The growing profile of the blockchain in academe


When he was in a graduate school and worked for a doctorate in computer science, Arthur Carvalho made a decision that changed his life.

"It was 2012, and my friend suggested to invest some money in Bitcoin," he recalled. At that time, a Bitcoin was valued at around $ 13. At its valuation peak at the end of 2017, the price had risen to nearly $ 18,000.

"I would be a millionaire now," said Carvalho. "But I told my friend," I do not trust this thing. "I thought it was a scam."

He did not become rich by Bitcoin, but he became interested in cryptocurrencies and their functioning [19659002] "I have followed the development of cryptocurrencies very closely," he said. "I had a personal interest in learning more about technology."

Carvalho is now an assistant professor of information and analysis systems at the Farmer School of Business of Miami University in Ohio, where there is a growing consensus among teachers who blockchain – – the technology behind cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin – worth watching.

Carvalho's colleagues are not unique; The interest in blockchain technology is growing rapidly in the business world – and universities and universities are responding. Many professors are incorporating blockchains into their teaching and several universities have developed comprehensive courses dedicated to technology. In the process, they are providing the emerging discipline, once considered not very serious, with intellectual legitimacy. This summer Columbia University and Stanford University have both launched blockchain research centers, following in the footsteps of the Digital Currency Initiative initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched as part of the MIT Media Lab in 2015; MIT was among the first institutions to create such a program.

At the University of Miami, commercial school teachers had begun to mention blockchain and cryptocurrencies in classes, but it was not until the students at the Blockchain Club in Miami, one of the largest student clubs on campus, they started asking for more details on how the technology works that faculty members started to seriously consider creating a blockchain curriculum.

"We agreed that blockchain is a technology that is here to stay," said Carvalho, "so we decided to develop a three-hour credit course."

The course is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019 and will teach the theory of how the blockchain works, as well as the potential applications of the real world. The course will be interdisciplinary and will cover topics related to business, IT and mathematics.

Although several universities have introduced courses on cryptocurrencies, there are few who focus on blockchain technology for college students, Carvalho said.

"I do not even have a textbook – everything has been developed from scratch."

Changing attitudes in Academe

There is much publicity and hyperbole about the blockchain – It has been described as "bigger than the Internet" in terms of potential impact on society – but it is no exaggeration to say that the potential applications of blockchain technology are numerous.

By storing information on financial and other transactions as "blocks" across a network rather than in a central location, blockchain technology creates a digital record that is transparent, easily verifiable and extremely difficult to tamper with.

Technology is already being used to securely process financial transactions without the need for banks. Major supermarkets such as Walmart use the blockchain to track items in their food supply chain, and health professionals are studying how blockchain can give patients greater ownership of their medical records. Universities are also entering into action and use blockchain to release digital titles that can be easily verified by employers.

Chris Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is co-founder and editorial director of a peer-reviewed journal for research on the blockchain called Ledger ( University Library System, University of Pittsburgh). When the magazine was launched in 2014, there were only "some brave scholars" conducting blockchain research and even fewer peer-reviewed journals in which to publish, says Wilmer.

Just a few years ago, there was a lot of stigma attached to the search for cryptocurrencies, Wilmer said. "People thought it was a scam, or illegal," he said.

"Academics were worried about their reputation," he said. "Now it's everywhere."

Wilmer said that the acceptance of this research took place partly due to some "semantic jujitsu". While research on Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain is related, the term "Bitcoin" can still "make human hair eventually," Wilmer said. "Calling him blockchain has helped a lot."

The mailings to Ledger have grown considerably, he said. In its first year, the magazine received about a month's dispatch; now he gets one or two a week. Popular research questions include whether cryptocurrencies could cope with billions of users and the pros and cons of various consent algorithms – the process by which data integrity is assured in the blockchain.

Some of the early scholars to publish in Ledger were lawyers, said Wilmer. University studies addressing blockchain questions now come from a wide range of disciplines, including computer science, mathematics, economics, economics and, to a lesser extent, social sciences.

"I think that interest will grow," said Wilmer. "Many people are still just making their fingers."

Meeting employer demand

Employers' growing interest in blockchain gave them opportunities to provide workers with continuing professional education . Peter McAliney, executive director for online learning and extended at the Montclair State University Center for Continuing and Professional Education, recently led the launch of three professional blockchain certificates: one that covers the basics, one for developers and one focused on blockchain applications in the financial sector.

The three certification courses cost between $ 1,995 and $ 4,250 and are delivered in partnership with The Blockchain Academy – a company that offers corporate training and blockchain training.

McAliney said that the state of Montclair plans to eventually incorporate blockchain into various courses. In the short term, continuing education certificates fill an immediate need for people who "can come out and apply" blockchain technology to real-world problems in the public and private sector, he said.

Continuing training courses are scheduled for In September, the university is striving to recruit a diverse group of students, said McAliney.

"It is important to build diversity while the blockchain is still so new," he said. To this end, the university started working with local high schools to introduce students in the early stages of new financial technologies such as blockchain.

"We are making an effort to go all corners," said McAliney.

New funding opportunities for research

The number of universities with dedicated blockchain research centers is small but growing as more companies try to engage with universities in research and development of the blockchain technology.

in collaboration with the IBM technology company. In addition to supporting research, the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and data transparency will conduct policy discussions and provide support to academics to incorporate blockchains into their teaching. An "innovation accelerator" will also support the start-ups linked to the blockchain at the university.

Sharon Sputz, director of strategic programs at the Columbia Science Data Institute, noted that the university has a relationship of over 70 years with IBM and began serious discussions with the company on a blockchain and the collaboration for data transparency in the last year.

Sputz believes the center will promote "a deep and extensive commitment to research, education and innovation" linked to blockchain technology and data transparency. IBM is contributing an undisclosed sum to support the center, but the company's interests go beyond seeking funding that will lead to new business applications, he said.

"One of the reasons we were very excited about launching the center with IBM is that they are very forward looking, they are interested in fundamental research and thought leadership, not just about developing blockchain products," Sputz said. The calls for proposals will be open to Columbia faculty and students by the end of the year.

The Stanford University Blockchain Research Center was launched in June and is led by computer scientists Dan Boneh and David Mazieres. The center's five-year research program is supported by several blockchain organizations: Ethereum Foundation, Protocol Labs, Interchain Foundation, OmiseGO, DFINITY Stiftung and PolyChain Capital.

Boneh states that the center is based on the existing interest in the blockchain at Stanford.

"There are already a number of academics working on different aspects of the blockchain," he said. "The center was a good way to bring everyone together," he said.

Also at Stanford, where a course on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies has been taught since 2015, Boneh knows that 100% of faculty members are convinced of the technology.

"I think the faculty that thinks it's a fashion will pass," he said. "It's like at the dawn of the Internet – in the beginning the e-mail was the only application, then it became its field."

He said there are serious scientific issues to be addressed in blockchain research. "I do not think there is a debate about the academic rigor of this work," he said.

Two current topics of investigation include how to compress information in the blockchain so that it does not occupy so much space, and how to introduce delays in financial transactions to allow time to cancel them if they are erroneously committed – a new search area called function of verifiable delay.

"This is a good question," Boneh said. "We are conducting a whole day of discussion on this topic."

Although private industry is increasingly supporting blockchain research, very few government funding has been made available, said Cesare Fracassi, associate professor of finance at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin.

Many of the companies that provide financial support are small start-ups, but more established blockchain companies like Ripple are starting to intensify. Ripple announced last month that it would distribute $ 50 million to 17 university partners, including UT Austin, for research into institutional blockchains.

Fracassi has called this a "big deal" and noted that companies do not distribute gifts without restrictions in under-funded research areas. The money will allow Fracassi and his colleagues to hire additional staff and to start a search related to the blockchain. A call for proposals will be opened this fall.

Because the blockchain was developed by industry and not by the academic world, university researchers have "struggled to recover," Fracassi said. Blockchain technology has existed for almost a decade, but it is only in the last two years that universities have started looking for it. Now, academics can play an important role in the development of blockchain technology,

"Blockchain has been discovered and developed by professionals who focus on short-term business applications, but academics have the luxury of long-term thinking", he said.

Combining academics with multiple disciplines can help develop new ways of thinking about blockchain technology, Fracassi said. And because many people who sing the praises of the blockchain are invested in it, academics can bring more objectivity to research, he said.

"We can consider it a scientific experiment and understand if it is good technology or not," he said.

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