1. The Fourth Dimension: The Evolution of 4D Printing

    By now, you have likely been wowed by the incredible technology of 3D printing. Currently, 3D printing is one of the most popular areas for technology research, as the industrial applications are abundant. Not only that, 3D printers have saturated the market, and are becoming increasingly more affordable and available to the public; you may even know someone with a 3D printer in their home. With a 3D printer, one can turn a digital file into a three-dimensional object before their very eyes, which seems to offer endless possibilities.1 It may seem like 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has only just been invented, but in actuality, it has been 30 years in the making.2 As 3D printing has turned a corner, so comes the new technology that everyone is talking about: 4D printing.

    What is 4D Printing?

    4D Printing uses 3D-printing technology and takes it to the next level. You could think of 4D printing as adding a fourth dimension to 3D printing: time. Essentially, 4D printing creates a three-dimensional object that changes according to its environment.3 4D printing uses geometric code so that the printed object can transform by itself.4 These “smart objects” can assemble themselves or change shape according to their environment. This exciting new technology has caught the attention of a variety of industries due to its many potential uses.

    History

    4D printing is a new technology that has only been in development since 2013.5 However, 3D printing — its predecessor that is essential to the technology, has been evolving over the last 30 years. It may seem as though 3D printing is newer than that because there have been so many recent innovations with the technology, but it all began in the 1980s with Charles Hull, co-founder of 3D Systems.6 In 1986, he patented stereolithography, a process that used digital data to create a three-dimensional model.7 In 1992, 3D systems created the first machine that performed this technique, called a stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) machine. Meanwhile, the two other main 3D printing technologies were being invented. In 1988, Carl Deckard of the University of Texas patented SLS technology, which 3D prints using a laser to fuse together powder grains.8 That same year, Scott Crump, co-founder of Stratasys, patented the Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) method of 3D printing, the most commonly used today.9 In Europe, EOS GmbH was founded by Hans Langer, which created the first “Stereos” system that offered the first production applications for 3D printing.

    In the 1990s, the world of 3D printing expanded, with new leaders emerging with new technologies. In 1992, Stratasys patented FDM, leading others to develop new ways to 3D print. Tools for 3D printing became more widely available, facilitated in part by the Sanders Prototype (now Solidscape) that was one of the first players to offer tools specifically designed for additive manufacturing.10 The ‘90s also saw incredible new applications for 3D printing in the medical field; the first lab-grown organ was engineered at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, opening up the door for a 3D printed prosthetic leg, mini-kidney, and blood vessels.11

    In 2004, the first self-replicating 3D printer was created. This enabled the mass production of these machines, and now people could have them in their homes. In 2005, the first color 3D printer was released by ZCorp.12 In 2009, the FDM patent was released to the public domain, which facilitated the invention of a slew of FDM 3D printers, the lowering of the price of 3D printers, and more visibility around this technology. Since then, the production of 3D printers has skyrocketed, and public awareness of 3D printing is higher than ever; in his 2013 presidential State of the Union address, Barack Obama mentioned 3D printing as a major issue for the future of the country.13 In the last ten years, 3D technology has seen giant leaps within the medical and commercial industries. In 2013, head of the Self-Assembly Lab of MIT Skylar Tibbits started research into 4D printing, which continues to develop today thanks to the teamwork of Self-Assembly Lab, Stratasys, and Autodesk.14 Today, with the new evolution of 4D technology, we have seen that the future is full of more incredible developments.

    How it Works

    A 4D printer is essentially a 3D printer that has been adapted to be able to print “smart” materials.15 3D printers use a layering process to create shapes, whether by SLA or any of the other methods. Regardless of which method is used, the basic premise of 3D printing is to successively build layers on top of one another to create a shape. In 4D printing, this same process is used, but is applied to create models that can change themselves. During the process, the smart material bonds with the plastic used to print the object and can absorb water. Once the object is printed, the water in the smart material expands, causing the shape to change. This enables the printed object to have several different dimensions; it could go from a 1D object to 3D, a 2D surface to a 3D object, or morph from one 3D shape to another.16 Each 4D model is specially designed to react and form a new shape when the water expands. While water is used in current prototypes, this material could potentially be made out of a variety of activation materials, such as temperature, vibration, pressure, or light. Once these new activation methods have been fully developed, the possibilities are endless.

    Military Applications

    The military has shown interest in 4D printing, granting a $855,000 grant to the 4D research efforts of a team of researchers from The University of Illinois, The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, and Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, respectively.17 While the research is still in its infancy, there are a lot of potential military applications for this technology. For example, there is a vision of a military vehicle that adapts to the environment in order to protect it from damage and corrosion.18 Additionally, there is talk of uniforms that are able to transform based on environment to better camouflage soldiers or to protect against poisonous gases or shrapnel, as well as self-assembling weaponry.19 This investment in 4D technology reflects the U.S. military’s desire to have a firm technological advantage in the battlefield, and 4D printing may reveal itself to be a great boon in the future.

    Commercial Applications

    The concept of 4D technology already has several commercial industries excited, and it isn’t hard to understand why. One such industry is the sportswear industry.20 Research is currently being conducted on a “smart shoe,” which would be able to turn into a running shoe when you run that would turn waterproof when you meet a puddle or otherwise adapt to changes in the environment. While many experiments have been conducted into other commercial applications for 4D printing, one can imagine how every industry could ultimately benefit. For example, boxes printed on a 4D printer would be able to unfold and refold themselves.21 Businesses could ship their inventory in these boxes, the boxes would fold themselves, and they could ship them back to the warehouse, saving them millions of dollars on the cost of shipping materials. Just imagine buying a piece of furniture and having it assemble itself once it is out of the box!22 4D printing could revolutionize so many industries that we cannot even fathom everything it will bring. When thinking along these lines, the possibilities are endless.

    Medical Applications

    Perhaps most astounding developments are the potential medical applications for 4D printing. Currently, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at Wollongong University is researching 4D printing applications for medicine.23 As we know, 3D printing has already revolutionized the medical field by making prosthetics and implants as well as fabricating tissues and organs.24 4D printing has the potential to be even more radical. One area of research currently being explored is the idea of 4D-printed medical implants.25 These implants could change shape according to changes in the body. For example, a 4D-printed cardiac tube could change shape in response to a sudden change in blood pressure. Additionally, this technology could be used to make drug capsules that release medication in response to illness; for example, if it were to respond with body temperature, the drugs would be released immediately when a fever begins.26

    Future Expectations

    In the future, 4D printing will have completely changed our world. Houses will be delivered to you in boxes and will assemble themselves. Bridges will never collapse because they will have the ability to repair any damage they experience.27 Your pipes will never freeze because they will be able to expand, contract, and adjust temperature according to the weather. Our clothes will adapt according to temperature and climate. We will live longer because our wearable medical technology will let us know the moment there are any health concerns on the horizon. We will be able to build structures on other planets because we will be able to send materials to deep space without the need for human beings or robots.28 Energy will be completely revolutionized as 4D printers will create solar panels that respond to temperature, expanding and contracting according to their settings.29 Once more research has been conducted, 4D printing promises to change life as we know it.

    Further Reading

    Interested in learning more about 3D and 4D printing? View the links below.

    The Emergence of 4D Printing – TED Talk by Skylar Tibbits
    Programmable Matter: 4D Printing’s Promises and Risk – Georgetown Journal
    3D Printing Raises Ethical Issues in Medicine – ABC Science
    How 4D Printing Is Now Saving Lives – Computerworld
    A Review on Recent Progresses in 4D Printing – Virtual and Physical Prototyping


    1. https://3dprinting.com/what-is-3d-printing/
    2. http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-4d-printing-35696
    3. https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/5423/pe-multi-material-4d-printing/
    4. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/Objects-That-Change-Shape-On-Their-Own-180951449/
    5. http://3dprinthq.com/what-is-4d-printing/
    6. https://www.allthat3d.com/3d-printing-history/
    7. https://3dprintingindustry.com/3d-printing-basics-free-beginners-guide/history/
    8. https://www.sculpteo.com/en/glossary/selective-laser-sintering-sls-definition/
    9. http://www.livescience.com/39810-fused-deposition-modeling.html
    10. http://www.solid-scape.com/about/
    11. https://redshift.autodesk.com/history-of-3d-printing/
    12. http://www.industryweek.com/emerging-technologies/history-3-d-printing-slideshow#slide-0-field_images-71422
    13. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=TPSkwndBUpQ&feature=youtu.be
    14. http://www.selfassemblylab.net/4DPrinting.php
    15. http://quartsoft.com/blog/201304/what-is-4d-printing
    16. http://www.stratasys.com/industries/education/research/4d-printing-project
    17. http://gizmodo.com/why-is-the-us-army-investing-in-4d-printing-1442964294
    18. https://creators.vice.com/en_uk/article/the-us-army-is-investing-in-4d-printing-expect-crazy-results
    19. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2440233/The-rise-4D-printing-From-self-assembling-furniture-camouflage-changing-tanks-U-S-Army-latest-group-develop-morphing-materials.html
    20. http://journal.georgetown.edu/programmable-matter-4d-printings-promises-and-risks/
    21. https://all3dp.com/4d-printing/
    22. https://sites.google.com/site/naomiastral/freaky-science/4d-printing-and-shape-shifting-technology—the-fourth-dimension
    23. http://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=12387
    24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189697/
    25. http://www.aventurine.com/what-is-4d-printing/
    26. https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/5423/pe-multi-material-4d-printing/
    27. http://www.livescience.com/40888-army-4d-printing-grant.html
    28. http://newatlas.com/water-sensitive-4d-printing/37238/
    29. https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/5423/pe-multi-material-4d-printing/
  2. The World-Changing Impact of Blockchain Technology

    In the last few years, you may have heard some buzz about blockchain technology. In a recent report from the World Economic Forum, it was estimated that by 2025, 10 percent of the GDP will be stored using blockchains or within related technology.1 With this in mind, it is imperative to understand this technology so you can take the jump on what will certainly be an abundance of opportunities.

    What is blockchain technology?

    Blockchain technology has been described as “the internet of value.”2 The internet is where we share information, and while we can transfer value (money) online, it requires intervention by financial institutions like banks. Currently, all online payment methods (like Paypal or Venmo) require connection to a bank account or credit card. Blockchain technology is intriguing because it offers the potential to eliminate the need to involve banks in transactions. Blockchain technology records transactions, confirms identity, and arranges contracts, all of which previously required a financial institution. Currently, blockchains, also known as “distributed ledgers” or “digital ledgers”3, are used to keep track of economic transactions of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies; however, this technology has the potential to revolutionize far more than financial services.

    Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

    The blockchain was invented by a person (or group) who goes by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the creator of bitcoin.4 Bitcoin are a kind of digital currency that is exchanged directly between two people in a transaction; no bank is necessary as an intermediary.5 Bitcoin was invented in response to the 2008 financial crisis; the mysterious Nakamoto, whose real identity has not been established, published an essay outlining the problems of the traditional fiat currency and presented bitcoin as an alternative.6 When it was first released, bitcoin excited people because it offered the possibility to escape the credit bubble cycle that is a staple of traditional currency. However, financial institutions also keep track of every transaction to ensure that no dollar is spent twice, and clearly, with paper currency, you can’t keep reusing the same bill over and over. With digital currency, there was the potential issue of someone using the same bitcoin again and again. Nakamoto created blockchains to combat this issue. This innovative cryptography is so advanced that it has proven impossible to attack, leading many to believe that either Nakamoto is a complete genius or is the pseudonym for a team of advanced programmers and economists. However, it is unlikely that the true identity of this brilliant innovator will be publicly known anytime soon; after all, it makes sense to hide when it comes to experimenting with currency too publicly. After all, when Hawaiian resident Bernard von NotHaus produced and sold “Liberty Dollars” in 2009 he was arrested and charged for breaking federal law. Nakamoto’s anonymity allows him (or her, or them) to provide this astounding digital currency to the world without repercussion.

    How it works

    In the context of bitcoin, the blockchain serves as a database that holds the payment history of every single bitcoin, serving as proof of ownership.7 The blockchain is then broadcast to a network of thousands of computers, which are known as “nodes.” These nodes are all over the globe and publicly available. Despite how open it is, it is also incredibly secure and trustworthy. How is that possible? Through its “consensus mechanism.” This is how nodes work in tandem to update the blockchain in response to transfers from one person to another.

    For example: Jill wishes to use bitcoin to pay Bill for his services. Jill and Bill both have their own bitcoin wallets, which is software that is used to store bitcoin by accessing the blockchain without identifying a user to this system. Jill’s wallet communicates with the blockchain, asking that her wallet loses bitcoin and Bill’s gains them. To confirm this, there are a number of steps the blockchain must go through. Upon receiving the proposal, the nodes work to check whether Jill has the bitcoin necessary to make this transaction. If she does, a specialized group of nodes called miners combine this proposal with other similar transactions, creating a new block for the blockchain. To do this, miners must feed data through a “hash” function, which simplifies the block into a string of digits of a certain length. This is a one-way process: while it’s simple for data to go to hash, hash cannot go back to data. While hash does not host this data, it is entirely unique to it. If a block is changed in any way, whether entirely or by a single digit, a different hash will result.

    The hash is then put into the header of the block. This header is used for a mathematical puzzle that again uses the hash function. This puzzle can only be solved using trial and error. Miners go through the trillions of possibilities to look for the answer to this puzzle. Once a miner discovers this solution, it is checked by other nodes (while solving takes time, checking is a simple process), and the solution is confirmed and updates the blockchain. The header’s hash becomes the new identifying string of the block, and it is officially part of the blockchain. Jill’s payment to Bill is confirmed and reflected in their bitcoin wallets.

    theuseofdataanalyticsinfinancialmarkets-cta

    This method introduces three factors that ensure the security of bitcoin. The first is chance. There is no way to predict which miner will find the solution to the puzzle, so it is impossible to determine who will update the blockchain; this makes it difficult to trick the system. Next, the extensive history within the blockchain serves as security. Within each header, there the hash of the previous header, which contains hash from the one before that, and so it goes on to the very beginning. This is what composes the blocks of the blockchain. Therefore, making any change in any of the headers, even back to the earliest blocks, changes the subsequent headers. As the blockchain no longer matches the latest block, it will not be accepted.

    Is there any way to cheat the system? Technically, but it is highly unlikely. Say Jill decides she wants to rewrite the history so that instead of the bitcoin goes to Bill, they actually stay in her wallet. If she knew how to mine well, she could potentially solve the puzzle and produce a new blockchain. However, in the time it took her, the rest of the nodes would have added more headers to the blockchain, lengthening it, because nodes always work on the longest version of the blockchain. This is to stop issues from occurring when two miners find the solution at the same time; with this measure, it just causes a temporary fork. This also prevents Jill from cheating the system. In order to get the system to accept her version, Jill would have to lengthen the blockchain faster than the rest of the system is working on the original. In order to do so, she would have to have control over more than half of the computers, making cheating pretty much impossible.

    The final way the security of bitcoin is ensured is through incentives for the nodes. When a new block is forged, it makes new bitcoin. The miner who solves the puzzle earns 25 bitcoin, which currently is worth roughly 7,500 dollars.

    However, as clever as this system is, bitcoin is still not an extremely attractive currency. Its value is unstable and the amount currently in circulated has been intentionally limited. However, the blockchain technology functions so well, it has created a lot of buzz about its potential uses outside of bitcoin. Clearly, there is great potential for this technology to disrupt the financial services industry. Blockchains will likely help improve existing processes, making them more secure, inexpensive, and efficient. Additionally, new products that are beyond what we can even conceive of right now will be invented, turning financial institutions on their heads. However, the applications of this technology go well beyond the world of banking.

    Defense applications

    In the world of defense, blockchains show promise due to their incredible security. Currently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking into ways to use blockchain technology to secure military systems and ensure safe storage of nuclear weapons, among other potential applications.8 Because blockchains are near impossible to hack, the military is interested in using this incredible technology to maintain the integrity of highly sensitive data, and has contracted computer security company Galois to verify a blockchain technology created by Guardtime.9 If the project goes well, blockchain technology could soon begin to be implemented into military technology. What is particularly attractive about blockchain is not only that it is nearly impenetrable, even if a hacker were to enter into a security military network, they would be unable to make any damaging changes to the code, as only authorized users can.10 This is ideal for military use as it would prevent anyone from being able to hack in and gain control over military satellites or nuclear weapons. Today, even if a hacker couldn’t gain direct control over a weapon, they could interfere with military communication without being noticed. This is why they are particularly interested in using blockchain technology to develop a new messaging platform that would allow for completely secure communications.11

    Commercial applications

    Blockchains have clear applications for the financial services industry and the military, but it can also be used to enhance the experience of consumers. The widespread use of blockchain has the potential to enable a shared economy.12 A movement towards this can be seen through companies AirBnB and Lyft, but by enabling peer-to-peer transactions on a wider scale, blockchain technology could create a sharing economy that doesn’t require a middleman (and therefore, transaction fees). Consumers could also benefit from blockchain technology because they could have greater access to information about what exactly goes into their products. More and more, consumers want to verify claims companies make about their products, and through the transparency that blockchains create, it would be far easier to either verify or disprove lofty claims. This would mean that reputation would be more important than ever for businesses. Additionally, people will be able to feel more comfortable using the internet for financial transactions, as blockchains make identity management quite simple; by being able to verify identity online, both the business and the consumer can trust the transaction. This is truly only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to commercial applications of this technology.

    Government applications

    One place people are started to buzz about blockchains is in the world of governance.13 Blockchain could usher in an era where voter fraud and government corruption could be exposed through code. Traditional voting systems would have to be altered to be online, which would then ensure more transparency because it would hold the voting system accountable. Additionally, the extensive history that blockchains provide would prevent outright lies from being spewed by politicians, as there would be hard data to the contrary that everyone could accept; the public would be more intimately knowledgeable about the truth because the blockchains could serve as a built-in lie detector. It could even come to be that the decision-making process is streamlined through code, meaning necessary changes in law could occur at a much more accelerated pace.

    Blockchain technology is set to revolutionize financial institutions, the military, the private sector, and the world. The potential uses of this technology are coming to light more each day as more industries become aware of the security and reliability of this technology. Though initially created for bitcoin, whichhas faced controversy and may not stand the test of time, blockchain technology has the potential to change the entire world.

    Further Reading

    Want to learn more about blockchain technology? Read further with these links below.

    What is Blockchain Technology? – Blockgeeks
    5 Ways to Invest in the Blockchain Boom – Investopedia
    The Great Chain of Being Sure About Things – The Economist
    Bitcoin Blockchain Technology In Financial Services: How The Disruption Will Play Out – Forbes
    Block Chain 2.0: The Renaissance of Money – Wired


    1. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GAC15_Technological_Tipping_Points_report_2015.pdf#page=24
    2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/05/27/how-blockchain-technology-could-change-the-world/#70108f1c49e0
    3. http://www.blockchaintechnologies.com/blockchain-definition
    4. http://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/
    5. https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
    6. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/10/the-crypto-currency
    7. http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21677228-technology-behind-bitcoin-lets-people-who-do-not-know-or-trust-each-other-build-dependable
    8. https://www.deepdotweb.com/2016/10/20/blockchain-technology-may-borrowed-darpa-secure-military-networks/
    9. https://qz.com/801640/darpa-blockchain-a-blockchain-from-guardtime-is-being-verified-by-galois-under-a-government-contract/
    10. http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a23336/the-pentagon-wants-to-use-bitcoin-technology-to-guard-nuclear-weapons/
    11. https://bitcoinmagazine.com/articles/darpa-nato-looking-at-military-applications-of-blockchain-technology-1464018766/
    12. http://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/
    13. http://blockgeeks.com/blockchain-voting/
  3. The Use of Data Analytics in Financial Markets

    At Meraglim™, we take a multidimensional approach to our product. Not only do we give our clients access to our panel of prominent experts from a variety of fields, we also use an AI analytic engine to provide data analytics as a service (DAaS). More and more, companies are contracting companies to provide DAaS, as the valuable information this provides can be revolutionary for business. With the emerging technologies breaking into the market today, it’s imperative to implement the analytic tools at your disposal or risk falling behind the curve. Recently, our partner IBM collaborated with Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford to look into how banks and financial markets organizations are using data analytics to change the industry in “Analytics: The real-world use of big data in financial services.” In this blog, we will review their findings and how data can serve your team.

    The Importance of Data in Financial Markets

    For banks and financial services companies, there isn’t a physical product for them to offer. Supplying information is their trade, and data is an important resource for providing quantifiable support for their services. Within the financial services industry, there is endless data to be mined from the millions of transactions performed on a daily basis. The important advantage analyzing this data provides to financial institutions is evident; IBM and Saïd found that 71 percent of financial markets firms report that they have developed a competitive advantage by using financial data analytics. When comparing this statistic with the respondents to a similar research study by IBM two years prior, it increased by 97 percent. While banking data has grown to provide more valuable information, in our technologically advanced world, people are now banking and managing finances in a variety of ways. This unstructured data has important promise for reading into customer’s insight. This detailed information can guide investors, financial advisors, and bankers to making the best decisions for their customer base while staying compliant with regulatory laws. Companies have successfully used this data to identify business requirements and leverage the current infrastructure accordingly.

    theuseofdataanalyticsinfinancialmarkets-cta

    Big Data Movements Today

    Most financial organizations today recognize the importance of big data, and are slowly implementing plans on how to use it. The majority are either currently developing a big data plan (47 percent) or are already implementing big data pilots (27 percent). In their study, IBM and Saïd found four findings that demonstrated how these companies are using big data.

    The customer is king

    More than half of industry respondents identified customer-driven goals to be their priority for big data. This stands to reason as more and more, banks are facing pressure to be customer-centric. Financial institutions must keep the customer in mind when designing their technology, operations, systems, and data analytics. Data analytics is an important tool because it enables companies to anticipate changes in the market and customer preferences to quickly take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves.

    Companies need a scalable big data model

    The research also found that the most important consideration companies must make when creating a big data model is that it must be able to accommodate the ever-growing amount of information from different sources. In a survey of these financial institutions, though only half of companies reporting said that they integrated information, IBM found that roughly 87 percent of respondents reported having the infrastructure that was necessary to accommodate the addition of more information.

    Integrating data across departments and areas has been a challenge to businesses for many years now, particularly in respect to banks due to the sheer amount of data that comes into play. This complex part of integrating big data is an essential component. It most often requires the integration of new analyzing software components, such as NoSQL and Hadoop. However, the financial industry is falling behind in this respect.

    Efforts are focused on existing sources of data

    When looking at what financial institutions and banks are doing in terms of big data efforts, the majority are focused on using the data sources they already have internally. This makes sense, because, while big data has clear and important implications for the future of these companies, they want to take a cautionary approach rather than trying to find brand new data and risking it being useless. It also speaks to practicality, as there are many uses for the internal data of these companies that is as of yet untapped.

    Most commonly, respondents to this survey were analyzing log and transactions data. Every transaction and automated function of the bank or other information system is used, which cannot be analyzed by traditional means anymore. As a result, there is years and years of data that has yet to be analyzed by these institutions. Today, the technology finally enables this information to be used, though someone with the analytical skills is also necessary.

    Banks and financial markets could catch up to their peers in terms of analyzing more varied types of data. Roughly 20 percent of respondents analyzed audio data, and about 27 percent analyzed social media. A lack of focus in unstructured data could be disrupting their ability to do better in these terms.

    Analytical ability is important

    While data in and of itself plays an important role, it cannot be put to use without proper analysis. For big data to be the highest value, it is essential for financial institutions to access the right data, use the right tools to analyze it, and have the necessary skills to analyze it. This is why it may be necessary for financial institutions to hire outside counsel, as they may not have the needed analytical skills.

    While participants in the study who were engaged in big data efforts had a strong foundation in certain major analytics, such as basic queries and predictive modeling, these institutions need to work more on data visualization and text analytics. The more data there is, the more important these two elements are to gaining meaning from data. Yet only three out of five respondents with big data efforts included data visualization.

    Additionally, financial institutions fall significantly behind when compared to other industries in terms of analyzing different kinds of data. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents included the ability to analyze natural text (such as call-center conversations) in their big data efforts. Text analytics allow companies to not only look at what was said, but the nuances involved in language. These allow companies to see a bigger picture of what the customer desires and how to improve customer relations. They fall even further behind from their peers in terms of other types of data, including geospatial location data and streaming data. While they may have more technology to analyze these areas, they rarely have the people with the skills necessary to apply this data.

    Recommendations

    Based on the information they generated, the research team proposed several recommendations for financial institutions and their big data use. First, they suggested that it is imperative to focus efforts on the customer: understanding your customer is the key to success in the market. Additionally, they emphasize developing a big data plan that aligns with their business’s needs and resources; while it is important to keep up with the technology, it is imperative that an effective blueprint is in place to ensure that any challenges can be addressed. This ensures that the company can address future additional data needs. Additionally, researchers suggest that initially building on already available data is key for approaching big data analytics in a pragmatic way. Businesses should also consider their own priorities for growth and pinpointing what data to look at, as opposed to just looking at what is in front of them. Finally, they should implement big data strategies by finding quantifiable measures of success. Most importantly, business leaders and technology specialists need to be able to support each other through their endeavors to implement big data plans.

    Meraglim™ is a financial technology company that uses financial data analytics to provide our clients with the information they need to remain one step ahead of everyone else. If you are curious about how our financial technology may benefit your organization, learn more here today.

  4. Smart Dust and Microelectromechanical Systems

    Imagine a world in which tiny dust particles monitor everything on earth, providing seemingly endless amounts of data that has never been accessible before. These tiny sensors would float through the air and capture information about absolutely everything, from the temperature to the chemical composition of the air to any movements to even brainwaves. The implications of this technology would be transformative for a wide variety of fields and applications, from the military to health care to safety/security monitoring to space exploration. In this brave new world, the possibilities are endless.

    Sound like something out of a science fiction novel? It’s not just fantasy; it’s called Smart Dust, and after further research, these tiny sensors could be everywhere in the near future.

    Origins

    The initial concept of Smart Dust originated from a military research project from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Strategy (DARPA) and the Research and Development Corporation (RAND) in the 1990s.1 In 2001, the first prototype was invented by Kristofer S.J. Pister, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at Berkeley. Pister won the Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize for Technological Innovation for his work on the Smart Dust project.2 In 2004, Pister founded Dust Networks in order to bring Smart Dust to life. In 2011, Linear Networks, an integrated circuits company, acquired Dust Networks.3

    How Smart Dust Works

    Smart Dust is a system made of motes, or tiny sensors. Motes are essentially tiny, low-power computers that can perform many different functions and are composed of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

    MEMS

    Microelectromechanical systems is a type of technology that can be basically defined as miniaturized electro-mechanical/mechanical components created by microfabrication.4 MEMS vary from very simple to quite complex, and are composed of tiny sensors, actuators, and microelectronics. Over the last few decades, MEMS technology has evolved to feature an incredible number of types of sensors, including temperature, chemical species, radiation, pressure, humidity, magnetic fields, and more. Interestingly, many of these microsensors function better than their macro counterparts. For example, a micro pressure transducer often outperforms the most advanced macro equivalent. Not only are these devices extremely effective, they are made with the same manufacturing techniques used to create integrated circuitry, translating to low production costs. The incredible performance of MEMS devices paired with their inexpensive cost means that this technology has integrated into the commercial marketplace. The capabilities of MEMS even today are incredible; for example, there are a variety of microactuators that have impressive capabilities, from microvalves to control liquid and gas flow to micromirror arrays for displays to micropumps to create fluid pressure. However, combining this technology with others, such as microelectronics, photonics, and nanotechnology will be the truly meteoric rise of these devices as one of the most innovative developments in technology of this century. In the future, Smart Dust will not only be able to collect data, but perform actions that will manipulative the environment around it. With the diverse potential of MEMS devices, it will be thrilling to see where Smart Dust goes in the future.

    meraglim_smartdust_innerimage2_blogComposition

    One Smart Dust mote holds a semiconductor laser diode, a beam-steering mirror, a MEMS corner-cube retro reflector, an optical receiver, and a power source composed of batteries and solar cells.5 Beyond the astounding power of MEMS, Smart Dust is also made possible by wireless communication and advanced digital circuitry. This is why it is possible for the motes to be as small as they are while containing a battery, RAM, and a wireless transmitter. The idea is that the motes should be as tiny as possible while having an advanced operating system that enables the entire system to work together.

    TinyOS

    In the world of developing open source hardware or software, there are two operating platforms that are most often used: Arduino and TinyOS. The main difference between them is that TinyOS is specifically designed for low-power sensors with wireless communication. Therefore, while Arduino is easier to use,TinyOS is the ideal operating system for Smart Dust. TinyOS provides software abstractions ideal for smart buildings, personal area networks, smart meters, and sensor networks. The main issue with TinyOS in the context of Smart Dust is that it is specifically designed to run code in short snippets for a singular function, rather than perform complex actions. So while it is great for the goal of collecting data with the motes, it is less capable of doing much in terms of powering the base center that collects the data.

    theuseofdataanalyticsinfinancialmarkets-cta

    Obstacles

    Despite the revolutionary nature of this technology, there are still obstacles to it being used as extensively right now as it could be. One obstacle is the size of the technology; while MEMS sensors are quite small, with protective casing, these are still bigger than a matchbox.6 Ideally, this technology would be tiny enough to be microscopic for a variety of purposes. Therefore, research centers in part around making this technology even smaller. Additionally, the trick for Smart Dust to be valuable is to have these sensors perform their measurements, then communicate back to a base station where data can be compiled. A way to do this reliably has been a focus of the developers in recent research. Some potential solutions include using optical transmission or using radio frequency. How exactly they will ensure reliable communication between the MEMS technology and the base center is yet to be determined.

    meraglim_smartdust_blog_innerimageImplications

    Smart Dust has astonishing possibilities for so many different industries that it’s hard to pinpoint where it will have the greatest benefit. However, the military benefits are probably the most obvious, hence why it was developed through military research. Smart Dust could enable military personnel to get critical information. For example, Smart Dust could be used to track movements from around a corner to assess whether or not there are people around the corner, and whether or not they are armed. They could receive critical information about an enemy territory, putting them at an advantage during combat. The intelligence that Smart Dust could potentially offer the military is unbelievable.

    However, Smart Dust has unlimited capabilities far outside the defense sector. The varied nature of types of sensors already afforded to us by MEMS makes it so the possible applications for Smart Dust are truly endless. For example, Smart Dust could make it so we have such precise meteorological insight that everyone would have exact information about the weather in real time. Any type of research that is impeded by wired sensors can be revolutionized with the use of Smart Dust; for example, the motes could easily go into wind tunnels, anechoic characters, or rotating machinery to acquire information. Beyond that, it has fascinating implications for biological research. For example, Smart Dust could be used to monitor internal processes of small animals such as mice or insects. This could lead to unprecedented research into diseases and the effects of medication, as well as generally give us deeper biological insight than ever possible before.

    Perhaps most radically, MEMS technology has amazing possibilities for space exploration. Smart Dust could be sent to another planet to collect data on the atmosphere and environment. It could be Smart Dust that determines that other worlds are habitable for humans. Undeniably, this has fascinating implications for the future of humanity and space travel.

    Other MEMS Projects

    Due to the obvious benefits this type of system can provide to the military, DARPA has continued to fund several different projects in the realm of MEMS. This is promising as many of the most innovative technologies of our time, including nuclear power, radar, jet engines, and the internet, developed due to military research. Out of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) have come several MEMS projects. For example, DARPA recently awarded HRL Laboratories with $1.5 million to develop a low-power oven-controlled crystal oscillator (OCXO) to power atomic clocks.7 To do so, they will incorporate MEMS technology with quartz dry plasma etching techniques, which will allow developers to create more efficient and reliable atomic clocks for the military. Outside of a military application, this technology could be applied to improve GPS technology and reduce costs of producing handheld navigation systems.

    Additionally, DARPA is currently focusing energies on developing Micro Power Generation (MPG).8 As stated above, MEMS technology is currently limited by its size. A new focus is being placed on developing a way to power these devices without bulky batteries. The MPG program looks to use hydrocarbon fuels to power MEMS technology instead of the lithium-ion batteries that are currently being used. If successful, the power generator would be five to 10 times smaller than a battery of equal power, with could have incredible implications for military weapon systems and field awareness. This could also revolutionize the ways MEMS technology is used outside of the military, such as commercially or for geological or space research.

    As a financial technology company, we stay on top of the latest developments in technology so we can anticipate the changes that have a direct impact on the global money market and world at large. If you need our predictive powers, contact Meraglim™ today to learn more about how we can help your team.


  5. Debt Deleveraging and the 2008 Financial Crisis

    With the 2008 burst of the global credit bubble sparking the first global financial recession since the Great Depression, governments everywhere face an overwhelming amount of debt, making recovery a daunting task, even nearly a decade later. Debt still grows; in fact, every major economy has more debt than they did in 2007. Global government officials and business leaders must now look to how to prevent crises in the future, and how to deleverage the debt they have accrued. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has been conducting research into the implications of debt deleveraging and its consequences on the global economy. In this blog, we will go over some of their key findings, and how this knowledge can help leaders, both global and in business, to make educated decisions.

    meraglim_debtdeleveraging_blog_innerimage3Rising Global Debt

    Through an analysis of the debt of 22 advanced countries and 25 developing countries, the MGI found that debt throughout the world has outpaced the GDP growth, rising by $57 trillion from 2007 to 2014. The debt-to-GDP ratio of all advanced economies they studied rose, with a significant number of them rising by more than 50 percent.

    Emerging Risks

    Through this research, MGI identified three emerging risks that require our attention:

    • Rising government debt, some of which is so severe, there will need to be new ways of reducing it invented
    • Rising household debt and housing prices, which are at an all-time high in Northern Europe and Asia
    • China’s skyrocketing debt, which quadrupled in the span of seven years

    Government debt

    In some countries, government debt is higher than can be sustained. Government debt alone has risen by $25 trillion since 2007, and given the current economic environment, this is unlikely to stop in many countries. Some debt is directly from the crisis in places where global leaders funded stimulus programs and bailouts. Others are due to the recession and poor recovery. For the six most indebted countries, debt deleveraging would cause unrealistically huge increases in GDP growth. Therefore, new strategies will have to be put in place for these governments, such as wealth waxes, asset sales, and debt restructuring.

    Household debt

    Global household debt has reached an all-time high. Only four countries (Ireland, the UK, Spain, and the US) have seen household debts deleverage. The majority of others have found the debt-to-income ratios steadily rise. These ratios exceed the highest levels they were before 2008 in many advanced countries, such as Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Thailand, and Canada. A priority of these governments must be to manage household debt. Some ways they can address this is with tighter lending standards, flexible mortgages, and clarity around personal-bankruptcy laws.

    China’s debt

    From 2007 to 2014, China’s debt quadrupled. In 2007, their debt was $7 trillion; in 2014, it was $28 trillion. This change has revealed three troubling developments:

    • Half of all loans are linked in some way to China’s real-estate market,
    • Almost half of new lending is through unregulated shadow bank accounts
    • Local government’s debts are unsustainable.

    Fortunately, according to MGI’s calculations, China could bail out the financial crisis in the event of a property-related debt crisis. The key to ensuring that this remains true is to prevent further debt increases and risks of a crisis, yet not inhibiting economic growth.

    meraglim_debtdeleveraging_blog_innerimageDebt Started Growing Before 2008

    When analyzing the financial crisis of 2008, most point to the mortgage lending and financial sector leverage of the United States. However, MGI sees a bigger picture that includes factors that occurred before 2008 that allowed the crisis to happen. For example, the globalization of banking and strangely low interest rates grew debt quickly after 2000 in many major countries. Several countries had higher debt-to-GDP ratios than the United States before 2008. However, this does not tell us much about current leverage levels and how sustainable they are.

    Before 2007, households increased borrowing, particularly through mortgages. Housing prices rose, which made it seem as though the debt-to-asset ratio remained steady. However, household debt when compared to disposable income escalated. Businesses reached a crisis with lower leverage by 2000, with the exception of commercial real estate and companies that were bought using leveraged buyouts. Before the crisis, government debt was flat and in some countries, even declining.

    In the financial sector, leverage growth varied in different countries. Bank leverage increased moderately when compared to historic levels. There were only certain specific areas of the financial sector that increased in leverage before the crisis. Additionally, the quality of capital in many banks deteriorated because they used hybrid forms for common equity. However, common equity was the only capital that absorbed losses. As there are many incentives for banks to replace equity with debt, raising the amount of common equity required for banks may help improve the quality of capital.

    meraglim_debtdeleveraging_blog_innerimage2Deleveraging Today

    Though the 2008 crisis halted credit growth, deleveraging has only just begun. In 2009, the total debt-to-GDP ratio fell slightly in some countries, such as the US, UK, and South Korea. The small amount of deleveraging may be due to the skyrocketing government debt, which offset declines in household debt.

    In contrast, the financial sector’s leverage has fallen to the levels prior to the crisis. By the second quarter of 2009, most banking systems had deleveraged to the point of the levels being the same as or above the levels of the preceding 15 years. Whether more capital will be needed on top of what has been accrued by banks is yet to be seen. Any capital requirement boost should be approached with caution given the high chances of deleveraging as to prevent too much reduction of credit provision.

    Meraglim™ is a financial technology company that provides global leaders and institutional investors with the information they need, bringing together our collective expertise and innovative risk analysis software. Using the latest research, our panel of experts from the worlds of defense, law, intelligence, and the private sector come together to provide the information you need to make informed decisions. If you’re interested to see what Meraglim™ can offer your team, contact us.

  6. The Inextricable Link Between Psychology and Economics

    There has long been a debate in the world of economics about the influence that behavioral psychology has over markets. Much of traditional economic theory, such as the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH), works under the assumption that major players make rational and logical decisions objectively, leading to rational prices, and further analysis is largely useless. However, psychologists have found that individual behavior has more of an effect on market movements than previously explored, and that analyzing these behaviors may enable investors to more accurately predict the market.


    dreamstime_xxl_39576370The Psychology/Economics Connection

    Recent research shows that psychology has a clear influence on capital markets in a variety of ways. One analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked into partition dependence, an effect in which breaking down possible outcomes of an event in a detailed way makes people believe that they are more likely to happen. The researchers in this study look at several different prediction markets in which people place bets on the outcomes of future events. In these markets, people buy and sell claims on outcomes, and the prices of the claims are a reflection of beliefs about the likelihood of each outcome. They created two of these markets in a lab experiment and then studied two real-world examples.

    In one lab experiment, participants traded claims on the number of games an NBA team would win in the playoffs, and how many goals each team would score in the World Cup. They traded claims on 16 teams for both the events. One group of participants was asked how many games the Miami Heat would win, choosing between a few ranges, such as 4-7 games or 8-11 games. A second group was then offered a wider range, which combined the two intervals of the first group. The participants then traded claims on each interval within the group. As it is with all prediction markets, the traded claim’s price reflected the estimation of what range the total number of games would fall in.

    According to economic theory, the first group’s perceived probability of the team winning 4-7 games and the probability of winning 8-11 added together should sum to a total that is close to the probability perceived by the second group. However, when they totalled the numbers, they found that the first group thought the likelihood of the team winning games within those two ranges was higher than that of the second group. This implies that when the possible outcome is framed more specifically, people believe that the outcome is more likely.

    Researchers also saw similar results in another experiment on horse races. In general, people will bet more money on a horse that is a long shot because the potential payoff is significantly higher, and they also overestimate a longshot horse’s chance to win. Statistically speaking, a horse’s chance of winning is the same, regardless of the number of horses with which it is competing; if a horse wins 10 percent of the time, it will do so whether it is racing five horses or 10. However, the researchers analysis of betting data from 6.3 million horse races found that partition dependence affected betters, who believed that long-shot horses had better odds if fewer horses were in the race.

    While partition dependence has been studied before, this research was revolutionary because this concept had not yet been applied to predictive markets. It is also especially significant because the phenomenon was studied across several research studies, including two lab experiments, an analysis of traders of Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, and the analysis of the horse-racing data. This research shows that psychology clearly has an effect on prediction markets, and therefore, has significance in capital markets. Institutional investors have seen this data and have started adopting predictive models that use behavioral psychology, such as behavioral finance.


    dreamstime_16061051Behavioral Finance

    The connection between many institutional investors is that they are now using the behavioral finance model to construct their portfolios. While behavioral finance is still in its infancy in many ways, it has seen an uptick in popularity after the 2008 financial crisis.

    In 2005, Yale University professor of economics Robert Shiller predicted the housing market bubble burst that would happen two years later using behavioral finance analysis. Shiller is one of the founders of this school of thought, and an adamant opponent of traditional economic models. As successful as the behavioral finance model might have been at predicting this type of bubble burst, it’s hard to say how helpful this information is from an investor standpoint. Betting against bubbles by creating funds based on these predictions would not be worth the risks.

    However, fund managers are using behavioral finance to assess mispricings in the market. The theory is that investors hold onto cognitive and emotional biases that cause equity prices to over or underreact to market events. Fund managers have been using this to their advantage over the past 15 years, and have seen success. One example is J.P. Morgan, who has implemented behavioral finance strategies to choose their equities for their portfolios, and have exceeded market benchmarks over time.


    dreamstime_xxl_3556402Criticism

    However, not everyone is convinced of the merits of behavioral finance for predicting the market. Critics generally point to a lack of empirical evidence to support its efficacy, and many think of it more of a collection of ideas rather than a true predictive model. Skeptics say that behavioral finance is simply choosing value stocks with a higher cost of capital, from which people naturally expect higher returns. This issue seems to be applying psychology, which is inherently subjective, to economics, that require hard figures, and is not quantifiable enough for critics of this theory. Too much is promised without any guarantees.

    Yet even if it is true that behavioral finance promises too much, it is clear that considering psychology when choosing funds offers an advantage. Take for example Thaler & Fuller Asset Management. They developed a strategy called the cap-growth strategy, which enables investors to choose companies with consistently positive earnings over time. The premise is that the market consensus incorrectly determines a company’s profitability due to positive information because analysts unconsciously make cognitive errors when estimating. The model essentially begins with earning surprises. The company goes through earning surprises to determine which are likely to cause an underreaction, leading to underpriced stocks. The most important part of this is ensuring that the surprise is not temporary. An example of this would be an earning surprise in oil stock due to the price of oil going up; this is so variable, there is no point paying attention to it. In contrast, if an oil company found a way to refine oil more efficiently, this surprise is likely to have more long-term implications. Thaler & Fuller has seen success with this model, successfully identifying these companies four out of five times.


    Conclusion

    While behavioral finance has interesting implications of building portfolios, it is not the end-all-be-all of predicting capital markets. It is important to consider psychology when creating funds, but there are many other factors to consider as well. Meraglim™ combines the powers of a variety of schools of thought, including behavioral psychology, to offer reliable global financial data analytics to institutional investors and global leaders. Contact us today to learn more about what our services can do for you.