by Eric Pauwels (CWI)

Earlier this year, as part of the government’s Digital Agenda, the top-level ICT Team set up by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs instigated the formation of a National Blockchain Coalition.  This coalition is a joint initiative of over 20 organisations – including Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) – active in government and research, as well as the financial, health, logistics, and energy sectors. With this NBC initiative, the Netherlands aims to become one of the international leaders in blockchain development and applications.

The founding partners of the National Blockchain Coalition (NBC) anticipate that blockchain technologies will open up new and more efficient digital value transactions, including micro-payments, and will therefore have a huge impact on services including administration, healthcare, finance, energy and logistics networks [1]. As a consequence, the coalition foresees positive effects on the autonomy of citizens, transparency of operations and cyber-security, as well as a significant reduction in administrative overheads.  

The first action line in the agenda primarily focuses on the development of “digital identities”, which would allow persons and legal entities, but also services, and even objects or devices to autonomously engage in efficient but trusted digital transactions. To realise this vision, various technological solutions need to be developed. In addition to the obvious need for technological solutions, the coalition is also exploring what is required to remove legal obstacles or perception-based objections that would hamper wider acceptance.  

At CWI, researchers are interested in various aspects of blockchain technologies and applications. At the fundamental level there are deep questions about the computational foundations of trust and consensus in distributed peer-to-peer networks. Developing algorithms of provable performance that address the balance between decentralisation and permission-less access to the system on the one hand, and scalability and tamper-resistance on the other, remains an active area of research for cryptologists [2].  

Another topic of interest concerns quantum-proof versions of blockchain technologies. The wider roll-out and adoption of these technologies will most likely coincide with the emergence of functional and commercially viable quantum computers and sophisticated quantum software. Failing to adequately address these technological innovations might rapidly render large-scale investments in blockchain-based information infrastructure worthless and threaten to put broad swathes of society and industry at risk of fraud and malicious interference.

Research in formal methods at CWI is also highly relevant, in particular, with respect to the use of smart contracts.   As smart contracts embedded in blockchain are immutable and automatically triggered by transactions, there are new incentives to develop efficient mathematical methods that can be used to formally prove their correctness.  

On the application side there is strong interest in using blockchain technologies to enable micro-payments in peer-to-peer markets. As partners in the European ERA-Net project GRID-FRIENDS, CWI researchers are involved in the design of a decentralised energy coordination infrastructure at Schoonschip, a new housing development in Amsterdam.   The ambitious goal of this innovative building project is to create a community of about 40 floating family dwellings that together constitute a quasi-autarchic energy microgrid.  The houses are furnished with solar panels, heat pumps as well as batteries to temporarily store electricity.  The batteries come equipped with planning and optimisation algorithms developed at CWI that coordinate the exchange of surplus energy among neighbours in the microgrid. As a result, there is a pressing need for a decentralised but tamper-resistant platform to keep track of all the ensuing micro-transactions. CWI researchers are investigating how blockchains can be harnessed to address these and related issues, such as automated negotiation and preference elicitation [3].

In summary, the instigation of a Dutch National Blockchain Coalition testifies to the strategic importance and urgency assigned to the development and roll-out of blockchain technologies by top-level ICT team in the Netherlands.  Researchers at CWI are actively investigating both fundamental and application-oriented aspects of various blockchain technologies.

The National Blockchain Coalition partners include: ABN AMRO, ING, Volksbank, Nationale Nederlanden, Rotterdam Port Authority, Enexis, Alliander, the Dutch Royal Notarial Association, Brightlands and the Ministries of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure and the Environment, Security and Justice, and Interior and Kingdom Relations. On the knowledge side they are joined by TU Delft, Tilburg University, Radboud University, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI), NWO and TNO. The social perspective is contributed by ECP | Platform voor de Informatie Samenleving (Platform for the Information Society). On 20 March 2017, Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands Henk Kamp received the action agenda of the National Blockchain Coalition.

Links:
https://kwz.me/XE
http://www.grid-friends.com
https://kwz.me/XK

References:
[1] Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond block chain. Report UK Government Office for Science.  19 Jan 2016  (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/distributed-ledger-technology-blackett-review)
[2] A. Narayanan et. al. “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. A Comprehensive Introduction”.  Princeton University Press, 2016
[3] T. Baarslag and M. Kaisers: “The Value of Information in Automated Negotiation. A Decision Model for Eliciting User Preferences”, Proc. of 16th Int. Conf. On Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems (AAMAS 2017).

Please contact:   
Eric Pauwels, CWI, The Netherlands
+31 (0)20 592 4225
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Next issue: January 2019
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Transparency in Algorithmic Decision Making
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