Analysis

Behind the Scenes: How Academia is Shaping the Future of Crypto

The ties between the financial and academic aspects of the blockchain industry are growing more important.

Earlier this month, NYU announced the launch of a new degree program: students can now major in blockchain technology. CBS reported on September 18th that the program is the first of its kind in the United States.

Professor Kathleen Derose said that she expects that a number of large fintech companies will make moves to partner with the program. An official statement from the school said that “we hope to establish a groundwork so that the students can understand what’s really happening under the hood, so that they can understand both the legal and the business implications, and prepare them to go out and tackle this new market.”

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Indeed, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase released a study last month revealing that the presence of blockchain technology in higher education is growing. According to the study’s findings, over 40 percent of the world’s top 50 universities offered at least one course in cryptocurrencies in blockchain. University students’ interest in blockchain was also reflected in a study by Student Loan Report, which found that 21 percent of students had used some of their loan money to invest in cryptocurrency.

While the growing presence of blockchain and crypto courses in universities may not seem like very much on its face, the advent of a major connection between academia and the blockchain industry carries serious significance for the industry’s future. There are several reasons that this is true.

The Presence of Blockchain in Academia Will Lead to Greater Industry Integrity

Similar to the way that adoption of blockchain technology has lent credibility to blockchain, that the presence of blockchain programs in educational institutions legitimizes the technology.

And then, there are specific reasons why the advent of blockchain in academia is particularly exciting for the space. The more blockchain programs there are in universities around the world, the more possibilities there are for projects and new pieces of technology to be peer-reviewed and tested.

At the moment, peer-reviewed whitepapers and blockchain papers are certainly out there, but they are far more likely to be the exception than the rule. While some of these unreviewed platforms and whitepapers may attribute their lack of scientific accountability to the scarcity of possibilities to get a white paper peer-reviewed, there are a large number of platforms that take advantage as the lack of accountability within the space as an opportunity to swindle unsuspecting consumers.

A More Established Academic Community in the Blockchain Industry Could Help Eliminate Fraud

Indeed, a study conducted in December of 2017 by the University of Luxembourg Faculty of Law, Economics, and Finance found that a startling number of whitepapers lacked critical information about the projects that they represented. 18 percent of whitepapers did not contain “any information about the issuing entity”; 70 percent did not include any relevant legal information, and four percent did not contain any information about the technology of the coin that they were representing.

While the ICO market has changed and matured since December of last year, these kinds of problems continue to plague the ICO space. Misinformation and unrealistic promises run unchecked, trapping unlucky investors in their midst. Regulatory efforts have certainly made some headway in eliminating fraudulent coins and platforms from the ICO space, but a cultural change about acceptable practices in the crypto industry must take place in order to truly effectively end some of the industry’s most unfortunate trends.

Indeed, the presence of an established academic community in the blockchain industry could attribute to an expectation of higher accountability standards. In other words, even if peer-review isn’t an enforced requirement, it could be something that consumers and users come to expect.

Blockchain in Academia Will Lead to More Use Cases, Spurring Industry Growth

There are also more safe spaces there are for general experimentation with blockchain. At this point in time, most experimental blockchain projects are funded by large corporations; therefore, most of the blockchain projects that are being developed are designed to be used by large corporations.

While this work is certainly important, it is somewhat limited in scope–the ‘blockchain revolution’ the world has been waiting for won’t happen as long as the majority of cutting-edge blockchain platforms have been created for the purposes of moving large sums of money from one place to another.

“These programs help [build] a very strong theoretical understanding as well as testing ground for engineers, cryptographers and researchers to build new solutions and grapple/experiment with the existing scaling challenges,” said Yossi Hasson, Managing Director of Techstars Blockchain Accelerator, in an email to Finance Magnates. “We’ve seen a number of new projects being born out of these institutions and expect to see many more to come.”

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Techstars’ Yossi Hasson.

Indeed, blockchain in academia could mean the development of blockchain platforms that serve a wider variety of industries and purposes–in medicine, immigration, identity, government, and a host of other fields. The more that blockchain and cryptocurrency play a role in these fields, the more likely it is that they will play a more significant role in our daily lives.

As the popularity of blockchain-based platforms continues to increase, the more valuable these platforms (and their corresponding cryptocurrencies and companies) will be.

Blockchain in Academia Has a Direct Influence on Regulation

As the role of these technologies across a number of fields continues to become more important, the more likely it is that regulators will bend more favorably toward blockchain and cryptocurrency in the legislation that they create.

What’s more is that graduates of blockchain-centric higher education programs, as well as the professors and creators of these programs, have a direct influence on regulators. Government officials seeking to regulate cryptocurrency are highly likely to be in contact with academic figures in the blockchain space when drafting legislation.

Dave Shrier, a lecturer at MIT and associate professor at Oxford.

Dave Shrier is one example of this. Dave is a lecturer at MIT and an associate fellow at Oxford teaching blockchain-related subjects. In an exclusive interview with Finance Magnates earlier this year, he spoke of some of his experiences working with regulators: “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to regulators policy makers, and among others, the OECD and the EU are trying to do what I consider to be fairly progressive approaches to thinking about crypto or blockchain, and trying to actually enable a new economy and not quash innovation.”

 

Some of these graduates and faculty members may even become regulators themselves. Some analysts have argued that this is the key for truly effective legislation for the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.

How Effective are Secondary Education Options for Blockchain at the Moment?

Because blockchain is such a new presence in academia, the options for pursuing blockchain education are still somewhat limited. Right now, “Cornell, Berkeley and MIT have top programs,” said Mark Grabowski, associate professor at Adelphi University in New York.

Because of blockchain technology’s rather ‘DIY’ origins, there are myriad resources for free, online learning. Some of them are even offered by established academic institutions–“Princeton offers a good, free online course through Coursera,” Grabowski said. Udemy also offers a nanodegree in blockchain development.

There are, of course, a number of ways in which blockchain technology has been slated to transform certain aspects of higher education. Grades, diplomas, and other credentials can be stored on blockchains; Woolf’s blockchain-based university, led by Oxford faculty member Joshua Broggi, has “blockchain-enforced accreditation processes… that teachers and students from outside the EU can join our platform [with] and earn a full EU degree – a non-EU student with a non-EU teacher in a non-EU language.”

In any case, the connection between blockchain and academia is an often-overlooked, undervalued relationship that will act as a driving force behind innovation in technology and regulation. This relationship will become more apparent as more degree programs are developed, and more graduates emerge from them. Until then, however, the world will be waiting.

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