ZERO KNOWLEDGE TECHNOLOGY
Zen White Paper
by Robert Viglione, Rolf Versluis, Joshua Yabut, and Jane Lippencott / May 2017
rob[at]zencash.io, rolf[at]zencash.io, josh[at]zencash.io, & jane[at]zencash.io
“Zen is an end to-end-encrypted system with zero-knowledge technology over which communications, data, or value can be securely transmitted and stored. It is an integration of revolutionary technologies that create a system over which innovation can accelerate by combining three functions that are traditionally done separately: 1) transactions 2) communication, and 3) competitive governance. This is done in a secure and anonymous manner, using a worldwide distributed blockchain and computing infrastructure. The system integrates multiple best-in-class technologies to form an open platform for permissionless innovation that can evolve with user preferences.
We live in a hyper-regulated and surveilled world where billions of individuals are deprived of basic human rights, such as property ownership, privacy, free association, and access to information. The technology now exists to solve some of these problems, and Zen’s early implementation will do exactly that. Zen is a collection of products, services, and businesses built around an enabling technology stack employing zero-knowledge proofs and a core set of beliefs. As a distributed blockchain system leveraging the latest censorship-evading techniques, fully encrypted communications, and a social and governance model designed for long term viability, Zen will contribute to the human right to privacy and provide the necessary networking infrastructure for people to securely collaborate and build value within a borderless ecosystem. Our mission is to integrate the latest technologies available post-Satoshi with a decentralized, voluntary, and peaceful set of social structures to improve life for anyone who wants to participate. We believe that this is an idea whose time has come. Zen’s framework is a secure, privacy-oriented infrastructure with a governance system structured to enable participants to collaboratively extend functionality in many dimensions. Opportunities include hosting of individual identification data, selective proof of title for property, decentralized banking services, privacy-preserving p2p/b2b asset exchange, mutual aid societies, p2p insurance, decentralized humanitarian aid mechanisms, or use purely as an anonymous token of value. These functions can be utilized to serve disenfranchised populations currently excluded from vital services such as banking and healthcare due to lack of identification, capital, and secure channels. They can also be leveraged by individuals who desire to take ownership over and monetize their private data, or, for example, by enterprising communities that wish to develop a competitive bidding system on internally generated solar energy. The unique implementations are unbounded, the common link being the belief that decentralization is the engine of moral progress, and that voluntary solutions are the most creative and enduring.
Zen builds on the heritage of the best cryptocurrencies, network architecture, and distributed file sharing systems in existence by incorporating both existing as well as new features to yield a solid foundation designed for long term viability. Just as important as our technology stack, we’re building on the latest ideas in distributed consensus and competitive governance. Some of the foundations of our project come from Bitcoin, Dash, Decred, and Seasteading. Zcash extended Bitcoin with fully anonymous shielded transactions, so that users could choose between normal Bitcoin-like addresses (t-addresses) or shielded addresses resistant to traffic correlation analysis (z-addresses). Then we created Zclassic, a Zcash clone that changed some key parameters our community felt were important: we removed both the 20% Founders’ Reward and the slow start to the money supply. Since launching Zclassic, we’ve formed a vibrant open-source community eager to move the technology forward in a unique direction. Some early accomplishments include developing an open source mining pool application for both Zcash and Zclassic, as well as Windows and Mac wallets. Our team realized that Zclassic could be further extended as a fully encrypted network with an innovative economic and governance model that better aligns with Satoshi’s original vision for a decentralized global community. We view Zclassic as a fundamentally pure open-source, all-volunteer cryptocurrency project, while Zen extends into a platform with internal funding to facilitate a broader set of communications, file-sharing, and economic activities.
The Z transactions in ZenCash have the ability to incorporate text-based messages, which are encrypted and included in the blockchain. There is a 1024 character limit for these messages, and they enhance the ability for users to conduct secure commerce. Instead of discussing the transaction in other less-secure channels that may not have the same level of privacy enhancements as Zen, users can communicate via the ZenTalk messages with the other party or parties before and after the shielded transfer takes place with very small z transaction spends. These messages can be sent directly from one z address to another, and they can also be sent to a channel. By generating a z address from the hash of a channel name, users can subscribe to the channel and read anything published by anyone to the channel. For example, the channel #ZenCash announcements would hash to zXXXXXXXXXXXX, allowing any user to send an anonymous message to the channel. Each message would cost a finite amount of ZenCash to send, since it is contained in a z transactions, therefore reducing the amount of non-useful messages on common channels. Official announcements would be signed by private key and would only be displayed if deemed valid. Furthermore, essentially private group messages can be published using z transactions by first creating a complex channel name,and then encrypting the contents of the message with keys only the desired recipients have. ZenTalk messages would be encrypted with algorithms such as AES-256 with Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS), matching current standards of encryption for secure communication.
Zen has the ability to publish documents to the IPFS or GNUnet. This is done by publishing a IPFS or GNUnet address in the text field of a z address. The preferred document publishing system at this time is GNUnet, because it provides the required infrastructure for anonymous publishing and maintains an active database of documents. The system is similarly extensible to IPFS or any other future distributing archival system. By creating an anonymous messaging layer in conjunction with an anonymous publishing layer, ZenPub allows for the creation of truly anonymous publications which can be rapidly distributed to interested readers.
It is possible for regulators in countries hostile to crypto-commerce to block traditional crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and even Zcash. Zen uses Domain Fronting to extend the ability to complete transactions in adversarial network environments, as explained in Blocking-resistant communication through domain fronting abstract: “We describe “domain fronting,” a versatile censorship circumvention technique that hides the remote endpoint of a communication. Domain fronting works at the application layer, using HTTPS, to communicate with a forbidden host while appearing to communicate with some other host, permitted by the censor. The key idea is the use of different domain names at different layers of communication. One domain appears on the “outside” of an HTTPS request–in the DNS request and TLS Server Name Indication, while another domain appears on the “inside”–in the HTTP Host header, invisible to the censor under HTTPS encryption. A censor, unable to distinguish fronted and non-fronted traffic to a domain, must choose between allowing circumvention traffic and blocking the domain entirely, which results in expensive collateral damage. Domain fronting is easy to deploy and use and does not require special cooperation by network intermediaries. We identify a number of hard-to-block web services, such as content delivery networks, that support domain-fronted connections and are useful for censorship circumvention.” The specific implementation of Domain Fronting used by Zen at launch is with a Commercial Content Distribution Network, but as with every aspect of our architecture, flexibility is designed in from the start and the system can extend in many directions as the technology evolves.
Zen is what we consider to be an optimally decentralized open source project, and so we expect applications to be built and contributed to the ecosystem by many parties. Many of these contributions will likely come in voluntary open source fashion, but we expect a robust business community to grow around the platform as well.
Zen is designed with a decentralized governance model incorporating multi-stakeholder empowerment and the flexibility to evolve to optimally suit our community. Fundamentally, our philosophy on governance is that we do not know a priori the best approach, but we have some ideas for how to initialize the system and enable it to evolve with the needs of the community. We believe in governance as a service (GaaS) and aim to efficiently provide value to our direct stakeholders, the broader community, and the world. ”Any industry that delivers poor service for a high price deserves to be disrupted” (Quirk, 2017), governance being a consummate example. In solidarity with other projects and ideas taking root around the world, we reject forced centralization and embrace voluntaryism. Rather than entrusting a minority of the people with power, we believe that all people have the right to be trusted with freedom. The core philosophy of our governance model is that decentralization of power maximizes inclusion and creativity. Practical implementations must recognize that pooling resources and effort provides synergies that should be optimally balanced against full decentralization; optimal points being state and time-varying, best determined through voluntary participation and secession. Importantly, we are implementing a system where competing DAOs can emerge to share resources or even completely subsume less efficient or unpopular versions. There should be no one-size-fits-all structure invariant across environment, function, culture, or time; rather, structures should be fluid, suited to specific problems, and flexible to scale when working and fade when failing relative to alternatives. Such a system of systems would dynamically evolve in such a way that it is antifragile to competitive feedback. Our objective governance state will balance decentralization, implementation efficiency, separation of powers, broad stakeholder empowerment, and evolutionary flexibility. This initial state will be the result of at least a 12- to 18-month R&D effort into game theoretic, political science, and economics research into optimal voting mechanisms coupled with feedback from multiple testnet implementations. The project will be one of our first funded efforts with final deliverables including a comprehensive research report and operational code integrated into the Zen network. Within 6 months of governance implementation we expect to have leadership teams in operation from our first full and open election.
By decentralization we mean that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, that we are fully inclusive, and that decision-making authority is maximally diffuse such that the system is resistant to capture. Theoretical maximum decentralization means that every individual retains authority to equally influence decision-making; this is difficult to implement in practice when pooling resources to collaborate on a common system. Even if implemented in such a pure fashion, individual decisions naturally pool for collaboration efficiency and resources accumulate to certain stakeholders at unequal rates. We cannot stop these natural forces, nor is there reason to categorically deem them harmful in every instance. What we can do is to design the system such that all participation is voluntary, that decision-making power over resource allocation is balanced across a broad cross-section of stakeholder types, and that a credible mechanism exists to evolve with feedback. A structure infused with flexibility is more important than initially designing the best system to suit all circumstances, especially since we are creating a movement so expansive that predicting all developments is essentially impossible. Implementation efficiency is also a big concern for decentralized organizations. Pure decentralization could suffer decision-making paralysis, voter apathy, or delusions of the herd at the extrema. This is why we initially shy away from a system of pure democracy for all decision-making, and are taking the time to research competing models and test them under varying conditions of stress. Our proposed system of free and open competition for DAOs is designed to encourage groups of high-performing functional area experts and professionals to propose their leadership in specialized domains so that our system-wide efficiency in converting resources to higher-value end products or services is continually evolving to suit user needs and demands.
CHECKS & BALANCES
A key lesson learned from human history is that powers are best separated and competing power clusters should provide some equilibrium state of checks and balances. The balancing should be resilient to unchecked growth in any single power cluster such that the entire system succumbs to capture. To initially prevent this condition, Zen is launching with a Core Team in control of 3.5% of block reward funding, and an initial DAO comprised of industry leaders controlling 5% of resources. In addition, our objective state to be implemented after the 12- to 18-month R&D and test phase will include a hybrid type of multi-stakeholder voting so that a wide cross-section of the community retains power to influence decisions and resource allocations. Every aspect of our governance structure will ultimately be subject to competitive feedback and change. We are taking an evolutionary approach that starts with a simple model that will grow with the community.
DAO : INFRASTRUCTURE, PROPOSALS, and VOTING
The Zen system will have at least one DAO funded by a portion of the mining rewards, and governed by a voting system that brings stakeholders together. This system of governance helps ensure that implementation of changes, improvements, and integrations minimizes contention and reduces the chance that a disagreement leads to a fork in the project. As we unroll our broader governance plan derived from rigorous R&D and testing, the goal is to open the governance landscape to full competition; this means that we could see multiple competing DAOs emerge with different teams working on different problems. Each DAO would emerge with its own proposed structure, processes, and goals, which ensures these attributes are evolving through competition and the wrong initial organizational decisions do not perpetuate. Our DAOs will be responsible for building, maintaining, and improving the infrastructure that keeps the system going. It is also responsible for implementing changes to the Zen software applications, and is flexible enough to accommodate other community priorities,such as community outreach, marketing, training, etc.
As the Zen system grows in popularity, the support structures for users, miners, Secure Node operators, and ecosystem partners will need to grow and scale as well. The DAO structures will have funds, allocated through projects and proposals, with which to assist in the growth and support. The community is encouraged to participate in contributing to Zen in all different ways. The DAOs are responsible for coordinating the community contributions, and have funds to assist in offsetting expenses incurred by the community. One of the purposes of proposals is to repay community members for their expenses in supporting the system. At launch, Zen will have one DAO staffed with respected professionals that span relevant industries. When the governance plan is ready for implementation, this DAO will be one proposed grouping subject to market competition for others who might wish to stand up their own governance structures; the broad community will make that decision.
Our unique innovation to the cryptocurrency community is our fully competitive and evolutionary governance model to empower a broad cross-section of stakeholders in an environment of optimal decentralization. Bitcoin created the original breakthrough in distributed consensus, but other projects have since taken that further with various voting mechanisms. These projects range from Dash with its simple proposal submission and community voting model all the way to Decred with its embedded community governance; each has contributed positively to the evolution of decentralized consensus, but Zen takes this to the next level by relaxing additional constraints such that our system is set to evolve over time through perpetual competition between providers of governance services within the ecosystem. We are implementing an autonomous system that will change with feedback and trial-and-error innovations in how decentralized systems organize to solve specific problems. In this sense, we believe Zen is groundbreaking in social technology, pioneering a system that has never been attempted at scale. From a broader perspective, Zen competes with incumbent currencies and banking systems, as well as emergent FinTech startups with particular advantage in providing services to the disenfranchised. We choose to make our contribution to this innovative, social welfare oriented space by providing enhanced privacy and security. As a secure messaging and distributed data archival system, we compete with other services, such as Signal, Telegram, and the Tor Project. There are also an infinite number of potential projects that can be built on the Zen platform, increasing our competitiveness exponentially. We view competition as an enabler of healthy processes of growth and therefore welcome maximum competition. We’d rather live in a world with fierce competitors forcing us to accelerate our own innovations than a static world devoid of progress. We hope that Zen adds positively to human welfare by integrating great technologies and communities, morphing governance into a competitive service, and enabling anyone in the world to participate in our system of permissionless, collaborative, and decentralized innovation. We also view incumbents and future startups in this space as potential partners and allies instead of winner-takes-all competitors.
Forecasting is a challenging exercise, but we see a bright future for Zen and the peaceful and productive ecosystem we’re building. We believe that the decentralized, fully inclusive, voluntary, and flexible organization we’re creating will be seen as obviously superior in the future compared to the static, centralized, one-size-fits all versions perpetuated in the 20th century. The advent of cryptography, voluntaryist philosophy, and blockchain technology make such a thing possible, and we believe many people already do, and will, share our vision for a better world; especially when they see how we can accelerate innovation and improve human welfare by empowering everyone to express their values. The next one to two years will see this vision come to fruition in our early organization by executing our Roadmap. There will certainly be challenges along the way, but flexibility and peaceful cooperation consistently overcomes seemingly insurmountable issues.”