Q&A with TAST researcher Michael Borkowski
As part of the release of the second TAST Technical White Paper we sat down with Michael Borkowski, operative research lead of TAST, and talked about his research and work for Pantos.
Hi Michael, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a software engineer, PhD student and computer scientist at TU Wien’s Distributed Systems Group. Also, I’m interested in cryptocurrencies, since I believe the topic of blockchains is exciting. Besides my research in the fields of cloud computing, predictive methods and machine learning, I am also devoting part of my PhD studies to blockchains. TU Wien is conducting the TAST research project within Pantos, and I am happy to contribute to this project.
How did you get involved in cryptocurrencies?
After witnessing the advent of Bitcoin and the immense peak of public attention, I started to become interested not only in cryptocurrencies, but also in blockchains, the technology behind Bitcoin, Ethereum and so on. Other researchers in my group have also conducted research in the field of blockchains, for instance on how to use blockchains within business processes. I believe that blockchains provide many as-yet unexplored opportunities, and that in the future, we will find numerous use cases for blockchain technologies.
Can you explain Pantos to me like I’m a five-year-old who knows what Bitcoin is?
First of all, congratulations for understanding Bitcoin as a five-year-old! ;-) Currently, there are many different blockchains. They are like islands: Isolated, far apart, and it’s difficult to carry your things between them. If you have tokens on one blockchain, you can’t just easily transfer them to another one.
Pantos aims at changing that. In a first step, we want to find a way for users to transfer assets (coins, tokens) between different blockchains. This would not only allow users to move assets at will, but would also enable lesser-known blockchain projects to gain attention. In the long run, Pantos aims to increase collaboration and interaction between blockchains in general. This does not only include cross-blockchain asset transfers, but also cross-blockchain data storage, and possibly also smart contract invocations between blockchains.
In your own words, what do you think makes the Pantos project special?
Having surveyed many projects within the field of blockchains, I believe that Pantos is one of the few projects taking a scientific and structured approach to an existing problem. Many projects launch ICOs and pursue interesting ideas, but do not put in the necessary effort into scientifically analyzing the challenges, which often leads to unstructured development.
As a scientist, I like the fact that Pantos launched the TAST research project specifically to conduct research in the field of blockchains. Without this platform for research and innovation, we wouldn’t have achieved the current results, especially the PXTT protocol, which I hope will soon be accepted for publication.
You just published the second of four Technical White Papers. What are the main concepts described in the first two Technical White Papers?
In the first Technical White Paper, we surveyed the status quo. We asked ourselves: With the multitude of existing blockchains, which ones do we focus on first within Pantos? Which aspects of blockchains (and related projects) are useful for what we do? This helped us get a better view of the state of the art, and structure our following work.
Based on this, we were able to develop the PXTT protocol, our first concrete approach for cross-blockchain asset transfers. In the second Technical White Paper, we formally clarify certain aspects of blockchains, and describe the general concept of claim-first transactions (which we use in PXTT).
Can you explain the concept of claim-first transactions?
Traditionally, transfers within blockchains use what we call a spend-first approach. First, assets are marked as spent, and only then, they can be used by the receiver. This makes sense, since double-spending is avoided.
However, if you’re talking about cross-blockchain transfers, you face the challenge of how to prove to the receiving blockchains that you have really marked your assets as spent on the sending blockchain.
This is why we developed claim-first transactions. The core idea is that you first claim the assets on the receiving blockchain, but also publish information that allows anyone to mark your assets as spent on the sending blockchain. If you offer a reward for this marking, eventually, the assets will be spent on the source blockchain. This is just the basic concept, you can read more about it in our second white paper!
What are the biggest obstacles, which still need to be overcome?
The main challenge is the variety of blockchains, and how they differ in features and specifics. This is why we are focusing on conceptual prototypes first, and aim to find out what exactly is required from a blockchain to perform cross-blockchain transfers.
Apart from this, and the challenge of proving spending across blockchains, I think another interesting question is how to verify code on blockchains. Once you deploy a smart contract, it’s hard to fix bugs or make corrections. It’s one thing to create a prototype, and another thing to actually build a solid, tested, and secure solution. There is already research conducted by TU Wien about formal verification of Solidity code, and I believe that using such methods will allow us to secure smart contracts.
As the first multi-blockchain token system, Pantos aims to bring blockchain projects closer together, improve communication between developers, researchers and users, and set innovative standards for cross-chain token transfers.
The goal is to serve as a lighthouse project in an increasingly fragmented blockchain space. With multiple blockchains serving all kinds of different purposes, Pantos is seeking to allow these projects to talk to one another in a standardised way. This will speed up innovation by creating a link between blockchains which then can scale together.
To get the latest news on the progress of the Pantos project you can follow our official channels: