Move over Bitcoin – MIT Cryptographer Silvio Micali and his Public Ledger ALGORAND… The Future of Blockchain?


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MIT’s Ford Professor of Engineering and one of the world’s top cryptographers Silvio Micali recently published a paper called ALGORAND The Efficient and Democratic Ledger (in the Blockchain News Library) where he lays out a groundbreaking new vision of a decentralized and secure way to manage a shared ledger that provides a beautifully elegant solution to the Byzantine General’s problem. 

Micali, the recipient of the Turing Award (in computer science), of the Goedel Prize (in theoretical computer science) and the RSA prize (in cryptography) has developed a new approach to proof of work –  which requires a negligible amount of computation, and generates a transaction history that does not fork with overwhelmingly high probability. In fact – over a million years statistically. 

The approach cryptographically selects — in a way that is provably immune from manipulations, unpredictable until the last minute, but ultimately universally clear— a set of verifiers in charge of constructing a block of valid transactions and it applies to any way of implementing a shared ledger via a tamper-proof sequence of blocks, including traditional Blockchains.

According to Micali, best known for his fundamental early work on public-key cryptosystems, pseudorandom functions, digital signatures, oblivious transfer, secure multiparty computation, and co-invention of zero-knowledge proofs – there are much more efficient alternatives to current Blockchains.

And the basis for his solution is taking a totally different tack in the process of building a block. He noted that the idea was first seeded to him by a friend but he added that many of the Magistracies in Florence were elected by lottery. 

He calls it cryptographic certation. 

The concept is select a small group of people randomly and suddenly – who will be in charge of the next block – and be rewarded with a percentage of the block transaction. And do this in a way that is not manipulatable by an adversary. No one selects the group – it’s selected by hash. And if that’s not enough he says you take a pseudo-random generator which is pre-specified and you elongate as much as you need to select the committee. 

The group decided the next block by a redesigned Byzantine Agreement where a leader is picked randomly from the group. If he’s a bad choice an agreement will not be able to be made. And everyone is forced to agree on nothing. Zero progress.  With a bad leader, you just don’t get a block and if you have an empty block you get no money.

That’s the game theory.

Micali says it’s not by incentive alone but he was not yet willing to give up all his ‘tricks’ around a totally new class of protocols he’s designed (at least not in the video). 

“I believe the public ledger is going to be as beautiful and as useful as any physical infrastructure but we have created and I really urge you to devote all of your attention to it.”

From a recent video (skip to 14:20 for explanation to start)

Micali has received his Laurea in Mathematics from the University of Rome, and his PhD in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Since 1983 he has been on the MIT faculty, in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, where he is Ford Professor of Engineering. Silvio’s research interests are cryptography, zero knowledge, pseudorandom generation, secure protocols, and mechanism design. Silvio is the recipient of the Turing Award (in computer science), of the Goedel Prize (in theoretical computer science) and the RSA prize (in cryptography). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

About Richard Kastelein

Founder, Publisher and Editor in Chief of industry leading online publication, Blockchain News and co-founder and director at Blockchain Partners in London/Amsterdam/NYC. Kastelein is also an advisor with a number Blockchain startups doing ICOs including where hs is interim CMO,, Inchain, Chronobank, eGaas and others. He is regarded as one of the top journalists by the Blockchain and fintech communities – as is evident by his entry in the Top 150 Fintech journalists online and in the top 10 of the Blockchain Top 100 List.

As a prominent keynote presenter, he has spoken on Blockchain at events in Gdansk, Amsterdam, Minsk, Dubai, Antwerp, Eindhoven, Bucharest, Nairobi, Tel Aviv, Manchester, Brussels, Barcelona etc, where he helped spread the cause for Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency and, consequently, has built a notable network in the scene.

He’s also a director of a Dutch foundation called The Hackitarians and has run innovation events in London, San Francisco, Berlin, Amsterdam and other cities around the world on topics such Blockchain, Health, Energy, Internet of Things, AI etc.

In 2013, the European Commission appointed him as an expert for overseeing financing for emerging startups as a part of the European Commission’s 90 billion euro Horizon 2020 project, created in Brussels to promote innovation as a driving force of job creation and business ventures across Europe. He has also worked as an external expert for Innovate UK since 2012, judging startups for the UK government.

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  • What a waste of genuine genius. – And a great demonstration of what’s wrong with academia in our times. This brilliant person just learned about the blockchain and without taking the time to learn about the economics of bitcoin (and how no effeciency improvements help it) or the network effect he dives full-blown into making more effecient code. – Damn shame it will never be useful.

    • 1. Actually if you took the time to read the paper you would know he designed a full blown cryptocurrency before doing this called Democoin in 2014-2105.

      2. effeciency is not a word. Nor is effecient. It’s difficult to take anyone seriously who can’t spell correctly – particularly one who claims to be a journalist, never mind a self proclaimed expert.

      3. Show us some math disproving the thesis. Your mispelled sentences don’t really cut it.

      • 1 & 3. You misunderstand my point; I believe all cryptocurrencies and blockchains that aren’t bitcoin are incapable of serving as money.

        It’s not a math thing; it’s because of economics. The network effect is all-powerful.

        2. Please forgive me for not using a spellchecker on a blog comment! I’ll go submit myself to fourty lashes now for this infraction.

        • Stef Kuypers

          1. So, frying the planet with heat generated by the current implementation of blockchain is not an issue?
          2. BitCoin is currently not a currency, it’s a trading commodity that is being hoarded in the hope to get rich. It can be used as a currency but most of it isn’t.
          3. No other cryptocurrency can serve as money because of economics? Really? Since when is economics an exact science?

          • 1. Lol… That electricity is doing an important job of making transactions unforgrable. Meanwhile, can you even begin to estimate the electricity used by the existing finance system it’s meant to replace? It’s millions of times worse.

            2. Agreed… But upgrades happen every day and soon it will be capable of a whole lot more. Eventually it’ll make the existing money look like utter, useless crap.

            3. Just go learn about network effects and you’ll eventually get it. Millions of people already see this point I don’t have all day to explain it again.

          • Stef Kuypers

            1. I am talking about energy used per transaction, not total energy used. If BitCoin would be processing the same amount of transactions as the dominant global currency system is today we’d probably be able to cook our eggs in the ocean.
            2. Yes, upgrades happen. Which is why I am surprised you rally against an upgrade for an energy hungry security algorithm.
            But back on topic, I totally agree that the current monetary system needs to be re designed and replaced with something better. BitCoin is a first attempt to that. While laudable, I don’t think it’s the best we can do. It did open doors for other systems though and in that regard it has done a wonderful job.
            3. I know about network effects.

        • You are wrong in believing all cryptos and blockchains that are not bitcoin are incapable of serving as money. That’s clearly demonstrable by being able to convert multiple cryptos on multiple exchanges for Fiat currencies. And bitoin is still not recognised as money by any countries – it’s considered a capital asset by the US government.

          This is just more ‘Flat Earth’ bitcoin maximalist tripe with no grounding in reality.

          Bitcoin’s ‘network affect’ came because it was bottle fed to it’s adolescence in the deep web by drug dealers, hit men and kiddie porn peddlers, there’s far too much of it that is traceable back to dodgy hands (one of the problems of an immutable record). Wait until Homeland Security or the US Treasury comes out with Bitrank – where bitcoin is judged on it’s history – and it’s coming. This will cleave bitcoin into two markets – good and bad.

          Economics is hardly and exact science – as Stef noted. Bitcoin was just the start and it’s not the end. There’s going to be better math written (see above), finer algorithms, better concepts born… please. It’s like saying BBS is still the only way to chat, or Myspace was never going to be taken down by anyone (see Facebook). Or when Altavista ruled search.

          I don’t think Satoshi envisioned that one Bitcoin transaction would cost the same amount of power as 1.6 American households in a day. Or that by 2020 it would take more power than Denmark. What a colossal waste – and how much coal is pumped into the air in China to meet these needs?

          China… Miners… that’s a whole other fucking nightmare. Talk about centralisation. Never mind the dev team does what they want as a small unit and that half of the entire bitcoin market cap is owned by 500-1000 whales.

          • Feel free to believe what you want. I heard all of these arguments and dismissed them back in 2011, and everything has been happening more or less exactly as I suspected it would back then.