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Austin startup to offer blockchain tech to mortgage industry

(TECHNOLOGY) An Austin startup is heading the initiative to move mortgage industry to move towards blockchain technology.

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For a guy who has on two occasions written in favor of the robot apocalypse, I can be pretty twitchy about security in tech. I surf behind a VPN (because the NSA is super interested in my herbal tea blends) encrypt important files for storage, all that good paranoid stuff.

But of course, the real nightmare when it comes to tech security isn’t on the consumer end. We’re not worried about robots swiping unused RAM or reading our browser history (well, I’m not; I don’t know what you’ve being doing lately, you deviant) nearly so much as the new reality that everything from money to mortgage papers is digital, and 1s and 0s don’t much care who’s futzing with them.

A fine state of play on the issue can be found here, but the TL;DR is that to date a money-based economy has required an intermediary between buyer and seller, someone whose only job is to manage the money itself. That middleman’s big job is verifying the value of what’s being exchanged, resolving the “double spending problem” of spending the same unit of value more than once.

Fun fact: that’s literally why there are coins.

Originally the heads on the “heads” side weren’t just rulers showing off, they were stamps from the royal treasury that confirmed the proper amount of precious metal was in that particular lump. The authenticity problem is literally as old as money, and now we’ve gone and thrown away the stamp.

Thanks to the authenticity problem, historically it’s been impossible to perform a straight peer-to-peer exchange of value with money: note that yours has deceased politicians on it. In theory, digital exchange makes that unnecessary. Cryptographic technology can guarantee authenticity better than a green picture of a dead guy, and exchange can occur between people directly.

That’s bitcoin, for example. But bitcoin is just the application of the idea. The idea behind bitcoin and a bunch of other clever digital things is blockchain.

Blockchains are “distributed ledgers.” All transactions made by members in a set time period are put in an encrypted “block,” then the blocks are distributed to the network and the first member to validate the encrypted transaction gets a bonus.

As soon as that’s done, the block is timestamped, locked, and added to the chain. Every member’s ledger is identical because the records are generated automatically, and instead of going through a bank or credit card company, users have direct access to all their information at any time.

Best of all, with current technology, blockchain is effectively hack-proof.

Once a block is stamped it never changes again, permanently linked to every other block, every block is safe behind the kind of crypto that – no hyperbole – a hacking tool can’t finish the necessary math because the Sun will blow up first, and you have to hack every block to get to any of them. It’s a big deal.

And it’s come home in a big way.

Austin startup Factom just blew away their latest funding round. Factom is about “blockchain as a service,” implementing blockchain for transaction security and information storage in vital industries.

Their new hotness is Harmony, a service aimed at the mortgage industry that will integrate blockchain into existing tech to guarantee security for sensitive housing data. World-class VCs like Tim Draper and corporate stalwarts like Overstock and Stewart Title have already bought in.

Nobody was ever sure if bitcoin was a monster, a punchline or the Big New Thing, and it suffered for it. But the blockchain tech created for it is legitimately important, a straight-up new way of doing business, and courtesy of Factom, it sounds like Austin will kick off the revolution.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

Camera that spins, zooms on its own – perfect for remote working

(TECHNOLOGY) Video conferencing tool, Meeting Owl Pro, helps bridge the communication gap in remote teams with a camera that spins and zooms on who is speaking

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As someone who has spent the bulk of their career in a remote setting, I’ve definitely noticed some elements of communication that differ from an on-site job. Rather than being able to pop into your boss or coworker’s offices, you have to shoot them an email or try and catch them on their phone.

Enter the COVID-19 times…

Remote work can get even more complicated when the whole team is remote and you’re attempting to get everyone on the same page. Or, think about when you’re working remote and you have to video conference into a meeting with people who are on site. Even with video conference chatting, there can still be some kinks in trying to follow the voices and stay on top of who’s speaking.

Luckily, Owl Labs took this issue into consideration and whipped up Meeting Owl Pro and Meeting Owl First-Gen, which are the only 360° camera, mic, speaker smart devices on the market today. This is ideal for teams who have both an on-site and remote team collaborating together (or will again soon).

The Owl sits in the middle of the on-site table and moves in a complete 360° manner that picks up who is speaking and moves the camera to focus on them. That way, the people who are calling in remotely can clearly see who is speaking and follow the meeting as if they’re actually in the room.

Both versions of Meeting Owl are compatible with the big video conferencing platforms, such as: Zoom, Google, Skype, etc. They operate as plug and play devices that connect to Wi-Fi, which allows for automatic updates.

According to the tech team, the specifications of the Meeting Owl Pro 360° smart camera has an enhanced Owl Intelligence System™, 2X sharper camera with 1080p resolution and 2X louder 360° in-room speaker. With the Meeting Owl Pro, customers can expect their meeting spaces to become increasingly intelligent over time with new smart integrations and capabilities, the first of those features being a new Smart Zooming functionality that identifies, locates, and magnifies the person speaking.

This will help to bridge common communication barriers that are felt between on-site collaboration with remote teams. Additionally, it will help with team-building as everyone will have more of an opportunity to spend face-to-face time with their coworkers who work remote from them.

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Real Estate Technology

AI being used to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) The intersection of the coronavirus and AI is here and it’s trying to making the world a better place. AI can read and collect data faster than humans.

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AI and the coronavirus

As the world scrambles to figure out the best way to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and halt the ongoing pandemic, researchers are searching for a cure. In order to do so, it is beneficial to track patterns in the virus’s behavior.

Since the virus’s initial spread in December, thousands of papers have been written about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. It would take weeks, if not months, for a person to collate all that information into some valuable data. This is where AI comes in to help.

Earlier this week the White House announced that they were working in collaboration with tech companies and members of academia to provide the huge amount of Coronavirus research to AI researchers and their algorithms.

The AI will be able to comb through all of the research we have to-date and search for patterns that could help those in the research field to find a cure and those in the medical field to better treat their patients. According to Wired, companies and institutions such as the National Library of Medicine, Microsoft Research, and the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) are currently working to gather and prepare the nearly 30,000 papers related to the virus so they can be processed by AI.

Hopefully, the AI’s algorithms are able to see something we cannot. It could find new connections that researchers have not been able to make and speed up the process.

The CEO of AI2, Oren Etzioni, is hopeful that this project will show people the brighter side of AI. “High tech, in general, has gotten a bad rap, but something like this crisis shows how AI can potentially do a world of good.”

There is no question that AI can help us find some answers as we face this pandemic. Whether or not this can all be arranged quickly enough to actually help mitigate the current crisis is the question. Some are wondering if U.S. resources would be put to better use by helping to address the shortage of Coronavirus test kits.

Experts are imploring people to think of the big picture. The issue of open access to medical and scientific research has been a topic of conversation among researchers for years. The pandemic has only highlighted the need. Now governments across the globe are calling on scientific publishers to open access for research on the Coronavirus so we can all work together in this time of global crisis.

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Real Estate Technology

How telecom, power companies are helping customers during COVID-19 outbreak

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Telecom and power companies have also tried to help their customers, while the Coronavirus makes its rounds, by extending service.

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According to Fox News, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, promised to take care of the employees at the American Airline Center during the NBA shutdown. The employees would be paid as if the games were still taking place. Many of the other leagues have made the same promise. Unfortunately, not every employee works for a business with those types of provisions.

Thankfully, many organizations are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with special accommodations to help residential and commercial customers deal with financial issues and staying home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Companies helping out customers

Comcast is offering 60 days of free basic internet service to new customers. It’s also not disconnecting or charging late fees. Current customers are also being provided with unlimited data. AT&T is offering the same types of things for its users, unlimited data and suspending terminations, as is T-Mobile.

Closer to home, the City of Austin has decided not to disconnect customers’ services for non-payment. Evictions are also halted. Austin Energy is reconnecting users who were recently disconnected for non-payment. The company is working with customers to help them get on track with their electric bills.

Customers without power do need to reach out to Austin Energy for a courtesy reconnect, because the bill cannot be restarted without speaking to the customer. The Public Utility Commission has asked all Texas power companies to work with customers during these uncertain times. TXU Energy has also waived late fees and is extending payment due dates.

Contact your utility providers

If your finances are being affected due to COVID-19, talk to your landlord and other providers now to work out a plan going forward. You’ll have less stress when you know you won’t lose your power, water or home. Companies are willing to work with families who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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