Welcome to the jungle, …err…the world of blockchain research

Over the course of the past few months, we (a group of blockchain aficionados) have been busy designing a new model of funding and supporting core research and development in the blockchain space. We’re building ColliderX: an R&D hub for [blockchain+] convergent technologies such as AI, IoT, and augmented reality, amongst others.

Welcome to our new Medium page where we will post regular updates, so that you can keep tabs on our progress, get a sense of what you can expect from the team going forward, and find ways of getting involved with this unique social enterprise venture.

In a nutshell, ColliderX is an open-source, crowdsourced and crowdfunded research hub accelerating R&D related to core blockchain infrastructure.

Unbiased, useful research

The Genesis of ColliderX

We launched this initiative after coming to the realization that research and development on core digital infrastructure is nothing glamorous, and often something nobody wants to pay for. Just ask the scholars! They can spend more than 20% of their time applying for grant funding and rather unsophisticated administrative tasks. This burden cuts down their time to focus on what they are good at … research! Or, you can ask the blockchain start-ups who are pushing very hard to get their ideas up and off the ground. See how much time they have left to spend on theoretical research that is not absolutely necessary to get their business moving on… Chances are, they will tell you about their VCs breathing down their neck, leaving no time for side projects, as noble and important as they are. (Not including some of the outrageously funded ICO projects … that’s a post for another day).

Are corporations in a better position to do R&D on critical infrastructure? Not necessarily, as each company has its “core business”, leaving a limited budget to potentially invest in research, especially when that research does not have a clear return of investment in 6 months or a year.

All of this does not paint a pretty picture for the future of blockchain research and the progress of an industry that has many ardent supporters and evangelists. If even a fraction of the highly anticipated use cases of blockchain are to become a reality, at production scale, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have the time or the money to invest in this critical and foundational work.

Blockchain technology is gaining wide adoption

Until now, the burden of developing the core blockchain infrastructure has fallen squarely on the lap of the open source community. For example, the Bitcoin network is the result of a community of developers, united around a shared vision. Still, their technology has gained wide adoption, without the need for a CMO or a giant marketing budget, because it was not supported by a single company, but by a community of committed individuals. Bitcoin was not born in the petri-dish of an academic lab either. And so far it has worked, for the most part. Almost every day, we’re seeing new platforms, exotic tokens, and innovative usecases emerging. The money is also pouring in large amounts into these projects -although perhaps it is not warranted given how early stage this all is.

However, the reality of today’s blockchain R&D is that the participants are no longer just the open source developers who have been sustaining this infrastructure for so long behind the scenes. These distributed platforms, which have recently gained significant adoption in enterprise, are bound to meet the very high expectations of the industry. This includes meeting the standards in terms of support, delivery, and the expectation that new features will have to be developed for a growing base of enterprise users, with very different abilities and needs.

That’s a lot of pressure to deliver — and not achieving these expectations could have a devastating impact on the crypto market, which already knows frequent corrections impacting many investors that jumped onto the bandwagon later in the game.

Our goal at ColliderX is to play a part in moving the blockchain ecosystem forward by creating a safe place to do unbiased technical research and open source the findings to help ease the burden of research on each individual participant, with the understanding that the rising tide lifts all boats.

How does ColliderX help?

We’ve started to collect and organize research problems that are sitting on the “to do later” wishlist of many individuals and organizations.

We’ve made a few key assumptions based on what we heard from the community:

  1. Most entities have a to-do list of at least 15–20 items;
  2. Everyone has constraints (notably time and money — otherwise we would each hire an extra 5–10 tech experts and put them on our payroll for 1–3+ years, right?) Because of these constraints, entities focus on doing the work and research that is absolutely critical to their business, leaving other topics on the back burner;
  3. Most of these items are of interest for everyone else (not only the entity that stumbled across a research question at a particular time); and
  4. Most entities benefit from accessing the research output.

So, why not start pooling those topics into a joint repository, instead of reinventing the wheel?

ColliderX is building out a network of researchers, or (a term that we’re particularly fond of) “tinkerers”. This encompasses both the open source developers who are already on the blockchain bandwagon and more traditional researchers from the world of academia who have deep experience in fields that are directly relevant to the present and future of blockchain technologies. Wouldn’t we all benefit if more subject matter experts in cryptography, mathematics, distributed systems, and other more traditional research disciplines, were to collaborate to augment the work already in progress? We do think so. Unfortunately, the world of academia and the world of open source development in blockchain are not set up to collaborate effectively today. We’re looking forward to bridging that gap.

One of the ways to accomplish the above goals is to create the right system of incentives for this research to occur.

Our hypotheses include:

  1. One effective mechanism to incentivize research is funding. If research activities provided some funding, this would be a more attractive area for promising talent to spend their time. We’re not so naive as to believe that the majority of the folks with the right skills and interest in this type of work will do so for free, working out of their homes, if the other opportunities include a steady paycheque.
  2. Interesting, meaningful, ground-breaking work is a powerful motivator. Ask any Ph.D candidate about their work and they will likely glow as they explain their thesis. Ask a blockchain developer how they can possibly work for 14hours straight, with the help of some Soylent, and you’ll notice a similar reaction.
  3. Research topics need to be relevant to keep the momentum going. Ask the 50% of graduate students who choose to leave their programs early, before completion, why they left. And many do so because they’ve come to the realization that no one really cares about the story they are presenting through their research. Understandably, no one wants to spend 5–7 years of their life doing research that is then peer-reviewed and published, but then sits on a shelf for many years collecting dust.

What is success for ColliderX?

We’ll call this initiative successful, if we can do the following:

A) assemble a robust collection of research topics that are meaningful, interesting, and relevant;

B) build a robust network of researchers interested in tackling the research;

C) rally sufficient funding through a crowdfund to provide researchers with grants to incentivize them to do the research. (and no, this is not an ICO, more on that later).

How you can help?

Join us! We’re a collaborative, global, and non-profit social enterprise.

If you’ve come across lists of open research areas, are interested in being a researcher, want to become a financial backer, or have other ideas for collaboration — by all means reach out!

We welcome your feedback: everything we’ve accomplished to date is a culmination of many, many conversations with stakeholders in the blockchain space.

We are on twitter as: @ColliderX and Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/colliderx

Have a great weekend, dear world of blockchain.

-Iliana

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