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2021: the year robots, and graffiti came to a decentralized, smarter Cardano

Beeple used to illustrate our blog posts, but art NFTs made him a millionaire, and then AI and DeFi arrived

27 December 2021 Anthony Quinn 11 mins read

2021: the year robots, and graffiti came to a decentralized, smarter Cardano

Incredibly, given the state of our Covid-shocked world back in January, 2021 has had its fair share of fun. And if 2020 was a big year for Cardano with the upgrade from Byron to Shelley, this year was bigger still. Decentralized block production arrived, tokens went native, contracts turned smart – and there were some world firsts. But, our review of the year is getting ahead of itself, so let’s think back to January....

A hundred community stake pools benefitted when IO Group set out its strategy for delegating its ada funds in 2021. All but one of the IOG public pools were closed and the stake was moved to community operators, to the tune of three million ada per pool. Throughout the year, some 300 pools benefited from the greater chance this gave them to mint blocks. Over the year, the total number of pools running the network has increased by half to about 3,000.

Then, IOG turned to encouraging developers and innovators with Project Catalyst. This experiment explores innovation and collaboration as the first stage in the Voltaire era of the Cardano roadmap. It involves investing actual ada with an initial fund worth $250,000 backing 11 proposals. Since then, it has become the largest fund of its kind, with total funds allocated worth $8m. And the community soon set up a Catalyst website.

In February, fun came to the Cardano blockchain when SingularityNet founder Ben Goertzel and Charles Hoskinson, IOG’s co-founder, got together to explore the future of decentralization, artificial intelligence and social media. As we’ll see later, it wasn’t the end of the shenanigans as the pioneering AI and robotics company began moving its systems from Ethereum to Cardano.

All was not well elsewhere in the crypto world, however, with US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen warning that bitcoin was ‘extremely inefficient’. It was just the start of legislators in Washington and around the world digging into the crypto industry. 

March saw IOG bring out the ‘hard fork combinator’ again. This may sound like a piece of farm machinery, but it’s a clever way of taking the stress out of upgrading the blockchain. The Mary upgrade allowed Cardano to become a multi-asset platform. This means that anyone can now mint their own tokens, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs) without even needing a smart contract. Global commentators started to take real notice and the media rolled out its cliche-ridden ‘Ethereum killer’ articles.

A corner of the $69m artwork: Christie's sold Mike Winkelmann's Everydays NFT – as ‘Beeple’, his illustrations graced IOG blog posts for two years

Mike Winkelmann set the world alight when his NFT artwork, Everydays: the First 5000 Days, sold for $69,346,250 at Christie’s. The auction propelled him into an exclusive club for the highest price paid for the work of a living artist, alongside Hockney, Hirst, Johns, and Koons. As ‘Beeple’, his illustrations graced IOG blog posts for two years. 

In Germany, a computer science student thought he’d have some fun with the new capabilities of Cardano. Alessandro Konrad switched from writing ‘boring’ smart contracts in Ethereum. He launched his own stake pool with Berry NFTs as rewards for people delegating to his pool. Next up was SpaceBudz NFTs, which he created with a pal. In just two days, 10,000 of these sold at 50 ada each – that’s one way to pay your way through university!

Blockchain graffiti: an animated Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass of champagne on the CardanoWall

As the month neared its end, the CardanoWall arrived. This tool helps people put messages on the blockchain as metadata. Most people treat this blockchain graffiti as fun, but be warned – all human life is there. Messages range across the spectrum of high and low culture, from the personal to the political, the philosophical to the pornographic, the surreal to the mundane. Some are self-serving, others life-affirming. Early messages include: Wow! This is cool dude!’ and the Robert Burns poem To a Mouse, ‘Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie…’ The first picture appeared at epoch 256, slot 314,340, an animated image of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass of champagne. It was soon followed by a view of farmland and, perhaps inevitably, a cat.

D-Day tweet: ada coin creation was handed over to more than a thousand stake pools on March 31

The last day of March was a landmark; it was D=0 Day. This was when IOG devolved block production totally to stake pool operators. Full decentralization had arrived.

The global buzz around Cardano grew louder with the announcement of an education program with 3,500 schools and five million pupils in April. Blockchains offer great promise in helping to achieve inclusive growth in African economies, and IOG aims to be at the forefront of this progress.

But school was definitely out when CardanoKidz hit the streets. These cartoon NFTs were based on IOHK staff – heaven knows what posterity will make of them! 

In May, the COP26 climate change conference was still six months away, but analysts and the media were latching on to Cardano as the environmentally friendly blockchain. Anthony Cuthbertson’s profile, ‘The “green” crypto that hopes to surpass the tech giants’, started the trend. 

Another form of media, Wikipedia, saw a record number of hits for its Cardano page, with 13,702 visits on May 15. A year before, there had been no Cardano page because editors pushing a ‘blockchains are terrible’ agenda had taken it down in 2019 as not being ‘notable’. Such was the level of censorship that there was no reference to Cardano – apart from a graphic showing it as one of the top 10 coins! A mention that Philip Wadler, one of the world’s leading computer scientists, was working for IOHK was deleted as ‘spam’. Demand for a Cardano page was demonstrated when it had 5,195 visits the day after it reappeared in October 2020, surpassing Ethereum’s 1,719. Yet, even now, the Cardano page is still under heavy sanctions and only a few Wikipedia editors can add to the copy.

Fun with AI was back when the Hoskinson and Goertzel show took to YouTube again for an update on moving to Cardano, and a chat with Grace, a cutting-edge healthcare robot. Grace asked about the IOG chief’s pet giraffe – and revealed that ‘she’ didn’t like technology!

Nervos, Nexo and Orion all announced projects with Cardano in June, developments with the Daedalus full-node wallet were discussed, and chief scientist Aggelos Kiayias set out the thinking on stabilizing transaction fees by establishing a ‘peg’ to a basket of commodities or currencies. Two months later, development of the Djed stablecoin was announced.

A version of John Conway's Life is a background option on IOG’s home page and Stephen Wolfram used such cellular automata for its live minting of NFTs in July. The Christmas-tree shaped image at the top of this post is one of the images generated.

Africa focus: 250,000 people have watched a video about IOG’s activities in the continent

The importance of mobile phones for global development has long been promoted by the United Nations, and it has recognized the potential for digital technologies such as blockchain. So IOG teaming up with World Mobile in August to help bring cellular networks to some of the remotest regions of Africa should be a boon. More than a quarter of a million people have watched John O'Connor’s video about IOG’s activities in Africa. The mobile deal was followed by the European Business University of Luxembourg offering programming courses to African students.

The month produced a surprise when Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin joined the Dogecoin Foundation board. 

The prospect of decentralized finance (DeFi) clearly terrifies politicians in the US. The Financial Times pointed to the furore over imposing tax reporting rules on crypto ‘brokers’, a prospect buried in Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure plan. One result was that it brought the fractious blockchain industry together. 

Cardano's metaverse: 140,000 people logged into the summit, hosted on the back of an ocean-going mythical turtle

September was a busy month. El Salvador became the first country to adopt a cryptocurrency as legal tender. At IOG, the company ramped up for the Cardano Summit 2021 with 70 hours of presentations from 200 speakers. Over two days, 140,000 people logged into the event’s metaverse, hosted on the back of an ocean-going mythical turtle. There was something for everyone, with more fun with robots and debate about the future of art among the technical and community talks. And during the summit the millionth Cardano NFT was minted. And last but not least, September saw the deployment of the Alonzo upgrade, bringing core Plutus smart contract capability to Cardano. Decentralized finance had arrived. As Tim Harrison put it at the time, it was a cause for celebration but really just the beginning of a journey that is now starting to gather pace.

The buzz around the summit and the Alonzo hard fork event attracted the editors at the Harvard International Review, which did a three-part interview in October with IOG’s chief discussing Cardano, the developing world, the future of crypto, and financial regulation. Meanwhile, the strength of the collectibles market was shown when it was reported that the woolly-booted, axe-wielding SpaceBud #9936 had sold for 510,000 ada – the first Cardano NFT to fetch the equivalent of a million US dollars. Plus we saw projects such as Meld gearing themselves up for launch with the first initial stake pool offerings.

Bison-herder Charles Hoskinson also took an IOG team to Africa in October and introduced us all to the ‘smart cow’ effect

November saw’s count of the number of NFTs minted on Cardano pass the two million mark – and Andy Warhol came to the blockchain. Gallery owner Rudolf Budja launched a ‘fractionalized’ NFT sale so people could ‘own a piece of an Andy Warhol’. 

Eagle-eyed Cardano watchers spotted a Cardano logo on the proposed cover of The Economist magazine’s The World Ahead: 2022. This annual analysis sees crypto as a battleground. Fighting for control are the decentralization pioneers building the technology, the big tech barons like Facebook and Google, and governments. The end of November saw the launch of the MuesliSwap decentralized exchange, a Cardano first generating – as might be expected in such a febrile environment – its share of bouquets and brickbats

December brought the launch of the P2P testnet, a milestone in Cardano’s decentralization journey. Along with this came a release of the Plutus application backend, which will become a set of libraries to help speed development on Cardano. The number of Wikipedia page views for the Cardano page passed the million mark for the year.

SingularityNet ERC20 converter: a child explained how to convert the AI pioneer's tokens to Cardano

If all that’s not intelligent enough for you, the much-anticipated testnet for an ERC20 converter to switch SingularityNet’s internal AI token to Cardano sparked a lot of interest. And if it still all looks confusing, see the converter explained by a six-year-old. The past few weeks have also seen more projects start to launch on Cardano, from NFT marketplaces such as Tokhun, Cardahub and adding smart contract integration, to domain naming project Adahandle. And as the DeFi ecosystem starts to take off, in late December, an alliance was announced to help speed it on its way through standardisation and best practice in the shape of the Cardano DeFi Alliance.

As the year draws to a close, we invariably look to the past and the future, as The Economist has done. It's been an incredible year of growth with a community that continues to light the way. We’ve also seen more than our fair share of opprobrium from critics and purveyors of fear, uncertainty and doubt – the ‘FUDsters'. Yet, still we have persevered and start the new year stronger and more resolute than ever. So, in the words of Auld Lang Syne, let’s try to all ‘tak a cup o' kindness yet’ into the next year and hope for a healthier, more blockchain-intelligent 2022.

US mobile operator calls on Cardano

Dish Network aims to create services for 20m TV and Boost cellular subscribers

28 September 2021 Anthony Quinn 2 mins read

US mobile operator calls on Cardano

Dish Network and Input Output Global (IOG) have formed a strategic collaboration to explore using the Cardano blockchain across the Nasdaq-listed US satellite television and cellular network group. 

The two companies aim to build new services for customers of the Boost mobile network, Dish satellite TV, and Sling streaming television service. Between them, Dish has 11.4 million TV subscribers and 9.4 million wireless subscribers.

Dish announced this month it had chosen to implement IBM technology for its 5G mobile phone network, which aims to cover at least a fifth of the 383-million-strong US population by next summer.

Charles Hoskinson, chief executive of IOG, sees great potential for the use of distributed ledger technology in the telecoms industry. ‘Today, when we look at telco, we see intersections between the use of identity and the movement of data, and as Dish unleashes its next generation network, we see tremendous opportunity to move these innovations forward together.’

Dish became a nationwide wireless carrier in 2020 when it took over Boost, and is now building the first virtualized broadband network in the US, based on open radio access network (O-RAN) technology.  

Chris Ergen, head of the innovation office at Dish Wireless said: ‘Dish has always been a leader in innovation within its business and industry. With this endeavor, we find ourselves at the intersection of two rapidly changing and radically transformative industries; blockchain and telecommunications. Both ecosystems somewhat depend on each other for survival and scale, while maintaining security and privacy. 

‘It’s a really exciting time in both fields, and we’re thrilled to be working with Charles, the IOG team and the Cardano community to develop great systems that many will find useful.’ 

Dish Network was formed 1980 and listed on the Nasdaq exchange in 1995. It is now one of the 200 largest US companies by revenue in the ranking compiled by Fortune, the business magazine. ‘I see Dish as a rebel in the telco space, dating back to the early days of the company,” said Hoskinson. ‘They've gone through many iterations and innovations, and every step of the way they were always leading and transforming their entire industry.’ 

IOHK is already working to build new mobile services in Africa with World Mobile.

Catch up on all the announcements from the Cardano Summit 2021 website and IOHK’s Twitter.

Oasis Pro deal will give developing world better access to financial markets

Partnership aims to break dominance banks have on low-risk investment from primary bond markets

26 September 2021 Anthony Quinn 2 mins read

Oasis Pro deal will give developing world better access to financial markets

IOHK and Oasis Pro have formed a ground-breaking partnership to develop an alternative trading system that will use blockchain technology to open up participation in primary bond markets to developing countries.

The two companies are joining forces to create a bond issuance platform. Oasis Pro is the parent company of Oasis Pro Markets, which already operates a multi-asset alternative trading system called OATSPRO in the US. This allows secondary trading of public and private multi-asset digital securities.

The Oasis Pro technology facilitates digital cash for digital securities transactions, and the use of the Cardano blockchain to remove the need for intermediaries such as banks from the process will cut trading fees by half. The combined platform provides a viable and secure financing alternative for governments of developing nations.

With recent reductions in foreign aid and investment, many governments are struggling to access capital. The integration of OATSPRO technology with users of Cardano’s ada cryptocurrency – with a market capitalization of $70 billion – will enable a new source of foreign investment to be tapped for crucial infrastructure projects.

John O’Connor, director of African operations at IO Global, said: ‘At IO Global, our mission is to build systems which widen and democratize access to vital financial and social services, for both governments and citizens alike. This was the drive for our partnership with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education this year to bring provable educational credentials to students and teachers across the country, and it is the same for our work with Oasis.

‘Systems like the one Oasis is developing are essential to bridge the growing global investment gap and give developing nations the tools to level the playing field and invest in critical infrastructure.’

Pat LaVecchia, chief executive of Oasis, said: ‘Developing nations often lack the access to overseas capital that other nations have. We want to ensure that this changes. IO Global’s vision to democratize opportunity aligns closely with our desire to ensure access to financial markets for developing nations, and this partnership represents a key step in enabling greater accessibility to international capital markets for those that require it.’

COTI to issue Djed stablecoin on Cardano

Innovative coin for the fast-growing ecosystem announced today at Cardano Summit 2021

26 September 2021 Anthony Quinn 2 mins read

COTI to issue Djed stablecoin on Cardano

At the Cardano Summit stage in Laramie, Wyoming, on Sunday, Charles Hoskinson and Shahaf Bar-Geffen announced that the COTI platform would be the official issuer of Djed, a new stablecoin for Cardano.

Djed is based on an algorithmic design that uses smart contracts to ensure price stability. Smart contract programming is also used to ensure that the stablecoin will work effectively for decentralized finance (DeFi) transactions. 

Djed operates by maintaining a reserve of base coins, while minting and burning various other stable assets and reserve coins. It is designed to be used for paying transaction fees on the Cardano network. One benefit of this is to make transaction costs more predictable, so avoiding volatile and exorbitant gas fees for users. 

The COTI development team believes that stablecoins are a 'killer app' that will be adopted by a large number of crypto users for settling payments and covering fees. The company was the first recipient of equity investment from the cFund for Cardano developments. 

Shahaf Bar-Geffen, chief executive of COTI Group, said: 'The stablecoin ecosystem has matured tremendously over the past few years. Blockchain participants are using stablecoins to engage in everyday transactions because they allow monetary value to be exchanged in a seamless manner, regardless of the sender and recipient’s location.

'I believe that adding the Djed stablecoin to the Cardano blockchain will significantly improve how transactions are settled on the platform.' 

IO Global chief executive Charles Hoskinson said: 'The Djed stablecoin could be a game-changer in the crypto space, appealing to an entirely new audience at a time when the industry is already experiencing astronomical growth. Djed shares our commitment to formal verification, proving a robust method of combating price volatility of crypto markets.

'COTI has been a long-time partner of the Cardano ecosystem. It’s great to have them on board with this new venture.'

Check out the Djed website.

Cardano fund injecting $6m to support Africa’s pioneers

Investment will help entrepreneurs capitalize on lack of barriers from legacy infrastructure

25 September 2021 Anthony Quinn 2 mins read

Cardano fund injecting $6m to support Africa’s pioneers

A new fund in Africa is investing $6m to finance the most innovative blockchain projects on the continent. The fund was created in recognition of the unique opportunities for innovation in Africa, which has the highest percentage of entrepreneurs of any continent

The fund focuses on blockchain technology because the lack of deeply embedded legacy infrastructure means that African governments and businesses have fewer obstacles to adopting next-generation technology than the West. This opportunity can potentially level the global playing field when it comes to offering game-changing blockchain-based products and services. 

The unique fund will offer capital to the most innovative African start-ups wishing to build on Cardano, the third-largest blockchain platform. IOHK will ensure successful projects benefit from teaching, financing, and sustained support in partnership with the fund.

IOHK works across the continent providing education and innovation in formal programming techniques. The company has a strong presence in Ethiopia – and is currently rolling out a system for verifiable education credentials to five million students and teachers in partnership with the Ethiopian government.  

Having been embedded in Africa for five years and in collaboration with investment and education companies on the ground, IOHK will be well placed to ensure that the projects most needed for the region’s development get the funding and support they require. 

John O’Connor, director of African operations, said: ‘Working with businesses in Africa I have encountered the most inspirational entrepreneurial spirit. At Input Output we believe in democratizing opportunity, which means giving equal access to funding to realize these innovative ideas, solving problems across the world.

 ‘This investment project marks a milestone in Input Output’s African development, enabling young ideas to flourish and capitalize on the opportunities provided by blockchain.’