Why ‘Libra’?


June 19, 2019

Today, fish bladders are poisoning the sea and chatbot therapists are coming for your chi, but first…
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Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency is already making waves: Here’s what you need to know

Take a deep breath: It’s another story with the words “Facebook” and “Libra” in it. 

We probably won’t be the first to tell you, but Facebook released a white paper about its new cryptocurrency, Libra.

But don’t worry: We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about it… without making you puke up your morning smoothie.

It was written in the stars: ‘Facebook will reinvent money’

Libra is a cryptocurrency designed to be sent instantly across the world. Here’s how it works: Libra will be a stablecoin, meaning that, unlike Bitcoin, it’s backed by hard currencies like the dollar and yen. 

Once the coin is operational — sometime in 2020, if Facebook’s being straight with us — the social network’s 2.7B users will theoretically be able to use the coin to pay for anything from an Uber ride to a cup of joe.

Whoa. Is Facebook the world’s bank now?

Not exactly. A team at Facebook created Libra, but Libra will be run by a Switzerland-based non-profit consortium called “The Libra Association.” Facebook will get 1 vote, like all the other members. 

The Libra Association will start with 27 “Founding Members” — each of whom paid $10m to process Libra transactions — but Facebook plans to expand that list to 100 before going live. 

By ceding operational control to a non-profit, the Big ’Book hopes it will be able to avoid past privacy concerns that have plagued its platform. 

But if Facebook isn’t in control, what’s in it for Zuck?

Ohhh, don’t you worry about Marky Mark and the Facebook Bunch… 

Facebook, like all other founding members of the consortium, will earn interest on all the transactions its processes.

But Facebook has a more important goal in mind: It launched a new company called Calibra that will serve as the crypto wallet that enables users to buy, store, and spend Libra coins. 

Down the road, Facebook could use Calibra to offer financial services like lending or investing, diversifying its revenue beyond advertising.

Tight, tight, tight. So… is it a win for consumers?

No surprises here… This one’s up for debate. 

Facebook claims Libra will make it easier and cheaper to transfer money, helping unbanked users avoid fees. But some critics are already saying Libra will have little impact on the unbanked other than pulling them deeper into FB-world.

Many bankers — and businessman-turned-Presidential-hopeful Andrew Yangpraised Libra’s potential. Regulators, on the other hand, have already demanded that Facebook pump the brakes on the project.  

One thing’s for sure: This crypto party ain’t over

Libra is the biggest, boldest move yet to move mainstream money in the direction of blockchain-based digital currency.

Libra will live or die based on whether users — who’ve been bamboozled by Facebook before — can find it in their hearts to trust a Facebook-founded platform to manage most of their money.  

But, given the growing number of partnerships between cool-kid crypto companies and old-school money-managing machines, it seems inevitable that crypto will make it to the mainstream.

Now, the real question is: Will Facebook wear crypto’s crown? (Because… you know… Google would probably look good in it, too).

Cuckoo for crypto
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Border authorities struggle to get a grip on the slimy business of ‘aquatic cocaine’

In recent years, authorities at the US-Mexican border have reeled in several suspicious smugglers carrying concealed kilos.

Just last month, Quartz reports, a California sheriff pulled over 2 men smuggling 104 pounds of premium product worth as much as $3.7m.

But these smugglers weren’t carrying cocaine or fentanyl. They were smuggling something slimier: fish bladders.

The bladder boom

The bladder of the totoaba, a giant fish found only in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, sells for up to $80k per kilo (which, according to the ultimate street drug price authority, Quora, is more than cocaine in many US cities).

Totoaba bladders — which can sell for as much as $137k apiece — are called the “Mercedes Benz of dried fish” in Hong Kong, where they’re prized as a soup ingredient for their alleged anti-aging properties.

But there’s a dark side to the bladder boom

Chinese bladder barons only set their sights on totoabas after they’d battered the bladders of Chinese yellow croakers to the brink of extinction.

Today, totoaba are severely endangered, and the booming bladder black market is threatening to wipe out the species (along with vaquitas, Mexican porpoises that are even more critically endangered). 

Plus, since the Sinaloa cartel — the world’s most dangerous drug-trafficking criminal group — recently invested in the totoaba trade, the business of the bladder is bound to get even badder.

» It’s a bladder-of-fact
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Episode: Sad in Silicon Valley
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Chatbot therapists are on the rise

Youper, a startup that makes an AI-powered, digital “mental health assistant,” raised $3m in seed funding, TechCrunch reports.

It’s not just Youper: Several fast-growing companies are building AI chatbots to provide mental health care. 

Some humanoids believe bots will revolutionize mental health, but others are concerned about the ethics of robo-therapists.

Youper says bots break down barriers

Youper already has 1m users. The company, which currently offers the chatbot for free, told TechCrunch it’s considering transitioning to a freemium model.

According to the Youper team, chatbots are more accessible than therapists because they are more private and less stigmatized.

“On average, it takes 10 years for someone to finally talk to a health provider,” Dr. Jose Hamilton, one of Youper’s co-founders, says. “This could become 10 minutes with an app like Youper.”

But not everyone believes in bots

Other AI chatbots — with names like Woebot, Wysa, and Tess — offer similar services. But human therapists remain wary of a world where bots replace human therapy altogether.

“Depending on the [chatbot’s language] abilities there might be some missed opportunities or potential misunderstandings,” Dr. Beth Jaworski, mobile apps specialist at the National Center for PTSD, told The Wall Street Journal.

» Bot-a bing, bot-a boom.
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