Student of law working on code and everything law. Founder: Blockchain Research
Ishan Pandey: Hi Beni, welcome to our series “Behind the Startup.” Please tell us about yourself and the story behind Concordium?
Beni Issembert: My name is Beni Issembert, born and raised in France but living in Tel Aviv for the last 26 years. Happily married to Olivia and proud father of two princesses.
My background is mainly made of a strong anchor in the academy with doctoral studies at John Hopkins University and Paris 8 in the field of philosophy of sciences and expertise in the following fields: ethics in tech, collective intelligence and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Since 2005 I’ve been a web entrepreneur with a marketing and storytelling orientation. I’ve been active in the following industries: video streaming, online gaming, ad-tech and most recently, in the blockchain industry.
Before my time at Concordium, I was the founding CMO at Beam Privacy, a Mimblewimble implementation and I’m heading the board of advisors at Kylin Network. Plus, very recently, I’ve created a little Venture Capital Fund called 314.VC, which deals with ethical investments in tech.
The story behind Concordium is simple. Let’s begin with the following postulate: businesses don’t adopt blockchain-based technologies and the mission was to solve this issue because we believe that mainstream adoption will come from the business world in general and from the SMEs in particular.
In our analysis of the “why”, we’ve concluded that businesses aren’t ready to jump in without a strong privacy orientation combined with a regulatory-compliant approach. And this is why we’ve created Concordium, whose design has been first developed in the academy via our science partners at ETH Zurich, Aarhus University and the Indian Institute of Science at Bengaluru.
The solution is a technological expression of a sensible balance between a holistic privacy-centric infrastructure meant to protect users’ privacy using applied encryption and ZK proof; and the necessary regulatory-compliant readiness in the form of Concordium ID layer at the protocol level. In other words, the blockchain is a smart equation between Privacy and Identity Techs. Plus, the platform’s 2-Layer consensus offers better scalability, security and finalisation.
The blockchain’s innovative identification layer strikes a harmony between anonymity and disclosure that is focused on enforcement. On-chain, a user’s identity is private, however, it may be removed, and their real-world identity exposed in response to a legitimate request by a government body made through existing legal channels. Anonymity concerning the general population is maintained from the user’s viewpoint, and blockchain’s identification layer can serve identity suppliers and anonymity revokers based in various jurisdictions around the globe. As a result, the blockchain provides a multinational, multijurisdictional solution for blockchain adoption through regulatory regimes.
Ishan Pandey: With so many frauds happening where unscrupulous people are duping investors, professional ethics and morals need to play a more prominent role in our industry. What are your views on ethics in the blockchain/cryptocurrency industry particularly?
Beni Issembert: You are right. Cybercrimes are one of the most threatening challenges of our time. But before we speak about ethics in the blockchain world, let’s define ethics. If we refer to ethics by means of speaking of good vs evil, then we are wrong. This form of ethics is a pure product of the Judeo-Christian morality approach, meaning a subjective judgment. By ethics, I mean what is allowed and what is forbidden within a structure governed by a social contract, the same way Frederich Nietzsche has expressed it in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). If we get back to the tech landscape in general and the blockchain in particular, by ethics, we need to understand a work-in-progress that will enable us, the builders, to define some paradigms that will lead us to state what is allowed vs what is forbidden. Finally, after having defined “ethics” we need to enforce it and this where the regulator is playing a role.
In our industry today, everything is allowed and very few things are forbidden. This so-called anarchist situation - I understand anarchy the way its “father” the French Philosopher Joseph Proudhon has defined it in the first part of the 19th century, meaning as “order without power” - leads all of us to a dangerous position where people are scammed, VCs govern and nobody is protected. We miss here a tangible and community-built social contract that will help us live together in this space. This is what I call ethics. But again, ethics as an idea is not much. We need the “regulator” to enforce this ethical design by creating laws and applying them.
Ishan Pandey: Concordium works on a next-generation privacy-focused, public, and permissionless blockchain architecture whereby users can verify that something is true without physically seeing the evidence. Can you explain how consensus will be established on Concordium between network participants?
Beni Issembert: Concordium is indeed the first public and permissionless layer-1 blockchain that expresses this sensible balance between identity and privacy. The whole is quite simple. To use blockchain and its various products, i.e. a Rust-based Smart Contract, users must be identified using our zk-proof-based identity layer. In other words, users are identified and create an SSI object that can be deployed everywhere, so they don’t have to renounce their privacy. Thanks to ZK-proof, the blockchain’s Identity layer enables users to deploy an “identity object” without sharing the data that sits inside.
That said, the Identity layer offers an Identity Revoking design, decentralised, that can be used to revoke the “anonymity” of a user upon a legal court request, and only if the user is suspicious to have acted illegally.
But to recap, if you play by the rules, your activities are private in a singular way. If you don’t play according to the rules, well, like in the legacy world, you need to explain yourself in front of the authorities.
But more than everything else, this design provides users with the most regulatory-compliant ecosystem, enabling businesses but not only to manage their activities legally on the network.
Ishan Pandey: How will revoking a user’s anonymity for complying with regulations or court order work? Further, do you think that Compliance-as-a-Design is a crucial feature for next-generation blockchains?
Beni Issembert: I would say that Compliance is not a question. It’s a fact, whether you like it or not, this is not the question. But living in a society with a “social contract” means that you have a set of common rules that all must respect. Compliance in the crypto world is ineluctable. That’s the key to mainstream adoption, as far as I’m concerned and we still have room to impact the upcoming regulation to fit with our times.
It’s designed to work with existing financial and business networks that need to recognise a user’s identification. The blockchain platform lets application developers, people, and companies design products that conform with local legislation while maintaining the advantages of a privacy-focused, public, and permissionless blockchain by developing special protocol-level identity algorithms.
Any person that has an account on the platform is considered a member. Individuals or legitimate bodies, such as companies, are qualified, although they must have a clear form of identification to complete the off-chain identity procedure.
Ishan Pandey: Can you explain what is Global Transaction Unit (GTU)? Further, how will baking and shielded transfer work on the Concordium blockchain?
Beni Issembert: The GTU is the native token built on top of Concordium using our token standard, the equivalent of the famous erc20. It’s a payment token that enables smart contract deployers and users to use the network.
Bakers play an important role in our network and will be rewarded for every new-minted block. In the first year, the blockchain’s inflation will be 10%, the second year 5% and from the third one 2%. Bakers are getting 60% of each new block. Block finalisers are getting 30% of it and the Foundation 10%.
When it comes to transactions, the blockchain’s approach has always been clear from day 1: flat and fiat-based fees for cheaper transactions but mainly for a predictable cost. A critical feature for businesses, actually. A simple transition of x GTU from Account A to Account B is the most basic form of transaction. If Account A’s public balance is at least x + transaction cost, the transaction is legal. The result of the exchange is that Account A’s public balance is lowered by x + transaction fee, whereas Account B’s public balance is raised by x. For this particular type of trade, both the records and the amount x are available to the public.
When you think about what’s going on with our dear friends at Ethereum when it comes to gas fees, that’s insane. Although encrypted transactions conceal the sum of GTU transferred, it is easy to see which accounts are involved. Through anonymous transactions, you get an extra layer of anonymity.
The usability of an anonymous transfer is similar to that of an encrypted transfer, except that the sender and recipient of a transmission cannot be connected. The blockchain intends to promote anonymous transfer using various recent and well-known methods, including a mix-net solution similar to Fauzi et al. work’s on Quisquis.
Authorities can also access details regarding a transaction concealed in an encrypted move by using an anonymity revocation method.
Ishan Pandey: Concordium will use Rust as the programming language for deploying smart contracts. According to you, why is Rust a better programming language as compared to Solidity or Vyper for writing smart contracts?
Beni Issembert: The RustLang ecosystem is one of the most impressive landscapes I ever saw for several reasons.
First of all, this framework is incredibly secure and flexible, enabling coders and users to enjoy a non-complex environment. In other words, no stupid elitism in this ecosystem but a nova linga by the people for the people.
Plus, as a self-taught coder that codes in RustLang, I can testify that Rust is one of the simplest languages to learn and use.
And combined with WebAssembly, RustLang offers some great opportunities when it comes to cross-chain communication.
Although I can talk about RustLang for hours, RustLang offers one of the readiest logos for ethics in technology due to its flexibility and thanks to its builders that are real ontological leaders. I’m speaking clearly about Florian Glitcher and Josh Triplett as the best examples of what I just said.
WebAssembly (Wasm), a compact, well-defined assembly-like language, is the blockchain’s fundamental on-chain language. Wasm is an internet standard that has gained much popularity in recent years and is now endorsed by many of the main browsers. Many programming languages may already be compiled to Wasm, which means we will accept a wide variety of smart contract languages in the future.
Ishan Pandey: What advice and insights will you give to developers interested in building applications in the Concordium ecosystem?
Beni Issembert: I won’t say welcome homes like my competitors and friends. That’s simply silly.
I would say more that if they want to contribute to the development of the ecosystem, they must understand that the best way to do it is to deploy the principle of reciprocity, the Golden Rule as Karl Popper mentioned, based on which contributing to the collective brings direct individual benefits. In other words, coders willing to deploy a Dapp on top of Concordium have to look at the RustLang ecosystem, too, to fit and bring real value. By strengthening the RustLang Ecosystem, the blockchain developers are strengthening the ecosystem. We invite them to contribute to the ecosystem while working on their dapp on Concordium with a grant from the Concordium Foundation.
Ishan Pandey: Can you highlight certain business use cases of Concordium? Further, how can organisations operating in the healthcare industry or finance industry leverage and at the same time comply with regulations by building on Concordium?
Beni Issembert: We are a layer-1 blockchain, meaning we are not going to deploy any use-case. That said, we work with big system integrators that will onboard businesses and use-cases on the blockchain.
The first natural verticals that could enjoy an incredible user experience and an adequate platform to build are identity, privacy, gaming, “regulated” defi and healthcare.
Ishan Pandey: How will the governance of the Concordium blockchain look like?
Beni Issembert: It looks good, lol. Well, the Foundation board is very impressive and will govern the network until decentralisation. We feel that full decentralisation at launch is dangerous for the project. Our friends and competitors are living proof that too fast decentralisation could be very challenging. That’s why we’ve created a Steering Committee that will assist the Foundation Board. This steering committee is made of professionals, developers, RustLang Foundation members, researchers and community members.
Ishan Pandey: What are your views on the recent NFT craze? Further, according to you, what new trends are we going to see moving forward?
Beni Issembert: NFT is not new to me, actually. We are working on a token standard that will support the tokenisation of art. For the first time in our short blockchain history, we have a real use case that doesn’t serve the past, but that opens the doors of the future. This is really new and refreshing. Because if you think, besides BTC and Elon Musk, what are the current use-cases running on top of Blockchain? Not a lot. But wait, Concordium is coming and will enable the Steve Jobs of tomorrow to create the unicorns of the future.
The purpose of this article is to remove informational asymmetry existing today in our digital markets by performing due diligence by asking the right questions and equipping readers with better opinions to make informed decisions. The material does not constitute any investment, financial, or legal advice. Please do your research before investing in any digital assets or tokens, etc. The writer does not have any vested interest in the company. Ishan Pandey, legal researcher at Karm Legal Consultants.
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