More on NFTs & Art
4 months ago
Most people are unaware of how artificial intelligence (A.I.) is changing the world.
Recently, I saw an interesting social media post. In an entrepreneurship forum. A blogger asked for help because he/she couldn't find customers. I now suspect that the writer’s occupation is being disrupted by A.I.
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) has been a hot topic since the 1950s. With recent advances in machine learning, A.I. will touch almost every aspect of our lives. This article will discuss A.I. technology and its social and economic implications.
A computer program or machine with A.I. can think and learn. In general, it's a way to make a computer smart. Able to understand and execute complex tasks. Machine learning, NLP, and robotics are common types of A.I.
AI's global impact
AI will change the world, but probably faster than you think. A.I. already affects our daily lives. It improves our decision-making, efficiency, and productivity.
A.I. is transforming our lives and the global economy. It will create new business and job opportunities but eliminate others. Affected workers may face financial hardship.
OpenAI's GPT-3 text-generation
Developers can train, deploy, and manage models on GPT-3. It handles data preparation, model training, deployment, and inference for machine learning workloads. GPT-3 is easy to use for both experienced and new data scientists.
My team conducted an experiment. We needed to generate some blog posts for a website. We hired a blogger on Upwork. OpenAI created a blog post. The A.I.-generated blog post was of higher quality and lower cost.
MidjourneyAI's Art Contests
AI already affects artists. Artists use A.I. to create realistic 3D images and videos for digital art. A.I. is also used to generate new art ideas and methods.
MidjourneyAI and GigapixelAI won a contest last month. It's AI. created a beautiful piece of art that captured the contest's spirit. AI triumphs. It could open future doors.
After the art contest win, I registered to try out these new image generating A.I.s. In the MidjourneyAI chat forum, I noticed an artist's plea. The artist begged others to stop flooding RedBubble with AI-generated art.
Shutterstock and Getty Images have halted user uploads. AI-generated images flooded online marketplaces.
Imagining Videos with Meta
Meta released Make-a-Video this week. It's an A.I. app that creates videos from text. What you type creates a video.
This technology will impact TV, movies, and video games greatly. Imagine a movie or game that's personalized to your tastes. It's closer than you think.
Uses and Abuses of Deepfakes
Deepfake videos are computer-generated images of people. AI creates realistic images and videos of people.
Deepfakes are entertaining but have social implications. Porn introduced deepfakes in 2017. People put famous faces on porn actors and actresses without permission.
Soon, deepfakes were used to show dead actors/actresses or make them look younger. Carrie Fischer was included in films after her death using deepfake technology.
Deepfakes can be used to create fake news or manipulate public opinion, according to an AI.
Voices for Darth Vader and Iceman
James Earl Jones, who voiced Darth Vader, sold his voice rights this week. Aged actor won't be in those movies. Respeecher will use AI to mimic Jones's voice. This technology could change the entertainment industry. One actor can now voice many characters.
AI can generate realistic voice audio from text. Top Gun 2 actor Val Kilmer can't speak for medical reasons. Sonantic created Kilmer's voice from the movie script. This entertaining technology has social implications. It blurs authentic recordings and fake media.
Medical A.I. fights viruses
A team of Chinese scientists used machine learning to predict effective antiviral drugs last year. They started with a large dataset of virus-drug interactions. Researchers combined that with medication and virus information. Finally, they used machine learning to predict effective anti-virus medicines. This technology could solve medical problems.
AI ideas AI-generated Itself
OpenAI's GPT-3 predicted future A.I. uses. Here's what it told me:
AI will affect the economy. Businesses can operate more efficiently and reinvest resources with A.I.-enabled automation. AI can automate customer service tasks, reducing costs and improving satisfaction.
A.I. makes better pricing, inventory, and marketing decisions. AI automates tasks and makes decisions. A.I.-powered robots could help the elderly or disabled. Self-driving cars could reduce accidents.
A.I. predictive analytics can predict stock market or consumer behavior trends and patterns. A.I. also personalizes recommendations. sways. A.I. recommends products and movies. AI can generate new ideas based on data analysis.
A.I. will change business as it becomes more common. It will change how we live and work by creating growth and prosperity.
Exciting times, but also one which should give us all pause. Technology can be good or evil. We must use new technologies ethically, fairly, and honestly.
“The author generated some sentences in this text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication. The text of this post was further edited using HemingWayApp. Many of the images used were generated using A.I. as described in the captions.”
3 months ago
Starbucks' NFT Project recently defeated its rivals.
The same way Amazon killed bookstores. You just can’t see it yet.
Shultz globalized coffee. Before Starbucks, coffee sucked.
All accounts say 1970s coffee was awful.
Starbucks had three stores selling ground Indonesian coffee in the 1980s.
What a show!
A year after joining the company at 29, Shultz traveled to Italy for R&D.
He noticed the coffee shops' sense of theater and community and realized Starbucks was in the wrong business.
Integrating coffee and destination created a sense of community in the store.
He told Starbucks' founders about his experience.
For two years.
Shultz left and opened an Italian coffee shop chain like any good entrepreneur.
Starbucks ran into financial trouble, so the founders offered to sell to Shultz.
Shultz bought Starbucks in 1987 for $3.8 million, including six stores and a payment plan.
Starbucks is worth $100.79Billion, per Google Finance.
26,500 times Shultz's initial investment
Starbucks is releasing its own NFT Platform under Shultz and his early Vision.
This year, Starbucks Odyssey launches. The new digital experience combines a Loyalty Rewards program with NFT.
The side chain Polygon-based platform doesn't require a Crypto Wallet. Customers can earn and buy digital assets to unlock incentives and experiences.
They've removed all friction, making it more immersive and convenient than a coffee shop.
NFTs are the access coupon to their digital community, but they don't highlight the technology.
They prioritize consumer experience by adding non-technical users to Web3. Their collectables are called journey stamps, not NFTs.
No mention of bundled gas fees.
Brady Brewer, Starbucks' CMO, said;
“It happens to be built on blockchain and web3 technologies, but the customer — to be honest — may very well not even know that what they’re doing is interacting with blockchain technology. It’s just the enabler,”
Rewards members will log into a web app using their loyalty program credentials to access Starbucks Odyssey. They won't know about blockchain transactions.
Starbucks has just dealt its rivals a devastating blow.
It generates more than ten times the revenue of its closest competitor Costa Coffee.
The coffee giant is booming.
Starbucks is ahead of its competitors. No wonder.
They have an innovative, adaptable leadership team.
Starbucks' DNA challenges the narrative, especially when others reject their ideas.
I’m off for a cappuccino.
5 months ago
A visual exploration of the REAL use cases for NFTs in the Future
In this essay, I studied REAL NFT use examples and their potential uses.
Knowledge of the Hype Cycle
Gartner's Hype Cycle.
It proposes 5 phases for disruptive technology.
1. Technology Trigger: the emergence of potentially disruptive technology.
2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity creates hype. (Ex: 2021 Bubble)
3. Trough of Disillusionment: Early projects fail to deliver on promises and the public loses interest. I suspect NFTs are somewhere around this trough of disillusionment now.
4. Enlightenment slope: The tech shows successful use cases.
5. Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption has arrived and broader market applications have proven themselves. Here’s a more detailed visual of the Gartner Hype Cycle from Wikipedia.
In the speculative NFT bubble of 2021, @beeple sold Everydays: the First 5000 Days for $69 MILLION in 2021's NFT bubble.
@nbatopshot sold millions in video collectibles.
This is when expectations peaked.
Let's examine NFTs' real-world applications.
Watch this video if you're unfamiliar with NFTs.
Most people think NFTs are rich people buying worthless JPEGs and MP4s.
Digital artwork and collectibles are revolutionary for creators and enthusiasts.
NFT Profile Pictures
You might also have seen NFT profile pictures on Twitter.
My profile picture is an NFT I coined with @skogards factoria app, which helps me avoid bogus accounts.
Profile pictures are a good beginning point because they're unique and clearly yours.
NFTs are a way to represent proof-of-ownership. It’s easier to prove ownership of digital assets than physical assets, which is why artwork and pfps are the first use cases.
They can do much more.
NFTs can represent anything with a unique owner and digital ownership certificate. Domains and usernames.
Usernames & Domains
@unstoppableweb, @ensdomains, @rarible sell NFT domains.
NFT domains are transferable, which is a benefit.
Godaddy and other web2 providers have difficult-to-transfer domains. Domains are often leased instead of purchased.
NFTs can also represent concert tickets and event passes.
There's a limited number, and entry requires proof.
NFTs can eliminate the problem of forgery and make it easy to verify authenticity and ownership.
NFT tickets can be traded on the secondary market, which allows for:
marketplaces that are uniform and offer the seller and buyer security (currently, tickets are traded on inefficient markets like FB & craigslist)
Payment of royalties to the creator
4. Historical ticket ownership data implies performers can airdrop future passes, discounts, etc.
5. NFT passes can be a fandom badge.
The $30B+ online tickets business is increasing fast.
NFT-based ticketing projects:
NFTs also help in-game assets.
Imagine someone spending five years collecting a rare in-game blade, then outgrowing or quitting the game. Gamers value that collectible.
The gaming industry is expected to make $200 BILLION in revenue this year, a significant portion of which comes from in-game purchases.
Royalties on secondary market trading of gaming assets encourage gaming businesses to develop NFT-based ecosystems.
Digital assets are the start. On-chain NFTs can represent real-world assets effectively.
Real estate has a unique owner and requires ownership confirmation.
Tokenizing property has many benefits.
1. Can be fractionalized to increase access, liquidity
2. Can be collateralized to increase capital efficiency and access to loans backed by an on-chain asset
3. Allows investors to diversify or make bets on specific neighborhoods, towns or cities +++
I've written about this thought exercise before.
I made an animated video explaining this.
We've just explored NFTs for transferable assets. But what about non-transferrable NFTs?
SBTs are Soul-Bound Tokens. Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum co-founder) blogged about this.
NFTs are basically verifiable digital certificates.
Diplomas & Degrees
That fits Degrees & Diplomas. These shouldn't be marketable, thus they can be non-transferable SBTs.
Anyone can verify the legitimacy of on-chain credentials, degrees, abilities, and achievements.
The same goes for other awards.
For example, LinkedIn could give you a verified checkmark for your degree or skills.
NFTs can also safeguard against counterfeiting.
Counterfeiting is the largest criminal enterprise in the world, estimated to be $2 TRILLION a year and growing.
Anti-counterfeit tech is valuable.
This is one of @ORIGYNTech's projects.
Identity theft/verification is another real-world problem NFTs can handle.
In the US, 15 million+ citizens face identity theft every year, suffering damages of over $50 billion a year.
This isn't surprising considering all you need for US identity theft is a 9-digit number handed around in emails, documents, on the phone, etc.
Identity NFTs can fix this.
NFTs are one-of-a-kind and unforgeable.
NFTs offer a universal standard.
NFTs are simple to verify.
SBTs, or non-transferrable NFTs, are tied to a particular wallet.
In the event of wallet loss or theft, NFTs may be revoked.
This could be one of the biggest use cases for NFTs.
Imagine a global identity standard that is standardized across countries, cannot be forged or stolen, is digital, easy to verify, and protects your private details.
Since your identity is more than your government ID, you may have many NFTs.
@0xPolygon and @civickey are developing on-chain identity.
NFTs can authenticate digital and physical memberships.
NFT IDs can verify votes.
If you remember 2020, you'll know why this is an issue.
Online voting's ease can boost turnout.
NFTs can protect IP.
This can earn creators royalties.
NFTs have 2 important properties:
Verifiability IP ownership is unambiguously stated and publicly verified.
Platforms that enable authors to receive royalties on their IP can enter the market thanks to standardization.
Monetization without copyrighting = more opportunities for everyone.
This works well with the music.
Spotify and Apple Music pay creators very little.
Creators can crowdfund with NFTs.
NFTs can represent future royalties for investors.
This is particularly useful for fields where people who are not in the top 1% can’t make money. (Example: Professional sports players)
Mirror.xyz allows blog-based crowdfunding.
This introduces Financial NFTs (fNFTs). Unique financial contracts abound.
a person's collection of assets (unique portfolio)
A loan contract that has been partially repaid with a lender
temporal tokens (ex: veCRV)
Not just financial contracts.
NFT can represent any legal contract or document.
Messages & Emails
What about other agreements? Verbal agreements through emails and messages are likewise unique, but they're easily lost and fabricated.
Medical records or prescriptions are another types of documentation that has to be verified but isn't.
Medical NFT examples:
Covid test outcomes
health issues that may affect one's identity
Observations made via health sensors
Existing systems of proof by paper / PDF have photoshop-risk.
I tried to include most use scenarios, but this is just the beginning.
NFTs have many innovative uses.
For example: @ShaanVP minted an NFT called “5 Minutes of Fame” 👇
Here are 2 Twitter threads about NFTs:
This piece of gold by @chriscantino
2. This conversation between @punk6529 and @RaoulGMI on @RealVision“The World According to @punk6529”
If you're wondering why NFTs are better than web2 databases for these use scenarios, see this Twitter thread I wrote:
If you liked this, please share it.
You might also like
4 months ago
The Top 5 Mathematical Concepts Every Programmer Needs to Know
Using math to write efficient code in any language
A generic source code includes language-specific grammar, pre-implemented function calls, mathematical operators, and control statements. Some mathematical principles assist us enhance our programming and problem-solving skills.
We all use basic mathematical concepts like formulas and relational operators (aka comparison operators) in programming in our daily lives. Beyond these mathematical syntaxes, we'll see discrete math topics. This narrative explains key math topics programmers must know. Master these ideas to produce clean and efficient software code.
Expressions in mathematics and built-in mathematical functions
A source code can only contain a mathematical algorithm or prebuilt API functions. We develop source code between these two ends. If you create code to fetch JSON data from a RESTful service, you'll invoke an HTTP client and won't conduct any math. If you write a function to compute the circle's area, you conduct the math there.
When your source code gets more mathematical, you'll need to use mathematical functions. Every programming language has a math module and syntactical operators. Good programmers always consider code readability, so we should learn to write readable mathematical expressions.
Linux utilizes clear math expressions.
Inbuilt max and min functions can minimize verbose if statements.
How can we compute the number of pages needed to display known data? In such instances, the ceil function is often utilized.
import math as m results = 102 items_per_page = 10 pages = m.ceil(results / items_per_page) print(pages)
Learn to write clear, concise math expressions.
Combinatorics in Algorithm Design
Combinatorics theory counts, selects, and arranges numbers or objects. First, consider these programming-related questions. Four-digit PIN security? what options exist? What if the PIN has a prefix? How to locate all decimal number pairs?
Combinatorics questions. Software engineering jobs often require counting items. Combinatorics counts elements without counting them one by one or through other verbose approaches, therefore it enables us to offer minimum and efficient solutions to real-world situations. Combinatorics helps us make reliable decision tests without missing edge cases. Write a program to see if three inputs form a triangle. This is a question I commonly ask in software engineering interviews.
Graph theory is a subfield of combinatorics. Graph theory is used in computerized road maps and social media apps.
Logarithms and Geometry Understanding
Geometry studies shapes, angles, and sizes. Cartesian geometry involves representing geometric objects in multidimensional planes. Geometry is useful for programming. Cartesian geometry is useful for vector graphics, game development, and low-level computer graphics. We can simply work with 2D and 3D arrays as plane axes.
GetWindowRect is a Windows GUI SDK geometric object.
High-level GUI SDKs and libraries use geometric notions like coordinates, dimensions, and forms, therefore knowing geometry speeds up work with computer graphics APIs.
How does exponentiation's inverse function work? Logarithm is exponentiation's inverse function. Logarithm helps programmers find efficient algorithms and solve calculations. Writing efficient code involves finding algorithms with logarithmic temporal complexity. Programmers prefer binary search (O(log n)) over linear search (O(n)). Git source specifies O(log n):
Logarithms aid with programming math. Metas Watchman uses a logarithmic utility function to find the next power of two.
Employing Mathematical Data Structures
Programmers must know data structures to develop clean, efficient code. Stack, queue, and hashmap are computer science basics. Sets and graphs are discrete arithmetic data structures. Most computer languages include a set structure to hold distinct data entries. In most computer languages, graphs can be represented using neighboring lists or objects.
Using sets as deduped lists is powerful because set implementations allow iterators. Instead of a list (or array), store WebSocket connections in a set.
Most interviewers ask graph theory questions, yet current software engineers don't practice algorithms. Graph theory challenges become obligatory in IT firm interviews.
Recognizing Applications of Recursion
A function in programming isolates input(s) and output(s) (s). Programming functions may have originated from mathematical function theories. Programming and math functions are different but similar. Both function types accept input and return value.
Recursion involves calling the same function inside another function. In its implementation, you'll call the Fibonacci sequence. Recursion solves divide-and-conquer software engineering difficulties and avoids code repetition. I recently built the following recursive Dart code to render a Flutter multi-depth expanding list UI:
Recursion is not the natural linear way to solve problems, hence thinking recursively is difficult. Everything becomes clear when a mathematical function definition includes a base case and recursive call.
Every codebase uses arithmetic operators, relational operators, and expressions. To build mathematical expressions, we typically employ log, ceil, floor, min, max, etc. Combinatorics, geometry, data structures, and recursion help implement algorithms. Unless you operate in a pure mathematical domain, you may not use calculus, limits, and other complex math in daily programming (i.e., a game engine). These principles are fundamental for daily programming activities.
Master the above math fundamentals to build clean, efficient code.
Jano le Roux
8 months ago
Here's What I Learned After 30 Days Analyzing Apple's Microcopy
Move people with tiny words.
Apple fanboy here.
Macs are awesome.
Their iPhones rock.
$19 cloths are great.
$999 stands are amazing.
I love Apple's microcopy even more.
It's like the marketing goddess bit into the Apple logo and blessed the world with microcopy.
I took on a 30-day micro-stalking mission.
Every time I caught myself wasting time on YouTube, I had to visit Apple’s website to learn the secrets of the marketing goddess herself.
We've learned. Golden apples are calling.
Cut the friction
Benefit-first, not commitment-first.
Brands lose customers through friction.
Most brands don't think like customers.
Brands want sales.
Brands want newsletter signups.
Here's their microcopy:
“Buy it now.”
“Sign up for our newsletter.”
Both are difficult. They ask for big commitments.
People are simple creatures. Want pleasure without commitment.
Apple nails this.
So, instead of highlighting the commitment, they highlight the benefit of the commitment.
Saving on the latest iPhone sounds easier than buying it. Everyone saves, but not everyone buys.
A subtle change in framing reduces friction.
Apple eliminates customer objections to reduce friction.
Less customer friction means simpler processes.
Apple's copy expertly reassures customers about shipping fees and not being home. Apple assures customers that returning faulty products is easy.
Apple knows that talking to a real person is the best way to reduce friction and improve their copy.
Learn about fine rhyme.
Poets make things beautiful with rhyme.
Copywriters use rhyme to stand out.
Apple’s copywriters have mastered the art of corporate rhyme.
Two techniques are used.
1. Perfect rhyme
Here, rhymes are identical.
2. Imperfect rhyme
Here, rhyming sounds vary.
Apple prioritizes meaning over rhyme.
Apple never forces rhymes that don't fit.
It fits so well that the copy seems accidental.
Alliteration always entertains.
Alliteration repeats initial sounds in nearby words.
Apple's copy uses alliteration like no other brand I've seen to create a rhyming effect or make the text more fun to read.
For example, in the sentence "Sam saw seven swans swimming," the initial "s" sound is repeated five times. This creates a pleasing rhythm.
Microcopy overuse is like pouring ketchup on a Michelin-star meal.
Alliteration creates a memorable phrase in copywriting. It's subtler than rhyme, and most people wouldn't notice; it simply resonates.
I love how Apple uses alliteration and contrast between "wonders" and "ease".
Assonance, or repeating vowels, isn't Apple's thing.
You ≠ Hero, Customer = Hero
Your brand shouldn't be the hero.
Because they'll be using your product or service, your customer should be the hero of your copywriting. With your help, they should feel like they can achieve their goals.
I love how Apple emphasizes what you can do with the machine in this microcopy.
It's divine how they position their tools as sidekicks to help below.
This one takes the cake:
Conversational copy engages.
Excellent copy Like sharing gum with a friend.
This helps build audience trust.
Apple does this by using natural connecting words like "so" and phrases like "But that's not all."
The mother of all microcopy techniques.
A snowclone uses an existing phrase or sentence to create a new one. The new phrase or sentence uses the same structure but different words.
It’s usually a well know saying like:
To be or not to be.
This becomes a formula:
To _ or not to _.
Copywriters fill in the blanks with cause-related words. Example:
To click or not to click.
Apple turns "survival of the fittest" into "arrival of the fittest."
It's unexpected and surprises the reader.
So this was fun.
But my fun has just begun.
Microcopy is 21st-century poetry.
I came as an Apple fanboy.
I leave as an Apple fanatic.
Now I’m off to find an apple tree.
Cause you know how it goes.
(Apples, trees, etc.)
This post is a summary. Original post available here.
9 months ago
Investors can bet big on almost anything on a new prediction market.
Kalshi allows five-figure bets on the Grammys, the next Covid wave, and future SEC commissioners. Worst-case scenario
On Election Day 2020, two young entrepreneurs received a call from the CFTC chairman. Luana Lopes Lara and Tarek Mansour spent 18 months trying to start a new type of financial exchange. Instead of betting on stock prices or commodity futures, people could trade instruments tied to real-world events, such as legislation, the weather, or the Oscar winner.
Heath Tarbert, a Trump appointee, shouted "Congratulations." "You're competing with 1840s-era markets. I'm sure you'll become a powerhouse too."
Companies had tried to introduce similar event markets in the US for years, but Tarbert's agency, the CFTC, said no, arguing they were gambling and prone to cheating. Now the agency has reversed course, approving two 24-year-olds who will have first-mover advantage in what could become a huge new asset class. Kalshi Inc. raised $30 million from venture capitalists within weeks of Tarbert's call, his representative says. Mansour, 26, believes this will be bigger than crypto.
Anyone who's read The Wisdom of Crowds knows prediction markets' potential. Well-designed markets can help draw out knowledge from disparate groups, and research shows that when money is at stake, people make better predictions. Lopes Lara calls it a "bullshit tax." That's why Google, Microsoft, and even the US Department of Defense use prediction markets internally to guide decisions, and why university-linked political betting sites like PredictIt sometimes outperform polls.
Regulators feared Wall Street-scale trading would encourage investors to manipulate reality. If the stakes are high enough, traders could pressure congressional staffers to stall a bill or bet on whether Kanye West's new album will drop this week. When Lopes Lara and Mansour pitched the CFTC, senior regulators raised these issues. Politically appointed commissioners overruled their concerns, and one later joined Kalshi's board.
Will Kanye’s new album come out next week? Yes or no?
Kalshi's victory was due more to lobbying and legal wrangling than to Silicon Valley-style innovation. Lopes Lara and Mansour didn't invent anything; they changed a well-established concept's governance. The result could usher in a new era of market-based enlightenment or push Wall Street's destructive tendencies into the real world.
If Kalshi's founders lacked experience to bolster their CFTC application, they had comical youth success. Lopes Lara studied ballet at the Brazilian Bolshoi before coming to the US. Mansour won France's math Olympiad. They bonded over their work ethic in an MIT computer science class.
Lopes Lara had the idea for Kalshi while interning at a New York hedge fund. When the traders around her weren't working, she noticed they were betting on the news: Would Apple hit a trillion dollars? Kylie Jenner? "It was anything," she says.
Are mortgage rates going up? Yes or no?
Mansour saw the business potential when Lopes Lara suggested it. He interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping investors prepare for the UK leaving the EU. Goldman sold clients complex stock-and-derivative combinations. As he discussed it with Lopes Lara, they agreed that investors should hedge their risk by betting on Brexit itself rather than an imperfect proxy.
Lopes Lara and Mansour hypothesized how a marketplace might work. They settled on a "event contract," a binary-outcome instrument like "Will inflation hit 5% by the end of the month?" The contract would settle at $1 (if the event happened) or zero (if it didn't), but its price would fluctuate based on market sentiment. After a good debate, a politician's election odds may rise from 50 to 55. Kalshi would charge a commission on every trade and sell data to traders, political campaigns, businesses, and others.
In October 2018, five months after graduation, the pair flew to California to compete in a hackathon for wannabe tech founders organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. They built a website in a day and a night and presented it to entrepreneurs the next day. Their prototype barely worked, but they won a three-month mentorship program and $150,000. Michael Seibel, managing director of Y Combinator, said of their idea, "I had to take a chance!"
Will there be another moon landing by 2025?
Seibel's skepticism was rooted in America's historical wariness of gambling. Roulette, poker, and other online casino games are largely illegal, and sports betting was only legal in a few states until May 2018. Kalshi as a risk-hedging platform rather than a bookmaker seemed like a good idea, but convincing the CFTC wouldn't be easy. In 2012, the CFTC said trading on politics had no "economic purpose" and was "contrary to the public interest."
Lopes Lara and Mansour cold-called 60 Googled lawyers during their time at Y Combinator. Everyone advised quitting. Mansour recalls the pain. Jeff Bandman, a former CFTC official, helped them navigate the agency and its characters.
When they weren’t busy trying to recruit lawyers, Lopes Lara and Mansour were meeting early-stage investors. Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital Operations LLC backed Airbnb, DoorDash, and Uber Technologies. Lin told the founders their idea could capitalize on retail trading and challenge how the financial world manages risk. "Come back with regulatory approval," he said.
In the US, even small bets on most events were once illegal. Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC can stop exchanges from listing contracts relating to "terrorism, assassination, war" and "gaming" if they are "contrary to the public interest," which was often the case.
Will subway ridership return to normal? Yes or no?
In 1988, as academic interest in the field grew, the agency allowed the University of Iowa to set up a prediction market for research purposes, as long as it didn't make a profit or advertise and limited bets to $500. PredictIt, the biggest and best-known political betting platform in the US, also got an exemption thanks to an association with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Today, it's a sprawling marketplace with its own subculture and lingo. PredictIt users call it "Rules Cuck Panther" when they lose on a technicality. Major news outlets cite PredictIt's odds on Discord and the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast.
CFTC limits PredictIt bets to $850. To keep traders happy, PredictIt will often run multiple variations of the same question, listing separate contracts for two dozen Democratic primary candidates, for example. A trader could have more than $10,000 riding on a single outcome. Some of the site's traders are current or former campaign staffers who can answer questions like "How many tweets will Donald Trump post from Nov. 20 to 27?" and "When will Anthony Scaramucci's role as White House communications director end?"
According to PredictIt co-founder John Phillips, politicians help explain the site's accuracy. "Prediction markets work well and are accurate because they attract people with superior information," he said in a 2016 podcast. “In the financial stock market, it’s called inside information.”
Will Build Back Better pass? Yes or no?
Trading on nonpublic information is illegal outside of academia, which presented a dilemma for Lopes Lara and Mansour. Kalshi's forecasts needed to be accurate. Kalshi must eliminate insider trading as a regulated entity. Lopes Lara and Mansour wanted to build a high-stakes PredictIt without the anarchy or blurred legal lines—a "New York Stock Exchange for Events." First, they had to convince regulators event trading was safe.
When Lopes Lara and Mansour approached the CFTC in the spring of 2019, some officials in the Division of Market Oversight were skeptical, according to interviews with people involved in the process. For all Kalshi's talk of revolutionizing finance, this was just a turbocharged version of something that had been rejected before.
The DMO couldn't see the big picture. The staff review was supposed to ensure Kalshi could complete a checklist, "23 Core Principles of a Designated Contract Market," which included keeping good records and having enough money. The five commissioners decide. With Trump as president, three of them were ideologically pro-market.
Lopes Lara, Mansour, and their lawyer Bandman, an ex-CFTC official, answered the DMO's questions while lobbying the commissioners on Zoom about the potential of event markets to mitigate risks and make better decisions. Before each meeting, they would write a script and memorize it word for word.
Will student debt be forgiven? Yes or no?
Several prediction markets that hadn't sought regulatory approval bolstered Kalshi's case. Polymarket let customers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously using cryptocurrencies, making it hard to track. Augur, which facilitates private wagers between parties using blockchain, couldn't regulate bets and hadn't stopped users from betting on assassinations. Kalshi, by comparison, argued it was doing everything right. (The CFTC fined Polymarket $1.4 million for operating an unlicensed exchange in January 2022. Polymarket says it's now compliant and excited to pioneer smart contract-based financial solutions with regulators.
Kalshi was approved unanimously despite some DMO members' concerns about event contracts' riskiness. "Once they check all the boxes, they're in," says a CFTC insider.
Three months after CFTC approval, Kalshi announced funding from Sequoia, Charles Schwab, and Henry Kravis. Sequoia's Lin, who joined the board, said Tarek, Luana, and team created a new way to invest and engage with the world.
The CFTC hadn't asked what markets the exchange planned to run since. After approval, Lopes Lara and Mansour had the momentum. Kalshi's March list of 30 proposed contracts caused chaos at the DMO. The division handles exchanges that create two or three new markets a year. Kalshi’s business model called for new ones practically every day.
Uncontroversial proposals included weather and GDP questions. Others, on the initial list and later, were concerning. DMO officials feared Covid-19 contracts amounted to gambling on human suffering, which is why war and terrorism markets are banned. (Similar logic doomed ex-admiral John Poindexter's Policy Analysis Market, a Bush-era plan to uncover intelligence by having security analysts bet on Middle East events.) Regulators didn't see how predicting the Grammy winners was different from betting on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Who, other than John Legend, would need to hedge the best R&B album winner?
Event contracts raised new questions for the DMO's product review team. Regulators could block gaming contracts that weren't in the public interest under the Commodity Exchange Act, but no one had defined gaming. It was unclear whether the CFTC had a right or an obligation to consider whether a contract was in the public interest. How was it to determine public interest? Another person familiar with the CFTC review says, "It was a mess." The agency didn't comment.
CFTC staff feared some event contracts could be cheated. Kalshi wanted to run a bee-endangerment market. The DMO pushed back, saying it saw two problems symptomatic of the asset class: traders could press government officials for information, and officials could delay adding the insects to the list to cash in.
The idea that traders might manipulate prediction markets wasn't paranoid. In 2013, academics David Rothschild and Rajiv Sethi found that an unidentified party lost $7 million buying Mitt Romney contracts on Intrade, a now-defunct, unlicensed Irish platform, in the runup to the 2012 election. The authors speculated that the trader, whom they dubbed the “Romney Whale,” may have been looking to boost morale and keep donations coming in.
Kalshi said manipulation and insider trading are risks for any market. It built a surveillance system and said it would hire a team to monitor it. "People trade on events all the time—they just use options and other instruments. This brings everything into the open, Mansour says. Kalshi didn't include election contracts, a red line for CFTC Democrats.
Lopes Lara and Mansour were ready to launch kalshi.com that summer, but the DMO blocked them. Product reviewers were frustrated by spending half their time on an exchange that represented a tiny portion of the derivatives market. Lopes Lara and Mansour pressed politically appointed commissioners during the impasse.
Tarbert, the chairman, had moved on, but Kalshi found a new supporter in Republican Brian Quintenz, a crypto-loving former hedge fund manager. He was unmoved by the DMO's concerns, arguing that speculation on Kalshi's proposed events was desirable and the agency had no legal standing to prevent it. He supported a failed bid to allow NFL futures earlier this year. Others on the commission were cautious but supportive. Given the law's ambiguity, they worried they'd be on shaky ground if Kalshi sued if they blocked a contract. Without a permanent chairman, the agency lacked leadership.
To block a contract, DMO staff needed a majority of commissioners' support, which they didn't have in all but a few cases. "We didn't have the votes," a reviewer says, paraphrasing Hamilton. By the second half of 2021, new contract requests were arriving almost daily at the DMO, and the demoralized and overrun division eventually accepted defeat and stopped fighting back. By the end of the year, three senior DMO officials had left the agency, making it easier for Kalshi to list its contracts unimpeded.
Today, Kalshi is growing. 32 employees work in a SoHo office with big windows and exposed brick. Quintenz, who left the CFTC 10 months after Kalshi was approved, is on its board. He joined because he was interested in the market's hedging and risk management opportunities.
Mid-May, the company's website had 75 markets, such as "Will Q4 GDP be negative?" Will NASA land on the moon by 2025? The exchange recently reached 2 million weekly contracts, a jump from where it started but still a small number compared to other futures exchanges. Early adopters are PredictIt and Polymarket fans. Bets on the site are currently capped at $25,000, but Kalshi hopes to increase that to $100,000 and beyond.
With the regulatory drawbridge down, Lopes Lara and Mansour must move quickly. Chicago's CME Group Inc. plans to offer index-linked event contracts. Kalshi will release a smartphone app to attract customers. After that, it hopes to partner with a big brokerage. Sequoia is a major investor in Robinhood Markets Inc. Robinhood users could have access to Kalshi so that after buying GameStop Corp. shares, they'd be prompted to bet on the Oscars or the next Fed commissioner.
Some, like Illinois Democrat Sean Casten, accuse Robinhood and its competitors of gamifying trading to encourage addiction, but Kalshi doesn't seem worried. Mansour says Kalshi's customers can't bet more than they've deposited, making debt difficult. Eventually, he may introduce leveraged bets.
Tension over event contracts recalls another CFTC episode. Brooksley Born proposed regulating the financial derivatives market in 1994. Alan Greenspan and others in the government opposed her, saying it would stifle innovation and push capital overseas. Unrestrained, derivatives grew into a trillion-dollar industry until 2008, when they sparked the financial crisis.
Today, with a midterm election looming, it seems reasonable to ask whether Kalshi plans to get involved. Elections have historically been the biggest draw in prediction markets, with 125 million shares traded on PredictIt for 2020. “We can’t discuss specifics,” Mansour says. “All I can say is, you know, we’re always working on expanding the universe of things that people can trade on.”
Any election contracts would need CFTC approval, which may be difficult with three Democratic commissioners. A Republican president would change the equation.