The blockchain phone is coming... but what does this mean?

What is a blockchain phone, and why would anyone want one?

  • Sirin Labs' Finney and the HTC's Exodus are set to become the first blockchain phones on the market.
  • In the long-term, blockchain phones could be used to increase our security and shift the control of our data away from large corporations back to the individual users.
  • In the future, it is likely that the concept could become mainstream due to the benefits it provides.

Blockchain has made some huge popularity gains over the past couple of years, but the concept of a blockchain phone still remains quite a mystery.

We're both baffled that so many companies are trying to so hard to bring this concept to reality, and also surprised that it's taken this long and we don't already have a fully working model.

What is the blockchain phone, and which companies are developing it?

The main purpose of a blockchain phone is quite simple: To act as a hardware wallet keep your crypto safe.

However, it goes without saying that most of the companies willing to stick their neck out to create a blockchain phone have far greater ambitions than merely creating a glorified crypto storage device.

Sirin Labs' Finney and the HTC's Exodus are set to be the first blockchain phones, with both companies planning to release by the end of the year.

However, despite them both having the label of 'blockchain phones', the companies have integrated the technology in different ways, creating unique models.

What are the security risks?

Image: HTC

Tech blueprints of the HTC Exodus blockchain phone.

At first, the idea of a blockchain phone raised many eyebrows. Most people would consider their phone the last place to store all of their cryptocurrency—not least because the Android operating system has been found to include a number of security risks.

Following the increased number of attacks on centralized exchanges since cryptocurrencies have become more mainstream, many people have chosen to steer clear of software wallets altogether.

In fact, investors are so worried about security risks that they prefer to store their crypto in a cold storage wallet, which is completely disconnected from the internet.

Another big deterrent is the consideration that even if the phone is secure, it could be lost or stolen at any time, leaving the user without a phone but also without all their cryptocurrency..

Think about the amount of cash you feel comfortable carrying around in your pocket—the likely answer is, not much.

Now think about walking around with your entire savings account tucked away in your back pocket.

This raises the question, how do we get around these risks?

Companies are working to make the blockchain phone more secure

The HTC Exodus improves security by allowing users to hold their own keys and placing them in a trusted execution environment that is separate from the operating system of the phone. It's part of an ARM chip called TrustZone.

This mechanism has been used by several other companies in the past to protect important data. For instance, Apple uses it to protect the information it stores about your fingerprint and your face that you use to unlock your phone.

However, even with these security precautions in place, it's still not entirely foolproof.

In an interview with Wired, HTC's decentralized chief officer Phil Chen said:

"We're still at the very early stages of educating users that this is not a 100 percent secure solution, but as of right now it's the best so far. It's our attempt to do something that's best from the market."

The Finney phone, on the other hand, will feature a second touch screen that can be slid up from the rear of the device.

This is designed to turn on the device's cold storage wallet which will cut off all unencrypted communications and ensure that the digital storage is inaccessible, in order to facilitate secure transactions. The phone can be used and bought with Sirin Tokens (SRN).

Nimrod May, the chief marketing officer at Sirin Labs, said that:

"The vision of Sirin Labs right now is to bridge the gap between the Blockchain economy and the mass market, by basically addressing and resolving these two inherent problems."

How will a blockchain phone change society?

Image: Sirin

Sirin's Finney phone has a slide compartment for the cold storage crypto wallet. When the compartment is closed, the wallet is offline and completely shutdown. To open the cold wallet, you slide up to reveal a 2-inch second screen for the authentication key.

The creation of the blockchain phone isn't merely to give people yet another place to store their crypto. In fact, it symbolizes something much larger. In addition to giving people a new way to relate to their crypto, it will change the way they relate to their data and their identity.

Given the increasing number of data breaches we're witnessing from large corporations, it's apparent that people are becoming far more suspicious of the corporations controlling their data, and are interested in finding alternatives.

The blockchain is a transparent, immutable digital ledger that grants users full control of their own data and addresses many of the challenges we're currently facing with regards to our digital identities.

Ultimately, the use of this technology in the mobile phone represents a shift in control from large corporations, back to the individual users themselves.

"A few years down the road, we see a world where people own their own identities and data, where everyone understands the concept and economics of digital property," says HTC's Chen.

Are blockchain phones the future?

There's no doubt about it that blockchain phones are about to become a reality. However, whether or not they will appeal to the mainstream is a different question entirely.

At first glance, it may seem like just another gimmick that you could use to impress your friends at a party but upon closer inspection, it's clear that the idea presents some notable benefits over the standard mobile phones most of us are currently using today.

When we spend around 23 days a year on our mobile phones, surely security should be one of our main priorities?

Which is exactly what the blockchain phone is set to provide.

Can blockchain end corruption?

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.