🎤 Interviews Katya Michaels

How We All Go Into Space: Aliya Prokofieva Has Mission Under Control

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U.Today spoke with Galaktika’s CEO about why it’s worth reclaiming our passion for space travel
How We All Go Into Space: Aliya Prokofieva Has Mission Under Control

Aliya Prokofieva doesn’t look like the usual suspect for the founder of a private space initiative, but upon closer inspection, it’s evident that this destiny was inevitable. Having grown up among the astronauts, engineers and sci-fi writers who were part of the community at the famous Pulkovo Observatory, she caught the space fever as a child and carried it, with purity and dedication, to the establishment of her company Galaktika.

In the last few decades, the incredible advances of technology are showing us more and more than anything is possible, but it seems we tend to be over-focused on the way new tech can improve our screen resolutions and scrolling speeds. Aliya intends to shift that focus where it belongs– space, the final frontier. U.Today spoke with Galaktika’s CEO about why it’s worth reclaiming our passion for space travel, not only for the opportunities it will create in the space cities but for the way it can change human society here on Earth.

Drops of Jupiter in her hair

U.Today (Katya Michaels): Aliya, in the last couple of years you have become a prominent player in the private space development industry, but I wanted to start at the beginning – both your mother and your aunt were astrophysicists?

Aliya Prokofieva: Yes, that’s correct. My mom was not only an astrophysicist, she was also chief constructor for the Pulkovo Observatory, one of the biggest and oldest observatories in Russia. She also worked on the observatory in Norway’s Spitsbergen and many others.

UT: That must have been a strong influence on your path as a woman in tech, having these amazing role models.

AP: Of course, although as a child I didn’t dream of being a scientist or an engineer. I am more interested in culture and society, specifically the way scientific discoveries can serve humanity. From the beginning in this industry, I have been more focused on creating something that will help people, that will endure after I’m gone and contribute to sustainable solutions that will be applicable all over the world.

UT: Did your mother also believe that it was possible for humanity to colonize space in your lifetime?

AP: You know, it’s interesting – my mother was born, grew up and worked in the Soviet Union. When she was 19, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

It was 1961 and everybody really thought, both in the Soviet Union and the US, that people would be living in space by the millennium.

There was this absolute confidence that the next decades would see massive and fully scaled space development. Not only my mother, but many scientists and engineers in the Soviet Union thought that this would be a reality. If you were to ask some of the old NASA guys who remember those times, they would say the same. So, my childhood impressions were a melding of the engineering facts of space exploration and the romantic-scientific idea of the imminent reality of life in space.

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The nearness of stars

UT: I feel like the archetype of the romantic scientist is a uniquely Soviet phenomenon, in many ways exemplified by the sci-fi works of Strugatsky brothers, and that it doesn’t really have parallels in other cultures… Do you think that’s true?

AP: I don’t believe it’s unique, because international sci-fi authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke were at that time writing the same kinds of stories as Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. However, what really is different about the Russian approach to space is the background philosophy.

Space was first explored not for the explicit purpose of scientific discovery but approached as a source of spiritual development for humanity.

The philosophy is called Russian Cosmism. It’s a phenomenon that appeared at the end of the 19th century, counting among its proponents such distinguished writers as Dostoyevsky. It was not about technology – Cosmist thinkers explored what space could mean for the human soul and eternal life, in a metaphysical way. In fact, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founders of cosmonautics and space travel, was inspired by the philosophy of Russian Cosmism to work on his scientific and engineering discoveries.

Swapping space travel for VR

UT: What do you think happened since the 1950s to the way space travel is viewed? It seems that humanity was dreaming of flying cars and space cities, and instead got smartphones and virtual reality. Kids used to dream of being astronauts and now they want to be Instagram influencers.

AP: I think that the main reason for the change is the fashion for particular heroes – what we are shown in social media, in films and so on. Although I don’t agree with you that kids don’t dream about being astronauts. I know lots of young people, both in the US and in Russia, who are really passionate about space and would like to have access to more information and opportunities.

I suppose what I’m trying to do is create a fashion for space – for going there and being connected with it. That’s why I decided to create this community and this space movement.

It’s not so much about technology, but about creating a real community of people who will be supportive to each other to make space real. That’s my mission.

Space playground

UT: Do you meet with a lot of skepticism? How well informed are people generally in terms of the realities of modern space technology?

AP: Generally, people think that space is something that is very far and not relevant to them. They are taken by surprise when I tell them that we are actually all living in space, already. We have the technology, but it doesn’t have the mass reach of cars or airplanes. There isn’t enough information out there, and it’s part of my mission to educate people. I mean, if you and I were chatting in the 1950s and I’d tell you that it would be possible to converse on video from any location, over any distance – you’d think I was crazy. The same thing is happening with space development, it’s just a question of greater scale.

UT: A big part of what you’re doing to make people more aware of the possibilities of space is an educational initiative here on Earth. Could you elaborate on that?

AP: That effort is in two parts. One is a virtual community platform which is a combination of social networking, project collaboration, an incubator, and a funding structure. It will also give users access to lectures, educational materials, films.

The second part is a space city prototype on Earth, an edutainment format that will be a mix between Universal Studios and the Guggenheim Museum. We are currently creating multimedia and interactive materials for the project. The goal is to make visitors really feel what it would be like to live in space.

UT: Where would this center be located?

AP: Currently we are thinking Switzerland, a location with an area of about 30,000 square meters. We would also have an area nearby for a Mars or Moon safari theme, where visitors could test real equipment. Hopefully, this kind of science center will demonstrate that space is not something distant or fearful, but engaging and fun.

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Off-world equity

UT:  Private space initiatives get investments from the big players, but when will it be possible for everyday, small-scale investors to get into the space game? What kind of returns could they hope to see and in what kind of time frames?

AP: We are in the process of creating tools that will make that possible. It’s something that I have often faced during my space journey – the financing problem in the market. Space companies are either very small startups or established giants like Space X and Blue Origin.

As a result, many great minds don’t have access to financing because most investors think space technology is really remote and risky.

In fact, space investment can be less risky than many IT startups or real estate projects.

Space technologies can be used both in space and on earth– to name just one example, solar panels were originally a space technology and are now a major part of sustainable solutions on Earth.

In our project, the fund structure is a combination of classical venture capital and investment capital instruments, accessible for institutional and large private investors, with a cryptocurrency crowdfunding framework. I discovered that there are so many people who are interested in making their impact on the future of space exploration, whether through intellectual contribution or financial investment.

We also feature different investment categories, with short-term returns within three or four years, midterm returns in five to seven years, and the long-term over ten years. Our management team can work with investors, linking different projects and bringing stable returns of at least 25-30 percent within two years, and those are conservative figures. We are implementing Blockchain and smart contracts to make these investments safe and transparent.

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May the forces be with each other

UT: We’ve been discussing private companies, but of course there are government space programs as well. Do you think private and government sectors will combine efforts? How will they work together?

AP: I believe everyone will join forces. Even now, NASA and the European Space Agency are very supportive of private space initiatives. The future will favor projects that join together public and private efforts–  governments can provide the infrastructure, and private companies contribute a solid business approach since they are understandably motivated by returns on investment.

UT: What about collaboration between nations? When you talk about your project in Russia and in the US, do you feel that there’s a remaining competitive feeling left over from the Cold War? Or is that completely in the past?

AP: I think that in general it’s gone – as you are well aware, what you read in the newspapers is usually someone’s biased agenda. In the space technology, everybody understands that countries should be supportive of each other. What I find interesting is that people are really prepared to collaborate and create joint projects, such that every country’s and every company’s competence is employed to the fullest for the common good.

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Making Marvel comics real

UT: One of the most fascinating questions about space colonization is how it will change human society, both in space cities and here on Earth. You have written about relative autonomy of space colonies as the variable that will determine community development. The first stage is a very demanding survival mode– do you think modern residents of developed countries, used to comforts, are ready for those kinds of sacrifices?

AP: I see that people are searching for something interesting, and their reaction depends on how information is presented to them. If you focus on details of technology development, financing issues and challenges that astronauts face, that can get boring and seem like it’s very far away. When you show how space directly affects people’s lives, show them space as a source of inspiration– their eyes light up.

This is especially true when they realize that they can influence this process– intellectually, financially or by direct participation. It’s like making Marvel comics real! If they can be a part of it, they are eager to step up to the challenge. The space colonization endeavor is really a new, unprecedented type of collaboration.

I think people are tired of the emptiness of social media. What’s the point of showing off and getting a few thousand followers, if that’s all that will be left after you’re gone? What they really want is to make an impact on the future of humanity and the planet, something that will last for generations.

The space city itself is more than a technological challenge. On the one hand, it’s a new economy that will provide a unique professional opportunity for every field– medical, engineering, technical, entrepreneurial, cultural. On a different level, it’s a metaphor for a new era in human evolution, a new purpose for people’s lives.

Independence from Earth

UT: You wrote that at the later stages of increased space city autonomy, these city-states will gain independence from Earth governments. Do you believe this will be a seamless process? Won’t the mother countries fight to retain their space colonies?

AP: I believe, and this is one of my goals as well, that there will be a shift in the mindset. We are still living in a very competitive society, but transitioning to a contributing society. We are used to saying, ok, these 100 acres are mine and these are yours. It’s amusing when people try to apply this dealing to space, which clearly belongs equally to everyone.

I hope that countries will be united in space, regardless of religion and politics, but the way this will turn out depends on us  – whether we’ll be entrenched in colonies separated by borders, or sharing space as human beings who are citizens of one community.

Don’t panic

UT: What is your personal dream of space?

AP: My personal dream is to inspire every human with the vision of life in space and to build the first space city. I want to make space travel as easy and approachable as buying a ticket from New York to London.

UT:  What are your favorite portrayals of space life in books or movies? Something that really reflects the way you imagine space.

AP: Actually, I am currently writing a script for my own space film, as well as a fiction book about a girl’s space journey. What I don’t like about most sci-fi movies is that they portray space as a harsh and hostile environment, while it’s a source of great inspiration and value for humanity. My favorite ones are still Star Wars and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They are closer to my idea of how life in space could be – not always friendly, but exciting and adventurous.

Here, you can listen to the Technotopia talk with Aliya Prokofieva.

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Vinny Lingham On Bitcoin Future and Next Crypto Star: Exclusive to CryptoComes

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The Bitcoin Oracle remains bullish on the cryptocurrency market: exclusive interview with Vinny Lingham
Vinny Lingham On Bitcoin Future and Next Crypto Star: Exclusive to CryptoComes

 

Vinny Lingham Talks to CryptoComes About the Aggressive Market, the Next Crypto Star, and Personal Data Security.

CryptoComes will surprise no one by confessing that we have been waiting for a turn at Vinny Lingham’s dispensary of uncanny cryptocurrency wisdom, especially given the market turmoil of the last few months. We got the chance at last week’s StartEngine ICO 2.0 Spring Summit in Los Angeles. Over a hurried breakfast between a panel on “The State of ICO Regulation” and his flight out to the next destination, Vinny shared some industry insights which we dutifully pass on to our readers - until the next encounter with the Bitcoin Oracle…

Katya Michaels: You are known for your predictions. So, are you always right?

Vinny Lingham: No, but you only need to be right half the time to be an oracle.

KM: Still, how do you do it? Is it just common sense?

VL: It’s more fundamental base, market timing, psychology, and so on. I'm not always right about it. I do also think that the market's been a bit too aggressive lately. But things can't go up forever, that quickly, it doesn't work that way.

Bitcoin Cash

KM: In any case, your predictions about Bitcoin Cash are being confirmed. Is there something inherent that makes it grow?

Vinny Lingham:

The network effect around Bitcoin Cash is growing faster than Bitcoin. It's a smaller currency, so it will grow faster, but the question is - can it catch up to Bitcoin. That still remains to be seen. Bitcoin has a network effect that is second to none.

KM: How far do you think Bitcoin Cash will go this year? Do you have a figure in mind?

VL: I don't, we'll see how it goes. It depends on whether or not it decouples from Bitcoin. Right now it trades in the range of Bitcoin, and it needs to decouple significantly, which might take a long time.

KM: Most cryptocurrencies seem to follow Bitcoin’s movement in the market. Do you think this can change?

VL: Yes, once you have stable coins and security tokens, they will be able to move on their own.

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Next big Crypto star

KM: Who is the next big star in Crypto - Cardano? EOS perhaps?

Vinny Lingham:

The next star is Filecoin, when it goes live eventually, later this year maybe. I invested in 2014 and I’m a big believer in the technology, the team and what they are doing.

KM: Are you still critical of Litecoin?

VL: I still don't understand Litecoin enough. I don't know how it's different from Bitcoin, except that it's a little bit faster. I still don't get it - maybe I'll never get it.

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Personal data security

KM: Your own project, Civic, addresses the security of identity and personal data. In the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica, how can Blockchain help users regain control of their information? Do you think there are any viable Blockchain based challenges to Facebook right now?

Vinny Lingham:

I don't think that Facebook has any challenges right now because it's just too big. Two billion people onboarding to something else is not going to happen anytime soon.

I do think that you can enhance user privacy by moving to solutions like Civic where people can control their own data and authorize who can see it and who can use it. But replacing Facebook right now is impossible, you can just build something different.

KM: Do you think people are ready to own and be in control of their data?

VL: I think a lot of people are ready and they want it, it's just not there for them yet.

KM: What are the main challenges to the adoption of identity-management platforms like Civic?

VL: The biggest challenge right now is that the current regulations don't really force companies to be cognizant of the use of data that they are storing. Now GDPR in Europe is coming in next month, and I think US regulations are coming as well. Adoption will happen when we have government regulations forcing companies to be responsible and they have to look at solutions like Civic.

Adoption

KM: What do you think is the best platform right now for decentralized applications and smart contracts?

VL: I think EOS.

KM: It seems that people misunderstand Blockchain applications and smart contracts a lot at the moment.

VL: Very much so. Everyone says “we can do all these cool things,” but no one is actually doing anything with it, there are no use cases.

KM: Why do you think that is?

Vinny Lingham:

It's early stage technology, that's always the case. The dream is there, the reality is a nightmare.

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KM: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are some of the most exciting technology developments now. What is the big next influence or application of that in crypto?

VL: I think it's just about finding use cases, a way that we could use this technology, something really cool. And it needs to be used at scale, it can't be five transactions a day. Even if use cases are there, adoption takes time - adoption takes longer than scaling. You can always scale things if you have enough adoption.

KM: And what is the key to encouraging adoption?

VL: Focusing less on the technology and more on the use cases. Also, getting companies to buy into it - companies aren't using blockchains right now, .01 percent maybe.

KM: Are the costs of transition too high?

Vinny Lingham:  

It's going to take a while. Look at the internet, it took 30 years to adopt, starting in the 70s and 80s. Why do we think it's going to be different this time? I'm not bearish, I'm bullish on it, but these things don't happen overnight, it takes time.

KM: But will the market climb back or is this it?

VL: I think I'm expecting one more big dip, then it'll come back and we’ll see how it goes.

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Playing Nice With Government: Expert on Google’s Cryptocurrency Ad Ban

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Google’s cryptocurrency ad ban draws criticism from the crypto community, but what are the mechanics behind this decision?
Playing Nice With Government: Expert on Google’s Cryptocurrency Ad Ban

 

Google’s announcement of its decision to ban advertisements related to cryptocurrencies comes just a couple of months after Facebook announced a similar ban. While there is disagreement to the extent these steps will affect the cryptocurrency market, it is impossible to deny the Duopoly’s influence on millions of consumers. CryptoComes asked Ian Wishingrad, founder and creative director of the BigEyedWish creative agency specializing in branding and digital development, to comment on the causes and implications of Google’s policy change.

Ian Wishingrad, founder and creative director of the BigEyedWish creative agency

Smart move

CryptoComes: Google’s decision to ban cryptocurrency-related advertisements comes on the heels of Facebook’s similar announcement. What is your take on this?

Ian Wishingrad: I think it’s a smart move, and it makes perfect sense because their biggest issues right now are brand safety and reputation. It would reflect very poorly on them if people get scammed or do fraudulent things via crypto on their platforms.

Until there’s a little more clarity and it’s less dark, mysterious and potentially treacherous, the risk does not outweigh the reward considering their total advertising revenue.

Competing against the government

CC: Given the publicity issues that Facebook and Google have faced with fake news and questionable ad placement, one might ask: with seeming laxity of regulation in such aspects, why are these platforms picking on cryptocurrency?

IW: Well, it’s just bad luck for crypto. What’s happening now is precipitated by those concerns. These companies got their hand slapped and have seen the backlash, so now it’s not worth the risk. That’s the biggest issue when you are an open platform- when your business is built on advertising revenue, you need to consider the ramifications for brand safety.

Facebook, Google and Amazon all carved out their unique spaces in the market, but they are really competing against the government.

Exercising a certain amount of self-regulation and self-policing will bode well for them in the long run because if the government intervenes, that’s going to be much more painful than anything they inflict on themselves.

Cryptocurrency will be back

CC: Google is often seen as being close with the “establishment.” Could this decision be construed as another expression of that?

IW: One hundred percent. I don’t think they even disagree with that. They are operating as a United States company, governed by US law. You can be all cowboy and Wild West when you’re small and under the radar, but once you are a publicly traded company and one of the most powerful companies in the world, you have to start playing nice with the government.

As advertising dollars shift from television to online, it’s really difficult to police user-generated content. For Google and Facebook, the crypto industry it’s too nascent, there are too many bad players.

Once the area matures, I’m positive cryptocurrency will be back on these platforms.

CC: Often when new technology emerges, it is publicly represented as a maverick, a representation of freedom, of independence from regulation. Google was perceived this way in its time, but it seems that now Blockchain represents that maverick freedom, while Google represents the established structure.

IW: That’s exactly what is happening and what will happen. If you become successful, you become the establishment, and by virtue of becoming the establishment, there is a space wide open for the next players.

Self-regulation

CC: How will these bans impact the cryptocurrency market? Will it be destructive, or will it help weed out fraudulent players?

IW: Right now, we are separating the wheat from the chaff very quickly. All the mavericks, the pirates, the innovators- everyone wants to crack this.

Now, it’s going to come down to execution, securitization, government approval and finding the right way to play with the SEC.

I think we won’t be surprised by the people who come out on top- smart, with the right capital, the right public relations and understanding that it’s not just what you do, but how you are perceived.

CC: You mentioned the motivation for Google’s self-regulating approach. Meanwhile, the Winklevoss twins’ Gemini exchange announced the creation of a self-regulatory organization. Is this indicating a general trend? Will there be more self-regulation initiatives?

IW: I think there will be two things: the perception of self-regulation, and the actual self-regulation. The people that are ahead of the race are going to want to behave like the establishment, show that they are mature adults, exercise self-regulation because it’s really the most prudent move. It pays to play nice. You don’t want to make the government your enemy.

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Daniel Hyman of SingularDTV: Blockchain Will Revolutionize $2.3 tln Entertainment Industry

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A new kind of funding relationship between the artist and fan is imminent.
Daniel Hyman of SingularDTV: Blockchain Will Revolutionize $2.3 tln Entertainment Industry

Blockchain technology is revolutionizing a $2.3 tln global media and entertainment industry, making artists into economies and putting artists, producers, and the audiences on a level playing field for the first time.

After international DJ and artist Gramatik raised $2.25 mln in 24 hours using a Blockchain-based platform called Tokit developed by SingularDTV last November,  the world took notice.

The Tokit platform enables artists to embed their intellectual property rights, revenue, and royalties into digital tokens that run on a decentralized Ethereum Blockchain.  

Gramatik became one of the first artists to "tokenize" , or launch a digital token which could be purchased by investors and fans who shared a common goal of supporting and funding his projects.   In return, those who bought his token could now have equity in the artist himself and profit from the revenue generated directly from his work.

In an exclusive interview with CryptoComes, Daniel Hyman, ‎vice-president of Entertainment Finance & Development of ‎SingularDTV, says:

“After the convergence of streaming and blockchain, it was imminent that a new kind of funding relationship between the artist and fan was going to emerge.”

Hyman says that Gramatik’s success will translate into a higher token price for his fans and investors because for the first time the industry and audiences have a transparent and trackable means of measuring value through Blockchain.

To understand how we got to this point, Hyman says it's important to take a step back.

SingularDTV started as an initial token launch of the Ethereum-based Blockchain test projects including a decentralized television show and documentary, and evolved into a new frontier of digital distribution.

Today the US- and Swiss-based company offers the entire infrastructure for artists to tokenize their intellectual property and an in-house studio, enabling entertainment industry professionals to finance, develop, produce and distribute content worldwide.

The Digital Revolution  

As the world’s mass adoption of mobile devices, tablets, and computers dramatically increased, digital streaming emerged as a new method of transmitting or receiving data, especially video and audio.

Digital streaming led a cataclysmic change in the way people consumed media.

The success of YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify allowed artists to connect with millions of people across the globe; however, a means of monetizing that momentum was missing. The emergence of Blockchain and digital tokens solved that problem, says Hyman.

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The Artist

A digital technology like Tokit gives artists a direct portal to their viewers and people who want to consume their content, allowing them to circumvent traditional gatekeepers and maintain their authenticity.

“In the past, artists have relied on traditional gatekeepers to launch themselves, which often came with the huge cost of sacrificing their vision. Artists can come to our platform and say I want to fund a music video, a short film, and offer equity participation to their audiences which empowers them to continue to produce the kind of content they and their audience desires.”

Introducing equity participation can serve as a regulator of piracy, a big issue for the entertainment industry.  If fans and audiences are invested in the success of an artist through equity investment, they are far less likely to commit piracy and may also sheriff others.

The Audience

Streaming allowed audiences to select when, where and what to watch and listen to. Audiences today are far more discerning about the artists they support and are getting smarter in the way they spend their money.

“The aim for us is to be a platform that really connects the audience to their artists.  I would be thrilled to know that money I am spending will directly go to the artist and towards creating more content that I want.”

The best way to understand what the audience wants is to establish an instantaneous and direct relationship, which is exactly what Blockchain has enabled. Today’s audiences want to participate in the process, and it’s reflected in the kind of content that is emerging.

“There are less happy endings and more open endings, and subjects are left to the audiences interpretation. Less of the canned act 1,2,3, start to finish content. There are forums, discussion platforms.”

Card

The  Industry

Perhaps the most significant impact of Blockchain-based technologies like Tokit is that they bring a level of transparency and efficiency to the industry which just did not exist before.

Transparency

Investors can now track and assess everything at the transactional level which provides a considerable advantage compared with the past. Blockchain technology puts all moving parts into one place and simultaneously shares the information throughout the production process.

“This kind of transparency wasn’t accessible in the past. Today, investors can know exactly where the money is being spent, how it's being used and can track areas of impact in real-time.”

Instantaneous Feedback

Blockchain enables investors to track investments and returns instantaneously and use the information to capitalize on opportunities in real-time.

“In a world where an artist’s content can be streamed in seconds, it takes six months to get a report about how much they have earned.  It takes a year to get a report on how your film is doing. We want to compress the timeline and make it immediate.”

Paving the  Road to Middle Markets

Investing in the entertainment industry has always been regarded as high-risk. For this reason, the majority of the investment is channeled either into ultra-low budget productions, or people put money behind safe big mainstream projects. Transparency reduces the risk for investors and can invigorate middle market film and music projects that are often overlooked, says Hyman.

No One Is Being Left Out

As artists and audiences connect more directly using Tokit like platforms, Hyman says that there will be even greater need for people to facilitate scaling and distribution and in the end, no one will really be left out.

“No one will be left out.  All we want to do is help everyone share information and streamline the process. If you don’t innovate technologically, you will lose, that’s why film investment has fallen."

Hyman says the response from the community has been tremendous, after SingularDTV featured its platform at the Tribeca and several other film festivals.

“Everyone is really excited. We have seen interest from talent, producers and tech folk who all want to work together to solve industry problems.”

As far as upcoming projects, Hyman says that SDTV plans to dive deeper into the Sci-Fi space and is rallying a few unnamed disruptors, which it intends to disclose soon.

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How We All Go Into Space: Aliya Prokofieva Has Mission Under Control

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U.Today spoke with Galaktika’s CEO about why it’s worth reclaiming our passion for space travel
How We All Go Into Space: Aliya Prokofieva Has Mission Under Control

Aliya Prokofieva doesn’t look like the usual suspect for the founder of a private space initiative, but upon closer inspection, it’s evident that this destiny was inevitable. Having grown up among the astronauts, engineers and sci-fi writers who were part of the community at the famous Pulkovo Observatory, she caught the space fever as a child and carried it, with purity and dedication, to the establishment of her company Galaktika.

In the last few decades, the incredible advances of technology are showing us more and more than anything is possible, but it seems we tend to be over-focused on the way new tech can improve our screen resolutions and scrolling speeds. Aliya intends to shift that focus where it belongs– space, the final frontier. U.Today spoke with Galaktika’s CEO about why it’s worth reclaiming our passion for space travel, not only for the opportunities it will create in the space cities but for the way it can change human society here on Earth.

Drops of Jupiter in her hair

U.Today (Katya Michaels): Aliya, in the last couple of years you have become a prominent player in the private space development industry, but I wanted to start at the beginning – both your mother and your aunt were astrophysicists?

Aliya Prokofieva: Yes, that’s correct. My mom was not only an astrophysicist, she was also chief constructor for the Pulkovo Observatory, one of the biggest and oldest observatories in Russia. She also worked on the observatory in Norway’s Spitsbergen and many others.

UT: That must have been a strong influence on your path as a woman in tech, having these amazing role models.

AP: Of course, although as a child I didn’t dream of being a scientist or an engineer. I am more interested in culture and society, specifically the way scientific discoveries can serve humanity. From the beginning in this industry, I have been more focused on creating something that will help people, that will endure after I’m gone and contribute to sustainable solutions that will be applicable all over the world.

UT: Did your mother also believe that it was possible for humanity to colonize space in your lifetime?

AP: You know, it’s interesting – my mother was born, grew up and worked in the Soviet Union. When she was 19, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

It was 1961 and everybody really thought, both in the Soviet Union and the US, that people would be living in space by the millennium.

There was this absolute confidence that the next decades would see massive and fully scaled space development. Not only my mother, but many scientists and engineers in the Soviet Union thought that this would be a reality. If you were to ask some of the old NASA guys who remember those times, they would say the same. So, my childhood impressions were a melding of the engineering facts of space exploration and the romantic-scientific idea of the imminent reality of life in space.

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The nearness of stars

UT: I feel like the archetype of the romantic scientist is a uniquely Soviet phenomenon, in many ways exemplified by the sci-fi works of Strugatsky brothers, and that it doesn’t really have parallels in other cultures… Do you think that’s true?

AP: I don’t believe it’s unique, because international sci-fi authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke were at that time writing the same kinds of stories as Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. However, what really is different about the Russian approach to space is the background philosophy.

Space was first explored not for the explicit purpose of scientific discovery but approached as a source of spiritual development for humanity.

The philosophy is called Russian Cosmism. It’s a phenomenon that appeared at the end of the 19th century, counting among its proponents such distinguished writers as Dostoyevsky. It was not about technology – Cosmist thinkers explored what space could mean for the human soul and eternal life, in a metaphysical way. In fact, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founders of cosmonautics and space travel, was inspired by the philosophy of Russian Cosmism to work on his scientific and engineering discoveries.

Swapping space travel for VR

UT: What do you think happened since the 1950s to the way space travel is viewed? It seems that humanity was dreaming of flying cars and space cities, and instead got smartphones and virtual reality. Kids used to dream of being astronauts and now they want to be Instagram influencers.

AP: I think that the main reason for the change is the fashion for particular heroes – what we are shown in social media, in films and so on. Although I don’t agree with you that kids don’t dream about being astronauts. I know lots of young people, both in the US and in Russia, who are really passionate about space and would like to have access to more information and opportunities.

I suppose what I’m trying to do is create a fashion for space – for going there and being connected with it. That’s why I decided to create this community and this space movement.

It’s not so much about technology, but about creating a real community of people who will be supportive to each other to make space real. That’s my mission.

Space playground

UT: Do you meet with a lot of skepticism? How well informed are people generally in terms of the realities of modern space technology?

AP: Generally, people think that space is something that is very far and not relevant to them. They are taken by surprise when I tell them that we are actually all living in space, already. We have the technology, but it doesn’t have the mass reach of cars or airplanes. There isn’t enough information out there, and it’s part of my mission to educate people. I mean, if you and I were chatting in the 1950s and I’d tell you that it would be possible to converse on video from any location, over any distance – you’d think I was crazy. The same thing is happening with space development, it’s just a question of greater scale.

UT: A big part of what you’re doing to make people more aware of the possibilities of space is an educational initiative here on Earth. Could you elaborate on that?

AP: That effort is in two parts. One is a virtual community platform which is a combination of social networking, project collaboration, an incubator, and a funding structure. It will also give users access to lectures, educational materials, films.

The second part is a space city prototype on Earth, an edutainment format that will be a mix between Universal Studios and the Guggenheim Museum. We are currently creating multimedia and interactive materials for the project. The goal is to make visitors really feel what it would be like to live in space.

UT: Where would this center be located?

AP: Currently we are thinking Switzerland, a location with an area of about 30,000 square meters. We would also have an area nearby for a Mars or Moon safari theme, where visitors could test real equipment. Hopefully, this kind of science center will demonstrate that space is not something distant or fearful, but engaging and fun.

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Off-world equity

UT:  Private space initiatives get investments from the big players, but when will it be possible for everyday, small-scale investors to get into the space game? What kind of returns could they hope to see and in what kind of time frames?

AP: We are in the process of creating tools that will make that possible. It’s something that I have often faced during my space journey – the financing problem in the market. Space companies are either very small startups or established giants like Space X and Blue Origin.

As a result, many great minds don’t have access to financing because most investors think space technology is really remote and risky.

In fact, space investment can be less risky than many IT startups or real estate projects.

Space technologies can be used both in space and on earth– to name just one example, solar panels were originally a space technology and are now a major part of sustainable solutions on Earth.

In our project, the fund structure is a combination of classical venture capital and investment capital instruments, accessible for institutional and large private investors, with a cryptocurrency crowdfunding framework. I discovered that there are so many people who are interested in making their impact on the future of space exploration, whether through intellectual contribution or financial investment.

We also feature different investment categories, with short-term returns within three or four years, midterm returns in five to seven years, and the long-term over ten years. Our management team can work with investors, linking different projects and bringing stable returns of at least 25-30 percent within two years, and those are conservative figures. We are implementing Blockchain and smart contracts to make these investments safe and transparent.

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May the forces be with each other

UT: We’ve been discussing private companies, but of course there are government space programs as well. Do you think private and government sectors will combine efforts? How will they work together?

AP: I believe everyone will join forces. Even now, NASA and the European Space Agency are very supportive of private space initiatives. The future will favor projects that join together public and private efforts–  governments can provide the infrastructure, and private companies contribute a solid business approach since they are understandably motivated by returns on investment.

UT: What about collaboration between nations? When you talk about your project in Russia and in the US, do you feel that there’s a remaining competitive feeling left over from the Cold War? Or is that completely in the past?

AP: I think that in general it’s gone – as you are well aware, what you read in the newspapers is usually someone’s biased agenda. In the space technology, everybody understands that countries should be supportive of each other. What I find interesting is that people are really prepared to collaborate and create joint projects, such that every country’s and every company’s competence is employed to the fullest for the common good.

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Making Marvel comics real

UT: One of the most fascinating questions about space colonization is how it will change human society, both in space cities and here on Earth. You have written about relative autonomy of space colonies as the variable that will determine community development. The first stage is a very demanding survival mode– do you think modern residents of developed countries, used to comforts, are ready for those kinds of sacrifices?

AP: I see that people are searching for something interesting, and their reaction depends on how information is presented to them. If you focus on details of technology development, financing issues and challenges that astronauts face, that can get boring and seem like it’s very far away. When you show how space directly affects people’s lives, show them space as a source of inspiration– their eyes light up.

This is especially true when they realize that they can influence this process– intellectually, financially or by direct participation. It’s like making Marvel comics real! If they can be a part of it, they are eager to step up to the challenge. The space colonization endeavor is really a new, unprecedented type of collaboration.

I think people are tired of the emptiness of social media. What’s the point of showing off and getting a few thousand followers, if that’s all that will be left after you’re gone? What they really want is to make an impact on the future of humanity and the planet, something that will last for generations.

The space city itself is more than a technological challenge. On the one hand, it’s a new economy that will provide a unique professional opportunity for every field– medical, engineering, technical, entrepreneurial, cultural. On a different level, it’s a metaphor for a new era in human evolution, a new purpose for people’s lives.

Independence from Earth

UT: You wrote that at the later stages of increased space city autonomy, these city-states will gain independence from Earth governments. Do you believe this will be a seamless process? Won’t the mother countries fight to retain their space colonies?

AP: I believe, and this is one of my goals as well, that there will be a shift in the mindset. We are still living in a very competitive society, but transitioning to a contributing society. We are used to saying, ok, these 100 acres are mine and these are yours. It’s amusing when people try to apply this dealing to space, which clearly belongs equally to everyone.

I hope that countries will be united in space, regardless of religion and politics, but the way this will turn out depends on us  – whether we’ll be entrenched in colonies separated by borders, or sharing space as human beings who are citizens of one community.

Don’t panic

UT: What is your personal dream of space?

AP: My personal dream is to inspire every human with the vision of life in space and to build the first space city. I want to make space travel as easy and approachable as buying a ticket from New York to London.

UT:  What are your favorite portrayals of space life in books or movies? Something that really reflects the way you imagine space.

AP: Actually, I am currently writing a script for my own space film, as well as a fiction book about a girl’s space journey. What I don’t like about most sci-fi movies is that they portray space as a harsh and hostile environment, while it’s a source of great inspiration and value for humanity. My favorite ones are still Star Wars and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They are closer to my idea of how life in space could be – not always friendly, but exciting and adventurous.

Here, you can listen to the Technotopia talk with Aliya Prokofieva.

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🤷 Opinions Cyril Gilson

Ex-Central Banker on Crypto: “There is no Limits to Where This is Going to Go”

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“The way we think about money and earning a living is going to change”
Ex-Central Banker on Crypto: “There is no Limits to Where This is Going to Go”

Ex-central banker turned cryptocurrency aficionado and leader, Eugene Etsebeth gives us an inclusive insight into the psychological types and the mechanics of a Central Bank operations, fintech scene and its influence on governments in Africa and how ICO’s model is changing.  

The business unit head for Central Banks, ACH and Payments at Sybrin, Eugene Etsebeth worked at the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) where he founded the Virtual Currencies and Distributed Ledger Technology working group.

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Eugene Etsebeth: About a year ago I left the South African Reserve Bank where I have become quite prominent as someone who understood cryptocurrency from a conceptual and technical point of view. You know the central bank was a very policy-driven institution and it has a lot of academics or researchers and auditor types. I was trying to bring a technological perspective to their thinking. When I was immersing myself in cryptocurrency I felt that they are missing a large piece. It was the technological piece but also it came from a slightly decentralized, almost libertarian thinking, giving them a different point of view.

So that’s what I brought to them out of my passion and interest in that space. South African Reserve Bank is a certain organism typical for most central banks. I mean you have banking supervision, which looks after the banking resources, and those are more auditors types. Then you’ve got your research, which are more your economic people and academics. Then in South Africa, we have exchange control so they do financial surveillance where there is not a free flow of money: those are the investigator types. Then you have national payments where they are mostly focusing on high value and low-value payments in the financial market, they almost ran a software or a system.

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So there are many different types of people, and I managed to bring them all together. I chaired the Virtual Currencies and Distributed Ledger Technology working group, the committee where we started to influence, talk to, or make an offering to the government.

Then out of that we also got involved in building some consortiums in the financial space. We as a central bank managed to find some developers interested in Ethereum and we worked with consultants to start contributing to smart contracts. A couple of years ago we played around with moving money between banks and the Central Bank on the Ethereum Blockchain.

Fast forward to now, and I was offered to lead the cryptocurrency slot at Sybrin, my current company. Their business is predominately in Africa, we have over 250 customers mainly banks, and we also run complete clearing houses of Zambia, Kenya, and Lesotho. We started to engage with some partners for cross-border remittances using existing cryptocurrencies.

Among other things, I was approached to do an ICO for a gambling entity based in Africa but ultimately I realized that to become an advisor in an ICO means moving to an unstable territory because all of it would be my own branch. I didn’t know how it’s gonna go so I pulled out of that.

Now we are gonna start engaging and looking into the Lightning Network.

The second tier framework that sits on top of Blockchains for me is very compelling, it almost works like the Internet protocol.

I think there is a lot of concern on how is that going to get market share or get people to use another wallet or another system, but I think market opening will come over time and that we will move over to Lightning Network type of behavior and we will start building applications on a second tier.

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Cyril Gilson: Is South Africa showing the rest of Africa the headway of fintech?

Fintech in South Africa

EE: The fintech scene in South Africa isn’t as strong as it looks. There are a lot of early startups, but I wouldn’t put it in the same category as for instance Israel or the West Coast. There is a big drive in millenials, like everywhere in the world, to be the owner of their own destiny. If they are computer programming literate they will probably take a risk early on. The fintech scene is prominent in South Africa, but I wouldn’t say it’s extremely large.

The central bank has created a fintech unit, but it has only three staff members, yet they are being more open into regulatory innovation apps. That’s the one thing that the startups are missing in the world: they are out, they are young, they have great ideas, but their regulatory and ecosystem knowledge is just missing. This is the cool piece that can help the ecosystem develop.

I am trying to think of examples. For me in the cryptocurrency space you have Luno. They have an exchange offering in South Africa, they started up and running about four years ago, and they have done very well. They are actually now based in London and have offerings in Singapore. So in the cryptocurrency space there is a little bit of movement. There are people engaging in crypto, probably as much as other developed countries.

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African dimension

CG: How about in terms of South Africa taking the rest of Africa along?

EE: I would say if there are any initiatives to take other countries along they are probably well concealed because everyone is trying to just look after their own house. I was in Rwanda recently, there I went to the innovation hub, where it’s a very big focus in Kigali to build both software and hardware innovation labs.

It’s almost a strategic decision by President Kagame to focus on cryptocurrencies and Blockchains.

There they are doing it very much on their own. I went there on a business trip, I went to go visit, but I would like to extend a hand in the community, but that’s more of goodwill rather than a national imperative.

There are national bodies, like the committee of central bank governors, that meets in Africa and they will talk about fintech and IT but that is just one element. It’s not organic.

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CG: Where would you put South Africa on a scale between Switzerland and China in terms of crypto regulation?

EE: Our position paper that came out in 2014 from the central bank wasn’t very helpful. It said its at your own risk and its a wait and see. That is still honestly the position.

Although when I look at these fancy maps of where its regulated and where its not, somehow South Africa is regulated it looks like because we have an exchange that its regulated, but on the outside, it’s slightly more just allowed to happen. We also have the added concern of exchange control which is unlike other companies. You aren’t allowed to just move money from cross-border, there is a lot of surveillance.

So to go back, I would say as a signal from the market, a big company called Sygnia they want to start a cryptocurrency exchange. They are picking up the correct signals from the regulator to make an investment in that regard. You know the one before, Luno, they took a risk. They were engaging a lot with the regulator early on but they couldn’t get any commitment from our KYC body called FICA.

They got quite far but they eventually got backtracked and it was at your own risk. We still are at that stage, although the central bank is making suggestions and names.

For instance, they say they will call them crypto tokens. I don’t know what that really means.

It just means they recognize it as a crypto token, that’s the language they will use and they don’t recognize it as a currency. It doesn’t really say much other than that they categorized it using their own categorization.

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ICO thinking

CG: Speaking about ICOs, there was a hype last year and they promised to disrupt finance, but it seems like now they are becoming more similar to what financing does in terms of equity they needed even before the presale or in many other aspects. Do you expect some new model changing the existing ICO model in the near future?

EE: You mean in response to the regulatory clampdown?

CG: Also maybe it will come out of some natural development, even from the inside the techniques are getting more and more oriented to mainstream...

EE: I am very excited about the ICO developments. I think it’s like cryptocurrency itself, the Bitcoins and some of the altcoins around them, it’s already a working use case that has billions of dollars of uptake. I think it’s a great future model. I think perhaps a greater responsibility should be placed on the people who start to randomize. I don’t like licenses, but you should know who they are, they should register in some shape or form because it’s a bit too scammy at the moment.

I think as a model it frees up liquidity a lot earlier, you can almost do an ICO within a day. You can create a method to raise an ICO in a short amount of time. You can offer in an exchange using a very simple protocol, the ERC20 protocol. I think for me its a case of that if a VC is doing it in a traditional sense, they better start moving quickly to an ICO thinking.

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Leadership required

CG: Do you expect more industries taking on the ICO model?

EE: I think there is no limits to where this is going to go. I think the human imagination is confined by what we know now, but it will become for our children, it will become more obvious how it’s matured. For instance, even here at this conference people are starting to offer ICOs and token sales for celebrities. And why not, anyone who adds value that you interact with, these things can be monetized.

I mean, money is really a form of communication, it’s almost a language. We have only known what we have known and know we have been introduced to a new way of money. I think this is going to change the way we think about money, how we earn money and how we earn a living.

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CG: Yeah but you are talking about cryptocurrencies being appealing to individuals rather than institutions and governments, the later would change in a slower manner. If at all - there are still this mass media stereotypes of all these crypto being scams.

EE: I think this is where it becomes very important for each individual to analyze the market, to read deeply. It’s so much easier now for you to make a prediction of what lies ahead of us. It may not be right, but we almost empower it because knowledge is so free.

We know as much or more than the previous controllers of knowledge. So I think that is going to set people apart, is by how they can predict and shape the future because I think people are complacent by thinking they have more knowledge. That’s certainly not the case.

I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on someone who has gotten to place in government by virtue of a bureaucratic career and who doesn’t know what the real reason may be why the organization was founded 100 years ago because it’s always morphing and changing. So too it might change not only growing bigger but it could grow smaller. It’s gonna take some courageous leadership going forward.

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