine learning specialists related to Earth observation from space to join this year’s Space App Camp, which will be a virtual event for eight weeks, from July 20 to September 20. …

The Space App Camp aims to make Earth observation data and services available to a wide range of citizens using their smartphones or personal devices. Numerous Earth observation satellites, including Copernicus Sentinel missions, collect a huge amount of data. This big data from space uncovers information about the atmosphere, land and water of our planet and offers countless possibilities for creating compelling, even transformative applications when combined with mobile applications.

Space App Camp attendees will experience Copernicus data and learn how big data from space can enrich mobile apps with a dedicated Earth observation data API. The 2021 virtual edition revolves around an expanded collaboration with ESA’s F-Lab, whose mission is to accelerate future Earth observation through new transformational ideas, and to select, develop, test and develop the most promising concepts.

2020 space camp winner

Quifer (aQuifer sUrveillance by sentInel InterFERometry) won the top prize in Space App Camp 2020. It uses terrain data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, combined with big data and artificial intelligence to monitor water use. Credit: ESA.

Although this is the tenth Space app campThis is the first time the camp has offered an expanded mentoring program that includes an end-to-end training and mobile software development scheme lasting eight weeks, supported by experts in Earth observation, artificial intelligence, intellectual property protection and business. development.

Winners will be awarded cash prizes of up to € 2,500 and a unique Earth observation support package that will allow them to continue working on their winning app idea. They will also be invited to participate in ESA exhibitions. Φ-week and Living Planet Symposium, with all expenses covered.

There is also a unique prize in the form of an Earth Observation Support Package worth around € 3,500. This includes technical advice on Earth observation data, eight hours of software development services, access to a global network of Earth observation experts in application and technical fields, and support from professional ESA business developers.

Carlos Garcia, member of the 2020 winning team, says: “The ESA Space App Camp is a great opportunity to build an app from scratch with guidance from tier 1 professionals. Although everything was virtual in my year, it was a fantastic learning experience – blocking the week and dedicating myself to building a meaningful app. “

The deadline for applications is July 8, 2021. Interested students, entrepreneurs, researchers, developers, and economists can register online individually or in a team (up to four people). This year’s edition is specifically targeted at contributors with profiles in mobile app development, Earth observation app development, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and business development.

To participate in the 8-week mentoring program from July 20 to September 20, 2021, up to 25 participants will be selected, within which special training and development sessions will be held every two weeks.

Since Space App Camp was created 10 years ago, about 480 developers from 30 countries have applied to participate and more than 60 applications have been developed. Some of them have already found use in commercially viable applications.





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