Oxford Faculty are Building the World’s First Blockchain-Based University 3 1744

The academic hive is abuzz with blockchain activity. Students looking to formally study blockchain technology can now do so at a number of prestigious universities, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, Georgetown and MIT. The blockchain bug has even made its way into the ivy league at Cornell and Princeton Universities.

“The courses are often jam-packed, and most have waiting lists,” CNBC says of blockchain classes at Berkeley, which also has a student club devoted to the block. The club is so popular it turns away 96 percent of applicants, according to CNBC. Most students, they say, are more motivated to improve the world than they are to make tons of money.

Across the pond, faculty from Oxford are going beyond just offering classes and developing what they hope will be the world’s first decentralized, borderless, blockchain-based university, called Woolf University.

The Borderless Blockchain University

Woolf University’s vision is a school where students can ‘show up’ to a class by checking in on the app. The app executes smart contracts that track the student’s academic history and financial aid, automatically pay the professor, and bypass innumerable bureaucratic hurdles usually relegated to lengthy paperwork processes.

For about half the cost of regular tuition, a student in Brooklyn could take a class in Yoruba from a professor in Nigeria and earn an EU degree.

‘The World’s First University ICO’

Woolf University’s founder Joshua Broggi, who also serves on Oxford’s Faculty of Philosophy, has just announced what he’s calling “the world’s first ‘university ICO’.”

“Woolf will use a blockchain to enforce regulatory compliance, eliminate bureaucratic processes, and manage the custodianship of sensitive financial and personal data,” the announcement says.

“Our ultimate aim is for this to be a driver of job opportunities and security for academics, as well as a low-cost alternative for students,” Broggi told Forbes.

Private sale of tokens is open now, and crowd sale will be August 30th through October 10th. Token sales are not available to citizens of China, the United States, or Iran.

Stanford is Taking Blockchain in a Different Direction

Oxford isn’t the only place expanding their blockchain vision beyond 202 classes.

Last month, Stanford announced their Center for Blockchain Research (CBR), which endeavors to develop new blockchain based technologies at one of the world’s top research institutions.

Led by professors Dan Boneh and David Mazières, the center’s first five years of research are backed through partnerships with some of crypto’s big names: the Ethereum Foundation, Protocol Labs, the Interchain Foundation, OmiseGO, DFINITY Stiftung, and PolyChain Capital.

The focus of the CBR will be blockchain as it relates to computer engineering, and its potential impacts on global business. “This is a fascinating area of research with deep scientific questions,” said Boneh. “Once you get into the details you quickly realize that this area will generate many PhD theses across all of computer science and beyond.”

A Global Watershed

Last fall the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts announced that they now accept tuition payments in Bitcoin. In April, the world’s first masters degree in cryptofinance was launched in Brazil. Universities in Moscow, Copenhagen, Cambridge and Cumbria are also researching blockchain’s now and future uses.

These developments, when taken together, could indicate a global watershed moment in the marriage of academia and blockchain tech.

Blockchain and Academia are Transforming Each Other

With the global academic world switching on to blockchain’s potential, and with projects like the CBR and Woolf University taking shape, the world of academia could be at a transformative threshold. Woolf students could conceivably find themselves learning about the blockchain through a blockchain supported infrastructure, while Stanford grads could be taking what they learn in blockchain courses and applying it to doctoral research in the CDR.

We can expect this to transform academia. It’ll transform the blockchain, too.

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I grew up in the Silicon valley under the technological mentorship of Steve Wozniak. I'm a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, I've lived, worked and traveled all over the world, and I now write in the Pacific Northwest.

3 Comments

  1. Hi,

    I am on the core leadership of Woolf. It is important to make clear for the readers that the Woolf project was designed independently from the University of Oxford, although several of its members are from that university.

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Bitcoin Uses As Much Energy As Austria, Could Add 2°C to Earth’s Atmosphere 2,187 14286

Bitcoin mining, it turns out, damages the earth more than more traditional environmental assaults like actual mineral mining.

According to a paper published Monday in Nature Sustainability, the power-hungry Bitcoin mining process consumes more than triple the amount of energy needed to mine the equivalent amount of gold, more than quadruple what’s needed for copper, and more than double what it takes to mine platinum.

Other coins didn’t fare much better. By their measurements, Ethereum and Litecoin consume 7 megajoules of electricity to produce the equivalent of $1, the same energy expenditure as copper mining but more than that of platinum or gold. Monero eats up 14 megajoules to produce $1.

Naturally, these measurements refer to the notoriously variable dollar valuations of such tokens. “While the market prices of the coins are quite volatile,” write researchers Max J. Krause and Thabet Tolaymat, “the network hashrates for three of the four cryptocurrencies have trended consistently upward, suggesting that energy requirements will continue to increase.”

Bitcoin’s Growing Electricity Bill is Bigger Than Some Countries

We’ve long known that Bitcoin is unsustainable. In a 2015 article for Motherboard, Christopher Malmo pointed out that a single Bitcoin transaction used 5,033 times as much energy as a Visa swipe, and could power 1.5 American homes for a day.

The electricity used to crunch Bitcoin code—and its environmental cost—has been growing with its increasing popularity. Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index shows Bitcoin currently consuming 73.12 terawatt hours (or 263.232 billion megajoules) of electricity annually. To put that in context, it’s comparable to the amount of energy it takes to power Austria for a year.

That means there are 175ish countries on earth using less energy than Bitcoin (to say nothing of crypto on the whole), while 66 countries consume less energy per capita than one Bitcoin transaction (it takes 94 thousand kilowatt hours of electricity to mine a single Bitcoin).

Iceland, a major hub of Bitcoin mining farms, spends nearly as much energy on Bitcoin as it does powering its residential homes. In this case, the damage is mitigated because most of Iceland’s power comes from renewable energy.

Canada’s Bitcoin emissions are also on the lower end due to renewable energy sources. They’re using this to court mining companies from China, where mining emissions are about four times that of Canada’s. Montreal International attracts foreign investment by calling Quebec the land of “green bitcoin”. This has caught the eye of some Chinese mining companies looking to go overseas as the Chinese government has discouraged expansion and shut down some mining operations altogether.

Depending on Bitcoin’s growth, some have projected that it could use as much energy as the entire world by 2020.

Digital Currency Has a Real Carbon Footprint

Krause’s and Tolaymat’s research reminds us of the sobering reality that all this invisible wealth has real world costs.

For the 30 months they measured between January 2016 and June 2018, they estimate their four featured tokens collectively belched out at least 3 million tons of CO2 emissions, possibly as much as 15 million tons.

These findings follow another study, published last month, which determined Bitcoin alone could add two degrees Celcius to global warming within the next three decades. That’s enough to raise ocean acidity by 29 percent.

Solving Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption Crisis

So what is the solution? If the world were to switch to 100 percent renewable energy overnight, the problem would be moot. But we can’t hold our breath for that. There could be ways of incentivizing clean energy so greener mines reap more coins, or of implementing clean energy in other ways.

It’s also possible to adopt less computationally intensive mining algorithms so the mining computers don’t guzzle as much juice. This would disappoint a lot of old school Bitcoiners who have invested in hardware, but their feelings don’t really outweigh that 2 degrees celcius that everyone will have to live with (or die by).

Whatever the best solution turns out to be, something needs to change soon. Bitcoin is growing up, and it’s time for it to mature into something more sustainable.

Kenya Looks to Blockchain for Affordable Housing Project 9 11442

The “Silicon Savannah” is moving deeper in direction of tech. The Kenyan government has announced a plan to manage the property allocation and funding of 500,000 affordable housing units with blockchain technology.

The units, which the government aims to build by 2022, will be set aside for households with an annual income below 100,000 Kenyan Shillings, about $990 USD. The World Bank estimates Kenya’s gross national income per capita at $1,290, according to Business Daily.

Blockchain will help ensure that the affordable housing is in fact going to those who fall below the average income bracket. Land title fraud has caused problems for Kenyans, as land grabbers target homes and even schools for illegal sales and development. Blockchain’s ability to store verifiable proof of title could help safeguard against fraudsters.

“Kenya will use blockchain technology to ensure the rightful owners live in government funded housing projects,” said Principal Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Charles Hinga, speaking with the World Bank on Monday.

Hinga said the plan will be financed by the National Housing Fund, which will raise over $59.5 million per month to get the project underway. But Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development James Macharia said it will take $31.7 billion to build a million homes, each of which will cost between $3,000 and $30,000. Macharia called for support from private sector financing.

Under the financing plan, working Kenyans will contribute 1.5 percent of their salary, which will be matched by their employers. “On affordable housing one should not spend more than 30% of their disposable income for housing,” Hinga tweeted yesterday. “Anything above 30% is not affordable.”

A Trustless Relationship Between People and Government

The initiative represents a considerable push to solve housing and title problems for the nation’s lower income families. But how will the government decide to whom the housing units will go? With so much talk about financing underway, people are already calling on the government to outline a plan for how they’ll distribute the affordable housing units.

The government will need to deliver the housing projects in a time when, Hinga acknowledges, the public is skeptical. Earlier this year $78 million went missing in a corruption scandal involving the National Youth Services. Where there is little trust between the people and their government, Kenya hopes to establish transparency through the blockchain’s distributed ledger system.

Kenya’s Move Toward Tech

In March, Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology appointed a blockchain taskforce to explore the ways the nation could use blockchain technology in the public and private sectors. They called it the Distributed Ledgers and Artificial Intelligence taskforce, and by September its chairman, Bitange Ndemo, was calling on the government to tokenize the economy.

Ndemo also proposed government implementation of blockchain to certify the authenticity of retail goods, so consumers can be sure of where their food is coming from, for example.

Governor of Kenya’s central bank Patrick Njoroge has also voiced support for the use of blockchain technology to strengthen service delivery, although he’s opposed the use of tokens and digital currencies.

But the affordable housing initiative could be the Kenyan government’s first real world implementation of the blockchain.

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