Web3 enabled the decentralized internet. Now, ZK is poised to power a truly private one.
In fact, the entire zero-knowledge field is “gaining momentum,” a16z wrote in its 2023 State of Crypto report, citing the fact that Ethereum transactions verifying ZK proofs have spiked and ZK-related academic publications have doubled in recent years.
There are even more reasons to be bullish, a16z notes: Hardware costs are decreasing rapidly, ZK-related educational materials are proliferating, and high-level ZK programming languages, such as Leo, are maturing.
As a leader in this rapidly emerging space, Zprize co-sponsor Aleo offered $3M Aleo credits to the developer team that could produce the highest amount of Proof-of-Succinct Work proofs in a 20-second time block.
The results? ZPrize finalists created solutions that resulted in almost 4X and 6X increases in current proof submission speeds. That represents significant progress for the entire ZK space, particularly when combined with the 10x increases in verification speeds achieved in a separate verification-focused ZPrice category sponsored by Aleo.
Let’s start by defining what Proof-of-Succint Work is not.
Aleo, the blockchain platform for private applications, uses a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus system for processing transactions and creating new blocks on the blockchain — the same model used by many other chains, including Ethereum, which switched to PoS in September of 2022.
Previously, Ethereum used a Proof of Work system for consensus, the same consensus originally and still used by Bitcoin. There are plenty of articles that discuss the differences between PoS and PoW. However, the important thing here to note is that Proof-of-Succinct Work (PoSW) is a separate off-chain process that allows the Aleo blockchain and others to generate SNARK proofs, which make it possible to more easily implement ZK technology.
To generate a zk-SNARK proof, a user would typically need deep specialized knowledge of the underlying math involved. The Proof-of-Succinct-Work algorithm, however, abstracts this away, making it much easier for users to generate proofs with much less effort.
In short, PoSW makes native zero-knowledge implementations possible in PoW and PoS networks, while still keeping data verifiably private from end-to-end.
Accelerating PoSW can cut on-chain costs, and help the entire web3 space scale further, with novel use cases built on top of it — such as private accounts for widespread, institutional level usage and fully private decentralized applications across all sorts of use cases.
In this ZPrize competition, each developer team was asked to devise a solution that would produce the highest number of PoSW proofs within a set duration of time.
The target block time was 20 seconds, so the objective function was the total number of proofs that were computed within a fixed number of 20-second time intervals.
Competitors were selected based on their prior documented experience and academic achievement, while submissions were checked for correctness and ranked by performance.
In the end, teams were given a score based on the total number of PoSW proofs submitted within a 20-second time period, divided by the total cost of the hardware setup required to do so.
Supranational, the winning team in this particular category, is a company that centers the bulk of its efforts on hardware acceleration for verifiable and confidential computing. Core members worked at Intel, as well as on projects like the Intel SHA extensions, while contributing to time-tested open-source cryptography libraries like OpenSSL, which fuel the web as we know it today.
On top of everything else, Supranational also created the blst library, which powers the cryptography in protocols like Ethereum, Filecoin, Aptos, Sui, Flow, and more. Additionally, the team developed sppark, a library used as the baseline in the MSM track of last year’s ZPrize competition and currently incorporated into live zero-knowledge protocols like Aleo.
Supranational found its unique mix of experience to be a considerable asset in the challenge involved with PoSW acceleration. “Over the past few years, we’ve been focused on zero knowledge proofs and zero knowledge proof acceleration, so the prize was a great fit for us,” Supranational Co-Founder Kelly Olson told Zprize.
Trapdoor Tech develops real-world applications with zk-SNARK/STARK technology — particularly excelling in their adept use of Graphic-Processing Units (GPUs) and Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to improve ZK performance.
“The bottleneck right now for integrating zero-knowledge onto blockchains is proof generation. If you improve that performance, you improve transaction-per-second rates a lot,” Trapdoor Tech founder Star Li told ZPrize. “We’re excited to continue to identify innovative approaches that can be applied to real-world scenarios and enable widespread adoption of ZK technology.
Accelerating Proof-of-Succinct Work on CPU and GPU platforms allows for quicker computation of the ZK proofs involved in the consensus process.
Those innovations then lead to far stronger network security and end-to-end privacy across the board for the network or networks involved — and as similar ZK-efforts increase and are employed at a much wider scale, we draw closer and closer to a more private, open, and decentralized internet.
If you want to get involved, head to our Discord and join in on discussions as the competition continues to take shape!