“It just started to sprout like mushrooms,” notes Professor Shafi Goldwasser about the emergence of blockchain technology. “I was interested in understanding its importance as a platform for collaboration and its impact on the economy.”
The 2012 Turing Award Laureate is Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Simons Institute for Computer Theory at UC Berkeley. She shared her thoughts on the potential for blockchain while talking about her organization’s work with Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI).
She explains that blockchain is a platform that enables everything – news, events, transactions, deeds, contracts, agreements – to be transmitted in an immutable way around the world in just a few seconds. She believes that blockchain could ultimately transform and democratize the global economy.
Professor Goldwasser expects that blockchain will help optimize a wide range of industries. Transportation, with its competing approaches like Lyft, Uber, and public transportation, is a prime example of how the decentralized blockchain model enables all options to be integrated while getting the best performance in each case.
Professor Goldwasser views UBRI as a vital teaching and collaboration resource to help people understand the technology behind blockchain and its future implications. At the Simons Institute she uses UBRI to create joint research programs, including in 2019 “Proofs, Consensus and Decentralizing Society”.
In addition, funds from the UBRI initiative supported 12 student scholarships, 20 research projects, three new blockchain courses and ten events, including those hosted by Blockchain @ Berkeley and She256.
The UBRI program also helped launch The Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator, an entrepreneurship training module that provides training, mentoring, resources and information to global scientists, entrepreneurs and start-ups. The UBRI initiative also supports the Simons Institute grid workshops.
In 2019, UC Berkeley surveyed UBRI funding participants, and the results show that these types of initiatives are clearly needed.
Eighty-eight percent of the fifteen academic researchers funded agree that their work will help find solutions to the world’s most pressing financial problems. 79 percent of the students surveyed and enrolled in the three blockchain courses agreed that the curriculum stimulates ideas and dialogue about the potential of the blockchain. Finally, ninety-two percent of the 200+ attendees surveyed at UBRI-sponsored campus events said the sessions encouraged learning about current blockchain applications in the industry.
Goldwasser is already working on the research program for spring 2020 entitled “Lattice: Algorithms, Complexity and Cryptography”. The focus will be on a type of cryptography that, in their opinion, appears to be resilient to quantum adversaries – and therefore of great interest to researchers, as it enables private computation on data published on a website.
Much of the research she sees in the blockchain space today focuses on either applying smart contracts or improving the speed of blockchain transactions through competing approaches like proof of work, consensus, or proof of engagement.
Her hope for UBRI and the bigger work on campus with blockchain is to develop new ideas and startups based on the concept of blockchain as a platform.
Look out for more monthly Insights articles in the On Campus series and learn more about UBRI here.