Computer Laboratory

Anwaar Ali *

Research Gate | LinkedIn

About me (Über mich )

I am a second year PhD student (this happened after submitting a research proposal report and appearing for a viva exam i.e., fulfilling the requirements for The Certificate of Postgraduate Study (CPGS)) at Computer Lab under the supervision of Jon Crowcroft. My PhD research is funded by The Microsoft Cloud Computing Research. My departmental (so you win CST!) classification looks something like this: Systems Research Group (SRG)>Networks and Operating Systems Group (NetOS). I am a member of Wolfson College.

I completed my masters degree in Electrical Engineering at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEECS), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan. I hold an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, Pakistan.

I grew up in the city of Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan. I speak Urdu as my first language (Ich spreche auch ein bisschen Deutsch!).

About my doctoral research

Research topic: Effective governance by and of the blockchain [Post first year]

During one's PhD, in my opinion, one's (specific) research topic keeps on evolving. After a preliminary literature review, meetings and discussions with my supervisor, and with the project team in general, led me to morph my original topic a bit (as the heading of this section reads so in comparison to the heading of the next section). I am still interested in studying the effective integration of laws and policy with blockchain but at the same time considering a specific use case as well. Though, talking about a good enough use case is a precarious topic of discussion in the community (of both pro and, avid, sceptics of blockchain technology). The way I approach the issue is by simply considering blockchain as a trusted and distributed database which makes (more) sense if there are multiple mutually non-trusting parties who are simultaneuously interested in such a shared database's record keeping.

Currently the use case that I am considering is the intergrity of data provenance. Data provenance (or provenance in general) shares many similarities with blockchain's record keeping (specially if you consider how the history of transaction records is recorded and chained together, which essentially tracks the provenance of an asset---mostly of digital nature like e.g., the so called digital token---in an immutable manner. This can be observered as e.g., in the original incarnation of blockchain, i.e., in bitcoin's network). You can read more about this and what I submitted at the end of my first year by having a look at the following report (you may however notice a tiny nit in the topic of the report i.e., I now want to consider the aspect of governance by---as it will allow me to consider different uses cases---first rather than governance of blockchain.):

[First year's report] Effective governance of and by the blockchain [PDF]

After my viva examination, it was suggested by my examiners that I needed to make my experimental setup and plan more specific and pronounced. I produced the following document as a result:

[First year's report update] [PDF]

Errata (I'm sure there will be a few) reporting, critique (or outright grilling!), and collaborations✝ are most welcome.

Overall, at the end of my first year, here is my personal experience of Cambridge/PhD so far (it might be bit of an advice to other post grads as well---might not be a very good one though!).

Some useful resources to help put things into perspective about my PhD's second year:

VeritasDB: High Throughput Key-Value Store with Integrity by Sinha et al. (though not directly related to blockchain) motivates to study (cloud) data (provenance) integrity.
ProvChain: A Blockchain-based Data Provenance Architecture in Cloud Environment with Enhanced Privacy and Availability by Liang et al: A data provenance system using blockchain. [PDF]
Hyperledger Fabric: A platform I am currerntly using to study the concept of permissioned blockchains and considering its suitability for data provenance use case.
CamFlow: A data provenance capture system. Currently, I am looking at how to stream data generated by this system and record it on blockchain.


Research topic: Integration of laws and policies with the blockchain technology [During first year]

My PhD is quite interdisciplinary involving law and technology. Specifically, my doctoral investigation is about studying the integration of law/policy with the blockchain technology. Blockchain is the very thing that powers the trust in the Bitcoin ecosystem. Blockchain particularly fascinates me as it is merely an intelligent rearrangement of classic techniques and tools such as hashing and cryptography (which have been around for a while!). Now, the trust provided by blockchain isn't just the human goodwill but is in the form of verifiable mathematical evidence. One can imagine such a trust as analogous to oxygen in our ecosystem. We breathe oxygen in an involuntary manner and go on about our daily chores and routines. Similarly, two parties in a blockchain ecosystem can make transactions with each other without necessarily trusting each other. Sometimes this phenomenon is referred to as the 'trustless' environment of blockchain. Hence, blockchain realizes the concept of 'pure' dectralization where the system as a whole does not require a third managing party (like a central bank in funds transfer) for an action to be performed among the peers of a networked system. This is the reason that sometimes blockchain is referred to as distributed ledger technology (DLT) as well.

Blockchain can find its applications for other use cases as well. Specially the ones where the role of third parties is dubious and transparency and fairness in record keeping and management is required. But in order to apply blockchain for a use case one has to be careful about the rules and laws that go with it according to a local-geographic context. We can, upto some extent, program laws and policies for a use case using smart contracts. The notion of smart contracts was poplularized by a blockchain-based system called Ethereum. Now, as part of my doctoral research, I will be looking at different use cases, the laws/policies that go with it, and how efficiently (and how far) I can program these laws (maybe in terms of smart contracts) on top of a blockchain. The text in this section is the summary of the following proposal document:

[Pre-PhD research proposal] The Study of Integrating Policy and Law into the Blockchain Technology (I annotated this document for a discussion just before my first ever meeting with the project team) [PDF]

Some useful resources to get started with blockchain and smart contracts:

Interactive blockchain demo by Andres Brownworth.
Truffle: Smart contract development framework.
UK Government's interest in using DLT.

Important: I am not an economist or an expert on financial matters in general (in fact, I barely manage my own personal finances). So, please do not ask me about if I own any bitcoins (I am more interested in casting a bitcoin of my own one day than to mine one!) or similar advice on investing in cryptocurrencies. I will, however, be open to have a random discussion on this topic (who knows you might end up teaching me a thing or two!)!

Publications (Note: The following, mostly, depicts my pre-PhD research)

Journal papers

Crisis analytics: big data-driven crisis response [PDF]
Junaid Qadir, Anwaar Ali, Raihan ur Rasool, Andrej Zwitter, Arjuna Sathiaseelan and Jon Crowcroft - Journal of International Humanitarian Action, 2016

Big data for development: applications and techniques [PDF]
Anwaar Ali, Junaid Qadir, Raihan ur Rasool, Arjuna Sathiaseelan, Andrej Zwitter and Jon Crowcroft - Big Data Analytics, 2016

The past, present, and future of transport-layer multipath [PDF]
Sana Habib, Junaid Qadir, Anwaar Ali, Durdana Habib, Ming Li, Arjuna Sathiaseelan - Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 2016

Exploiting the Power of Multiplicity: A Holistic Survey of Network-Layer Multipath [PDF]
J Qadir, A Ali, KLA Yau, A Sathiaseelan, J Crowcroft - IEEE Communications Surveys and Tutorials, 2015

Conference and workshop papers

Towards Blockchain-enabled Wireless Mesh Networks [arXiv PDF]
Mennan Selimi, Aniruddh Rao Kabbinale, Anwaar Ali, Leandro Navarro, Arjuna Sathiaseelan - Accepted as one of the best papers at: CryBlock 2018, 1st Workshop on Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains for Distributed Systems, June 15th, 2018, Munich, Germany

PiCasso: A Lightweight Edge Computing Platform [PDF]
Adisorn Lertsinsrubtavee, Anwaar Ali, Carlos Molina-Jimenez, Arjuna Sathiaseelan and Jon Crowcroft - IEEE 6th International Conference on Cloud Networking (CloudNet), Prague, Czech Republic, 2017

MP-ALM: Exploring Reliable Multipath Multicast Streaming with Multipath TCP [PDF]
A. Ali, J. Qadir, A. Sathiaseelan, K. L. A. Yau and J. Crowcroft - IEEE 41st Conference on Local Computer Networks (LCN), Dubai, 2016

Blog posts

Big data for human development
Posted on July 2016 on BioMed Central's On Biology blog

Research trips

Research intern at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) Barcelona, Spain [May 18, 2018 to July 10, 2018]

I visited Prof. Leandro Navarro at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Barcelona, Spain. I looked at expanding on the research conducted in our work. In general, we were interested in exploring the suitability of deploying blockchain-based record keeping (and automation in terms of smart contracts) solution for the compensation system for community mesh networks (Guifi.net). [Report soon]

Supervisions

Supervisions are small group (usually comprising no more than three students each) teaching sessions (in addition to the regular lectures) for undergraduate students which are very unique to the Oxbridge experience. So far I have supervised the following courses:

Algorithms in 2018's Lent Term
Digital Signal Processing in 2018's Lent Term
Advanced Algorithms in 2017's Easter Term
Computer Systems Modelling in 2017's Lent Term

Interests and hobbies

In my free time I like to do absolutely nothing, hence keeping the time 'free' (well, at times though I worry a bit about the future of homo sapiens!). Other than that I love to read, hike, travel, and having a unique experience at least once a month. These days, I find myself quite fascinated by the German culture, efficiency and language and I have recently completed (and utterly enjoyed) a German Language class at Engineering Department's Language Unit as well. Sometimes I like to meet a few Germans here. I have also started to document my personal German learning experience as I go based on the interesting observations that I am making while learning this language! Bis später!

Whereabouts in the Lab✝

Lab address:
William Gates Building
15 JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge, CB3 0FD
United Kingdom

Office: FN10
Office phone: +44 (0) 1223 763614
Email: aa980@cl.cam.ac.uk

*Although my first name is Anwaar; I like to go by my second name Ali (Reason: Well, my mama calls me Ali.). Back to top.