From Asia to California — a passion for blockchain is taking UC Berkeley Sutardja Center visiting researchers and Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator scholars Yao Chieh Hu (Jeff) and Ting Ting Lee (Tina) on a worldwide journey of opportunity and discovery.
“Blockchain is more engaging,” says Jeff on why he finds working with blockchain more compelling than other current hot industries such as artificial intelligence. “Few firms and corporations are using blockchain in practice. There are a lot of opportunities here. It is a Blue Ocean.”
“There are two major factors that make blockchain more compelling,” adds Tina. “The first is that AI is the study of static data generated by people, while blockchain introduces new definitions of rules for how people interact with each other.”
“The second factor is, we get a chance to collaborate with many different industries. Finding how blockchain can solve their problems exposes us to the beauty of interdisciplinary collaborations,” continued Tina.
Jeff, a computer science graduate of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), co-founded his third startup, Turing Chain Limited, a blockchain consulting company, along with Tina, who is a competitive programmer and currently a sophomore at HKUST.
Due to the high-demand for blockchain applications in Asia, Turing Chain became cash flow positive in only two months, and has a wide-ranging portfolio which includes the first movie blockchain in Asia, SelfToken, a New York news media firm, Blackbird.ai, and a number of casino leagues in Russia, Macau, and China. Turing Chain also conducts blockchain training for universities and governmental agencies such as National Applied Research Laboratories (NAR) in Taiwan, and has launched several online and in-class courses.
One of their most interesting projects so far was developing a blockchain platform for a US boxing competition league to train boxers and to track match data in an innovative way, creating better engagement for both the participants and the boxers.
“It is undeniable that the research space in AI is getting more and more saturated,” says Tina, citing another reason why blockchain might be one of the best opportunities for entrepreneurs in recent years.
One of the many things that is special about Tina and Jeff is that they are not just another team of young crypto speculators looking to make a quick buck from this new technology, but serious researchers with three publications (1, 2, and 3), which they presented at major conferences, earning them best paper and other conference awards along the way.
“Blockchain is more than a new technology,” says Tina. “You need to consider game theory, which includes how people chase incentives and compete for the best outcome individually. Blockchain also combines cryptography, distributed systems, and social interaction design, since you have to incentivize users to obey the rules in a distributed network.”
Jeff and Tina will be conducting research in Berkeley until July, and they are currently connecting with Berkeley professors and students to collaborate. Right now, they are most interested in conducting research around the security aspect of blockchain, such as smart contracts attack and defense and blockchain ‘honeypots.’ A honeypot is a special type of smart contract with specious vulnerabilities to lure naive blackhat hackers into attacking the traps, yet ends up draining the hackers’ own funds.
“Typically the hackers lose a huge amount of money if trapped,” says Jeff with a smile.
Aside from security, their research has recently been recognized by Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges as of today. They will join Binance Lab as research fellows and they aim to not only work on open source projects but also publish more academic papers.
Turing Chain currently has nine employees in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, focusing on blockchain consultancy since 2018. Their future plan is to launch their own product based on their research.
While Tina and Jeff are in Berkeley until July, Jeff will soon return as a masters student studying industrial engineering & operations research, concentrating on FinTech.
Tina is still an undergraduate student at HKUST, but she plans to pursue her PhD upon graduation. Her dream is to become a professor doing what she loves.
For Jeff and Tina, UC Berkeley will serve as a critical milestone in their global blockchain adventure. Through the Xcelerator and the Blockchain Lab, they hope to sharpen their startup mindset to prepare them for wherever the mysteries and opportunities of blockchain will lead them next.