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Unitimes AMA | Matthew Spoke: Connecting the Fragmented Blockchain World

Blockchain projects have sprung up like mushrooms. Thousands of blockchain networks are now operating at the same time around the world. In the future, this number will also show a spurt of growth.

However, there is currently little inter-chain information interaction between the various blockchain networks—much like the personal computers that were fighting when there was no Internet in the 1980s.

Therefore, we need a cross-chain protocol to integrate existing blockchain networks to enable value and data communication between them. AION network is a multi-layer blockchain system designed to address unresolved scalability, confidentiality and interoperability issues in blockchain networks.

At 21:30 on December 6, Unitimes held the 15th online AMA about blockchain technologies and applications. We were glad to have Matthew Spoke, Co-founder of AION, to share with us on Designing Decentralized Infrastructures for Mainstream Adoption.

The AMA is composed of two parts: Fixed Q&A and Free Q&A. Check out the details below!

Fixed Q&A:

1、Hi Matthew. Nice having you with us. Can you introduce yourself and AION first?

Hey everyone. My name is Matthew Spoke, and I one of the co-founders of the Aion Foundation (https://aion.org/)

I started working in the blockchain industry in 2014, and have previously built an enterprise blockchain company, and sit on the Board of Directors of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (https://entethalliance.org/)

Now, the Aion Foundation is a team of ~60 ppl, with offices in Toronto, Calgary, Shanghai, and Barbados.

We are working on the public Aion blockchain protocol (https://aion.network/)

2. AION is called the third blockchain generation. How thrid generation evolved from first and second generation such as Bitcoin and Ethererum?

The first generation of blockchain networks was ushered in by Bitcoin. Blockchains focused on a single use-case and optimizing their network design for that functionality. In the case of Bitcoin, the use case was a censorsorship resistant form of digital cash. The network was designed elegantly for with function with UTXO and high availability.

The second generation of blockchain networks was ushered in with Ethereum. Enabling applications to be built in the form of smart contracts and execute on a turing-complete state machine.

The third generation is focused on two core principles, 1) the scaling of these networks to provide the required performance by mainstream applications 2) enabling the communication of value and arbitrary data across these public networks.

3. Can you discuss Aion’s implementations or approach to interoperability?

At the beginning of September we launched the first implementation of our bridging protocol, named the “Token Transfer Bridge”. This is a one directional bridge faciliated by a cluster of nodes and signatories running both ethereum and Aion nodes. It was designed for the purpose of migrating our supply of ERC-20 tokens from Ethereum to native Coins on the Aion blockchain in an atomic method, in the hands of the user.

The second implementation of the bridge is being built by one of our ecosystem partners – Mavennet. They are building a bi-directional bridge between Ethereum and Aion, providing the ability to move tokens across chains. This implementation will be going into production early next year with a group of operators and projects.

4. How does AION differeniate itself from other cross-chain protocols/projects? Or what kind of obstacles do you deal with apart from cross-chain interoperability?

One of the biggest bottlenecks to building scalable cross-chain solutions is the probabilistic finality model that exists for the majority of adopted proof-of-work based chains. This bottleneck was evident with those who used our token transfer bridge. The bridge has to wait for ~15 minutes before confirming the ethereum transactions. If in the future we are envisioning thousands of transactions occurring cross-chain, finality must be addressed in order to build a scalable and secure cross-chain communication mechanism. This is why we are focusing heavily on research towards consensus models that have near instant finality properties.

5. How are you addressing the major obstacles to mainstream dApp adoption?

At the Foundation we’ve build a comprehensive framework for identifying the requirements for mainstream applications to build on top of decentralized network. At a high-level these break down into three categories: Security, Scalability and Usability. Through continuous research and feedback loops with current web 3 developers and web 2.0 developers we refine this requirements and their success criteria. Then leveraging the growing Aion and broader Web 3 ecosystem we partner, grant and invest in people, projects and contributors that solve these requirements.

Ultimately our job is to reduce the barrier to entry for mainstream application developers.

6. What use cases AION enables? Can you name a few?

Right now we’ve seen significant interest and development from existing applications in various industries like gaming or mobility that are looking to leverage certain properties of decentralization  – whether that be incentives or data ownership. They are building on Aion as it provides a scalable infrastructure that can meet their user base requirements and it approachable to their developers to start building through comprehensive docs and tutorials. We have a proven track record of executing against our initiatives and when organizations are choosing where to build their future application they want to have that confidence.

7. What is AION’s consensus mechanism?

The current kilimanjaro release of the Aion blockchain utilizes PoW consensus. We’ve implemented a set of novel Equihash parameters – Equihash2109 for increased ASIC-resistance and to diversify the active parameter set. In terms of our consensus roadmap, our research team is currently evaluating the various consensus algorithms and implementations and developing a proposal focused on finality, collusion-resistance and accessibility.

8. I learnt that you were planning on basing your new Aion Virtual Machine on the JVM. Why did you go into that direction?

When we looked at the challenges facing developers building on applications on blockchain networks or the EVM specifically, it came down to 3 major obstacles: 1) New and immature contract development language 2) Lack of production-grade developing tooling across the delivery workflow and 3) Low computational complexity and execution performance.

Instead of building a new execution environment to overcome these obstacles we looked at the existing VM ecosystem and the JVM is clearly the most well adopted, robust and built-out tooling ecosystem. By building the AVM on the JVM we are able to integrated immediately into the 100’s of amazing tools building around the Java development ecosystem, leverage Java – the top programming language for contract development, and utilize the proven performance of the JVM. We’ve been working hard over the past 6 months on the AVM and as of yesterday the source code was released.

Why JVM: https://blog.aion.network/aion-virtual-machine-avm-why-java-and-the-jvm-240b78ad8a77

Github: https://github.com/aionnetwork/AVM

9. People tend to compare blockchain today with firstborn Internet era. What’s the main difference between the two in your opinion?

I think the biggest difference from a market perspective is that when the internet was in its early development, the small tech companies that were building were relatively in stealth, their activates weren’t public that no one new what their value was. Investors or employees wouldn’t know the value of their companies until years later when they went public. With blockchain companies, the organizations building these public networks immediately have a fully-fungible assets , whose value changes in real-time 24/7. While there are many parallels to the stage of development we are in – the real-time information, insights, valuations and communities surrounding these early pioneers is very different.

10. How do you envision web 3 or the decentralized world?

When we look out and evaluate how we interact with the internet today, its clear to us that this is a broken model. Users have continuously traded of the control of their data for the convenience of the applications they are using without understanding the business model they have inadvertently consented to. We’ve seen the dangers of this business model with the recent privacy revelations with Facebook and other big tech players. This model leads to practices like  unethical advertising through misinformation, manipulation tactics for increased usage and censorship of information dictated by the largest bidder. This broken model can’t be fixed by increased regulation or lobbying, it must be solved by a re-architecture of the underlying infrastructure that these applications are built on. And entrenching data privacy, immutability and censorship-resistance into this infrastructure. This effectively moves the “inventory” of the internet, i.e data – from a small set of profit-driven companies to the user itself. Providing self-sovereignty in the digital world. We’ve been thinking a lot about this future and have kicked off a publication called The Rebuild, where we will be posting prospectives towards achieving this vision. https://blog.aion.network/rebuild/home;

Free Q&A:

1、What AION is planning to accomplish in two years?

2019 is very focused on getting the AVM (Java ecosystem) into production on our mainnet, and a new roadmap for scalable consensus algorithm currently in research.

2 years is a long time horizon, but we expect to have very compelling examples of mainstream applications alongside our Aion “Everest” release. We also expect that the Aion ecosystem will have grown significantly outside of the crypto industry, with new entrants from traditional software background.

2、Hi Matt. My question is : If an existing ERC20 token moves onto the AION mainnet, is it backwards compatible?

The new bridge design being built right now, in collaboration with our ecosystem partners Mavennet (https://mavennet.com/#home) will allow for bidirectional bridging of ERC-20 style tokens

The Aion ERC-20 contract is being decommissioned now that our swap is complete.

3、What is the difference between AION and WBTC?

WBTC is a wrapping mechanism to represent BTC in a smart contract token. That design could be facilitated on top of Aion, and could even be migrated through Aion bridges. WBTC is a smart contract that could function on any smart contract network (in theory)

4、I read that the AION tokens are really interesting. They can not only be used to transfer but also can be used to build ‘bridges’, which acts as the communication protocol between chains. How is it possible?

The different designs for interperoability allow for token bridges to be built using staking mechanisms, to ensure that bridge operators are honest and rewarded.

We are still actively researching future designs for more scalable interoperability, because current architectures of bridging are subject to delays from POW consensus delays (non finality)

5、What are the responsiblities of “token transfer bridge” that you mentioned?

The token transfer bridges are built with a group called “Operators” and a group called “Signatories”.

The operators need to transmit transactions across the chain, but only after they’ve been approved and validated by the signatories.

6、If the transfer bridge is bi-directional, is the process fullly decentralized? Is it possible that once I transfer my assets to AION, I won’t be able to trasfer them back to Ethereum?

The bridge design is decentralized in that it requires a group to act as signatories for transactions confirmations. The contracts on either side of the bridge (Aion and Ethereum) that you’re interacting with would dictate how the token supplies interact with each other.

7、If there are roles like signatories, how to make sure that they do not make malicious moves? For example, will they work together to transfer the tokens on Ethereum to eleswhere?

In the current design, the “signatories” are an independent group that need to sign valid transactions. Although collusion is theoretically possible, research is being done around staking and “punishment” to keep these actors honest. In current design, the bridge is only between Ethereum and Aion, but could also run on any other EVM-based chain.

— Is it so that they can act maliciously, but there’s no way to stop them?

When we look to implement economic incentives / penalties into bridge designs, the goal is to incentivize honest behavior and punish malicious acts. Ultimately the goal is for Signatory participants to recognize malicious behavior and hold each other accountable. Current implementations are more “reputation-based”, similar to a POA type model.

— Does it mean that your cross-chain solution needs to trust notaries and signatories? Your solution is not a decentralized solution because you used PoA, although you claim that you are a decentralized solution.

The big tradeoffs with any design of decentralization is an impact on performance. Users can chose which type of bridge they trust, and until we solve consensus finality issues, full decentralization without significant inefficiency is near impossible.

In our token swap, we compared to most other projects who did a 100% centralized swap, and opted to move down the spectrum to a more “trustless design”.We’re still not satisfied with the current architecture, but are restricted based on performance bottlenecks. Our research is targetted at this problem.

8、I assume the “bridge” is locked in Ethereum first then generated in AION? So how do you make sure that the tokens on Ethereum won’t be transferred maliciously?

The bridge can be initiated on either side, and can control the token supply based on the contract logic. Nothing restricts a contract author from writing a bad contract, but the bridge interacts with its logic as intended.

Before transfers are accepted, the bridge operators need to wait a predefined number of blocks to be confident on finality. This is one of the current performance bottlenecks that we are working to solve through our consensus research team.

Simple example is that our Aion ERC20 bridge was designed to wait 64 blocks on Ethereum before accepting the transfer.

That’s all for the 15th AMA. We would like to thank all the community members for their participation and cooperation! Thanks, Matt!

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