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a jolt of energy; AI and crypto
1. Feature: Making SNARKs more accessible, more auditable, and more widely usable for more developers
with Justin Thaler, Sam Ragsdale, Michael Zhu et al
We recently released two new innovations that can significantly speed up scaling and building applications in web3: Lasso and Jolt, which together represent a fundamentally new approach to SNARK design.
Why does this matter? So much work over the past few years has gone into increasing the efficiency and usability of verifiable computing in general, and SNARKS specifically, to deliver on the promise of trustless distributed systems. At a very high level, SNARKs — which have many applications both in web3 and beyond — compress arbitrary computations so that anyone can quickly verify that they were done correctly. For crypto and web3, they move expensive computations off-chain and only carry out verification on-chain.
Lasso and Jolt represent a new paradigm for implementing streamlined zkVMs (zero-knowledge virtual machines) because they avoid the need for circuits that have to be optimized tediously by hand. Until now, building with SNARKs required specialized expertise that very few developers have. But Lasso accomplishes a much more streamlined approach by performing “lookups” [see more on lookup arguments in the posts below] against massive structured tables with less computational waste. This was previously impossible because prior lookup arguments required (super)linear preprocessing or prover time. Meanwhile, Jolt-based VMs are simpler, faster, and more easily auditable.
Together, Lasso and Jolt help unlock more compute-intensive applications — allowing many more kinds of applications to be built than are possible now. Importantly, this approach helps make SNARK design more widely usable, and the SNARK toolchain much more accessible to more developers, by allowing SNARKs for existing popular programming languages (not only those designed for the task). Many instructions across different instruction sets are similar, allowing significant code re-use… a hallmark of web3 and open source.
An analogy here might be to the early days of semiconductor engineering: Before chip design was accelerated and democratized through CAD and a broader ecosystem of tooling, many circuit designs were hand-coded and optimized in a bespoke manner; we are in a similar moment with SNARKs today. And while there is a long way to go to get there, Lasso and Jolt could help set us on that path. Right now, Lasso is 10x faster than existing approaches and should get to 40x once optimized (and beyond, once Jolt is further built). To that end, we welcome more developers and builders to contribute to this body of open source work, which is available to anyone! For more details and to learn more:
Read this backgrounder for developers and others — also includes details on how the a16z crypto engineering team helped translate theory to code, as well as a list of suggested directions for builders
Read this overview of Lasso and Jolt — from the a16z crypto research partner leading this approach
See this video playlist with overview presentations — as well as short clips on the paradigm shift, “lookup singularity”, and more
2. Trends: AI & crypto
with Ali Yahya, Dan Boneh, Sonal Chokshi
This week's all-new episode of “web3 with a16z” covers the convergence of two top of mind trends: artificial intelligence/machine learning, and blockchains/crypto. The conversation covers topics ranging from deep fakes, bots, and the need for proof-of-humanity in a world of AI; to big data, large language models like ChatGPT, user control, governance, privacy and security, zero knowledge and zkML; to MEV, media, art, and more.
The first half is about how AI could benefit from crypto, and the second half on how crypto could benefit from AI — but the thread throughout is the tension between centralization vs. decentralization. We also discuss where the intersection of crypto and AI can bring about things that aren't possible by either one of them alone. Together, the fields of AI and crypto have major implications for how we all live our lives everyday; so this episode is for anyone just curious about, or already building in the space.
builder of worlds
--Sonal Chokshi and a16z crypto teams
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