The popularity of Bitcoin has attracted a strong and wide interest on the world of crpyto-currencies. These are virtual moneys allowing transactions amongst untrusted parties without the need for a supervising central authority, e.g. a currency without a central bank.
Crypto-currencies rely on the enabling blockchain technology, i.e. a protocol to achieve consensus on a distributed dataset, viz. the monetary transactions in the case of Bitcoin, in a decentralised way with no single authority in charge of the correct functioning of the whole system. A network of peers implements the protocol and guarantees integrity and availability of information by keeping a large number of replicated copies of it.
Blockchains do not only allow the passive storage of data, but also enable the decentralised execution of code, which is made publicly accessible in a transparent way, and peers guarantees the trusted execution of it. One example are smart contracts: self-enforcing agreements expressed as code that anyone can invoke, for instance supporting wealth-affecting interaction amongst untrusted individuals.
All this defines a novel and innovative model of computation, which relies upon ideas from economics, game theory, programming, finance, distributed systems, cryptography, peer2peer networking, decentralised consensus, to cite but a few. We do not yet fully understand such a decentralised computing and need to develop suitable theories to explain it and validate decentralised applications. Recent multi-milion “attacks” have clearly shown
I am keen to discuss with interested students from multidisciplinary backgrounds possible projects of interest and supervise them on PhD studies focussing on developing such missing, and much needed, theory, possibly including the diverse viewpoints of the many disciplines involved.
Examples of current activities are the co-supervision of a PhD in fintech and one in collaboration with a start-up company in blockchain technologies. Research-wise I am the chair of the Workshop on Trusted Smart Contracts series.
Interested students are invited to contact me for an informal chat about their interests and expertise and the open problems in the field.