This text was translated from Chinese, open following link in Chrome and translate to see all images: https://bihu.com/article/1242138347
EDIT: found an English text with pictures: https://medium.com/@rogerfeng/making-smart-contracts-work-for-business-how-chainlink-zk-snarks-sharding-finally-delivered-8f268af75ca2
Author: Feng Jie translation: Liu Sha
“The highest state of technology is to integrate into the various scenes of everyday life, to fade away from high-tech outerwear and become a part of everyday life.” – Mark Weiser
People in the future will not even think that smart contracts are "innovative." By that time, smart contracts would permeate every aspect of life, and people couldn't even imagine what the era of non-digital currency would look like.
Later historians may divide human business history into two eras, the pre-smart contract era and the post-smart contract era. After all, digital money has brought unprecedented changes to the nature and patterns of business practices in the real world. An anonymous member of the Chainlink community once said: "Smart contracts can change the DNA of the business."
Of course, like all the technological revolutions of the past, smart contracts also need to reach a "tipping point" to truly achieve large-scale applications. So we need to ask ourselves two questions:
- What exactly is this so-called tipping point?
- As of August 2019, have we reached this tipping point?
To reach the tipping point means unlocking the ultimate nirvana of business.
Tipping point We can think about this issue from the perspective of mainstream companies. Imagine what a perfect smart contract platform should look like. What characteristics should this platform have? Or what features must be possessed?
To reach the tipping point, you must establish a public chain with the following four characteristics:
- Privacy protection
- In addition to the cryptocurrency, the transaction can also be settled in mainstream legal currency and comply with the regulatory requirements of financial markets such as ISO 20022.
- Achieve scalability without sacrificing decentralization or security, that is, solving the "impossible triangle problem."
- Connect the external data under the chain, that is, solve the "prophecy problem."
Now that we have Chainlink, zk-snarks and sharding technology, we have reached this tipping point.
Next, let's explore how this ultimate nirvana is actually made. Our discussion will be mainly from the perspective of Ethereum, which is still the top smart contract platform for community size and mainstream applications.
So what about the private chain?
Before delving into it, I want to take the time to solve an unavoidable problem. The mainstream view has always believed that the private chain is a more suitable solution for the enterprise. Therefore, we first dialectically analyze the two advantages and two major drawbacks of the private chain.
- Centralization leads to relatively lower security
It's not surprising that IBM and Maersk's blockchain freight alliances have a hard time finding customers who are willing to join. How can other freight companies be willing to let their biggest competitors (Maersk) verify their trading data? Only madmen dare to do this.
- The staking of the horses occupy the hills:
This problem is even more serious than centralization. John Wolpert, co-founder of the IBM blockchain, wrote an excellent article called Breaking the Barriers to Realize Security: Why Companies Should Embrace the Ethereum Public Chain, which he covered in detail in the article.
If every company builds its own private chain, it will lead to chaos in the mountains. Today's B2B ecosystem is very complex. Imagine the innumerable private chains of the world intertwined to form a huge "spider web." This is not only cost-effective, but also not scalable.
The starting point of the blockchain is to break down barriers instead of building more barriers.
"One day, one of your big buyers called you to ask if you want to join their private chain. You promised. The next day you received a call from the wholesaler to ask you the same question. Then came the supplier, freight. Business, insurance company or even bank, and each company may have several private chains! Finally you have to invest a lot of time and cost to operate dozens of blockchains every day . If there are partners to let you join them at this time The private chain, you might say "Forget it, or fax me the order!" ”—Paul Brody (Ernst & Young)
“Every time you connect two private chains through a system integrator, you have to pay a lot of money .”
- Scalability: With the Ethereum public chain implementing fragmentation technology, this advantage is rapidly shrinking.
- Privacy protection: At this stage, the classification of public chain / private chain is actually not very accurate. The Aztec , Zether, and Nightfall protocols (both based on the zk-snarks protocol) effectively provide a "private chain model" for the Ethereum public chain, allowing it to switch between the public and private chains. Therefore, a more accurate classification should be the alliance chain and the public chain.
By 2020, the label of the public chain/private chain will gradually disappear. The public and private chains will no longer be two opposing concepts. Instead, the concept of publicly traded/private transactions and confidential contracts/open contracts is changed, and the scope of these transactions and contracts varies according to specific needs, either bilaterally or multilaterally or even publicly.
All in all, the private chain has two major drawbacks compared to the public chain. Not only that, but the two major advantages of the private chain are also rapidly disappearing.
“Technology will evolve over time, so there will be a variety of solutions to solve existing problems. Ultimately, the public-chain platform will have the same performance, scalability and data privacy as the private chain, while at the same time ensuring security and Decentralized."
Feature 1: Privacy protection (predictive machine and public chain privacy)
Enigma founder Guy Zyskind once joked in his MIT graduation thesis that smart contracts can only become commercially valuable if they become "confidential contracts." He later proposed that zk-snarks and Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) are the most promising solutions. He said nothing wrong.
What is zk-snarks ? Zk-snarks is a zero-knowledge proof mechanism (ZPK). So what is the zero-knowledge proof mechanism? In short: a zero-knowledge proof mechanism allows you to prove that you own certain information without revealing the content of the information.
Vitalik Buterin explained this concept in detail from a technical point of view in an article published in 2017. Hackernoon also wrote an excellent article explaining the concept in an easy-to-understand way with the example of a five-year-old child and Halloween candy.
What is the trusted execution environment? The trusted execution environment lets the code run on closed hardware, and
1 ) The guarantee result cannot be tampered with
2 ) Protecting absolute privacy, even hardware running code can't get confidential information.
The most well-known trusted execution environment is Intel SGX. Chainlink has established a partnership with Intel SGX after acquiring Tom Crier.
Ernst & Young released the Nightfall agreement on Github on May 31, 2019. A well-known accounting firm with a history of 100 years will choose to add privacy features to the public chain instead of developing a private chain. This is a problem.
Since then, the community has been actively developing on this basis, not only to improve the code, but also to develop a plug-and-play Truffle Box for those who are not good at writing code. Blockchain communities and businesses generally rarely collaborate, so these collaborations fully demonstrate the popularity of Nightfall.
Prior to this, two zk-snark-based Ethereum public chain privacy protocols were introduced, namely AZTEC (Consensys) and Zether (Stanford, JPMorgan Chase). An obvious trend is slowly taking shape.
In the field of oracles, Chainlink uses both zero-knowledge proof and a trusted execution environment to complement each other. Trusted execution environments guarantee data privacy, even for nodes that cannot access data (this feature is critical for bank accounts and API keys).
Chainlink is still trying to implement a trusted execution environment, and nodes can access data temporarily, so authentication services are also needed. Although the credible execution environment is almost 100% foolproof, in theory, a strong shield has a spear that can penetrate it. Therefore, the team is currently trying to run zk-snarks in a trusted execution environment (Thomas Hodges mentioned this in the 2019 Trufflecon Q&A session). The combination of the two can form a very robust and complete system. The attacker must find a way to strip all the layers of an onion at the same time to make any effective attack (and it is already difficult to peel off a layer of skin).
“Chainlink combines a trusted execution environment with zero-knowledge proof to build what we call a defense-in-depth system, which means they provide all the tools needed for smart contract developers, including trusted execution environments, multiple nodes, and Data sources, fine margins, reputation systems, asymmetric encryption, zero-knowledge proofs, WASM, and OTP+RNG, these features allow smart contract developers to adjust the confidentiality and cost of contracts based on specific budget and security needs. Machine, Chainlink and its four major application scenarios》
In the future, zk-snarks may be upgraded to zk-starks (a fully transparent zero-knowledge proof mechanism) that protects the system from quantum computer attacks. And the best thing about zk-starks is that it's more scalable than zk-snarks. In other words, it can better protect privacy, and the cost of gas will not increase.
If you want to learn more about zk-starks, you can read a popular science article written by Adam Luciano.
Feature 2: Scalability (scalability of predictive machines and public chains) To understand this problem, we can make an analogy like this:
A public chain is like a large enterprise, and every employee (ie, a node) must attend each meeting (ie, confirm each transaction). Imagine how inefficient this company is! Only customers who have a lot of money (ie gas fees) can get their requests to the forefront. And this is not the most serious problem. The most serious problem is that the more employees (ie nodes) who join the company, the harder it is for the company to function properly! In the end, the company not only failed to expand linearly, but also became smaller and smaller. Although this guarantees decentralization and security to the greatest extent, the price is completely abandoning scalability.
There are various temporary fire fighting solutions, but no one solution can completely solve this "impossible triangle problem." For example, EOS uses the DPOS mechanism (share authorization certification mechanism), where only 21 super nodes (many of which are well-known nodes) are responsible for verifying all transactions.
Sidechains (such as Bitcoin's Lightning Network and Ethereum's lightning network) guarantee scalability and decentralization at the expense of security.
So how to use the fragmentation technology to solve this problem? Let's make another analogy:
In reality, there is only one company that is not too much to ask everyone to attend all meetings, that is, small start-ups (that is, private chains that limit the number of nodes).
In most cases, large companies divide employees into thousands of teams (ie, shards), and each team's principal (ie, the certifier) is responsible for reporting to the senior management (ie, the main chain). If people from different teams need to collaborate (and sometimes also), then they can collaborate by cross-shard receipts. If a new employee joins the company, the team can be re-segmented (ie re-sharding). This allows for linear expansion.
In fact, the process of developing a start-up to a large enterprise is surprisingly similar to the process of Ethereum 1.0 developing into Ethereum 2.0.
“The Ethereum 1.0 period is that several people who are alone are trying to build a world computer; and Ethereum 2.0 will really develop into a world computer.” Vitalik Buterin said in the first piece of the workshop.
Since Ethereum was not originally built on the principle of fragmentation, it takes seven steps to achieve the goal (this is a bit like the word morphing solitaire game). The first step is planned for January 3, 2020.
At the same time, developers can use many other blockchain platforms designed based on the fragmentation principle. Some platforms, including Zilliqa and Quarkchain, are already compatible with Chainlink.
If you want to see more in-depth technical analysis of shards, check out an article by Ramy Zhang.
In the field of oracles, Chainlink has the following two characteristics:
1 ) Use Schnorr threshold signatures to quickly reach consensus in a cost-effective manner. The next version of the chain only needs 16,000 gas.
2 ) We have previously discussed the need to use trusted execution environment hardware to ensure that nodes cannot access sensitive data. Since you have hardware in your hand, you can use it to do some actual computing work, so that you can properly reduce the amount of computation on the smart contract platform.
"With the SGX system (Town Crier) and zero-knowledge proof technology, the oracle can be truly reliable and confidential, so the boundaries between the oracle and the smart contract are beginning to flow... Our long-term strategy... is to let The predictor becomes the key chain of computing resources used by most smart contracts. We believe that the way to achieve this goal is to perform chain operations in the oracle to meet various computing needs, and then send the results to the smart contract."Chainlink White Paper, Section 6.3 (26 pages)
Of course, this “long-term strategy” has certain risks, unless Chainlink can implement a trusted execution environment and its service provider ecosystem can achieve a qualitative leap. However, the Chainlink team's vision is absolutely forward-looking: under-chain computing is a key factor in ensuring that blockchains are not dragged down by large amounts of IoT data.
The Internet of Things has dramatically increased the current state of big data. At present, most of the data is still generated on the software side, and it is not real-time data, and most of the data in the future will be real-time data generated on the sensor side. One of the big drawbacks of real-time data is that it increases storage pressure. For example, Coughlin Associates expects an unmanned car to generate 1G of data per second. This means that the same car will produce 3.6T data per hour!
The only viable solution is to do real-time analysis of the data, rather than storing the data first. In the Global Cloud Index: 2016-2021 Forecast and Methodology White Paper, Cisco predicts that more than 90% of data in 2021 will be analyzed in real time without storage.
That is to say, the essence of data is that it can only exist in just one instant. The nature of the blockchain is not to be modified, so the two are as incompatible as water and oil.
The solution is to analyze the raw data under the chain, extract the meaningful results and send them to the blockchain. The combination of fragmentation technology and trusted execution environment forms a new computing architecture, similar to the cloud computing-fog computing-edge computing architecture.
It should be noted here that it is good to improve computing power, but this is not the main purpose of the blockchain.
The fundamental purpose of the blockchain is not to reduce the original cost of computing and data storage. After all, technology giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Tencent, Alibaba, and Dropbox have built world-class cloud services. The centralized server wins high computational efficiency (but the blockchain will greatly improve the computational efficiency through fragmentation technology, and will catch up with it one day). The value of the blockchain is to reduce the cost of building trust. Nick Szabo calls it "social scalability" (this is a relative concept to the "operational" scalability we have been talking about). Vitalik Buterin also made it clear that the meaning of smart contracts is to accept small arithmetic delay penalties in exchange for a substantial reduction in "social costs."
Alex Coventry of the Chainlink team once raised the question: "We have missed many opportunities for cooperation and reciprocity because we can't confirm whether the other party will fulfill the promise?"
Is there any potential for data storage projects like Siacoin and IPFS? What about decentralized computing projects like SONM and Golem?
Siacoin 's core value proposition is not that its computing efficiency is higher than traditional cloud services. The cost of computing is required to split, repeat, and reassemble data. And companies are more capable of buying the latest and greatest hardware than individuals. Siacoin's core value proposition is to process data in an Airbnb-like mode, so management fees will be lower than traditional models. It also generates additional social value, such as flood control, privacy and security, and anti-censorship.
The same is true of Golem and SONM. Even with the most efficient protocol, it is inevitable that a small amount of delay will be imposed and fined to coordinate the hardware of different geographical locations. Therefore, under the condition that all other conditions are equal, the centralized hardware still has the advantage of faster computing speed. However, the core value proposition of the above project is to use the Airbnb-like model to reduce management costs.
We must strictly distinguish between "social scalability" and "operational scalability", and the two cannot be confused. I will explain these two concepts in detail when I discuss "Magic Bus and Lightweight Library" later.
Feature 3: Compatible with legal currency
Most mainstream companies do not regard cryptocurrencies as "real currencies." In addition, even if someone wants to use cryptocurrency for trading, it is very difficult to actually operate because of its high price volatility. I discussed the “price volatility problem” in detail in Chapters 8 and 9 of the previous article. These problems do not completely erase the existence value of cryptocurrencies, because cryptocurrencies also have many advantages that legal currency does not have. I am just emphasizing what we need to know more about the comfort zone of mainstream companies.
Chainlink acts as a universal API connector that triggers open banking payments. Chainlink is fully compliant with ISO 20022 and has established a long-term partnership with SWIFT (it is worth mentioning that SWIFT has not been updated for a long time and hopes to be updated after the SIBOS 2019 conference).
PSD2 will take effect on September 14, 2019. All banks in the EU will all comply with this new regulation by then. In other words, the bank must put all account data in the "front end" and can be called through the API. The approved third party (ie, the Chainlink node) can trigger the payment directly without the payment service provider.
Although the United States and Japan have not adopted similar laws, many banks still spontaneously promote the development of open banks. Banks open APIs to third-party developers to create new revenue streams and customer experiences that ultimately increase profitability. In addition, this will allow banks to better respond to competitors in the mobile payment and financial technology sectors in an APP-centric economic model.
As this open banking revolution continues, Chainlink will connect smart contracts with the world's major currencies (US dollar, euro, yen, etc.).
Only one external adapter is required to connect to the authenticated API. From a programming perspective, it is relatively simple to allow everyone in the community to contribute code to the code base (and thus achieve scalability). Chainlink has released adapters for PayPal and Mister Tango (European version of PayPal).
Feature 4: Data connection with the chain
Chainlink has been working on solving the "prophecy problem" and successfully succeeded on the main online line on May 30, 2019.
Chainlink has made many achievements in just a few months. Provable (formerly Oraclize) was successfully used on the Chainlink node and finally settled the debate about whether the predictor should be centralized or decentralized.
Synthetic Ether lost 37 million Ethercoins in a hack because it did not connect to Chainlink. Fortunately, the money was finally recovered and did not cause any loss. This lesson illustrates the importance of decentralized oracles.
In addition, both Oracle and Google have partnered with Chainlink to monetize their API data and create a virtuous circle to capture the market opportunities that Facebook missed.
There are new nodes coming online every week, and the network activity has been very high. The Chainlink team maintains a list of certified nodes in the documentation and Twitter releases. Twitter user CryptoSponge also set up a new development for the Tableau push update Chainlink team:
Regarding the importance of the current stage in the history of blockchain development, Brad Huston summed it up very brilliantly:
"The biggest problem with cryptocurrencies is to build bridges between cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies and big data. Chainlink is very beautifully narrowing the distance between the three. Now it can even be said: 'The bridge has been built.'"
Magic bus and lightweight library
Let's summarize what we discussed earlier. The real purpose of the blockchain is to reduce the cost of building trust and achieve "social scalability."
Therefore, according to this logic, the main application scenarios of platforms such as Ethereum 2.0 and Zilliqa should be in the B2B field. I quote a sentence I wrote in a previous article:
“My conclusion is: If the smart contract is successful, it will also succeed in the B2B field first.”
The private chain itself is self-contradictory and destined to fail. It has led to the phenomenon of occupying the hills, thus increasing the social cost, which is in opposition to B2B itself, and ultimately it is self-restraint. ”
Before the emergence of fragmentation technology, even simple games (ie, etheric cats) could not be smoothly run on the public chain, let alone dealing with complex B2B contracts and even changing commercial DNA. With the sharding technology, everything is ready.
Despite this, we can't use Ethereum 2.0 as an all-powerful platform. Just now we said that although it is a good thing to speed up the calculation, this is not the real purpose of Ethereum 2.0. And before we also said that due to the irreversible modification of the blockchain, it is not good to deal with a large number of fleeting real-time data of the Internet of Things. In other words, we must be soberly aware that Ethereum 2.0 will not replace traditional web 2.0. Instead, we should make better use of the real advantages of Ethereum 2.0:
“There is a new concept now, that is to think of the Ethereum main network as a global bus... We use the Ethereum 2.0 main network to treat various business resources as a working group on Slack: it can be easily built and integrated. And restructuring. The SAP inventory management system in your company, the dealer's JD Edwards ERP system, and the financial technology partner's tall blockchain system can seamlessly interface, eliminating the need to develop an infrastructure specifically for each partner." - John Wolper describes his ideal "magic bus"
Ethereum 2.0 should be an integration center, not a data center or computing center. It should be a library built specifically to store B2B contract terms (to be honest, even with fragmentation technology, the amount of data is large enough).
We should not expect Ethereum 2.0 to be an all-powerful platform, but rather develop it into a "lightweight library."
If we reorder the pyramid model just now, the architecture of the magic bus is obvious:
Of course, the positional relationship in the above model is not static. With the development of 5G technology, edge computing and IoT sensors, they may bypass the cloud to directly interact (or even bypass the fog end). If the collaboration between Iotex and Chainlink is successful, then the edge can interact directly with the trusted execution environment.
Time will tell if Airbnb's shared data storage and computing model can make management costs lower than the current mainstream Web 2.0 model. Time will also prove whether the market really needs anti-censorship, anti-tampering, security protection and privacy protection. Do users really care about these social values and are willing to pay for them? Do they think these are just the icing on the cake or the most fundamental value?
Whether it is the battle between web2.0 and web3.0 or the battle between cryptocurrency and legal currency, one thing is beyond doubt:
We have reached the tipping point, and the era of smart contracts with commercial value has arrived.
In fact, the only problem at the moment is the time issue, and the main roadblocks have been basically cleared.
- When will Ethereum 2.0 finish these 7 stages and be officially released?
- When will Chainlink use a trusted execution environment on a large scale? If the cooperation between Intel SGX and Town Crier fails, what alternative plans are there? Will Chainlink communicate with other blockchain teams that plan to use a trusted execution environment (such as Dawn Song's Oasis Labs)?
At present, the main technical problems in the ecosystem have been solved, and now it is only necessary to recruit a group of enthusiastic developers to do the work of “connecting the line”.
Digital currency has changed commercial DNA, and the future is full of possibilities.
The only thing that hinders us now is our own imagination. The future is infinitely imaginative, and the future will be the world of developers. Dapps is already overwhelming. There is no doubt that we have found the ultimate nirvana.
This text was translated from Chinese, open following in Chrome and translate to see all images: https://bihu.com/article/1242138347
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