An interview with Oneblock and Shumo Chu
With DeFi and other Web3 scenarios expanding, there have been increasingly strong calls for on-chain privacy. ZKP (Zero Knowledge Proof) is among the most-chased technology by VCs and developers to solve the issue. Manta Network, which is building Polkadot’s first on-chain privacy layer with ZKP, has already raised $40+ million from top VCs including Polychain, and Binance Labs.
Oneblock recently interviewed Shumo Chu, co-founder of Manta Network, on the team’s latest progress as well as the development of ZKP in Web3.
Shumo graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering department and has published many peer-reviewed papers in top academic publications. Once having led smart-contract development at Alogrand, he has professional experience in developing blockchain applications. His experience at Alogrand, which was founded by Silvio Micali (who conceived the concept of ZKP), also guided him to be a top cryptographer.
In this interview, Shumo elaborates on how ZKP is reshaping Web3 and how Manta is using it for the project’s long-term vision. He also shares Manta’s latest progress, including its Trusted Setup ceremony.
Aside from product development, the Manta team has also devoted considerable time and resources to zero-knowledge research, including open-source ZK libraries and programmable privacy.
Oneblock: We’re old friends with Manta Network. But tell us a bit about the project for those who don’t know you well.
Shumo: Sure. Manta Network was founded two years ago in October 2020. However, we realized that privacy would be the biggest problem preventing it from going mainstream for 1 billion people, since all data on public blockchains are public and immutable. Your privacy is gone once your on-chain address is connected with your real identity.
We decided to build Manta on Polkadot after comparing its framework with other blockchains. Back then, there were few development tools around ZKP. But we were very lucky to have a strong engineering team that built our testnet V1 launched it August 2021. Based on feedback from the community, we announced V2 and V3 last April and December, respectively.
We have a top-tier, global cryptography team. While our protocol stands on the shoulders of Zcash, it is an improvement in many ways. First, ZCash is a single-asset privacy protocol while Manta supports privatizing multi-assets. Built in the Polkadot ecosystem, Manta can become the privacy layer for all parachain and relay chain assets. Second, Manta supports not only fungible tokens like ERC20, but also non-fungible tokens and soul-bound tokens. Third, Manta has a much higher performance with 10x faster prover speed.
From a product perspective, we also learned a lot from popular Web3 protocols like Uniswap, so our product is much easier to use.
We recently launched our trusted setup ceremony. The idea is that as long as one of the thousands of participants is honest, Manta’s ZKP circuit will be secure and trustworthy. Once the ceremony is complete, we’ll soon launch MantaPay, our first private payment product.
Oneblock: Why did you choose Polkadot instead of other blockchains to build your privacy protocol?
Shumo: First, Polkadot is decentralized. Second, it offers high performance. Finally, Polkadot’s Substrate modular tools are very developer-friendly.
OneBlock: Can you tell us more about the Trusted Setup?
Shumo: A public key pair is used to generate a ZKP circuit. Each public key matches a private key. If the private key is leaked, it can be used to make a false ZKP. That’s something every ZKP protocol needs to take into consideration before launching a circuit.
Oneblock: How can we prevent the private key from being compromised?
Shumo: That’s where we need a Trusted Setup. To explain it in a simple way, we’re splitting the private key into pieces and each of the participants holds one piece, called Toxic Waste. In our trusted setup, we designed a program to discard the toxic waste for each participant so that no attacker could use it nefariously. As long as there’s one participant being honest, the private key will remain safe and secure. If you want to know more about Manta’s trusted setup, please read our documentation.
OneBlock: ZKP is a relatively new technology, especially in Web3. Can you tell us why Manta chose to use it instead of other privacy technologies like TEE?
Shumo: I started learning ZKP in 2018, but the real turning point for me is 2019 when I worked as a research scientist at Algorand. We had the world’s leading cryptography team including Turing award winner Silvio Micali, who introduced the concept of ZKP, and Craig Gentry, inventor of fully homomorphic encryption. They both think that ZKP will play a major role in the future.
After leaving Algorand, I researched the ZKP compiler as an assistant professor at UCSB. So, I’ve been working with ZKP for years before founding Manta Network.
Society is moving toward a trustless way and blockchain is the primary solution. ZKP in Web3 is mainly used for scaling and privacy purposes. In terms of privacy, there’re other solutions like TEE which rely on hardware and cannot guarantee privacy in a decentralized environment. In the long term, ZKP is the only solution for on-chain privacy.
OneBlock: The recent Tornado Cash sanction raised many concerns over on-chain privacy. How do you see the future of privacy in Web3?
Shumo: The entire web3 revolution is meaningless without privacy. It is really hard to argue how web3 empowers each individual’s sovereignty without privacy and how web3 will escape surveillance capitalism without privacy.
As the web3 world moves forward, we also need to build better tooling to enable the crypto asset issuer so they can define various asset policies, including compliance. One possible direction is to use zero-knowledge-proof to solve the tension between the compliance and user’s sovereign privacy.
It goes without saying, the future of web3 privacy requires the combination of all these directions above. This is what our team at Manta Network is working really hard on.
OneBlock: We’ve noticed that Manta started an initiative for OpenZL which is an open-source library. Can you tell us more about it?
Shumo: Yes. We’re now building a ZKP library, which is quite challenging. It needs to work with APIs, so the first thing we need to work on is the composability of the ZKP circuit. We used CP-SNARK, which was first mentioned in an article about Legosnark in 2019. Now our first CP-SNARK library has already come out which I believe will be a game-changer for ZKP development. However, it takes much longer time to build a developer ecosystem, but we do hope the library will be available for use by developers interested in the ZKP field.
OneBlock: Do you have suggestions for developers who want to learn ZKP？
Shumo: I think the first thing is to know your purpose so the learning could be more efficient. If you want to be an expert in ZKP, then you should learn some basic knowledge. An online cryptography course by Dan Boneh is a great place to start with.
Then you can browse open-source libraries on Github.
About Manta Network
Backed by industry-leading investors, including Polychain and Binance, Manta Network is committed to building a better Web3 world through privacy protection. Manta’s product design starts from first principles and provides end-to-end privacy protection for blockchain users through leading cryptography architectures such as zkSNARK. While ensuring privacy, Manta offers interoperability, convenience, high performance, and auditability, allowing users to conduct private transfers and transactions between any parallel chain of assets. Manta’s vision is to provide more convenient privacy protection services for the entire blockchain world.