Physical, blockchain-mediated multiplayer games of trust

People involved: Asa Calow 

Keywordshardware, blockchain, multiplayer, system dynamics

Project Description

Blokc is a proposed low-cost and general purpose hardware/software ecosystem for blockchain research in physical multiplayer environments –allowing for the testing of multi-agent system models with co-located participants, in dynamic and trust-free environments.

Blokc will go beyond the existing state-of-the-art for embedded blockchain technology – e.g. open source Bitcoin hardware wallet Trezor – by building out the underlying core technologies and libraries for common hardware platforms such as Arduino and Particle Photon, as well as laying out fundamental principles of design when combining pre-determined rules for interaction as described by smart contracts (deployed via e.g. the public Ethereum blockchain, or a private instance of JP Morgan Chase’s Quorum platform) with custom hardware such as barcode readers, internal geolocation, gesture recognition, and Bluetooth Low Energy or Mesh. These design principles will be backed up by a well-documented suite of open source tools, allowing other researchers to extend and build new platform variations to suit their own needs.

Specific technical challenges are expected to include the investigation of key blockchain protocols in an embedded context: Light Ethereum; scalable autonomous smart contracts (Plasma); proof-of-stake; and non-interactive zero-knowledge proofs (Zerocoin’s zk-snarks).

Beyond these technical underpinnings, the Blokc project will set out to conduct live multiplayer experiments with new blockchain-mediated “trusted interaction” models – to foster co-operation and resource sharing, or build shared provenance and value networks for instance – with immediate application in today’s dynamic and trust-free environments such as disaster zones, refugee camps, or temporary cities (e.g. Burning Man).

The final part of the research involves blockchain data replay, analysis, and visualisation. This would enable would-be dynamic systems designers to gain insight on whether/how game-theoretic models of human collaboration differ once deployed in physical environments with live actors.

Blokc is part of a larger piece of art-science-technology work – the Institute of Unknown Purpose, a collaboration with Professor James Crutchfield, director of UC Davis’ Center for Complexity Science. The IoUP is engaged in simultaneously speculating about and designing foundational technologies for a post-Transition world. Beyond this most explicit link to the call theme, the project links directly to several of the topics discussed during the kickoff workshop – new tools for exploring differences between proposed game theoretic and live experimental environments; new forms of digital governance; methods for designing accountability.