One whole year ago today, the Cosmos community made history with the successful decentralized launch of the Gaia blockchain, also known as the Cosmos Hub. After being “two months away” from launch for about 16 months, I couldn’t even begin to describe the joy of seeing our incredible community of validators launch Gaia into the world. I checked block explorers many times each day, in complete awe that this software we had spent years building was actually running in a production economic environment; that it was making blocks every ~6 seconds; that it hadn’t completely fallen over. I was elated; in love.
I started working with Jae on Tendermint in early 2015. If Jae was the crazy visionary, I was his first follower. Of course, I also crafted the vision into my own, a future of sovereign, self-sufficient, sustainable and interoperating communities. That vision is stronger today than it’s ever been.
I was into Tendermint because I cared about practical solutions to consensus problems for organizing humans into more sustainable societies. This grew naturally out of my background in biophysics, especially the physics of organisms and ecosystems.
With socioeconomic collapse permeating our collective psyche in these dark days of 2020, this bright vision of a sustainable decentralized future could not be more relevant. I have significant faith that the current global crisis will set us on a trajectory towards more local, self-sufficient, sustainable communities.
Today, the Cosmos community could not be stronger. Forget the price. Everywhere I look I see amazing groups of people building amazing things, with relentless passion and inspiring compassion. The community we’ve grown together over the last 5 years is an inspiration to technological movements the world over and is a shining example of the success of open-source and of public economic networks. And this is only the beginning.
Of course, we’ve had some stumbling blocks. The recent drama with All in Bits (ie. Tendermint Inc) has demonstrated what we already knew - governance and accountability matter. But onwards and upwards! We’re working hard on decentralizing functionality that used to reside at All in Bits into new entities, and it couldn’t be going better. Many of the engineers that left All in Bits are hard at work on Tendermint Core and IBC through a new subsidiary of the Interchain Foundation (ICF) in Berlin: Interchain GmbH. Meanwhile, other members of the community like Regen Network and Iqlusion are stepping up to leadership roles in the Cosmos-SDK and Gaia, respectively. As described recently in a blog post by the ICF, there are many independent entities stepping into leadership roles in the Cosmos ecosystem. I couldn’t be more excited about the highly decentralized form this community is taking, and am very much looking forward to continue working with all these entities as we shepherd Cosmos into the future.
I also have a new entity now, which I’m incredibly excited about: Informal Systems. Informal has been in the works since last summer, and officially spun out from the ICF in January. See our official launch announcement. While I’m the CEO, the company is structured like a co-operative - every employee gets one vote in all major corporate matters. We’re hoping to establish a new model for sustainable technology companies. Hopefully the team doesn’t vote me out too soon :). Meanwhile, our primary focus is bringing the rigour of formal verification to Cosmos. Our team includes some of the world leaders in formally verifying Byzantine fault tolerant consensus protocols, and now they’re working full time on applying their expertise to Cosmos. We hope this work helps establish Cosmos as the most rigorously engineered blockchain ecosystem in the world, and sets an example for how distributed systems software can and should be built.
The Cosmos Hub is one year old today, but this is just the very beginning. There is such an unbelievable amount to look forward to, it’s hard to know where to begin. Of course, there’s the upcoming launch of IBC. When will it happen? Well, to be consistent, let’s say “two months” ;). But seriously, it will come when it comes, and it will transform the Cosmos ecosystem and the wider blockchain landscape. We’re working hard on a go-to-market strategy for IBC, including the much anticipated Game of Zones. But what about beyond IBC?
Launching IBC is the first step of a multi-year transformative process. Once it’s live, there is a whole world of blockchain interoperability to explore: pegs to other chains, virtual machines, privacy preserving and scalability technology, alternative currencies and economic designs, other real world applications, and much more. For a bit more detail on each of these, see the end of this post!
It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished and grown as a community. We’re stronger than we’ve ever been, and there’s an unbelieveable amount to look forward to. I’m beyond grateful to everyone that has participated in this community and helped make this vision a reality, and can’t wait to work with you all in the years ahead to completely transform the trajectory of our species into something more sustainable.
Stay safe everyone. <3
Appendix: What I’m looking forward to!
Pegs to Bitcoin and Ethereum
I’ve noted in the past that I’m a closet Bitcoin Maximalist. Others have noted that Cosmos is good for Bitcoin. Some might say it’s a secret ploy to scale Bitcoin. This isn’t necessarily wrong. But it’s also a secret ploy to scale Ethereum. By building bridges from the Bitcoin and Ethereum chains to Cosmos blockchains, we can enable the value locked in the tokens of those platforms to explore alternative environments. Bitcoin and Ethereum pegs are under active development, and we may see them deployed later this year. I suspect this will unlock tremendous value for these platforms, and for Cosmos. I hope to see pegs built to many other blockchains as well, like ZCash and Tezos.
For more on the Bitcoin Pegs (which are all heavily under development!), see:
For more on the Ethereum Pegs, see:
Virtual machines are taking off in the Cosmos. We’re seeing Ethermint mature significantly, and may see the first production deployments this year. The combination of an Ethereum peg, Ethermint, and IBC will allow Dapps to move off the Ethereum chain onto their own blockchain, without losing the capacity to interoperate. Aragon is already planning for this. This may lead to huge scalability wins for Ethereum, but also entirely new economic designs to be reckoned with. While DeFi is showing initial successes, it also seems quite fragile, and we’ll have to be careful with the new cross-chain designs.
Then there’s CosmWASM, the project adopting WASM to work with the Cosmos-SDK. As WASM establishes itself as a new global standard, integrating it into Cosmos will open up new smart contracting functionality for validators and delegators, and for general use as well. The Regen team is already experimenting with decentralized CosmWASM testnets, and the platform holds much promise for expanding the capabilities of Cosmos chains.
There’s more VMs too, like Kadena’s Pact and the work to port Libra’s MoveVM to run on Tendermint. There will likely be more as well. The combination of IBC and virtual machines will unlock all kinds of new opportunities for DeFi, governance, and general coordination and will become a cornerstone of the new global digital infrastructure.
Performance, Cryptography, Privacy, Security
The last few years have mostly been focused on getting to launch and maintaining the current state of things. We already have one of the most performant blockchain systems in production, but there’s so much more to do. Tons of research is happening on performance improvements to Merkle data stores and underlying consensus systems. Some of these involve more advanced cryptography, like polynomial commitments and aggregate signatures, but we’re also exploring non-cryptographic improvements by reassessing data structures and protocol flows.
At the new GmbH, the team is evaluating opportunities in the Tendermint Core codebase to improve the architecture, optimize protocols, and with the help of the Informal team, make them more verifiable. While this work has already been mostly completed for the fast sync protocol, attention will likely turn to the consensus and mempool protocols next. These changes will dramatically improve the maintainability of the codebase, making it easier for more people to contribute, and facilitating alternative implementations and upgrades. There’s also the new state sync protocol under development, which will allow new nodes to quickly sync the state. See the recently published 2020 Roadmap for Tendermint Core.
As new cryptographic primitives mature and demonstrate their security, we’ll see them increasingly incorporated into the Cosmos ecosystem to provide performance and scalability improvements. Whether in the form of aggregate signatures to compress commits, random beacons to provide secure randomness, or zero knowledge commitments to improve cross-chain security, there’s so much to explore in the recent explosion of cryptographic techniques. One of the major use cases of IBC is to enable production experiments with new cryptography to test them in the wild with live economics and to allow them to prove themselves before scaling their use even further. I hope to see that kind of experimentation begin in earnest soon - there’s no end to the opportunity for experiments here.
And then there’s privacy. Right now Cosmos chains are a lot like early Ethereum in that there’s virtually no privacy mechanisms. But with all the recent advancements in zero-knowledge techniques, that’s likely to change very soon, as folks start exploring integration of those techniques with the Cosmos technology stack. There’s so many unique designs to explore here, and significant opportunities to improve the privacy story of Cosmos blockchains, for financial applications, governance, and more.
Alternative Economics and Real World Applications
The whole reason I’m in this space is because the modern socioeconomic contract is broken and we desperately need to establish a new one. A new global economic order is needed that acknowledges the finiteness of the planet’s resources, abandons the classical “growth at all costs” mentality, and adopts a more sustainable approach to growth and development founded on the principles of organisms and sustainable systems. You can hear my musings about this topic in my talk about Stakeholders and State Machines.
With the impending release of IBC and the Cosmos virtual machines, it becomes much more practical to begin experimenting with these kinds of systems; universal basic income, mutual credit unions, lending circles, local currencies, and so on. Not to mention simply enabling low-cost economic arrangements between stakeholders that were previously prohibitive due to lack of coordination technology. This is why I’m so excited about the Regen Network and the transformative impact they may have on agriculture and ecological stewardship.
I’m looking forward to an explosion of Cosmos-based experiments in such alternative economic systems, with an eye towards building a new global web of locally self-sufficient communities. IBC and the Cosmos technology stack make this all possible. After 5 years of hard work, it’s hard to believe we’re finally here. Here’s to the next 5 years.
Of course there’s so much more work to do on many fronts. New ABCI servers and frameworks. Formal verification for all the protocols. Implementations in new languages. Improved Proof of Stake designs with better incentive compatibility. Advances in governance design and mechanisms. Integration between real world entities and on-chain structures. Many new applications built on IBC. Improvements to the privacy, scalability, and security of IBC itself. Cross-chain collateralization and new security models. The list goes on! So much to look forward to and be excited about :)