MIT hosts the W3C blockchain interoperability workshop

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Hyperledger offer different approaches and technology stacks to capture the emerging capabilities of the blockchain.

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The W3C is presenting the workshop W3C Blockchains and the Web, hosted by the MIT Media Lab.

Exploring identity, value exchange, asset recording, consortium frameworks, and reputations systems all fall within the mystic of the blockchain. Blockchain platforms could offer distributed micro-services that can be applied to the web, enabling personalization of services using smart contracts. What form will the next pseudonymous low-level messaging system or incentivisation framework take? Innovators are converging at the MIT Media Lab to get answers – by consensus.

MIT’s W3C Workshop on the Web

The allure and possibilities surrounding blockchain have increased over the last several years but have erupted over the last six months. The MIT Media Lab scheduled a workshop called, Blockchains and the Web: A W3C Workshop on Distributed Ledgers on the Web, to be held on 29–30 June 2016 at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The goals of the workshop included:

  • Core technical components of blockchains and their overlap with the Web, such as:
    • Blockchain APIs, such as JavaScript or REST APIs
    • Blockchain primitives such as transaction initiation, key signing, and wallet management
    • Ledger interchange formats and protocols
    • Smart contracts and conditional execution contexts
  • Application areas, such as:
    • Identity systems, including privacy, security, and confidentiality factors
    • Rights expression and licensing
    • Decentralized processing, computing, and storage infrastructure
  • Other considerations, such as:
    • Optimal use cases for blockchains
    • Surveys of existing blockchain software systems
    • Testing mechanisms to increase interoperability, robustness, stability, and confidence in blockchain systems

The W3C, hosted at the MIT Media Lab aimed to get a wide diversity of attendees, across industries and communities. The particular focus was on representatives from the Bitcoin community, communities such as Hyperledger and Ethereum, browser developers interested in adding support for blockchain APIs, identity systems, digital currency projects, security, privacy researchers, financial institutions, and developers of blockchain systems who want to improve interoperability. The objective of the W3C workshop was to identify areas that need web standardization and incubate to ensure the right steps are taken for the key stakeholders involved.

The MIT Media Lab in early June starting collecting positions statements (name, background, links to resources, and topics of interest focusing on the what, not the how) and expression of interest statements  (name, organization, bio, goals, and workshop goals) for potential participants interested in attending the workshop. The goals and objectives vary widely, and it’s great to see the range of uses for blockchain.

Blockchain topics of interest

The W3C program committee is jointly co-chaired by Doug Schepers, W3C; Daniel Buchner, Blockchain Identity; Program Manager, Microsoft; Neha Narula, Director of Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) MIT; and Dazza Greenwood, MIT Media Lab.

The W3C Blockchain and the Web committee’s diversity are expansive and include members from Blockstream, IPFS, LedgerX, Intel, Microsoft, Eris Industries, NTT, IBM Blockchain Labs, MIT Media Lab, W3C, ConsenSys, PayGate, BSafe.network, CELLOS consortium, BigchainDB, MIT Digital Currency Initiative (DCI), Blockstack, EthCore, Monegraph, String, Dfinity, and Ethereum.

Participants who requested to join the workshop were asked to rank their interest across ten topics, and after 53 submissions, below are the initial results.

  1. Blockchain APIs, such as JavaScript or REST APIs
  2. Blockchain primitives such as transaction initiation, key signing, and wallet management
  3. Ledger interchange formats and protocols
  4. Smart contracts and conditional execution contexts
  5. Identity systems, including privacy, security, and confidentiality factors
  6. Rights expression and licensing
  7. Decentralized processing, computing, and storage infrastructure
  8. Optimal use cases for blockchains
  9. Surveys of existing blockchain software systems
  10. Testing mechanisms to increase interoperability, robustness, stability, and confidence in blockchain systems

A noteworthy addition to the W3C Blockchain and the Web workshop speaking line up was Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton. His focus centers around information privacy and security. His blogs Freedom to Tinker and 33 Bits of Entropy, have insightful pieces of information, which can have you lost in wonder for hours. Narayanan’s course titled, Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies from Princeton University are available through coursera. The core course topics include:  intro to crypto and cryptocurrencies, how Bitcoin achieves decentralization, mechanics of Bitcoin, how to store and use Bitcoins, Bitcoin mining, Bitcoin and anonymity, community, politics, and regulation, alternative mining puzzles, bitcoin as a platform, altcoins and the cryptocurrency ecosystem, the future of Bitcoin, and the history of cryptocurrencies. Interested readers can opt-in for notification when the book Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technology course website, is officially released.

Narayanan offers a downloadable textbook that is publically accessible and will be issued by the Princeton University Press in 2016. The book does a thorough job of explaining underlying view about what Bitcoin is and how it works. His course addresses the following important questions about Bitcoin:

  • How does Bitcoin work?
  • What makes it different?
  • How secure are your bitcoins?
  • How anonymous are Bitcoin users?
  • What applications can we build using Bitcoin as a platform?
  • Can cryptocurrencies be regulated?
  • If we were designing a new cryptocurrency today, what would we change?
  • What might the future hold?

MIT blockchain workshop hangouts series

Leading up to the event the MIT Media Lab created a website dedicated to the webinar and a website devoted to the Blockchain Workshop Hangouts Series. In case you missed the pre-workshop webinars, they are available online:

  1. Blockchain Workshops Hangout Series Kick-off (25 min)
  2. Blockchain Workshop: About the Content (30 min)
  3. Blockchain Workshop: Position Papers, Issues, Inquires and Ideas (51 min)
  4. W3c Blockchain Workshop (11 min)
  5. Blockchain Standards, Ideas, Issues and Opinions (110 min)

Links to recorded workshops can be found on the Blockchain Workshop Hangout Series website.

The future is limitless

Is IPFS the future? A peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol to make the web faster, safer, and more open. IPFS provides historical versioning (like git) and powers the creation of diversely resilient networks which enables persistent availability with or without Internet backbone connectivity. Most importantly every file can be found by human-readable names using a decentralized naming system called IPNS.

Here is how IPFS works (adding files):

  1. Each file and all of the blocks within it are given a unique fingerprint called a cryptographic hash.
  2. IPFS removes duplications across the network and tracks version history for every file.
  3. Each network node stores only content it is interested in, and some indexing information that helps figure out who is storing what.
  4. When looking up files, you're asking the network to find nodes storing the content behind a unique hash.
  5. Every file can be found by human-readable names using a decentralized naming system called IPNS.

For more information, IPFS has an excellent whitepaper; that explains the peer-to-peer distributed file system with the vision to connect all computing devices with the same system of records.

How does identity-related information get safely published to a public ledger without violating an individual’s privacy? Are verifiable claims and their standardizations the future? The W3C workshop will undoubtedly uncover even more blockchain possibilities. First responders and emergency workers could be authenticated to gain protected site access or cross-jurisdiction interoperability, utilization of centralized key management (biometric sensors, native security features, integration with web applications, including key recovery) or connected device self-authentication.  – pondering the possibilities of blockchain is a noble adventure for any curious mind.

Quickly interest turns to healthcare and the potential to drive change with healthcare interoperability. An interaction that affects every human being.

Join the movement. Changing the world starts with a single believer and that believer could be you.

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