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Strategic partners pave way for Plutus smart contracts

Metalamp and Runtime Verification among developers priming Cardano for the age of DeFi

12 May 2021 Anthony Quinn 6 mins read

Strategic partners pave way for Plutus smart contracts

The technical infrastructure is being laid for Plutus smart contracts on Cardano. But such infrastructure for decentralized finance (DeFi) is like a road with no cars if there aren’t the developers to write the contracts that will drive platform adoption and usage. 

The Plutus pioneer program was kicked off in April, as part of an evolving scheme for developer education that began over two years ago. The goal? To provide structured training for anyone who wants to learn about functional programming, so they can begin using Haskell and Plutus, and start building their first apps. Alongside this keen and committed group of about 1,500 ‘trainee’ Plutus developers, we’ve also formed partnerships with experienced software development houses to build a number of decentralized applications (DApps) to stress-test the network, provide some early proof-of-concept applications, and assess our processes and support for the army of developers that follow.

The plan for Plutus is to have ‘professional developers complement the work of the pioneer program and help fast-track our quality assurance and testing process towards the Alonzo hard fork,’ says Silviu Petricescu, director of product strategy. 

‘The Cardano community has been integral to us testing, improving and rolling out the network since the days of the incentivized testnet,’ he adds. Professional developers add another element to the process – in terms of expertise, sitting somewhere between the core internal team and the pioneers – ‘to scrutinize everything’, he adds. ‘Starting with documentation, tools and all the support elements that we are going to provide, they are going to be the first to test it all and give us feedback. We will include that in our internal testing and quality assurance processes.’

It’s a two-pronged approach: the pioneer scheme will be training up an army of developers, while the partner scheme will bring in heavyweight expertise to make sure everything works – that way, everyone is ready when Plutus is deployed to the mainnet as the final component of Goguen on the Cardano roadmap. ‘Having these developers as part of this is a way for us to ensure that our quality of build towards the next hard fork will be at the level that we want,’ says Petricescu.

Gerard Moroney, director of operations, has been bringing these software houses into the scheme. ‘We've been talking to companies that have experience with blockchain, and blockchain consultancies, and others that are not necessarily crypto but know distributed computing. We've also looked at consultancies that have solid Haskell experience.’ Enthusiasm and passion are also part of the equation: ‘We're working with companies that really want to try something new, something innovative and interesting. Fundamentally, we're backing people who want to be brave and be ahead of the curve.’ 

Of course, the blockchain never sleeps and the search has taken him far and wide, holding talks with consultancy companies across Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Americas. ‘Some of them were entirely new to us,’ he says, ‘but they already knew about Cardano and Plutus – and that's been really interesting.’

These are companies that have experience in the finance sector and business so ‘they've all got great ideas’ he adds. ‘We're giving them guidance about what we want them to work against at the beginning, but they're also coming up with new ideas – and that’s a lot of fun.’ 

March’s Cardano360 show ran interviews with some of the partner companies. When it comes to software engineering, their expertise soon becomes clear. Obsidian Systems, for example, provided many of the tools and the technical support for the block validators who maintain the Tezos proof-of-stake blockchain.

On a visit to the Metalamp offices, you’d find yourself in the city of Omsk in Siberia among a team that thrives on ‘complex and time-consuming projects’, often built on the Haskell programming language. ‘The company had heard about Cardano and knew that ‘it is one of the most fascinating projects written in Haskell’. Some of their teams had already played with Plutus before the companies came into contact. Metalamp has experience with financial technology and has built applications involving lenders, loans, and ledgers. 

Other companies supporting the rollout include:

  • Eleks: custom software engineering and consulting services since 1991. Based in Ukraine.
  • Node Factory: blockchain research and development specialist in Zagreb.
  • MLabs: develops compilers, artificial intelligence, and DevOps applications, mostly in Haskell, Python, and Typescript. 
  • BinarApps: based in Poland, this developer specializes in projects for the retail and loyalty sectors.

Developers are looking forward to exploring applications involving digital exchanges and online sources called ‘oracles’ that bring information – whether it be commodity prices, exchange rates, airline timetables, or logistics schedules – into blockchains. The Essential Cardano page on GitHub maps the Cardano ecosystem and links to a library of resources. 

A long time in the making

Of course, Plutus will be used for complex financial smart contracts. There is a lot of money at stake with these contracts – it is reckoned that $43 billion is already locked into contracts using the Ethereum system. Yet DeFi is still at a very early stage and, as we showed in our recent #CardanoAfrica event, there is a whole new market out there for real world use cases (or RealFi as we call it).

Implementing secure smart contracts for the long term is hard, and software schedules are notoriously difficult! But the progress made by our blockchain engineers and the acceleration in the way the pieces of the Goguen jigsaw are falling into place are clear to see in the Plutus timeline below. The Plutus Playground is up and running. We have about 1,500 developers building their skills within the Pioneer program, writing scripts and building prototype apps. A series of Alonzo development testnets will soon begin rolling out – with core functionality at first, followed by a process of fast iteration with new capability and new user groups added in the weeks ahead. All the while, we are advancing steadily towards deployment of Alonzo on the mainnet and the start of smart contracts on Cardano.

It’s going to be an exciting summer as everyone in the Cardano community – partners, pioneers and developers of every stripe – works tirelessly to ensure that the Plutus smart contract platform hits the ground running. The secure, energy-efficient system that decentralized finance has been waiting for.

We’re in the final stages of preparing the first Alonzo testnet, aiming for the end of the month. Keep an eye on our social channels this week for an update. You can try out the Plutus Playground for yourself, and join Plutus discussions at the Cardano Forum. There is also a Plutus GitHub repository. You can register your interest and join our Slack community.

The final days of Christmas

The past, present, and future of Cardano in the spirit of an olde English counting song

4 January 2021 Anthony Quinn 3 mins read

The final days of Christmas

These are our final two thoughts about the past, present and future of Cardano in the spirit of an olde English counting song. There's one for each of The Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 5, published in four batches. You can look back to the first batch, which went out on Christmas Eve.

Day 11. Charles Morgan, head of cybersecurity

My brief takes in a wide range of activities, from the obvious aspects of securing our websites, to advising staff on their physical safety on their travels (such as putting a wedge under a hotel bedroom door!), and enforcing two-factor authentication for almost 250 people around the world (Yubikeys are brilliant for this). And we’re having to deal with an awful lot more than Santa coming down the chimney, as you can see from these security statistics over the past year. Can you believe that one in five of the billions of files online are completely open for global access? Scary stuff if that’s your health records or financial information.

I have three interesting items I am working on the moment. The first is theft detection, tracing and anti-money-laundering strategies for Cardano using machine cognition. Then, there’s the automation of security audits and anomaly detection. And, on a more personal level, I’m working towards my Ethical Hacker v11 certification.

As for 2021, I am looking forward to having more team members in cybersecurity. This is going to allow us to be far more proactive in our security posture, in running dynamic and static audits of our products, and it will allow us to pursue ISO/IEC 27001 certification and compliance. This work is critical to Input Output becoming recognised globally as a technologically-stable company, which, thereby, will bolster confidence in Cardano and our products based on the blockchain platform.

Day 12. Rob Moore, digital deliveries manager

The Shelley launch and the start of decentralization for Cardano was a monumental event for the project. The whole of the web team was on call in case anything unforeseen happened, but, of course, all we ended up doing was watching the transition take place. However, even playing that bit part in helping to make Shelley happen is something I won't forget in a hurry. 

Setting ourselves up to deliver quality creative work has been absorbing much of my time recently. December’s Mantis launch of a new client for developers working with Ethereum Classic is a taste of things to come.

Live music, seeing friends and family, having plans, meeting work colleagues in real life, going abroad. All the things we used to take for granted. These are the things I’ve been missing and hope to get back to in 2021.

That completes our Twelve Days of Christmas. We hope some of them – whether on Daedalus, Japanese poetry, decentralized identity or the thoughts of a dreaming octopus – have struck a chord with you. The rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by the choir of Clare College Cambridge has certainly raised plenty of laughs. Here's to an exciting 2021!

Three more thoughts for the day

The past, present, and future of Cardano in the spirit of an olde English counting song

31 December 2020 Anthony Quinn 5 mins read

Three more thoughts for the day

We're putting out some thoughts about the past, present and future in the spirit of an olde English counting song. There's one for each of The Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 5, and they are being published in batches. Here are three for the next few days.

Day 8. Gerard Moroney, operations director

In the past year, we’ve changed the way we write software for Cardano. Our development philosophy has gone from trying to plan very accurately huge releases to a much more agile process where we release small increments often. We’ve taken a very incremental, step-by-step approach and that has helped build up confidence in our people, in our company, and in the community at large. I think that has been evidenced in the fact that the hard fork release was within two weeks of when we predicted it would happen. We’re all very pleased with that.

As one year ends, I’m busy planning for that next. Now, though, we are pragmatic about the fact that we can predict well things in the short term, but things that are further away and are not so easy to predict. So we’ve been setting expectations with all of our stakeholders about what we can do and when.

I’m looking forward to these changes really bedding in and leading to more benefits for the team. I think we have a happier team right now, managers can trust the figures we’re giving them, and our community knows what to expect and when. On a personal note, I live in Cork near the superb Ballymaloe House, and it will be great to be able to celebrate a big event there once again.

Day 9. Eric Czuleger, senior content editor

After working with IOHK for a year and a half now, the most exciting thing that I witness daily is theory becoming reality. I remember hearing about the challenges of building on-chain governance in the office of our chief science officer Aggelos Kiayias. Attempting to understand the complexity of decision-making on a distributed network was enough to keep me awake at night. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I was content editor and not a researcher. Yet, low and behold, months later Project Catalyst is making governance a reality. 

At the moment, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens as Cardano evolves around the world. I’m from the US but I’ve spent a good portion of my time living and working in developing countries, such as Iraq, Lebanon, Albania, and Somalia. Most of these places have been done no favors by the global economic system. I can’t wait to see the results of our first forays into Ethiopia, the Republic of Georgia, and Mongolia. Working with legacy financial institutions seems to be the highest priority for some blockchain projects. I’m glad that giving Ethiopian farmers a leg-up is our measure of success.

I’m about to head out on a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In fact, this is the last blog I will have to write for a couple of weeks. Climbing to Uhuru Peak in December might be ill-advised, but I am looking forward to being unreachable by phone or email for nine days.

Day 10. Polina Vinogradova, software engineer

I haven’t had any chance this year to see how ‘UTXO𝗆𝖺: UTXO with multi-asset support’ goes down at dinner parties, but I did get the exciting chance to present the paper I helped to write at a formal methods conference in October. There’s an online ‘pre-print’ of the full paper available, and the ISoLA 2021 proceedings – most of the conference was postponed by a year – are published by Springer. The research described how a UTXO ledger model like Cardano could be adapted to support several native assets. Not only did I get to present the paper, but it was nice to see the research transformed into a formal specification – and then an implementation in the Cardano system over the past few months.

Right now, I am looking forward to finding out how the native tokens testnet goes, and getting feedback, especially about the ledger design. This design, implemented in Haskell via a formal specification, is based on the paper I presented. It’s going to be very satisfying to see it in action!

After all that, the excitement continues as I return to my work on implementing full Plutus smart contract integration into the ledger for the next hard fork. While most of the ledger team has been focused on Shelley, I’ve been working on the formal specification for Plutus integration. Developers can see on GitHub the open-source code IOHK’s engineers have been producing. Now, I can’t wait until we put all the pieces in place and watch the ledger really interface with the Plutus script interpreter.

The final pair of posts in this Twelve Days of Christmas will be published on January 4.

Three more thoughts for the 12 days

The past, present, and future of Cardano in the spirit of an olde English counting song

29 December 2020 Anthony Quinn 4 mins read

Three more thoughts for the 12 days

We're putting out some thoughts about the past, present and future in the spirit of an olde English counting song. There's one for each of The Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 5. The first four went out together and here are three for the next few days.

Day 5. Romain Pellerin, technology chief

It’s been a really satisfying year after delivering so much. There was the Byron reboot, then Shelley, and we have just released Allegra for token locking and are preparing Mary for native tokens. We have been digesting years of research and science with strong engineering – and creating a community with the stake pool operators for example. It’s been a very intense year. I am extremely proud of the team and the way they were able to digest all this. Delivering such complexity, steadily and on schedule all along this year was definitely a big achievement. 

Now, we’re absorbing what we’ve learned and we continue to improve the company in terms of structure, organization, and processes. IO definitely grew up!

In 2021, we will deliver Goguen and Voltaire – smart contracts and decentralized governance – alongside growing our communities of developers and operators. This will empower users to participate in the governance of the system itself. It is definitely a time that will be interesting to go through, so keep your heads high because 2021 will be amazing!

Day 6. Junko Oda, translator

Japan is an important part of the Cardano community and my job is to translate many of the blog posts into Japanese as quickly as possible. I was particularly pleased with how this post about the hard fork combinator read once translated. I am not a technical person at all, but that is a virtue in my job because we want these posts to be understood by as many people as possible. I’m often the one asking the really basic questions! To translate such articles is tough, but it is also fascinating to learn about such cutting-edge technologies – and to be part of the company making them happen.

Right now, I’m about to click on the purchase button of an e-book website. When I’m off work, I prefer reading Japanese books. I’m also fond of Japanese poetry and my husband publishes The Haibun Journal. What I am buying is a novel by Takahiro Ueda called Nimrod, which won the 2019 Acutagawa award sponsored by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Literature. The Acutagawa prize started in 1935 and is given twice a year. According to the blurb for Nimrod, the story relates somehow to cryptocurrency. A novel using cryptocurrency as a motif won such a prestigious award! Wow!

After Christmas, I’m looking forward to some quiet time reading Nimrod before the year starts to get going. The Basho development phase of Cardano is coming near. It is named after Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet who specialized in the haiku and haibun forms, renowned for their intellectual and artistic discipline. If 2021 is anything like the past year for work, it’s going to be a busy one. I hope you will enjoy reading our blog posts – in English or Japanese – while I am enjoying my book! In the meantime, here’s a Basho poem I particularly like:

summer grasses –
all that remains,
of warriors’ dreams

(trans. Sean O’Connor)

Day 7. Darko Mijić, product manager

We had 40 releases for the Daedalus wallet this year – more than in all the previous years combined! Among the many new features and improvements that I’m most proud of are the Byron reboot, which meant a big reduction in connection issues and faster blockchain synchronization. Then, Shelley was a big-bang release with a Daedelus update bringing enhanced cryptography, as well as stake pool delegation and rewards.

Right now, we’re analysing the responses to our recent survey – 5,000 from Daedalus users, and more than 100 from stake pool operators. These will help us put the community at the heart of our development plans.

Going into 2021, we are keen for the technically-minded members of the Cardano community to continue with the Daedalus Flight testing program. Wallet improvements will include decentralized identity using Atala Prism – something that will unlock Western-style financial services for developing countries – and native tokens for use in Goguen smart contracts. Furthermore, paper wallets will combine PGP encryption with the convenience of QR codes.

The next batch of 12 Days thoughts will be published on December 31

Some thoughts for the next 12 days

The past, present, and future in the spirit of an olde English counting song

24 December 2020 Anthony Quinn 6 mins read

Some thoughts for the next 12 days

‘May you live in interesting times’ is a saying that seems apt for these turbulent days. The talk in the past few years has been of disruptive technologies – then along comes the coronavirus to show the human race what disruption really means. And 2020 feels like a watershed time; what happens afterwards will not be the same as what has gone before. As the year ends, though, we turn to the future and want to look to brighter things and new horizons.

So, in the spirit of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas, we asked 12 of our people to tell us what had excited them in the past year, what they were doing now, and what they were looking forward to in the next year. They’re a hard-working bunch, so expect plenty about Cardano, but they like to take time off too! Strangely, unlike in The Twelve Days, no-one talked about a partridge in a pear tree, five gold rings, or even 10 lords a-leaping. But you will find an octopus, security tips, and a classic piece of poetry. 

We hope the idea encourages you to look for the good things happening in your lives.

However, we didn’t want our content and web teams being dragged out of bed every day over Christmas, so we’re publishing the pieces in four chunks to cover the 12 days, from December 25 to January 5. Here are the first four.

Day 1. Duncan Coutts, technical architect

The great thing for me was getting Shelley out the door and demonstrating that we had done what we set out to do. We took a radically different approach to everyone else in blockchain with our high-assurance software engineering. A lot of that was partly on my head if it went wrong – so it was very satisfying to see that it really did work! There has just been one bug in the consensus code since the Shelley hard fork, and we knew about that from testing and had planned for it. This result has vindicated the formal-methods, Haskell testing approach. 

We’ve had two smooth hard forks and shown that we can do changes to the ledger rules – and only change the ledger rules. Everything else stays the same. The modular approach we took in rewriting the Byron code means that altering things is not a whole system change, as would have been the case previously. 

The support for native assets that we’re bringing in at the moment is a big deal. It gives users most of the capabilities of ERC-20 and some other things besides. Looking ahead, adding Plutus will be the change that people really notice next year with the advent of smart contracts on Cardano.

Day 2. Simon Thompson, senior research fellow

I keep on going back to this video on Wired magazine’s Facebook page. And I’m not alone – three million people have liked the page. Is it really an octopus dreaming? 

Right now, I’m planning the work we’ll be doing in the first part of 2021, implementing Marlowe on Cardano, and building the user-facing components to make it all usable. 

After that, I’m looking forward to the launch of Marlowe, giving everyone the chance to run financial contracts on a third-generation blockchain. In the meantime, chill out and watch that octopus – it is truly cool! 

Day 3. Dynal Patel, senior product manager

Look at this blog piece predicting that Cardano could one day scale to one million transactions a second. That’s an amazing figure in the context of a blockchain – well in excess of global payment systems such as Visa and Mastercard. Credit cards have been around since the 1950s and it’s as long ago as 1997 that nCipher implemented cryptography on Arm chips for Visa and British Telecom to drive the online commerce we’re so familiar with today. Of course, we’re a way off the 1m tps figure yet, but coupling Cardano technology for microtransactions with Atala Prism, our decentralized identity platform, will open up a wave of applications. These will include secure devices for the internet of things, data for smart cities, and social-sharing networks that empower users to own, control and make money from their own data. For example, in Mongolia we are looking at ways of monitoring pollution. Here, service providers who need such data could pay local people to run sensors for collecting data.

Right now I’m reading Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott. They discuss eight core functions ripe for disruption in the financial sector with the first being ‘authenticating identity and value’ – just what Atala Prism aims to do. 

I’m looking forward to Atala deployments with our first clients. Prism enables peers to establish an identity that is verifiable, robust and cryptographically secure – and we expect each implementation to have the potential to bring a million users into the Cardano ecosystem. On a personal note, I've recently stepped up to become the chair of Bringing Smiles, a children's charity. In 2021, we aim to expand our activities by raising funds to support selected children's charities across the world.

Day 4. Aikaterini-Panagiota Stouka, researcher

2020 started with the exciting news that ‘Reward sharing schemes for stake pools’, a paper I wrote with IOHK’s education director Lars Brünjes, Professor Aggelos Kiayias at the University of Edinburgh and chief scientist at IOHK, and Professor Elias Koutsoupias at the University of Oxford, had been accepted for the IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy. This is one of the top peer-reviewed cyber security conferences and has an emphasis on building real systems, which is what we’re helping to do with Cardano. Because of the coronavirus, however, it became an online-only event. This paper introduces the scheme on which Cardano’s incentives are based and a preprint had been available on arXiv since 2018. It was a great feeling to see our work accepted after years of research, many late nights, and lots of back and forth between theory and experiments trying to discover the most appropriate reward mechanism for decentralization.

Right now, I am waiting for my examination after submitting my PhD thesis at Edinburgh. I’ve continued working with the same team on the reward mechanism. One problem we are investigating is incentivizing the pool operators to include in their blocks the registration certificates issued by other people who want to create a pool, even if these are likely to become competitors.

I am certainly looking forward to completing my PhD. I also plan to continue collaborating with my co-authors and other members of IOHK as well, and to carry on exploring reward-sharing mechanisms for various types of collaborative projects. A relevant blog post written by Prof Kiayias categorizes reward mechanisms and gives an insight into this research. In terms of Cardano, I’m watching the increase in the k parameter, which relates to the number of pools we expect to have, in an ideal scenario, in a stable state called the Nash equilibrium. This increase will give more pools the opportunity to become competitive and will enhance decentralization. 

The next batch of 12 Days thoughts will be published on December 29