Blockchain Research Focus: Opportunities in Blockchain Research
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The Blockchain technology has been an area of rapid development for more than 10 years now. The proliferation of many innovative applications and businesses uncovered topics in the blockchain field that require further investigation and understanding. This article presents a list of some of the topics as opportunities for those interested in blockchain research.
A systematic study in 2016 on blockchain research papers identified the solutions and gaps for 7 technical challenge categories - throughput, latency, size and bandwidth, security, waisted resources, usability and hard forks. Many of the research works during the last few years investigated further novel solutions to address these blockchain technical challenges. Innovative blockchain networks, such as Ethereum, IOTA, CORDA, Ripple, Hyperledger and many others, invested in engaging the academic research community by suggesting open research topics and funding research. There are still many questions that remain unanswered with roots in the blockchain consensus algorithms. A major research topic today is understanding and improving the scalability and other characteristics of the consensus algorithms.
Identity management and privacy
The Identity management systems are at the core of many applications today. The blockchain technology opens opportunities in implementing distributed identity management systems that are designed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of people and organizations. The zero knowledge algorithms are one of the most popular implementations that can assure that the identity owner holds the access control rights. Other challenges in the decentralized identity management are designing identity data store and delegating access rights.
Smart contract vulnerabilities
The exploits of smart contract vulnerabilities have led to millions of dollars lost in the cryto blockchains with most sensational being the DAO and the Parity wallet . More robust methods and tools to test for smart contract vulnerabilities early in the development stage are needed. 
Oracles and Internet of Things (IoT)
Oracles are executable on the blockchain that record off-chain data from IoT devices to the blockchain. The IoT communications are subject to data privacy, confidentiality and integrity threats that could be mitigated using blockchain approach.
Governance and Regulatory issues
The blockchain governance model refers to the consortium of organizations or individuals who make decisions about the rules that govern the blockchain network. It is an open question about designing the optimal blockchain governance to avoid monopoly and surveillance by single entity and creating incentives for increasing the public good. The blockchain governance practices were actively analyzed in the case of Facebook Libra white paper announcement and many of the open questions outlined there are of general validity.
One of the key characteristics of the blockchain technology is the blockchain network design for building trust by self-regulation. Therefore, the blockchain transactions started as operations outside of the existing regulatory structures. This created situations where the existing risk management structures proved to be inefficient in protecting against criminal activity, anti-money laundering, tax and other legal compliance issues.
"Regulators have also started evaluating and acting on the emergence of blockchains. However, almost of all of the tangible regulatory responses to date relate to components of blockchain such as cryptocurrencies, ICOs and on specific legal issues such as KYC and AML. Currently, a comprehensive regulatory response to blockchain as a whole does not exist."
Smart contracts as a form of digital law
The smart contracts are pieces of codes that automate the business logic of the blockchain application. As such they represent rules and regulations for human actions that are written and enforced in computer code. Although the blockchain smart contracts serve as opportunity to strictly enforce the coded law, they can also introduce challenges in cases where we need the law to provide for exceptions on a case-by-case model . For example, "door locks opening only when presented with a valid cryptographic token, self-driving cars negotiating speed on the highway, etc." versus "the need for opening a door in the event of a fire, or speeding up to rescue a wounded person".
A state beyond the smart contracts is the Decentralized Autonomous Society (DAS), a society defined by "math, perfect information, and market mechanisms are supposedly able to solve the problem of organizational politics by removing humans from politics altogether."
The blockchain frameworks landscape is hugely diverse. It spans from frameworks designed for specific use cases by startups (Ethereum, Iota, Energy Web, Ripple) to general purpose frameworks developed by established software companies (IBM, Microsoft and Oracle). This rapid development of diverse blockchains leads to two major open challenges. First, how to implement interoperability so that data can be accessed and exchanged between many different blockchain implementations. Second, how the end users can decide what is the best framework for their applications.
Blockchain implementations, such as Cosmos and Ion, are being developed in response to these challenges. Widely accepted standardization for interoperability is still to be developed.
Common use cases subject to academic research are digital government, health care, sustainability, finance, IoT, supply chain, social justice(health care, education, poverty) and many others.
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