Cardano’s goals for Africa and the developing world
Charles Hoskinson addresses packed crowd at LSE
24 February 2018 6 mins read
The London School of Economics has a long history of links to Africa. Founded in 1895 four years before the outbreak of the Boer War, the school launched into the debates of the era. Some of the first leaders of newly independent African nations studied at LSE and its progressive and anti-imperialist stance saw the school play a part in the anti-apartheid movement. With that history, the university was an apt location for Charles Hoskinson to introduce Cardano’s next steps - for its technology to serve the developing world, starting with Africa. The talk, organised by the Cardano Foundation and the LSE blockchain association at the school’s Saw Swee Hock Centre, was twice oversubscribed.
Before the doors opened on Tuesday evening there was a buzz of anticipation in the long queue of hundreds of people, mostly in their twenties and thirties.
To the packed crowd, Charles set out the vision for Cardano that will begin to unfold in Africa this year.
"You have to go to talk to people in the countries you want to help. The only way you are going to the change the world is you have to go there. You’re not going to be the one doing it, you have to be humble enough to let the people there do it."
Using a model already tested during the past year with pilot courses in Athens and Barbados, IOHK will bring skills to the region. Training in the programming language Haskell, in which Cardano is built, will be provided to budding developers. At the end of the course they will either be hired to contribute to Cardano, or will plough their talents back into the local economy. As an example of IOHK’s approach, the Barbados course was held in association with the University of the West Indies and was the first time that Haskell was taught in the country. The classes were even attended by Professor Philip Wadler, one of the creators of Haskell, who is helping to develop Cardano.
"The next class will probably be done in Ethiopia, we are already in negotiations to do that," Charles said. "You have to create a base of people in the country who have an incentive to care and actually understand how the tech works."
Just as important will be to engage local government and explore opportunities for working together. Pilot schemes using Cardano could test potential applications, for example relating to land registry, identity, or voting.
The key to enabling blockchain use in Africa is to run successful trial projects, showcasing blockchain technology as a cheaper and more efficient method of doing things. "A proof of concept can show why it’s faster and better. It can show it can be rolled out, show people can make a lot money from it, then everyone says ‘me too’, and competition drives a tsunami wave of people in, including my blockchain competitors," Charles said.
There was a powerful case for blockchain in Africa, he argued. Blockchain technology has great potential to unlock the wealth of countries through the tokenisation of natural resources, labour or property. "Tokens aren’t just good for CryptoKitties, it turns out you can do real things with these platforms, so let’s go try that."
"If you count the locked up liquidity in these countries it’s in the trillions of dollars. It’s a great paradox that there’s tremendous potential value in places and if only it could be accessed and given to the people in some fair way then poverty would melt away and these would become some of the wealthiest countries."
It would not be easy, but blockchain adoption would inevitably take place, Charles said. Local politicians would have to receive a financial incentive to support the technology, perhaps through a pre-mine. Then there are other hurdles to cross in Africa, such as patchy internet coverage that hampers connectivity to the blockchain. To address this, IOHK is exploring satellite coverage and estimates the cost at $50 to $100 million. Trusted hardware offers a second solution, by allowing offline, offchain transactions through Bluetooth that can register on the blockchain when connectivity is regained.
Another hurdle is to provide points where local currency can be cashed in or out. To this end, IOHK is looking at how a network of ATM terminals could be installed at affordable cost and which can operate off grid. And finally, a longheld aim of cryptocurrency has been to develop a value stable currency, which is pegged to fiat such as the dollar, and offers businesses stability and protection against the price volatility of cryptocurrency. Charles announced that IOHK was starting a research agenda into value stable currencies, and although there would be "no silver bullet", he promised a series of experiments and hard work on the subject.
"So that’s what Cardano is doing for the developing world," said Charles. "We have a moral obligation to try and explore this tech and get it to as many people as possible."
The talk was followed by a wide-ranging question and answer session, with questions on everything from the future of blockchain in China, to transaction fees on Cardano, to establishing regulated cryptocurrency businesses.
The audience had a mix of backgrounds, from serious Cardano fans who had watched hours of videos online, to the cryptocurrency curious.
Timo, 27, is a student from Salzburg at Regent’s Business School in London. Having been interested in cryptocurrency for more than a year, he says he’d watched Charles’s Ted talk, seen his interviews and and then bought Ada. "The project is very serious compared to others, it’s evident from the team, the web presence and the many interviews Charles has given."
"Blockchain is the most revolutionary technology since the internet," said his friend, Thomas, 23, from Antwerp, who first learnt about cryptocurrency last year from his father during a marathon three-hour, late evening conversation. "That sparked my interest, and I then came across Charles’s videos and found him a brilliant mind. I like the approach that Cardano is taking to tackling the problems blockchain is having right now - it’s also academic and involves people from universities, there is objective option there."
Others were there to find out more about cryptocurrency. Ana, 24, is a postgraduate student of law at LSE who came along to the talk. She is interested in writing her dissertation about smart contracts because she sees blockchain as an newly emerging discipline within law. "I want to understand more about blockchain," she said. "The legal aspect is very interesting and there are a lot of issues to tackle. For example, is it legitimate to have contracts that self-execute, if you don’t have a court or a judge involved?"
More information is coming soon on IOHK and Africa strategy, and will be outlined by the Director of African Operations, John O’Connor.
IOHK celebrates a successful Global Summit
Cardano development in focus at Lisbon
14 February 2018 8 mins read
January got off to a busier start than normal for IOHK because on top of all the usual research and development being carried out, pretty much the entire company traveled to Lisbon for our latest meetup. These week-long events are always hectic and challenging – where everyone comes together to push forward work on projects - but they are also fun, allowing people to meet face to face, sit down over a meal, and get to know each other. Now that we've had time to take stock of the week, what strikes me most is the tremendous amount of energy and effort going into all the work IOHK is doing. We made leaps forward on the various components of Cardano, such as the treasury and delegation. During the week there was a planned schedule of talks, workshops and meetings, organized in the style of a conference, but aside from that program, there were an incredible number of spontaneous discussions taking place. There were continual requests to book meeting rooms, or for 15-minute pow-wows in coffee breaks. Walking around the hotel, you'd always stumble upon small groups of IOHK people sitting around laptops in deep discussion.
Lisbon was a great opportunity to hear about the enormous strides being made by IOHK Research. Professor Aggelos Kiayias, IOHK Chief Scientist, set out plans for Ouroboros, the proof of stake protocol that underpins Cardano, which has been been rigorously constructed based on first principles and has undergone academic peer review. Further development of the protocol aims to speed it up, offer sharding, and eventually allow assets to flow between connected sidechains.
Aggelos says: "It was a very work-intensive week where almost all of the IOHK work threads converged under a single roof here in Lisbon. In terms of research, substantial progress was made on all our high priority objectives including incentives, delegation, wallet security, multi-sig capabilities, sidechains and smart contract support."
The development of Cardano took centre stage during the week. Delegation, a core mechanism of Cardano, was a subject of much discussion in three major meetings that were a continuation of discussions held in Edinburgh last year. Delegation is a mechanism that allows stakeholders to delegate their stake to other parties, such as stake pools, and in return receive some reward for doing so. It fulfils an equivalent function to mining in proof of work protocols and so must offer some benefit to those who delegate their stake. The considerations for creating a delegation scheme are complex and great care must be taken to ensure requirements are balanced fairly, from user privacy to the incentives offered.
Dr Philipp Kant, Director of Formal Methods, said the team is making progress so delegation can move beyond its initial description in a research paper to operation in real life. "In the last weeks we've had various meetings, where we reviewed the mechanisms that we have for delegation in Cardano, to make sure that we can fulfill all the requirements, including rewards for stakeholders who delegate. This week, having everyone in one room, we got to the point where we have a proposal," he says. "What I think we gained is that we've converged on good a scheme to use."
The delicate task of working through tricky problems was also highlighted by Dr Neil Davies, who along with Peter Thompson is leading work on Cardano's network layer, to make sure that its distributed system can deliver high performance even when scaled to millions of users. "There are complex issues when you're trying to construct a new way of organizing how people exchange value, to ensure it will be sustainable in the long term," he says. "This week was the quickest way of getting everybody up to speed, to see everyone's progress and review it among peers. We took a few knotty technical problems and had technical discussion to agree the way forward."
Everyone who came along to Lisbon said meeting in person had real benefits. Professor Philip Wadler, IOHK area leader for programming languages, is working on Plutus, a new language for programming smart contracts on Cardano that is inspired by Haskell, the language he pioneered and in which Cardano is built. Phil says: "Getting everyone in one place has been a real aid to kickstarting what we're doing with Plutus. We've considerably upped the person power involved and I'm excited to see what happens."
Phil also believes that IOHK's championing of peer reviewed research could have profound implications for the cryptocurrency field. "I found Charles's opening talk to be really inspiring, he says. "It's amazing that peer reviewed research isn't the standard in the industry but it's really exciting how IOHK has made that work and turned that into part of the value proposition. If that does nothing else but get others to pick that up, that would be fantastic."
It wasn't just Cardano development that was pushed forwards in Lisbon.
Partners were also present, including ZenCash, the Cardano Foundation, and representatives from Emurgo.
Michael Parsons, chairman of the Cardano Foundation, says: "Coming to Lisbon for the IOHK Global Summit was a rewarding experience on many levels, work, social, and cultural. I had great conversations with many IOHK executives and technology leads and enjoyed participating in a group Cardano webcast. IOHK organized a scenic Lisbon city tour followed by a chance to sample the local Portuguese cuisine, the fresh sea bass was spectacular! All in all, an impressive and worthwhile event expertly coordinated by IOHK, our development partners; I look forward to the next one."
Emurgo had two representatives present in Lisbon. One of them, Shunsuke Murasaki, said it was a chance to talk to the software developers working on Cardano and provide a bridge to development teams in Vietnam and Taiwan working on future applications. "I found this week to be very educational and inspiring," he says. "Emurgo has good partnerships and we will provide technical updates to our partners on Cardano development to accelerate their activity."
For Eileen Fitzgerald, Head of Programs, the week focused on everything from looking at software development methodology to having conversations with new people. "It was great to have everyone finally agreeing on where we are going, consolidating on how we are moving Plutus forward and the K Framework, the Daedalus roadmap, resources, and the direction for the next year," she says. She spent time developing the project management office, which she believes is the only project management office in the world focusing on blockchain development.
Of course, the week was a lovely reminder of how far we've come in the little over two years since the company was founded. More than 100 people working on IOHK projects were in Lisbon. That compares to about 35 people who were at the last meet up, in Malta. And the time before that, in Riga, we numbered fewer than 20 people. IOHK is now a much bigger organization and has recently been doing a lot of work to reshape its structure to adapt to having more people, more moving parts, and more projects.
And in the presentation from Charles Hoskinson, he set out business objectives for the next year and for the long term. Highlighting IOHK's pioneering approach to open source software development and high assurance methods he laid out how IOHK has led the way in the cryptocurrency industry.
"We broke new ground by being first to embrace peer review, transforming cryptocurrency from something regarded as amateur and suspect by the academic community into a rapidly emerging area of study within cryptography."
And Cardano's position as IOHK's flagship product was acknowledged.
"If we pull it off, it becomes the financial stack for the developing world capable of handling three billion users. That's the goal of Cardano," he said. "That will require an enormous amount of good technology. We had to bring all these people together to build a project like this. Cardano is the best protocol in the world. In the coming months, Cardano will get better, feature richness will come, and it will be an incredible product."
There was also time for relaxation, with several social outings, group dinners and a visit to the beautiful national park of Sintra, all expertly organized along with the general program by Leonidas Tsagkalias, Costas Saragkas and Tamara Haasen. Conversations about work were never far away though!
I'm looking forward to the next IOHK company meet up where I'm sure there will be even more people in attendance, and we will be able to look back and take stock of even more groundbreaking research and development. IOHK has already begun to set the standard for cryptocurrencies and reshape the way the industry works, so get ready for more exciting developments during the year ahead.
There has been a lot of change in the short time since Release Candidate 1 went out on December 22. Some of the team have swapped the short, dark days of winter for life in the Caribbean, as IOHK have sponsored an eight-week intense and high quality Haskell course in the University of the West Indies in Barbados. Meanwhile work has been getting done on the Daedalus Mantis integration 1.0 release.
The security audit report came in and was digested and published, and a close eye was kept on the bug reporting in Github and the Ethereum Classic forum.
Happily there were very few reported problems. There is a known issue with installing the Daedalus Mantis integration over an existing Daedalus wallet install and this will be fixed in a future version. For now the workaround is to uninstall the Daedalus wallet before installing the Daedalus Mantis integration. Unfortunately it is not possible to install both simultaneously, support for multiple wallet types is something the Daedalus team are working feverishly on.
The most visible impact of the security report was the dropping of support for the automatic download of the bootstrap database. This feature was based on MD5 checksum, which is more broken than we realized.
It is still possible to download a bootstrap database and install it by hand to reduce the amount of time spent syncing the network and it is recommended. Although a small bug fix to the discovery process and some tuning have also reduced the sync wait time, so both are good options now.
And so we can finally after a huge effort from the team and without further ado announce the release of the Daedalus Mantis Integration 1.0!
Planning for next release, 1.1, has already begun, focused on performance improvements and refactors and while we have no dates yet we expect it to be in the first half of this year.
Sincere thanks to those who supported the team, the project and Ethereum Classic over the past months, it is greatly appreciated.
Research program to work on hardening Cardano against quantum computers
1 February 2018 5 mins read
At its heart, cryptography is the science of secure communication. We have all secrets, expectations of privacy and assertions of truth about messages we receive that require some notion of verification or quantification of trust. Cryptography provides us with a toolbox to better understand how to transmit and verify these artifacts of communication in the presence of an adversary. The challenge is that transmission mediums change and the capabilities of an adversary change with them. The earliest days of secret communication ranging from Caesar to the American Confederacy involved substitution ciphers and elegant physical devices to accommodate the decryption of messages.
The apex of these approaches was the Enigma machine used by the Nazis during World War Two.
As with all cryptographic algorithms, the security of such techniques is always dependent upon assumptions about the capabilities of the adversary. For example, interception of encrypted messages was a deeply personal affair involving finding the spy or messenger moving the scroll. With the invention of wireless communication, listening posts could easily collect all messages transmitted without the sender even knowing.
Decryption without the trusted hardware device, would require the adversary to have special knowledge and the ability to perform enormous amounts of calculations. The creation of the Bombe at Bletchley Park made this task automated for the first time in human history.
The invention of computers and later the internet has fundamentally changed the entire field of cryptography. Human and transmission limitations as well as knowledge transfer are now such that cryptography had to transform from clever algorithms and security through obscurity to a science assuming an increasingly more sophisticated adversary that is usually only constrained by physics and mathematically hard problems.
For the past few decades, we’ve been converging into a reasonable model of security that is comfortable for internet connected devices. Usually security is no longer compromised by an unknown weakness in our ciphers, but rather a flaw in their use or implementation in software.
As much of a triumph this convergence is for the field of cryptography, like Bombe in the 1940s, we are now forced to contend with a new adversary capability: quantum computation.
Quantum computers seem to present the challenge that fundamentally hard problems which secure our modern cryptographic algorithms may not be hard anymore. Should this occur, most of the modern algorithms we use will have to be phased out and replaced with fundamentally different ones. Cryptocurrencies are consumers of these modern cryptographic algorithms from the simple, such as public key systems and hash functions, to the complex, such as zero knowledge proofs and multiparty computation. As there is an explicit and ever increasing bounty for breaking the security behind a cryptocurrency, the challenge for IOHK is to imagine how to provide long-term security in the face of future adversaries, including ones that possess quantum computers.
Therefore, we have launched a long-term research agenda to gradually harden all algorithms used in Cardano’s protocol stack against an adversary who possesses a quantum computer. The first part of this agenda is to harden our consensus algorithm Ouroboros.
All good research agendas need strong leaders who have a proven record and thus we are extremely fortunate to anticipate the inclusion of Professor Alexander Russell of University of Connecticut, USA as a senior research fellow in IOHK research and an external collaboration with Assistant Professor Peter Schwabe of Radboud University. They will play key roles in our first attempt at hardening the Ouroboros protocol for the post quantum setting.
Professor Russell (Ph.D. MIT 1996) has a deep understanding of quantum computation that spans over two decades. His work on quantum computing has focused on algorithms for algebraic problems, intractability results, and quantum-secure cryptography. He was also one of the co-authors of the Ouroboros papers and thus the combination of his deep understanding of blockchain protocol security and his expertise of quantum computation and post-quantum security put him at a unique position to lead the effort of projecting Ouroboros to the post-quantum setting.
Professor Schwabe (Ph.D. Eindhoven 2011) is one of the rising stars of the field with contributions from his work on SPHINCS to lattice signatures such as Tesla and Dilithium. He is also participating in NIST’s competition to harden the cryptographic algorithms used by the United States government against quantum computers.
As this is long arc research, the output will be many papers, conference discussions and iterations; however, we are excited to start the process and conversation. It is our belief that over the next 50 years cryptocurrencies will become the standard way of representing and transacting value.
Therefore, it is essential for us to proactively prepare our protocols against the threats of the future with the hope that Cardano can enjoy the durability that TCP/IP and other long-lived protocols have demonstrated. We also believe it is essential to structure the conversation within the cryptocurrency community to involve university partners and domain experts as soon as possible in order to avoid common mistakes, incomplete solutions, and have access to the best available knowledge.
In the short term, the first output of this workstream will be to choose and properly parameterize a post-quantum signature scheme for Ouroboros Praos as well as examining our protocol against the capabilities of an adversary in possession of a quantum computer. Our hope is that this work will be finished and implemented before the end of 2018 in Shelley’s first major upgrade.