Molecule's first research crowdfunding campaign & Chinese President strongly endorses blockchain technology
Blockchain in healthcare updates
The machine learning ledger orchestration for drug discovery (“MELLODDY”) project uses federated learning and a blockchain to enable its 10 pharma partners to collaboratively train a single machine learning algorithm without sharing their data. In this model a blockchain acts as an orchestrator of machine learning. The combination of these technologies helps overcome key privacy and competitive concerns that enterprises might have. Key technology partners in this project are open sourcing their code base. I’ll definitely by digging into the code this week.
Also I noticed this data point on MELLODY’s IMI project page: over a billion data points from the pharma companies’ chemical libraries relevant to drug development as well as hundreds of terabytes of image data annotating the biological effects of over 10 million different small molecules, will be used to train a model.
Funding underfunded research with a blockchain enabled platform
Molecule enables crowdfunding for early stage researchers using a novel token mechanism. They hope that this mechanism combined with the open, global nature of public blockchains can distribute ownership over valuable intellectual property. In turn the hypothesis is that this more distributed ownership can align incentives, ultimately leading to better science and more cures and treatments.
Their focus is on early stage research for underfunded domains like rare and neglected diseases, biogerontology and psychedelic studies. The first project to be launched on Molecule was announced on Friday: a study by the University of Toronto Mississauga Psychedelic Studies Research Program into the effects of microdosing psilocybin, an increasing popular phenomenon in the halls of Silicon Valley with little empirical research backing it. Enthusiasts of this research around the world can send DAI, a decentralized cryptocurrency pegged to the dollar, to these researchers to fund their research. Molecule has stated that they’ll soon launch similar campaigns up focused on rare diseases and biogerontology.
A key challenge for Molecule will be executing their vision legally. The promise of crowdfunding using a blockchain is global, liquid, and open markets accessible to anyone but this is in stark tension with the laws that govern both local and cross-border finance. This reality makes it hard to really democratize access to investing in intellectual property, which is a core part of how ownership will be distributed. I’m keen to see what creative solutions Molecule comes up with, but regardless I think this is a project to watch in the future.
This page seems to be a primary source with a description of this as a seamless mobile experience for billing and reimbursement that leverages a blockchain for record keeping. It’s not clear exactly how a blockchain is being used here, but there are obvious privacy concerns (at least from my perspective) to putting billing information on a public blockchain.
What I’m reading this weekend
Facebook’s CEO went before the House Financial Services Committee this week, nominally to answer questions about Libra, but ended up discussing a wide range of Facebook’s ails. Zuckerberg took pains to stress the difference between Calibra, the wallet Facebook is building (and controls), and the Libra Association, the Swiss based organization launched formally last week that will govern the Libra network (in which Facebook is only 1 member of many). Facebook’s gambit was that they could give up control over Libra and as a result be absolved of liability, but so far it doesn’t seem like that strategy has appeased lawmakers and regulators.
Zuckerberg stressed the threat of China “out innovating the US,” pointing to their plans to swiftly launch a similar project, and the need to have American values behind our financial and technical infrastructure. While lawmakers are rightfully worried about Libra undermining the US’ ability to project power, Zuckerberg points out that China won’t even try. A place you can already see this trend playing out in America today is the censoring of content that is politically sensitive to Beijing on Chinese owned tech platforms like TikTok.
As a last note Zuckerberg also signaled that Libra’s currency design was flexible, opening the door to launching a dollar stablecoin, a pound stablecoin, etc solely backed by individual fiat currencies instead of a single currency backed by a basket of other currencies. While monetary authorities are likely to still feel uneasy at this, it is much more palatable than Libra creating its own currency.
A day after Zuckerberg testified Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that blockchain was “an important breakthrough for independent innovation of core technologies,” stressing the need for more education, development, and coordination. Further he wants China to “take the leading position in the emerging field of blockchain, occupy the commanding heights of innovation, and gain new industrial advantages.” This is a big deal and Xi’s endorsement was strong. It’s worth the time to read the full speech for yourself, translated here.
Xi called out applications of blockchain to healthcare too:
It is necessary to explore the application of ‘blockchain+’ in people’s daily life, and actively promote the application of blockchain technology in the fields of education, employment, pension, data-driven poverty alleviation, medical health, anti-counterfeiting, food safety, public welfare, social assistance, etc
Xi’s speech was likely intended as an answer to Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony and almost seems like a direct challenge to Libra and the West. The geopolitical stage around digital currencies has been heating up for some time now and this has been driving the creation of national strategies around blockchain which help coordinate activity, increase investment, and speed up the development of key initiatives. President Xi’s proclamation serves this purpose, Germany recently passed a blockchain strategy, and countries like Malta, Singapore, the UAE, and South Korea have long embraced blockchain. The US desperately needs an answer of its own or it risks falling behind.
From the abstract:
Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension.
I thought this question and their answer was salient:
Interviewer: What led you to crypto in the first place?
Answer: Literally, for us, it was nearly impossible to participate in the global financial system. But with crypto, we are able to not only participate but also innovate from day one.
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