In many respects, the future of blockchain technology seems like a wide, blue ocean; a big blank slate on which the future will draw. This is partially because blockchain is such a new technology, and as such, is undergoing a period of rapid change and development.
Therefore, blockchain projects have to envision the future for themselves — and as the industry moves from singularly-focused innovation into a period of collaboration and consolidation, blockchain networks must innovate in order to communicate and connect with one another.
Will Martino, founder and chief executive of Kadena, recently spoke to Finance Magnates on what the future of blockchain technology might look like, and how his platform is building tools in an effort to connect the blockchain world and reach beyond the blockchain industry. Founded in 2016, Kadena builds public enterprise distributed digital ledger platform solutions.
Prior to founding Kadena, Will served as the Senior Science Advisor to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Quantitative Analytics Unit, which was created because of the need to better understand the rapidly changing computer-driven strategies that dominate the modern economy.
After that, he spent time as the Financial and Technology Manager within JPMorgan’s Emerging Technology group under the Corporate and Investment Bank, where he also worked as the lead engineer on the Juno project. Juno is a Byzantine Fault Tolerant consensus protocol and sample implementation designed for blockchain and smart contract applications.
“If you’re going to have real adoption…you’re going to have businesses that don’t need to just pick between public and private.”
Having spent much of his career working in major financial institutions, Will’s work on Kadena stems from a deep understanding of how the traditional financial world operates. When we asked Will who Kadena’s target clients are, he explained that clients that the platform’s strategy for seeking new clients was influenced by his time at JPMorgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, where much of his work involved vetting vendors.
“This is how the Blockchain Center for Excellence got started — JPMorgan was getting offered a bunch of different blockchain solutions (this is right around the time when Ethereum was launching). We were tasked with figuring out which [vendors] made sense, which didn’t, what they were missing, and how the technology would get in the way of actual business.”
After more than a year, a set of questions was developed — questions like: “how do you scale? How do you actually deploy these systems? How is a lawyer going to be able to check for compliance on a smart contract?”
“When we left JPMorgan, it was because we had this vision for fixing these technical hurdles that we knew were going to be insurmountable if they weren’t fixed — that blockchain wasn’t going to see real adoption…we said to ourselves: ‘assume that blockchain is going to be a thing. We see the potential — especially for smart contracts — on both public and private blockchains.”
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And so, if blockchain is going to be “a thing”, say, by 2030 — ”what are the key features that we know are going to need to exist for that reality to come to fruition?”
Will said that this was one of the major guiding principles for building Kadena’s platform. “When we talk about public and private [blockchains] and smart contracts — it’s that we saw that if you’re going to have real adoption in the next decade, you’re going to have businesses that don’t need to just pick between public and private.”
Instead, “they need to be able to run an application that spans these two different worlds, and can also interact with other blockchains, because we don’t think that there’s going to be one blockchain to rule them all.”
Indeed, Will said that although the Bitcoin network is here to stay, “when it comes to smart contracts and business, it’s likely that we’re going to see a few different blockchains that service different needs all co-existing — and, if we’re correct in seeing real adoption in the next decade — [they’ll] probably be talking to each other and working with each other.”
“As a normal dapp developer, you don’t want to have to run your own blockchain network.”
What could this enterprise blockchain ecosystem look like? “Cosmos’s ‘hub and spoke’ model works really well for [scenarios] where you’ll be running a private or a permissioned chain — a ‘spoke’ inside of a company — that will be wholly owned by [that company].”
Kadena and @TheInterchain Foundation have agreed to integrate Chainweaver with the @cosmos network. #Chainweaver is a multi-#blockchain interoperable wallet that also functions as a development environment for smart contracts.
— Kadena (@kadena_io) January 17, 2020
However, there are some issues with the hub-and-spoke model in the greater scheme of things: “as a normal dapp developer, you don’t want to have to run your own blockchain network, which is what a hub-and-spoke network demands” at the current moment.
For example, when the creators of CryptoKitties were first developing the dapp, “it didn’t make sense for them to have to go and deploy an entire blockchain just to run a single application.”
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Will said that this is why Kadena’s public chain is focusing on “providing a scalable, high-throughput public platform for deploying dapps to.” In addition to the public chain, Kadena has ‘Kuro’, a private blockchain for enterprise use “that runs the same smart contract language.”
Will said that therefore, Kadena’s solutions provide blockchains that can scale across different use-cases: instead of one blockchain for the healthcare sector and one blockchain for the finance industry, “it’s more [about] whether you want to own an entire network on the permissioned side, or do you want to run a dapp on a public infrastructure (like a public blockchain)? Or do you want to have something that spans both of these regimes?”
Looking ahead to 2030
We asked Will how he envisions that Kadena will scale and evolve over the next ten years.
Will explained that “I expect enterprise [usage] to pick up in a couple of years, but I think that we’re going to need to see some real use cases deployed before enterprise really picks back up and starts using private chains in the way that they should be.”
“On the smart contract side, we have a smart contract language called ‘Pact.’ This is a language that’s designed to be ‘human-readable’, which means that you don’t need to be a core developer to be able to program in it; it’s actually designed for technical lawyers and executives to be able to read it outright.”
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Pact is also designed for portability: “we’ve already put it on our private blockchain; we put it on our public blockchain, which launched on January 15th. We’ve also put it on top of TenderMint in conjunction and partnership with Cosmos, and we’re working with PolkaDot to see if we can put Pact on top of their ecosystem as well.”
Essentially, “we see Pact as being a huge step forward for application development,” Will said. “And it is a competitive advantage — undoubtedly so. It’s way faster and easier to get going with it — we’ve never met a developer who’s taken longer than a week to become pretty much professional in it.”
“We don’t see keeping [Pact exclusively] on our platform as being critical to success.”
However, “we don’t think that being the only [company] with [access to Pact] is a huge advantage,” he continued. “We want to move the whole space forward because we don’t see the space as a fixed-sized pot…so, we don’t see keeping [Pact exclusively] on our platform as being critical to success. We actually would rather it be all over the place.”
In part because of his background at the SEC, Will also sees regulation as an important influencing force on Kadena’s future — and as such, Pact has accounted for possible regulatory changes.
“We needed a system that we knew we could integrate regulation with later,” after regulations for blockchain and cryptocurrency have been more fully developed. “So, the smart contract language is flexible enough that I know that…you can take all of the existing stuff and you can hoist it on-chain as needed.”
“It should be an opt-in type of thing, though,” Will said, “because you can’t demand AML and KYC for literally everyone who ever runs the public chain, because then it’s not really a public chain.”
The challenge of scaling for global usage
Will said that “on the public side” of things, Kadena is “the first to hit the market with an actual sharding solution.” Sharding is a technique for partitioning databases that can be used to scale a blockchain, making it possible for that chain to process more transactions per second.
“There’s a lot of ways that people talk about scaling layer one — and a lot of times, when people talk about scaling, they actually mean: ‘you’re going to have a single blockchain as your base ledger, and then you’re gonna have some side chains, or some state channels, or some other stuff that comes up.”
So, “Cosmo’s hub-and-spoke, for example, makes a lot of sense for certain applications, but their fundamental ‘hub’ will not scale — it’s not meant to. They’re supposed to have spokes, and the spokes are meant to be where you find all the performance.”
“We’re unique in that we’ve figured out how to take Proof of Work and figured out how to scale it up without having to increase the energy usage.”
Connecting blockchain with enterprise
The big question for every blockchain platform, however, is how to take a solution that has been created within the blockchain industry and expose it to the outer world.
“Our point of view is that it’s use cases,” Will said. “Once we show a use case — or two use cases — on the platform that makes business sense and make money, those become the use cases that become the case study for going to the rest of the market and saying ‘alright, we’re ready to do this, let’s go.’”
Will explained that this really hasn’t happened up to this point in time: “a lot of people tried, including JPMorgan, who pretty much moved heaven and earth to get Quorum to work for one use-case, and is pretty much never going to expand beyond that use case — all it will every be able to do is internal settlement.”
By the same turn, “MakerDAO moved heaven and earth to get their system to work — and they did an incredible job with solidity — but that’s about as far as you can probably take that platform.”
However, “[…] if we can just become the case study for ‘oh, here’s a simple use case that makes money and makes sense, I can now take this across the industry and show people that it’s working, that you can actually do this and it’s not crazy dangerous and it doesn’t take a crazy amount of money or time…that’s what I think moves us up in the crypto ecosystem (which can be a bit of an echo chamber), and also into the broader business regime that exists outside of it.”