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Blockchain Technologies

Blockchains and distributed ledger technologies are being rigorously explored by researchers, government agencies, startups and Fortune 500 companies (mostly in STEM and finance). Blockchain technology provides a type of distributed database, generally for low-bandwidth and low-throughput data but with extremely high integrity properties. A blockchain is generally open to anyone who wants to participate, robust against a wide range of faulty and malicious behaviours, and runs across the open internet without anyone in charge. When a participant looks at her local copy of the ledger, she is assured that

  1. Everyone has the exact same records, and;
  2. Each record was validated by the majority of participants before it was written into the ledger.

Blockchains can be used for more than passive storage of data; rules can be written to be executed by the network with the same level of validation and robustness. Blockchains have a long intellectual history but the modern form was introduced as the mechanism driving Bitcoin, the first successful digital currency (the market value of all bitcoins is over $100B USD). There is uncertainty around the future of blockchain technology because there is uncertainty about how the underlying technology will work. The purpose of this chair is to understand what is possible with this technology.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton (RCGT) is a Canadian leader in assurance, tax, consulting, and recovery and reorganization services. Catallaxy is RCGT’s Montreal-based blockchain expertise centre. The theme leader, Dr. Jeremy Clark, is an Associate Professor at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE). He co-wrote one of the earliest academic papers on Bitcoin, contributed the foreword to the first cryptocurrency textbook, and has given the first course in Canada on the subject. His co-authored research survey was published at a top security venue and has the most citations of any security paper in 2013. In the area of blockchain technology, he has published numerous articles, chaired and served on numerous committees, and has engaged with industry, standards committees, and government (including testifying to committees of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate).

We will provide RCGT and Catallaxy with a thorough design landscape for this technology for a few chosen use cases. To best appreciate the subtitles of the technology, our key activity will be the implementation of proof-of-concept mechanisms. We will work closely with the RCGT/Catallaxy to ensure our experimentation is useful and not merely academic. The projects fall under four themes:

  1. New financial technologies beyond digital cash including corporate lending, currencies with stable exchange rates, and derivatives;
  2. Auditing tools for firms holding blockchain-based assets and conducting blockchain-based transactions; and
  3. Verifiable election systems for governmental or shareholder elections.

This chair assists a Quebec-based firm establish a competitive edge and enables their largely Canadian clients to comply with Canadian regulations. We will transfer our work to government agencies to advance regulations and standards, which can enhance legitimacy and foster innovation.

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