Originally built as a way to secure cryptocurrency transactions, blockchain is a digital platform that verifies and records exchanges. Blockchains are global networks that can have millions of users, each adding information or data that is secured through cryptography. This creates an indisputable history of these transactions that cannot be modified by a single user, eliminating opportunities for fraud, and it is this feature that has some heralding blockchain as a way of increasing cybersecurity.
University of Waterloo researchers are looking to understand the full potential of this emerging technology and determine if blockchain can live up to the hype and reduce its intrinsic connection to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Is it a safe bet for data transfer applications in government, business, health and finance?
Creating faster and more efficient transactions
In the early 1990s, the Internet was emerging as a new and exciting technology. Visionaries were declaring it would revolutionize the world. During a period known as the dot-com bubble, new companies exploded on the scene, raising millions in speculative capital on nothing more than a promise. It all came crashing down in 2000 when the bubble burst.
While many Internet predictions eventually came true, it took several decades to reach the potential promised in those early days. Cheriton School of Computer Science Professor Srinivasan Keshav predicts that blockchain will experience a similar trajectory.
Although it may lose some of its lustre because of its close ties to controversial bitcoin, Professor Keshav believes that like the Internet, research will continue even after the media hype quiets down. He has brought together 17 faculty members from departments across campus, including from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Management Science, Accounting and Finance, Public Health, Computer Science and Combinatorics and Optimization, into the Sirius research group. The group studies the foundations and applications of blockchain technology and explores its application to areas such as energy, finance, accounting and health.
In their research, PhD candidate Christian Gorenflo, Professors Keshav and Lukasz Golab and colleague Stephen Lee from the University of Massachusetts have been working with the open source code for IBM’s Hyperledger Fabric to find new ways to speed up this permissioned blockchain. His work so far has led to increasing transactional speed by a factor of six. While Hyperledger can currently perform 3,200 transactions per second, the research team is able to increase it to 20,000 transactions per second, with plans to take it to hundreds of thousands per second in the coming year.