Some thoughts for the next 12 days
The past, present, and future in the spirit of an olde English counting song
24 December 2020 6 mins read
‘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