Fast and Curious 7: Verified Computation using ZKPs

After the success of our Fast and Curious blog series on blockchain and ZKPs, we’ve had many questions from our customers about how we balance privacy and verification. So, watch the special, 2-minute Director’s Cut video below to learn how we accomplish this!

Below is a transcript of the video:

Welcome to a Director’s Cut, extra edition of our series on ZKPs. 

We had terrific interest in our original series from last year. Today, we’re going to address one question that came up from a customer about balancing privacy and verification

In our previous videos, we used the example of verifying things like carbon used by a vehicle. We explained how a ZKP could be used to keep the data private, like, time, date, location, and owner of the vehicle, and yet, still prove its carbon usage. 

The question our customer had was: How do I know the calculation was done correctly, especially if I can’t see the data? 

That’s a good question! 

In most cases, verification and privacy are at odds. The traditional way that you verify something is you audit it and look at all the data, but that’s the opposite of privacy. 

So, let’s take an example. 

The U.S. and Europe have different ways to calculate carbon. How do I know that a company applied the right standard or any standard for that matter to compute its carbon for a specific vehicle? Well, in this case, the calculation or the math is public and our latest generation of ZKPs can be used to verify the calculations. 

So, as long as the math is not a trade secret or proprietary algorithm, any third party can independently verify that the calculation is performed as promised without having to share the original data and without having to redo the whole calculation again. 

This is particularly valuable when not only is the data private, but also when there’s a lot of data, like billions of rows of data, or the calculation is pretty complicated. So, you have a lot of computation power that might be needed and you don’t really want to redo the whole data set and the calculation again.

This kind of verified computation is a new feature in the latest generation of ZKPs that we’re using. And, for a lot of things like carbon and energy verification, it’s pretty useful. 

Feel free to reach out to us at VIA to learn more about how we’re applying ZKPs to create a no trade-off solution for verification and privacy for big enterprises.

Can’t get enough of these Fast and Curious videos? Well, we want to hear from you! What topics should we cover next? Drop a note in our inbox to let us know:


Fast and Curious 6: AI Edition

The Fast and Curious blog series you know and love is back! This time, we are bringing you all things AI. Watch the 3-minute video below to learn how we break down the enterprise barriers to GenAI adoption (or you can read the full transcript that follows).

Below is a transcript of the video:

Welcome to Season 2 of Fast and Curious – the AI Edition. Everyone, everywhere is talking about Generative AI and Large Language Models. Having said that, large enterprises have not widely adopted Generative AI, and for some very legitimate reasons.

In this series, we’re going to talk about three of the big enterprise barriers to GenAI adoption and wait for it, how we’ve solved for them. So, let’s get started.

Number one on our list of GenAI blockers is: Intellectual Property Restrictions.

The basic problem is that, how can I know whether the text or responses that we’re getting back from an AI system are okay for us to use? That is, how can I be assured that the AI is not using some source material that might have a copyright restriction or an IP restriction because that might make me liable as a result. The flip side of that is, how can I be guaranteed that whatever I send to an AI model won’t be used by the model and sent to someone else at some other company? 

The press about employees inadvertently doing just that has been pretty scathing, so everyone and every company will want to avoid that.

That is the number issue that we have seen that gets talked about. While it’s the biggest issue, it’s not the only one.

Number two on the list of concerns is: consistency.

Experts talk about GenAI as being stochastic models. What they mean by this is that there is some randomness in the results that they generate. Sometimes AI can even generate false answers. The kinder euphemism is to say that the models hallucinate. But, a wrong answer is still a wrong answer. If you are an expert in the field, you may be able to figure out how to tell the difference. The advantage of these systems, available to everyone, is that you don’t have to be an expert, so errors going unnoticed are a real risk.

Last but not least, number three is: cost or availability of the system.

GenAI models use GPUs generally rather than CPUs, and that is expensive and it’s in short supply. Maybe I should say, they are in short supply, so they are very expensive. This is the reason that NVIDIA became a trillion dollar company last year. Even big players like AWS and Microsoft Azure have a scarce supply of GPUs, so you can imagine how in demand they are.

To recap, issue one is IP Protection, issue two is Consistency and fighting hallucinations, and issue three is Cost.

If you are an enterprise CIO, CISO, or Chief Data Officer trying to figure out how to provide GenAI to your employees that all of your users are clambering for and are trying to overcome these barriers, watch out for the next episode of Fast and Curious about these solutions.

Can’t get enough of these Fast and Curious videos? Well, we want to hear from you! What topics should we cover next? Drop a note in our inbox to let us know:

Fast and Curious 5: ZKPs Done Right

In the fifth and final installment of our summer learning series, we talk about zero-knowledge proofs and how they can be done right in just three ways. Watch the video and read the transcript below as we give the summer edition of the Fast and Curious a farewell for now!

Below is a transcript of the video:

Welcome back to Fast and Curious, the 2023 Summer edition.

Happy to have the opportunity to speak today. We’re going to talk a little bit about zero-knowledge proofs and particularly, doing them right.

It’s great that this mathematical obscurity from the 1990s has now become commonplace in certain parts of the Web3 and blockchain world. Software libraries and technologies are developing quickly in this space. We’re happy to have the opportunity to be involved with that.

But, they’re not as easy as they seem. And there are three practical tips that we’re gonna give here. Three tools to help people identify how they could be better in this space or make use of it.

First is, how do you create the ZKP?

It turns out that this is a more complicated endeavor than your average website or HTML page. It does involve some math. It is a mathematical property, and so you do need somebody who has some math skills for the specific application that you are creating. There is some good news about that, though. It’s getting easier. There are more tools and libraries available, and there are more and more ZKPs being created by others and being offered. And you may, for your specific use case, be able to just borrow or license the ZKP you need for your application.

Point two, how do you know whether the ZKP works?

By definition, the whole point of the zero-knowledge proof is zero knowledge. So, in that world, do you just trust that the code is working as promised, that the guarantee is real? Well, we think independent testing or having a third party who is trusted to be able to validate and say, “Yeah, that thing does what it says it’s gonna do,” is the best possible way. From our perspective, look for the people who are, or that is a trusted authority, and you can work with to validate and verify your zero-knowledge proofs.

And then the third one here is around cybersecurity.

We talk about blockchain. We talk about Web3. But it’s all just software. And software that is doing anything valuable at all, is going to be attacked. We live in this world where you can expect that. And so constant vigilance, as they say in Harry Potter, is the word of the day. You need to make sure that the software you’re writing is cyber secure and meets some cybersecurity standards, but also that you’re keeping up with a list of critical vulnerabilities and updating your software to make sure that there aren’t new vulnerabilities or it doesn’t become susceptible later.

With that in mind, from a VIA perspective, we work with a lot of folks in the Department of Defense. If you follow us at all on our blogs and announcements, you’ll have seen that. It’s not a secret. And one of the big reasons is that the DoD has terrific cybersecurity standards and a very published and public list of what they’re looking for. And we feel like if we’re meeting their standards, then we’re meeting a standard that could be met in the external world.

For our zero-knowledge proof specifically, most of the ZKPs are actually in energy. Did someone turn down their thermostat? Did they charge their EV at a certain time? Did they not charge their EV when they were supposed to? The Department of Energy has stepped in and offered help for testing and validating our zero-knowledge proofs, and we’re excited to see, so far so good, very positive results from that. And, we feel like having that imprimatur from third parties is valuable.

Can’t get enough of these Fast and Curious videos? Well, we want to hear from you! What topics should we cover next? Drop a note in our inbox to let us know:

Fast and Curious 4: ZKPs 4 Collective Good (from Collective Action)

In the fourth installment of our summer learning series, we talk about how ZKPs can be used for the greater good. 

Below is a transcript of the video:

Welcome back to Fast and Curious.

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about use cases or what positive social impact we can get from things like zero-knowledge proofs. A saying we have at VIA is that “collective good comes from collective action.”  And what we mean by that is, when people work together, they can do incredible things.

National security is an example of that. We collectively gather together to defend our borders. Health is another example. People get vaccinated and we eradicated polio and smallpox by everybody saying, “Hey, the collective good has forced us to do something together. Let’s take the collective action of vaccination.”

Climate change is another one. We can mitigate climate change, if we all do our part.

For us to actually have the collective action yield collective good, we need to be able to trace, “I did this and the outcome actually happened.”

How can I know who did what?

How do I know they did or did not join the army? They did or did not get vaccinated? They did or did not turn down their thermostat or charge their electric vehicle at a certain time? I need to compare the individual and their actions and I need to link them in some way. Zero-knowledge proofs are a mechanism to be able to say, “we mathematically guarantee this action was taken. But, we’re going to keep the identity of the individual private.”

And so, some examples of collective good around this, related to our mission at VIA of cleaner, safer, more equitable communities are that we want to have cleaner air. Our intent is that the action of electrification will yield reduced asthma for children in neighborhoods around the urban cities around the world. How do we link the incidents of hospital visits by children and their asthma related incidents to the action of reducing electricity? Well, I want that linkage, but I want to keep the identities of those children and their health conditions private. ZKPs can deliver that mathematical guarantee of the action or the outcome while keeping the individual identity anonymous.

Another example is around safety. You are going to have a family, maybe for weather conditions or maybe for refugee status, take shelter. How do I know that the individuals showed up and were sheltered at that time and place they were supposed to be while keeping the identities of those individuals safe, secure, private, and anonymous?

And then, there are many examples where equity plays a role. There’s probably a whole video that we could spend just on that. One example here is preventing child labor. I want to verify the age of the workers and make sure that for each and every one, they are above whatever the age statute of limitations is in that jurisdiction.

Those are the examples of cleaner, safer, more equitable community use cases that we think have great social impact, great for the world, and are a good use for zero-knowledge proofs. We’re excited to have the opportunity to support those.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of staying current with the fast moving tech world, these videos are done in one take! The result is they are fresh but may be a little rough around the edges. Enjoy!

Fast and Curious 3: An introduction to zero-knowledge proofs

In the third installment of our summer learning series, we give a quick introduction to zero-knowledge proofs and an example of how they can be applied in cryptocurrency.

Below is a transcript of the video:

Welcome to Fast and Curious.

A question we often get around zero-knowledge proofs is “That sounds complicated.” So, we’re going to do a super high-level overview here for folks. In data privacy and data security, historically there have been two extremes of methods or approaches.

On the one hand, you’ve got an option which is keeping the data so private and so secure that no one has access to it. That’s beneficial to data security, but basically not very beneficial to anybody who wants to make use of it.

There’s a second option on the other extreme, which is: I’m going to sign some paperwork, provide a file or access to somebody, and I’m going to trust that they do the right thing with it and keep it private and confidential. That’s the other opposite end of the spectrum.

At VIA, we had a notion when we were in our very early days that there had to be a better, software intermediated way of dealing with that. We bet that blockchain and Web3 technologies were going to be the foundation of it. And it turned out to be true. So, the Goldilocks way is not too restricted, not too risky. The Goldilocks way is actually through something called zero-knowledge proofs, and we’ve been working in that space for a little while.

You ask the question, what is a zero-knowledge proof? And how does that actually work?

I’ll give you the quick example from cryptocurrency. Zero-knowledge proofs have been around since the 1990s. They more recently came into popularity from a software perspective because of cryptocurrencies.

So meet Mary and José – not their real names! Their identity has been protected. Mary is saying, “hey, I’m gonna send some cash to José.” José says “that’s terrific.” But then he says, “wait, I didn’t get the money. Did you send it, Mary?”

How are they going to resolve this dispute? In the old days, if Mary was going to wire money or send money to José, they would probably know each other, they would know each other’s names, and they would have a bank that would intermediate that transaction.

In the newfangled cryptocurrency, NFT, blockchain world, Mary and José by definition don’t know each other, right? Part of the benefits of blockchain-based transactions is anonymity, and the other benefit or the other challenge in this case is its peer-to-peer. There is no intermediary. So how can José reconcile the fact that he did or didn’t get what he was expecting from Mary and vice versa. Mary says, yep, I did or can verify that transaction.

And that’s what zero-knowledge proofs are.

It’s essentially a piece of software code that can verify this transaction happened. José got it or didn’t get it without revealing either José or Mary or their identities or any details about their bank accounts.

And if you’re interested, there are actually terrific videos by experts that explain a little bit more detail about exactly how that works, from both professors as well as Up and Atom, that you can find at on our blog page.

That gives you the nickel summary. We’re excited to have the opportunity to use and leverage that same zero-knowledge proof technology in new areas like energy transactions and identity. And you can read or see more about that in the upcoming Fast and Curious.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of staying current with the fast moving tech world, these videos are done in one take! The result is they are fresh but may be a little rough around the edges. Enjoy!

2 Fast 2 Curious: Blockchain and foreign policy

The second installment of our summer learning series continues the discussion on blockchain, but this time from a foreign policy perspective. Follow VIA to learn about blockchain, zero-knowledge proofs, and all things Web3 in the Fast and Curious series.

Below is a transcript of the video:

As a country, we want to make sure that we’re safe. National security is of interest to all of us, and we need to make sure that there are ways to limit the power or keep checks and balances to unfriendly countries.

And as an example, things like cryptocurrencies or digital currencies can be used for nefarious reasons. They can be used in black markets. They can also be used by countries that have sanctions against them like Russia for invading Ukraine. It’s a way for people to get around embargoes or sanctions.

In September of last year, the United States White House put out a publication. It’s a longer document, and it’s the first-ever framework for digital assets. And the thing you’ll note is despite all of what’s happening today around regulation and legislation (really that’s just trying to clean up fakes in the industry) that there’s a clear commitment to U.S. leadership in the global financial system and economic competitiveness.

And I think that’s sort of reinforcing the points we just talked about in our previous video. There’s also the importance of kickstarting the private sector. It’s jobs for everyone, making sure there are high-paying jobs. A little bit further down there is a recognition of the potential benefits and risks of a U.S. central bank digital currency and how important that is to the United States around maintaining the U.S. dollar leadership. 

In a lot of ways globally, the U.S. dollar provides stability. The framework also aims to ensure that white-collar crime and fraud don’t become the domains of digital currencies overall.

So lots of reasons why Web3 and blockchain play a huge role around this area of domestic policy and foreign policy.

Number one, jobs. Very high-paying, high-quality jobs to create a robust domestic economy.

Number two, foreign competition. Making sure that sanctions and embargoes are maintained despite the proliferation of digital currencies.

And number three, the U.S. dollar. Making sure that the U.S. dollar, which has a huge role to play in the global economy, not just at home, and any kind of central bank digital currency can play an equally important role. Or, as digital currencies gain favor in the world, that the U.S. role is not diminished as a result of a rise in blockchain, Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

So there we have some of the key reasons domestic and foreign policy is having an impact on blockchain, and also how Web3 and blockchain is impacting domestic and foreign policy. We’re excited to see the commitment by the U.S. government in this area.

Thanks for watching. Stay tuned for next episode.

Fast and Curious: Blockchain and domestic policy

This is the first installment of our brand new summer learning series: Fast and Curious. We’re summarizing key insights from our most popular private speaking events at Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere. For fans of our Blockchain Unboxed event, this video follows up on the connection between blockchain and domestic policy. Follow VIA to learn all about zero-knowledge proofs, public policy, and Web3 in the next few weeks.

Below is a transcript of the “Blockchain and Domestic Policy” video:

Welcome everyone to Fast and Curious with VIA. It may seem like an odd confluence of events, but actually the area of Web3 and blockchain impacting and being impacted by domestic policy and foreign policy is of high national importance and we’re going to spend one minute today to bring you up to speed on why that’s the case.

So first, let’s have a look at some companies. Let’s rewind the clock to 2011. And if you were to look at December 2011 and a list – thank you Wikipedia – of the largest companies by market capitalization on the planet, there are some observations to make about this list from 2011.

One observation is there’s a mix of countries. The United States is on this list, but you also have China and you’ve got Australia and Royal Dutch Shell, which is an Anglo-Dutch company.

Second observation is you’ll see commodities, right? So you’ll see the world of energy playing a big role. But energy more like oil and gas. Natural resources are really what’s driving this list from a big part, not exclusively, but from a big part.

Now, fast forward ten years, right? And let’s look at the list from 2021. In December 2021, when you look at that list, what’s the observation? Well, compare and contrast. Number one, a lot more American companies on this list. Eight out of ten of the companies are from the United States.

And number two, tech kind of plays the leading role here. Everybody basically on this list, even Taiwan Semiconductor or, you know, you could argue Berkshire Hathaway is not a tech company, it’s a financial services company. It is an investment firm, but who are some of the biggest stocks that they own? They own Apple, number one of that list. They own Microsoft, number two on that list. They own Amazon, number four on that list. So in a way, it’s an investor of some of the other companies higher up.

So the thing we’re seeing here is from a domestic policy standpoint, if you want to be elected and you want to be reelected, then one of the fabulous most easiest ways to do that is jobs. Create a strong economy. And the evidence shows that technology is a driver of high quality, high paying jobs. And how do you get more people employed? Well you make sure that there are technology jobs available here in the United States.

And so this is one reason that you’re seeing the United States focus in this area around things like blockchain and Web3, because 25 years ago, 25 or 30 years ago, you might not have picked the Internet or high technology as the biggest places where jobs are going to be created. But now that’s where wealth creation is happening. The result is the United States thinks ten, 15, 20, 25 years ahead of time. And with that perspective, an investment in things like Web3 and blockchain are inevitable because from a defensive perspective, you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity and have those jobs go elsewhere, have some other country become the main provider of that industry. And you want to be able to provide here domestically good things like high paying wages to people right here at home.

Our summary here is that the U.S. has leaped ahead in the economic league tables with the help of tech companies. U.S. investment in technologies like Web3 and blockchain are in the best interest for the long-term health of the U.S. economy.

In our next segment of Fast Curious, we’ll look at blockchain and foreign policy.