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special edition: all things zero knowledge
1. Resource: The Zero Knowledge Canon 📚
Elena Burger, Bryan Chiang, Sonal Chokshi, Eddy Lazzarin, Justin Thaler, Ali Yahya et al
Zero knowledge systems represent powerful, foundational technologies that hold the keys to blockchain scalability; represent the future of privacy-preserving applications within (and beyond) crypto/web3; and will be a key feature of countless innovations to come.
It’s been a long time coming: The “paradoxical notions” of zero-knowledge proofs were first introduced nearly four decades ago (in 1985), and were recognized by an ACM Turing Award — widely considered the Nobel Prize in Computing — a decade ago (in 2012). But in this past decade, zero knowledge systems — which include proofs, arguments, more — have moved from theory to practice.
That’s why we carefully culled a set of resources for those seeking to understand, go deeper, and/or build with all things zero knowledge: The Zero Knowledge (ZK) Canon. The latest in our long series of canons, the ZK Canon also includes, for the first time, an annotated reading list organized by topics and chronology by Justin Thaler (in part two). Part one, meanwhile, covers everything from cryptographic foundations and evolutions; overviews and intros at various levels of detail, whether for policymakers or engineers; deep dives such as courses, breakdowns, and builder guides; plus sample applications, demos, tutorials; and other resources. *Now updated with even more of the latest and greatest resources*
2. Analysis: On post-quantum SNARKs — performance vs. security? 🔥
SNARKs (succinct non-interactive arguments of knowledge) — which allow someone to “prove” to an untrusting “verifier” that they know some data satisfying certain properties — are especially useful in decentralized settings: They allow data to be processed by untrusted entities, who can then prove that the data is valid and has been processed correctly. This is particularly useful in L2 rollups, for example.
The primary determinant of SNARK applicability is the performance of the prover — which Thaler previously analyzed, and which we covered in a previous edition of this newsletter — but now, he turns to the costs of verification. Because while SNARK and protocol designers are innovating in exciting ways, some approaches introduce a tension between security and verification costs, especially when it comes to post-quantum security. Thaler's post overviews these tensions, and outlines actions, suggested norms, and future directions for deploying practical, secure SNARKs for the long term.
3. Overview: Models of zero knowledge proofs ▶️
In this talk from the a16z Crypto Research seminar series, Meiklejohn (professor in cryptography and security at University College London, research scientist at Google, and an associate director of IC3) provides an overview of zero-knowledge proofs. Her talk helps viewers develop "intuition" for understanding definitions and key features; shares an evolution of models for zero-knowledge proofs, including protocols and proof sizes; reviews basics of how blockchains work as well as constraints and constructions; and discusses applications driving development.
But the talk is also more broadly about how innovation happens: How constraints drive solutions; how theory feeds practice and practice feeds theory, and how new models emerge… why working on zero knowledge systems is so active and exciting!
4. Field notes: Applied zero knowledge 🗒️
Anne Brandes, Elena Burger, Bryan Chiang, Valeria Nikolaenko, Daejun Park, Carra Wu, Guy Wuollet
Taking place after the 2022 Science of Blockchain Conference (which we previously reported on in this newsletter edition), the Applied ZK Workshop at Stanford University brought together researchers and developers to present and discuss the latest developments in the zero-knowledge ecosystem. Speakers covered everything from new circuit primitives and virtual machine (VM) architectures, and also focused on formal methods and formal verification.
The a16z crypto team shares some notable libraries, tools, slides, and other links within this edition of our Field Notes series:
5. From the archives: Decentralized speed — advances in zero knowledge proofs 📱
One way to view technological advancement is through the lens of hardware: As new needs and use-cases emerge, chip manufacturers design special-purpose GPUs, FPGAs, and ASICs optimized for specific functions and software. All major industries in tech — from cloud computing to computer graphics to AI & machine learning to crypto — have evolved to demand hardware that accelerates the speed and efficiency of computations.
Yet there’s also a movement to optimize algorithms for consumer-grade hardware that preserves decentralization and privacy, as seen with advances in zero knowledge. What becomes possible when everyone has the assurance of completely private transactions they can prove from a mobile phone, and can settle on a trustless blockchain that hosts many decentralized applications? It’s difficult to stand at the unresolved beginning of a massive social and economic shift… and easier to stand at the tail end of a technological revolution and declare the changes brought about by it as inevitable (as happened with the smartphone).
--Sonal Chokshi, Robert Hackett, and a16z crypto team
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