Today’s release of Marlowe Playground marks an important milestone for Cardano—the beginning of its Goguen era. Charles Hoskinson, the CEO of IOHK, looked back at why introducing semantic clarity between various users of a blockchain’s infrastructure took so long and the impact it will have on the future—both Cardano’s and the global one.
Cardano’s complexity reflects the huge expectations from blockchains in 2020
Cardano’s product updates, which became a regular occurrence for the company after Shelley’s July launch, have started to become exponentially longer and more complicated as time goes by. The company’s October product update was its longest yet, with heads of Cardano’s multiple development teams laying out the progress they made throughout one of the company’s busiest months.
The enormous complexity in Cardano, which was more than evident from the product update, is a result of high expectations the market has for blockchains in 2020, Charles Hoskinson, the CEO of IOHK, said in his latest video.
Addressing the latest development from Goguen, Hoskinson said that the volume of things going on simultaneously behind the scenes at Cardano shows both the quality of the teams working on it and the reality of running a commercial blockchain in 2020. In 2013, when Hoskison was involved in co-founding Ethereum, expectations were very different—all effort was put into writing and reviewing code on paper. Hoskinson said that while the notion of native assets and extended smart contract functionalities were certainly discussed, tailoring the platform for the emergence of DeFi and the rise of the ERC-20 standard was something nobody thought about at the time.
In 2020, however, if a platform wants to be competitive, it needs to think about even more complex factors, he explained. To be competitive and invite real use and utility at a scale of millions and billions of users, which include both people and organizations, a platform needs to have unparalleled functionality and answers to almost all of the pervasive questions regarding governance and security.
An important step towards achieving this functionality was taken by releasing Marlowe Playground earlier today. Hoskinson said that the platform, which enables those without programming experience to write and test out smart contracts on Cardano, leverages more than 30 years of history in domain-specific language design. While the release might look low-key to those not familiar with the smart contract system, the Marlowe Playground is actually the first time in history that semantical clarity was established between all participants of a complex system.
In practice, this means that the developers building applications, the people writing smart contracts, the entrepreneurs leveraging the applications, and the financial infrastructure services utilizing them all speak the same language. Aside from drastically shortening the time needed to build and deploy complex systems, this will also open up a whole new world of possibilities to everyone using Cardano.
To get to this state, Marlowe needed to go through four years of evolution. That evolution, however, is what will enable it to grow as time goes by. Hoskinson said that the Marlowe Playground will go through a huge evolution over the next six months, with the number and quality of the templates available on the platform drastically increasing. This will enable applications to be built on the platform that will, once deployed on Cardano, support cross-chain communication.
The ramifications of a unifying programming language
The importance of Marlowe Playground lies in its design—it was built in a way that enables those using it to prove that the applications they’re working on are correct. And while this might look like overkill in a world where projects like Sushi, Kimchi, and the likes dominate the crypto space, Hoskinson believes that the slow and steady approach adopted by Cardano is the only way to ensure stability in the future.
The point of a domain-specific language (DSL) such as Marlowe is to give clarity to people in the industry, he said. It has a wide array of uses in various industries—for example, the benefits of a unifying programming language can be felt the most in the healthcare industry. With a DSL brokering their movement and storage, medical records will no longer be such a burden on the system. Semantical unification will be created between doctors, patients, hospitals, insurance providers, and all other participants of the system.
Giving more weight to Marlowe is the fact that IOHK seems to be looking way, way ahead into the future. Hoskinson said that what DSLs lack in importance right now will be replaced tenfold in the following years.
“What happens when Bitcoin gets smart contract functionality?” he asked. “What happens when Eth 2.0 comes out? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a unification language connecting them?”
Establishing solid foundations for a unification language right now ensures that Cardano won’t be left aside when cross-chain communication becomes the industry standard.
It seems almost incredible that the teams behind Cardano had the foresight to create Plutus, a programming language, at a time when Ethereum was in its infancy and a lot of today’s design requirements were incredibly difficult to visualize.
“We wanted to make sure it was as predictable as it can be to know how much it costs to build things,” Hoskinson said.
He said that back in 2013 when Ethereum was nothing more than letters on paper, they were lucky to be able to test out its functionalities without worrying about the cost. In 2020, however, the situation is much different, and the ability to know the cost of a project beforehand is slowly becoming an industry standard.
Plutus was designed with all of those things in mind—it was built to manipulate many different objects in Cardano’s ecosystem, from identity and DAOs to smart contracts and off-chain infrastructure. In a way, Plutus is the conductor of the orchestra, he explained, making sure that all of the little bits and pieces that make Cardano what it is function properly.
Why Goguen makes Cardano more competitive than Ethereum
The coming months will see more time dedicated to discussing the k-parameter and Yella. Yella, or alternatively IELE, is an improvement of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) developed by Runtime Verification. The virtual machine will enable developers to write applications in any programming language and convert them so that they can be executed. Hoskinson believes that having Yella is important as it allows developers that don’t want to use Haskell to have an option that has the same principles.
One of the most important things behind all of this is the native asset standard, Hoskinson said. He noted that both he and the company didn’t anticipate the interest developers and applications had in transitioning to Cardano.
“What we didn’t anticipate with Ethereum is how pervasive the users’ ability to issue an asset will be,” he said.
The point of the highly-anticipated ERC-20 converter is to establish the technology and the commercialization of technology needed to transfer and issue assets on the Cardano network. With numerous conversation being led with those that want to migrate to Cardano, Hoskinson noted that it was extremely important to create a solid set of standards with native assets on Cardano.
Aside from employing a drastically faster virtual machine, Cardano has another important advantage over Ethereum—the fact that all assets on Cardano are treated the same as ADA. This “first-class citizen” approach means that all of the projects on Cardano will have access to the same governance, layer-two solutions, listing options, user experience, speed, and cost ADA does.
He also said that higher-value cryptocurrencies issued on Cardano might also have the ability to cover their transaction fees in their own token, which is something neither Ethereum nor Ethereum 2.0 will enable them to do.
This launch agenda has already begun with Goguen, with the rest of its rollout set to happen over a series of three hardfork combinator events, the first one taking place between November and December this year. This hardfork combinator will layout the foundation for the second combinator event, set to take place in the first quarter of 2021. The exact date of the second event will be announced at the November product update, Hoskinson revealed, adding that the third combinator event will be a bit more spaced out as it would be “too cumbersome” both for developers and Cardano’s partners.
What Marlowe Playground will enable the company to do is to populate the Goguen infrastructure. He explained that the platform will give people time to start building and playing with the ecosystem in a sandbox environment so that when deployment actually comes, all of the projects built in the Playground will work.
This is incredibly important as we can expect the number of people using the Playground to increase in the coming weeks. As IOHK’s developer acquisition strategy is focused on the DC Fund and showing people that there’s money to be made in building for Cardano, the fact that the fund is set to increase every 6-8 weeks is bound to attract more users.
Hoskinson ended the update by saying that Cardano has started to evolve into a mature ecosystem in 2020.
“Instead of showing people what can be done, we’re showing them what has been done.”
When it comes to the future, what we can expect is for IOHK to continue the steady, systematic, and relentless march of updates we’ve seen in the past month. Hoskinson believes that October’s massive product update will be overshadowed by the upcoming November update, adding that he expects the velocity of developments to increase exponentially every month.
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