http://www.dagstuhl.de/17132

March 26 – 29 , 2017, Dagstuhl Seminar 17132

Opportunities and Risks of Blockchain Technologies

Organizers

Roman Beck (IT University of Copenhagen, DK)
Christian Becker (Universität Mannheim, DE)
Juho Lindman (University of Göteborg | Chalmers UT, SE)
Matti Rossi (Aalto University, FI)

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Documents

Dagstuhl Report, Volume 7, Issue 3 Dagstuhl Report
Aims & Scope
List of Participants
Shared Documents
Dagstuhl Seminar Schedule [pdf]

Summary

Introduction

The Dagstuhl seminar "Opportunities and Risks of Blockchain Technologies" had 21 participants from universities, public institutions, and enterprises. Blockchain is both an information technology as well as an economic innovation. As a technical innovation it is a new version of a distributed transactional database technology, especially suited for decentralized environments of limited or imperfect trust. As an economic innovation it offers novel tools to any problem domain where there exists a need for a reliable record of transactions in a decentralized environment where not all parties, whether humans or machines, can be fully trusted.

Computer scientists have researched key issues of blockchain technologies such as technical availability, tools, standards, and applications that enable these networks. Our seminar aimed to bridge the gap between this research stream and research perspectives from Service Science, Wirtschaftsinformatik, and Information Systems. We brought together a multi-disciplinary group of academic and industry researchers; specifically those working in fields such as open platforms, open source, distributed trust platforms, cryptocurrency tools, as well as the related social and legal challenges.

We set to analyze and synthesize the current body of knowledge on the emerging landscape of blockchain technologies. We linked the emerging phenomenon of cryptographic economic systems to already established research streams around trust-related issues in payment systems, online currencies, and supply chain management through group work and keynotes. We worked on four theme groups:

  1. Research centers
  2. Blockchain and Fintech
  3. Essence and future of blockchain technologies
  4. Impact/changing institutions

In the following we look at each of these shortly. The full report contains a number of position papers that explore these issues in further detail.

Research centers

The research center work group sought ways of strengthening the European and global research on blockchain. A starting point was a proposal to form a network of similar minded Blockchain experts and research groups across Europe. Several groups from countries such as in Denmark, Ireland, UK, and Switzerland could start as a loosely coupled interest group to work on potential research agendas and teaching curricula. The Blockchain seminar at Dagstuhl can be regarded as the starting point for the formation of the research network. Based on this network, the next step would be to convince funding agencies and industry to write research proposals for the DRAO (Distributed Research Autonomous Organization). The idea of DRAO is that the Blockchain research center should not be just another research center, doing research on Blockchain, but actually should be based on Blockchain, as a distributed autonomous research organization.

Furthermore, the group discussed a proposal for Blockchain teaching and education. This would result in a suite of courses on various areas, possibly as follows:

Computer Science Foundations

  • Cryptography, authentication and signature methods.
  • Distributed computing, distributed algorithms, understanding of the tradeoffs, consensus protocols
  • Distributed systems
  • Domain specific languages for contracts and for protocols.
  • Large scale software engineering for distributed ledger development, software engineering
  • Program analysis and software quality, objective way of verifying properties

Information Systems Economics

  • Economic theories on incentive models, auctions and mechanism design (basically game theory insights)
  • Inter-organizational, distributed governance and management theories
  • Collective economies, reputation and trust management
  • Digital Mindset and management of digital personas
  • Ethics and critical reflections of Blockchain and societal implications

Information Systems Management and Organization

  • Innovation Design: from Blockchain idea to prototype
  • Digital Entrepreneurship: from Blockchain prototypes to markets
  • Taxation, auditing and integration of Blockchain in organizations

IT Law

  • Legal implications of Blockchain, property rights, ownership, responsibilities

Blockchain ans Fintech

Our second worgroup dealt with the relationship between Blockchain and the Fintech industry. The group produced a matrix of different financial and legal functions, tools required to handle those and the potential of Blockchain to replace solutions to these functions.

Essence and Future of Blockchain Technologies

The workgroup on the essence of blockchain technologies set out to understand what forms the core of the technology. Its preliminary definition is that a blockchain implementation should contain First, the data storage that implements a distributed ledger system (DLS), the actual Blockchain, which is the data structure used in DLS is a hash-linked chain of blocks. A block is a collection of transactions that form the ledger. Furthermore, a Consensus Mechanism allowing for (de-)Centralization of power to decide which transactions are valid in the network. The innovative combination of the above mentioned three components give DLS interesting characteristics that we describe in the next section.

Impacts/changing institutions

This workgroup set out to understand the relationship between technical change and social change. It tried chart the relationship of blockchain and institutions. The discussion centered around the resilience of institutions and the need for stop gap measures, which are often provided by quite traditional public infrastructures and legal frameworks. In some cases, institutions will have to put conditions in place to allow blockchain to work (in particular to avoid harm). The idea of Blockchain being able to replace or eliminate trust was a central topic and it was noted that this can be an issue in cases of fraud (e.g. Ethereum fork as an example). The group also discussed who provides stable identifiers and who decides what can be stored in a given ledger. Similarly, the assignment of value and ownership and their control remain important issues that are now seen as tertiary to the technology. Key questions arising from this were:

  • How will blockchain solutions that work well in theory or as prototypes function when used as large-scale solutions?
  • Are certain groups or communities better suited to adopt blockchain?

Final comments

We believe that despite some hiccups (e.g., DAO fork) blockchain will emerge as an important technological and economical phenomenon. Its key properties and impacts should be studied intensively to allow for new innovations in the financial sector and other areas, where the technology’s affordances promise to create value. The work continues through a manifesto in Business & Information Systems Engineering, a viewpoint in Communications of the ACM, and a special issue in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems.

License
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 Unported license
  Juho Lindman, Roman Beck, Christian Becker, and Matti Rossi

Classification

  • Security / Cryptology
  • Society / Human-computer Interaction
  • Software Engineering

Keywords

  • Blockchain
  • Trust Networks
  • Trust Platforms
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Bitcoin

Book exhibition

Books from the participants of the current Seminar 

Book exhibition in the library, ground floor, during the seminar week.

Documentation

In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.

 

Download overview leaflet (PDF).

Publications

Furthermore, a comprehensive peer-reviewed collection of research papers can be published in the series Dagstuhl Follow-Ups.

Dagstuhl's Impact

Please inform us when a publication was published as a result from your seminar. These publications are listed in the category Dagstuhl's Impact and are presented on a special shelf on the ground floor of the library.

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