Blockchain Workshop Position Statement

Author: Harry Kalodner (Princeton)

My name is Harry Kalodner. I'm a PHD candidate at Princeton University advised by Professor Arvind Narayanan. My research has centered around both the analysis of existing blockchain based systems as well as investigations into how we can bring the power of the blockchain into new realms.

The blockchain provides us with the impressive capability to bring decentralized trust to the internet. The benefit of being about to operate without requiring trust in any outside parties is enormous. However Bitcoin still sees relatively little usage compared to other mainstream networking technologies.

As well studied in the classic paper Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt: A Usability Evaluation of PGP 5.0 [1], non-technically minded users have a difficult time interacting with cryptographic systems that they do not have a deep understanding of. While Bitcoin advocates generally argue that Bitcoin is on the verge of massive adoption, I believe that the system still has significant social hurdles to adoption before technical ones such as major issues with transaction processing speed will be reached. Problems of key management and multi-device usage create large barriers to adoption.

I’m a great believer in the technical capabilities provided by Bitcoin and the greater blockchain ecosystem. I believe that there will be enormous social benefit to greater levels of public adoption if we can adopt usage patterns which appeal to broad audiences rather than small groups of technically sophisticated users.

Intermediaries such as CoinBase which provide online wallets allow users to interact with the Bitcoin ecosystem without being forced to deal with key management themselves. However these companies create a point of centralized trust which Bitcoin seeks to eliminate. It is an open issue how we can move more people into secure cryptocurrency usage.

I’m quite interested in these issues having spent time exploring the analysis and creation of blockchain based systems for the last 2 years. I began my research into the realm of Bitcoin with a paper thoroughly analyzing the cryptocurrency Namecoin [2]. Namecoin provides a very useful example of a system which appears to solve a technical problem (the ability of centralized DNS authorities to unilaterally revoke access to DNS records for a given name) but failed to achieve mass adoption in large part due to a lack of firm understanding of the greater social sphere that it exists within.

Since analyzing and writing about Namecoin, I have become quite interested in investigating other domains in which blockchain technology can aid decentralization that do not suffer from the same difficulties of Namecoin. I have recently been exploring the application of the blockchain to the decentralization of the RPKI. This domain has the advantage of only requiring adoption by a small number of users which already have to deal with the intricate issues of key management, AS and IXP managers, while still providing security benefits to all users of the internet.

I focused my research on an area which does not require adoption by a mass audience because of the great hurdles in providing an application that users will understand and benefit from. However I would love to see the adoption of standardized metaphors and interaction which would allow the mass adoption of cryptocurrency systems. I believe that this is a very difficult problem to solve. However, it is integral to bringing all of the numerous benefits of Bitcoin to the public.