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Speaker goes rogue at an NFT tech conference panel • The Register

Something for the Weekend How can you save the world’s oceans? By investing in NFTs of course!

A global network of campaigning filmmakers, Ocean Collective, hopes to drive up awareness about declining marine biodiversity by developing a digital Museum of Extinction.

Items of artwork from the museum will then be sold as NFT purchases to raise cash to fund a documentary series on the topic along with other environmental awareness projects.

Of course you know me best for my optimistic outlook and generally positive nature, so it may come as a surprise to you when I ask: WTF? When I think of NFTs I do not immediately think of their inherent contribution to the environment or how they meet the challenges of out-of-control energy consumption levels that are rising as fast as the seas. NFTs are all about money money money, surely? Not fish.

“Selling NFTs is a new way to fund environmental film missions, while offering NFT buyers the potential of a value increase of their assets as the film project evolves,” says Bob van de Gronde, director at Ocean Collective.

Ocean Collective reckons it can make it work and even go “carbon positive”, insisting that 5 percent of the income from the digital artwork sales will be used to sequester carbon from marine ecosystems. With every NFT it sells, more CO2 will be filtered out of the air than the transaction itself will produce.

Nope, me neither.

At this point, readers with an interest in the crypto and NFT industries will be composing polite messages to me pointing out that I really ought to stop writing about things I do not adequately understand. They do this every time and I appreciate the pushback.

You have a point: I have an unfair and totally unfounded opinion that NFTs are a load of horse-puckey. To my mind, they are not just non-fungible but intangible. NFTs don’t really exist, except partly in your head and partly in the bank account of the person that sold them to you.

Well it’s about time I stop playing the fool and get up to date on NFTs before I write a single more ignorant word on the matter. To this end, I recently attended a panel discussion event on the topic of selling NFTs into the art market. Let me tell you what I learnt.

First, though, here are some fish.

The audience of the panel event I attended was made up of artists and art buyers: the former desperate to find new ways of paying the rent on their garrets, the latter still somewhat baffled about what it is they would be – or already have been – buying when investing in an NFT.

The panel comprised three speakers: a digital multimedia artist who has been enjoying some success in selling NFTs; a boss of a development business that provides a platform for NFT art; and a university professor specializing in blockchain.

Clearly the intention was to put the audience at ease. The artist would say that she was earning money from her NFT auctions; the dev boss would assure everyone that the process can be secure and run honestly; and the blockchain boffin would try his best to explain how the tokens work and remind everyone that the artwork and the tokens were actually different things.

NFT art values go up, explained the artist, when the buyer is assured of their exclusivity. The fewer the copies floating about, the higher the price. This rather suggests that the best way to guarantee any NFT-locked artwork would be 100 percent exclusive – and thereby maximise its price – would be for the artist to destroy their own original files once the sale goes through. Yikes. We’re talking KLF levels of dedication here.

Web 3.0 is largely trustless, noted the dev boss, so that’s why artists should, er, trust their NFT platform to handle their delivery and maintenance. Right you are, isn’t that great? I feel better about NFTs already.

Almost the entire discussion was dominated by the first two panelists. After about half an hour of hearing how fabulous the system is despite the inability of columnists on IT news websites to appreciate it, the previously silent academic leant forward to his mic and interrupted the flow.

“Let me play devil’s advocate…” he interjected.

This is not a good sign. When people say this, it’s usually so they can speak to you like an absolute idiot safe in the knowledge that you can’t object since they don’t really mean what they’re saying: they’re just playing the role of an absolute idiot in order to liven up a debate.

“… ‘Non-fungible’ only means you can’t change the media associated to the token. It does not stop a buyer of your art from trying to extract copies of it and selling them on attached to new NFTs.”

Much shifting of bottoms on seats could be heard in the auditorium as the artists in the audience began to squirm. So NFT isn’t copy protection? they were thinking. What does this NFT thing do, then?

Don’t worry your pretty little heads, answered the dev boss. Use a platform such as ours and we’ll add layers of security. Besides, there are copyright security systems crawling around the interwebs to hunt for NFT and crypto scams…

“…Instances of which have risen by more than 500 percent over the last year,” added the boffin. “But because the crypto industry is so fervently anti-regulation, there isn’t any. So if your NFT gets ripped off, you’re on your own.”

Cue more shifting of bottoms, this time among the buyers. Hang on, they were thinking, I bought some “exclusive” NFTs and now you’re saying there may be millions of identical duplicates out there and I’ll have to hire cyber security firms and lawyers to track them all down?

“…And what if your NFT security platform falls over or you go out of business?” continued the professor, warming to his devil’s advocate role so much that he could charge by the quarter-hour. “How would NFT owners then get access to the artwork they purchased?”

The whole audience is writhing by now. Where exactly are these NFTs I’ve been selling/buying? they were now asking themselves. What are they? Where do they go? Do they even exist? Holy cow, what have I done?

“…And are NFTs sold using cryptocurrencies really the sort of thing the art world should be encouraging? Where are your environmental ethics? Bitcoin, for example, consumes as much energy every day as the whole of Sweden, simply to exist.”

Ah, that old trope, joked the dev boss. It used to be Ireland but these days it’s funkier to refer to Scandinavian countries…

“The problem with the trope is that, give or take a few megawatts, it’s true.”

At this point, the person chairing the discussion felt obliged to remind the prof that, as the blockchain expert on the panel, he was supposed to be there to tell us how great blockchain is, not insult it.

“Oh yes, er, sorry. Just playing devil’s advocate, you know…”

Too late. Much of the audience now realized they knew even less about what NFTs were than they had when they first entered the venue. Another part of the audience were busy checking their digital wallets and desperately trying to sell that pixellated splodge they had bought for $1,000 last week before the auditorium was drowned under the rapidly rising sea level.

Even the digital artist had fallen silent.

Armed with my enhanced understanding, I feel much more confident in my evaluation of the technology and the market in which it operates. When you buy an NFT, you buy a little bit of nothing attached to another little bit of nothing.

Life is full of such nothings – love, hate, surprise – and we assign value to them just the same. This is not a bad thing. But they are ephemeral. Systems built on blockchain principles can be pretty solid but the emotional values we assign to NFTs are uncertain and the financial values we give them are fragile.

Then one day you go looking for your NFTs and realise the question isn’t about fungibility. It’s existential.

NFT = not fucking there.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He apologies for what must read as an embarrassingly ignorant (emphasis on the “rant”) essay based on false impressions acquired during a single event. He welcomes pushback from readers who understand it better. He also welcomes entertaining alternatives to Ireland and Sweden. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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