Verus — Truth and Privacy for All
An interview with Michael J Toutonghi — Lead Developer
Good day Mike, everyone has his own story on how he/she got into blockchain technology. What’s yours?
I heard about Bitcoin and its consensus protocol around 2009. I was very busy at the time, both personally and as a Technical Fellow of Microsoft’s advertising platform. It seemed like a great idea, but with everything else going on, I never mined or bought any back then. A few years later, when it was in the 300 dollar range, I had another chance to get involved and got too busy again.
Just over two years ago, I was working on an AI-based market analysis system, and I entered Numerai’s data scientist contest for market prediction. I was able to take the top spot on their leaderboard for a week, which resulted in a bit of Bitcoin. I opened a Coinbase account, started trading a bit, and as I usually do, started thinking about the potential of public blockchain systems. I came up with an idea that percolated for a while before I met some like-minded people, and as part of a growing community helped start the Verus Project.
A little over a year ago, I was consulting with a company on large scalable email applications and machine learning on the backend. They were considering a blockchain project and asked me to deep dive on what platforms were the best starting points. I recommended Komodo just as they put their blockchain effort on hold. I connected with jl777 around that time and talked to him about my ideas. He encouraged me to pursue it, offered to help the community get started in the early stages of the project. He helped support my development, provided a great deal of wisdom, technical expertise, and more, and even supported the concept of a completely fair launch. I know this is about me, but I can honestly say that jl777 was one of the more influential people I’ve met over my career, not only due to his technical expertise but because of his integrity and depth of character. He certainly was as important to the success of the Verus launch as me, just in a different role.
What is your role at the Verus?
I’m the community’s lead developer. The Verus Project is a 100% community effort, and I consider the Verus community my friends and collaborators. I’ve heard from a lot of people that we have an incredible community, and I can only agree with that. My role as a lead developer is really to invent and implement whatever technology is needed to enable the Verus vision, as detailed in the vision paper. We’ve had some development needs along the way, whether provably solving the 51% hash attack challenge, or working on a unique new hash algorithm and method to equalize FPGAs with CPUs, I work on realizing the Verus vision and other important technology needs that pop up along the way.
What is Verus and how would you explain it to non-crypto speakers?
Verus itself is an advanced Komodo and Zcash derived cryptocurrency, launched without a pre-mine or ICO, with mining, staking, and zk-SNARK privacy from the start. It’s also the only project with dual 51% attack solutions, the first project to offer provable 51% hash attack immunity in its core consensus algorithm in addition to another layer of 51% protection by being Komodo notarized as well. It’s the first project to offer a field-tested FPGA and CPU equalizing mining algorithm. It’s the first project to release a solution to the nothing at stake problem, and when the work in testnet goes live it will be the first project to realize automated Public Blockchains as a Service through enhanced custom consensus protocol technology, originally developed in Komodo. PBaaS, as we like to call it, is a system that allows anyone anywhere to launch their own automated, secure, public blockchain for any application, without relying on any centralized entity.
Who is behind Verus? What are the Backgrounds of the team member?
While a lot of people talk about being a community coin, Verus is one of the genuine decentralized community projects. I may be the lead dev, but there are many people who contribute to make Verus what it is today and keep it on its incredible pace of progress. Community contributors have backgrounds that range from multi-decade developers, architects, and an ex-corporate exec like me, to up and coming talent like Michael Toutonghi Jr, Asher Dawes, Alex English, the community’s main GPU developer, Chris — Monkins, John Oliver Westbrook, the brains behind VerusPay, and many others. We’ve also benefited greatly from both the advice and contribution of key developers and contributors across the Komodo ecosystem.
How did the idea to develop Verus come about?
The core idea that led me down the path as lead dev started with what you’ll see in the Vision Paper as phase IV. In my experience, the best software development I’ve ever been a part of is a process that combines multiple people’s vision to one. The Verus network evolves true to the vision paper, but much more richly by incorporating ideas from the thousands of people in our community as we grow.
For me, the idea of PBaaS was about the public who run the chains and blockchain services that the public can run because the public has an interest in helping them operate correctly, auditably, and securely. While phase IV includes machine learning systems helping Verus users make sense of polls and data from users across the ecosystem, Verus is a working system today that will evolve towards that vision, even as the community continues to improve and refine it.
What are the main use cases you are looking to cover?
Well, what are the use cases for blockchains and blockchain applications? Verus is a platform where people can launch, merge mine, stake, and run many interoperable PBaaS blockchains, but each PBaaS chain is actually an independent, fully-fledged public blockchain of its own with Sapling, custom consensus programmability, and is interoperable with, but fully separable from the rest of the Verus ecosystem. If you have a blockchain application that uses PBaaS and you mine or stake the chain, you can use the same hashing power of that system to mine up to 14 other chains, as well as notarize and stake at the same time, all with a CPU-friendly mining algorithm, maximizing the profit potential of your PC, while you use any application or chain. Every PBaaS chain can be used from the Verus enhanced Agama wallet as well as the command line. The community is even working on a way for any PBaaS chain to add itself to the Verus wallet with a QR code. We expect a number of project use cases to startup in the fairly early days after PBaaS moves from testnet to mainnet, including polls and elections, loyalty currencies, communications apps, and more.
Which role does the VerusCoin play in it?
VerusCoin itself is the root blockchain for public blockchains as a service or PBaaS. Verus provides the miner and staker network that is ready to launch, mine, and notarize any PBaaS chain, providing a more secure network with all the bells and whistles, such as a wallet, payment system like VerusPay, community connection through PBaaS offerings being available to everyone on the Verus network through the wallet, and the ability to launch chains dynamically at any time.
You describing Verus as the ‘First public blockchain as a service project (PBaaS)’. What does that mean?
Public blockchains as a service mean blockchains by the people for the people. To me, the key innovation Satoshi gave the world was a system that was the strongest and most secure when used and secured by the public. That’s the real disruptor of blockchain, not really immutability and worldwide persistent data, e-money, or scale, certainly not yet scale. You can do all of those things with a centralized, cryptographically validated blockchain, but if you want a public system that is secure, decentralized, preserving of privacy, and available to all, blockchain is the way to go.
The easiest way to think of PBaaS is fully decentralized BaaS on a blockchain, by the people, for the people, with no one in between taking a cut. People mine, stake, and notarize on Verus, providing those services to all PBaaS chains as well, and can earn in some additional ways in exchange for making the whole system work through the PBaaS public consensus algorithm.
In a typical blockchain today, you have an emission schedule, halving, etc., and miners and stakers earn on that schedule and from transaction fees. With PBaaS, miners and stakers earn whenever there is another chain to mine. They earn when they win the chance to notarize a chain, they earn in the usual ways as well. What they earn comes both from emissions and also the fees paid for PBaaS services by organizations, projects, applications, or people who start the chains and have an interest in keeping them secure and notarized through the Verus PBaaS network.
Which role does Verus play in Komodo’s ecosystem?
A perfect example is a fact that all of the Komodo Sapling support was originally developed and integrated into Verus Coin repos and then pushed back into the entire Komodo platform, including Pirate, Hush, and others as beneficiaries. Komodo’s premise is an open-source ecosystem with an incredible and growing technology base as a starting point for projects to improve, share and contribute, and offer the rest of the Komodo ecosystem continuous opportunity to learn about and participate in projects early that build upon Komodo technologies, and push the limits of what blockchains can do for people and applications worldwide. This approach and openness is part of the genius of jl777 and philosophy we carry forward in Verus. Verus is a community within the broader Komodo community, and as we move our technology forward, quite often with technology and implementations that are unique to Verus, we continue to stay connected to Komodo and jl777. I would be very surprised if some of our newer technologies, like the new Merkle Mountain Range implementation, proof of power, VerusHash 2.0, or any of the other core technologies don’t sometimes migrate their way back or get ported into the core Komodo codebase as well. PBaaS itself might be a unique Verus capability for a little longer term, as it is a fairly significant undertaking and takes advantage of every other bit of Verus technology in a highly coordinated way. Also, as a VerusHash 2.0 system, PBaaS uses block space otherwise reserved for Equihash mining to efficiently achieve its functionality.
What makes Verus stand out when it comes to privacy and PBaaS, how did you achieve this and how is the competition doing it?
The closest projects that others might think are competitors would include EOS, Tendermint Cosmos, and Polkadot. EOS and Cosmos are significantly complex and arguably dependent on centralized systems, Polkadot is quite complex and still seems a ways off. Our approach was to make the protocols no more complex than they need to be. Even though operating a system of blockchains across a population of miners and stakers with merge mining and cross-chain operation is inherently complex, we’ve been able to make the entire process very similar to mining a single chain, without the need for bridges, centralized block validators, or other types of specialized servers. The Verus network remains simple P2P many blockchain networks with protocols that are actually not that difficult to understand.
As far as privacy, we stand out as the first coin besides Zcash to implement Sapling on mainnet, the part of the Komodo ecosystem that helped the rest of the ecosystem take advantage of Sapling, and all PBaaS chains are Sapling-only chains with support for transparent transactions. While some projects, like PIRATE, have focused on 100% private transactions, Verus supports both transparent and private transactions, which allows applications to use z-transactions as tools to preserve privacy in things like voting, polls, messaging, and ID systems. Of course, if someone needs PBaaS chains to be 100% private, that is relatively easy to do, but not our focus at this time.
Why did you choose zk-SNARKs for privacy?
As part of my early analysis of potential blockchain platforms for my corporate client, I studied various privacy options. I have a solid background in software privacy and security for large systems, and after my research, I concluded that Zcash developed the best starting point and that Komodo had done the most of anyone in the industry to take that forward, beyond the basic zk-SNARK technology to a useful and programmable system. Privacy is irreplaceable when building confidential, verifiable, and transparent polls and elections, which is a fundamental application type that we expect to build on PBaaS. It just so happens that zk-SNARKs, specifically Sapling, has everything needed to serve that purpose, and with all of the issues discovered in zero-knowledge technologies, it looks like we made exactly the right choice.
You recently went live with the Verus testnet, what is it about and how will it affect the future of Verus?
We have had other testnets, but with PBaaS and its completely new technology, we felt the community would be best served by a more semi-permanent testnet that is available for people to learn from, develop on, and test before technology rolls out to mainnet. The Verus testnet showcases some pretty amazing things PBaaS is capable of, by letting anyone make their own test chain before mainnet release. Right now, all you need to do to launch a secure, public, zkSNARKs enabled, 51% attack resistant PBaaS chain is download the PBaaS Cross-chain Technical Preview release, and follow a few simple screens in the PBaaS tab. Over time, we expect to keep the testnet live for developer experimentation as PBaaS continues to grow in use.
Thinking about the future, do you have any roadmap with relevant upgrades or partnerships?
One of the side-effects of being a community-driven coin without any central organization or management is that we lead by vision, not organization or roadmaps. The Verus community has a shared vision of where it is going together. We don’t over-promise and under-deliver. We don’t even under-promise and over-deliver. Instead, we try just to work together as a community towards the vision and just deliver. We’ve laid out where we want to go, and we’ve made incredible progress in just one short year, with PBaaS working and something anyone can try on testnet now, soon to be main. We actually tried hard not to talk much about PBaaS beyond pointing people to the vision paper, because from the day we launched and at any point along the way of the Verus Project, it has been strong in cryptocurrency features and unique technology. Our philosophy is to focus on communicating mostly about what we can use today and build for tomorrow. Now that people can use PBaaS on testnet, and we have a few more steps to go before its release, it’s time to start helping people understand how they can use it and why it’s really a major advance. As far as what’s next on the roadmap, we have talked about fully liquid reserve currencies, but again, we are focusing on the PBaaS features you can use today and expect to provide more detail on fraction reserve currencies, on-chain conversions, and a solution we are working on for the front-running problem that we expect to provide more detail and timing on as it is closer to completion.
As far as relevant partnerships, I assume you mean beyond the Komodo platform and possibly crypto in general. I can say that we are working with some very exciting partners and now that PBaaS can be tried and used by anyone, we are interested in discussing other partnerships as well. Out of respect for the plans of people and organizations we are working with, we are not ready to disclose any specific partnerships at this time.
How is the exchange listing progress going?
We’re more focused on development right now than anything else, but we do have an active community on our discord working hard to spread awareness. We would be happy to list some of the larger exchanges, and now that PBaaS is imminent, the community is confident that we are ready and deserving of that step.
How many funds do the core team have in the budget for development and marketing?
Zero, and that is really quite fine from our perspective. We are a community project, focused on technology more than marketing, and there is no central managing entity or core team. A number of early founders and community members mined and staked coins in the early days on behalf of the Verus Coin Foundation, a non-profit organization that uses its coins for the purpose of realizing the Verus vision. There is no official budget, and the Verus Coin Foundation, consisting of fairly mined and staked coins does not operate with strict budgets but instead directs its funds to what it believes the project most needs for success at any point in time. Supernet also holds a significant number of coins, and so do others in the community. Everyone is welcome to contribute to help fund the project, and people across the community regularly do. At the same time, the Verus Coin Foundation has somewhere around 2.5 million coins and pays bounties regularly to people in the community that it believes contribute towards realizing the Verus vision, Jl777 has offered bounties to community members in the past, other large miners and stakers have offered bounties, and we believe this model, fully decentralized and similar to Bitcoin is working quite well. The community is currently looking for talent in development, communications, and marketing. The Verus Coin Foundation would be happy to discuss bounties with potential contributors in those areas. All anyone needs to do to be eligible for a bounty is join the Verus public community discord and ask!
Thank you for your time.