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Thoughts on DFINITY

DFINITY is the next generation of cloud: By hiding a consensus layer behind a virtual machine, DFINITY enables application developers to easily access secure distributed computation.


DFINITY is the next generation of Cloud, so it's trying to solve a very fundamental question. Consider the internet stack currently. We have networking layer, we have IP layer, we have TCP layer. Then DFINITY adds another layer to this stack, which I like to call it a consensus layer. Any protocol who wants or any application who wants to run on top of the internet, they don't need to deal with the consensus and consistency and decentralization themselves. The protocols that are running on the worldwide web. They don't need to deal with the IP or TCP, so DFINITY's another protocol layer that gives you a distributed consensus, and also it gives you a virtual machine. It hides everything that is underneath this layer. This virtual machine hides everything, every challenges that you need to do to reach consistency and reach distributed computation. It does everything that you have to do. Then as a programmer, you just need to write a program, compile it in Wasm, and that's it.


The evolution was this. People initially ran their own web service, right? And mail servers and things like that. After a while people realized that was pretty fragile and so they started renting rack space in professionally run hosting centers. And then over time of course, people realized that that's a bind. You're still managing your own hardware and connectivity and so on. And people started literally just renting these virtual compute instances off people like Amazon Web Services, right? And they would run them, they owned the hardware, they managed the networking, they owned the whole hosting center too. Some of the perverse incentives include that vendors over complicate their systems specifically to lock in people who then build on top of them. There's a book on, I think it's Amazon Web Services certified solution architect, right? And this is the critical information you need to know about Amazon Web Services and all the different features it has. And it was 450 pages, right?

So there's a lot of complexity inherent in traditional stack. And DFINITY takes the view that when you're building a system, a business system, when I say business system, it could be a user forum, it could be an ordering system, it could be a CMS, right? It can be pretty much any kind of standard business system. You should only be focusing on what the system does, not how it does it. So DFINITY, there's none of that. All of that complexity is gone. You just describe the what, right? Just pure business logic, no how, and if you want, you can add a user experience and what we call a sort of decentralized process becomes a DAPP, a decentralized application, but even within the code of the user experience, there's no notion of distribution. You're just calling into the business logic as though it was running locally in the web browser.


Cloud computing service providers like Amazon, AWS or Google Cloud, they're centered around the idea of infrastructure as a service, right? But DFINITY is centered around infrastructure as a commodity. DFINITY aims to be the decentralized Cloud computing platform, which instantly clicked for me. You write a blog post or you produce some quality content, right? You put on the internet, somehow you get visitors, but you have to pay for the infrastructure. You are the content creator. You should be earning money for the quality content you produce, right? But somehow you have to pay for hosting it or pay somebody else to host it. The recent revive of the peer to peer networking and also the advance of a cryptocurrency, I see there's a new chance for us to revolutionize this model so that the end user who consumes that content can directly pay for it.


I think what DFINITY brings to the world for existing companies that use traditional Cloud infrastructure, I think it's a vastly simplified stack so they don't have to care about security and backups and all that stuff anymore because DFINITY has all of that built in. And on the other side, for governments, I think making use of this infrastructure that has transparency and immutability and decentralization built in will be a huge step forward.


DFINITY is realizing this dream of having a secure Cloud through the application of blockchain technology, so it is bringing something to the Cloud world, but it's also an evolution of blockchain technology. So you can compare to both. In the Cloud part it's bringing the tamper-proofness and unstoppability features and to blockchain as we know it, it brings a whole, whole number of innovations. For example, it's the first implementation of a decentralized random beacon. It is also one of the first provably secure proof of stake systems. Also the first to have a virtual machine that is based on WebAssembly. The first that has a smart contract model, which is based on actors and message passing where the emphasis lies on asynchronous message passing. And these are all building blocks that are required to design a scalable architecture.


It's been nine years since the first global blockchain went live, bitcoin, and we have not seen what I would describe as a meaningful advancement in the technology until now. This unique advancement, it's called Threshold Relay. It was developed by the founder of DFINITY, Dominic Williams, and what it does is it creates a reliable, incorruptible tamper proof source of randomness to go with our reliable, incorruptible tamper proof database. What that means is that we can all agree that this is fair and strong randomness.

We don't have to worry about having some phenomenally expensive way of securing the network that consumes as much energy as Ireland, which is what bitcoin uses for exactly the purpose of creating randomness. It means that it's very, very cheap and easy for us to run these networks and, because it's cheap and easy, they can run very quickly and we can add computers to them and increase their capacity with the number of computers attached to them. And that gives us infinite scalability. Scalability means the ability to scale with use, to grow. And that's what DFINITY has.


There's three things about DFINITY that I think really differentiate it. So first is the Wasm based virtual machine. So Wasm here being WebAssembly. This in short allows developers to write smart contracts in any language they want. In Ethereum and prior smart contract based blockchains, you usually had a custom language that you needed to use in order to write a smart contract. And Ethereum uses Solidity, which is kind of based on JavaScript. This is tricky, though, because you're forcing developers to learn a new language. You have to build a programming language from the ground up, which is tricky, and then you need to build all the debugging tools around that kind of in a custom way. With a Wasm based VM, you can kind of plug into the existing languages that are out there for developers to use.

You can plug into the existing infrastructure of debugging tools that's out there. And just in general, it's much, much more flexible so you can draw in many, many more developers. And it becomes easier for developers to write and deploy applications on that network. The second is the novel consensus mechanism. So in DFINITY, this is called Threshold Relay. The third thing is the blockchain nervous system, which is basically the on chain governance mechanism for DFINITY. To me, in the longterm, for these applications to reach real global financial scale, they need to have on chain governance mechanisms. And the blockchain nervous system, I think accomplishes that well.


By combining all this we can achieve a decentralized and trustworthy computing platform that cannot be otherwise achieved. And in doing all this, not only do we achieve that, we also improve the efficiency of the overall system because there's less friction in paying for the infrastructure.