This talk is a special edition of the IBM-Illinois Center for Cognitive Computing Systems Research (C3SR) Technical Seminar.
Blockchains are distributed ledger systems that record transactions in an open peer-to-peer network so that records cannot be altered without modifying all subsequent blocks and collusion by a majority of peers. They are being touted as general-purpose technologies that enable trusted interaction in numerous societal settings. This short tutorial presentation provides background on how distributed ledger systems work, with a focus on consensus-based protocols for block validation and on hash functions for maintaining information immutability. We point out emerging questions of information storage efficiency, communication efficiency, and energy efficiency that arise in blockchains. In closing, applications of blockchains outside of cryptocurrencies, such as in the food pipeline, global trade, and scientific reproducibility will be discussed.
Lav Varshney is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also holds appointments in computer science and neuroscience, and leads curriculum initiatives for the new B. S. degree in innovation, leadership, and engineering entrepreneurship. He received the B. S. degree with honors in electrical and computer engineering (magna cum laude) from Cornell University in 2004. He received the S. M., E. E., and Ph. D. degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, 2008, and 2010, respectively. His research interests include information and coding theory, artificial intelligence, signal processing, data science, and creativity. He is also currently quite intrigued by blockchain technologies.