Those wanting to learn more about the blockchain and its possibilities would be wise to follow Prof. Aggelos Kiayias.
The chair in Cyber Security and Privacy and director of the University of Edinburgh’s Blockchain Technology Laboratory, Prof. Kiayias is also the chief scientist at blockchain technology company IOHK.
Prof. Kiayias said he began to study cryptography in the late 1990s. His main focus with the blockchain are the consensus algorithms, which ensure ensuing blocks in the blockchain are the one true version while keeping others from damaging the system.
Two decades ago cryptography researchers were few in number, but thanks to the internet and recent history, more people are focusing on the space, he said.
“What’s resonated with a lot of people is the need to create global services that cross barriers and boundaries,” Prof. Kiayias said.
Recent developments are coming at the right time, he added. While some viable technologies develop ahead of their time and struggle to gain traction, many see the need for the blockchain and recognize its ability to solve multiple problems.
A key benefit of the blockchain is data ownership, which isn’t assigned to one specific entity, Prof. Kiayias said.
“Before the blockchain there was nothing like it. Previous systems piggybacked on existing infrastructure, but blockchain is completely permissionless. Anyone can participate.”
His research with IOHK focuses on designing more scalable and efficient systems, ones which are versatile and consistent.
The financial sector is only one of many that will benefit from the blockchain, Prof. Kiayias said.
“Think of data as a resource for everyone. There are great benefits to our ability to share data safely while utilizing it for the benefit of all.”
All benefit if private entities do not own their data, Prof. Kiayias said. Whether it be Facebook-generated or related to personal medical history, people are becoming increasingly aware of the risks of others controlling and profiting off their personal data.
“Binding people’s data to specific centralized entities is a side effect of how systems are designed now,” Prof. Kiayias said. “Blockchain can change that.”
The blockchain is a more collaborative approach. Base code is not bound to a commercial entity and is available for scrutiny. Unlike some systems where a single actor has a very specific incentive for creating the technology, the blockchain is open to anyone with an idea.
Voting systems are a blockchain application with merit, Prof. Kiayias said. Security needs to be high and the citizenry will demand increased proof of result reliability.
“A blockchain-based system can provide the backbone where the auditing of the voting process can take place,” he explained. “One of blockchain’s key properties is it’s immutable. It cannot be manipulated.”