Think about Mongolia and the image that’s likely to spring to mind is of sweeping grasslands, mountains, freezing winters and nomads. An unlikely place you might think for ground-breaking technology, but in fact it’s a great country to do blockchain pilots. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has almost tripled in size since 1990 and now accounts for half of the country’s three million population. That growth has created problems, including what the World Health Organization has identified as some of the worst air pollution in the world.
In the winter, temperatures can drop to −40C and most people live in gers – round wood and canvas structures heated by fires. So, they turn to burning raw coal – and in some cases anything they can get their hands on, from dung to car tires – to stay warm.
I’ve just got back from Ulaanbaatar, where we’ve been working out the potential for an internet-of-things project to assess air quality. The idea is to put sensors in place and gather the measurements using IOHK’s Atala enterprise blockchain. Once in place, such a network could generate fraud-free, time-stamped data so the authorities know where the pollution is being generated and can focus on cleaning up the worst areas. Putting thousands of sensors in place is expensive but people could be encouraged to do so, and keep them working, by being paid using Cardano as the aggregated data comes through.
The focus in our discussions with ministers in Ulaanbaatar was on solving these sorts of problems, which occur in all fast-growing countries. Another example is that 40% of medicines in rural areas are counterfeited or adulterated or expired; the figure is 18% even in urban areas. So, we want to put a traceability project together for that using Atala. Bringing accountability and transparency to medical supply chains can help protect people from dangerous or counterfeit drugs – and save lives.
Then, there is the fact that almost everyone has access to a mobile phone network – and 30% of the population receive government disbursements of some kind at an enormous cost. Linking those two together using our blockchain technology could save the government a lot of money and make things easier for the recipients, even villagers living on the peaks of Mongolia.
Other potential areas for Atala and Cardano include two very different sectors: the cashmere industry and university accreditation. They actually make about half of the world’s cashmere in Mongolia. The wool is very expensive in the boutiques of Tokyo and Paris, but goat herders here sell to China at a very bad price, there’s a potential to improve things there with better logistics and proof of sourcing. As for the universities, there are 65 of them in Mongolia, most of which are in Ulaanbaatar. We're really interested to see if we can put graduates’ diplomas up on a blockchain so people can prove they are qualified.
When it comes to attracting investment, the Asian Development Bank has put hundreds of millions of dollars in for various projects, but the audit trail is not so good here. We can tackle that.
These are real, complicated situations, and the blockchain comes in as part of these solutions. Atala can be used for processing and aggregating the data, which can then be fed through to Cardano to handle ada payments – so keeping huge volumes of data off the Cardano blockchain.
While we were in Mongolia, we attended the Frontier Fintech summit. It was there that we announced we had taken the first step of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Mongolian Blockchain Technology and Cryptocurrency Association, and the Mongolian Fintech Association to advise on potential blockchain projects and develop blockchain education, but it’s early days. Building relationships, identifying the right partners and developing the technology and infrastructure takes time, so we need to be patient – projects like these are likely to take between three and seven years. That’s why education is such a central part of our mission, training people on the ground to build solid foundations, as we’ve already done with our recent Haskell course in Ethiopia.
But providing solutions to these pressing problems is just the beginning. If we can get just one solution in place, we provide a gateway into the cryptocurrency ecosystem for hundreds of thousands of users. That expands the Cardano world, because these people will want insurance, bank transfers, and the other financial tools that we tend to take for granted in the developed world. And that creates business for the whole blockchain world.
Cardano is in an exciting transition stage. The project has long combined thoughtful product vision with research-driven specification and evidence-based development processes. Still committed to that rigor, we’re now making the jump to a new stage of development where first-ever-in-the-world new capabilities are delivered. The rubber is starting to hit the road. As we are making this transition we recognize that we need a better way to communicate how Cardano’s 2020 vision is being delivered, and that we should do a better job keeping the community informed about our status against those goals.
Here is what we are doing to accomplish those things.
We are working on a redesign of the Cardano roadmap website that will do a better job describing our upcoming release phases, with themes and detailed functional components for each. You can expect to see it live in 2-4 weeks, with more content added over time. Aligned with the keynote speech from CEO Charles Hoskinson at the recent IOHK Summit, the new roadmap site will provide a clear definition of delivery phases, how they fit together, and what we’ll deliver when.
Regarding delivery status, Cardano has had an ethos of openness and transparency since the beginning. We want to take that further. Here’s how.
We’ve recently improved our organisational processes to support this phase of development where long-promised functionality becomes reality. One aspect has been a focus on how we share progress against milestones inside the Cardano team, with weekly project updates, live progress demos, and soon a new Shelley testnet.
As a result we have greater visibility and accountability in our work. So as we enter the next stage of development, we need status reporting that properly reflects real progress, setting accurate expectations by showing exactly what we’re working on and highlighting real delivery.
Past versions of our roadmap had feature-level percentage complete indicators. We put a lot of effort into those, but even with all that work they fell victim to the same thing Tom Cargill at Bell Labs described in his famous-and-funny-but-a-bit-painful-if-you-build-software quote:
“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”
Sigh. But we don’t want to back off on communicating status. The best way to fulfill our ethos of transparency is to push it further and open up the process to you. We are going to record those internal development status demos, where our dev teams show their latest finished working components, and deliver them to the community. So you’ll have a real understanding of our development progress, because that last 10% that sometimes becomes another 90% has to be done, really done, in order to demonstrate working functionality.
At the same time we deliver the recorded progress demos, we will also deliver a status report summarizing the work completed, and I’ll do an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session where I’ll describe the latest results and answer questions from the community. This will happen every month or two based on progress milestones.
Often the news will be awesome with lots of progress, but sometimes you’ll see that there’s a problem we are working through. Because that’s the reality when implementing first-ever new functionality. Solving hard problems is hard. But now you’ll be able to see where we are and how it’s going.
You’ll still be able to access the information sources you had before. Our Githubs are open. We’ll keep sharing weekly technical reports on Cardano.org. Emurgo delivers monthly Cardano reports describing what we’ve been up to. The unstoppable Charles will keep doing his own AMAs. But we want to make it easy for the community to see what we’re delivering, so this is a major redesign of our roadmap and reporting process, starting from our internal processes and extending out to our partners and the community.
The first demos, status update and AMA will come later this month. I’ll be joining the guys from the Cardano Effect within the next few weeks to talk more about our new roadmap and reporting process, so keep an ear out for that. We’ve got lots of exciting stuff in the pipeline, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.
Artwork, Mike Beeple
Government ministers, industry professionals, and Cardano fans were at the IOHK Summit 2019 in Miami this month, excited to hear IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson outline the future for Cardano and launch Atala, the company’s enterprise offering for business. Hosted at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the summit saw renowned speakers such as computer scientist Stephen Wolfram and cyberpunk author Rudy Rucker alongside government representatives, entrepreneurs, and enthusiastic community members. The summit reflected the broad appeal – and potential – of both blockchain technology and IOHK’s research. In total, the event had over 700 attendees, including IOHK staff: a rare and enjoyable opportunity for our decentralized company to meet and collaborate in person.
IOHK Summit 2019
To kick off the summit, IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson discussed the goals and philosophy of IOHK: ‘we're not just building a decentralized system, we're building a decentralized infrastructure’ to invite billions of people – thus far ignored and unserved by legacy finance – into a new and flourishing economy.
IOHK holds a summit every year, but this was the first year that the event was open to the public. Attendees gathered between talks to network and discuss all aspects of blockchain and cryptocurrency, with stands from Emurgo, the Cardano Foundation, the Cardano Effect podcast and more lining the walls for attendees to visit.
Atala: our enterprise product
Atala, the new Cardano enterprise offering, was a major piece of news from the summit. The enterprise-grade product will blend blockchain with new and existing technologies, providing a holistic, best-in-class offering for those with large and potentially complex use cases. Like everything else we do, Atala will be underpinned by IOHK's world-leading research. During his presentation, IOHK director of engineering Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo outlined the fundamental vision for Atala: ‘to do for all data what bitcoin did for money’.
With the formal specifications for Shelley released just days before the summit, progress on Cardano development was in the spotlight too. There were talks from senior Cardano development team members Duncan Coutts, Philipp Kant, and Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo, as well as open panel discussions about how blockchain – and Cardano, of course – will interact with future law and monetary policy. IOHK engineers have been working hard on the development of Shelley, and Charles took the opportunity to reiterate that the ultimate goal of Cardano isn’t just to ship a technology product, but to create a means of improving quality of life for millions of people around the world.
Other exciting news from the event included the first public announcement of an MoU between IOHK and the Ethiopian government, with IOHK set to design and create a cryptocurrency for Ethiopian citizens. John O'Connor, IOHK director of African operations, announced the joint venture during his presentation about IOHK's recent success running a Haskell course in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Meanwhile Lars Brünjes, IOHK’s director of education, discussed the human impact of the initiative: not only is it a huge step forward for the industry to be engaged with government organizations, but leveraging blockchain technology in the developing world will improve the everyday lives of millions of people.
It isn’t just the Ethiopian government that IOHK is engaging with either: also at the summit were Caitlin Long and Tyler Lindholm, both members of the Wyoming legislature, discussing how the state is making huge strides to become a haven for the emerging markets of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Delegates from the Mongolian government were at the summit as well, including the minister of foreign affairs, along with CEO and entrepreneur Gerelmaa Batchuluun, explaining how ‘Mongolia is the next destination for the blockchain revolution’.
The summit was also an opportunity for members of our dedicated community to meet and collaborate directly with IOHK, and one of the most popular workshop sessions was run by two community members who only met a few months ago at the inaugural PlutusFest event in Edinburgh, UK. In their talk, Cardano on the rocks, Markus Gufler and Robert Kornacki presented undeniable evidence of the potential reach of Cardano. They demonstrated how a full Cardano node can run on low-cost open-source hardware using less than ten watts of power, potentially provided by a solar panel, opening up the world of Cardano to anyone, anywhere. Not only that, but Markus and Robert run a free, community-driven education portal, Clio.1, where they’ll soon be sharing the details of their work for everyone to benefit from.
That’s not all
Also at the summit was the Symphony of Blockchains project, beginning its much-anticipated world tour in Miami. The full virtual reality blockchain experience was available for attendees to explore, with augmented reality posters scattered around the summit, waiting to be discovered. Visitors to the exhibition described being ‘blown away’ by the simulated blockchain.
In addition to the talks, stands, workshops, and exhibits, summit attendees also had the option to take part in a cryptopuzzle with a $10,000 USD prize - won by a team of three community members working together - as well as a collaborative hackathon providing Plutus and Marlowe training.
Before the public event, IOHK staff also took part in two days of internal presentations. As a decentralized company, the annual summit is a unique opportunity for IOHK employees to meet each other in person. Many IOHK employees arrived early to enjoy the beautiful Miami weather, spending time together on the beach and taking a trip to the Everglades before getting down to business.
‘As a company,’ IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson began his internal address, ‘we've touched and tackled every fundamental problem in the cryptocurrency space’. He spoke of the company's history, and its unprecedented growth from just a dozen employees in 2016 to almost two hundred now in 2019. As the blockchain industry matures, and IOHK with it, Charles discussed the challenges of 'being able to keep your principles while embracing pragmatism'.
Other internal talks covered everything from IOHK's educational efforts in Africa to the latest updates from the engineering team. Throughout the two company-only days, groups of IOHK employees could be seen all around the Loews Hotel location, hunched over laptops, deep in discussion. The mood was passionate and enthusiastic, no one wanting to waste the chance to collaborate, and meetings continued into the evening, spilling out into local bars and restaurants.
The IOHK Summit 2019 was an incredible event, not just for IOHK but for the industry, bringing together members of the blockchain community with politicians, legislators, and thinkers, all poised to define the future of this revolutionary technology. The event made it clear just how far IOHK has come - and how much further we're going to go.
The goal of the Cardano Shelley era is to bring full decentralization to Cardano, moving beyond the federated epoch and handing control of the ledger over to the community via stake pools. As part of the process of delivering Shelley, we create formal specifications which allow us to verify that the final code is in line with what the researchers initially envisaged in their publications. By creating implementation-independent specifications, we can build components of the system using different languages, confident that they will work together.
We are pleased to announce that we have successfully reached an important milestone in the Shelley journey, with the key specifications now completed. The finished specifications are as follows:
- Engineering Design Specification For Delegation and Incentives In Cardano-Shelley: Describes the requirements and design for the delegation and incentive mechanisms to be used in the Shelley release of Cardano.
- A Formal Specification of the Cardano Ledger: Specifies the ledger rules for Shelley, including delegation and incentives.
- A Specification of the Non-Integral Calculations in the Ledger: This document defines a way to exactly calculate non-integral calculations in the ledger for Shelley which use elementary mathematical functions. The main objective is to provide an unambiguous specification that gives the same results, independent of the architecture or programming language to prevent chain forks because of slight differences in calculated results.
To provide a smooth transition from the Byron era to the Shelley era, the Shelley code will have to be compatible with the Byron rules. To enable this, we have created specifications for the Byron era as well:
- A Formal Specification of the Cardano Ledger for the Byron release: This document defines the rules for extending a ledger with transactions, as implemented in the Byron release of the Cardano Ledger.
- Specification of the Blockchain Layer (Byron): This document defines inference rules for operations on a blockchain as a specification of the blockchain layer of Cardano in the Byron release and in a transition to the Shelley release.
The process of implementing these specifications in production code is well underway, and the specifications will continue to improve with feedback from the mathematics, research, and development communities.
For the most up to date version of the specifications, check the Formal Models for Ledger Rules GitHub repository.
I started with IOHK in May 2018 as a formal methods developer working on two components of Cardano, neither of which involved writing Haskell code. Because of my expertise in logic, type theory, proof assistants, and theoretical computer science, I became part of the team without having much Haskell experience, even though it is the main language we use. So, I was surprised when my name came up last summer about who would be the teaching assistant for a Haskell course in Ethiopia this year. I had thought I would be a student, but then it became clear that loftier plans were being proposed for me.
While there were other qualified candidates, I imagine not everyone was willing to relocate to Africa for three months. Also, the Ethiopia 2019 class was distinguished from previous versions of the course because it was only open to women. For this reason, the idea of having a female assistant seemed particularly relevant. So, I found myself getting ready to learn, present in class, and assess material that was new to both me and the cohort of students from Ethiopia and Uganda!
I was living in Canada, and had yet to meet any IOHK employees in person. I knew little about Ethiopia. So, I got my inoculations, my one-way ticket — I was not sure when the course was scheduled to end and how much longer I was expected to stay on afterwards — my visa (with my name spelt wrongly), and headed off to Africa for the first time in my life.
Once I got to Addis Ababa, the thing that stood out was the amount of livestock in parts of the city. Donkeys, cows, and goats were grazing, carrying heavy loads, and wandering about the streets. After the first drive through Addis, Lars Brünjes, director of education at IOHK, and John O’Connor, director of Africa operations, and I sat down for a cold drink at the hotel where Lars and I were staying. We had some laughs, talked a bit about ourselves and the course, and it began to seem as if I would be very happy working with my colleagues here for three months — what a relief.
From the first day until the last, which was almost three months, I was really engaged with both the students and the material. The course started at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology and the students showed incredible perseverance. Two had to drop out in the first week, but the rest stayed on, no matter how challenging it got — and no matter the transportation time to class given the crazy Addis traffic!
Most of the students had a computer science degree, some also had a master’s or work experience. However, Haskell is different from anything they would have learned or used before. There were some difficult concepts to grasp, but Lars did an awesome job breaking down the material and providing plenty of relevant examples (as many as the students wanted, which was a lot).
There is a saying that the best way to understand something is to teach it. For me, this was true for the entire duration of the course. I learned a lot, answering questions, delivering lectures, grading work, and especially making up the questions and answers for the final test. It was a special treat to learn about smart contracts, Marlowe, and Plutus in the last two weeks, too — new material for me and a great addition to the course. This part was taught by Phil Wadler, one of the creators of Haskell, and at the very end he delivered a special lecture on propositions as types, which was particularly engaging and open to a wider audience than just the students — it was a very nice way to end the class.
Throughout the three months, but especially at the beautiful graduation ceremony, I really felt the importance of what we were doing — giving people the skills and tools to address their problems locally. The best part was getting to know the wonderfully enthusiastic students and watching them develop their skills in this unusual and interesting programming language. I look forward to having the opportunity to work with some of these women in the future. Finally, getting to know my IOHK colleagues as we arrived in Ethiopia was a real treat as well!
Read Lars Brünjes's blog - Training blockchain developers in Africa
26 September 2019
20 September 2019
12 September 2019