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MIT Digital Currency Initiative Seeks To Loosen Institutions’ Hold Over The Internet

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:51 PM
Lester Coleman
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:51 PM

Cryptocurrency stands at the forefront of technology’s efforts to utilize the power of the Internet for positive change. And according to Neha Narula, director of research at MIT’s Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative, such change is needed.

Neha Narula
Neha Narula

Instead of an interoperable data fabric, data has been siloed. Instead of access and freedom, gated app stores exist.

Narula described the leadership role MIT’s Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative is taking in working to change this, Medium  reported. She reviewed the numerous steps the initiative has taken to unshackle the control a few organizations have over online power.

She noted that after finishing her Ph.D. at MIT, she recognized bitcoin is the largest consensus algorithm. She realized that the need to reach agreement among parties that don’t necessarily trust each other is omnipresent.

Support For Data Consensus

In her role at the Digital Currency Initiative, Narula has dialogued with people in various industries who said an open, censorship-resistant, interoperable platform for data consensus could address many issues, including digital identification for refugees, micropayments to support content producers, and credit and money transfer services for the unbanked.

Narula realized the world is ready to embrace establishing more interoperable, open systems, and that the effort could help solve numerous problems.

The possibility of making a difference in such problems is worth exploring. Those involved in these issues believe a cryptographically-signed, open access log has something to offer.

In Search Of Trust Paradigms

MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative seeks to leverage its talent base and develop the trust paradigms needed.

Much of the technology community has given up on the chance that these technologies can be truly decentralized and open. The Digital Currency Initiative, on the other hand, wants to balance that viewpoint and support research that finds a forward path.

Harnessing Multiple Disciplines

The effort does not fall completely on one academic discipline. Advancing interoperable, open systems demands effort from different fields, such as cryptography, security, distributed systems, programming language design, game theory, finance, law, databases, behavioral economics and more. It represents an “antidisciplinary” work the lab seeks to foster; the space between the traditional academic departments.

The challenge is exciting, but involving the different disciplines makes the task harder.

DCI Projects Unfold

Where the past year was about becoming part of the blockchain and crypto communities, the next will be about creating a strong research group that is grounded in developing practical solutions. The projects address:
• Using cryptographic primitives for computation with auditability and privacy;
• Creating decentralized monetary policy through techniques such as in-protocol inflation and decaying assets;
• Examining biases in newsfeed algorithms and considering censorship-resistant mechanisms for web publishing;
• Securitizing smart property to allow new models to fund the developing world;
• Exploring new methods of mining cryptocurrencies to assure more open access to the system and fairness.

The initiative seeks to continue and expand the research. It runs classes on cryptocurrencies and hosts weekly open research meetings to bring Boston area researchers together. It funds a residents program that brings experts to MIT to teach workshops and give talks.

The initiative co-chaired a W3C workshop bringing together the community to discuss standards. It supports global conferences such as Scaling Bitcoin. It hosts open source developers to enable them to remain independent. It also seeks to expand the community that works in this space.

Also read: MIT’s DCI establishes $900,000 bitcoin developer fund

Boot Camp Draws Students

The initiative last month ran a week-long cryptocurrency boot camp where students gathered from all over the country.

Future work will be about convening along with research. The initiative this week is gathering healthcare industry members for a life sciences and healthcare workshop. It will also gather experts form areas like monetary policy to explore a new financial architecture.

The initiative will work to build an interoperable, open data fabric to provide privacy, integrity and security to participants to support a new application paradigm.

Images from iStock/gregobagel and Twitter.