A coalition of the world’s leading zero-knowledge (ZK) technology companies, funds and foundations has launched a $7 million contest to accelerate innovation in the space.
The backers of ZPrize, which include Manta Network, the Ethereum Foundation, Matter Labs, Aleo, Anoma, Polygon and Polkadot, have joined forces with the chipmaking giant Advanced Micro Devices to encourage teams to advance the development of ZK cryptography, which can make blockchains process transactions faster and with less energy.
ZPrize has been modeled on the famous XPrize competitions that have been held in the past to fuel innovation in areas ranging from adult literacy and spaceflight to COVID-19 research and carbon removal. The competition will award prizes in several categories to teams that can engineer new algorithms and techniques that can achieve higher performance than today’s existing ZK systems.
AMD’s involvement in the contest stems from the idea that ZK technology can be scaled by using specialized hardware such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and graphics processing units (GPUs). AMD and its subsidiary Xilinx will provide competing teams with access to cutting-edge FPGAs and GPUs to develop their solutions.
Hamid Salehi of the AECG Data Center Group at AMD said he believes it’s critical to incorporate ZK cryptography into blockchains to enable widespread adoption of the revolutionary technology. He said ZK techniques demand increased computing power that AMD is only too happy to provide.
“FPGAs are uniquely positioned to accelerate the zero-knowledge protocol efficiently, at the hardware level, to create scalable blockchain solutions,” Salehi said. “AMD-Xilinx is proud to support the ZPrize competition with our FPGA-based accelerators to enable the community to create innovative solutions that help advance zero-knowledge technology.”
ZPrize will offer rewards in both US dollars and cryptocurrency for teams across a range of categories that have been identified by the competition’s sponsors. Each category is deemed to be of critical importance to the practical application of ZK systems. Team’s submissions will be judged against the technical benchmarks of existing systems, with rewards paid out to those that can demonstrate the greatest performance improvements. All winning teams will be required to open-source their submissions.
One of the most interesting categories pertains to multiscalar multiplication (MSM) and number-theoretic transform operations. It’s sponsored by Manta, which has developed a protocol for zkSNARKS that provides privacy for crypto wallets and DeFi applications. Manta wants to see a big improvement in the latency and throughput of these techniques when used with the WebAssembly (WASM) runtime that’s employed by many smart contracts.
Shoumo Chu, a co-founder and core contributor to Manta, said the improvement of ZK proof performance in WASM-based smart contracts is key to the adoption of zkSNARKS. “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.
Better performance is required because Manta’s benchmarks show that WASM apps process transactions around 10-15 times slower when using existing zkSNARK technology, compared to their native transaction speed.
“We have chosen to be the architect and sponsors in the open division because we truly care about WASM ZKP performance,” Chu said. “We view the WASM ZKP performance as the ‘last mile problem’ for mass ZKP adoption.”
The ZKprize contest is accepting applicants now, and anyone with academic or industry experience in cryptography, mathematics, electrical and hardware engineering or optimization is encouraged to participate.