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

Online learning with Haskell: the Mongolia Class of 2020

Reminiscing on the delivery of the first Haskell massive online course (MOOC)

21 December 2020 Alejandro Garcia 7 mins read

Online learning with Haskell: the Mongolia Class of 2020

Here we share feedback on this year's Haskell course which we delivered online for the first time.

Saying that the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world's plans is a cliché at this point, and the same thing happened to us here at IOG’s Education department. However, what we did not expect were the new opportunities that the global lockdown opened up for us which enabled us to deliver a fantastic online Haskell bootcamp in 2020.

If you are familiar with IOG, you probably know that the Haskell programming language and its functional approach to software development are integral to the company. It is right there in the name “Input Output”. So, it is no surprise that we have invested heavily in improving the Haskell ecosystem, from contributing to open-source projects, sponsoring developers, and much more. One of our big efforts is that every year we run a Haskell bootcamp, which involves three months of intensive in-person training with Lars Brünjes, director of education, and guest lectures by some of the best developers and computer scientists in the world. So far, there have been four iterations of this class: Ethiopia 2019, Barbados 2018, Athens 2017, and one was planned for Mongolia in 2020.

The actual class takes 10 weeks of Haskell, cryptocurrency, and smart contract training that opens up new opportunities for young students that take the challenge of the course. It is not easy, the topics are hard, the homework is even harder, and the hours are grueling. Calling this a full-time commitment is an understatement, most students in the previous editions have called it the “most difficult class of their lives”.

Despite all these factors, on completion of the 10 weeks, the students come away with experience in the most state-of-the-art topics in software development: strongly typed functional programming, embedded DSL design, property-based testing, smart contract development (with Plutus and Marlowe), as well as a strong sense of pride in having achieved something truly challenging that will influence their professional lives for decades to come.

At the beginning of 2020, the Mongolia Haskell bootcamp was well on its way to taking place in March, and then, as we all know, the planet stopped. In January, the nature of Coronavirus was relatively unknown, but by March its mortality rate and its main mediums of transmission were front-page news, flights were being canceled, and later shut down completely. This made it impossible to deliver the class in person as planned. Thanks to the tenacity, or may I say stubbornness, of Dugerdorj Davaadorj and Lars, that class was going to happen no matter what. So, we had to adapt the class to the new realities imposed by the pandemic. We expected these changes to be difficult, and as any teacher will tell you, it is easier to provide feedback when you can see the students’ reactions, and it is also easier to provide an interactive education when the students can see each other, program in pairs, or even practice “swarm” development.

What we didn’t expect is that the MOOC approach would turn out to be even better in some ways than an in-person training course. For example, in the recent edition, the class was co-taught by Lars and Andres Löh from our friends at Well-typed. Andres is a highly regarded teacher in the Haskell community and has been involved with the language for over 20 years. Basically, if you find an interesting open-source project in Haskell, Andres has probably been involved in it in some way. Then we also had guest lectures by Rob Cohen (Program Manage IOG), Joshua Miller (Project Manager IOG), and Phillip Wadler (one of the original creators of Haskell, with too many achievements to mention; his Wikipedia page is a good starting point to find out more).

Our Haskell training course started in August and as usual, there were some hiccups getting all the students settled with a proper development environment, language barriers, and some cultural differences. Basically, professors were encouraging students to ask more questions, however, in Mongolian culture students tend to work quietly only asking questions or collaborating with each other. Therefore, it was good that all the students were working together in the University lab on-site and we were very glad to have access to that facility. It was great to see that universities were open in Mongolia!

Remember, this was August 2020 with most schools closed in Europe and America, so how come the Mongolian universities were open? It turns out that Mongolia, up to that point, had recorded zero deaths from Covid-19! Let me say that again — ZERO deaths from Covid-19. We couldn’t even believe it in the beginning, but as the weeks progressed and we were able to get to know the students, we understood why. The discipline and disposition for work that our students were showing in class was the same attitude that allowed Mongolian citizens to isolate from the pandemic on January 27th. The Mongolian government took decisive actions right from the beginning, which the citizens followed precisely. We could see that while working, as everyone wore masks and kept their distance. Although the learning process was hard, students worked on many difficult exercises, consulted each other, and collaborated in spontaneous teams to encourage everyone that was participating.

The homework assignments were deployed on the GitHub Classroom platform, which allowed students to collaborate in team projects the way that professional software developers would do: committing and resolving issues in various branches in a common code repository.

As an additional benefit of the online learning environment, we were able to accept a couple of students from Mexico. This was also challenging for them as the classes were held from 11 pm until 5 am in the morning, which required a complete 10-week schedule switch for the students, as well as myself, as a reviewer.

In the end, their determination allowed them to finish the course having acquired really valuable skills and a sense of pride in the achievement itself. We want to thank the Mongolia ministry of Education and Economics for making this possible.

The feedback we received from the students was very positive, here are some comments we received from the participants:

“The course was my very first experience of functional programming. It felt like a whole new world to me and truly broadened my horizons and the way of thinking. I’m so glad that my first steps were guided by professionals. I will never be the same as before I took the class. I am very grateful; I grew both professionally and personally. I recommend it to anyone who wants to level up their programming skills.”

Tuvshintsenguun

“After attending the Mongolia Haskell Class, I reaffirmed the beauty of functional programming. The beauty of the code makes it look so simple. I want to thank Lars and Andres for allowing me to attend your class. I admire your utmost professionalism and excitement to share your knowledge. You are an inspiration to all of us who want to become better engineers.”

K. Chaires

“This course exceeded all my expectations. I learned so much with Lars and Andres. They are expert programmers and even better teachers. They effortlessly explained complex concepts. Now I want to develop every project in Haskell.”

A. Ibarra

As for ourselves, we are very happy with how this experiment of running a small class in a remote setting turned out, making it our first MOOC delivery. It also opens up exciting new collaborative opportunities for the education team in the future. Of course, we cannot wait to get back on the road, and get to meet these students and prospective students in real life once more, once it is safe to travel again. Hence, in 2021 we plan to run one more iteration of the class in person and one online course that is open to the world, as we continue on our journey to train 10,000 smart contract developers on Cardano. Wishing you all a happy new year as we look forward to 2021!

Devnets: Building bridges to developer communities

Our new interoperability platforms (devnets) will expand Cardano's reach with support for the Solidity/Ethereum communities and beyond

17 December 2020 Tim Harrison 6 mins read

Devnets: Building bridges to developer communities

A blockchain environment is not a static one. Blockchains evolve as their communities grow and learn, and Cardano is no exception.

With every development stage, Cardano's core functionality has been expanded with new features: Shelley added delegation, stake pools, and decentralization to Byron’s core transactional capability. Goguen is now starting to bring fresh utility, from metadata to smart contracts and native tokens. Voltaire introduces a treasury and voting system, and we’ve seen the early steps of this process with Project Catalyst and the first ever public funding round for Cardano community ideas.

We introduced transaction metadata in November, an important first element in creating new utility and commercial use cases. We recently deployed the first pre-production environment for native tokens. Following that will be token creation and ERC-20 conversion. Plutus and Marlowe, Cardano’s native smart contract languages are under active development and will be released in 2021, opening up the platform for developers to create fresh solutions and power exciting new use cases.

All of these Goguen elements play their part in delivering Cardano's ultimate objective: a truly decentralized and self-sustaining platform. All the time encouraging deeper community engagement and growth by creating fresh opportunities.

We have a vibrant and skilled community, arguably one of the strongest and smartest in the crypto space. And in line with our avowedly non-’maximalist’ and open approach, we want to reach out to other communities and bring them onboard too.

As outlined in Charles Hoskinson’s recent video, Cardano's next strategic move will be the addition of a range of devnets to draw fresh developer communities into the wider Cardano ecosystem.

These devnets will act as ‘bridges’ between developer communities, providing development environments, virtual machines and suites of developer tools so new applications can be tested in an environment as close to the 'real world' as possible.

Understanding the devnets

After some initial exploratory work back in 2018, we are now restarting and accelerating the K Ethereum Virtual Machine (KEVM) program. The new KEVM devnet is the first of several devnets we’re building out over the next month or so. The EVM runs within the K Framework, a system for specifying languages and VMs, and then deriving tools such as interpreters, type checkers, equivalence checkers, debuggers, etc. for these languages. (The EVM is what runs smart contracts in the Ethereum network.)

K applies formal reasoning and mathematical rigor for the highest levels of assurance. It enables developers to define or implement the formal semantics of a programming language in an intuitive and modular way. K also generates an executable, 'correct by construction VM' from its formal specification, which is fast and powerful enough to run real programs and smart contracts. This effectively means that software should perform the required functions and nothing else, for all possible inputs, and have verifiable evidence.

Our long term vision – in association with our partners at Runtime Verification – is to build a K environment where we can just 'plug-and-play' new VMs. You can hear more about the goals of K from the team at Runtime Verification in this video segment from the Cardano monthly show.

The KEVM devnet, which is aimed at the Solidity/Ethereum community, will enable full backward compatibility with Ethereum. Because Solidity is a high-level language similar to JavaScript and C++, it cannot be directly executed by the EVM. Solidity programs must be compiled to assembly language (EVM bytecode) first, so they can run on the KEVM.

KEVM will allow developers to write applications in Solidity, EVM code, or Glow, providing toolkits to compile and deploy them on the devnet for (close to real-world) testing. We also plan to soon add Truffle integration, further increasing developer usability.

Glow

Solidity is by far the most popular higher programming language compiling to EVM bytecode, but by no means the only one. One fascinating alternative to Solidity is Glow, developed by our partner MuKn.

Glow is a ‘high-level’ language (other examples of high level languages include JavaScript, Python etc.) designed to allow writing highly secure financial contracts intuitively. Glow follows the 'correct-by-construction' doctrine to avoid common pitfalls and potentially costly bugs. Glow can prove that contracts written in this language have certain desirable properties, no matter what other participants in the contract do or do not do.

Glow has been designed with interoperability in mind. There will be Glow compilers targeting many diverse platforms and blockchains, making code reuse so much simpler and more practicable.

This will be the next devnet to be deployed. Most of the core development work is now done, ready for final QA and deployment in January 2021.

IELE - A foundation for third-generation blockchains

Full compatibility with the EVM is convenient and attractive to many experienced developers familiar with Ethereum, but KEVM inevitably also inherits the EVM’s weaknesses.

For this reason we’ll offer a more advanced and secure alternative in the form of our IELE devnet. The IELE (pronounced yeah-leh) virtual machine, also being developed by our partner Runtime Verification, is similar to the EVM, but much more secure. For example, it uses arbitrary precision integers, immediately eliminating many of the EVM's vulnerabilities. IELE is also register-based, not stack-based like the EVM, making it much easier for developers to write IELE bytecode by hand directly.

The term IELE describes two things:

  • The IELE VM
  • The IELE assembly language

IELE is a human-readable, blockchain low-level language, meant to serve as the foundation for third-generation blockchains. IELE was designed using state-of-the-art formal methods to address security and correctness concerns in Ethereum, while simultaneously enabling the verification of mathematical correctness of smart contract code that K EVM brings to Ethereum.

IELE represents the next step in the evolution of correct-by-construction, automatically generated implementation concepts. It is built to become the foundation of an entire compiler backend, allowing robust gas optimization, including contracts written in a high-level language that has IELE as its compilation target, like Solidity or Plutus.

Bridges between developer communities

The KEVM, Glow and IELE devnets align closely with Goguen’s key goals: to bring use and utility to Cardano, and build solid, lasting partnerships that contribute to the ongoing growth of our developer ecosystem. We aim to attract as many developers from as many disciplines as possible, to foster versatility and inclusivity.

Alongside Plutus and Marlowe, we hope these devnets present an unrivalled opportunity for developers (in the blockchain-crypto world and beyond) to engage with the Cardano platform, build compelling use cases, and contribute to the growth of the ecosystem.

An exciting future

We hope to provide a clear path towards new developer opportunities that will require close collaboration with many different communities, not least Cardano’s own. And it's one step at a time.

We’re putting the building blocks in place now. Once fully established, the devnets will act as bridges between developer communities, opening up new avenues of communication and cooperation across not just blockchain, but the whole developer ecosystem. Cardano will have permanent backward compatibility with the Ethereum network, keeping pace with any developments in the Ethereum chain. And by broadening the developer base, the Cardano community can help drive the continuing evolution of smart contracts and the decentralized finance (DeFi) space. Another remarkable year awaits. See you on the other side.

IOHK partners with Wolfram to power Cardano

Cardano joins Bitcoin and Ethereum in integrating into Wolfram’s industry leading technology and knowledge base, Wolfram Alpha. But this is only the beginning of an exciting new partnership.

17 December 2020 Eric Czuleger 2 mins read

 IOHK partners with Wolfram to power Cardano

IOHK is dedicated to making Cardano an industry leading blockchain project. This has led us to collaborating with global leaders in technology, business and finance. Now, we’re pleased to announce a new partnership with Wolfram. As a part of this relationship, Cardano data will be integrated into the Wolfram Alpha computational intelligence engine. This places Cardano alongside Ethereum and the Bitcoin as blockchain data to be included within Wolfram Alpha.

Wolfram and IOHK have historically enjoyed close ties, with Stephen Wolfram presenting at #Cardano2020 as well as at the IOHK Miami 2019 summit. The company has consistently proven itself to be a leader in pushing open source intelligence across a variety of fields including computation, mathematics, and now, blockchain technology. The inclusion of Cardano data into Wolfram Alpha is a landmark moment for IOHK, but it is just the beginning of our collaboration.

We are currently defining a scope of work which would leverage Wolfram Alpha to provide Oracle services for Cardano. Oracles are a crucial component of powering smart contracts. They allow data to be transported from a variety of sources into the blockchain. This information can be anything from election results and sports scores to currency exchange rates and statistical data. This greatly expands Cardano’s ability to offer new ways for developers to integrate advanced external information into their smart contacts.

As a part of this ongoing roll out IOHK will also work closely with Wolfram Blockchain Labs. Wolfram Blockchain Labs provides blockchain ecosystems with necessary tools to assist in DLT-based commerce and business innovation. The educational teams at IOHK and Wolfram will collaborate to provide Cardano-specific course material. This will help draw developers and users into the Cardano ecosystem by promoting understanding of the platform. 

Integrating with Wolfram Alpha also boasts industry leading natural language processing capabilities. This makes Cardano’s information available to virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri. Once integrated, users will be able to query the system to find information or solve computational problems as easily as asking their virtual assistant. We anticipate the initial phases of integration with Wolfram will occur Q2/Q3 of next year.

IOHK and Wolfram are currently building out a collaborative framework, so we’ll have lots more to share over the months ahead. Meanwhile, if you would like to hear more about the partnership between Wolfram and Cardano, check out our interview with Wolfram Blockchain Labs’ (WBL) Jon Woodard on December’s monthly Cardano product update.

Delegating to decentralize and build value

In 2021, we’ll be delegating ada to community stake pool operators who believe their pool can make a positive difference. If that is you, here’s how to apply

10 December 2020 Tim Harrison 5 mins read

Delegating to decentralize and build value

In November, we announced our intent to support our corporate mission and encourage network decentralization through a new delegation approach. But to summarize, starting January, we’ll be delegating a proportion of our ada holdings across a range of community stake pools. Our goal? To support positive social change and continue building a more robust, resilient, and geographically distributed Cardano network.

Today, we’re delighted to take the first step in delivering on this strategy by opening our first call for applications. From today, we’re inviting eligible stake pool operators (SPOs) to consider applying. This is an evolving program, and we will refine it over the year ahead. But initially we are encouraging SPOs to gauge their eligibility for a delegation award based on these criteria:

  1. IOG will run two programs: one for ‘Incubator’ pools and another for ‘Purpose’ pools.

Incubator pools will be selected based on more ‘technocratic’ criteria. We’ll focus on pools that are performant and competently run by skilled operators who have invested a decent amount of pledge (or invested heavily in the ecosystem) but have struggled to attract delegation. Again, these are guidelines rather than hard rules; we’ll also look positively upon lower pledge pools with clear technological skill sets that contribute to the ecosystem.

Purpose pools will be selected according to the mission and purpose driving them. We will delegate to pools driving positive change by offering educational opportunities, supporting a charitable endeavor, committed to sustainable eco-friendly energy, etc. Or they might be driven by the desire to increase awareness and adoption of Cardano by hosting a stake pool centered on a developing country, holding blockchain meetups, creating non-English language Cardano/developer content, and many other options. Ultimately, it is up to each pool to state the positive change they want to make and how delegation can help them achieve that goal.

  1. IOG will select up to 100 stake pools each quarter and delegate between 3 and 4 million ada to each pool. There will be 4 cohorts/selection processes per year (one every 3 months)
  2. While we will not discount larger, more established operations, we will prioritize smaller pools (less than 5M ada/with low saturation) for the Purpose pools.
  3. We will monitor the block production rate across any pools we delegate to. We want to support skilled SPOs that are committed to deliver on the task their delegators have entrusted to them.
  4. We will show a strong preference to SPOs that run single pools. Any operator running multiple pools will need to demonstrate how they are adding community value by doing so. Failure to declare multiple pools at application will result in ineligibility to receive delegation.
  5. We will aim to delegate to a variety of new stake pools each quarter. We are focused on encouraging success and autonomy, and we will change our delegation when we are confident that the pool can continue to operate successfully without our support, or a quarter has passed. Unless exceptional circumstances arise, no pool will receive delegation for longer than 6 months.
  6. We will delegate on the basis of trust. We look for the same from SPOs and expect them to be transparent in all their dealings and how they represent themselves. We reserve the right to withdraw delegation without notice from any SPO making false or inaccurate claims about their eligibility for delegation. We will look for SPOs that are transparent with their costs and charge appropriately for them. In the short term, you may be prepared to invest your time and energy ‘for free’ (or at an effective loss, after hosting costs), but remember that this is not a sustainable model for the network over the medium and longer term. You are a pillar of Cardano and so you have every right to be compensated by the community.
  1. We will seek community feedback as we develop the process to help us both refine program mechanics and the choices we make. Community members are welcome to raise any particular concerns about delegation choices. However IOG reserves the right to make delegations in line with its ongoing decentralization strategy and changes to the program can be made at any time.

Building a decentralized, empowered, self-sustaining and self-governing ecosystem lies at the heart of our mission for Cardano. If 2020 was about laying the foundations of Shelley, 2021 will be about building upon that success through community opportunity and empowerment. Ultimately, our success is down to community and the protocol. But with this new delegation strategy, we hope to play a small but important role in helping to establish the stake pool ecosystem as a blockchain network unlike any other. Power pushed to the edges, skilled and empowered to support and accelerate all the exciting opportunities the future will bring.

We encourage any SPO who feels they meet the above criteria and would like to apply to do so through this form. We’ll also reach out directly to a number of pools we have already identified as strong candidates (based on their community contribution during 2020) and encourage them to apply. We’ll keep the application form open until the end of this year and review applications in early January, with a goal to make the first delegations by the end of January.