DFINITY in a Nutshell: A Non-Technical Introduction

This post provides historical context and a big picture summary of the DFINITY research project.

Editor’s Note: You are viewing outdated material from the DFINITY blog that is being preserved for archival purposes.

As with many things in blockchain, the origins of the DFINITY project can be traced back through Bitcoin and its history. Bitcoin itself emerged from the cypherpunks’ long pursuit of decentralized currency projects, which I happened upon accidentally in 1998 when I found Wei Dai’s b-money proposal while using his Crypto++ software library for an unrelated venture.

Practically speaking, Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 Bitcoin protocol introduced the first means for independently operated computers to communicate peer-to-peer over the Internet in a remarkable manner that conjures up an indestructible shared virtual ledger. This involves balances of coins at different addresses that anyone can send to new addresses by unlocking attached access control scripts, and economic features that enable independent participants to earn rewards by supporting the network’s functioning and security.

More fundamentally, you can view Nakamoto’s incredible innovation as introducing a new class of “stateful” decentralized network protocol that allows independent participants to agree upon and update a shared “state” — here the virtual ledger — at Internet scale without anyone being in charge.

The Bitcoin white paper described the first stateful decentralized network that was viable

The creation of Bitcoin by Nakamoto lit a fuse, but after a while some began to chaff against the limitations of the simple virtual ledger it hosts and in 2014 Ethereum introduced a second generation network design. Rather than a shared ledger this new network conjured up a shared virtual “blockchain computer” that is indestructible and tamperproof. On this virtual computer you can install and run special interoperable software units that we call “smart contracts” because anyone interacting with them can be sure exactly how they will process and store data.

A blockchain computer has no physical analogue — you cannot login to its OS and tamper with it

But the job was not yet done for everyone. The Ethereum blockchain computer had limited performance and capacity like Bitcoin before it. This made the blockchain computer unsuitable for many potential applications in business. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum also embraced “The Code is Law” paradigm — which means there is no governance regulating platform use or the underlying network itself — while many businesses seek highly governed environments. There are many reasons for “The Code is Law” paradigm, and one is that if you integrate governance intermediaries into virtual blockchain computers in cyberspace you reduce system security and tie in regulations from the local jurisdiction where the intermediary resides.

Blockchain Nervous System — cascades to decisions based on neuron “follow” relationships

Imagine now a Third Generation network. One where original new cryptography and protocols as potentially significant as those that launched the industry directly address speed and capacity limitations for business providing means to boost computation and storage infinitely. Further, imagine the “The Code is Law” is replaced by a new “The AI is Law” paradigm where everything is subject to an intermediary-free algorithmic governance system (read more in posts 1, 2…) that combines crowd wisdom and traditional AI technologies to freeze miscreant smart contracts that harm the interests of those using the platform (such as an ISIS slave market, say, which would be difficult for many corporates to share a platform with), mitigate the effects of hacks on hosted systems, dynamically optimize the network’s security and economic parameters and transparently upgrade its underlying protocols and software without disrupting users. You are now imagining the DFINITY network (often described as “the intelligent decentralized cloud”).

Threshold Relay — a new foundation for fast scalable blockchain systems

The vision for DFINITY in the field has two poles. On one many traditional monopolistic technology intermediaries such as Uber, eBay, social networks, messaging and even Web search might be reengineered as “open source businesses” using autonomous software that use their own decentralized governance systems to update themselves. On the other, we want to see mass reengineering of enterprise IT systems to take advantage of the special properties blockchain computers provide and to dramatically cut costs. This last point is non-obvious because computation on blockchain computers is far more expensive than on traditional clouds such as Amazon Web Services. But dramatic savings are possible because the vast majority of costs involved in running enterprise IT systems derive from supporting human capital, not computation per se, and the DFINITY cloud will make it possible to create systems that involve far less human capital.

One of the 1st objectives of the DFINITY project, 01 2015 was “investigate how to do decentralized Web search”

DFINITY aims to explore new territory and prove that the blockchain opportunity is far broader and deeper than anyone has hitherto realized, unlocking the opportunity with powerful new crypto.

Although a standalone project, DFINITY is not maximalist minded and is a great supporter of Ethereum. We hope that much of our new crypto might be used within the Ethereum network and are also working hard on shared technology components. DFINITY is partly conceived as a sister network that provides very different properties for developers, such as “The AI is Law”, and we are aiming to provide smart contract compatibility where possible so people don’t have to learn new skills (thanks to the algorithmic governance, the network sometimes gets nicknamed “Ethereum’s crazy sister”).

Zug has become known as “Crypto Valley”. DFINITY Stiftung was the first foundation to receive full not-for-profit status

DFINITY Stiftung is a not-for-profit foundation in Zug, Switzerland that supports the DFINITY project. It currently holds around $10M in assets (at the time of writing in April 2017) and will run a “Main” fundraising round to collect around 20M CHF in additional donations shortly after the beta test network launches later this year. The project benefits from a large, discreet and mostly full time team of Computer Science and Math professors, postdocs and PhDs, self taught crypto experts, technical innovators and professional senior management. The strength of the full time team is unique within crypto, and even more so among tech “startups” generally.

The project is hiring all the time and keen to talk to talented researchers, developers and potential partners. You can make contact at hello@dfinity.org.

Find out more about the project at https://dfinity.network.




A DFINITY Foundation Resource

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Dominic Williams

Dominic Williams

President/Chief Scientist DFINITY

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