The phone rings and the realtor says your home offer was accepted. For many of us, what comes next is a flurry of papers, signatures, lawyers, bank forms and money changing hands. Everyone assures you this is all part of the ritual of buying a home. But with every signature, all but the most conscientious of us blindly pray no mistakes have been made, no unchecked boxes and no wasted money. 

Thanks to a new research partnership between the University of Waterloo and the National Research Council (NRC) on Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity, the dizzying uncertainty around buying a home, or anything really, could become a thing of the past.  

One of a handful of research projects involved in the Waterloo/NRC partnership is, “A Secure Scalable Quantum-Safe Blockchain for Critical Infrastructure,” led by Waterloo’s Srinivasan  Keshav of the Cheriton School of Computer Science, Mike Mosca of IQC and Combinatorics and Optimization. Eric Paquet from the NRC is also involved.   

“Distributed ledger, or blockchain, technologies have the potential to change infrastructure critical to society, ranging from finance and real-estate to energy and transportation because they let users conduct transactions despite not necessarily trusting each other or a central party,” says Keshav. “This means, for example, a buyer and a seller in an online marketplace, such as Kijiji, can conduct a transaction securely and with confidence in the outcome without having to trust each other.”  

Keshav

According to Keshav, this is all made possible by placing tamperproof certificates in the blockchain that certify some event or activity. However, existing blockchains do not support very many transactions per second, which limits their use. They use cryptographic protocols that could be broken by quantum computers.  

The broad goal of the research project is the implementation of a scalable blockchain, and to replace the existing cryptographic protocols with quantum-safe cryptographic protocols. The hope is this could achieve high throughput while still being quantum safe. 

Real estate transactions in particular involve many different, often significant, risks. There are opportunities for scalable blockchain to speed up and verify property and title searches, financing, leasing, purchasing and selling, due diligence, managing cash flows and payment management.  

The Canadian Real Estate Association counts more than 120,000 members - a figure that’s nearly doubled since 2000. As this technology evolves, the role of real estate agents and agencies will need to evolve and adapt if they hope to survive the potential disruption.  

Keshav and Mosca’s work is just one of many exciting projects being funded by the NRC partnership at Waterloo. Others include: 

  • “Automated Material Synthesis using Deep Reinforcement Learning,” led by Mark Crowley of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo and Isaac Tamblyn from NRC. 

  • “Neuromorphics for Vision-based Movement Planning and Control,” led by Chris Eliasmith of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo and Terry Stewart from NRC. 

  • “Reliable Gesture Recognition in Virtual Reality Environment,” led by Ed Lank from the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo and Keiko Katsuragawa from NRC. 

  • “Battery-free Touch Sensors for Internet of Things,” led by Omid Abari of the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo and Keiko Katsuragawa from NRC. 

“The partnership has brought into focus the Canadian government’s keen interest in developing a quantum-safe blockchain for our shared infrastructure,” says Keshav. “Funding from the project has brought together the scalable blockchain group in Computer Science with the Open Quantum Safe group in Combinatorics and Optimization at Waterloo and paid for students to work on this project. Hence, our work would neither have been conceived, nor advanced toward eventual practice, without this partnership.”