Kuva symphony update: more events and a 3D blockchain transaction tracker

Kuva discusses Symphony project updates

16 July 2019 Helen Broadbridge 5 mins read

Kuva symphony update: more events and a 3D blockchain transaction tracker

Symphony is an experience unlike any other. We’ve talked about it as an interactive, audio-visual exploration of the Bitcoin blockchain, but it’s becoming much more. Not just because we’re not stopping with Bitcoin – soon, Ethereum, then any blockchain thereafter – but because we’re continually optimizing and upgrading the experience, allowing the user to dive deeper into the blockchain through mixed-reality encounters. Part of what we wanted to create is a better way to absorb information. People aren’t sponges. Abstract concepts don’t always stick, and unfamiliarity breaks the narrative thread we need to engage with an idea. But when we can create that experience visually, interactively, we’re able to ground the abstract into an unforgettable experience that is, ultimately, fun: a living story.

About Kuva

Kuva is an interactive design and creative technology studio based in Bristol, UK. We’re a collection of artists, technologists, and engineers working with companies to blend art and technology into online and physical experiences. We’ve worked with IOHK on Symphony since the launch of the award-winning Symphony website in January 2018.

Our first gallery installation for Symphony was this year, in April, at the Arnolfini in Bristol and, soon after, we were in Miami for the IOHK summit. Since then, the teams at Kuva and IOHK have gone down slightly different paths, exploring different ways to expand the experience. You can learn more about IOHK’s work in this blog post. Here, I’ll go through what Kuva has been up to, and what the future holds for Symphony.

The Symphony art exhibition at the Arnolfini
The Symphony art exhibition at the Arnolfini

Project Updates

We have a global tour planned for Symphony to introduce the blockchain to more people. For the most part, the blockchain is known in uncertain terms (the cryptocurrency market has led to a few erroneous perceptions, which we’d love to correct). Elsewhere, it’s barely known at all. If it’s going to underpin the future – which we believe it is – then we have a responsibility to start education as soon as possible. And at Kuva, we believe the best way to educate is through experiential storytelling.

Augmented reality posters are used to explain blockchain concepts
Augmented reality posters are used to explain blockchain concepts

This starts with our virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) projects. These experiences, which are demonstrated in this video, are designed as educational pieces that use different approaches (such as our AR posters) to explain how the blockchain works. We take some of the most complex components underpinning blockchains and break them down into easy-to-digest, understandable elements. We want to show the usefulness of blockchains and, by extension, cryptocurrencies, by illustrating them in ways people can relate to.

But the blockchain doesn’t start and end with Bitcoin. We’re also working on bringing an Ethereum chapter to these events, to demonstrate the evolution of cryptocurrencies and the technology as a whole. We’ll be able to explain and illustrate smart contracts, and show how blockchains can be used for more than financial transactions. Then, in the future, we’ll start looking at Cardano as a third-generation blockchain: how it’s different, and what it’s capable of achieving over others.

Mobile App

The most exciting update is about our mobile app, soon to be available on Android, and later on iOS. This contains a data visualization of the Bitcoin mempool in 3D and augmented reality, to show you the congestion and health of the Bitcoin blockchain at any time.

The Symphony transaction tracker mobile app
The Symphony transaction tracker mobile app

Using the app, you’ll be able to see whether it’s a good time to send a transaction. Visually, the busier the mempool is – ie, the more red lines it has swirling about it – the busier the network is, which means a higher fee. The average fee is precisely detailed in the app.

Like our other VR and AR work, we’ll soon be creating the same experience for the Ethereum and Cardano blockchains, to help users evaluate and compare fees and network traffic. We want users to have consistently up-to-date information about how best to use their cryptocurrencies – bridging the gap between interest and understanding starts with clear, interactive representations of key concepts and components.

We’re really excited about this app. It’ll not only be an easy way to grasp what’s happening on a blockchain at any moment, but a functional tool that provides transaction data in real-time. The app is already available on Android and an augmented reality iOS version will be released this summer. We’ll also soon be announcing updates for our world tour – so stay tuned, and get ready to discover the blockchain anew.

To find out more about the world tour, or to see how you can play a part, contact Kuva today.

Smart contract hackathon and meetup in Tel Aviv

Plutus, Marlowe, and the future of smart contracts in Israel

9 July 2019 Daniel Friedman 3 mins read

Smart contract hackathon and meetup in Tel Aviv

I was in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago with IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson for a workshop and meetup with the Israeli developer community. Israel has a long and glowing history with blockchain technology: zero-knowledge proofs were co-invented by an Israeli-American computer scientist, and the region is home to several innovative blockchain projects already. It seemed only natural that we should meet and engage with this vibrant community of developers to discuss the future of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and the powerful potential of smart contracts. The first part of the event was a technical workshop covering Plutus and Marlowe, IOHK’s smart contract platforms, including talks from several members of the IOHK team: Manuel Chakravarty, language architect, Lars Brünjes, director of education, Polina Vinogradova, a formal methods software engineer, and Alexander Nemish, a functional compilers engineer. The morning began with some theory about the design and implementation of IOHK’s smart contract approach, and after lunch it was time for a hands-on workshop and Q&A.

The attendees themselves were from a range of backgrounds, with developers, businesspeople, and blockchain enthusiasts in the mix. We’ve had lots of positive feedback since the event with one attendee, a crypto enthusiast and early adopter, describing it as ‘an impressive and informative event that was organized with a lot of respect for the local crypto-developers community.’

Charles taking questions from the audience during the evening event
IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson taking questions from the audience during the evening event

It was a busy day, and the evening saw us transition straight into a broader industry-wide meetup with almost a hundred attendees. Special guests from local blockchain companies were in attendance, including the CEO of Tel Aviv-based blockchain company COTI, Shahaf Bar-Geffen, as well as guests from Algoz and Endor. After Charles’ keynote about current Cardano developments, there were panel discussions about business in a smart contract-driven economy and how blockchain innovations are set to put Israel at the forefront of that market.

I’ve wanted to run an IOHK event in Israel for a long time, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of IOHK’s head of events Kerry de Jong and her team, as well as our partners for the event MarketAcross. Israel is an area full of talent and potential, and I’m pleased to be able to say that we’ve finally taken our first steps to get involved with the Israeli developer community. I’m looking forward to having more meetups in the country, and hope that IOHK will one day have a continuous presence there to make the most of this innovative, blossoming region.

Announcing the release of Symphony 2.0

Experience the blockchain like never before

5 July 2019 Scott Darby 5 mins read

Announcing the release of Symphony 2.0

The Symphony project began with a question: how do we represent blockchain technology in a way that is stimulating, entertaining, and audio-visually engaging for a wider audience, technical and non-technical. In other words, how do we explain the abstract and give form to the formless. It’s been over a year since we answered that question, and we’re still working to make Symphony the most interactive and immersive blockchain experience available. What began as a way to visualize the blockchain has evolved into a way to experience the blockchain: an immersive journey accessible through your device’s browser.

The result is Symphony 2.0: a 3D explorer through which anyone can traverse the topographic history of the Bitcoin blockchain, from the first transaction to the most recent. Compared with the first version, Symphony 2.0 goes deeper in every way. It drills down into transaction data to create a live soundscape – each block has its own unique audio signature – using data-driven sound synthesis. It looks like this:

How it Works

As you can imagine, giving feeling to data isn’t easy. Creating a sound for each block was how I wanted to represent the uniqueness and permanence of the blockchain: once added, a block is there forever, making that same sound, containing those same transactions.

I used a technique called additive synthesis to generate sound on the fly, and utilized the parallel nature of graphics cards to synthesize a unique sound for each of the thousands of transactions that can make up a block. The sound signature that plays when you visit a block consists of each transaction producing eight sine waves (a fundamental pitch and seven harmonics). The fundamental pitch is determined by the transaction value, and the amount of randomness added to the harmonics partials is controlled by the fee-to-value ratio of the transaction.

Symphony: The first block on the Bitcoin blockchain visually represented
Each block is connected to the blockchain by a Merkle tree

Design Philosophy

With Symphony 2.0, the blockchain’s mempool – which stores unconfirmed transactions – is visualized as a gravitational swell, around which confirmed transactions spiral in concentric rings. Think of Saturn’s rings but, instead of particles of ice and rock, we have transactions, continuously adding to the size of the rings as they extend outwards. Then, undergirding each block are Merkle trees represented, unsurprisingly, as trees.

Symphony: Each block is connected to the blockchain by a Merkle tree
The most recent block on the Bitcoin blockchain

On top of each block, confirmed transactions are visualized as 3D hexagons. Their height corresponds to the transaction volume, and their width (note the rotund individuals to the right of the image above) corresponds to the health of the block. The result is an unprecedented imagining of the blockchain, with its representative parts synced and manifest, explorable block-by-block or through a flight-simulator mode.

Ways to Experience Symphony

Symphony 2.0 is now live. It can be accessed using any modern web browser, but is best experienced in Google Chrome. For laptop and mobile device users, it’s advised to select the Medium quality option and, for those with high-performance devices or dedicated graphics support, the High quality option. Performance optimizations will continue into the future.

Together with our friends at Kuva, a Bristol-based creative agency, we’ve also grown the project to include events and exhibition pieces. These events – one of which was held this year in Bristol – have included a number of exhibitions that showcase different parts of the project, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Using WebVR software, I built a VR experience based on the code for Symphony 2.0, which demonstrates the extensibility of the system. This will be exhibited at future events and, I hope, one day available for VR headsets at home.

What’s Next

We’re going on tour. We have the story, and now we need an audience. I’m also starting to build an Ethereum version using the same code base, which will feature explorable smart contracts, and, after that, Cardano. We know there are thousands of people out there who are only faintly familiar with blockchain technology and want to know more – and with Symphony 2.0, they’ll be able to cut through the confusion. A picture tells a thousand words, and an interactive audio-visual experience tells many more.

Symphony is a long-term project. It’s as much an adventure for us as our audience. We want to see how far we can take it – because blockchain technology is still developing, still growing, and the opportunity for education is only just beginning. The release of Symphony 2.0 marks a significant milestone for us, and we’re thrilled to be sharing it with you. There’s a lot of opportunity for Symphony, from optimizations and incorporation of other blockchains, to events and more ways to enjoy Symphony at home. So, stay tuned for more updates and, in the meantime, enjoy the world’s first interactive blockchain experience.

Experience Symphony 2.0

Join the roll out of the Cardano Shelley testnet

Take part in our testing program

19 June 2019 David Esser 6 mins read

Join the roll out of the Cardano Shelley testnet

Many of you will have seen us talk about our testnets, where we run the versions of Cardano and other testing simulators so we can test our products and get feedback from the community. Some of you have already been playing with the code from our GitHub repos. So as we move from the Byron to the Shelley era, we want to extend that collaboration and learn more from the great talent in our Cardano community.

With the Rust codebase for Shelley now nearing primetime, we’re asking the community to help us build out a testnet. The Shelley era is all about decentralization, so we’re taking a more decentralized approach to testing and documentation. It’s an important step in expanding the Cardano technical community and ultimately preparing everyone for the day when the community takes over the blockchain.

For some time, there has been a dedicated and vibrant best practice group on Telegram  – the Stake Pool Best Practices Telegram group (1,733 members). There’s clearly a lot of talent and interest out there. We recently pinned a survey in the channel to learn more about potential stake pool operators. We’ve had a really positive response, with over 150 full responses so far.

What’s the range of technical skills and knowledge in the community? What are people’s particular interests in staking? Are they keen hobbyists or entrepreneurs with plans to run a stake pool as a business? What equipment are they planning to use? Would marketing or other business support be useful? We asked lots of questions to learn as much as we could. Ultimately, our goal is to find out how we can support the community in implementing Shelley’s decentralized model in the most effective way we can. It is these people who’ll be helping to kick things off.

So, we’ve started harnessing the power of the Cardano community to roll out a staking testnet. We’ll be supporting this early group along the way in a number of ways.

There’s now a dedicated code repository and log to support the test program, all open. We will soon release new Shelley testnet webpages on our Cardano testnets website. We’ll publish instructions, videos, tutorials and so on explaining what to do and how to do it. We're writing a pretty good set of documentation for the Rust client. There will be instructional videos on how to install and operate the node as well as report bugs and log issues using GitHub.

A key part of the testing program will be working with people with mixed levels of technical experience, working across different platforms and configurations. The feedback from this group will ultimately make our technology easier to install, configure, and operate for everyone who follows.

The testnet will have a series of releases rolling out in three main phases.

Phase 1: The self node, aka ‘blockchain in a box’

The first stage is all about setting up and hosting a ‘self node’. You can think of a self node as ‘blockchain in a box’, a minimum viable product (MVP) for testing key capabilities. This is basically a set of tools and documentation to bootstrap your own genesis block and run a multi-node environment on your own machine, where you can see how stake pools actually operate. It’s like a complete network within a single instance.

We’ll provide instructions and invite people to run the node through various configurations and give us feedback on what they find.

But what about the network? Isn’t this supposed to be a decentralized solution we’re testing? Well, although we’re starting with the self node, we’ve coded things so you can implement more features against this self node down the line. So, as we add more functionality – namely the network and incentives components – the code developed against the self node won't have to change much or at all. That’s the plan!

So, the first phase is about establishing the basic configuration for your set-up that gives a sense of how well things are working locally. The early code will contain just the core functionality, designed to explore the fundamental capabilities. Across the stake pool task force, we’ll be learning about operating on different hardware, operating systems, cloud hosting environments, and technical skill levels. We'll get a much broader set of results data by collaborating with the task force.  

Phase 2: Connecting the network

Once we’re happy with phase 1, and have a robust set of self nodes up and running, we’ll start connecting them up. The goal will be to create a single, unified testnet and to add more nodes as we go, scaling the network step by step. So, instead of experimenting within your own instance, you’ll now be moving to a system where you’re talking to nodes across the internet. You're gossiping, you're downloading blocks from peers. And then we’ll be learning from a whole new set of behaviors and potential risk scenarios.

Phase 3: The incentives system

This is where we add in a networked incentive system. Moving blocks around is all very well. But Shelley’s true potential will be realized with staking. This is about demonstrating how staking rewards will go to the stake pools to encourage that.

So, at a high level, that's what you’ll see in the coming months. We'll also be working closely with the folks at EMURGO on this. They’ll be helping with testing and also ensuring that their Yoroi wallet has all this interoperability. Seiza, their new blockchain explorer, will be a great tool for visualizing a lot of the things that we do that are unique in our ecosystem.

This testing program is an experiment in community collaboration. There’ll be a lot of testing, re-coding, improving documentation and training materials, tweaking, and so on along the way. We’ll be checking the integrity of individual components as well as demonstrating that those components play with each other nicely. The objective is clear, but it’ll be interesting to see how we get there. We’re committed to it because it fits: a decentralized process to test a decentralized system. And a broad collaboration with the community to test a system that will be owned by the community.

We’ll keep you all posted. For those who choose to step up and work with us in the program, a sincere thanks in advance to you for your partnership.

IOHK announces partnership with Georgian government and universities

MoUs mean Cardano and Atala are up for use in education and beyond

18 June 2019 Daniel Friedman 3 mins read

I’m in the Georgian capital Tbilisi this week, enjoying the sights and sounds of one of the most innovative regions of the Caucasus. After nearly a year of groundwork, I’m here with IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) partnerships with the government and two of Georgia's largest universities. The MoUs with the Ministry of Education, the Free University of Tbilisi, and the Business and Technology University of Tbilisi mark a commitment by the Georgian administration to work with IOHK and use Cardano to fuel innovation in the country. After signing the MoU, Mikheil Batiashvili, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, spoke of Georgia’s rapid development, and how he hoped that “leveraging IOHK’s world-leading expertise, particularly in third-generation blockchain technology, will help us to progress even further toward our goal of being the world’s leading country for secure, digitally-enabled international business”.

One of the core goals of the MoUs signed this week is to enable the use of Cardano-backed blockchain technology to store, track, and verify educational credentials such as degree certificates, removing the need for time-consuming and expensive manual verification. The system will be implemented in Georgia first, with a further goal of using distributed ledger technology to support the Europe-wide Bologna Process, an intergovernmental effort to improve the internationalization of higher education. IOHK has looked at a similar application of this technology already in Greece, where it worked with government education authorities to explore a pilot project to verify student qualifications on the blockchain.

It’s not just the education sector that stands to benefit from collaboration with IOHK. Charles also met with the Minister of Agriculture and the Georgian prime minister to discuss other applications of blockchain technology for the country, such as supporting new fintech businesses, supply chain implementations, and integrating smart contract functionality into government processes.

Georgian prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze with Charles Hoskinson
Georgian prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze
with Charles Hoskinson

“We are incredibly excited to be working with the Georgian government on a range of projects across business, education, and government services,” Charles said. “IOHK is pleased to be a part of the country’s journey and looks forward to developing the blockchain ecosystem in Georgia and helping its people to solve the challenges they face.”

IOHK has collaborated with Georgian institutions before. Research fellow Peter Gaži gave a lecture on Ouroboros, IOHK’s proof-of-stake protocol, at the Free University of Tbilisi. In January a Cardano meetup was sponsored by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and the Georgian Innovation and Technology Agency, where Edsko de Vries, a Haskell consultant working on Cardano, gave a well-received talk.

This week’s agreements strengthen IOHK’s relationship with Georgia. The next steps will be to organize workshops, meetups, and forums to identify the most pressing challenges that can be tackled using Cardano, Atala, or a combination of both. IOHK and the Georgian government will work together to embed blockchain technology in systems across the country, proving just how valuable a digital, forward-thinking mindset can be.

Georgia MOU
MoU signing At Tbilisi Business and Technology University