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Swiss Federal Office of Energy shares successful completion of decentralized energy research

Four years ago, VIA was selected for the world’s first demonstration of decentralized energy analysis, in partnership with leading Swiss utility, Romande Energie, global smart meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr, and Swiss research institute Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU).

The research project, known as KnowlEDGE, was driven by a Swiss law that only allows electrical meter data to be gathered once per day at a resolution of 15 minute increments. Similar regulations exist in many other jurisdictions to protect the privacy of individual residential meter owners. Real-time data from meters, however, are widely recognized for their ability to provide valuable insights for grid flexibility and reliability. 

To enable real-time grid analysis and maintain compliance with data protection laws, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy sponsored this first of its kind research. Together, with our industrial and research partners based in Switzerland, we successfully demonstrated the processing of real-time data across multiple Swiss household meters. The processing was never centralized and household data was never sent to the utility. Nevertheless, the results of the decentralized analysis provided valuable insights to enable predictions for grid voltage levels that are necessary to maintain grid reliability. 

You can find the summary results of the research written by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, here. To learn more about our contributions to the KnowlEDGE project and our commitment to Switzerland, visit our website or contact us at info@solvewithvia.com

 

Stan Byers, Cybersecurity Team Lead at USAID, joins VIA for largest VIA Visionaries event

As devoted VIA Visionaries followers know, each remarkable guest shares a common mission with VIA: making our communities cleaner, safer, and more equitable. Stan Byers, Cybersecurity Team Lead at USAID, is no exception.

Stan plays a critical role at USAID, a U.S. government agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. In his role, Stan helps protect the most vulnerable communities against cyber threats. Given the importance of his work helping others, we were grateful to have the opportunity to meet in person alongside the VIA team and our audience members around the globe.

With 30 full minutes of engaging conversation in front of the largest in-person audience to date, Colin and Stan covered critical topics ranging from Stan’s background, stories from the field in Afghanistan and South Sudan, and why cybersecurity is a high priority for development and humanitarian aid organizations.

Before we get into the details, let’s give you, our readers, a quick snapshot of Stan’s remarkable career, so you can get to know him, too:

Stan and the VIA team spent some time chatting about the benefits of decentralization before the VIA Visionaries livestream.

Throughout his incredible career, Stan has made monumental strides in the realm of cybersecurity, emphasizing its importance in international security, policy, and technology. Currently, Stan is the Cybersecurity Team Lead at USAID. Leading a driven team of fellow cybersecurity experts for the last three years, Stan’s team is working with the White House, State Department, and the Department of Defense on how they think about cybersecurity as part of national digital transformation.

Before Stan was asked to join USAID to build the Cybersecurity Team, Stan worked at EY, handling geopolitical and economic aspects of cybersecurity while concurrently staying updated on the latest technology. In addition, he was a resident at TED in 2017. Stan was also instrumental in the Power Africa Presidential Initiative at USAID, providing a path for private investments and economic growth in Africa. His diverse experience, coupled with his ability to analyze and devise strategic cybersecurity initiatives, firmly positions him as a prominent leader in the cybersecurity space, specifically for the greater good.

Of all the memorable quotes and moments during the chat, it was when Colin asked Stan, “We first met at a Harvard conference related to blockchain and web3 technologies. Why are you interested in web3 technologies?” that we thought our readers would find as interesting as we did:

“I was there because I think this is something we need to be paying more attention to. We tend to spend a lot of time looking at AI and mobile money applications and a bunch of other things which are all incredible. But, not as much on how we can really use web3 and this decentralized approach. I think there is some real promise there.

In particular, what I’m seeing more and more, is that we need to rethink how we do data management quickly. From a development and humanitarian perspective, we work in a lot of places around the world. People shouldn’t think that these parts of the world that I’m talking about are kind of the anomaly, “oh the poor, destitute, unstable parts of the world.” Where we live right now is the anomaly. If you want to talk about using technology to improve the world, you have to talk about the low and middle income countries of the world where 85% of the world lives. This is not the norm, Somerville is not the norm.”

To hear Stan’s full response and how he thinks web3 and decentralization can help 85% of the world, watch from the 25:00 minute mark. Colin also comments that Stan’s response brings home the point of trust when it comes to a decentralized approach to data.

If you are enjoying this year’s VIA Visionaries guest speakers, we’ve got a treat for you: this summer we are bringing you a solid line-up of speakers ranging from image verification to sustainability. Follow along on VIA’s website and social media (LinkedIn, X, Instagram, Threads) for the latest.

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology acknowledges VIA’s CEO Colin Gounden for his contributions to report on cyber-physical resilience

In February, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) published a 50-page comprehensive report titled, “Strategy for Cyber-Physical Resilience: Fortifying Our Critical Infrastructure for a Digital World.” As described on their official website, PCAST is the “the sole body of advisors from outside the federal government charged with making science, technology, and innovation policy recommendations to the President and the White House.” 

The report, presented directly to the President of the United States, discusses the staggering increase in risks to our cyber and physical systems as they have become deeply intertwined (e.g., electricity, water, communications, among other critical systems) and provides actionable recommendations to protect them.

As our devoted followers know, VIA’s mission is to make communities cleaner, safer, and more equitable. Our experience working with the United States Department of Defense and Department of Energy along with our expertise in cyber and physical systems, caught the attention of Dr. Georgianna (George) Shea, Chief Technologist of Transformative Cyber Innovation Lab Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). We are grateful Dr. Shea selected VIA for an interview for the PCAST report to gain a deeper understanding of VIA solutions as they relate to the security of our nation. Dr. Shea remarked on her experience working with our team at VIA:

Dr. Georgianna (George) Shea

Dr. Georgianna (George) Shea

“In my role as Chief Technologist at a defense-focused think tank, I constantly seek solutions that address tomorrow’s threats. VIA has been an invaluable partner in this mission. Their deep expertise and collaborative spirit were instrumental in my work with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Transformative Cyber Innovation Lab.

One aspect of VIA’s work that has particularly impressed me is their exploration of web3 technologies, such as zero-knowledge proofs. Through our partnership with VIA, we have witnessed the potential of secure data sharing among various stakeholders while maintaining compliance with stringent privacy regulations. This perfectly aligns with our mission to advocate for advanced solutions that bolster national security.

I extend special gratitude to VIA’s CEO, Colin Gounden, for contributing to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report titled ‘Strategy for Cyber-Physical Resilience: Fortifying our Critical Infrastructure for a Digital World.’ Additionally, I commend Haden Snyder for his forward-thinking approach to implementing some of the report’s recommendations through secure technical means.”

In addition to the interview, we’re also appreciative of the opportunity to review and provide feedback during the writing process for this authoritative report.

VIA is acknowledged among numerous other highly reputable organizations including the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, Idaho National Laboratory, and many more. For those of you who are equally as committed to cybersecurity in critical infrastructure as we are, and are interested in discussing this topic further, send a message to us at info@solvewithvia.com. Let’s work together to protect and improve the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens.

Download the PCAST report and be sure to check out the last page for a special acknowledgement.

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: info@solvewithvia.com.

 

From Zug to Davos: A whirlwind week in Switzerland

Last month, VIA’s CEO, Colin Gounden and Client Delivery Lead, Becky McClements ventured across the Atlantic to meet our Lead Software Research Architect, Madjid Aoudia in none other than, Switzerland 🇨🇭!

The trio had an action-packed week that is well worth the recap for our devoted VIA followers. So, who is ready to take an adventure with us from Zug to Davos?

Day 1: Zug

If you are new to VIA’s blog or just need a refresher, there are many reasons why we chose Switzerland as our European headquarters: clean energy, data privacy, and blockchain, our wheelhouse! Once our team landed in Switzerland, it was off to our office in Zug by train. Madjid and Becky also took the opportunity to snap a picture of our logo on the outside of the office, too!

Madjid Aoudia

Madjid Aoudia ready for his trip to Zug.

Madjid Aoudia & Becky McClements

Madjid and Becky McClements at VIA’s European headquarters.

Then, we met with one of our energy customers for a full-day workshop at our office, followed by dinner with executives in the utility space.

Day 2: Zurich + Lucerne

We kicked off day two in: Zurich! Our team met with government entities to discuss how we can support their data privacy initiatives. With a new data privacy code of conduct coming into effect in January, two agencies reached out to VIA for our expertise in data privacy. We look forward to continuing the conversation and deepening our support for Swiss data privacy efforts.

Later that day, we made our way to Lucerne, home of the HSLU iHomeLab. As we mentioned in our blog from 2022, “The year in Switzerland,” HSLU has been one of our research partners in energy and data privacy since 2018. We were thrilled to see the research they have been doing in energy efficiency and IoT and to have our Expansion Manager, Ray Neubauer join us!

VIA’s team

VIA’s team alongside the iHomeLab team.

Colin showing off some of the fantastic innovations at iHomeLab

Colin at iHomeLab.

Finally, to cap the night off, we had dinner with executives in the electric vehicle and automotive space. Stay tuned for more on this front!

Day 3: Davos

The highlight of our week was traveling to Davos for the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC)’s 7th Annual Blockchain Central Davos event, hosted in parallel to the World Economic Forum. Colin was invited to speak on the panel, “Blockchain and AI Convergence for Enhanced Trust and Transparency” alongside Tanvi Singh, Managing Director, Global Digital Assets Technology Lead, UBS, John deVadoss, Co-Founder & CEO, NeuralFabric.ai, and David Treat, Board Chair, GBBC; Senior Managing Director and Global Metaverse Continuum Business Group Lead, Accenture.

Paola Valencia, Director of Operations, & Strategic Partnerships, Home of Blockchain.swiss, was the moderator, who did a fantastic job of keeping the conversation flowing and asking terrific questions. If you are short on time, don’t miss our favorite moments at the timestamps from the recording below:

  • 9:23: Watch Colin introduce himself and VIA in Swiss German!
  • 19:08: Paola says she was thrilled to see Colin’s name on the panel because she wanted to hear how VIA has been using AI and blockchain with actual companies and how those use cases impact humanity.
  • 35:40: Colin provides his thoughts on the next big thing in the next six months related to AI and blockchain.

Thank you again to GBBC! The whole event from start to finish was world class and we are grateful for the opportunity (and the high quality pictures below 😉).

GBBCColin

Day 4: Wrap up!

After the eventful day in Davos, not to mention the fact that we ran into people we know from Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (the Americans were out in full force!), we closed out our trip by meeting with another automaker and more government officials in the evening.

As we reflect on the week, we wanted to acknowledge a few small things that make a big difference. Everywhere we went, there was next-level hospitality, people made time in any way they could to meet with us, and embraced VIA with open arms. All of these points keep us coming back (and the spectacular scenery isn’t too bad either!).

This trip laid the groundwork for what is sure to be some exciting announcements this year 📣.

Davos

View of the mountains during our train ride.

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: info@solvewithvia.com.

VIA showcased during GAI Insights’ Learning Lab live stream

GAI Insights, an analyst firm helping AI Leaders achieve results with GenAl, invited VIA’s CEO Colin Gounden as a special guest on their Learning Lab series. The weekly series covers use cases of GenAI and showcases new and exciting projects in the space.

After meeting at MIT as judges of a recent competition, Paul Baier, the CEO and principal analyst at GAI Insights, asked Colin to come on the weekly series to discuss the technologies VIA is using, more specifically, Mistral, and give a demo of VIA’s askJARVIS application.

During Colin’s portion of the nearly 60 minute session, he gives an overview of VIA’s mission and how that shaped where our company is today in terms of data privacy:

“Data is often too restricted, too tightly held. As we started to work more with the Air Force, Space Force, and the Navy, it became evident that a lot of common visualization tools were good for unsecured data, but not at a high level of classification.”

Colin goes on to give a detailed, 26-minute demo of VIA’s askJARVIS application, which solves just that, visualizations for highly sensitive data. There were exceptional questions asked throughout the demo ranging from which LLM we use, GPUs vs. CPUs, and his expert opinion on this topic.

If GenAI for highly sensitive data is of interest to you, this is a recording you don’t want to miss. Watch the video below and also reach out to us to learn more at info@solvewithvia.com.

 

Maj. Gen. Kim Crider (ret.) joined VIA for a chat about data, AI, and enterprise innovation for VIA Visionaries interview series

Devoted readers of VIA’s blog will remember Major General Kim Crider (ret.) from our Power Up! blog, that recapped a friendly competition between our team members for the best AI project idea. Maj. Gen. Crider provided her data and technology innovation expertise on a panel of judges selected to pick the winning idea.

VIA was delighted to bring Maj. Gen. Crider back to our HQ in Somerville to share with our VIA Visionaries followers just how remarkable her career has been. Along with other guests we’ve had on our VIA Visionaries speaker series, Maj. Gen. Crider shares a collective mission with VIA of making our communities cleaner, safer, and more equitable.

Here is a little background on Maj. Gen. Crider.

Maj. Gen. Crider has had an impressive career spanning over 35 years in the United States Air Force, where she held the distinguished role of Chief Data Officer. She is also the former Chief Technology Innovation Officer for the United States Space Force. Beyond her service, Maj. Gen. Crider has held pivotal roles with Harvard University as CIO-Executive IT Consultant and with MITRE as a Senior Information Systems Engineer. Currently, as the Founding Partner of Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy, Maj. Gen. Crider continues to influence the space sector while offering her expertise as a Board Director and Advisor for various companies.

With over 40 minutes of captivating conversation, Colin asked Maj. Gen. Crider an array of questions ranging from why she chose to devote her time to the military, the role of data in today’s “AI world”, and exceptional applications she is seeing in the space sector.

One of our favorite moments was when Maj. Gen. Crider gave us an analogy of just how large the amount of data we are seeing today is:

“…We’re entering hundreds of zettabytes of data this year and it’s going to continue to grow into numbers that you can’t even really imagine. You think about 200 zettabytes. What is that? I mean, I heard somebody talk about this statistic, for those of us who have been around for awhile, we can start to get our head around something like, this year alone we are going to be around 120 zettabytes of data, which is a billion terabytes and then next year we’re going to be at 180 zettabytes of data. So, 60 zettabytes, somebody said, is like 60 trillion DVDs, 60 trillion DVDs.

To hear the full question and response, and Colin’s shout-out to those of us who remember DVDs, watch the video below!

We’re thrilled to have hosted FIVE exceptional VIA Visionaries events at our HQ in Somerville in the second half of 2023. True to our mission, we will be bringing you an impressive lineup of speakers in 2024 with some exciting updates to the format. Be sure to follow VIA’s website and social media (LinkedInXInstagram) for the latest on this series and more!

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: info@solvewithvia.com.

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 solvewithvia.com 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!

Testing decentralized storage speed

Long time VIA blog readers will know that VIA focuses on military-grade and enterprise-grade Web3 components for data privacy like zero-knowledge proofs. But where is all that data stored? In the Web3 world, IPFS is a standard for decentralized storage. Is a private version of decentralized storage ready for the enterprise?

We’re going to focus on speed. Decentralized storage has claims of being faster than centralized storage. We decided to test that with our own private deployment of decentralized storage and publish the results for you.

For our testing, we put four files of different sizes (114 bytes, 6.2Mb, 311 MB, and 933 MB) on a node in Japan. We also created a node in our local region of the East Coast of North America. 

As expected, the download times for when we accessed the file without a local node varied by file size. The download times for each file size was relatively consistent:

File Size Average Range
114 bytes 292ms 288ms to 293ms
6.2 Mb 1.84s 1.58s to 2.14s
311 MB 20.33s 19.77s to 22.09s
933 MB 62.67s 60s to 65s

In comparison, decentralized storage was:

  1. Significantly faster on all downloads for a smaller file (initial download and subsequent downloads)
  2. Slower on initial download for larger files
  3. Significantly faster on subsequent downloads for larger files

Here are the times for the initial file downloads:

File Size Average Range
114 bytes 155ms 155ms
6.2 Mb 2.6s 2.5s to 2.7s
311 MB 76s 76s
933 MB 237.5s 235s to 240s

Here are the times for subsequent file downloads:

File Size Average Range
114 bytes 9.45ms 3ms to 36ms
6.2 Mb 70.6ms 49ms to 109ms
311 MB 4.06s 3.59s to 4.74s
933 MB 17.28s 15s to 19.11s

Of course, it’s not just that the same user would receive faster downloads for the same file on subsequent attempts. As Web3 pros will know, any authorized user nearby would get routed to the local node and therefore benefit from the increased speeds. The greater the number of users in different locations, the greater this benefit.

In the context of a private decentralized storage deployment, administrators can force nodes to clean up and remove files when needed if they don’t want something in one location. Administrators can also “pin” content to a specific node (location) if they want to make sure something is always available. 

For you visual learners, here are the summary results:

Watch a quick demo video below:

Our takeaway is that decentralized storage has a speed advantage over centralized storage for enterprises where:

  1. There is a highly geographically distributed user base 
  2. There is interest in dynamically allocating files to specific locations to optimize file download times

Follow VIA’s website and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Threads) to catch the latest!

 

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.

Department of Energy selects VIA to demonstrate zero-knowledge proofs for increased cybersecurity of DERs

SOMERVILLE, Mass., July 26, 2023VIA, the leader in secure verification, ingestion, and analysis of private data, announced today that it has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for an in-depth review of zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) to maintain cybersecurity of distributed energy resources (DERs) to aid grid flexibility.

The project includes funding from the DOE and technical support from Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), as well as demonstration with Enel, one of the world’s largest renewable generation and DER companies.

Enel North America’s Director of Innovation, David Rodriguez, commented, “Distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar and battery storage, hold significant value in increasing the flexibility and reliability of the energy grid. To unlock that value, it is absolutely critical to maintain accurate data on the assets. VIA’s work in zero-knowledge proofs offers an innovative and a promising solution to ensuring data verification of energy availability and carbon intensity, while maintaining absolute data privacy and the highest levels of cybersecurity. We look forward to collaborating with VIA on this very important topic.”

Kate Ravanis, VIA’s COO stated, “ZKPs are an ideal solution to the dilemma of verifying carbon while maintaining individual data privacy. This is critically important where DERs from multiple owners, and sometimes competing owners, are required to coordinate to enable grid flexibility.”

This is the third VIA ZKP initiative supported by the DOE this year. In February, INL began evaluating VIA’s ZKPs to track carbon used in charging (smart charging) and discharging (vehicle-to-grid integration) in electric vehicles. In May, the DOE announced funding for industrial decarbonization through the Arizona State University’s EPIXC consortium, of which VIA is a member.

During the testing, VIA is demonstrating the ability of ZKPs to work with near real-time data to verify carbon intensity from distributed energy resources. In addition, DOE is also evaluating the quantum-resistant version of VIA’s ZKPs. Initial results are expected in October 2023.

Are you a community or business with electric vehicles or DERs? Reach out at info@solvewithvia.com to learn more and join the DOE demonstration.

About VIA

VIA’s mission is to make communities cleaner, safer, and more equitable by using AI and Web3 technologies. Using its Web3 platform, VIA enables real-time data verification, automated ingestion, and privacy-preserving analysis across multiple private data sources including energy and environmental data. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Fortune 50 companies, and energy providers around the globe trust VIA to help them solve their toughest data privacy challenges.

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.