Bitcoin’s past and present | Financial Times

The Nasdaq has been having another rollercoaster day, with the tech-heavy index up, then down more than 2 per cent before some buying of the dip. It had fallen more than 2 per cent on Thursday, when it turned negative for the year.

Equities have been hit by concerns about inflation, which may lead investors to consider other forms of investment. Miles Kruppa’s profile of Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong reveals a spell in Argentina, where his encounters with hyperinflation planted the seeds for an interest in supposedly inflation-proof cryptocurrencies.

Now his company is the most popular destination in the US for cryptocurrency buyers and is about to make its debut on the Nasdaq with a direct listing. Trades between private investors have valued Coinbase at about $100bn, which puts Armstrong’s stake at worth nearly $15bn. Its success is down to a user-friendly service that has avoided the security problems and regulatory headaches that have plagued its rivals.

Bitcoin itself has been having a good year and a report by Citi published on Monday said it was at a tipping point and could one day “become the currency of choice for international trade”. However, the FT’s Alphaville writer Jemima Kelly has called out the document as “embarrassingly bad” and “truly one of the most shocking bits of ‘research’” the FT had ever seen. It contains a string of errors, crimes against charts and plain wrong statistics.

This wouldn’t have been a source of debate on the Micronesia island of Yap in ancient times. Gillian Tett describes how Stonehenge-like immovable limestone discs were used there as a medium of exchange. The local communities would keep an oral history of their ownership, as they couldn’t be carted away by anyone, which has led academics to describe the practice as “an exemplary ancient analogue to blockchain”.

It’s hard to compare the massive stones with digital cryptocurrencies, but one commenter on Gillian’s column points out: “One sank to the bottom of the sea when being transported by canoe, and was never seen again. However, the islanders continued to use the missing stone in financial transactions, on the assumption that it still existed. So, did it really matter if any of the stones could actually be seen, or if they even existed in reality?”

Have a good weekend pondering that one, everyone.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Wu means woe for Big Tech
Tim Wu, a prominent critic of Big Tech companies, is joining the White House as an adviser on competition policy, sending a clear message to Silicon Valley that Joe Biden hopes to tame America’s most valuable companies. Wu has said his “life mission” is to “fight bullies”. 

2. SoftBank’s Sago quits
SoftBank said on Friday that Katsunori Sago, its chief strategy officer who was viewed as a potential successor to founder Masayoshi Son, will resign after less than three years at the technology conglomerate. His departure is the latest in a string of high-profile exits at a company whose strategy, investors say, has become increasingly difficult to define.

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3. Meet the fake Tom Cruise
Sid Venkataramakrishnan has been talking to Belgian visual effects expert Chris Ume, creator of the @deeptomcruise videos that have been causing a sensation on TikTok. Creating deep fakes is not easy, he says. Ume spent two months training AI with a huge number of images of Cruise in order to create a digital replica. The videos, which are less than a minute long, required 24 hours of post-production work each.

4. Broadband and 5G may be superdeductible
A two-year 130 per cent “super deduction” tax break on capital spending, announced by the UK chancellor in his Budget on Wednesday, could give a big boost to BT and Britain’s broadband infrastructure. The telco’s capital spending bills come to between £4bn and £4.3bn a year as it builds broadband connections and its 5G mobile network. Perhaps half of that would be eligible for the new tax break, analysts suggest.

5. TikTok targeted by Myanmar military
The short-video app is not blocked in Myanmar like Instagram and Facebook, so soldiers who are part of the coup there are using it to post intimidating videos of their weaponry, as well as doing the dances the service is known for. TikTok says it has been removing the videos as it finds them.

Tech tools — realme’s miniature worlds

Smartphone maker realme revealed its latest camera this week as a teaser for forthcoming handsets. It features a 108-megapixel sensor, higher zoom clarity, the capability for a starry time-lapse video that can show the changing universe at 480 times faster speed, and three new portrait filters. What catches the eye most though is the first tilt-shift time-lapse video on a smartphone. Tilt-shift lenses make only a part of the photo appear clear and keep all other parts out of focus to create a sense of a miniature world.