Gavin Wood is one of the cofounders of Ethereum and founder of Ethereum client Parity Tehnologies and Polkadot. He is also an ordinary person who likes skiing, tennis and swimming, as well as a food lover. Self-described as a “free trust technologist”, Gavin romantically sees coding a form of art that could get him out of pressure.
Of late, we (8btc) have the chance to sit down with Gavin talking about his thoughts on the blockchain space and what’s coming to Polkadot in 2019.
The Polkadot protocol, which is developed by Parity Technologies, aims to solve issues with blockchain interoperability. Namely, the tech is designed to increase the compatibility between different blockchains, such as Bitcoin’s (BTC), and networks of other decentralized crypto platforms.
8btc: You’re quite a legend in the blockchain space but always keeping a low profile. What kind of person are you in everyday life?
Gavin: Well, I guess you’d have to follow me around to see that really. But pretty normal. I enjoy my work. I enjoy some socializing. I enjoy having nice food, having an occasional beer with some friends. I enjoy snowboarding. I go running. I like swimming and tennis. I enjoy travelling. I enjoyed coming here to Shanghai and walking around seeing what Shanghai life is like. Life has changed a bit for me since the last five years. I still very much continue to do more or less what I’ve always done. I enjoy board games as well.
8btc: As an experienced coder, what does code mean to you? Is coding a job, a hobby or something special?
Gavin: It’s a passion, a form of art. If I’m pressed, I would flatter my chosen profession and say that the age that we’re in at the moment this current digital technology age is similar to the Enlightenment (should be Renaissance) era of Europe, when people like Leonardo Da Vinci were sort of discovering or rediscovering a lot of things like design and philosophy. We are lucky to some degree and able to make the breakthroughs on a day-to-day fashion. We’re able to feel that our work is in some sense sort of new. We’re building new things and we are discovering new things. And we’re creating sort of new, amazing, elegant solutions to problems that have yet to be addressed every day. Yeah, I would say we are in some sense a very lucky set of skilled craftsmen. And yeah, we’re living in a lucky time.
8btc: In your daily work, do you still code? Or will you be more focused on marketing or management?
Gavin: I do continue to code. You can check out my profile and get help if you’re interested to see what I’m coding. But I tend to restrict myself to elements of the client code on the runtime. So just things like the governance, the treasury, the staking module, the balances module that looks after all the balances and several other sort of utility bits of code. But yes, I’m very much involved in the coding. I tend not to get involved in the consensus stuff. It’s very complex, lots of lots of gorges, and I’m quite happy to let a few other members of the team, not least Robert deal with that stuff.
I also tend to take responsibility for the project as a whole. So, I’m the one who tends to place the issues, or at least the bigger issues on the issue tracker. And I try to make sure that the releases happen more or less on time and try to make sure that the people who are coming into the project take on work that needs to be done at priority. Yeah, I’m still very much active in practical matters.
8btc: Cross-chain project is like building bridges to connect different blockchains. Why did you decide to start such a project? What’s your vision for Polkadot?
Gavin: The reason why I started the project I guess is that to try and contribute further to the technology in the blockchain space. For me, it’s always been about the technology and not so much about the markets or about supporting one team over another. It is always just trying to develop things further, or we say about progress.
I guess the vision at the beginning was really just to try to find a more interesting way of doing things or maybe a different way of doing things just to explore and experiment. But I think as the time has gone on, I’ve found maybe a little bit more vision and what I think it will end up with. I think it’s going to be the space evolved in the two or three years since Polkadot began. We’ve seen a lot more projects and many more blockchain ideas, and I think as the way things are going, we’re gonna find that the blockchain space becomes increasingly antagonistic internally. And I see Polkadot, to some degree, at least as a means of combating that kind of antagonism and sort of a safe harbor in the very volatile world of blockchain.
8btc: Blockchain projects are based in different countries, are you concerned about geopolitics?
Gavin: Geopolitics, no. I think in the space of blockchain, different projects will compete on their individual merits. So, the fact that their teams are based in different countries doesn’t really sort of fall into it so much. I think there’s evidence that that’s not really so important with existing projects–Ethereum and Bitcoin. Although they have begun so to speak in different countries at different points in time, they’re still very much global concepts and they have their own followings in each major continent.
So I don’t see the problem with Polkadot’s communities forming and being sort of market specific. I do think that for Polkadot, one of the things that will be sort of interesting to play out is that if they become competing projects within the Polkadot community, how they will manage their differences, whether there’s going to be conflicts and how these conflicts may evolve within a singular ecosystem. But I think at least if we look at existing ecosystems like Ethereum and Bitcoin, they have managed to host competing projects and continue perfectly well. For example, within the Ethereum, there are Gnosis and Augur both trying to solve the same problem. They have been there for some time now and we haven’t seen any big problems for Ethereum ecosystem hosting both of them.
8btc: Will permissioned blockchains be connected via Polkadot in the future?
Gavin: Yes, I think so. I don’t see it as being a problem for permissioned ledgers to connect to Polkadot. In the same, I don’t think it is problematic for sort of permissioned smart contracts to sit on Ethereum. As long as the platform itself is permissionless then the applications can basically decide who they want to use them, whether people who are permissionless need to pay for the services or whether it’s a particular set of white listed identities. It is largely irrelevant as long as you know the platform itself is useful. So yeah. I’m perfectly happy with the idea that permissioned ledger would sit on Polkadot.
8btc: It seems that more projects are using or moving to PoS consensus mechanism. What’s your opinion about PoS and PoW?
Gavin: I think PoW is shit. Ok, so, proof of work is not really proof of work. What is being done is not work. What is being done is waste. So the “W” of PoW really stands for waste, it’s proof of waste. You are wasting power in order to demonstrate your commitment to some particular block. I think proof of work/PoW is really a kind of fossil fuels of consensus.
I think it was the first one to come out because it’s the easiest to understand and it’s the easiest to code. If you look at the yellow paper, the part of the yellow paper expresses the consensus mechanism. The consensus algorithm is, I think, in terms of the formal logic around three or four lines long. It’s extremely, extremely small. It’s very little effort to write a blockchain that uses proof of work, at least the consensus part of the blockchain. If you look at proof of stake, it’s horrendous. It’s huge. It’s like kind of Leviathan of code with the arms everywhere, really difficult to understand and the mathematics behind it, the logic behind it is extremely difficult to understand and improve correctness.
So that’s why it’s not the first one. That’s why Bitcoin isn’t PoS, right? Satoshi, when he wrote Bitcoin, didn’t want to get involved with the nitty gritty of PBFT and try to prove that bonding duration was sufficient. It’s just way too much effort. But nonetheless, it’s the way things must go. Just as the early inventors of electricity didn’t try to invent solar technology, you know, or geothermal power. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, it’s where things need to go. We can only continue sort of burning the coal of blockchain for so long.
So, I’m perfectly happy to usher in the move to proof of stake. If we get something better, I will absolutely replace PoS with that.
8btc: As the direct competitor of Polkadot, Cosmos launched their mainnet last month. Do you feel any pressure or threat?
Gavin: Whether Cosmos is a direct competitor, I think, is still very much open to interpretation. I think the two projects are really trying to solve different problems. And they certainly have very different technical directions. But I’m reasonably happy with Polkadot’s continued progress towards a mainnet launch. I see Cosmos most largely as being a sort of sidechains for Tendermint as supposed to be sidechains, which is normally for Bitcoin. And I think basically Parity bridge and Parity PoA with Ethereum mainnet solve more or less the same problem. So if we look at, for example, xdai, a separate blockchain that’s bridged through some authorities onto Ethereum so it can share DAI stablecoin, it is a project that more or less Cosmos is trying to make a competing platform for.
I don’t see it really as being heterogenous. It’s not a heterogenous multichain technology with shared security. Now of course you know people like to dream of what that project might become, and how Cosmos is different and Ethereum is different. But certainly, Polkadot, I think, is going to arrive at its destination for what it wants to do long before any other projects get to that same level of technical development.
8btc: Some people think that developers have more freedom on Cosmos since they can create their tokens and validators on their chain. Therefore, Cosmos is more like Android while Polkadot is more like iOS. What do you think about it?
Gavin: With Polkadot, there’s nothing that stops parachains having their own token. Indeed, in some sense, it gives them the freedom to create the economics for their own token that they actually want, rather than being forced into particular inflation models in order to fund their own security. So I would say actually Polkadot gives projects a greater level of freedom than they would otherwise have–trying to become Cosmos’ funding their own security. There are I’m sure good reasons why projects, some projects at least, might want the independence of having their own consensus mechanism, which I would say is actually a little different that Cosmos insists that the consensus mechanism will always be Tendermint. Polkadot doesn’t. And I would say in those instances. Polkadot is perfectly happy to introduce bridge technology. That part has already been pushed forward with the Party bridge in order to allow those projects to keep their consensus mechanism, to keep their inflationary token, to fund their own security, but still be able to be connected into Polkadot community. So I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing that projects want to fund their own security. I think in most instances it is unnecessary. But if that’s the case, then Polkadot is perfectly happy to have a product that fits them. But in most instances, I think that it’s actually a better idea for the project to take part of the shared security model Polkadot provides.
8btc: Cosmos has adopted a multi-token economic model where ATOM is the native staking token and Photon is the fee token. But in Polkadot, we only have DOT. Do you think a multi-token economic model is a good way to resolve the conflict between staking and transaction fees?
Gavin: I am fairly happy with being a single token. I mean, ultimately, regardless of whether there are multiple tokens, they’re still always going to be a price, by which you can exchange one for another. And that will usually assume that it’s a liquid market. Then essentially there shouldn’t be any friction going between those two tokens. I don’t see that being a great need for there being a different token for fees. Nonetheless, if it turns out that a secondary liquid fee payment token is required and it turns out to be better, then I’m perfectly happy with the notion of upgrading Polkadot to such a model in the future which is, of course, one of the main distinctions Polkadot is designed for ultimate upgrade ability with the fact that everything except its consensus and networking is based upon a WebAssembly soft coded runtime. And so these kinds of design decisions can be revisited and improved upon what the network chooses.
8btc: The community cannot wait to see the launch of Polkadot’s mainnet. It is said to come in Q3 this year. What are you focused on at the moment? Can you tell us something about the launch time?
Gavin: We’re still aiming to launch by the end of this year. At the moment we’re focused on putting the final touches onto a consensus mechanism. So we’re implementing the babe protocol, which goes alongside the grandpa protocol. This part of the protocol is specifically for offering blocks rather than finalizing them. Once that’s ready, there are a bunch of other things to do with the networking optimization. One or two additional pieces of functionality for the runtime, and quite a lot of work on the security as well as all the auditing. So that’s basically what we have for the rest of the year.
We’re hoping to have something that approaches feature completeness by sometime in summer, maybe July. The auditing has already begun. So we already have teams that are working on checking the existing Polkadot code base. And basically, depending on how those audits go, it will continue from July through August, September and October. Depending on how those audits go, that will determine precisely when we make the mainnet launch. We’ve got a sort of security first attitude. We’re not going to launch anything until we get third party experts’ advice that it’s safe to launch. We are going to be confident that it won’t suffer from substantial network attacks within the first few months, at least.
8btc: Polkadot will have another ICO this year. Could you tell us something about it? Will you consider IEO (Initial Exchange Offering) as a way to sell your token?
Gavin: I can’t really say much because no decisions have been made yet. We are committed to getting rid of the final 20 percent of the tokens before the full launch of the network. Yeah, our current idea is to sort of push forward with some private sales for the first for a few percent of that twenty percent, and then try and do a fairly large-scale public, sort of global sales later. So we’ll try to sort of get that public sale, assuming all of the legal machinery agrees that it’s okay. We’re aiming to do it somewhere around the sort of three months before mainnet launch. So, if we, let’s say, take a mainnet launch for mid-November, then we would expect October, September, and sometime in mid-August.
But like I say, there’s no decision has been made on that yet, because the exact sort of the effort in order to do an ICO is fairly substantial. Of course, there are platforms now. So we need to research the platforms and see if they will do the same sort of thing. IEOs are also one potential avenue, although, it’s not clear whether they will necessarily fulfil our needs or whether they’d be the optimum platform. Probably less likely, I would say, but yeah, we haven’t really finished our research, so a decision will be made eventually. And when there’s one, then we’ll mention something.
8btc: How do you feel about the Chinese community? What’s your future plan in China?
Gavin: The Chinese community is certainly I would say excited community, probably the most excited across the world. But you know, it’s always great coming to China and meeting everyone, particularly in terms of developer community. Everyone here has so much energy and so much passion. This is the third time I’ve come to Shanghai. So, it’s becoming a city that I’m actually enjoying staying in and walking around. And the food here is amazing. And yeah, I know it’s been this particular state that has been very nice. I mean, I don’t have any particular travel plans for the rest of the year, but I’m sure I’ll find time to come by and visit again.
Apatheticco contributed reporting.