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The Mathematics of the Computer in the Sky

Tim Roughgarden, Columbia Univ CS Professor
Monday, January 29, 2024
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Tim Roughgarden, Columbia University CS Professor
Triangle Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer Series

Snacks will be served at 3:45 PM.

Turing-complete blockchain protocols approximate the idealized abstraction of a "computer in the sky" that is open access, runs in plain view, and, in effect, has no owner or operator. This technology can, among other things, enable stronger notions of ownership of digital possessions than we have ever had before. Building the computer in the sky is hard - and scientifically fascinating. This talk will highlight three threads in Dr. Roughgarden's recent research on this challenge:

-Possibility and impossibility results for permissionless consensus protocols - i.e., implementing an "ownerless" computer.
-Incentive-compatible transaction fee mechanism design - i.e., making an "open-access" computer sustainable and welfare-maximizing.
-A Black-Scholes-type formula for quantifying adverse selection in automated market makers, some of the most popular "programs" running on the computer in the sky.

The talk will emphasize the diversity of mathematical tools necessary for understanding blockchain protocols and their applications, such as distributed computing, game theory and mechanism design, continuous-time finance, etc. and also the immediate practical impact that mathematical work on this topic has had.

Tim Roughgarden is a Professor in the Computer Science Department at Columbia University and the Founding Head of Research at a16z crypto. Prior to joining Columbia, he spent 15 years on the computer science faculty at Stanford, following a PhD at Cornell and a postdoc at UC Berkeley. His research interests include the many connections between computer science and economics, as well as the design, analysis, applications, and limitations of algorithms.

The computer science departments at Duke, NC State, and UNC-Chapel Hill joined forces to create the Triangle Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer Series in 1995. It is made possible by grants from the US Army Research Office, rotated between the departments.

Contact: Kamesh Munagala