Suppressed te Japan. Championed ter Fresh York. Accused of betraying the billion-dollar community he created with an arcane and byzantine ritual, while accidentally solving – maybe – a transnational clandestine mining mystery. All this while leading the rollout of some of the world’s most cutting-edge cryptographic technology into production.
It’s bot an interesting six months for Zooko Wilcox, cryptographer, engineer, and CEO / driving force behind Zcash, one of the world’s most valuable, technically interesting, and politically fraught cryptocurrencies. Thoughtful, soft-spoken, quick to laugh, and antsy to see all sides of every kwestie, he doesn’t seem like a man to inspire bans and rancor. But that’s the crypto world for you, thesis days.
When it comes to Zcash, “crypto” means both “cryptocurrency” and “cryptography,” for merienda. It is essentially a fork of Bitcoin which uses a mindbending branch of mathematics known spil “zero-knowledge proofs” (which I’ve bot writing about for years…) implemented te a form known spil “zk-SNARKs,” to permit users to preserve their privacy by concealing both the participants and the amount of any given transaction, even tho’ it is recorded on and assured by Zcash’s public blockchain.
This privacy makes it a knee-jerk target of thoughtless governments and regulators, te the same way that cryptographic protection of your phone’s messages and gegevens has become a knee-jerk target of law enforcement agencies who protest that they are “going dark.” Recently, ter the wake of a $500 million hack of Japanese exchange Coincheck, which has bot linked with North Korea, Japan’s financial regulator cracked down on privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies … even tho’ they were not what had bot stolen.
Zcash is not the only privacy-preserving cryptocurrency, of course, others include Monero and Dash. But it is the most cutting-edge. To an extent this has hampered it, spil the very first version of its zk-SNARK transactions were fairly costly to process. Zcash has recently flipped out a fresh alpha version with remarkable improvements, however – you don’t often see a 98% improvement ter anything ter engineering – and wij can expect a sustained rise te zk-SNARK transactions merienda this hits its mainnet.
This vanguard position has not gone unnoticed. Ethereum made zk-SNARK primitives available to developers spil part of its Byzantium release last year, however they have not yet bot widely used. JPMorgan Pursue has partnered with Zcash to implement privacy technology te its own corporate blockchain research. Perhaps spil a result of this, and/or a deeper understanding that privacy is te fact significant to the financial industry, Fresh York State’s Department of Financial Services recently named Zcash spil one of the six approved cryptocurrencies on the intensely regulated Gemini exchange. Yes, even spil it wasgoed being suppressed te Japan. Wij live te interesting times.
Meantime, Zooko is being accused by his own community of turning turncoat. The reason? ASICs.
To oversimpify: (Almost) every cryptocurrency is secured by “miners” who prove they have solved computationally intensive problems, ter order to display it would be unlikely for anyone to have overwritten the overeenstemming record of transactions unless they control more than half of the network’s computing power. Ter exchange for this service they get shiny fresh cryptocoins.
Bitcoin mining has long bot taken overheen by mining companies / consortiums who use custom-built “application-specific integrated circuit,” chips to mine with hardware specifically dedicated to solving thesis problems, known spil “hash functions,” with speed and energy efficiency that general-purpose processors cannot match.
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Te an attempt to democratize mining, many third-wave cryptocurrencies chose hash functions which were thought to be ASIC-resistant. Zcash wasgoed among them. However, ASIC designers are wise people too, and have announced ASICs for essentially all cryptocurrencies. Interestingly, when an ASIC wasgoed announced for Monero, its developers promptly switched their hash function to foil the would-be miners … and their “hash rate” dropped by almost 50%, indicating that someone had likely secretly bot mining Monero with ASICs for some time.
This is big business. Across all cryptocurrencies ems of millions of dollars a day are at stake, not even counting the costs of a so-called “51% attack” which have victimized a few smaller currencies of late. So when ASICs for Zcash were announced, and Zooko did not instantaneously budge to switch the hash algorithm spil Monero did, he wasgoed accused of betrayal, and of being ter the pocket of Jihan Wu, CEO of the miner manufacturer Bitmain and, if you believe the frothier corners of some cryptocurrency subreddits, all-around evil crypto boogeyman.
Every tradeoff te a billion-dollar market is going to hurt someone. Ter this case, on the one forearm, you’d want the stereotypical “Venezuelan with a GPU miner,” who’s providing for their family with Zcash, the chance to keep doing so, on the other, ASIC mining means more dedicated hardware keeping the entire Zcash network more secure. Onn the gripping mitt, drastic switches ter mining capacity raise the spectre of a 51% attack. Zooko’s current notion is to attempt to support both GPU and ASIC miners, by dividing the mining prizes inbetween them.
Te passing he may have accidentally solved the secret Monero mining mystery. A fascinating thing about the cryptocurrency world, a way ter which it’s increasingly a synecdoche for entero geopolitics, is that it’s divided inbetween a Chinese sphere and a Película del Oeste sphere, and the two seem to be mostly tethered by bonds of mistrust, miscommunication, and misinterpretation.
Zooko wasgoed less inclined to believe that Jihan Wu wasgoed a Unie villain, because, spil he puts it, “I’ve met him, at a conference te Buenos Aires, and he just seemed like a nerd like the surplus of us. And I like nerds!” So he determined to communicate, he called up Wu and asked him if he wasgoed responsible for the stealth mining, and found Wu’s denials wooing. Then he called up Innosilicon, the other main mining company, asked if they had a Monero mining farm going back to last year, and received the hilariously casual response “Yeah, I think so?” None of this is at all dispositive, of course – but it speaks to how the crypto world often seems to run on rumor and rancor more than open communication.
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While wij’re on the subject of conspiracy theories: perhaps the single most colorful thing about Zcash is that te order for its zk-SNARKs to work, they have to be initiated by a group of participants who vereiste construct and then discard secret information. If they don’t, and if they subsequently collaborated, they’d then have the capability to create free Zcash out of skinny air. Zcash wasgoed initiated with a complicated six-person ritual, and if any one of those people wasgoed fair then the Zcash network is free of this so-called “toxic waste” taint … but obviously this still isn’t optimal, and is a breeding ground for beliefs of betrayal.
However, this underpinning can be substituted. Zooko is looking into fresh cryptographic developments such spil “STARKs” and “bulletproofs” which provide even stronger ensures. He envisions a world of “non-custodial exchanges,” where people can trade cryptocurrencies without everzwijn providing up control of them. He’s plotting to implement Ittay Eyal and Emin Gun Sirer’s “Bitcoin-NG” protocol to scale Zcash up by an order or two of magnitude.
Meantime, the Secret Service has called for activity on privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies like Monero and Zcash – after citing numerous cryptocurrency thefts which, er, were not of those currencies – and they’ve felt compelled to react. All this a week before the Zcon0 developer conference he’s organized this week te Montreal … which will doubtless be attended by some people who consider him a sellout te the pocket of the evil Jihan Wu. I’ll say this for the cryptocurrency world: it’s uncommonly boring, and for better or worse, Zcash may well be its least boring vuurlijn.