The tech giants are investing in BlockLAB, a UC San Diego center focused on the technical, legal and business questions around distributed ledger technology.
(TNS) — Tech giants are funding the launch of a research lab at UC San Diego to unravel the mysteries around blockchain, a new way of writing software that’s sweeping industries around the globe.
The new academic center is called BlockLAB, and it includes about 20 individuals who will be digging into the technical, legal and business questions surrounding the fast-moving new technology. The laboratory is financially backed by tech titans like IBM, Dell and Intel, among others.
Touted by some as a revolutionary concept, blockchain — in its simplest form — is a way to distribute data across lots of servers in a fixed, unhackable format (so far). The concept is alluring to many, as they say it’s a foundational way to exchange information without the help of third parties. For example, one day monetary transactions could be made through software without the help of banks, where one transaction is recorded across hundreds of computers and verified by dozens of servers — instead of just one bank.
This is already being modeled with cryptocurrency like bitcoin, but the implications of such an exchange is still not well understood. And currency is only the first application developers have found for blockchain. Startups and researchers around the globe are unveiling new ways to use the technology every day, from recording location data and transacting real estate purchases to establishing digital identity systems.
But the technology is still in its infancy. Much like the internet in the early 1990s, the blockchain is undergoing boom and bust cycles as companies, governments and individuals grapple with technology’s complexities. Etienne de Bruin, the founder of a tech leadership group called 7 CTOs, says blockchain is still one big experiment.
“The internet incubated for 10 or 15 years before we found something useful for it,” de Bruin said. “Now we live in the information society, so we’re all a part of the blockchain conversation.”
James Short, lead scientist and co-founder of the Center for Large Scale Data Systems at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, largely agrees with de Bruin’s view — which is why he’s launched BlockLAB, serving as the research group’s director.
“One of the oldest lessons we know of new technology is that the thing introduced is rarely the thing eventually adopted,” Short said. “The web is the obvious example of that. We’re in the early stages (of blockchain) with limited understanding of implications of this technology. We want to be part of that evolution so we understand and contribute as it moves forward.”
Short said the academic lab will be studying the big questions surrounding blockchain, including taking a hard look at how blockchain will impact data architecture, it’s potential to replace shared databases and other technical implications. The lab will also interrogate the legal foundations of contracts, and the technical issues that might arise from algorithmic contracts. BlockLAB will also analyze the potential business and economic impacts of the evolving blockchain marketplace.
These are all topics that are highly interesting to tech giants like the companies sponsoring this new lab.
“The industry has a lot of questions,” Short said. “There’s significant motivation for all companies to not be late on something that could have big promise. Companies that were late on the internet, for example, spent a lot of money to catch up.”
Short said BlockLAB will be holding a meeting Dec. 4 to discuss market formation in blockchain, among other topics. Although not open to the public, Short said interested parties can contact him about attending. Representatives from a handful of local blockchain startups attended their last meeting, Short said, including genomics blockchain company LunaDNA.
Like most cities around the world, San Diego has an emerging blockchain community. Local startups using the tech as foundations for their business include Edge, Altcoin, XYO Network, LunaDNA, Polyswarm.io and eSmart Tech, among others.
One of those startups, XYO Network, is hosting a blockchain conference in San Diego called Spatial Summit from Nov. 9-11. There, startups, developers, and industry folks will discuss hot topics within blockchain and see technology demos, the founders said.
And it’s likely more blockchain talk will start bubbling up in San Diego. Greg Horowitt, a local venture capitalist with T2 Venture Capital, said he’s part of a different effort at UC San Diego to launch an experimental program called the Blockchain Exploratory.
“The Exploratory is a platform to encourage and empower students, researchers and faculty at UCSD to design, test, implement and measure/monitor blockchain experiments on campus and in the community to advance the understanding/knowledge creation of, and social and economic impact related to this emergent and disruptive new paradigm,” Horowitt wrote in an email.
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