Few debates can get as heated in blockchain circles as the simple question: which chain(s)? Will a single public blockchain such as Ethereum become the one chain to rule us all, or will multiple chains co-exist in the marketplace?
For Jutta Steiner, founder and CEO of Parity Technologies, the answer is resoundingly clear: all the chains will need to work together in concert, and she and her team have the answer with a set of tools including Polkadot and Substrate.
Steiner was the debut speaker today at TechCrunch Sessions: Blockchain here in Zug, Switzerland, where a light drizzle created an … Ethereal mist amidst the scenery. Speaking to a sellout crowd, Steiner discussed the state of the blockchain world and how she is working to evolve it for more diverse applications.
She contextualized the need for new technologies by reminding us of the recent revelations around Facebook’s personal data leaks. “We just have to trust what the provider tells us,” she said, and noted that her long-term dream is a world in which “users are much more in control of their data.”
Empowering users, though, won’t be easy. Popular existing public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum were designed very early in a rapidly burgeoning market, and Steiner believes that the blockchain community will need to do a better job of working with existing systems in order to reach critical adoption. Working on the Ethereum project, she said that it was “completely sensible” to build a new virtual machine at the time of the project’s launch, but today believes that the community should increasingly rely on tried-and-true technologies like WebAssembly.
Those lessons around systems reliability were hard-earned. Parity, which provides a popular wallet for Ethereum, had hundreds of million of dollars of Ether frozen last year due to a vulnerability that allowed a user to delete a critical smart contract that powered multisig wallets.
Steiner has a vision of a decentralized, multi-chain future, but is also diligently building that future through new tools. Parity is spearheading a new network known as Polkadot, which is designed to create an interoperability layer between different blockchains. Unlike with a single hegemonic chain, a multi-chain network would empower developers to create application-specific chains appropriate for different types of workflows. “What we tried to do was basically come up with the most general framework,” she said. “You need different systems for different applications.”
Connecting chains is one thing, but building them from scratch then becomes the new bottleneck. That’s where another Parity technology — Substrate — comes in handy. Substrate is a framework to make it easier to launch blockchains with proper governance from the start, and Steiner said that it is the “next stage of how we are looking at blockchain.”
Together, these technologies and others combine into what Steiner described as Web3 — a future vision of a decentralized web built on blockchain that will empower the next generation of web users to control their data more robustly.
While Steiner’s vision may have its adherents and detractors, it was a bold start of the day in Zug, and a reminder of the tremendous power for good that blockchain can produce for this world if we can harness its powers appropriately.
This article has been updated to clear up the description of the multisig wallet hack.