Ethereum grants: Decentralised secrets, mobile client, EthSnarks and more
Looking at Ethereum Foundation grants is a great way of getting across exciting ongoing developments.
The Wave 4 Ethereum grants are in, disbursing another few million dollars to some of the most useful and promising avenues of Ethereum development today. Since the first wave of grants in March 2018, the Ethereum Foundation has now awarded funding of more than $11 million to further develop its ecosystem.
The awards show
This wave of grants was offered across several categories, and we cover some of the highlights below.
The Magic Money Tree team was awarded $50,000 for continuing development on Dark Crystal.
This system lets people break down information into shards – or dark crystals – and then dispense them to trusted acquaintances. It's just like the old trope of a key being broken down into multiple pieces and distributed to several parties.
Except in this case, it runs on Ethereum, and the key can be any kind of information that can be conveyed in text form. And until all the shards are reassembled, the secret stays secret.
It's envisioned as a way of socially backing up recovery seeds, passwords and similar. You can disperse the information among a number of trusted acquaintances, knowing that even if one of them turns out to be less trustworthy, the funds will stay safe.
All of them would have to prove untrustworthy and would then have to collaborate with each other to actually steal the passwords or information that's been sharded and given to them. It's a wonderfully familiar example of how smart contracts can simplify and make more reliable what would have once involved more intermediaries or effort.
Naturally, this also presents a solution to the sticky question of what happens to your crypto, or to any other password-protected digital goods, if one dies.
Mobile Ethereum client
Going mobile is important. This is the reasoning behind Status, which essentially aims to allow any smartphone access to the Ethereum ecosystem by turning it into a mobile light node.
In this wave, Status Nimbus was awarded $500,000 to continue development of its Nimbus client.
It's a valuable project, straddling the scalability and mass adoption categories. This is because mobile is key for adoption and because the point of Nimbus and its Nim programming language is to function effectively on resource-restricted devices.
"This grant marks an important moment for the team as it will enable a more focused development and indicates the confidence and backing of the Foundation as we continue down our well defined path. The Nimbus team has been working on this Eth2.0 implementation since March of this year and we are pleased that the work has now reached a stage that warrants such a grant. Ultimately our goal is in line with that of the Foundation – the mass adoption of Ethereum," it says in a press release.
Another $40,000 was set aside for continued work on EthSnarks, which is basically zkSNARKS for Ethereum.
zkSNARKS offer a lot of possibilities. In a nutshell, they're all about verifying the correctness of computations without having to execute or know about them. This has natural applications in cryptocurrency. For example, allowing different miners on a blockchain to verify the correctness of transactions without knowing anything about those transactions will allow for more private transactions.
Zcash and others use zkSNARKS for this purpose.
EthSnarks aims to allow the same possibility for Ethereum transactions. One obvious implication is that it might allow for private transactions and contracts as well as for the creation of a secure automatic coin mixer.
It could also be useful in many other ways. For example, it could help with the creation of a program to automatically and correctly verify details of someone's identity without actually revealing or storing any details. Picture someone feeding the details of their digital driver's licence into that program through a separate system. The program could verify details by checking the following:
- Whether the fingerprints and other biometric information on the driver's licence match the biometric data used to log into the system that's providing the driver's licence in this particular session
- Whether the driver's licence is a match for the one stored in a central government database somewhere and is therefore real
Based on this verification, the program could then confirm the correctness of specific things without storing any data or giving away unnecessary information. For example, it could confirm that a specific individual is over 18 without giving away who they are or what their actual age is, or it might confirm that they're a resident of a certain area without giving away their address, or that they have no criminal history or just about anything else that can be programmatically verified.
These kinds of applications are why the world is so awestruck by the potential of blockchain technologies.
It's also why development of EthSnarks is continuing. One of the main obstacles to date has been that these kinds of "zero knowledge proofs" are quite computationally intensive. Previously, they might have actually used up more gas than could even fit on a single Ethereum block. Ongoing efficiency improvements are making it more and more useful.
This is just a semi-random sampling of the many Wave 4 grant recipients. It just goes to show how many important and fascinating developments are going on in the enormous Ethereum ecosystem at any given time. You can find the full list of Wave 4 recipients here.
Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VET, XLM, BTC and ADA.