Dash CEO ryan taylor interview

When people tell me that cryptocurrencies don’t have any “real-world” use, I point them to Venezuela. Venezuela is in the grips of unstoppable inflation – one of the worst in modern history, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

While the astronomical numbers can make the crisis seem distant and unapproachable, it’s devastatingly real for those who live there. Stores are empty. Buying toilet roll is a seven-day struggle. And many are accepting eggs as wages because the currency is worthless. Children are quite literally starving to death.

With the economy in tatters, some are turning to cryptocurrency. And no, not Venezuelan government’s sketchy state cryptocurrency Petro. 

They’re turning to bitcoin and, according to many reports, dash.

This is why cryptocurrency matters. It gives power to the people when their governments let them down. I’m curious to learn more about how dash is being used in Venezuela, so I reached out to Dash Core Group’s CEO, Ryan Taylor, to find out more.

Some Background on Dash

Originally known as Darkcoin, the cryptocurrency was born to address privacy and anonymity. It has since been renamed Dash, and adopted a new vision to build a global, digital cash system.

In Taylor’s words, “Dash is an open source, decentralized cryptocurrency focused on providing users a better way to pay and get paid. We aim to address usability, by making digital currency simple and efficient for the consumer, through instant transactions, low fees, and familiar interfaces.”

2,235 Venezuelan Merchants Accept Dash

Moving onto the topic of Venezuela, Taylor tells me over email that “more than 2,235 [Venezuelan] merchants accept Dash as a payment option. Since Venezuelans cannot rely on their national currency, we are seeing a huge demand for Dash in Venezuela.”

“People are looking for an alternate and more effective way to store, spend, and share their money and Dash’s low-cost transactions fees and InstantSend technology are unmatched.”

Dash recently upgraded its InstantSend technology in a bid to streamline payments and address the ever-present scaling issue in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. 

“Because most transactions are face-to-face, instant transactions are critical for users,” Taylor says. “Because of its speed, Dash truly is the most practical option for point-of-sale transactions.”

On the Ground

Dash venezuela

Dash is taking a proactive approach to adoption in Latin America, with a team of passionate users on the ground educating communities and small vendors about the cryptocurrency.

Taylor explains, “Many members of our community have been active in emerging countries, forming new entities to serve the needs of local economies. In the case of Venezuela, local teams offer support and education services for merchants and users. We’re really excited about the long-term potential of these grassroots, community-driven efforts, as they continue maturing into well-organized firms to serve individual markets.”

Admittedly, it’s a slow process. One community member, Eugenia Alcalá Sucre said, “Not everyone at first agreed to [sell goods and services with Dash], but in time, more entrepreneurs and merchants have learned how to use Dash as a payment method.”

They’re taking a one-by-one approach, growing slowly and steadily among communities.

No Public Figures to Confirm

We should point out, of course, that there are no objective or public figures to measure dash volume or transactions in Venezuela to back up the claims. And not everyone is convinced. One Venezuelan called Dash “snake oil,” and pointed to the fact that just because Dash is accepted by vendors doesn’t mean anyone is using it.

Three Million (Test) Transactions in 24 hours

One thing that can be quantified, however, is Dash’s speed. Dash recently performed a stress test on the system, successfully processing three million Dash transactions in a 24-hour period – a record for a Bitcoin-based blockchain.

What gives Dash this high-speed transaction while other blockchain-based cryptocurrencies struggle with congestion?

Dash record transactions

“The Dash network is fast, high-throughput, and reliable because the network actually pays the server operators of our network,” says Taylor. “These operators are paid only if their servers provide reliable services to the network.

It’s a model that has drawn some criticism, not least because it utilizes “privileged” master nodes that requires a 1,000 dash collateral to run (about $61,000 at today’s prices). However, Taylor maintains that the system provides better results. 

“Other cryptocurrency networks rely on volunteers for these nodes, which tends to result in slow unreliable computers on residential internet connections. In essence, these networks get what they pay for.”

What About Centralization?

As impressive as it sounds, I can’t help but feel skeptical about super fast blockchain transactions. Most networks compromise some aspects of decentralization to achieve high speeds.

I put the question to Taylor. Does Dash compromise centralization to achieve its high speed?

“The best part is that paid nodes actually encourages decentralization. As other networks grow in size – and hosting a node becomes more expensive to accommodate the increased data traffic – the number of volunteer nodes tends to drop and increase the centralization of the network. 

“In contrast, as transactions grow on Dash, payments to our operators increase and that attracts more operators to provide infrastructure to our network – thus driving decentralization.”

A sort of decentralized capitalism, then. By paying network operators directly, it encourages a sort of free market.

The PayPal of Cryptocurrencies?

The next stage in Dash’s evolution will focus on improving user experience. In short, they are working on taking crypto payments mainstream, using an interface as familiar as PayPal or Venmo.

Dash CEO ryan taylor interview

“Dash Evolution is our landmark release aiming to make Dash easier than ever to use, by providing a platform that enables many new capabilities, including new apps capable of providing a Venmo or PayPal-like experience to users. We believe Evolution will be the payments system of the future to provide millions of users around the world with the ability to carry out instant, secure, and near fee-free transactions.”

Forget clunky interfaces and lengthy cryptographic addresses. The next generation of Dash will introduce a slick software:

“It will be every bit as relevant and familiar to our users as a Venmo or Paypal in which a user can send and receive money from his or her contact list. Evolution will allow users to create a network username… Users will pay and get paid from other usernames, as opposed to being forced to enter long cryptographic addresses.”

“Our goal in this is to make using cryptocurrency on a daily basis more accessible for both users and merchants.”

It’s a lofty goal, but early adoption in Venezuela and Latin America may be the first proof of concept.

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zcash-sapling upgrade

On Sunday October 28th, Zcash, a cryptocurrency network designed to enable private transactions, will deploy a system-wide upgrade called Sapling.

The upgrade will drastically improve the performance of its private, or “shielded,” transactions (reducing transaction construction time by as much as 90%).

Zcash currently allows users to choose between a lightweight “transparent” transaction or a heavier “shielded” transaction. The Sapling upgrade will make shielded transfers more efficient, moving Zcash further towards private transfers by default.

As one of the leading Zcash block explorers, we are fully prepared for the upgrade. Users needn’t worry – the block explorer will function just as it would normally.

To find out more, Block Explorer editor Ben Brown spoke to Brad Miller, head of ecosystem development at Zcash.

zcash sapling

Ben Brown: Can you briefly describe Zcash, its key features, and mission?

Brad Miller: Zcash is a privacy-protecting, digital currency built on strong science that is open source, censorship-resistant, and permissionless. 

We are creating a currency that empowers people from anywhere in the world to transact freely with whomever they choose giving them power over their money and their privacy. 

We implemented cutting-edge research in a field of cryptography known as zero-knowledge proofs performed by researchers at some of the most prestigious universities in the world to achieve these strong privacy features.

BB: From a user perspective, what will the Sapling upgrade achieve?

BM: The Sapling upgrade is our largest upgrade ever with significantly improved performance: a time reduction of 90% for constructing transactions, and a memory reduction of over 97%. 

Over time, as companies start implementing the massive efficiency improvements that Sapling enables, users will start to see shielded transactions become ubiquitous. 

The speed improvements that Sapling enables will even allow mobile phones to generate these shielded transactions, which up until this point required quite a bit of computational power only available to a laptop or desktop. 

We think this upgrade is the tipping point to move the Zcash ecosystem toward shielded transactions by default. 

zcash explained

BB: And from a technical perspective, what are you changing?

BM: This upgrade is a complete overhaul of our protocol to introduce these massive performance improvements. Instead of going into technical details I would really recommend those that are interested read our numerous blog posts on the innovations that we’ve introduced in Sapling.

BB: Do Zcash users need to do anything (e.g. migrate funds, upgrade software, change wallets etc.)?

BM: Most cryptocurrency users don’t run their own full node. My recommendations would be to confirm with your service providers for exchange services, wallets, and block explorers that they are ready for the upgrade. 

We have been working hard to make sure all service providers are prepared for the upgrade but I’m sure they would also like to hear the demand from their customers. 

If you do run a Zcash full node, upgrade your node to the latest release, v2.0.1. Users do not need to move their funds as they’re totally safe through this upgrade process.

BB: Will the upgrade result in a fork?

BM: This is a consensus change in the code so old versions of the software won’t be able to join the upgraded network. These upgrades are good for everyone in the ecosystem and there is no contention about the Sapling upgrade in general so we don’t anticipate a fork based on the older consensus rules to persist.

Further reading: What is Hard Fork in Cryptocurrency?

BB: You talk about Sapling moving you towards a “shielded ecosystem.” Can you explain what that means and why it’s so important?

BM: Zcash has two kinds of transactions. The first we call “transparent” transactions and they use an address that begins with a “t”. 

These transactions are almost identical to bitcoin in that they’re fast and efficient but they are totally public and don’t offer any privacy-preserving features. 

The second type of transaction, a “shielded” transaction, uses addresses that begin with a “z”. These shielded transactions provide strong privacy features. 

In order for the ecosystem to move away from using the transparent transactions, we had to upgrade Zcash with the kind of performance improvements that Sapling introduces. 

Now that shielded transactions will become more widespread, more individuals will have access to these private transactions therefore growing the overall private ecosystem. 

Our goal, in the long run, is for all transactions on the Zcash blockchain to be private.

BB: What is the Sapling turnstile and how does it help prevent counterfeiting?

BM: Part of the Sapling upgrade requires users to move any “shielded” funds they have from legacy Sprout addresses (the old system) to the new Sapling addresses if they wish to experience the performance improvements introduced in Sapling. 

We saw a great opportunity to audit the monetary supply of Zcash so we’ve implemented what we’re calling a turnstile in this process which prevents users from sending funds from an old Sprout address directly to a new Sapling address. 

Instead, they’ll have to move funds from a Sprout address to a transparent address, and then to a Sapling address. This process allows anyone to perform an audit of the blockchain which will make it easy to spot if any counterfeiting has been going on in the older Sprout shielded pool of funds. 

We obviously have some recommendations on how to do this to preserve privacy. Users should read more on our documentation website.

BB: Zcash was designed with scheduled breaking changes, is that correct? What type of updates did you have in mind when this was decided, and how does this compare to the upgrades made so far?

BM: We schedule older versions of our software to automatically shut down 16 weeks after release to motivate the node operators on the network to upgrade to the latest software version. 

This helps keep the node versions active on the network within a tight range and makes sure that the user experience across the network is consistent. 

Apart from that we also like to release new features regularly, we believe cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy and there are so many innovations yet to be introduced. 

We try to target a major release once every six months. This year, for instance, we released our Overwinter upgrade which made future upgrades much safer for the network and now Sapling is activating which represents the largest upgrade in our history. 

Moving technology forward and introducing improvements and features is extremely important for the growth of cryptocurrencies at this stage and we want to make sure we stay true to our core principles of quality and safety while also keeping pace with the latest cutting-edge research.

Sapling Upgrade is Fully Compatible With Block Explorer

The Sapling upgrade is due to go live on Sunday 29th October at block 419200.

Block Explorer is fully ready for the upgrade and you can continue to use the Zcash block explorer just as you would normally.

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Platin banner

Imagine if cryptocurrencies were “airdropped” into the real world around us.

Imagine you could use your smartphone to find and collect cryptocurrencies at major events like the Olympics. Or search for discount Starbucks tokens in the local mall.

Think Pokemon Go!, but instead of finding and catching Pikachu, you’re looking for crypto.

That’s the vision of Platin and the revolutionary “proof of location” concept.

Looking beyond the playful side, Platin also threatens to disrupt traditional location services with a secure and private way to manage location data.

Block Explorer editor Ben Brown caught up with Platin founder Dr. Lionel Wolberger ahead of the project’s ICO launch to discuss how it works, privacy, and the choice to launch an ICO.

Platin Proof of Location

Ben Brown: Can you describe Platin in a couple of short sentences?

Lionel Wolberger: Platin is a lightweight, secure and verifiable Proof of Location (PoL) protocol on the blockchain. It is poised to disrupt a wide range of markets around the globe from automotive to banking and from retail to humanitarian aid.

BB: Is it fair to compare the basic functionality to Pokemon Go? – Being able to “capture” digital assets in the real world through augmented reality?

Lionel WolbergerLW: Bingo. Pokémon Go! is a good comparison, as it illustrates Platin’s capabilities and market drivers. In Pokémon Go! The user hunts and captures digital assets in the wild, interacting with a rich, tangible asset — a monster — that has a fixed location on the map. 

But Pokémon Go! can be fooled by installing a fake GPS application, so that people sitting in Moscow can pick up monsters in midtown Manhattan. Platin’s proof of location can enact this immersive experience, while preventing the spoofing.

Furthermore, Pokémon monsters are caught in just one way. Platin enables many ways to interact with and collect monsters– I mean, digital assets. Each asset is encased in a smart wrapper that can be customized to enact various experiences, according to need. 

For example, a smart contract can require a collector to perform an action, complete a task, watch a video, or answer a question before the asset can be collected. 

Digital assets can also be geofenced meaning they can only be used in a certain, pre-defined area. These customizable digital assets can provide solutions for many use cases and can be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual or organization.

BB: Can Proof of Location subvert the way Google, Facebook, etc. use and collect location data?

 LW: Many companies use blanket consent to access and sell location data from their users. That robs individuals of the choice to share, sell, or hide their personal location data. With Platin, individuals can take back control of their location data. Platin allows each person to decide how much information they will share and with whom even giving them the option to profit from their location information the way big companies do currently.

 That said, we cannot stop people from giving location data to GAFA. We see the recent changes due to GDPR as a step in a good direction. At the same time, cyber attacks are rendering such broad data collection as “toxic” and a liability, driving corporations towards data minimization, selective disclosure and progressive trust privacy-enhancements. 

BB: How might Starbucks use a commercial airdrop using Platin?

 LW: Platin is the ultimate foot traffic generator. Say, for example, there is a location where Starbucks patronage is slow during the hours of 2 to 4 PM. Starbucks can create branded tokens that are geofenced to only be redeemed at that single location and only during those slow hours. The tokens can be given a specific value and sprinkled in a high-traffic area. If tokens aren’t collected, they go right back into Starbucks’ virtual wallet, allowing them to be redistributed later.

 Or maybe Starbucks is planning a big launch of a new Frappuccino. They want to leverage social media and generate a more organic buzz than the standard marketing campaign would. 

The Starbucks social team creates a digital version of the frapp with a smart contract wrapper saying that the user needs to share their token collection on their social channel and show that post to a barista to receive a free Frappuccino. Suddenly, social feeds are flooded with people finding frapps in the wild, collecting them, and redeeming them for a delicious new drink. 

Starbucks could even partner with influencers to make sure drops are picked up by people who will make a big impact.

BB: What exactly is “proof of location” and how does zero-knowledge proof work?

 LW: The location-based services market is projected to grow into between a 10 and 40-billion-dollar market by 2020. This projection is based on current state-of-the-art which means insecure location claims with fake GPS applications that are freely available. 

Secure location claims have the potential to impact countless industries. For example, one online financial services provider working with Platin reported that 80% of their registrants abandon the process once they are required to provide proof of residence. Delivering a secure, digital way to prove a location claim can reduce that figure.

Platin coins in the atrium

 Secure proof of location is made possible via smartphones running Platin’s secure protocol. We harness traditional location protocols (GPS and fraud detection) along with incentivized distributed ledger technology (DLT) to mitigate and prevent spoofing that plagues Pokémon Go! and other AR/MR applications. In addition, our system’s verifications conform with the standards-based approach of the World Wide Web, ensuring broad adoption of this protocol.

The protocol uses three completely different methods of ascertaining, validating and cross-checking location data–we call them the three pillars of security. 

The first pillar refers to sensor fusion. Platin makes use of on-device, location-relevant sensors such as GNSS (e.g., GPS, Galileo), Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular-network observations. Both Android and iOS allow for these sensors to be “fused” in a robust manner to counter simple spoofing attacks. 

Behavior Over Time, the second pillar, is the analysis of user behavior over longer periods of time. This enables anomaly detection techniques via advanced machine learning algorithms, particularly reinforcement learning, and return an assurance that the history of behavior is within expected ranges. 

The third and final pillar is “Peer-to-Peer Witnessing,” an application of decentralized blockchain techniques that enables users to act as witnesses for each others’ locations through the use of short-range communication techniques such as Bluetooth, WiFi, ultrasound, and camera. Platin envisions that most of this interaction happens without any user involvement.

Platin’s team are experts in zero-knowledge, and our recent report to the W3C contains a detailed explanation. See https://w3c-ccg.github.io/data-minimization , excerpt below:

The children’s “Where’s Waldo?” illustrated book series helps us to understand [zero-knowledge]. In these books a distinctively dressed man appears only once on each page, wearing a striped hat. Readers are asked to scour the page and locate him. We can understand the three enablers by examining Where’s Waldo one step at a time.

      A Secret: For the new reader, Waldo’s location is a secret. The illustrator knows it, and the reader doesn’t. The reader is encouraged to search the page and find Waldo, but that is a difficult task. Some readers give up and ask someone who has already found Waldo to show them his location. In essence, they are asking another reader to reveal the secret. Once found, a reader could keep the information secret by circling Waldo in red and storing the book in a safe. This amounts to storing the secret for future use. Secrets are essential to crypto. They are usually called keys, and they must be managed carefully.

  A Difficult Task: Waldo is difficult to find on the page. The reader has to search everywhere and mistakenly identify many Waldo look-alike characters before reaching a satisfactory conclusion and finding him. Yet when he is finally discovered, or someone points Waldo out, it’s easy to see where he is. That’s why it’s a fun task. This difference between the difficulty of conducting the task and the ease of verifying the task lies at the heart of cryptographic enablers.

  A Zero-Knowledge Enabler: Can you prove you found Waldo without revealing the secret of his actual location on the page? There is a simple way to do so. Take a rectangular piece of white cardboard that is much larger than the book. Cut a hole exactly fitting Waldo to reveal his silhouette only, nothing else. You can now show Waldo to anyone, peeking out of the cardboard. Yet the cardboard is wide and opaque, hiding the book thoroughly, so a verifier has no idea where Waldo is on the page. The puzzle was solved, and someone verified the achievement, without revealing any knowledge of how to solve the puzzle. The secret is still safe, the task still just as difficult as before.

The “white cardboard” enables the zero-knowledge proof. In Platin, the “white cardboard” is a mathematical equation that hides the user’s exact location.

BB: Your ICO launches this week, but are you worried about ICO fatigue in the space?

 LW: It can be concerning, watching the market stall the way it has and entering bear-like hibernation. However, without sounding too full of ourselves, we really believe we’re creating something lasting and revolutionary. 

Cryptocurrency isn’t going away, and neither is blockchain. By giving people a secure and tangible way to collect, share, and use digital assets, we are opening the world up to a multitude of possibilities. People have been recognizing this in our project, and it’s brought a big wave of enthusiasm. We are in this for the long haul, and our supporters really gravitate toward that approach.

 BB: Platin also introduces a token, PTNX, can you explain its utility?

platin_pin PTNX LW: The PTNX protocol token is the gas that powers the proof of location system.

 The power of incentives in Platin’s Proof of Location protocol is one of the foundational insights that led to us founding Platin. Incentives are based on game theory models. They both encourage actors to nurture Platin’s strong, safe, peer-to-peer operation and discourage bad actors by punishing those who act maliciously.

 Let’s examine some of the players in the Platin ecosystem and how they use and are incentivized by this token:

    An “airdropper,” someone placing an airdrop–needs to provide PTNX to fuel and power the system.

    A “claimer,” someone claiming an airdrop. This person triggers the system to use the PTNX funded by the airdropper. It flows through the system incentivizing nodes participating in the proof of location process.

    An “adjuticator,” a node adjudicating a proof of location claim gets paid PTNX in exchange for this service.

    A node committing blocks to the Platin Plexus gets paid PTNX in exchange for his service to the system.

    A peer-to-peer witness gets paid in PTNX in exchange for the service of enhancing the proof of location claim.

BB: Can you tell us about your history in the cryptocurrency space and how it lead to Platin?

LW: My experience with cryptocurrency and blockchain began back in 2011. I was working at Cisco Secure Video with some of the world’s leading cryptographers,  included the inventor of Public Key Cryptography himself, Prof. Adi Shamir. 

We were all aware of bitcoin and admired its innovative structure, but did not see it as having any application to our business. It wasn’t until two years later that I got an opportunity to professionally re-engage with its technology when I participated in a special request on behalf of the Internet Identity Workshop to lead a committee and investigate blockchain’s suitability to forming a distributed identity system. 

This work was done in close association with Doc Searls, Joyce Searls and other doyens of the Identity space. That committee led to the spawning of an industry (e.g., Evernym, Sovrin) and I became fascinated with the potential of this new way of working. Even then, I had no direct application in my day-to-day work. Until I discovered that my colleague and friend, Allon was similarly fascinated by it. 

I hung out with Mason at Cornell University alumni events–we both studied there–and I always admired his drive and passion for the projects he developed over the years, particularly XPLace an online marketplace with hundreds of thousands of users and multi-million dollar annual turnover. We soon converged on the idea of making the coins more real, more tangible, more LOCATED, and Platin was born.

Conclusion

Platin piques interest for its playful use of real-world cryptocurrency airdrops and augmented reality. But there’s something more powerful going on here too. The platform threatens to disrupt the way we think about location services, making them altogether more secure and private. 

Platin’s ICO launches on Sunday 28th October with 30% of PTNX tokens made available to private and ICO investors. 

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