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Learning more about the blockchain

28 February 2018

Steve Reeves
Professor Steve Reeves, leading BRONZA, a blockchain research group.

A University of Waikato computer scientist Professor Steve Reeves has set up what’s believed to be New Zealand’s first blockchain researchers’ group.

A blockchain is the distributed ledger or decentralised database that keeps records of digital transactions, such as Bitcoin, and Professor Reeves is the lead on the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) seed National Science Challenge, investigating further possibilities for the blockchain.

The new research group calls itself BRONZA  –  Blockchain Researchers of New Zealand Aotearoa – and working alongside Professor Reeves will be Kade Morton, Security Consultant from Deloitte; Alex Sims, Associate Professor of Commercial Law, Auckland University; Warwick McNaughton, Deputy Electoral Officer, Auckland Council; and Michael Delgrosso from Election Services.

Professor Reeves says a blockchain is secure, but nobody has control because it’s a distributed system. “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.”

He sees BRONZA as having an important role in helping people to understand the role and potential of blockchains. “We need to ensure public interest is prioritised in blockchain development, encourage more research in blockchain projects, lobby government for more engagement, and increase the public’s overall understanding of the blockchain.”

The group, which is open to all and also aiming to expand, will meet several times a year, with the next meeting in a couple of months in Auckland, where members will also give public presentations.

“The current founding members of the group cover a wide range of interests in blockchain, and we came together following an article last year about a new grant I received. A couple of people contacted me and the rest followed as contacts of those contacts,” says Professor Reeves.

Vision Mātauranga

Last year he was awarded nearly $200,000 seed funding from SfTI to support his research. The 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.

Professor Reeves is developing 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.”

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.”

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