A Cornell computer science professor known for her work on the fundamentals of distributed systems is soon to launch a new blockchain project.
Announced today at ethereum's annual developer conference, Devcon3, Elaine Shi explained that the upcoming work will be based on the thunderella protocol – a paper she co-authored alongside Cornell associate professor Rafael Pass earlier this year. Called thunder token, the effort aims to address a problem common to blockchains, their inability to accommodate significant numbers of users.
In the talk today, Shi proclaimed that thunder token may be able to achieve speeds 1,000x greater than available technologies today. Further, much like some other projects that have been popping up recently, it doesn't rely on a blockchain – at least, not entirely.
While in more traditional blockchain systems, blocks need to be validated for transactions to occur, it's a process that takes time, around 10 minutes per block in bitcoin, for example.
In this way, Shi sought to portray thunder token as a fast and scalable protocol – the "dream of large-scale consensus" – one she thinks could prove viable for banks and corporations.
"With cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum we now have empirical evidence that distributed consensus is now possible on a really large scale on the internet. We want to replicate that success."
Currently, Shi said that blockchain consortiums such as R3 and Hyperledger are racing to create systems tailored for these large-scale formats, but that there's not enough focus on reworking or improving on the limitations of the underlying protocols in use.
In thunder token, the protocol proposes a split set-up so that transactions are confirmed very quickly, with the blockchain only being used in the case of emergencies. The rest of the time, thunder token will use something a little less familiar – a system of agents that follows the direction of a "leader" to vote on which transactions are made according to the rules.
Shi contends this design is "as simple and robust as a blockchain," but with transaction confirmations in under a second and security embedded, as users can always "fall back to [on a] blockchain" in the worst-case scenario.
Still, it's early days for the idea. Shi said the company has only just incorporated, and it's not clear if the protocol will be purely private, or open to the public. Today, a website isn't even live, and there's no mention of a roadmap for the project.
But while the concept may seem a little fresh, Shi put forth a compelling case that the work could be one to watch as it evolves toward maturity.
And as Shi reminded the audience:
"Simplicity is your good friend, especially for large scale distributed systems."
Elaine Shi image via Rachel Rose O'Leary