CBDCs: Boston Fed, MIT Complete Research Project into Feasibility of a CBDC

A joint research effort between the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into the technical feasibility of a potential central bank digital currency “is now complete.”

The Boston Fed’s work on CBDC with MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative is known as Project Hamilton. Boston Fed Executive Vice President Jim Cunha said “the now-concluded project was ‘agnostic’ from the start about any future policy decisions regarding new technologies and U.S. currency.”

Instead, Cunha said, the project “focused on better understanding the capabilities and limitations of different technologies that might be used to manage and transfer CBDCs.”

Cunha said:

“Project Hamilton took critical early steps toward a deeper understanding of how money might work better for all.”

Early this year, Project Hamilton “published its research on a transaction processor for a theoretical high-performance and resilient CBDC.” The processor was “developed as open-source research software, called OpenCBDC, and project leaders urged global contributors to continue working on it.”

Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative, stated:

“The OpenCBDC codebase that resulted from this successful collaboration provides a credible and unbiased resource to evaluate design choices and ensure that a potential future CBDC could serve the public’s interest.”

Project Hamilton was “named for central bank ‘Founding Father’ Alexander Hamilton and pioneering MIT and Apollo Mission computer scientist Margaret Hamilton.”

Boston Fed Assistant Vice President Bob Bench said the team “wanted a better understanding of how money could work in the future.”

Bench added:

“We think Project Hamilton helped not only the financial services sector, but the greater public, which relies upon fast, accessible, and safe money.”

The project was “announced in 2020, and in February 2022, the Boston Fed and MIT released the OpenCBDC software and a whitepaper describing their initial findings.”

OpenCBDC is “a core processing engine for money that focuses on security, performance, scalability, and flexibility.” It provides “a codebase that supports 1.84 million transactions per second and settlement – meaning the transaction is completed – of under one second.”

After the whitepaper and code were released, Project Hamilton researchers “added functionality to OpenCBDC (for instance, programmability and audit capabilities) that may be useful to evaluate a potential CBDC.” The idea was “to determine how those functions would impact performance, scalability, and security.”

Researchers at the Boston Fed and MIT said they “plan to release additional retrospectives on Project Hamilton’s findings in the coming months.”

Narula said she “believes the project gave researchers a strong foundation for understanding the policy and technology choices that arise in the context of a CBDC.”

Narula remarked:

“Our collaboration with central banks such as the Boston Fed is at the heart of DCI’s ongoing mission to serve as a neutral convener of governments, academics, open-source communities, and the private sector. We hope that this collaborative, open-source research effort is a model for researchers from academia and the public sector to build on as we explore the future of money.”

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