Blockchain technology is one of the groundbreaking tech innovations of the 21st century. Ideas like decentralization and immutability caught traction with users as they were a pleasant departure from traditional finance. However, on privacy, blockchain technology offers a mixed bag to users.
Ola is a project seeking to merge seemingly polar opposites of contemporary blockchain development. A project that claims to combine both privacy and programmability will draw eyeballs from blockchain developers. Let’s explore these concepts to understand the project better.
Privacy and the blockchain
In a traditional bank account, your affairs generally rely on the bank’s supervision. One provides the required information and sign off on transactions. The bank and authorities, by extension, can easily monitor all your transaction information. You give up your control of the account to a responsible third party.
The blockchain sought to remedy some of that. By creating a decentralized and immutable ledger, the blockchain removed the need for a trusted third party to supervise the transaction. Now, users can transact peer-to-peer. All this was undercut by their transaction records being on a public ledger.
In fact, public blockchains are worse than centralized management in some respects regarding privacy. The best a user can do is to use a fake name (pseudonym). Other than that, literally, anyone can view your record of transactions on the blockchain. The blockchain’s allure as an alternative payment medium hits a philosophical snag on the issue of privacy. Therefore, there was a need for solutions that would preserve the integrity of the blockchain while significantly improving privacy.
Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKP): How it improves privacy
Trust is a vital requirement for any financial or data movement. In traditional finance, this trust is delegated to a centralized entity like a bank to facilitate the transaction. However, blockchain technology exists to eliminate the need for delegating this trust.
Zero Knowledge Proofs (ZKP) is a technique in cryptography that proves the ownership of a piece of knowledge without revealing its content. Think of it this way: suppose you want to buy a beer without revealing your identity. The seller would want proof that you will pay and are of legal age. ZKP confirms to the seller that the buyer is of age without revealing their actual age or identity. Accordingly, ZKP gives the transacting parties proof of the information without divulging the information.
Accordingly, ZK utilizes cryptography to validate information without exposing the data. Currently, public blockchain transactions are pseudonymous. Anyone can still trace the user addresses on the blockchain for each transaction. ZK ensures that users have both trustless and privacy-preserving transactions.
Ola’s ZK Virtual Machine for a programmable privacy platform
The term virtual machine is familiar to those who’ve taken some interest in the Ethereum blockchain. A virtual machine is a computation resource that utilizes software to deploy and run programs and apps.
Ola is bringing zero-knowledge proofs to virtual machine operations to improve both performance and privacy. Blockchain developers have often faced a philosophical crossroads of sorts. Some projects emphasize security and privacy while offering little programmability while others prioritize programmability at the expense of safety.
The idea of programmable privacy is bold. In essence, creating programmable privacy would go beyond what most projects that fit either dichotomy. ZK- Virtual Machine (ZKVM) presents strengths on both fronts:
- Privacy-themed platform – Ola allows users to opt for private transactions, as is the case for privacy coins like Zcash.
- Programmability – users can deploy both public and private smart contracts on the ZKVM.
Ola implements its smart contract language (ZKSCL) because of its higher abstraction and programmability while preserving privacy. Achieving both ends is new ground for smart contract platforms. The ZK-friendly VM, therefore, executes programs while providing a ZK proof of the correctness of its execution. It effectively translates zero-knowledge proofs from just transactions between parties to full-on programs that run on the virtual machine.
Benefits of OLA ZK-ZKVM
There are tons of benefits for developers and users alike. In days ahead, users can expect a ZK-ZKVM of Ola that ushers in programmable scalability. Here is a summary of these benefits:
- Developers can choose whether to deploy public or private smart contracts.
- There is a seamless transfer of assets between public and private accounts.
- For intra-contract transfers of assets, no bridge is required for execution.
- Developer-friendly smart contract language.
- Ola SCL is compatible with Solidity, ensuring easy integration with external platforms and for developers to onboard.
- Users have the option of choosing private transactions.
- Users benefit from asset transfers between public and private accounts.
- A privacy platform that goes beyond the rigid nature of existing privacy-themed crypto platforms.
What’s in store for the future
Ola is developing rapidly to take these bold ideas closer to full release. At press time, the project has completed its proof-of-concept of the virtual machine and programmability. Additionally, the team is touching up the design of the privacy module internally.
In the near term, the development team is looking to release the programmable privacy public testnet in the fourth quarter of 2023. The team has its work cut out to ensure that it is ready to onboard developers by then, as their feedback will be crucial in confirming the project’s position and actualization of its vision.
Sin7y is a project incubator and research team behind the Ola ZKVM. The group came together in 2021 to channel the ideas of leading blockchain developers into scaling, privacy, and similar solutions. Ola ZKVM is a project that actualizes many of those research areas, and the team will continue working on these ideas.
Ola is seeking to unite two seemingly competing ideas within the blockchain space. Privacy and decentralization maximalists often point to the security shortcomings of programmability-centric blockchain projects. Similarly, enterprise projects seek to bring more to this space than the rigid transactions ledger that Bitcoin and Zcash provide.
This goal is certainly lofty. Ola’s development team members have their work cut out in implementing these ideas. After the proof of concept, developers will keenly follow the project and explore the testnet once it is out.
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