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Developer challenge: using blockchain to support the UN’s sustainable development goals

IOHK has set up a $10,000 fund to invest in ideas for sustainable development based on Cardano.

6 October 2020 Eric Czuleger 3 mins read

Developer challenge: using blockchain to support the UN’s sustainable development goals

Creating a decentralized financial and social operating system for the world is the core mission of Cardano. But it’s not one that we can accomplish alone. That’s why we are always on the lookout for relationships which help us build a global foundation for growth. So, we’re thrilled to announce our hackathon challenge to support the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) designed to accelerate progress on fighting hunger, injustice, and climate change.

Sustainability and blockchain

In this hackathon challenge we aim to give the blockchain community an opportunity to make an impact on international development. The challenge will draw on IOHK’s expertise in community-focused funding developed with Project Catalyst. This initiative brings innovation, voting, and decentralized funding to Cardano by crowdsourcing development proposals, and financing their implementation.

IOHK and United Nations personnel will use the Project Catalyst platform to find and fund initiatives that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These goals were adopted by 193 world leaders in 2015. Each of the 17 targets focus on ending extreme poverty and hunger, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change by 2030.

This IOHK-sponsored challenge hopes to promote projects based in the digitization of finance which increase the efficacy and transparency of funding for the UN’s Decade of Action. In the run-up to the 2030 deadline for achieving the global sustainability goals, the UN is marking 75 years since its establishment. Given that the transnational organization works on global collective action problems it has engaged with blockchain technology as a solution.

Crowdsourcing the future

Participants in the program can put forward ideas focused on any of the 17 goals. To encourage participation, IOHK is sponsoring a prize fund of ada worth $10,000 as well as ongoing support to bring the projects to fruition. Proposals will be judged by a panel of IOHK and UN employees. They will determine the winners based on an idea’s technical prowess, scalability and social impact, as well as its financial and volunteer support. The winning ideas will be able to seek the advice of experts from both the UN and IOHK to ensure that they are implemented in the most impactful way.

To qualify for the scheme, entries must be open source and be created for use on the Cardano blockchain. Example code should be written in Marlowe, a domain specific language developed for financial contracts on Cardano. These do not need to be fully coded submissions. Instead they can be ideas which inspire anyone to get involved with blockchain technology and sustainable development. The proposal submission period opens on Saturday October 10th. Participants must be registered by then in order to submit. Entries must be finalized by October 18 at 11:59 MDT. Make sure to check the official rules to learn more.

Winners will be announced on October 24, United Nations Day, which marks the anniversary of the charter of the organization. We encourage everyone with an interest in using Cardano to achieve sustainability goals to get involved. Make your voice heard to help the UN’s Decade of Action now. If you are interested more generally in developing Cardano, join Project Catalyst on Ideascale.

Bringing the community together for the Cardano Virtual Summit 2020: Shelley Edition

Celebrating the journey and making way for the future with IOHK

30 June 2020 Eric Czuleger 4 mins read

Bringing the community together for the Cardano Virtual Summit 2020: Shelley Edition

Shelley has arrived and IOHK is gearing up to celebrate with the Cardano Virtual Summit 2020: Shelley Edition on July 2nd and 3rd. Every presentation, panel and guest speaker at this online event, has been chosen to represent the many faces of Cardano. From world-class foundational research to the latest advances in cryptographic development; from the passion and dedication of the wider community to some of the innovators who have created our world and are lighting the path to the future. The event is meant to honor the hard work and dedication of the Cardano community, developers and contributors, and the wider ecosystem.

The virtual summit, much like IOHK’s 2019 Miami summit will include presentations from IOHK team members, special guest appearances by thought leaders and a keynote speech by IOHK CEO, Charles Hoskinson. We were proud to announce that our guest of honor is internet co-creator and lead internet evangelist for Google, Vint Cerf. As one of the lead architects of the internet Vint is uniquely positioned to give us insight into building world changing technology.

We’ll also be joined by Caitlin Long of the Wyoming Blockchain Select Committee. The Wall Street professional turned crypto pioneer has been blazing the trail for adoption in the state of Wyoming. She will give us a look at the challenges and opportunities she has faced while pushing for wider adoption of decentralization. Our final special guest, Stephen Wolfram is the creator of the computational knowledge platform Wolfram Alpha and the CEO of Wolfram Research. Cardano shares his dedication to advancing technology through open source research and a commitment to academic excellence. Between each of these important discussions our colleagues at IOHK will take center stage.

Thought leadership

IOHK’s chief scientist, Aggelos Kiayias, and director of African operations John O’Connor will talk about research and outreach in the Cardano Blockchain. Our panel entitled ‘Haskell, then, now, and the future’ will examine the impact the functional programming language has had and where it is heading. The virtual summit also serves as the launchpad for new advancements like ‘Prism’ our decentralized identity solution. More guest speakers will be announced over the week ahead and we’ll also have a number of special announcements over the 2-day summit itself; we’re keeping those under our hats until then.

The two day agenda includes five digital stages with programs dedicated to the ideology of blockchain technology; the science of decentralization, and building distributed ledgers for business and enterprise. We will be discussing next steps for growing the Cardano community alongside oncoming blockchain regulations, governance, and opportunities. In combination, we hope the summit tracks will offer something for anyone interested in the future of Cardano, by the science and ideas that surround it, by the great minds making it all happen and by the incredible community that has brought us here and will take us forward.

Sessions will encompass the philosophical as well as the technical. Brian Behlendorf, the CEO of the Hyperledger Consortium will form part of a panel focused on the importance of open source development. IOHK recently joined the Hyperledger Consortium, to better exploit our common vision of a future made better through shared knowledge. Following on the philosophy track, artificial intelligence researcher, Ben Goertzel will speak on the intersection of AI and decentralized technology. We hope to announce more exciting sessions in the days leading up to the event. At the end of the day, building the next generation of technology means bringing the best minds of many fields into the same room, even if it’s a virtual one.

Building community

The Cardano Virtual Summit 2020: Shelley Edition, won’t be all work and no play. The Covid crisis has forced every conference online in past months. While we can’t recreate the full physical conference experience in the virtual space, we’re keen to provide some of the networking and downtime opportunities you might expect. So we’ve added a virtual ‘chill-out’ zone, with guided meditations, a DJ set, and even an online calligraphy lesson/demonstration. Our virtual platform will allow attendees to enjoy the digital expo space through avatars. We’ll even get the conversation flowing with a digital Shelley cocktail ‘happy hour’ between meetings.

Recent events have made it difficult to meet in person but we see The Cardano Virtual Summit as an opportunity to invite everyone from around the world to participate. Attendance for anyone interested in the summit is absolutely free of charge. To join in, simply reserve your spot.

Shelley is the culmination of over 5 years of research and development, the creation of a multi-disciplinary team and a remarkable community. The virtual summit is just a single point of time – a time to take stock, reflect and celebrate. But it marks just the start of a groundbreaking new era of decentralization, growth and adoption.

Integrating and advancing with Adrestia

Taking the challenge out of fast-paced blockchain development

15 June 2020 Eric Czuleger 4 mins read

Integrating and advancing with Adrestia

For exchanges and developer partners, integrating with any blockchain can be challenging. The technology often moves so quickly that keeping up with the pace of change can be unrealistic. Cardano’s development and release process are now driving things forward apace. Managing parallel software development workstreams moving at different speeds can feel a bit like changing the tires on a truck while it’s driving at 60 miles per hour.

Cardano’s vision is to provide unparalleled security and sustainability to decentralized applications, systems, and societies. It has been created to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable blockchain platform, offering a secure, transparent, and scalable template for how we work, interact, and create, as individuals, businesses, and societies.

In line with these ambitions, we needed to devise a way that our partners could swiftly, easily and reliably integrate with Cardano, regardless of what was going on under the hood. Whatever the pace and cadence of future rollouts, we wanted to develop a consistent method by which all updates to the core node could be easily adopted by everyone.

In order to make that integration and interaction with Cardano easier and faster, IOHK engineers formed the Adrestia team, to take responsibility for building all the web APIs and libraries that make Cardano accessible to developers and application builders. Developments to the node can then focus on performance and scalability, while users will always be able to interact with it effortlessly. The name Adrestia was chosen after the goddess of revolt because with these new interfaces we expect everyone to be able to integrate with Cardano, creating a ‘revolution’ in accessibility.

Enabling developers to keep pace with change

The goal of the Adrestia team is to provide – via Web APIs – a consistent integration experience so that developers can know what to expect between Cardano roadmap releases. Whether they are a wallet developer or an exchange, users can flexibly explore the chain, make transactions and more.

The APIs are as follows:

  • cardano-wallet: HTTP ReST API for managing UTXOs, and much more.
  • cardano-submit-api: HTTP API for submitting signed transactions.
  • cardano-graphql: HTTP GraphQL API for exploring the blockchain.

The SDK consists of several low-level libraries:

  • cardano-addresses: Address generation, derivation & mnemonic manipulation.
  • cardano-coin-selection: Algorithms for coin selection and fee balancing.
  • cardano-transactions: Utilities for constructing and signing transactions.
  • bech32: Haskell implementation of the Bech32 address format (BIP 0173).

In addition to providing a flexible and productive way to integrate with Cardano, maintenance is also made easier. With consistency, it can often require less time to update integrations between releases. This familiarity reduces maintenance costs. New software can then deploy in days rather than weeks. Ultimately, anyone can keep pace with change.

Get Started

The results are now live in the Byron era of Cardano. Exchanges or third-party wallets using Cardano-SL, should now be integrating to prepare for the new Byron and upgrading to Shelley wallet. These need to happen consecutively to avoid any outages. Full details have been added to the Adrestia team repo and we continue to work with our partners to ensure there is no interruption in service for ada holders keeping their funds on exchanges or in third-party wallets. The chart below shows the difference between the Cardano-SL node and the upcoming Shelley node. The components in red are non-Shelley compatible and will break after the hard fork, while the other components are Shelley compatible and will be supported during and after the hard fork.

Consistency is key in creating a blockchain network that works for everyone. Cardano is not being built for the next five or ten years, but for the next fifty. Change to the system is inevitable in that time but Adrestia was made to ensure that everyone can connect with the Cardano node. To get started, check out the Adrestia project repo and read the user guide.

Architecting Shelley: an interview with Duncan Coutts

A fireside chat with Duncan Coutts, Cardano's chief technical architect, about Haskell and delivering Shelley

7 April 2020 Eric Czuleger 6 mins read

Architecting Shelley: an interview with Duncan Coutts

Duncan Coutts has been an important guide on the road to the Cardano Shelley mainnet. Long time supporters of IOHK are likely familiar with his signature long hair, beard, and penchant for drinking tea while discussing decentralization in front of a white board. He recently sat down for an interview to discuss the upcoming Byron reboot, the Haskell Shelley testnet, and the conclusion of the pre-Shelley development cycle. Coutts, who has been working with IOHK since 2016, brings a wealth of knowledge from working with the Haskell programming language for nearly 20 years and helping found the Well-Typed consultancy.

What’s your role at IOHK?

I’m the chief technical architect for the Cardano project and I’m primarily responsible for the design and implementation of the node. This means that I collaborate with the teams that work on consensus, ledger, networking, and other things. Ultimately, I work to bring everyone together around the same design after a discussion with the team leaders. The design of Cardano is the product of joint work by many individuals working together.

What does the Haskell programming language bring to Cardano?

Haskell is an enabler. It makes it easier for us to follow the approach that we believe is right, which is driven by computer science. We know how to do things properly; computer science tells us how. We just need to pick the appropriate techniques to do that. Haskell makes that easier.

It’s a good fit for Cardano because it suits the high-assurance, specification-driven software that is vital for a blockchain. Haskell helps us find systematic ways of avoiding mistakes. In essence, it’s a better mousetrap.

You’ve been working with Haskell for a long time. How have you seen the landscape of functional programming change?

People take it seriously now. When I started as an undergraduate in 1999, I thought that Haskell was amazing. Other students thought, ‘Wow that’s totally impractical. How will you ever get a job?’

At the time, functional programming was an academic curiosity. There wasn’t any prebuilt code and it wasn’t machine readable, which meant that Haskell wasn’t usable for a wide range of people. There wasn’t the tooling, range of libraries, or experience. That has changed over the years: the tooling got better, the libraries got better. IOHK has helped develop the infrastructure for building and distributing open-source Haskell code and the number of libraries exploded. That, combined with more teaching and a gradual change of attitude in the industry, means that people take it more seriously now. Haskell hasn’t changed as much as the industry around us has.

What’s the biggest change from an industry point of view?

There are two things. The first is that attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. People are changing their opinions about what they consider a sensible language choice. Previously, everything had to be in C or Java or maybe Python, but eventually good ideas make progress, even if it takes a long time. You can make a lot of progress by just recognizing that a good idea is a good idea. The mainstream does pick up on important developments, even if it does take 10 or 15 years. The industry has not embraced functional programming wholesale yet, but individual programmers have taken up various ideas. That makes Haskell look less radical.

If you look at a language like Rust, it has some of the clever type systems of Haskell, although it doesn’t have any functional programming ideas. Even Java and C++ have some functional programming ideas in them these days, so Haskell is not quite so far from the mainstream as it used to be.

The second major change has been performance, which is getting much better. We’ve recently become competitive with Java in terms of performance. It makes people say, ‘Wow, Haskell is so fast,’ but that’s because they’re comparing it to Python and PHP rather than C. So that’s another way of saying that Haskell has improved slightly, but the industry environment around it has changed as well.

You have been heavily involved in the Byron reboot which was kicked off last week. Why was this work important?

The Byron reboot is the culmination of over 18 months of hard work across multiple IOHK development teams, and constitutes a complete overhaul of the node infrastructure with 100% fresh code. The reboot introduces an extensible, modular design within the node itself, separating out the ledger, consensus, and networking components, as well as improvements and new functionality in the wallet backend and the Cardano explorer.

For Daedalus users, the Byron reboot will see us moving to a regular update cadence [see our recent piece on Daedalus Flight for more on that], after which they should find that Daedalus is faster, more reliable, and uses less memory. A lot of the issues users have experienced with Daedalus in the past were due to the underlying node, rather than Daedalus itself. The Byron reboot will go a long way to improving things, and users should see Daedalus syncing and restoring wallets within minutes, even when downloading the entire Cardano blockchain.

As the chief architect, your job is to lay the foundation for Cardano’s future. What have you focused on to achieve this?

The most important aspect in terms of flexibility for the future is keeping different functions separate. One of the big improvements of the Byron reboot is that the ledger rules will be totally independent of the consensus implementation; this modularity means that the ledger rules are perfectly clean mathematical functions, which is a core aspect of functional programming.

As a result, everything is easier to test, tweak, and change, both now and in the future. The consensus algorithm isn’t entangled with the details of the ledger rules, so we can alter the ledger rules without changing the consensus implementation. This makes integrating Plutus and smart contracts functionality much easier and will also help in the future when we are adding treasury and governance features.

The consensus implementation itself has also been parameterized so that we can transition from the Ouroboros Classic consensus protocol to BFT and then Praos, which also provides flexibility for future versions of the protocol that haven't been developed yet.

Shelley is a big step towards the future of Cardano, but what is the significance of compiling Haskell into JavaScript and WebAssembly?

We’re interested in compiling to JavaScript or WebAssembly because of Plutus. We want to have Plutus contracts or Plutus applications that can be distributed to users, which would include custom interfaces and custom logic with the user rather than in a server. Compiling to JavaScript allows us to do that; you can compile the Plutus code once and distribute it to users on different platforms.


Thanks to Duncan Coutts for his time. As chief technical architect, he’s a cornerstone of the Cardano project and has been fundamental to the ongoing success of the platform. For more interviews with the team, stay tuned to our social channels and the IOHK blog.

Plutus and Marlowe in the spotlight at WyoHackathon 2019

Plutus and Marlowe, IOHK's smart contract programming languages, will have their next generations released at the 2019 WyoHackathon

20 September 2019 Eric Czuleger 4 mins read

Plutus and Marlowe in the spotlight at WyoHackathon 2019

The Cardano network was engineered to be the best possible foundation for the future of decentralized technology – but a foundation is only as good as what can be built upon it. Smart contracts are one of the most powerful ways a distributed network can generate value, allowing individuals and organizations to agree to conditions and automatically execute exchanges of information and wealth, all in a trustless way without relying on third parties. But smart contracts are still code, which means that the languages and tools they’re written with make a difference to their final level of security, efficiency, and reliability.

That said, understanding the potential of smart contracts is different from realizing their integration and adoption. Existing smart contract languages provide the basis for a solution, but are not the final answer. Current smart contracts are complex and difficult to program, partly because they’re built with languages created at the emergence of distributed technologies, and are vulnerable to malicious actors. Blockchain technology has changed drastically since it first emerged, and the conditions that underpinned the first languages are no longer true. The first answer to a problem is rarely the best, and any enterprise-focused solution cannot be gated by complexity or threaten network security.

Bringing functional programming to smart contracts with Plutus

We’re big fans of functional programming here at IOHK and are proud to be able to say that the code underpinning the Cardano network is written in Haskell, the world’s foremost functional programming language. Plutus is no different. Compared to their object-oriented counterparts, functional programming languages are less prone to ambiguity and human error – always a good thing – as well as being easier to verify and test. By using Plutus to write smart contracts on the Cardano network, developers benefit from all of the above, as well as the ability to use the same language for both on and off-chain code.

While developers will have to wait for the Goguen era to launch smart contracts on the Cardano network, they can begin testing their smart contract skills in the Plutus Playground. IOHK has also created a Plutus ebook and Udemy course to help developers hit the ground running once Plutus is available on the Cardano mainnet.

And bringing Plutus to everyone with Marlowe

The problem with smart contracts, however, is that sometimes the people who know how to write the code don’t have the industry expertise to know how to structure the contracts themselves. Enter Marlowe, IOHK’s domain-specific language (DSL). Marlowe is designed for use by anyone that wants to write a financial smart contract without the programming skills to implement it. Users can try out Marlowe via the Marlowe Playground, a web utility with a user-friendly GUI and drag and drop components, where they can create financial smart contracts which, when complete, will generate fully-functional, implementation-ready Plutus code.

Marlowe gives anyone the ability to gain familiarity with smart contracts while protecting them from unexpected outcomes. It also protects the developer and the system by ensuring that ill-formed smart contracts cannot be run. Finally, Marlowe focuses on commitment-of-funds and time-outs. These make certain that both parties have dedicated funds in the agreement while ensuring that money will not be left in the system after a contract has concluded.

Laying solid foundations

Plutus, Marlowe, and the Cardano ecosystem continue to evolve to provide the safest and most efficient conditions to build decentralized applications. The next generations of Plutus and Marlowe will be announced at the WyoHackathon at the University of Wyoming on September 20, ahead of their release on mainnet at the start of the Goguen era. Marlowe advances include a high-fidelity development system that aids the writing of executable contracts and the new iteration of Plutus will allow users to access their contracts from web or mobile applications. To get the latest news from the event, you can follow the WyoHackathon’s Twitter feed.

At IOHK, we're focused on creating the safest, most efficient platform for the building of decentralized applications. Plutus and Marlowe will be the first building blocks to be placed on the foundation which is the Cardano network – and they won't be the last. With this new suite of accessible, inclusive tools, Cardano becomes more capable of serving the diverse audiences that stand to benefit from a secure, decentralized network platform.

Artwork, Stephen Walker

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