“Decentralization” is widely claimed to be a property of blockchain platforms. However, closer inspection reveals surprising concentrations of power across various layers of each platform. Taking Bitcoin as an example, just four mining pools control enough hash power to mount a 51% attack. More subtle aspects are the small number of developers who contribute to the Bitcoin software and operators of the Internet infrastructure over which the Bitcoin protocol is used to communicate. Similar concentrations of power exist on other blockchain platforms. This motivates a structured approach to quantifying the decentralization of blockchain systems.
The EDI project aims to develop a principled, modular, and reproducible set of metrics allowing stakeholders including investors and regulators to compare how decentralized blockchain systems are along a few layers (e.g., hardware, software, consensus, geography and so on). This scientific work will inform and underpin the design of a real-world platform, built by an engineering team within the EDI project.
The PhD student’s contribution
The collaborative nature of this PhD project is unique. The project will employ senior researchers and developers to work on engineering challenges (e.g., data collection). The student’s main contribution will be in developing metrics for each sub-strata of the blockchain platform (software, hardware, consensus, p2p networking, governance) and developing a principled approach to aggregating these metrics into a single index of decentralization. The ideal candidate would have expertise and experience applying data science/statistical methods to measure complex properties (e.g., security/reliability/privacy, econometrics, psychometrics etc.).
A deep understanding of blockchain systems on a design level is preferred but not necessary as the PhD project is designed to expose the student to this during the first stage of the project. The candidate should also have experience in and be open to collaborative work. The student would join the Blockchain Technology Laboratory, which hosts a variety of academic and social events. The student would be encouraged to present work at communities including policymakers, industry, and other disciplines (e.g., economics and finance).
- A good bachelor's Hons degree (2.1 or above or international equivalent) and/or MSc in a quantitative subject (economics, mathematics, statistics, computer science, finance, or a social science subject with a specialism in measurement)
- Experience with a hands-on measurement project
- Openness to collaborative work as part of a broader project
- Knowledge and interest in blockchain systems
- Interest in social aspects of how technologies (e.g., governance)
Applicants should apply via the University’s admissions portal (EUCLID) and apply for the following programme: Informatics: Cyber Security, Privacy and Trust with a start date of 09 Jan 2023 (home applicants) or 01 May 2023 (international/overseas applicants).
Applicants should state “Edinburgh Decentralization Index (EDI) project” and the research supervisor (Dr Daniel Woods) in their application and Research Proposal document.
Complete applications submitted by 14 October 2022 will receive full consideration; after that date applications will be considered until the position is filled.