Potential in the blockchain

10 August 2017

Steve Reeves for web

Professor Steve Reeves investigating new and innovative ways to use the blockchain.

The blockchain is nothing new to computer scientists, but its technology keeps changing and its potential is under-developed.

That’s according to University of Waikato computer scientist Professor Steve Reeves. He’s been awarded nearly $200,000 seed funding from the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge to investigate further possibilities for the blockchain. The SfTI challenge was launched in 2015 and is a 10-year multi-million dollar investment that aims to grow the country’s future high-tech economy.

The blockchain is the distributed ledger or decentralised database that keeps all records of digital transactions, such as Bitcoin. “It is easily located, but secure and nobody has control,” says Professor Reeves. “And I got to thinking that it’s not only banks that are interested in the technology; I can foresee it being useful in libraries for cataloguing and interloans, and for Māori as a site for taonga.”

Professor Reeves says Māori have a long tradition of oral storytelling and if they want to retain their whakapapa and old stories, they need a secure place to store them “where no one can tamper with them and where there is no single owner of the material”.

Professor Reeves’ funding comes under Vision Mātauranga, which is integrated into all SfTI challenge activity. Its mission is to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

He plans to develop a prototype that would accommodate taonga and other information.

“The issue I have is that the technology is changing rapidly – go away for three weeks and when you come back, chances are what you have will no longer work, so I have to immerse myself in the technology and produce a public interface for the underlying blockchain.”

The seed funding will allow Professor Reeves to take on a postdoctoral researcher. “Ideally I think I need a social scientist with brilliant computing skills, and they’re not so easy to come by.”

Professor Reeves has strong connections with Data 61, Australia’s largest data innovation group and says he will be able to make use of that organisation’s expertise.

Blockchains are in essence an excellent idea, he says. “They reduce the need for a third party, and they can enable better information sharing and better more efficient business processes.”

University of Waikato professor of engineering Jonathan Scott was also awarded seed funding in the SfTI science challenge to investigate new and faster ways of measuring sound waves.