What are Smart Contracts?

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As cryptocurrency continues to grow in popularity and more people are becoming aware of the opportunity, additional subsets of blockchain are emerging and offer solutions to complex business challenges. One such emerging form of blockchain is helping people take complex challenges and create safer, more efficient automation. Smart contracts are computer programs built on a blockchain. Essentially, a smart contract can be programmed to complete any number of steps after the transaction is recorded. Whereas cryptocurrency is simply recording that a transaction has taken place, smart contracts allow for additional steps to take place following the transaction.

Much like “If this, then that” (IFTT) coding creates automated processes in technology, smart contracts can be completely customized to perform an unlimited number of sequences and scenarios. The added security of being build around blockchain differentiates a smart contract from other automation and allows more tasks to be completed in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.  While many examples of smart contracts will never be visible to a consumer, smart contracts have a real chance at changing major e-commerce websites like eBay, and even entire industries.

Forbes magazine contributor, Joel Comm, explains that real estate escrow accounts could benefit greatly from smart contacts. “A property buyer would purchase tokens and send them to an address on the blockchain. The funds stay at that address until a computer program acknowledges that all the required steps in the purchase process have been completed: entering a code on a title deed, for example, or uploading a house inspection certificate or a signed copy of the contract. Once the transaction has met all its requirements, the tokens would automatically be released to the seller, who could convert them back into fiat currency.”
In many industries and business transactions that require a middleman, smart contracts present an opportunity to remove the need for a third person, while also providing a secure and quicker outcome. What currently looks to be just an interesting trend, could be a part of our day-to-day lives in the very near future.

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How Will Artificial Intelligence Change the Face of Finance?

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With the acceleration of artificial intelligence making its way into our lives, the financial industry is among the many areas that will see a significant impact. Each year, more and more companies are pouring millions of dollars into research and development for artificial intelligence, all of them recognizing the need for differentiation and being first to market with new features. As baby boomers inch closer to retirement, more and more millennials are stepping into the finance industry and bringing with them, a passion for technology and automation.

In many cases, artificial intelligence has already been implemented in less visible areas of financing. This has led to increased accuracy and improved efficiency in many areas. In his article published in Forbes, Abhishek Bhattacharya notes the significant impact artificial intelligence has played in major companies: “Parsing financial deals that once kept lawyers at JPMorgan Chase & Co. occupied for thousands of hours is just a matter of a few seconds today. Making this possible are a contract management software and a learning machine. Another case in point: Machine learning algorithms help Morgan Stanley augment its 16,000 financial advisers. These human brokers can suggest trades to the customers and take over routine tasks at the organization.”

One of the biggest barriers preventing AI from faster implementation is the workforce and a lack of skilled people with the knowledge and training necessary. As a newer area of study, the workforce is playing catch up with the demand and many employers are struggling to find enough qualified employees to help develop new strategies and implementation of AI. As the millennial generation continues to learn more about the significance of AI, it can be expected to see colleges and universities adding new programs to help train and equip students to make an impact in this area.

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Eight Tech Trends to Watch in 2018

Tech in 2017 saw major advances across the board, ranging from data-as-a-service through auto manufacturers, to connected living and artificial intelligence-fueled personal assistants, as seen with the introduction of smart homes. What new tech trends can we expect to see in 2018?

 

1. Smart Machines Will Make Life Easier

Thanks to predictive analysis and automation, we can expect this to be frequently incorporated into our everyday lives for mundane tasks, allowing us to use our time more efficiently. We will see this with companies like Brother Refresh, which identifies things like when the printer ink is running low or the water cooler will be empty in a few days and puts in an order without us having to lift a finger.

 

2. AR Will Transform How We Learn

Augmented reality, otherwise known as AR, is an exciting trend in tech today. AR allows us to have a live view of a digital item in the real world. For example, instead of going out shopping for a new kitchen table, we will be able to ‘place’ the table in our kitchen using AR and interact with it in real time. It will drastically change how we learn and interact with the world.

 

3. On-Demand Apps Will Rise

In the era of instant satisfaction, on-demand apps will continue to implement themselves into our everyday lives. Much like Uber and Lyft, there will be an introduction to apps that will remove the need to make an appointment for a manicure or a haircut.

 

4. AI Will Better Understand Us

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, will start to learn and understand what we humans like, and will better be able to predict our needs and function fully autonomously. AI implementation will be predominantly universal, as it will produce more intelligent products and services and adapt to our personal preferences.

 

5. Wedding Planning Will Be Virtual

Modernized wedding planning includes minimal human interaction and increased virtual decision-making. More and more frequently, couples are planning via The Cloud and social platforms, rather than meeting vendors, caterers, etc. in person.

 

6. Amazon May Be the Next Trillion-Dollar Company

2018 might just be the year we see a Fortune 500 company leap past the trillion dollar value, and Amazon could be the one. By the end of the year, Amazon will have exponentially expanded their business, continuing to grow through acquisitions and introducing automated shopping to the public.

 

7. Cryptocurrency Will Become More Dominant

Just last year, the cryptocurrency market grew from $18 billion to $200 billion, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. Many of the larger institutions have yet to join in the market, and most of the general public still don’t understand how to utilize cryptocurrency. It is predicted that this will have as much of an impact on future eras as the introduction of the Internet.

 

8. Vehicles Continue Evolving to Self-Driving

It comes as no surprise that autonomous vehicles will continue to be a hot topic in tech this year. Many large corporations like Tesla have long begun working toward the self-driving car trend, and Uber has already launched a pilot. According to The Verge, Domino’s and Ford have teamed up to test self-driving delivery cars.

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Five Must-Read Finance Books

It’s no secret we are a society that is fueled by money. The world of finance is never short of excitement and many are constantly searching for that “get rich quick” scheme. Rather than investing your money and efforts into fruitless endeavors, pick up one of these five must-read finance books of all time.

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  1. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System–and Themselves

In this detailed depiction of the largest financial crisis on Wall Street since the Great Depression, Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers a fascinating re-enactment of the drama and turmoil of some of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics. With unparalleled access to the key players involved, this behind-the-scenes account of the 2008 economic crisis reveals how the decisions made over the past decade laid the groundwork for the most turbulent time in America’s financial history.

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  1. The Art of Money Getting

This quick page-turner by P. T. Barnum addresses the art of building and maintaining wealth through simple, yet productive means. A truly timeless read, wealth is looked at from the perspective of integrity and charity, and discovering true satisfaction in life through good-heartedness and living life to the fullest extent.

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  1. Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Thomas Piketty supplies an extensive analysis of data collected from twenty countries, going as far back as the eighteenth century, unearthing valuable economic and social patterns. His discovery will contribute greatly to any debate regarding thoughts about wealth and inequality. Containing a combination of historical income analysis and global inequality, this text reorients our understanding of economic history and provides us with some much-needed lessons for today.

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  1. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings

Phillip Fisher delivers a wonderful framework of all the questions one would ask when acquiring information of companies to invest in and understanding their importance. This priceless book has been used since its release in 1958, identifying outstanding companies, how to determine competitive advantages within a company, and much more.

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  1. The Richest Man in Babylon

This timeless classic is an inspirational read that reveals the secrets to making money and keeping it. Hailed one of the greatest books of all time, George S. Clason shares the secret to wealth through parables, financial problem-solving tools, invaluable suggestions, and priceless information that is perfect for all who are searching for financial success.

 

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The Most Common Tax Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

For entrepreneurs, one of the most stressful times of the year is, without a doubt, tax season. Not only does one have to ensure they have all of the necessary paperwork, they must also find the time to file their return — something that may feel like an impossible feat, seeing as entrepreneurs are often stretched thin by both their business and personal life. However, if they neglect to make the proper preparations, they will likely pay dearly for any and all errors.

With that in mind, let us explore the most common tax mistakes entrepreneurs make, and how each one can be avoided.

Failing to keep records

For some, half the battle of filing taxes is proving they have accurately tracked the growth of their business over the years. After all, failing to provide such records could cause one to miss out on a number of important tax deductions. Furthermore, in the event of an audit, a company could even lose out on legitimate because they cannot furnish their expenses, payroll, sales, or any other financial transaction they have encountered in the previous fiscal year.

Neglecting to work with an expert

No matter how confident you may feel in your filing abilities, it is always best to work with a financial expert, as they are best equipped to answer your questions and mitigate any issues while preparing your return. However, it is imperative you take time to find the right person for the job. After all, this individual will be handling your business’ most sensitive information. With that in mind, be sure you conduct thorough interviews and choose the expert you feel you can trust the most.

Combining business and personal expenses

Nothing spells trouble like allowing overlap between your business and personal accounts. Regardless if you kept receipts and can prove the expense was withdrawn from your business account, you will still be unable to deduct the cost on your return. Therefore, it is best that you keep all business accounts separate from your own. Otherwise, you may end up harming your professional endeavors with your personal spending habits.

Evidently, there are many factors entrepreneurs must consider before filing their tax returns. One can ensure they are setting themselves up for success by heeding the above advice, following the action plans provided by their trusted financial advisor, and resisting the urge to procrastinate this annual undertaking. After all, failing to plan equates to planning to fail.

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The Best Podcasts For Those Who Want to Break Into Tech

In recent years, podcasts have become wildly popular amongst young professionals. After all, these segments are typically rather short and easy to digest, making them the perfect method of gleaning industry-specific insights during the morning commute, on one’s lunch break, or even while preparing dinner.

Furthermore, podcasts make such pertinent information more accessible to the population at large. So, regardless of one’s background, education, or experience, they can gain the knowledge they need to excel in both their personal and professional lives.

This feature is especially important now, as more and more individuals entertain the idea of leaving their current jobs for positions in the ever-booming and evolving tech industry. With that in mind, let us explore the best podcasts for those who wish to break into tech.

How I Built This with Guy Raz

Initially released in September 2016, How I Built This is a National Public Radio favorite, as its structure tends to deviate from those of typical podcasts. Each episode outlines the triumphs, challenges and, of course, failures of some of the greatest entrepreneurs, innovators, and idealists in the world.

All in all, How I Built This is considered an irreplaceable asset, as it strives to shed light on the professional skills and tactics one should strive to improve, especially if they desire to successfully break into the technology industry.

Product Decoded

Produced by Product Leader Summit, Product Decoded is a fresh show that only just launched in March 2018. This podcast offers pertinent advice on how to build and scale extraordinary new products to meet the growing demands of the global market.

Although Product Decoded is still very much in its infantile stages, its hosts have already gleaned valuable insights from seasoned product leaders from Netflix, Medium, UserTesting.com, and even Facebook — meaning it would be absolutely foolish of you to miss a single episode.

Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman

Hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Masters of Scale was designed to walk listeners through the process of scaling a company for unprecedented success — a concept that was, of course, inspired by LinkedIn’s own rise to fame.

However, Hoffman does not simply spew advice throughout each episode. Instead, he captures listeners’ attention by testing business theories with famous founders from a variety of industries. Some of his guests included Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix’s Neil Hastings, and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Clearly, podcasts are an effective method of distributing and absorbing important professional information, regardless of your industry or interests. It will certainly be interesting to see how podcasts continue to influence trends in our society, both on the business and personal ends of the continuum.

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A Buyer’s Guide: The Best Smart Home Devices of 2018

While still very much in its infantile stages, smart home technology has skyrocketed to popularity over the past several years, with popular brands like Amazon, Google, and Apple getting in on the action.

However, it is important to note that these three brands and their subsidiaries are not the only key players in the development of smart home ecosystems. Instead, a number of smaller companies and startups are beginning to gain traction in this specific niche, increasing competition across the board.

With that in mind, let us explore and review the best smart home devices of 2018.

Best Lighting System: Philips Hue

Released in 2012, this system was originally marketed as the first iOS-controlled lighting device, as Philips was exclusively partnered with Apple at the time. However, as demand increased, Philips revamped the system in 2015 and 2016, allowing it to be used across a number of operating systems and platforms.

Now, in 2018, Philips Hue is widely regarded as the best smart lighting system on the market, as it enables users to control the brightness of each individual bulb and connect up to 50 bulbs to a single hub. Furthermore, this system is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Nest.

Best Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector: Nest Protect

Although there are countless smart smoke detectors available on the market, few match up to the ingenuity of Nest Protect. Not only does this wireless device detect smoke and carbon monoxide, it has the ability to discern between slow- and fast-burning fires, enabling it to communicate which room the fire is in and how much time one has to get out.

Finally, the device is compatible with the Philips Hue system and can turn the lights on during an emergency situation.

Best Security Camera: Amazon Cloud Cam

Granted, there are many smart security cameras on the market, from the Netgear Arlo Q to the Nest Cam Indoor. However, none strike the right balance between affordability and usability like the Amazon Cloud Cam does. After a simple installation process, users can easily navigate the accompanying app to customize their settings, set motion detection, and even opt in to receive alerts when an individual is near their front door.

One of the greatest perks of this device, however, is the fact that it comes with free unlimited cloud storage — something its competitors simply cannot offer. Given that fact, it should come as no surprise the Amazon Cloud Cam can be considered the best of its kind.

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The Benefits of Investing in Royalties

It was once believed that the only way one could earn royalties was by creating a popular piece of music, art, or literature that could easily be distributed to and purchased by the public.

However, there are more royalties than just artistic or musical. In fact, those who own intellectual property — such as a patent, copyright, or trademark — receive royalties. If the recipients of these royalties are struggling to produce capital on their creations, they will turn to an exchange platform in order to sell all or portions of their royalty stream to investors.

If one is looking for new and creative ways to expand your financial portfolio, investing in royalties may be a wise move to make. With that in mind, let us take the time to learn more about the process of buying and selling royalties.

How does one purchase royalties?

Purchasing royalties is simple once one has found the right exchange platform to utilize. The most popular are The Royalty Exchange and Lyric Financial. Although both websites offer the same services, Lyric Financial offers its users the ability to receive a short-term advance on their royalties for a small fee.

Once you have settled on a platform, all you must do is create an account to begin your search for royalty auctions. The terms and conditions, market value of the royalty stream, and even the amount of the last 12 months’ royalties are made available for prospective buyers. By listing this pertinent information, users can view each auction and easily determine whether or not they desire to place a bid on a royalty stream.

What are the stipulations?

Seeing as sellers have a great deal of control over the terms of their auctions, no two royalty agreements are the same.

As mentioned before, a seller could choose to sell their entire royalty stream or just a portion. A seller could also choose to sell their royalty stream but maintain ownership of the property, meaning the buyer would have to pay a portion of their newfound royalty stream back to the owner — however, this is both a complicated and rarely executed strategy.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that sellers set their starting price and minimum bid amounts, so be sure to thoroughly weigh your options to ensure you are not purchasing a royalty stream for more than it is worth.

Can one invest in royalties with their Individual Retirement Account (IRA)?

Yes, this is an entirely feasible option to fund your newest investment venture. However, it would greatly benefit you to discuss this option with your money manager before making a decision, especially if you will be transferring the IRA from a stock brokerage to an account managed by a self-directed IRA custodian.

Although buying and selling royalties is a creative and feasible method of diversifying a portfolio, it is imperative one consults with their trusted financial advisor before making any major decisions.

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A Buyer’s Guide: The Best Smart Home Assistants

No matter if they are in the form of smartphones or compact speakers, smart assistants have effectively infiltrated our lives and become a part of our everyday routines. In 2011, Apple’s Siri was not only introduced as the newest iPhone feature but the first consumer-friendly voice assistant as well.

Since then, virtual companions have been introduced across the board, hoping to sway devotees away from Apple’s platform and exorbitant price points. Although it seemed as though such success was impossible to achieve, Amazon and Google have effectively undercut their fellow tech titan, providing the public with effective, affordably priced smart assistants that outperform even the newest Apple invention: the HomePod.

However, some consumers are still conflicted, unsure of which smart home assistant would best meet their needs — or if they even require a smart home assistant at all. With that in mind, let us compare these competing smart home hubs.

Amazon Echo

What was once just the Echo has expanded into an entire line of products, varying in shape, size, and price, making it one of the most consumer-friendly brands on the market.

Equipped with Alexa, Amazon’s wildly popular smart assistant, this smart device can do more than just answer the questions that pop into your mind. Instead, Alexa is capable of ordering pizzas, calling you an Uber, and connecting with your other smart devices — such as vacuum cleaners, fans, air purifiers, diffusers, and kitchen appliances.

Furthermore, these devices provide excellent sound quality, especially if you purchase the newest full-size Echo, which comes complete with Dolby Atmos speakers.

Google Home

The biggest competition for the Amazon Echo family is, without a doubt, Google Home. Available in three levels and sizes, this line is just as accessible, user-friendly, and affordable as its competitor.

Plus, this speaker is equipped with Google Assistant, a robust companion that is backed by the one and only search engine that shares its name. Because of this, Google Assistant has been proven to answer questions faster and more accurately than Amazon’s Alexa.

Additionally, this device is able to understand questions of varying structures and carry on comprehensible conversations. Finally, Google Assistant is also capable of differentiating between users via Voice Match, meaning their personal data — such as login credentials, banking information, and Netflix access codes — are completely inaccessible by those with whom they share the device.

Apple HomePod

Last and, unfortunately, least, we have the Apple HomePod. Originally, this device was slated to hit the shelves just before Christmas 2017, making it a strong competitor to Amazon and Google alike. However, due to some production issues, the Apple HomePod was delayed until just this month, effectively losing Apple the advantage it so desired.

Now that the device has been made available to the public, many consumers are underwhelmed by its design, features and, most importantly, price point. Granted, the HomePod is equipped with six microphones to ensure Siri can hear your every word, regardless of your distance, but that is really its only standalone feature. That is, unless you subscribe to Apple Music, own an iOS device, and do not mind spending $350 on a smart assistant that will likely misunderstand your request.

Users with Android phones or those who are not subscribed to Apple Music will likely encounter some issues, as the device is not compatible with competitors’ smartphones, Spotify, Pandora, or virtually anything outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Ultimately, the decision is the consumer’s to make. However, it is important to note that some of these smart assistants clearly outperform others. So, be sure to look past brand names and choose the device that would best suit your own needs, rather than dropping an exorbitant amount of money on a lackluster product.

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What Are the Financial Risks of Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is one of society’s hottest topics. Late last year, in October, 2017, J.P. Morgan Chase chief executive officer Jamie Dimon answered a media member’s question about Bitcoin with this inflammatory response:

“If you’re stupid enough to buy [Bitcoin], you’ll pay the price for it one day.”

When Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett was asked for his opinion on investing in Bitcoin. He responded by stating:

“You can’t value Bitcoin, because it’s not a value-producing asset. . . [there is] a real bubble in that sort of thing.”

While all cryptocurrencies carry an elevated risk, they are also capable of becoming an investment that garner substantial returns to investors. This statement can be exemplified by the rapid and unprecedented growth cryptocurrency experienced just last year.

As of January 1st, 2017, the price of Bitcoin, the mother of all cryptocurrencies, was just under $1,000, in terms of United States dollars.

By late December, Bitcoin experienced a massive spike, causing its price to rise to nearly $20,000. However, it has also lost considerable value, as its price has dropped to short of $9,000 just one month after its previously mentioned rally.

In spite of its pitfalls, many are still entertaining the idea of investing in Bitcoin. If you fall under that category, it is important you consider the financial risks of doing so. In order to make the most informed decision possible, let us review some of the most relevant, substantial risks that investing in cryptocurrency can bring.

Bitcoin’s value is almost as unpredictable as the lottery

Unless luck is on one’s side, consistently winning lottery jackpots is indisputably impossible. While profiting off of Bitcoin is not as unpredictable as the lottery, per se, what is true is that nobody on planet Earth can reliably predict the price of Bitcoin — or any cryptocurrency, for that matter.

Buying and holding Bitcoin in hopes of generating a profit is a bad idea for most investors. Unless one can afford to throw away their investment entirely — take this advice in a literal sense — investing in Bitcoin is likely not their best option.

Bitcoin does not guarantee long-term success

Individuals invest money to grow wealth over time, or at least protect against inflation. Unfortunately, investing in Bitcoin is not a reliable method of achieving those goals.

As an investor that is focused on consistently generating returns, why not invest your hard-earned money into tried-and-true financial instruments that are almost certain to generate profits in the long run, such as stocks, mutual funds, or personal retirement accounts?

After all, even the most daring financial advisors will say betting on Bitcoin is essentially gambling. So, if you can afford to gamble, riding the rollercoaster that is Bitcoin’s daily candlestick charts will likely prove fun. If not, it would be in your best interest to explore other options.

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