The demand for blockchain talent is high, and among the ICO craze of late 2017, led to lucrative salary offerings for developers well-versed in the art of smart contract builds and implementing open-source frameworks like Hyperledger.
The market for blockchain talent has shifted since then, however. With ICO funding declining, talent is gravitating towards more established firms, like IBM. In addition, companies like Facebook and Circle are making the plunge into cryptocurrencies, with their looming impacts set to unfold over the next several years.
However, one project has quietly, and consistently, been pulling talent away from even the tech giants – Algorand.
Attracting Top Talent
A pure proof-of-stake [PoS] blockchain network, Algorand grabbed headlines in 2017 when MIT professor and cryptography pioneer, Silvio Micali, announced the permission-less blockchain platform.
Algorand focuses on providing the blockchain-based infrastructure for the “border-less economy,” and has integrated some innovative cryptographic primitives to reconcile the blockchain trilemma problem of permission-less networks. Micali made waves in April 2017 at the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference in Malta when he sparked debate about the role of incentives in a public blockchain’s consensus – raising speculative interest in the launch of Algorand.
Algorand went on to open its public test-net roughly 2 years later, after netting a reported $66 million in funding throughout 2018 and quietly accumulating high-profile talent in computer science, distributed systems, game theory, and more.
For example, lead development talent on IBM’s Blockchain team – which filed 89 blockchain patents in 2018 – recently jumped ship to Algorand. Similarly, Algorand just announced the on-boarding of Greg Golvin, colloquially known as the “Gandalf of Ethereum” for his contributions to the optimization of the Ethereum Virtual Machine.
Algorand in their announcement post, detailed,
“Greg brings to Algorand over three decades of experience in all phases of computer software research and development. As a veteran scientist and engineer, Colvin will play an integral role in the creation of our atomic swaps, smart contracts, and virtual machines.”
Algorand even snagged Facebook advisor, Morris Hurley, who was contributing to Facebook’s tight-lipped, upcoming stable-coin payments system – GlobalCoin – which they recently consulted the CFTC about.
The recent moves add to an already impressive ensemble of entrepreneurs, researchers, developers, and computer scientists working on making Algorand a reality. Besides Micali, who is a recipient of the Turing Award and Goedel Prizes in computer science, the Algorand CEO, Steve Kokinos, is the founder of both Fuze and BladeLogic Inc – two established enterprise-focused software firms with immense success. Add in the prominent entrepreneur and cryptography expert Naval Ravikant and Shafi Goldwasser, respectively, and the vision of Algorand’s potential is manifested.
The key additions for the Boston-based company are part of its preparation for the eventual roll-out of the Algorand public network, which will follow some core road map developments such as the Vault compression technology and Pixel digital signature scheme.
A More Conventional Business Dynamic
In an industry where prominent Bitcoin core developers have historically faced a rash of criticism from community observers and critics, and many open-source developers choose to remain anonymous, the growing role of public figures in a traditional company setting seems surprising, yet inevitable.
Gartner recently estimated that the value-added impact of blockchain technology is expected to hit more than $176 billion by 2025, and that product managers should prepare for the rapid evolution of a shifting competitive landscape.
Permission-less networks seem poised to retain the largest market for positive impact and have a unique advantage over enterprise blockchains, which, according to Gartner, are set to require replacement within 18 months to maintain competitiveness.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the enterprise blockchain team structure needs to be overlooked. Permission-less networks don’t need to undergo a wholesale transition from their community-driven “rough consensus” model either.
However, projects like Cardano and Cosmos reveal that endeavors innovating at the edge of an esoteric market are increasingly taking the expert-driven development approach akin to the conventional startup arrangement.
It’s simply too challenging and time-consuming to bootstrap the organic community-contribution approach that anchor Bitcoin and Ethereum following years of expanding network effects.
Algorand seems presciently aware of this pending trajectory, and have been accumulating the leading talent behind the scenes to prove it.
The article was written by Ryan Evans.
Balancing Cypherpunk Principles and UX With Multi-Party Computation
One of the fascinating, and frustrating, aspects of the broader cryptocurrency space is the prevalence of trusted third-parties in an ecosystem built on the notion that trusted third parties are security holes. From honeypot exchanges to custodial services with “bank-level encryption,” much of the crypto ecosystem is non-representative of its origins.
Without diving into the adverse outcomes of these third-parties in the ecosystem, of which there are many, one of the underlying frictions of centralized security is the inherent trade-off between security and user experience [UX].
The crypto landscape is esoteric enough as it is, let alone requiring users to manage their own keys and understand concepts like GAS on Ethereum. In fact, new user onboarding was named as the biggest obstacle to dapp development by projects on Ethereum. While there have been strides made in UX among many crypto products, ranging from DeFi tools to wallet interfaces, there is much work to be done.
The daunting task of converging security and UX into a safe and user-friendly experience has received a glimmer of hope in recent months, however, due to a unique subfield of cryptography–secure multi-party computation [sMPC].
A Wave of sMPC Innovation
The core concept of sMPC is to collectively derive a unique computation from a subset of individual fragments like non-trusting computers. Imagine a puzzle with individual entities, each holding a piece, and the final image only materializing after a specific threshold of pieces have been put together.
MPC has been lauded as the next fuel for innovation in onboarding users to crypto by reducing a significant portion of the barrier to entry — mainly key management.
“Ultimately, using sMPC, we can realize the separation in data of the right to use and the right of use, and directly calculate results on multi-source and heterogeneous ciphertext data,” detailed ArpaChain CEO, Felix Xu, in a ChainNode AMA. ArpaChain has emerged as one of the leaders in sMPC globally, and already has a functioning product on its testnet.
Their insights and innovation into sMPC represent a broader initiative to reconcile the issues of security vs. UX.
At a high level, sMPC empowers users to compute something over a large set of data without revealing their individual inputs, furnishing enhanced privacy, and a means to produce a specific outcome. Consequently, sMPC affords advantages over two existing modes of key management: multi-sig and hardware storage.
Hardware wallets and multi-sig are both complicated to use for mainstream users. Hardware storage is offline, and connecting it to online sources breeds security challenges. Conversely, multi-sig works to an extent, but services like Casa are out of the price range of most consumers and also out of their technical peripherals.
Hot wallets [i.e., online wallets] continually demonstrate their proclivity for being hacked, and while they offer the best UX, they are major security vulnerabilities — once again highlighting the quandary of balancing security and UX.
With sMPC, security is bolstered by the fact that no single entity controls the key, and UX is improved because there can even be “keyless” services using sMPC. The perfect crypto wallet does not exist, but sMPC may come to redefine that narrative.
Outside of wallets, the market for sMPC solutions for enterprises is enormous, and an area where ArpaChain is looking to make an impact.
“The ARPA project aims to provide businesses and individuals with private computing power and secure data flow solutions,” says Xu. “The entry point of ARPA is enterprise-level privacy data sharing.”
ArpaChain to The Rescue
Requiring developers to consistently worry about security vulnerabilities takes away from their ability to focus on improving UX and other aspects of blockchain-based applications. Similarly, continually encrypting and decrypting data creates high technical barriers, something which sMPC diminishes.
But some of the real magic also derives from the ability of sMPC to remain secure even in a hostile environment.
“We have implemented an agreement to support the participation of any party, and as long as there is an honest node in it, it can ensure the security of the data. Either of these two points is a breakthrough, and as far as we know, the vast majority of projects can only support the involvement of two parties.”
This is a powerful feature. No longer do parties need to independently hold keys that serve as singular attack vectors. With such security assurances on the back-end, a better UX can be transferred to the front-end — such as “keyless” wallets — which are already happening.
Providing users with an experience that does not require key management is a compelling step forward for the industry. Add in the ability of exchanges and other financial entities to securely, and privately, compute functions over large shared data sets [i.e., blockchains], and sMPC just might live up to its impressive reputation.
“Imagine multi-party joint credit information, data leasing, secure data analysis, and other scenarios in the financial industry such as multi-source data joint risk control in the insurance industry with sMPC. In the future, applications will exist for corporate finance, marketing, medical applications, and even artificial intelligence.”
ArpaChain achieves this dynamic balance using an off-chain, layer two structure — making ARPA compatible with any public blockchain.
“The ARPA secure computing network can be used as a second layer to provide privacy computing capabilities for any public blockchain, enabling developers to build efficient, secure computing networks on ARPA computing networks, while also protecting the data privacy of business applications. Enterprise and personal data can be safely analyzed or utilized on ARPA computing networks without worrying about exposing data to any third party.”
A confluence of security, privacy, and better UX — a compelling proposition.
Overall, sMPC effectively removes the requirement of trusted third parties for security [i.e., custody], the cold/hardware storage solutions preferred by exchanges, and affords a better UX by removing significant points of friction altogether like key management.
What’s the cherry on top? Better privacy.
For enterprises, mainstream users, and the broader trajectory of crypto adoption alike, that’s a potent recipe for success.