PhD position - Smart-Contract Language Development for Blockchain-Tech Systems

by Alex Norta, May 1, 2017

Currently existing smart-contract languages on blockchains are not suitable for human readability and lack key constructs for making them valid in court. Thus, the utility of smart-contract languages is limited and requires research work for the development of compilers and virtual machines.

PhD Position (4 years)

LSS Group (lss.ttu.ee) at the Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia

Department of Software Systems

Position Description

Please find general descriptions on this website: 
https://www.ttu.ee/faculties/school-of-information-technologies/doctoral-studies-6/

Additionally, more information is available on slides that are available with the link below:

https://drive.google.com/a/ieee.org/file/d/0Byw4AEomZK2edGJuNG5aR1RKcGs/view?usp=drivesdk

Applicants must have a master's degree in computer science, informatics, or related studies. The focus of the PhD position will be conducting research and publishing peer-reviewed scholarly papers. The research will also comprise proof-of-concept prototyping. Additionally, the candidate will supervise master-thesis projects that help to further the actual PhD topic. We aim to keep teaching obligation limited so that the the candidate has the necessary timetable available for research activities. The candidate is expected to know excellent English in spoken and written form.

PhD Topic

The traditional understanding of a contract is a written or spoken agreement enforceable by law. In most business cases, contracts are documents that identify the contracting parties uniquely, a service that is offered for some form of compensation that is usually monetary, and a set of additional clauses such as service-delivery dates, penalties for delivery failure, compensation clauses, and so on. Subsequent transactions are trust-based and contracting parties usually consider contracts as a symbol for an existing business deal. Another problem with the traditional form of setting up and managing contracts is that they are often underspecified. Most importantly, traditional contracts do

not provide sufficient details about the actual transaction process and consequently, frictions with conflicts between the contracting parties are very likely.

With respect to smart-contract languages, we consider the Solidity language of Ethereum and Eris. The latter is a fork of Ethereum with the objective to turn the public blockchain of Ethereum into a permissioned version to be more attractive for reclusive application domains such as in the banking industry. This forking explains why Eris also considers Solidity for smart-contract specifications. Because of the Turing-complete nature of Solidity, it is in principle possible to achieve in some more or less cumbersome way a support or all concepts and properties of the smart-contract ontology that eSML embodies. However, certain concepts are not supported, such as pattern-based design, process awareness, matching of processes, etc., are not adopted in any way in Solidity. With respect to inventing cumbersome workarounds, a recent conference-paper publication uses Solidity to demonstrate the feasibility of untrusted business-process monitoring and execution in smart contracts.

Given the detected deficiencies of the current smart-contract lingua france, the main research question for this PhD position is: How to develop a smart-contract language that has the utility and suitability for legal use by industry practitioners?

The inherent suitability and expressiveness of smart-contract languages also has implications on the underlying enactment machinery. Blockchain-enabled smart contracts that employ proof-of-stake validation for transactions, promise significant performance advantages compared to proof-of-work solutions. For broad industry adoption, other important requirements must be met in addition. For example, stable backwards-compatible smart contract systems must automate cross-organizational information-logistics orchestration with lite mobile wallets that support simple payment verification (SPV) techniques.

Application Instructions

Please follow the instructions of this website to be admitted for the position competition:

https://www.ttu.ee/studying/phd-studies/admission-4/

Note that the application for this PhD position is under the section for information and communication technology. The link above also provides all other relevant information. Further inquiries may be asked by sending an email to alexander.norta@ttu.com