Keeping busy

Some of my colleagues and I at RMIT University have launched an innovation hub into the blockchain: The RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub.

 Blockchain has the potential to automate, and disintermediate, the institutions and services that underpin our lives. It could change how we interact online, who controls our information, and shift the incentives that guide businesses and cooperative systems.

We are an interdisciplinary team of researchers in economics, political-economy, organisational theory, law, sociology, politics and communications. We work on cryptoeconomics, business strategy and adaptation to blockchain technologies, mapping the blockchain economy, and identifying the public policy challenges that will hold back or accelerate this economic revolution.

Quite rightly there has been a lot of attention given to various cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. In our opinion that is an application of a far more interesting technology – the blockchain itself.  We have initial funding for a 3 year project that undertake research into what we are calling cryptoeconomics (our initial papers here and here), measurement of the cryptoeconomy, the provision of policy advice to business and government, and the provision of courses (starting with briefings and a microcredential course).

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31 Responses to Keeping busy

  1. stackja

    ALP/Greens don’t like.

  2. Not sure how this fits, but here goes…

    One of the attached PP slides maintains Governments are trusted authorities maintaining ledgers
    With the recent Tax Department imbroglio and the SA TAFE records falsification scandal, I worry about the reliance on such trust as is needed to ensure successful block train innovations.

  3. block train s/b blockchain.
    I blame autocorrect.

  4. Techo

    Crypto currency is the sole use case for block chain that makes sense. Anyone who tells you otherwise has something to sell.

  5. Sinclair Davidson

    With the recent Tax Department imbroglio and the SA TAFE records falsification scandal, I worry about the reliance on such trust as is needed to ensure successful block train innovations.

    That is precisely the value of the blockchain. At present our record keeping technology relies on us having to trust some or other central authority – like government. Yet if you know anything about government, for example, it is that it cannot be trusted. It looks like the blockchain will be able to address that paradox.

  6. Sinclair Davidson

    Anyone who tells you otherwise has something to sell.

    Yes. And …

  7. Chris

    I approve of this message.
    If it is possible to remove matters from monopoly control, like breaking broadcasting spectrum monopoly of Government, that would be great.
    I note the contrast of the ‘informal sector’ in Africa with the formal sector.
    There are huge barriers mental and bureaucratic to individual contracting making a living, compared with the salaries on offer in big businessses and the public sector in Australia, and ways of innovating a living without being crushed by barriers are desperately needed.

    I don’t think blockchain offers that, but it does offer an idea that might break SOMETHING out of the dead hand of Government.

  8. Tel

    I have some ideas I’ve been sitting on with regards to the concept of a verifiable and locked URL system.

    The thing is, you can have cases like what recently happened with the “Safe Schools” program (you need quotes on everything these days, because no one ever calls things by real names) where some document exists on the WWW and then you come back to it and find surprisingly a different document. Things like the Wayback Machine help solve the problem by keeping historic snapshots but this type of solution is based on a central trusted authority (e.g. what would happen if “Progressives” got hold of the Wayback engine and started to edit history… I wouldn’t put it past them, Orwell explained it).

    Same type of thing with when the police started investigating Craig Thomson and the Health Services Union and discovered (SHOCK!) that records had just gone missing. Same thing again regarding Julia Gillard’s part in the incorporation of the Workplace Reform Association, a bunch of documents related to that are apparently missing forever. All sorts of other “memory hole” situations would be avoided if we had a system where the URL contained a hash signature of the content, such that any alteration would immediately invalidate that copy. Similarly, references and bookmarks contained within the document would also contain a similar signature such that none of those could ever be altered, and so on back to the founding document.

    When you submit official records to any government department, e.g. tax, business documents, etc they can keep the original document private but openly publish both the hash signatures of that document and the name of several people who declare to be the keepers of these private documents for future posterity. These in turn get knitted into a bigger tapestry of index lists each of which chains previous lists, and so on. All of which can be checked. Should a matter of public interest, or a police investigation, or a court discovery require the original documents, they know who to ask, and they can check the signature to make sure they are getting the real thing. Failing to produce one of these documents would be similar to contempt of court.

    You could do the same thing when people are nominating for Parliament and they provide a full digital document pack to demonstrate they are eligible, then the signatures of those digital documents gets published and several copies are stored with trusted people. A future High Court challenge can be based purely on the documents provided in that pack. If those don’t do the job for you then too bad… go home!

  9. Wilma

    Sounds more like Blockeddrain would be suitable, but then again I’m no economist. Just someone who has a factory stuffe3d full of machinery under dust covers.

  10. egg_

    Bit coin sounds techy (my area); block chain sounds like white collar talking about a blue collar job, sans cred.

  11. egg_

    Wilma
    #2487031, posted on September 3, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    SNAP!

  12. egg_

    Don’t the Chinese already have a Quantum computer in orbit that can generate unfathomable encryption keys – conversely, they could easily crack the keys of conventional computing?

  13. DM OF WA

    Does anyone remember the Crypto Wars of the 1990’s? That was when strong cryptography first became first available to the general public as a result of public key cryptography and software technology based on that such as PGP, SSL, PEM and more. It made possible secure Internet commerce and private, verifiable and nonrepudiable messaging. The former has thrived but the latter was and continues to be the subject of fierce conflict between libertarians and big government. Unsurprisingly, today most people still not have PEM and it is still illegal in some jurisdictions.

    I see a parallel between the crypto wars of the 90’s and the controvery building round cryptocurrencies today. Governments are quietly keeping a close watch on developments and will not hesitate to intervene when they feel their interests are threatened.

  14. DM OF WA

    And people like “Techo” who dismiss blockchain, like those who dismissed public key crypto, are in danger of being made fools of by progress.

  15. RobK

    Some critical questions would be:
    What is the natural corruption rate of these immense stores of data? This gets more critical as the dependency on the technology increases.
    What is (or is there) a practical limit of the jurisdiction size of the application with current technology. Give that verbal contracts between individuals are at one end of the scale, what degree of complexity is viable with present technology.
    It is an important field. I see Tel’s comments as valuable and full marks for Sinc and associates to further the understanding in this field. It has the potential for revolution and revolt.

  16. Techo

    Yes. And …

    Mystique equals margin, but blockchain projects don’t get past experimental stage. The answer lies in blockchain-inspired technologies that deliver hoped-for blockchain features without an unwieldy distributed ledger to maintain.

  17. egg_

    DM OF WA
    #2487085, posted on September 3, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    I’m sure SWIFT are keeping an eye on the Chinese.

  18. RobK

    As technology advances there is a tendency to over prescribe and describe everything including policy and transaction details. An important part of this field should be to develop an organizational structure that requires the minimum amount of oversight and complexity. Simplicity in most cases is superior to complexity.

  19. RobK

    Regarding any security systems, the human element is always a weak link.

  20. IRFM

    And where do the pick and shovel merchants fit into this not to mention the egg gatherers and their kindred fleece pickers?

  21. Mark M

    ” mapping the blockchain economy,”

    Found: A Map of the Entire Internet, As of 1973

    https://twitter.com/historyepics/status/899260985952935936

  22. Mark M

    Perhaps something else to consider:

    Chinese quantum satellite sends ‘unbreakable’ code…

    Chinese scientists have become the first to realize quantum key distribution from a satellite to the ground, laying the foundation for building a hack-proof global quantum communication network.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-08/10/c_136514705.htm

  23. Tel

    Quantum key distribution is old, and it is not a quantum computer.

    It makes use of the “Observer Effect” which says that every time someone observes a system, it is necessary that they must somehow change the system in order to observe it. Thus, with a bit of care it is possible to balance your key distribution right on the edge where any additional outside observer (i.e. a spy) would immediately destroy the key for the other users, thus alerting them to the existence of the observer.

  24. BoyfromTottenham

    Sinc,

    Sounds like a very good idea, but you might want to add an IT person or two to that list. I worked on a large banking project (dubbed ‘BPay on steroids’ at the time) several years ago, which by the way crashed and burned because the 5 (sic) principals lost control of the scope.

    More importantly, they made the mistake of using a new and untried version of a key banking messaging standard that used a data format called XML, which is hugely verbose, meaning that the messages for even simple transactions were many times larger than a similar message using the previous standard. This simple problem compounded throughout the system design to cause problems of scalability, the need for huge storage and CPU power, telecommunications bandwidth, etc, etc.

    I don’t know much about blockchain, but I do know that anything this new will throw up quite a variety of problems, the answers to which are probably not in the textbooks yet. Good luck to your team.

  25. egg_

    Quantum key distribution is old…

    Perhaps, but Quantum computing will make all of the above obsolete overnight.

  26. Craig

    Any thoughts around block chain and financial planning area Sinclair?

  27. Malcolm Thomas

    ‘Innovation hub’ – surely it’s time this particularly piece of wankery was retired?
    On the other hand, if you’ve located your hub in a multi-function polis somewhere, then one presumes that bombastic self-grandisement could well be mandatory.

  28. RobK

    Thanks Sinc,
    Now that I have read the linked “economics of blockchain”, I have a clearer picture of what you mean. It is something I have wondered about for sometime but comming at it from a different angle. In my working life I have had the opportunity to be involved in a few commercial cooperatives, namely, Foodland Associated Limited (before it was listed), Cooperative Bulk Handling (grain handlers in WA). These co-ops work well until through their success they become large and it becomes difficult for participants to divest. The challenge is to formulate a structure that is co-operative, interdependent but doesn’t foul antitrust ethos (for want of a term) and is easy for participants to move in and out of with little penalty…..interesting times.

  29. Tel

    RobK #2487389: Crypto currencies can work as an alternative mechanism for equity ownership, if that’s more convenient than a stock exchange. Given that it is only a bookkeeping process, I would expect that all the same corporations law would apply regardless of whether you have paper certificates or electronic ones.

    The challenge is to formulate a structure that is co-operative, interdependent but doesn’t foul antitrust ethos (for want of a term) and is easy for participants to move in and out of with little penalty…..interesting times.

    The crypto currency technology is unlikely to solve that. I’ve been checking out more of Nassim Taleb lately and he says you don’t want to make it too easy for participants to move in and out because when people know they are stuck in a group, they work a bit harder to benefit that group (and more importantly they avoid actions that would benefit themselves at the expense of the group). He also says there are optimal sizes to this type of venture and it’s a bad idea to attempt to outgrow those bounds. In other words there may be good reasons why the thing you are looking for doesn’t exist.

  30. John Constantine

    Bitcoin banking robots.

    http://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20170904/pdf/43m16zqwphdrq4.pdf

    Not going to disrupt the system just yet, but……

  31. RobK

    Tel,
    “In other words there may be good reasons why the thing you are looking for doesn’t exist.”
    I agree.

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