• GPS could be getting a major upgrade
  • How to visit Tokyo, Japan, for $50
  • You won’t believe what we just found under the Mars South Pole…

Dear Reader,

I always get a chuckle when I read some article or opinion about how cryptocurrencies are bad because they are used so widely for illicit transactions.

Of course, it’s true that cryptocurrencies are sometimes used for illicit transactions.

In fact, last year set a record. $790 million of illicit transactions took place. That’s not good at all, but for perspective, that represents just 0.2% of the global cryptocurrency market capitalization of $339 billion.

Ironically, we might be surprised to know that the U.S. dollar is the most widely used currency for illegal transactions. In the U.S. alone, more than $150 billion was spent in 2017 on illegal drug transactions. That puts global illicit cryptocurrency transactions to shame.

But it gets far worse than that.

The much larger problem is money laundering. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the amount to be between 2–5% of global GDP, or somewhere between $800 billion–$2 trillion annually… each and every year. Unbelievable.

So it came as no surprise when news about the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) files was leaked.

Thanks to some great work by BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the world now has a small view on how deep the rabbit hole really goes…

They got their hands on more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports filed by U.S. and international banks, which represent more than $2 trillion of suspicious transactions between 1999 and 2017. Do we recognize any of these names?

  • JPMorgan Chase

  • Citigroup

  • Bank of America

  • Deutsche Bank

  • HSBC

  • Standard Chartered

What exactly are they up to? Here are a few examples…

BuzzFeed reported that Standard Chartered has been moving money for the Taliban. JPMorgan Chase and the Bank of New York Mellon have been moving money for North Korea, and JPMorgan has also moved more than $1 billion related to massive fraud involving a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

The figures above are just a drop in the bucket of the $2 trillion in suspicious transactions already identified.

Furthermore, who knows how many more transactions weren’t reported to FinCEN. It’s clear that the banks turn their heads and enjoy the business because FinCEN isn’t really looking too hard. That means some really bad outfits are running free and manipulating the global banking system to support their illegal activities.

Should we trust these same banks with our money? Should we trust that they’ll operate in a conflict-free way? Can we trust that they will run a fair and equitable process for taking private companies public?

I think we know the answer…

Ironically, currencies based on blockchain technology are far more secure than fiat currency transactions. And for most blockchain technology, all currency transactions are traceable. Every single transaction with a currency like bitcoin or ether is recorded on an immutable ledger – a blockchain – as a matter of permanent record. That makes it a lot more difficult to use cryptos for illicit purposes.

The blockchain industry is still maturing, but this is the future. And it is one in which banks and central governments will have less control to manipulate, and if done right, one in which there is dramatically less crime.

The Starlink satellite constellation just got a new use case…

We last talked about the Starlink satellite constellation after its fifth launch back in February.

To bring new readers up to speed, Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite constellation. The stated goal is to create a satellite network around the Earth that can provide internet access to anywhere on the planet.

And in addition to internet, I believe that Starlink will ultimately become a global backhaul network for space. It will allow satellites to communicate with base stations on Earth 24 hours a day, uninterrupted.

To build the network, Starlink is conducting satellite launches at least once a month. It will have three launches in October alone. It now has more than 700 satellites in space. And the goal is to blanket the Earth with up to 42,000 satellites.

New research out of the University of Texas at Austin that was funded by the U.S. Army suggests Starlink can also be used to revamp our legacy Global Positioning System (GPS).

I’m not sure this is well known, but GPS is not at all precise. There’s quite a lot of drift in the system. It is often several meters off even in normal conditions. And if something moves out of a satellite’s range, its GPS location can be even more inaccurate.

This can be dangerous. If we think about a self-driving car using GPS to navigate, a few meters difference could put the car in a ditch.

What’s more, our GPS is not secure. It’s not hard to “spoof” a GPS location. That’s the process of creating a fake location for something like a truck or a ship at sea. It’s also not difficult to block GPS signals, making it even less accurate.

Now this isn’t really surprising. GPS was created by the Department of Defense way back in 1973. And it was approved for civilian use in 1980.

We’re talking about a legacy system that’s been around longer than the first mass-market personal computer. GPS is long overdue for an upgrade.

And the current satellite coverage is weak. Today there are only 31 operational GPS satellites in orbit. That means Starlink already has 21 times more satellites up and running.

By upgrading the GPS and enabling it on Starlink through a software upgrade, it is estimated that we can improve GPS accuracy by a factor of ten. And we can fix many of the security flaws inherent in the current system as well. So this is a great new use case for SpaceX and Starlink.

Now, it’s still a bit early to look at Starlink as a possible investment target. But just a few days ago, Elon Musk stated his plans to take Starlink public in a few years once revenue growth is “smooth & predictable.”

That’s a smart move. Wall Street hates “lumpy” revenue growth. A predictable revenue stream would make Starlink a much more attractive investment.

Interestingly, Musk added, “I’m a huge fan of small retail investors. Will make sure they get top priority. You can hold me to it.”

So a tip of the hat to Elon Musk and Starlink. This could be an exciting investment opportunity down the line.

Amazon just created a brand-new marketplace…

We talked about Amazon’s big product announcement day on Tuesday. Well, it turns out the company had one more piece of news up its sleeve.

Amazon just announced a new service called Amazon Explore. This is a platform that brings live travel experiences to the comfort of our homes.

With Amazon Explore, people can sign up for travel experiences such as a walking tour of Prague or Quebec City. It also allows people to “sit in” on cooking classes or virtually visit art museums around the world.

And all of these experiences are available at very affordable rates. Experiences range from $10 to $200 depending on the type of excursion.

And here’s the best part – these experiences are provided by professionals who host them live over the internet. That’s right. These aren’t pre-recorded travel documentaries or cooking lessons. They’re live sessions with real people.

Amazon did what it always does. It created a marketplace to match up people who enjoy travel experiences with the professionals that provide them. It’s the perfect offering at a time when many people are hesitant to physically travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Imagine being able to sit in on a cooking class with our favorite TV chef. Or taking a live walking tour of the Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Here’s one that caught my eye – virtually sitting in at a Tokyo-based izakaya (Japanese pub) to learn about sake. Come to think of it, I think I could give that class myself.

Source: Amazon

It all happens from our living rooms for a tiny fraction of the cost and time it would take to physically travel. It isn’t the same as actually being there, but it does create the opportunity to experience the world in ways that most will never get the chance to do.

And just like Amazon’s e-commerce platform has become the largest marketplace for third-party vendors to sell their goods, Amazon Explore will become the largest marketplace for travel professionals offering live experiences. Except now they aren’t constrained by a physical location.

Having spent most of my adult life living and working outside of my home country, I can’t say enough about how valuable it is to experience other countries and cultures. It fosters a completely different level of awareness and acceptance of cultures and people that may be very different from our own.

Even more evidence that there is life on Mars…

Back in July, we talked about how a new NASA rover named Perseverance was going to Mars to explore an old river delta. We posited that it may be an indication that there is still water beneath the red planet’s surface.

And of course, where there is water, there could very well be life.

Well, new research published in Nature Astronomy shows that there is far more water under the surface of Mars than we ever thought possible. This research stems from data collected by an Italian research team back in 2018.

Early analysis identified a large lake about 1.5 kilometers (km) beneath Mars’ south pole. And get this – the lake is about 20 km in length. That’s massive! It’s nearly as big as the famous Loch Ness, which is 36 km long.

And as the researchers continued with their analysis, they found three additional lakes under the surface of Mars, all within 50 km of the first one. These three are also about 1.5 km below the surface. And they are between 10 and 30 km long.

It appears that these are all saltwater lakes. And the data suggests that there are other minerals in the water as well.

That means the chances of life on Mars have increased significantly. It is highly likely that there are at least microbes living in these underground, subglacial bodies. And it is possible there are even larger forms of life in them. What an exciting prospect!

This bodes well for our ambitions to establish a manned presence on the red planet.

With modern desalinization technology, we could create fresh drinking water from these underground lakes. And we also have the tech necessary to split the water’s hydrogen from the oxygen to create fuel for spacecraft.

So this is a fantastic development from all angles. The age of space exploration is upon us.

Now all we need to do is get there in the near future… and that is, of course, where SpaceX comes in.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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