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Professor Andreas Veneris (centre) and graduate students Ryan Berryhill (left) and Neil Veira (right) are part of a multidisciplinary group working on blockchain research at the University of Toronto. (Photo credit: Jessica MacInnis)

Leading members of the city’s blockchain community linked up last week to participate in conferences, hackathons and networking events during Toronto Blockchain Week.

Professor Andreas Veneris (ECE), who served on the event’s steering committee, co-organized a research symposium at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology where researchers at U of T and other GTA universities shared their work in blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Ryan Berryhill (ECE PhD candidate) presented the latest research from Veneris’s group, who are working on various areas of blockchain, including work to improve so-called smart contracts. Called Astraea, their technology includes a decentralized blockchain “oracle” that leverages human intelligence to provide external information into public blockchains.

“One of the biggest limitations of blockchain-based smart contracts is that these contracts cannot access data from outside the blockchain — for example, from websites,” said Berryhill.

Software systems called oracles are used to verify external data and bring it into the blockchain.

But this brings risks: these oracles do not have the robust security guarantees of a decentralized blockchain. “Astraea is a work-in-progress decentralized oracle based on a voting game to verify the veracity of the information it is bringing into the blockchain.”

Other presenters spoke about topics ranging from blockchain for power grid reliability to mechanisms to calculate more precise bitcoin pricing. This symposium was one of nearly 40 events that took place throughout the week and drew hundreds of participants.

In 2018, Veneris, along with Professors Andreas Park of the Rotman School of Management, Fan Long of the Department of Computer Science, Katya Malinova of the Department of Economics and Poonam Puri of York University created UTLedgerHub, the University of Toronto’s global knowledge hub for crypto-economic blockchain technology.

“Toronto is a global hub for blockchain technology and there’s a lot of excellent research being done here at U of T and at other universities,” said Professor Veneris. “Bringing together researchers with people working in industry is a great way to explore new challenges and share our work.”

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