Developers who believe they have what it takes to improve zero-knowledge cryptography are being encouraged to take part in the $7 million ZPrize contest that’s sponsored by a coalition of the world’s leading blockchain and cryptography companies, protocols and foundations.
The ZPrize competition is backed by names such as Advanced Micro Devices, Ethereum Foundation, Polkadot, Polygon, Matter Labs and Manta Network, who wish to inspire innovation in ZK cryptography in order to speed up and scale blockchain networks.
Teams will be able to compete in multiple categories to try and create new techniques and algorithms that offer superior performance to today’s existing ZK cryptography solutions. The contest requires all submissions to be open-sourced, so that everyone involved in the blockchain space can take advantage of their innovations.
ZK cryptography is widely viewed as the most practical scaling solution for blockchains that are encumbered by slow transactions and high energy usage. Ethereum, for example, is infamous for its network congestion that results in transactions taking over an hour to process, with high fees charged to users of the network. With ZK cryptography, it’s possible to compress blockchain transactions and squeeze more onto each block that’s processed, meaning they can be performed faster and with less energy. The technology works by obscuring transaction data, meaning less processing power is used. As a result, there are privacy benefits too, with the amounts of each transaction and the wallet addresses obscured.
ZK cryptography has some big fans, with one of the most notable being Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. Last year, Buterin wrote in a blog post that a technique called ZK Rollups is the most promising solution for scaling Ethereum.
The ZPrize contest is inspired by the XPrize Foundation, which regularly hosts competitions to inspire technological innovations that benefit humanity. It has previously awarded prizes for technologies that improve spaceflight, the health of the world’s oceans and adult literacy. With ZPrize, teams will be able to compete for prizes across multiple categories, with rewards paid out to those that can achieve the most superior performance compared to today’s existing ZK cryptographic algorithms.
While AMD will provide the hardware for teams to develop their solutions, each category has its own sponsor that provides funding for the prizes. Manta Network for example, said it is sponsoring the multiscalar multiplication (MSM) and number-theoretic transform operations category. Manta co-founder and core contributor Shoumo Chu said that greater adoption of its zkSNARKS technique, a protocol that helps to obscure transaction details in DeFi apps, is dependent on improving the throughput and latency of MSM and number-theoretic transform operations in WebAssembly (WASM) smart contracts.
Chu explained that implementing zkSNARKS in WASM smart contract transactions results in a performance penalty of 10-15 times, compared with native speed. Manta has developed the Manta-Signer solution as a way of overcoming this, Chu said, but it wants to find a more practical solution because the signer prevents users from transacting with the wallet of their choice.
“We have chosen to be the architect and sponsors in the open division because we truly care about WASM ZKP performance,” Chu said. “We view the WASM ZKP performance as the ‘last mile problem’ for mass ZKP adoption.”
ZPrize is accepting applicants now and said that anyone with experience in mathematics, cryptography, electrical engineering, hardware engineering, or optimization is welcome to apply.
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