Meet Alexander Kjeldaas: Coinweb Director of Architecture
Coinweb.io was started with a simple vision to make the blockchain more connected and personal. The connection stems from the Hyperlayer, a second layer solution that interacts with separate blockchains, allowing users to transact and share data anywhere within the ecosystem. Coinweb is making blockchain technology more personal through the Coin Name System, a way to create user specific human readable addresses, instead of long and complicated Hash addresses.
To offer some insight into what attracted people to the project, we are releasing a series of interviews with members of the Coinweb team. The first interview is with Alexander Kjeldaas, former Senior Software Engineer at Google and current Director of Architecture at Coinweb.
Tell us a bit about your early experiences and how you became familiar with tech and computers?
A lot of my friends had their first experience with computers playing games on consoles during the ’80s, but what I had access to were these IBM PC computers that my dad used for work. I got a copy of the first Turbo Pascal 1.0 compiler from Borland and then later the awesome Borland C++, and the even more awesome Watcom C++ compiler which made it possible to fully use 32-bit mode on the magical 80386 chip.
Only after having learned these languages and tools did I start programming in assembly. As a teenager I was active in the BBS scene in Norway which through UUCP gave me access to Usenet and troves of free software with source code — for Unix.
And how did you find out about Linux?
At university, through the computer club at the university, this led to me using this new project called Linux that came out of the university of Helsinki and Linus Torvalds. Though I spent most of my time programming in esoteric languages such as Haskell (which was fairly new at the time), Common Lisp, and Eiffel, I did catch an interest for the Linux kernel.
Security, cryptography, and assembly optimizations were what I focused on. The Department of Defence (DoD) were certifying Unixen as “B1” — useful for processing top secret data at the time, and as part of the classification they required certain features implemented in the operating system.
This seemed interesting to me, so I spent some time implementing what is now called the capabilities system in the linux kernel. Linux never gained B1 certification, but the capabilities system, having no overhead, has stayed in the kernel. I also did some work on optimizing the network stack, and lastly started the crypto API project.
You see, in the ’90s, when Bill Clinton was president, it was illegal to export strong cryptography from the US. Strong cryptography was required for many things in the linux kernel, such as secure file storage, encrypted network traffic, and the like. It was legal to export crypto from my country and university, so the “international kernel project” was born. The crypto code was later folded into linux mainline.
And how did this become your profession?
During my studies, I created my first startup with some friends. Soon after we joined another small startup with the bold idea to create the world’s largest search engine. We did (alltheweb.com), and before 2000 had both a bigger index and faster searches than Google. One thing lead to another and a few years down the road I worked for Google. A mini-decade passed and I was onto a series of new startups, of which Coinweb is the latest.
So when did you first get involved in Cryptocurrency projects?
As I was distributing cryptography code for the linux kernel, I was following the cryptography mailing list for years, and knew about bitcoin early on. At first it seemed unreasonably complex compared to what I usually used cryptography for, so I mostly ignored it. Then later I did a quick audit of the code for myself to see if this was something I could trust. I found a few locking issues and I thought — meh, this is going to blow up. At the time I was involved in a startup around trustworthy computing, where I designed a blockchain-like security mechanism (and patented it!).
What I didn’t understand, nor see at the time, was the social aspect of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. There are lots of great ideas in cryptography that are not being used; simple things such as end-to-end encrypted email is still missing. I think bitcoin is the first “craze” based on cryptography, so although I was right there, I missed it. Hats off to those that called it early on. I was even mining bitcoin on my computer, but thought nothing of it - those bitcoins are long gone.
With separate blockchains growing vertically, do you believe that interoperability is an inevitability?
I think so. For assets, there is always the option of using trusted third parties to be intermediaries between assets. We see solutions for this in the crypto space when dealing with non-blockchain assets; examples such as; stablecoins and pegs. However, interoperability at the technology layer will always out-compete any trusted third party as the risk is much lower, but also part of the cost of regulation is eliminated. Regulation of trusted third parties (banks) has traditionally been to manage market players’ counter-party risk. We can solve that.
Fiat currencies are also changing fast. In particular, central banks are racing to implement blockchain-based currencies where interoperability will be key. The whole point of these central bank-issued blockchains is to make them interoperable.
We need to have fast, cheap, and safe international settlements and that requires interoperability.
Fiat currencies and their blockchains are needed to interact with the government and pay taxes, and as most economic activity is taxed in some way, we need to be able to work across multiple blockchains.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge for this technology to become mainstream?
There are many challenges, but maybe some of the bigger ones are regulation, discoverability and interoperability.
Regulation is a big one. Banks are getting a real squeeze by blockchain technology.
Firstly, central banks issuing blockchain-based fiat e-currencies make traditional retail banking obsolete. The systemic risk of letting banks keep customer accounts can now be eliminated and the type of banking shutdowns as seen the Cyprus 2013 and Greece 2015 banking crisis doesn’t have to happen anymore.
Secondly, the market value for trusted third parties is going down when smart contracts move in to take over.
Thirdly, the banks’ credit position can be challenged by the combination of smart contracts and oracles. For example, with blockchain interoperability between the land registry and fiat central bank currencies, a smart bond can be created that for all practical purposes is superior collateral to existing real-estate bonds issued by banks — bonds that central banks all over the world allowed as collateral during the 2008 crisis. When both retail accounts and real-estate backed loans can be forcefully ejected from banks’ balance sheets, will there ever be need for large bank bailouts?
I think there is a growing realization of the fundamental shift in banking that is coming, and a challenge is to ensure that the new rule-book that will be written is not riddled with rent-seeking, stifling regulation.
Discoverability is another big one. Blockchain technology today is a bit similar to the BBS systems of the 80’s. You can connect to each blockchain and use them individually, but the standard interoperability systems are lacking. This is why we’re focusing on bringing discoverability across multiple blockchains based on our naming system as well as powerful logic inference.
What do you believe can be done in order to drive mass adoption of blockchain technology?
There are many exciting things that can be done. If we create interoperability between blockchains and government-issued ID systems, implementing Ben Bernanke’s “helicopter money” becomes easy. As you know, Ben Bernanke was a strong believer in helicopter money, but never managed to get the money through the banks and into the hands of the people to stimulate the economy. For some reason, the banks kept the money he was giving them! With blockchains we have an elegant solution. I’m guessing that at least one sovereign nation will do this in the next 5–10 years.
Which three crypto projects or pieces of technology do you believe are going to benefit the industry most in the next decade?
Innovation in the P2P layer 2 protocols such as the lightning network and Coinweb. I believe we will see more fluent distinctions between what needs to be in the public ledger and what is continuously negotiated among peers or contract participants. This will solve scaling, transaction, latency, and exchange issues.
State-sanctioned blockchains for identity, property, and money will help the industry by solving the “last mile” problem. We will be able to provide users with identical fiat money if they wish to use it.
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Contact Alex for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Coinweb is a blockchain business on a mission to make blockchain more connected and more personal.
Our goal is to create solutions to make the blockchain more mainstream and easy to use, focussing on products and services that will deliver mass adoption of blockchain.
Coinweb has built a hyperlayer that seamlessly connect and creates interoperability between blockchains and a Coin Name Sysyem (CNS) that makes your wallet address as easy to use as an email address.