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Food safety gets blockchain

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Walmart, JD.com, IBM, and Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies have announced they will work together in a Blockchain Food Safety Alliance.

It will kick off with a collaboration designed to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China, to achieve greater transparency across the food supply chain.

The four companies will work together to create a standards-based method of collecting data about the origin, safety and authenticity of food, using blockchain technology to provide real-time traceability throughout the supply chain. This will encourage accountability and give suppliers, regulators and consumers greater insight and transparency into how food is handled, from the farm to consumers. This has traditionally been challenging due to complex and fragmented data sharing systems that are often paper-based and can be error-prone.
Walmart, JD, IBM and Tsinghua University will work with food supply chain providers and regulators to develop the standards, solutions and partnerships to enable a broad-based food safety ecosystem in China. IBM will provide its IBM Blockchain Platform and expertise, while Tsinghua University will act as a technical advisor sharing its expertise in the key technologies and the China food safety ecosystem. IBM and Tsinghua will collaborate with Walmart and JD to develop, optimize and roll out the technology to suppliers and retailers that join the alliance.

As a world leader in global food safety, Walmart works closely with suppliers, regulators, industry partners and the research community around the world. In China, it invests heavily in food safety research through the Walmart Food Safety and Collaboration Center and has promoted food safety, both through its own supplier network, as well as working with JD, which has rich omni-channel food supply chain management experience. The two have been able to leverage JD’s expertise in the application of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data and other new technologies to protect consumers.
Following IBM and Walmart’s announcement in August of a new consortium to enhance food safety, this collaboration brings IBM’s blockchain food safety expertise to China. IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University have piloted the use of blockchain to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the U.S., as they move through the supply chain to store shelves. Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying blockchain reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.
“As a global advocate for enhanced food safety, Walmart looks forward to deepening our work with IBM, Tsinghua University, JD and others throughout the food supply chain,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety and health at Walmart. “Through collaboration, standardization, and adoption of new and innovative technologies, we can effectively improve traceability and transparency and help ensure the global food system remains safe for all.”

“Partnering with IBM, Tsinghua University and Walmart, all global leaders in traceability, gives our customers and partner brands unparalleled accountability,” said Yongli Yu, President of JD-Y, JD.com’s supply chain research unit. “Throughout the world, and particularly in China, consumers increasingly want to know how their food is sourced, and JD is dedicated to using technology to promote complete transparency.”
Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Industry Platforms, said: “Blockchain holds incredible promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain. This is a fundamental reason why IBM believes so strongly in the impact this technology will have on business models. By expanding our food safety work with Walmart and Tsinghua University in China and adding new collaborators like JD.com, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants.”
Professor Yueting Chai from the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, Tsinghua University, added: “Tsinghua University is committed to in-depth research into food safety –one of the most important areas for improving quality of life in China and also around the world. We have already been working with IBM and Walmart to create a new model for food traceability, using blockchain to support supply chain transparency and auditability, and we see this new cooperation as an important next step in this endeavour.”

The collaboration is designed to help ensure brand owners’ data privacy while helping them integrate their online and offline traceability for food safety and quality management channels. Companies that join the alliance will be able to share information using blockchain technology, and plans include them being able to choose the standards-based traceability solution that best suits their needs and legacy systems. This will in turn bring greater transparency to the supply chain and introduce new technologies to the retail sector designed to create a safer food environment and enhance the consumer experience.
The insights gained from the work in China will shed light on how blockchain technology can help improve processes such as recalls and verifications and enhance consumer confidence due to greater transparency in China and around the world.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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