MIT’s Joi Ito Calls for a ‘Supporting’ Role for Governments as Community Awaits BitLicense Release

Bitcoin Magazine
MIT’s Joi Ito Calls for a ‘Supporting’ Role for Governments as Community Awaits BitLicense Release

As the Bitcoin community awaits New York State’s BitLicense regulations, expected to be released today, the debate about regulating digital currencies is in full swing.

Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab Joi Ito recently commented on the need to regulate in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit saying:

“If we want Bitcoin to be widely adopted by people around the world, we need to make governments comfortable so that they don’t overregulate. Otherwise, it will become a sort of underground thing that is useful for only those people savvy or intent enough to use it…”

Recognizing the inevitability of some form of government regulation, Ito said, “I think the key is that the regulators shouldn’t be running the show and should take a supporting stance. If you look at ICAAN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), for example, there is a ‘Government Advisory Committee’ as one of the groups that advise the board, but the board is independent and the government doesn’t control ICANN …”

“What would be bad is if each state and government came up with lots of regulations that contradicted each other or were slightly different so that every Bitcoin company or idea had to get permission in each state and country and had to be slightly different in each region.”

Recently, MIT Digital Currency Initiative lead Brian Forde issued detailed criticisms of the proposed BitLicense program and urged regulators to take a more balanced approach, protecting both consumers and digital currencies innovators. 

MIT Media Lab hosts an open forum to debate increasing the blocksize

Although asked about his personal view on increasing the blocksize for Bitcoin, Ito says the most important thing for him is that the community of developers, entrepreneurs, miners and users openly debate and collaborate on this issue until a consensus is reached.

To assist with this process, the Media Lab has set up an online open public forum to debate whether an increase in blocksize to increase the number of Bitcoin transactions per second, is a needed step forward.

Ito says the Media Lab is “happy to support the community in this way” and hopes that the current discussions can serve as a model for resolving future issues.

Is bitcoin the first or the last digital currency?

About bitcoin, Ito says: “It probably took me more time than I would like to admit for me to ‘come around.’ Also, I’ve come around to feeling it’s super-important, but as Reid Hoffman likes to say, I’m still not sure if bitcoin is the first or the last digital currency. In other words, whether bitcoin itself evolves to be the final winner or whether something else inspired by bitcoin eventually takes off is still a question, I think.”

Lightning Network

On Lightning: “It’s a great idea. I’ve been thinking of bitcoin as a layer on the Internet stack, like TCP/IP. Protocols like lightning are like HTTP, making it easier and more accessible for the world. … the key is balancing the needs of people in a huge variety of environments.”


On ZeroCash: “I’m excited about the potential for technology like ZeroCash to revolutionize this space. The tricky part of any global protocol or network is that anything we do in one country ripples across the world and has unintended consequences.”


On holography: “The Object-Based Media group at the Lab is working on holography, and their various projects are on their group site. There’s a hologram of me that is still a surprise when I come around the corner and end up face-to-face with it.”


Joi Ito was an early pioneer in the development of the Internet, helping start the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan. A former CEO of Creative Commons, Ito also has been an investor in a number of startups, including Twitter, Flickr, Kickstarter, littleBits and Formlabs, and has served on the boards of the Open Source Initiative, ICANN, The Mozilla Foundation, Public Knowledge and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Ito believes that MIT can provide a neutral and respected academic home for the development of blockchain standards, technologies and best practices, independent of the powerful commercial and regulatory interests that are forming around the emerging digital economy.

The post MIT’s Joi Ito Calls for a ‘Supporting’ Role for Governments as Community Awaits BitLicense Release appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

The Battle for Mobile Cash: An Interview with Bill Barhydt, CEO of GoAbra

With the current onslaught of bitcoin-related applications and services it’s an interesting time to be a part of the greater digital currency community. The blockchain possesses a seemingly infinite number of use cases, and those who can think creatively and be the first movers in a certain sector are pioneering some of the those brilliant ideas into our everyday lives.

The creation of many of these apps allow for the seamless and frictionless transference of value in a myriad of ways. GoAbra, founded by its CEO Bill Barhydt, is currently preparing to disrupt the status quo and bring the future of cash to anyone with a mobile device. Bitcoin Magazine recently spoke with Barhydt on his personal history, and gained some intel on the vision of his company’s mobile payment/remittance service, Abra.

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Barhydt is a veteran in the payments technology/mobile industry, and has been working in the field for more than 20 years, going back to his days at Netscape directing business development; working on projects throughout the years in e-commerce, and mobile wallets almost 10 years ago. Barhydt has historically been ahead of his time, and spoke a bit about the company:

“I got the idea for Abra quite a long time ago. The holy grail is to be able to store cash on a smartphone and take it anywhere. I always knew what I had to do in a hyper-connected world. But there were a lot of underlying issues: handset compatibility, cost of bandwidth in developing markets, cost issues. I had an ‘aha’ moment where I realized all the tools were finally available for a global network. This was the impetus.

The tools are all here. But the Bitcoin blockchain is the one essential piece of the puzzle that is finally enabling a service such as Abra to finally exist.

We asked Barhydt what his initial reaction was when learning about bitcoin and the Bitcoin white-paper:

“I was one of the first people to read the white-paper. I’ve been on these mailing lists since back in my ’90s long-hair days. I had been tracking it and staying current. When I saw the link, initially the title grabbed me, and I had done enough work to know anything mentioning ‘decentralized’ is a big deal. People just thought ‘Bill’s off on another one of this tangents.’ I had printed it out and I poured over it late into the night. I knew it was a total game-changer.

Finally having these tools in place, Barhydt knew what he had to do. But what ultimately lead him to come up with the idea for “Abra” and what does he think of the other emerging remittance platforms in the bitcoin industry?

“Don’t look at ‘Abra’ like it’s a remittance platform. Remittance is just a use case. Remittance is more a man-in-the-middle transfer solution. It’s a notable business, yes, but with Abra we’re turning phones into banks. And, because you store from your phone, you can do P2P transfer with anyone without a intermediary.”

This is a great example of how Abra is differentiating itself from the competition that simply wants to aid in the transfer of funds digitally. Barhydt went on to discuss a few more points”

“Once you have a P2P (Peer-to-Peer) model it’s no longer remittance, it’s a P2P transfer banking solution. Eliminating intermediaries makes for a cheaper, more secure and robust system with less middlemen. One of the goals of Abra is make the best money transfer and payment solution in the world, replacing them with a P2P model for moving money around. At some point Abra is going to have the ability to make payments as well. Banks are not at risk from us; we don’t do credit, service loans, not a notary, etc. Our plan is to more so replace cash than banks. PESA in Kenya is a good example of this. The first generation of consumer Bitcoin apps will replace cash-based systems.



Something such as Abra that seeks to use the blockchain to provide more freedom back to the people from a financial standpoint is seen as a positive and is reminiscent of a recent post on Fortune. Using blockchain technology allows for a more distributed financial system that lends power back to the people who need it the most.

The blockchain is great for building next-generation financial applications. But what else is Abra’s system going to do to maintain its major differentiation? Barhydt shared what success looks like in the short term for Abra.

“I want to see Abra Tellers live in dozens of countries in the next year with millions of consumers transacting with each other.

Abra “Tellers” are a pivotal part of Abra’s magic in making money transfer more seamless. The tellers allow for you to add cash, or withdraw from your Abra app by finding the nearest trusted Abra teller and exchanging cash. You can also deposit cash into your account via a debit card.



Barhydt seems assured his short-term goal is achievable. But the long-term goals of an innovational organization such as Abra should always be considered.

We gotta sell it [Abra] to consumers first. An incredible number of technical challenges still await while we continue building Abra. Smart contracts, user experience, building out our trusted-teller networks, actively engaging with regulators to explain how Abra works to gain more approval; its a never-ending process. 

“Tellers are realizing they can make money. There are many pre-registers in multiple countries already. And, there’s no current marketing or PR right now. Abra Tellers can make more money with the same cash they have. Faster is the incentive here. Were creating a positive feedback loop of making money over time. People are getting that, slowly. Time will tell. There exists a chicken and an egg problem we have to solve.

What everyone else in the Bitcoin community will care most about is the execution during the launch of this platform. We all love new features, however. So, we asked if there is anything in the pipeline we can look forward to as they continue to spread to other locations with their new innovative service.

“Payment APIs have been the number one request. ‘When can online merchants and etc. use Abra as a payment vehicle?‘ is a question we get often. We’ll be releasing that in the next few months. There are a bunch of other goodies, too, that we’re not quite ready to announce yet as well.”

Many merchants are obviously very eager to get their hands on a zero percent fee, secure payment system. With so many incentives, it’ll be a huge boon for the overall bitcoin community.

We also asked Barhydt what other initiatives in the Bitcoin space he’s most excited about.

“Exchanges are good, they create the ecosystem. I also read about a company called Streamium, I’m very impressed with them and excited for that use case. There aren’t enough startups solving consumer problems and negative affairs. We designed Abra to rid the consumer of pain. Using bitcoin came second. Nothing was better than using bitcoin.”

A blend of Streamium’s real-time streaming service and Abra’s upcoming payment API would be a positive move for the bitcoin industry. It makes for a sensible combination of complimentary services. Both are great examples of platforms using blockchain technology to empower people.

At the end at the end of our extended discussion, Barhydt shared this food for thought about Abra:

“As a company, we believe in the rights of the consumer and taking a part in commerce with their money. At Abra, we believe the right to the consumer comes before the government. We believe there are bad people out there who will do bad things, and government plays the role of being that intermediary; but that should not be at the expense of human rights. We’re staunch proponents of consumers rights, and we’re engaging with governments and regulators and understanding their perspectives and insights to reduce surprises. Regulators have not been a real issue thus far, with exceptions of that Ripple nonsense. Things are early. We think gaining mindshare and being transparent will eliminate the possibility of pushback.”

Abra is revolutionary: no transfer fees, a secure and private system that is instant and convenient, no foreign exchanges risks or bank account required. It is truly a service built for the people.

This author, personally, is very excited for the future of digital cash.


All images courtesy of Abra.

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