One notable aspect of Hu-Manity is that it manages all the user data via a blockchain, which is a concept that traces its roots back to the early Obama years.
The first iPhone was sold in 2007, and 18 months later another product launched that promised to be equally revolutionary. Bitcoin, created in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the great depression, was an alternative to the rickety, crash-prone global financial system. One of those products has been successful, and the other has had mixed results at best, but both have found uses, including at Hu-Manity and a few other ventures in the Route 1 corridor.
Bitcoin is an electronic currency that’s secured by cryptography: you can’t spend bitcoins in your account (called a “wallet”) unless you have a 256-bit “key.”
Cryptography, however, is not what makes Bitcoin special. What sets it apart from other online currencies is that there is no “Bitcoin” company or authority to keep track of who has what Bitcoin. Instead, the information is all on a distributed ledger of information called a “blockchain” that is stored on the computers of everyone who uses the system. The “blockchain” is what allows users to trade bitcoins back and forth without any central authority to verify the validity of the transactions. The blockchain is theoretically secure from manipulation because no one person can change the record.
(To learn about how Bitcoin works in depth, Princeton University offers a free online course that is open to the public. Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor, teaches the Coursera course, which has earned rave reviews. For information, visit www.coursera.org/learn/cryptocurrency.)
Bitcoin never lived up to its expectations as an alternative currency — today it is held as an investment, but rarely used in purchases — but it did show that a secure database could exist in the real world without a central authority to govern it. Ever since Bitcoin’s launch, geeks, entrepreneurs, futurists, (and no small number of grifters) have been enthused about the possibilities for blockchain technology (U.S. 1, September 5).
Hu-Manity uses a blockchain model very different from Bitcoins. Bitcoin’s blockchain is public, whereas the Hu-Manity one is private. In this way, Hu-Manity avoids some of Bitcoin’s pitfalls, including the fact that Bitcoin uses vast amounts of electricity just to verify transactions.
“The vast majority of humans think blockchain and Bitcoin are the same thing but they’re not,” Michael DePalma of Hu-Manity says. “It’s kind of like when the Internet came along, everyone used it to build chat applications. Then someone built e-commerce, and everyone said, ‘Oh Jesus, let’s do that.’ Now you look at blockchain, and just about everyone uses blockchain in the same way — for a currency.” According to DePalma, blockchain “allows for trust and transparency. People’s choices about how, where, and if their data is used by companies will be recorded immutably on blockchain.”
While Hu-Manity is using blockchains in a novel way, another area business is sticking with the cryptocurrency route. Rohith Pasula, a Montgomery resident and sophomore at Syracuse University, has started a business called Kryptapurchase that offers a cryptocurrency purchasing service.
As anyone who has attempted to buy Bitcoin or one of its copycats such as Etherium or Litecoin knows, buying cryptocurrency is no easy task. Creating an account at Coinbase, the most popular cryptocurrency exchange site, is a cumbersome and lengthy process. Sometimes it takes a week or two for a transaction to go through.
Kryptapurchase simplifies this process by allowing clients to buy a package and in return receive a password-protected flash drive in the mail that contains the codes for their cryptocurrency purchase. If the drive is lost in the mail or is destroyed, the company will send you a backup. Kryptapurchase is able to send its customers currency immediately because it is holding some in reserve.
Pasula says he got some of the funding to start his company from his own savings, and some from his parents, who own IT consulting companies in the area. He says he also has made some money from buying and selling Bitcoins, as he bought some of the cryptocurrency at a low point in its value and was able to sell later for a profit.
While Hu-Manity and Kryptapurchase are among the first blockchain companies in the Route 1 corridor, the concept has generated widespread interest. Himanshu Bhatia, owner of Ricovr Healthcare, an AI-based tech company at 252 Nassau Street, has started the Blockchain Princeton meetup group, which has 621 members so far. For more information, visit www.meetup.com and search for “blockchain Princeton.”
At a July meeting of the group, a New York-based entrepreneur laid out his proposal for a blockchain-based video game called “One Game” that its creator intends to be a vibrant virtual world with users creating their own virtual realms, much like the movie and book “Ready Player One.”