Asia Blockchain Review recently spoke to Max Kantelia, Chief Evangelist & Co-Founder of Zilliqa, a high-throughput public blockchain platform that aims to make decentralized blockchains the building blocks of future enterprises and applications. Kantelia discussed how Zilliqa addresses limitations of scalability and security in order to enable real-world usability across a variety of industries, including finance, digital advertising, and gaming.
Asia Blockchain Review: Can you tell us about sharding as a technique that offers more scalability? How did Zilliqa come to develop sharding for blockchain?
Max Kantelia: Initially developed as a long-standing technique in database architecture, the use of sharding as a means of addressing blockchain scalability was first explored in a research paper co-authored by one of the founding members of Zilliqa, Prateek Saxena, who is our Chief Scientific Advisor.
Best compared to the concept of ‘divide and conquer’, sharding on Zilliqa takes place in two forms — network sharding and transaction sharding. Take a network of 1,000 nodes: rather than having all nodes working to process one transaction, you divide the nodes into smaller groups — shards — of 10 nodes. This is network sharding. Each group of 10 would then be responsible for processing batches of transactions rather than all of the transactions passing through the blockchain at a given point of time — this is transaction sharding.
By dividing both the network and transactions in this way, transactions can be processed in parallel across these ‘shards’, allowing for higher throughput. In this way, as the network grows, so does our capacity to process more and more transactions at a consistently greater rate.
ABR: In what ways is Zilliqa designed for the gaming industry? Can you tell us about your use cases?
MK: At Zilliqa, we took the time to examine all of the existing commercial industries in order to determine which lines of business would most benefit from a high-throughput blockchain solution. Despite the promises of blockchain, not all industries engage with secure, high-value transactions. Based on our early evaluations, we decided to first focus on industries such as gaming, digital advertising, and finance, as we identified them to be areas in which blockchain will have immense potential.
Whether a blockchain game or otherwise, one of the most revealing indicators of its success will be an increasing number of active users. Today, existing blockchain games remain burdened by scalability limitations, hindering any chance of long-term growth. A suitable blockchain platform for such games needs to not only have the ability to accommodate increasing user numbers, but it also needs to be able to process transactions efficiently and securely. Our blockchain infrastructure is designed to meet such needs.
To date, we have several existing partnerships in the gaming industry. EMONT Alliance, founder of the renowned Ethereum-based crypto collectible game Etheremon, is currently building their new game on Zilliqa called Ocean Rumble, which is due to launch in the coming months. Another partnership is with Krypton, which is developing a game on Zilliqa called SuperPlayer along with a decentralized application (DApp) browser Zilliqa Planet, and a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace. At this point in time, both SuperPlayer and Zilliqa Planet are now live, and its NFT exchange will be up soon.
ABR: Can you share with us some of your milestones and successes in Singapore and in the region?
MK: As we’re based in Singapore, several of the use cases and partnerships that we’ve cultivated are with organizations and projects that are also based in the Southeast Asian region. In January 2019, we announced Hg Exchange, a joint venture with Singapore-based private investment platform Fundnel and digital asset exchange platform MaiCoin. The venture is envisaged to be Southeast Asia’s first member-driven exchange and will provide access to decacorns and high-growth startups such as the likes of Grab, Uber, and SpaceX. We have submitted an application to the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Fintech Regulatory Sandbox and are awaiting approval.
Beyond that, we also recently announced a new partnership with Singapore-based fintech payments solution provider, Xfers. We’re especially thrilled to collaborate with Xfers as they are the first fintech startup with no government affiliation to be accredited as a Widely Accepted Stored Value Facility (WA SVF) by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This also marks our first foray into the payments space, as we will be working to bring blockchain-powered payment solutions to over 500,000 enterprise partners and users in the region, while simultaneously pioneering the concept of b-commerce, which addresses the need for blockchain solutions that can be easily and seamlessly integrated into existing financial infrastructures.
The architecture of Xfers’ payment infrastructure will be built on Zilliqa’s smart contracts layer, enabling greater usability, security, and scalability. Our smart contracts layer will be integrated with Xfers’ suite of enterprise solutions, which include support for payments, disbursements, regulatory compliance, a built-in digital wallet, and more. Enterprise clients, end-users, banking partners, and regulators will have increased confidence in the integrity of Xfers’ transaction records, as they will now be able to easily examine the smart contracts powering payment transactions while being able to audit client funds. As a whole, the partnership opens the door to future explorations of decentralized, real-time, direct payment settlements, which we’re very excited about.
ABR: How does Scilla help to ensure security for developers and coders? How is it different from other programming languages?
MK: Scilla is an intermediate programming language designed with functional programming principles in mind. Unlike some of the existing programming languages in the blockchain space today, Scilla was designed with security rather than usability in mind. Amenable to formal verification, Scilla allows developers to leverage mathematical proofs to ensure that their smart contracts are provably correct, preventing critical security flaws at the language level. Designed to provide a balance between expressivity and security while allowing for tractability, smart contracts written in Scilla are far safer for enterprise applications of smart contracts and blockchain as a whole.
ABR: Can you share with us the progress of Project Proton and how it uses smart contracts to legitimize the digital advertising sector?
MK: Announced in late 2017, Project Proton was an alliance that was born out of a partnership established with leading global media and marketing services company Mindshare. Other alliance members include major players in the digital advertising space, such as Mediamath, Rubicon, and Integral Ad Science. The goal of Project Proton is to address some of the pressing issues in the programmatic advertising space today, such as ad fraud or the need for greater cost-efficiencies in how settlements are processed. With ad fraud as an endemic issue that continues to plague the industry, costing advertisers and publishers US$15 billion in 2018 alone, this project aimed to identify the ways in which blockchain could potentially mitigate this problem.
In March 2019, we successfully completed a Southeast Asia campaign for Mindshare client and global, fast-moving consumer goods company, PepsiCo. With the use of Zilliqa’s smart contracts, ad impressions delivered from multiple data sources were reconciled in near real time with the use of our internal Native Alliance Token (NAT). This resulted in major efficiency gains while enabling complete transparency for all brand owners and sponsors, as they’re able to monitor all of the transactions taking place on an immutable, public ledger. With smart contracts, additional spending incurred by ad fraud as well as inefficient processes can be reduced significantly, ensuring that advertisers only need to pay for impressions that have been validated as viewable, brand-safe, and free from ad fraud. Results from our PepsiCo campaign showed a 28% increase in cost-efficiencies for viewable impressions when run through smart contracts rather than a traditional campaign.
ABR: Who are some of the recipients of the Zilliqa Ecosystem Grant Program? How has the program driven the ecosystem forward?
MK: In June 2018, we launched the Zilliqa Ecosystem Grant Programme, which has a total grant pool of US$5 million. On top of funding, selected individuals and teams are also able to receive technical advice and support from the Zilliqa team. To date, we’ve announced three waves of grant awardees consisting of 46 individuals and teams, out of a pool of 135 applications. Grant applicants come from all over the world and are represented by 17 nationalities, resulting in a diversity of candidates and projects.
Some notable recipients of the grant include Unstoppable Domains, a decentralized domain-naming service that strives to enable uncensorable web hosting services. The team recently raised an additional US$4 million from Draper Associates as part of a Series A funding round. Moonlet, a project looking to provide a portal to the decentralized world, is another notable recipient of the grant. ZenGo, meanwhile, is a wallet provider that aims to optimize user experience by leveraging facial recognition and breakthrough cryptography in order to provide a keyless infrastructure.
At Zilliqa, we’ve always maintained that communities play an essential role in the growth of any ecosystem. While our grant program is only one of many, we believe that it’s important to encourage and nurture great individuals and teams around the world to develop the necessary tools and libraries, as well as decentralized applications in order to enrich the industry as a whole.
During the celebration of our second birthday, we announced an extension to the Innovation track of our grant program, ZILHive, which is a new 12-week incubation program launched in collaboration with global blockchain incubator, LongHash. With smart contracts now enabled on our platform, ZILHive hopes to encourage developers and entrepreneurs to further drive the network’s traffic and explore myriads of staking mechanisms involving the native ZIL token.
Five selected teams will have the opportunity to work closely with the Zilliqa team for technical tutorship as well as receive mentorship from LongHash’s global network of experts and industry leaders from the traditional finance, business, and legal space. At the end of the program, teams will pitch their finished product on Demo Day to venture capital firms, angel investors, and family offices for further funding opportunities. Moreover, projects will be guaranteed non-dilutive grant funding of US$20,000 upon completion of the three-month incubation program. Applications are now open until July 31st, and the program is due to start in October.
ABR: Can you tell us about Blockchain A-Z and the blockchain education courses that you are offering in universities? What has been the feedback from this program?
MK: Launched in March 2019, Blockchain A-Z is our latest higher education initiative and forms a critical part of our developer outreach and community engagement. The initiative consists of a series of four-week-long blockchain workshops that address both the technical and business use case aspects of project development.
As a whole, the courses allow us to provide mentorship to students looking to embark on a career in the industry. We’re able to gain a better insight as to what resources are needed and what gaps need to be filled, in order to enable at least a foundational level of technological proficiency in blockchain fundamentals.
In recent years, we’ve observed a growing interest in universities in blockchain technology, materializing as full-fledged course curricula that address different aspects of the technology across different academic disciplines. However, what’s often forgotten is the fact that the blockchain industry is constantly evolving — with technological milestones and breakthroughs achieved at a rapid rate, course content can quickly become outdated.
The first round of workshops kicked off on March 26th, organized in collaboration with King’s College London’s (KCL) Blockchain Society, and was free to attend for all current KCL students. This initial round of workshops proved to be a valuable learning experience for both our participants and ourselves, as students were able to develop applications that were not only technologically sound but equally well-reasoned from a business standpoint.
As a whole, our goal is to enable increased accessibility for these workshops — we want to ensure that these workshops are available to communities for free so that anyone can gain a foundational range of knowledge to enter the industry. Beyond that, we’ve also begun discussions with the University of Oxford Blockchain Society to continue the Blockchain A-Z series there.
ABR: In your opinion, will there be numerous blockchains in the near future? How will these different blockchains work together?
MK: It’s important to remember that 10 years on, the blockchain industry remains very much in its infancy — as an industry, we’re still working to establish the most enterprise-appropriate infrastructures, best practices, as well as the necessary tools and resources that can withstand the test of time. The fact that numerous blockchains exist today is a testament to that process, as different projects explore various approaches to attaining greater scalability, decentralization, interoperability, and usability.
Any industry, whether it be blockchain or otherwise, benefits from choice. As more mainstream companies openly approach the industry to implement blockchain-based solutions, they’ll find that not all infrastructures are able to provide them with what they need and that some projects are better suited and aligned in vision.
As a whole, interoperability across blockchains is definitely something that a lot of projects are exploring, and it’s certainly an area of research that we’re also interested in as a team.
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