Class Description

Fall 2020

I 320 Topics in Informatics : Blockchain and the Decentralized Economy

Unique ID: 27029 Bettina Warburg
9:00 am - 12:00 pm


Built on the back of a blockchain computing stack, this course will focus on topics and research key to the transition to a decentralized economy. We will cover the dynamics of emerging technologies, highlight new ideas from leading entrepreneurs and researchers shaping this future, and provide students with an opportunity to build their research into a product or startup. Students will use lean methodologies and anchor their approach in content covered through the course.


The shift towards a decentralized economy is in full swing. Emerging technologies like
Blockchain, AI/ML, and IoT are combining to radically change the way we engage with
the economy, and are forcing us to rethink our businesses and societal interactions. At
the heart of this new economy, is a new blockchain-based computing stack, that allows
not just humans, but machines to transact products, services, and information.

This course will take a practitioner’s approach to explaining these complex (and
confusing) technologies, grounding our understanding in how they’re evolving, and why
they’re paving the way for a future where machines represent a new consumer class:
50-billion devices armed with wallets and purchasing power. This future will transcend
age-old models of commerce, supply chain, information management, finance, and
governance to create something far more interesting: a distributed, transparent, and
autonomous infrastructure for the decentralized exchange of value.

Throughout the course we will focus on topics and research key to the transition to a
decentralized economy, hearing from leading entrepreneurs and researchers shaping
these new opportunities. Topics will include an introduction to blockchain and its
economic context, the technology stack of the decentralized economy, smart contracts,
specific networks (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dfinity, etc.), business use cases, regulatory considerations, and more. To help students apply this knowledge, the course also
provides students the opportunity to practice the art of building startup projects through lean methodologies, anchored in the topic of decentralization of trade. Progressing from individual research to user interviews, peer review, and eventually prototyping, students will gain valuable experience in taking an idea from inception to pitching.

Part “big idea course” on where information and economics combine, part “startup
bootcamp,” students will come away with both a framework for thinking about the future,
and a concrete final project that helps envisage that future.

The course will meet each week for 3 hours over the semester, and sessions will
consist of a combination of face-to-face meetings and online webinars (both
synchronous and asynchronous). Each session will include lecture-based content and
discussion on selected topics, expert guest lectures, and product/startup building. At the end of the semester, students will be graded on their ability to pitch and present their startup idea, the relevant empirical research supporting their ideas, and a succinct
business plan for taking their idea to market.


Taught as a web-based class with both synchronous webinars and asynchronous coursework.
Co-taught with Tom Serres.