Competing blockchain founders share goals, problems and technologies

Permissionless: Ethan Buchman, Anatoly Yakovenko, Ben Jones share perspectives on blockchain technology “convergence”


Lightspring/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks


The idea that many of the most important blockchain technologies at the bleeding edge today point to a future of scaling that blurs the lines between ecosystems is a key theme of this year’s Permissionless II conference.

Showcasing this budding narrative on the main stage in Austin, the co-founders of Cosmos, Solana and Ethereum’s Optimism rollup discussed whether blockchains are heading for a “convergent evolution.”

Ethan Buchman, who co-founded early Cosmos development company Tendermint, Inc. with Jae Kwon in 2014, identified Cosmos’ core values as “sovereignty and interoperability.”

Responding to a question on the Cosmos “endgame” from Blockworks co-founder Michael Ippoloito, Buchman started out with a quip: “Solana and Optimism are two of my favorite Cosmos chains.”

Cosmos technology for consensus and interoperability — its key strengths — in the form of Tendermint/CometBFT consensus and IBC, have been adopted outside of the core network of app-chains, and Buchman is eager to see further expansion of the standards he champions.

“The vision for Cosmos has always been to enable new kinds of tools of political-economic expression, to allow communities to take more control — more sovereignty — over their digital lives and monetary lives,” he said.

Anatoly Yakovenko said he views Solana as the best option for achieving his own vision of blockchain utility — combatting information asymmetry — but he remains open-minded about the future applicability of superficially competing technologies.

The goal is to make a system that is “fair, open and fast,” and one for which those properties are “guaranteed for as many participants around the world as possible,” Yakovenko said.

“That’s really the end game, how it’s implemented is almost like, ‘whatever,’ — these are a bunch of engineers, and Solana is one design,” he said. “If tomorrow we come up with a better design that’s based on a mixture of Optimism, Cosmos and Danksharding, we should do that.”

Optimism’s Ben Jones said the common goal is scalable blockchains, noting there may be many different technological paths to achieve it. 

For him, it’s important to recognize that the most prevalent use cases today — financial applications — are “only the starting point,” and the grander long-term goal is “taking back the internet.”

Current applications are a reflection of the constraints of scaling today, Jones said.

“Once we have the environment in which those chains do scale, there’s a vast swath of internet infrastructure from social media to gaming to everything else that we also need to take back and put in the hands of the people — because the internet as a whole, at the present moment, has basically been captured and placed in the hands of a few,” he said.

The panel rallied around the sentiment that the notion of “convergence” is centered in the idea of surmounting the fundamental constraints facing blockchains. That process is already well underway, they agreed.

Solana’s approach is to count on Moore’s law and the ever-expanding power of computing technology to ensure that apps can benefit from concurrent execution far into the future.

“It may be that 20 years from now…Solana is running on a router in your home,” Yakovenko said. But already, he argued, the network has achieved “the floor level of decentralization,” putting it on a path to equal that of the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks.

Some trade-offs remain inevitable, Jones said. Ethereum’s rollup-centric roadmap is focused on “pushing innovation to the edges.”

“It’s no longer the case that Ethereum, as a whole, has to change much,” he said, in order to continue to scale and innovate.

Read more: Launching a bunch of layer-2’s is not a viable solution to blockchain scaling, says Solana’s Yakovenko

Jones and Buchman each highlighted the goal of extending the security of blockspace on an established chain to dapp developers — Ethereum’s mainnet in the case of Optimism and the Cosmos Hub for Cosmos chains, thanks to replicated security.

The panel noted that execution environments such as the virtual machine and choice of programming language are becoming increasingly flexible across the landscape.

Cosmos will have the option to run a Solana virtual machine, Buchman said, and Jones concurred that he expects to see the Cosmos SDK being applicable to Optimism’s OP stack in the future.

Buchman said for any dapp, all roads eventually will lead to an app-chain. He cited trading platform dYdX, which is moving from a StarkEx rollup on Ethereum to its own sovereign Cosmos chain, as an example.

His advice to a budding entrepreneur? “Start on Solana and once you hit the limits of what you can do there — before Anatoly figures out how to scale it for you — then you transition off onto your own Cosmos chain.”

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