HonorBuddy for business meetings is round the corner

There’s a lot of pressure on me to be in two places at once these days, so I was happy to see Google file and trivial and obvious “patent” on how to help busy executives achieve this using new (well, pretty old, actually) technology by gluing an LCD display and a wireless web cam to a drone.

Google is hoping to patent a small videoconferencing “telepresence” drone for collaborating with colleagues from remote locations, according to an application that was made public today. The drone is designed to fly indoors and move from room to room.

From Pocket: Working from home? Google wants to create a drone to go to meetings for you.

Not only is this more trivial than it appears at first glance, it already exists in essence. Here, for example, is photographic proof of me annoying Tony Moretta, the CEO of Digital Jersey, in precisely this fashion by sending a meeting bot (an iPad glued to a Segway, basically) to talk to him while I sat comfortably with my iPhone in a distant location (well, the room next door to be honest, but you get the point).


As Tony himself pointed out, this implementation suffers from the Dalek Deficiency, in that he can escape my dreary lecture about the difference between a digital currency and a cryptocurrency by heading downstairs to the gents. Fair point. But with the google-powered flying Dave-o-Drone there will be no escape (unless they’ve fixed the door on the gents, of course).

This doesn’t actually solve my problem because although I can attend remote events in this manner, and thus cut down on travel time, I can still only attend one at a time. Surely if Google were being truly creative they would connect their Go-master AI into the drone so that I could send a bot to the meeting instead of going in person? A great many of the meetings I attend would be adequately served by a bot programmed to deliver a few key phrases at the right juncture. For example:

  • “What’s in the blocks?”; 

  • “That’s not identificaton, that’s authentication”; and

  • “There’s no transaction type for doing that on the network”. 

That’s should take care of most eventualities. It’s hard enough to tell whether people are actually listening on a conference call or not so how we’ll be able to tell whether it’s a bot or a person sitting in by drone will be a whole new ball game. I can forsee a time when we’re going to need a new version of the Turing test specifically for management meetings otherwise one day I will undoubtedly end up like this guy who is playing World of Warcraft when he realises that he is the only actual human playing the game and all of the other players are bots. Pay attention because one day this will happen in a meeting about EMV Next Generation or something.

Warning: NSFW.

My only goal left in life is to become the Leroy Jenkins of Consultants. And, I have to say, whoever comes up with a working HonorBuddy variant for business meetings will become rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, IS_A_PERSON will be the most valuable credential off all in the not too distant future.

The blockchain won’t make everything better, but it might make identity better

A friend of mine went to open a savings account with a UK building society. She had had an account there for more than 20 years, but wanted (for purposes of administrative convenience) to have a separate account to put cash in for her son’s college money. Armed with a passport, she went to her local branch only to be told that the would have to go home and come back with a copy of a recent utility bill — because her passport was not a proof of address (I think) — which, naturally, she couldn’t be bothered to do. So she went home and opened an online savings account with her bank, which did not ask for a copy of a recent utility bill and just had to put up with the several days delay in transferring money from the old to new account. This is not to complain about the building society. The nutty rules are government KYC/AML/ATF rules, not the building society’s. But what seems odd to me is that while people like my friend are being annoyed and inconvenienced about an account that will hold something in the region of five or six grand maximum, actual theft and money laundering appears to continue at a grand scale. The cost and inconvenience for the little people is not part of the equation. My old chum Matteo Rizzi raised a similar point about the tremendous worldwide waste of money there is in not doing much about money laundering and related crimes.

Yesterday I had to go to a notary to notarise my utility bill to proof my address for a company in our portfolio, which bank asked (rightly) for KYC … And I am ALREADY a customer of that bank.

[From I miss Three Things in Fintech today.. | Matteo Rizzi | LinkedIn]

On the one hand, this sort of nonsense is funny and provides useful anecdotes to support conference presentations, but on the other hand it makes me wonder what the point of these rules is, particularly the rules around AML. I’ve written before about the lack of cost-benefit analysis around the unelected and unaccountable Financial Action Task Force (FATF) rules and I’m certainly not the only person questioning the approach.

Though the regulations have limited impact on criminal activities, they still cost money. Tracking illicit money flows requires a considerable bureaucracy. Enforcing the regulations cost an estimated $7 billion in the U.S., and probably far more.

[From Why the World Is So Bad at Tracking Dirty Money – Bloomberg Business]

The amounts of money spent on KYC are still rising and may be about to get even higher. Still, I suppose, at least it means that fraudsters cannot open bank accounts any more. No, wait… according to the Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention bureau the number of bank accounts opened using stolen or fictitious identities doubled last year. Doubled. The public end up paying for this, in more ways than one.

In the best of cases, anti-money-laundering efforts are likely to do no more than raise the cost of transactions. A system that misses all but a fraction of a percent of criminal financial flows is almost guaranteed to miss terrorism finance in particular, which involves very small sums

[From Why the World Is So Bad at Tracking Dirty Money – Bloomberg Business]

HHhhhmm. So no impact on money laundering and no impact on terrorism. Yet the costs continue to spiral out of control. As do the fines associated with non-compliance (see chart). Barclays has just been fined $100m+ for customer due diligence (CDD) failures relating to a multi-billion dollar fund deal back in 2011. I’m not picking on Barclays by choosing this example, it just happens to be in the news today. It does, however, help to make a useful point about the spiralling cost and complexity of CDD.

At one point, the clients agreed with Barclays to make a change to the Trust Deed, which related to who ultimately got a pay-out from the transaction and under what circumstances the beneficiary could be changed [but eventually] it gave up trying to check who would or could get paid by this mammoth transaction.

[From FCA fines Barclays for financial crime failings on ‘deal of the century’ – Business Insider]

This is the sort of thing that shared ledgers ought to end forever in a world of ambient accountability. The idea that a regulated financial institution would be able pay money to person or persons unknown would be consigned to the database of history. And, of course, it would certainly be possible to construct a translucent consensus computer system (of which a replicated distributed shared ledger might be an excellent example) in such a way as to partition knowledge of identities: in other words, the trading bank might not know who owns a particular wallet (for example) but it would know for sure that another regulated financial institution does and, more importantly, that regulators can find out if needs be.


There was a panel about this sort of thing at the San Francisco Future of Money and Technology Conference last week. The kind people there had invited me on to a panel to discuss issues around the blockchain and identity with StellarR3CEV and MaidSafe [video]. It was actually Paige Peterson from MaidSafe who raised the point about partitioning, and she was spot on: this is a fundamental mechanism for managing identity in a connected world. Incidentally, during the panel I drew the distinction between taking external identities (such as a passport or driving licence) and storing these in a shared ledger and “growing” identities on a shared ledger. Top down versus bottom up identity or, as my old chum Giyom Lebleu tweeted during the panel, uppercase identity versus lowercase identity. I really like this useful characterisation and will undoubted start using “ID” vs “id” in presentations henceforth! Anyway, it was a very thought provoking discussion, so many thanks Joyce, Tim, Paige and chairperson Dan for a great panel.

Is it safe? Is… it… safe?

Someone I know to be an impeccable source and a first-hand witness told me an interesting story about a young female friend who fell ill on holiday in North Africa. When she got home, she claimed for the doctor’s bill on her travel insurance. The claim was rejected because the person who treated her wasn’t actually a doctor. It was, as it transpired, just some guy who worked for the hotel (and presumably examined young women as a hobby). Which led me to think: how would you know? If I got sick in New York and asked the hotel to call a doctor, I’d be reasonably confident that the concierge would call an actual doctor rather than a friend who drives a taxi but has a stethoscope in the trunk. But would I check? Would I have called the New York state medical licensing board (or whatever – I just made this up) to find out?

Maybe a smartphone app that lets you take a picture of the “doctor” and then, after a few seconds, shows you a picture of his diploma would do it. Which reminds me of the old Robert Schimmel joke about going to the dentist: “Do you want a shot of novocaine / No, I want a shot of you getting a diploma”. But, for reasons related to discussions earlier in the week, I’m not sure about “passive” credential services like this. Perhaps a better solution would be that the doctor arrives with a smart card or his or her mobile phone or a badge or something else with NFC or a contactless interfaces, you read it with your phone and your phone displays a blank screen if the person isn’t a doctor and a their picture if they are a doctor with a valid license to practice in the location where you are scanning.

A woman has been charged with fraud after allegedly pretending to be a doctor at GP practices across the country…. The 29-year-old, from Maidstone, in Kent, allegedly had no medical qualifications but was thought to have used a name and registration number with the General Medical Council belonging to a real doctor.

[From ‘Fake locum GP’ who worked in practices across Britain charged with fraud | Daily Mail Online]

Now, if I were a medical practice employing a doctor, I might be tempted to at least look them up on LinkedIn or something before I let them get their hands on a patient but I suppose that under the National Health Service it’s considered ungentlemanly or discriminatory or just plain rude to ask a prospective clinical employee for verifiable evidence of any valid qualifications. We are English, so we take people at their word. Dictum meum pactum.

But then I was thinking that if I go to see a doctor for some antibiotics I don’t care if it’s a real doctor or not so long as they can write me up some amoxicillin. Or if I am expecting intimate examination for my problem, I might not care who Doctor X actually is, but I do care that they are a doctor. That’s a different problem. Anyway, being English, I am far more terrified by fake dentists.

A bogus dentist who earned almost £230,000 by using a fake degree certificate to land work at a string of NHS hospitals was jailed for three years today.

[From Bogus dentist who earned £230,000 operating in NHS hospitals jailed for three years | Daily Mail Online]

Remember, these news stories (and believe me, they are far from unusual in this sceptr’d isle) are telling us about the bogus doctors, dentists, nurses and surgeons who got caught. There simply must be others working here, today, undetected. Aargh!

Since no post on fintech right now is complete without a blockchain reference, here’s a straw man for comment. Hospitals, clinics, GP surgeries and pharmacies around the country are chock full of PCs that are doing nothing for most the time. Make them mine a blockchain of medical professionals that anyone can look up. Then when you graduate medical school you could be given a smart contract that contains your license to practice subject to certain conditions that the contract can check for itself. When I go to see the dentist, I can ask him to whip out his smartphone and demonstrate ownership of the private key that the smart license has been sent to.

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