Enabling Technologies

Daily Review: The Virtual Real Estate Industry – The Perfect Storm is Brewing

MEDICIGlobal Head of Content

Virtual real estate is the perfect storm in the making, and blockchain technology may become its driving force in the 2018 and beyond.

Pick #1. How Blockchain Is Breathing New Life Into Virtual Real Estate

VR is projected to become a $40 billion industry by 2020. Today’s modern VR platforms leverage emerging technologies such as blockchain to make virtual property ownership and trade more secure. Virtual reality platform Decentraland, for example, uses blockchain to identify and designate ownership of land in its virtual world.

Because of the various possible applications of VR, virtual real estate can function similarly to real-world properties that they can be sold, leased, and used for virtual activities. Blockchain could help formalize the market for these virtual properties.

New VR technologies are bringing a resurgence of interest in virtual worlds. Improved headsets now showcase high-resolution display panels that allow for better visuals. Hardware such as tactile gloves can now also offer finer controls and haptic feedback creating more immersive experiences for users.

As an investment opportunity, virtual real estate offers rewards comparable to real-world properties. High traffic areas in virtual worlds are prime locations for commercial use and brand visibility.

Modern VR platforms can even allow for a variety of campaigns that maximize the sensory capabilities of the new hardware. Businesses could create showrooms where customers can see products in 3D and even “feel” them. The perfect storm is brewing for VR. The improvements in the VR hardware are allowing for richer experiences.

Beyond gaming and virtual exploration, developers on decentralized platforms could even look into creating virtual venues for events such as concerts, shows, and sports. Similar to real-world events, marketers can use these to push brands and even virtual merchandise.

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Pick #2. Coinbase must share users’ cryptocurrency data with the IRS

Coinbase will be forced to share the financial information of 14,355 users with the IRS, following a California federal court ruling. The data sharing affects every user who has bought, sold, sent or received more than $20,000 through their accounts in a single year between 2013 and 2015.

The company will have to turn over the user’s name, date of birth, address, and taxpayer ID, plus records of all account activity.

Coinbase has some six million users, but fewer than 1,000 have officially declared cryptocurrency activity.

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Pick #3. Next stop in the cryptocurrency craze: A government-backed coin

Central banks around the world are busy experimenting with their own versions of cryptocurrency.

China’s central bank announced in January that it has completed a successful trial run of transacting digital currencies among banks. In September, Japan, Sweden, and Estonia all announced similar digital currency projects: J-coin for Japan, E-krona for Sweden and Estcoin for Estonia. The UK, Uruguay, and Kazakhstan have all expressed similar ambitions.

“The [Chinese government thinks] that [cryptocurrencies] could potentially threaten the central government control over the financial system.” – Paul Triolo, Practice Head of Geotechnology at Eurasia Group.

William Dudley, President & CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said the Fed is exploring the idea of offering its own digital currency.

“To me, the idea of cryptocurrency is free of control from any person and institution. There’s nothing cryptocurrency about these [government-backed projects],” said Jacob Eliosoff, investment manager of Trevi Digital Assets Fund.

The market of cryptocurrencies is expected to reach $2 trillion in 2018.

Rod Garratt, an economics professor at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara), thinks “if there was a central bank cryptocurrency that provides some anonymity, then it would be a very close substitute for Bitcoin, except it would not provide autonomy. So it really comes down to what feature people desire.”

“Central banks don’t get to decide whether or not Bitcoin is there or not; Bitcoin is there,” said Garratt.

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Pick #4. Why PayPal Is Teaming Up with Acorns

PayPal recently announced the integration of its platform with Acorns Grow, a mobile app that provides automated savings and investment services that mainly target millennials. The integration will allow PayPal users to link their accounts with the Acorns app to be able to automatically save and invest through the Acorns app whenever they make a purchase using PayPal.

Acorns provides robo-advisor services. Subscribers link their debit/credit cards or digital wallets to the Acorns app and whenever they make a purchase, the app rounds up their spending to the nearest dollar and then invests the change. Acorns charges $1.00 a month to manage the investment portfolios of its subscribers.

Robo-advisors such as Acorns and Betterment are expected to have $385 billion worth of assets under investment by 2021.

PayPal closed 3Q17 with 218 million active customer accounts with the vast majority of the accounts belonging to consumers. For PayPal, the tie-up with Acorns fits the ambition to offer a broader range of financial services as it seeks to diversify its revenue streams. Additionally, the integration with Acorns could help PayPal attract more users, especially those left out of the mainstream investment services because of high fees or other barriers.

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Pick #5. Want a loan? Make sure you’re tweeting the right things

The article that someone tweeted about, posts that they liked on Facebook, and a new phone just bought on an e-commerce site – all these events now play a crucial role in determining if an individual is eligible for a loan or not.

In India’s online lending ecosystem, firms are heavily relying on unconventional data to assess a consumer’s loan eligibility. New-age firms are moving away from traditional methods to judge repayment capacities and, based on their own algorithms, are coming up with dynamic credit scores to effectively assess a customer’s creditworthiness.

The 166 million households that make up middle-income India – with annual earnings of between $3,414 to $5,572 – typically apply for personal loans to buy consumer durables, for weddings, to meet medical expenses, set up a new business, and the likes. These consumers are a potential goldmine for online lending firms because they include many first-time borrowers who may struggle to understand the exhaustive paperwork and procedures to secure a loan from traditional banks.

“As a consumer, our needs are evolving and we need scenarios where there is a faster turnaround time. By using AI and algorithms, we can drastically reduce the time taken to approve a loan request, compared to the traditional lenders.” – Manav Jeet, CEO of Rubique.

FinTech players can decide to lend within a few minutes by using algorithms that can collect supporting personal, professional, and financial details of potential borrowers. The list of items assessed can include social media profiles, friends on social media, payment history for telecom bills (for postpaid customers), geographical locations, online shopping history, devices used for surfing, lifestyle details, the internet usage timings, consumption patterns, etc.

“We have about 80-90 parameters that are used to check a consumer’s creditworthiness. And that’s where technology comes into play to ensure that it can be done swiftly and efficiently.” – Satyam Kumar, Co-founder, LoanTap.

In certain cases, relying on alternate data to determine creditworthiness may be a better way than how banks go about it.

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Pick #6. Hottest IoT applications for 2018

IoT is going to expand on its current strengths in the coming year, broadening its presence in the industrial, energy and transportation sectors and continuing to see growing usage in fields like healthcare and retail.

“Newer use cases and deployment across the distributed enterprise, retail and logistics, healthcare and smart cities will provide increased momentum across these verticals.” – Rohit Mehra, IDC Vice President for network infrastructure research.

One common theme for new IoT deployments in 2018 involves the coordination of high-value infrastructure that occupies relatively large geographical areas. – Northeastern University Silicon Valley campus IoT program director Kilton Hopkins

“Many verticals still have business operations that involve manual observation of equipment status, inventory levels, and other key metrics,” he said. “Where there is currently manual observation, there may be a great opportunity for a high-ROI project involving IoT. Some verticals that have a lot of manual observations are oil and gas, energy distribution, supply chain, and telecommunications.”

Large-scale management application is becoming more attractive in part because the technology around IoT is advancing quickly. – Northeastern University Silicon Valley dean P.K. Agarwal.

“Device management and connectivity management has been around for several years already, but now that the pieces of IoT systems are coming together to form whole enterprise-scale solutions, management of these solutions has become higher up on the ‘tech wish list’ for organizations.”

“The hype around and growing adoption of intelligent agents like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in more and more devices will open marketers’ eyes to new ways of interacting with customers more than any other recent technology has — including wearables.”

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Pick #7. How Consumer Brands Can Succeed In An Amazon World

Amazon was quick to prioritize serving its most loyal customer base with a fast mobile app that makes for an enjoyable shopping experience, catering to the modern-day, ‘on-the-go’ consumer. The app receives over 75,000 downloads a day in the United States alone. With mobile-optimized features such as predictive and voice search, a customer can quickly narrow their search for a product and filter through Amazon’s extensive catalog. Users can also specify faster delivery preferences by activating the “Prime” feature, and then within a couple of clicks, seamlessly checkout. Amazon has also created success with its “Prime Day” shopping holiday. Similar to Black Friday, Prime Day encourages more spending on Amazon with exclusive discounts and offers and fast shipping.

By prioritizing the user experience, including, fast search, simple and often free returns, frictionless payments, and creating events that drive a sense of urgency from an already loyal customer base, the e-commerce giant has created an exemplary business model to envy and one that brands should borrow from and emulate as they prepare for 2018.

Read more on Forbes.

Pick #8. Competition in the AI Cloud Is Heating Up, and Amazon Just Made a Big Move

The cloud is no longer just a data dump—it’s an AI battleground, and Amazon wants to beat all comers into submission.

At an event in Las Vegas, Amazon announced a raft of new AI services that it hopes will allow it to stave off competition and maintain its cloud lead.

Chief among the new offerings is a series of off-the-shelf AI software packages that users can run on Amazon’s servers:

  1. Transcribe, which converts speech in audio files into clean, time-stamped, punctuated text;

  2. Translate uses deep learning to shift texts between seven languages. Comprehend can detect sentiment in text;

  3. Rekognition can detect and track people, activities, and objects in video;

  4. The firm has also launched an AI development platform called SageMaker, which is designed to make it easier for developers to build and train their own neural networks and run them on petabyte-scale data sets.

The idea is to make it easy for newbie developers to embrace AI on Amazon’s cloud.

There’s also a new deep-learning-enabled programmable video camera, called DeepLens, that is powerful enough to run its own AI algorithms and seems to be intended as a gateway for developers keen to understand what AI can do when combined with hardware.

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Elena Mesropyan

MEDICIGlobal Head of Content

Global Head of Content, MEDICI

Elena is a research professional with a background in social sciences and extensive experience in consumer behavior studies and marketing analytics. She is passionate about technologies enabling financial inclusion for underprivileged and vulnerable groups of the population around the world.