Manta Network is teaming up with some of the biggest names in crypto and tech to offer prizes totalling $7 million to teams that can innovate and ramp up zero-knowledge cryptography, a key technology that many believe is essential for scaling blockchain transactions.
Announced earlier this month, the ZPrize contest is sponsored by a consortium of 21 Web3 organizations including the Ethereum Foundation, Polkadot and Polygon, plus the semiconductor titans AMD and Xilinx, which are providing the necessary computing gear for participants.
The ZPrize contest will dish out multiple awards to teams that can create new open-source algorithms and techniques that boost the performance of so-called zero-knowledge proofs beyond what the best existing systems are capable of. All submissions must be open-sourced so that the entire blockchain community can benefit from their innovations.
Zero-knowledge proofs make it possible for blockchain transactions to be executed secretly, without any transaction data being published except for the time and date they took place. Detailed information, such as the wallet addresses involved and the amounts transferred, can only be accessed by counterparties to the transactions.
The technology is believed to be the key to scaling blockchains such as Ethereum, which is currently limited to around 15-40 transactions per second. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has previously said a zero-knowledge proof technique known as ZK Rollups, which compresses transactions to save on blockchain space, will be the future of Ethereum scaling. Polygon, the Ethereum scaling network, has already earmarked $1 billion towards developing zero-knowledge proofs.
A second advantage of zero-knowledge proofs is privacy. While some people still believe blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are anonymous, the truth is that they’re anything but, with the full details of each and every transaction ever made on the network publicly viewable by anyone.
Manta Network is a key player in the development of zero-knowledge proofs. It has built a protocol that relies on a cryptographic technique called zkSNARKS to provide end-to-end privacy for DeFi applications and eliminate the problems caused by transparent wallet addresses and information traceability. Manta says its protocol can be used by DeFi users to completely obscure their crypto assets and avoid becoming targeted by hackers.
Manta is the main sponsor of the ZPrize for teams that can enhance the performance of multiscalar multiplication (MSM) and number-theoretic transform operations, which are key building blocks of zero-knowledge computations. It hopes the prize will encourage teams to come up with a way of maximizing the throughput of these techniques on client devices and blockchain virtual machines, specifically the WebAssembly (WASM) runtime.
Manta co-founder and core contributor Shoumo Chu explained that he sees zero-knowledge proof performance in WASM as “the last mile problem” in the way of greater adoption of the technology. Manta’s benchmarks show that apps using WASM suffer a 10- to 15-times performance penalty when using zero-knowledge proofs, compared to the native speed of transactions. So Manta believes a big performance increase is needed to encourage greater adoption.
“In order to get massive ZKP and privacy adoption, we have to get ZKP prover integration with popular wallets, and having improved WASM prover performance is the way forward,” Chu said.
The ZPrize contest was inspired by a privately-backed non-profit organization called XPrize that hosts public competitions to encourage key innovations in social good technologies such as carbon removal, pandemic response and space flight.
“The goal of the ZPrize is to spur a quantum leap in zero-knowledge cryptography,” said ZPrize founder and Aleo Chief Operating Officer Alex Pruden.