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Iran May Move to Create Its Own National Cryptocurrency

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 09:11 AM PST

Digitized Loophole

Another nation may be working on the formation of a national cryptocurrency. Following a meeting with Iran’s central bank’s board of directors, Iranian Information and Communications Technology Minister MJ Azari Jahromi tweeted the bank was planning to “implement the country’s first cloud-based digital currency using the capacity of the country’s elite.”

Image credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay
Image credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

However, shortly afterwards, the country’s Central Bank released a statement saying that the bank was not pursuing the creation of a national cryptocurrency. The statement notes: "The wild fluctuations of the digital currencies along with competitive business activities underway via network marketing and pyramid scheme have made the market of these currencies highly unreliable and risky." The bank continued by warning Iranian citizens that the volatility in the crypto market could cause investors to lose their assets.

Both Venezuela and Iran are currently the targets of heavy sanctions imposed by the United States. Both governments are being accused of using cryptocurrency to illegally circumvent those sanctions by avoiding traditional financial avenues.

While Venezuela admits that the creation of its national cryptocurrency — called the Petro, as it is backed by the country’s oil — will help the country avoid financial sanctions, Iran is flatly denying their cryptocurrency is related to sanctions. Instead, the central bank reportedly released a statement categorizing cryptocurrencies as a “pyramid scheme,” and said they are “highly unreliable and risky.”

As this is all based on a single tweet from a government official, there is not a lot of detail known about the proposed currency. There is no indication if the country will follow Venezuela’s lead and back the currency with a tangible commodity.

The U.S. Treasury Department has already released a statement telling U.S. citizens that the purchase of Venezuela’s cryptocurrency may be in violation of sanctions laws, saying the purchase amounts to extending credit to the Venezuelan government. No doubt this will be extended to Iran, should they come through on the promise of creating their own national cryptocurrency.

The post Iran May Move to Create Its Own National Cryptocurrency appeared first on Futurism.

The U.S. Government Has Held Over $1 Billion in Seized Cryptocurrency

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 08:32 AM PST

The current ubiquity of cryptocurrency trading and investment worldwide means that even governments can’t keep their hands clean of digital assets. While the U.S. federal government has yet to make any serious investments in bitcoin or its fellow cryptocurrencies, it turns out a surprising amount of crypto has been passing through government hands.

According to an investigation by Fortune, the U.S. government has had custody of at least $1 billion — likely more — in digital coins at some point or another. When investigations come to a close, the government confiscates all of a criminal’s assets during a forfeiture process. Lately, that seizure includes the criminal’s cryptocurrency assets too — sometimes millions of dollars in virtual currency — that Uncle Sam later sells to interested parties.

Follow The Money

Much of that confiscated cryptocurrency has passed through the hands of the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for selling any digital currency that the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Administration seized during an investigation.

Once the digital coins are sold, the Justice Department can distribute the funds to collaborators involved in the investigation — local law enforcement can apply for up to 80 percent of the proceeds for their help during the case, and international partners can get their share as well. If the case involved a victim, the funds are used as restitution for loss, injury, or property theft.

The rest of the sale money, however, the Justice Department keeps and distributes within federal law enforcement at their discretion.

The problem though, critics say, is that the public can’t easily follow how much crypto the government has seized, and where it goes. Citizens have to be knowledgeable crypto users with time on their hands to follow the U.S. forfeiture exchange. These sales aren’t archived on the Forfeiture website, and don’t always involve clearly labeled government “wallets”.

Given crypto’s recent meteoric rise, these seized asset sales also involve massive amounts of money. In a January 2018 auction, the U.S. Marshals Service sold 3,813 bitcoins for a neat $45 million.

Some are worried that this combination of profit and secrecy invites more corruption into a forfeiture system that has long been abused by government actors. Indeed, the U.S. Marshals Service has already been investigated for improper use of forfeiture funds. An investigation in September 2017 discovered such funds were paying for agent perks and items like "high-end granite countertops and expensive custom artwork” at the Asset Forfeiture Academy in Houston.

"I've spent 23 years in law enforcement and, unfortunately, I believe as long as police have been seizing cash, some have been skimming it," Clifford Histed, a former prosecutor, told Fortune. "I don't think Bitcoin will prove any different."

Indeed, Fortune discovered several cases in which digital coin seizures were documented by court records and forfeiture notices, but their sale was not.

The U.S. Marshals Service has held held six auctions involving bitcoin.

What’s more, the nature of cryptocurrency raises legal and procedural questions the Justice Department has never faced before. Does the government have the authority to stall — or accelerate — a digital coin sale in order to follow the market and get the best profit? Or, in the case of a criminal who converted stolen Ethereum to bitcoin just before the latter currency’s price skyrocketed, who gets the resulting profit?

Questions like this highlight that cryptocurrency is different from any other type of property seized by the government. The forfeiture system is not accustomed to dealing with property that exists entirely in the digital realm. With cryptocurrencies continuously growing in value and popularity, and new digital coins being created almost daily, if the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies don’t find a transparent means of tracking its cryptocurrency sales soon, it could spell trouble.

Even if Uncle Sam isn’t skimming off the top of its digital coin sales now, the difficulty of tracking crypto sales makes corruption an ever-present possibility.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post The U.S. Government Has Held Over $1 Billion in Seized Cryptocurrency appeared first on Futurism.

How Deep Learning AI Will Help Hologram Technology Find Practical Applications

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 08:16 AM PST

Easier, Faster, Holograms

In two new studies, researchers at UCLA used artificial neural networks to reconstruct a hologram — not just any hologram, though. Not only is the technique an advancement of holographic technology, but the resulting microscopic images could have fascinating medical applications.

In the first study, published in the journal, Light: Science & Applications, researchers used deep learning to create images of biological samples like blood, Pap smears, and other thin tissue samples.

The neural network technique proved to be easier and faster than the usual methods used to make holograms, which often require an abundance of physical measurements and computational input.

In the second study, the team applied their deep learning framework to improve the resolution and quality of the microscopic images, which could help doctors detect very small abnormalities in a large blood or tissue sample.

As holograms are rendered they can lose information in the process, which can sometimes make “artifacts” appear in the image; something that looks significant (like a dark spot that’s really just a shadow but could be interpreted as a cancerous growth). This also happens at times with radiological scans, especially if the patient moves when the scan is being performed.

However, the UCLA team’s deep learning AI was successfully able to address the problem: once it was properly trained, the neural network could separate the spatial features of the true image from any interference (often caused by light).

Practical Holograms

Layers of artificial neural networks allow deep learning algorithms to automatically analyze data. The technology has already demonstrated its use for improving real-time speech translation, video captioning, and many other tasks previous left up to humans — who, perhaps, don’t accomplish them as speedily or accurately as the algorithms do.

Since machine learning can sort through enormous amounts of information much faster than humans can, one area that the technology has begun to establish a presence is medicine. The algorithms are already finding applications in diagnostic radiology, where they’ve been used to read x-rays and have even managed to catch cancers that were missed by human physicians on scans.

As we strive to develop tools to help bring these views “to life” holographic image reconstruction will be integral — especially if they’re able to repair and recover the images.

Beyond the remarkable potential deep learning has to advance hologram technologies, Aydogan Ozca, who led the research, believes it could open up new possibilities in imaging. In a UCLA press release, Ozca said the technology could even lead to the creation of entirely new, coherent imaging systems. Future imaging systems could even use UCLA’s findings to incorporate other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum into the tech, like X-rays and visible wavelengths.

If the future is anything like we’ve seen in science fiction for the last 40 to 50 years, holograms will play a major role, but UCLA’s research doesn’t just support the fantastic future of holograms; it offers realistic applications for the incredible technology.

The post How Deep Learning AI Will Help Hologram Technology Find Practical Applications appeared first on Futurism.

Japanese Researchers Unveil Tiny, Floating, “Firefly” Light Called Luciola

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 10:24 AM PST

Named “Luciola” after a genus of fireflies, a remarkable new light is about the size of a lighting bug and floats over waves of ultrasound. Weighing in at a minuscule 16.2 mg, each light glows red just brightly enough to read by. The ultrasonic waves that Luciola emits through 285 microspeakers are at a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing the light to levitate in total silence.

Japanese researchers of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project have been working on Luciola for two years, circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya said in an interview with Reuters. This remarkable invention is beautiful to behold but also magnificent in its capabilities. While initially, the bot may seem primarily whimsical, Luciola has the potential to be applied to everything from projection mapping to internet-of-things technologies.

"Ultimately, my hope is that such tiny objects will have smartphone capabilities and be built to float about helping us in our everyday lives in smarter ways,” Takamiya told Reuters.

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The research team believes that it will be possible to equip Luciola with temperature and movement sensors. This could allow the lights to deliver messages (traveling by ultrasonic wave, of course), work together to make moving displays, and even detect the presence of humans (something that could be applied within moving displays).

Further modifications to Luciola could give it even more capabilities, although they will take time. The researchers aim to have the tiny bot ready to bring to market in the next five to 10 years.

Hopefully, Takamiya is right, and Luciola will float into our lives, improving existing devices while expanding the horizon of what’s technologically possible — one ultrasonic wave at a time.

The post Japanese Researchers Unveil Tiny, Floating, “Firefly” Light Called Luciola appeared first on Futurism.