ARTIS Unchained with Plasma

The ARTIS project was started 2017 with the intent to make a serious contribution to the public Blockchain space, highlighting fair and broad coin distribution in connection with the new feature of streaming money. Intense communication was started on how we intend to build up the infrastructure and how to use Streems for various use cases. This led to the ARTIS Kick-Off event in April 2018 at the WU Wien and preparation for a token sale in Oktober 2018.

Throughout the last months we came to the conclusion that the ICO / ITO space has become more and more toxic and highly fraudulent, and we have therefore decided to cancel the ARTIS token sale. With the ITO out of the window, we’re given the opportunity to revisit the ARTIS schedule and adapt it to new realities and knowledge.

Recpaturing ARTIS

Looking at the blockchain space we can be certain of one thing: a lot is happening, and it is happening fast. Probably we’re seeing Kurzweil’s Law of accelerating returns at work.
We have recently been in conversation with several projects (MakerDAO, Tendermint, DAOStack and many more) and realized that the scope, speed and sophistication of development have greatly increased since we entered the space in 2016.
What especially caught our attention was Plasma — an emerging Design Space which promises to solve scalability for many projects. We decided to make ARTIS a Plasmachain.

ARTIS will continue its focus on accessibility, identity and scalability — in close connection to the most innovative Blockchain ecosystem on the planet — Ethereum.
We have now formulated a clear vision towards Self-Sovereign Identities and prepared our next steps elaborated extensively below.

The context

Recent years have finally brought to light some of the damages already inflicted and looming dangers of our digitalizing and interconnected world.
Much has been written and talked about loss of privacy, addictive design, Uberisation, fake news etc.
Businesses, governments and individuals worldwide are wondering how they can cope with new realities which are often dictated by Silicon Valley companies which tend to impose their own rules while externalizing costs to local communities.
For a while, the Internet seemed to be a place which could level the playing field and break the power of existing monopolies. While it did indeed defeat some old monopolies, it has itself started to be dominated by few super-monopolies, most importantly Amazon, Facebook and Google.
We firmly believe that so much concentration of power is bad and dangerous. It can be abused in a lot of ways, subtle ones being most effective because not noticed by many.
After the Snowden revelations, the recent Facebook scandal made many more people uneasy about this status quo.

In order to understand how a crypto-economic system could have any impact on this, it helps to take a look back into the 90ies, when a lot of smart people tried to figure out how to build a viable business model for Internet based services. As this article brilliantly narrates, the ad-based business model was found via trial and error and lies at the root of many headaches today’s Internet causes us, including the issues of privacy and centralization.
With Crypto-economic systems, we can implement “Internet native money” and “Internet native law”. What exactly that means is yet to be figured out and is currently more confined by limits of imagination than by technical limits. We’re convinced that such crypto-economic systems can be the key to a better Internet and consequently to a better society.

When talking about decentralization, it’s important to be a bit more precise. As detailed here by a great mind, there’s three types of decentralization: architectural, political and logical.
The Internet monopolies are architecturally decentralized. Typically, their services don’t run on massive mainframes, but on countless Computers (Google even popularized the concept of using inexpensive commodity hardware for servers) spread across the world and interconnected in fault tolerant ways. But: Politically and logically, the monopolies are centralized.

Centralized logic means: consistent state, standardized protocols and data structures and sometimes even user interfaces. Logical centralization is valuable, because it facilitates interoperability, decreases required cognitive effort (learning of various ways to do the same thing) and thereby enables network effects. The lack of logical centralization is what often renders competitors (and this includes even those who were monopolies themselves in a local context) helpless against e.g. Amazon.

The vision

What we aim for is to keep a decentralized architecture and a centralized logic, but to increase political decentralization in order to avoid massive concentration of power.
Simplified: Full Identity and Data Ownership for Every Human — but with great usability and interoperability.

The ad-based business model creates incentives for service providers to take control and thereby ownership of identity and data.
The status quo may look like an inevitable consequence of technical constraints. It’s hard for most of us to imagine a decentralized Facebook which doesn’t centrally collect the data of its users, or to imagine being able to login to arbitrary online services without having to either create a new account for each one or login with the help of another online service (e.g. Facebook login).
But it’s not a technical problem, it’s a coordination and incentive problem. Coordination, because without the logical centralization explained before, any alternative can’t reach a critical mass (if it does, it usually becomes a monopoly itself or is absorbed by one). Incentive, because with user exploitation (monetization of data and attention) as only viable business model, not taking ownership is not really a choice.

Coordination wise, there’s progress being made. For example there’s a W3C specification for Decentralized Identifiers in the making, which will — once becoming part of the web platform — make it much easier to build online services which accept user controlled identities while allowing a frictionless onboarding experience (nomore annoying registration forms required).

Incentive wise, crypto-economic systems give us a fantastic new toolbox which we can use to re-explore what works and what doesn’t. There’s a lot of space in the triangle spanned between the concepts of payment, funding and donation.
Internet native money doesn’t mean something like Paypal, just decentralized. Paypal is to the Internet what a PDF is to the Web.
What it can really mean will be figured out by those with enough knowledge, imagination and creativity. We claim to be part of that group.

Next steps

Figuratively speaking, the vision is like a distant place we can picture in our minds. We know approximately the direction into which to head, but the concrete paths to take have to be figured out along the way.

Being part of a huge and growing ecosystem, it’s crucial to closely keep in touch with the many people and projects heading into the same direction and constantly re-considering what’s the best way for ARTIS to make a meaningful contribution to get there faster. For now, we have identified the following priorities:

Accessibility

ARTIS was designed with the goal of making crypto-economic systems and related applications (Dapps) much more accessible in order to progress towards a free, educated and fair society.
We believe the requirement to buy Ether in order to use Ethereum hosted Dapps to be a major usability hurdle, this seems confirmed by Dapp usage numbers which show low use for almost all Dapps.

As a solution to this problem, we focused on how to widely distribute ATS, the fuel of ARTIS. Such a distribution requires a global identity system which can reliably detect duplicates while preserving privacy — not a trivial thing to build.
The pretty recent EIP-1077 (which proposes a way to allow paying for transactions with arbitrary tokens) should greatly help to mitigate this accessibility problem.

Where that doesn’t work out (e.g. because a Dapp doesn’t come with its own token having market value), we additionally want to distribute ATS to Dapp developers interested in using ARTIS.

Identity

Identity is a core aspect of the vision and — so we believe — also essential for creating decentralized applications with competitive usability.
Our “one click subscription” video is not just about Streems and how they could be used. It’s to visualize how Internet native money and Self-Sovereign Identity combined could enable user journeys for decentralized applications which offer usability not just on par, but superior to what we have today.

If the Amazon shop is displacing other online shops, it has also much to do with the fact that nobody is eager to fill yet another registration form, remember yet another password, add payment information once again etc.
With Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI), such hurdles for alternative service providers can be dramatically reduced.
Instead of logging in with Facebook or Google, holders of SSI will soon be able to have the same or even greater convenience while avoiding the loss of sovereignty (did you ever think about what happens to all the dependent accounts if Facebook for some reason blocks or cancels your account?), avoiding the privacy violations (the login provider knows which services you’re using) and avoiding the risk of an identity provider blocking access to a service (and thus making your account there inaccessible) for whatever reasons.

Consequently, support for SSI will be one of the first features of the Minerva application. We’re currently looking into the possibility to collaborate with Jolocom in order to get there.
We have also applied to become a Sovrin Steward and started learning about and experimenting with Zero knowledge proofs, a powerful technology which promises to be the perfect solution for maximizing privacy in SSI systems.

Scalability

The Ethereum blockchain has approximately the computing power of one (ONE!) smartphone (source).
Adding more nodes to the Ethereum network doesn’t increase performance. It just increases the replication factor.
This property is fundamental to the often cited scaling problem which has become a kind of a holy grail in the Blockchain community. There’s a lot of proposals and self-proclaimed solutions, many of them being bogus (because massively compromising either decentralization or security or both).

The Ethereum community is focused on sharding as a way to significantly increase transaction throughput. It essentially means that not all network nodes need to verify all transactions, instead the network is divided into shards with each shard verifying a subset of transactions. In this model, contracts requiring higher security could choose to run in a shard with more nodes (and higher transaction costs) and vice versa.

A different (complementary) proposal was first introduced about a year ago: Plasma
Plasma takes ideas from TrueBit and state channels (an idea first introduced with Lightning) and re-composes them to a design pattern which allows to build arbitrarily nested blockchains where valuables on a child chains can be secured with the full security of the root chain, yet due to the nesting there’s basically no limit to the overall transaction throughput of the system.

We learned about Plasma early and it didn’t immediately click with us. But then, it did. “Why another Blockchain?” was a question we frequently heard. While we had answers for this, it also meant that ARTIS was perceived like yet another Blockchain trying to compete with Ethereum, not as one complementing it.
By making ARTIS a “Plasmachain”, we can make our intention to enrich the Ethereum ecosystem much more obvious.

Many Dapps are either not yet deployed to the Ethereum mainnet or not yet used much due to a lack of potential users having Ether.
Yet, the Ethereum mainchain is already saturated much of the time, meaning that any additional activity would have to squeeze out other activity through higher transaction costs.
We have spoken to various Dapp builders on conferences and often heard scalability mentioned as a pain point still looking for a good solution.
A general purpose ARTIS chain tuned for performance could become an attractive short- to mid-term solution for hosting Dapps which the Ethereum mainchain can’t accommodate.

For the longer term, we believe application specific Plasma chains will become the dominant model.
An application specific chain doesn’t need to run contracts on the (comparatively slow) EVM (although: a switch to WebAssembly may change the picture), meaning much less restrictions (e.g. regarding programming language choice) related to its contracts.
Chains using the Tendermint ABCI seem to become popular for such use cases, as exemplified by Loom.
We have already gathered some experience with Tendermint on our search for a working implementation of the Tendermint consensus protocol and could imagine such application specific chains to be attached to ARTIS too.

Last, but not least, Streems could also become an interesting part of the toolset for improving scalability — especially for all subscription-like value transfers which aren’t trivial to implement otherwise, as shown by this attempts.

Final Conclusion

ARTIS will become a part of the biggest Blockchain ecosystem — Ethereum — by adopting the ingenuous Plasma design for connecting chains.
ATS, the “coins” of ARTIS, will be distributed to developers and users, with the long term goal of providing every unique human with a steady stream of it.
With this Combination, we are on a strong mission to help making more Dapps available to a much larger active user base.

A core piece in our technology stack will be the Minerva App, which serves not just as a wallet for coins and collectibles, but foremost as an app for Self-Sovereign Identity. We will focus a lot on usability, making sure that the less tech-savvy aren’t scared away, back into walled gardens and golden cages.

For now we will focus on building technical and business cooperations and report on that progress. We will also communicate about important related topics in general — like privacy and decentralization.
The ARTIS mainnet is expected to go live in Q1/2019. We will intensify communication and community involvement as soon as there’s a definitive schedule. Until then you can follow us on Telegram or subscribe to our newsletter.

Your ARTIS Team

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