The 5 next killer apps for zero-knowledge proofs
Consider it a wishlist for public goods powered by ZK
At Accessor Labs, we apply cutting-edge cryptographic research to solve the highest-impact problems for institutions and individuals. Primarily grant funded, we build tools, standards and prototypes to further our vision of collaborative enterprise and self-sovereignty. In the spirit of open collaboration and to further communal knowledge, we share our commercial analysis and technical research with the world.
So where do we see the biggest opportunities for innovation and impact today? Here’s a breakdown of where we’d love to publish research and build prototypes.
An application-specific layer 3 for data compliance
At the height of the bull market, the total market size for all of crypto surpassed $2tn. This sounds large, but we think it could be much bigger. Crypto is a function of Wall Street, and we’d like to bring the power of decentralised systems to Main Street.
There are many reasons for limited ‘real-world’ blockchain use-cases including dubious security, high gas fees and a bottleneck of developer expertise. However a really key blocker is that blockchains break privacy as soon as you move beyond token transfer mechanisms, to rich on-chain information.
Hypothetically a blockchain or decentralised storage system could store all sorts of helpful information such as social media profiles, credentials, CRM data, legal contracts and more. The immutability, auditability and trustlessness of on-chain data can reduce business costs and unlock new categories of value. Nevertheless, the risk of putting immutable, irrevokable personal information on-chain (especially without consent) is really bad, and also illegal under most data protection legislation like the GDPR and CCPA.
Businesses would love to leverage the strengths of blockchain without violating privacy, but historically this has been impossible.
Thanks to recent cryptographic innovaiton, there is a strong hybrid solution, in the spirit of projects like Polygon’s Nightfall, where data can be stored off-chain but state transitions can be validated on-chain using zero-knowledge proofs. We’d love to build a high-latency, low-cost, convenient, private validium that inherits the security of Ethereum mainnet, so that enterprises can adopt blockchain while minimising compliance risk.
A ZK bridge for secure cross-chain interaction
As we’ve previously written, zero-knowledge bridges will bypass existing infrastructure and unlock mountains of value in web3. Cross-chain proof-of-consensus will dramatically reduce attack surface and so protect against the biggest vulnerability in web3 today: bridge hacks.
As Vitalik and others have argued, the future is multichain. There are powerful economic forces at play that sustain a rich ecosystem of competing L1s, and L1s are evolving to differentiate themselves by servicing particular needs. We call these independent ecosystems “zones of sovereignty”. Bridging between these zones is really painful. At time of writing, 5 of the top 7 crypto hacks in all history are hacks on bridges, accounting for >$2bn lost.
This isn’t surprising - traditional bridges in web3, much like bridges in the physical world, are single points of failure that control enormous value flows. Unlike a blockchain, which is secured by thousands of nodes, traditional bridges are often composed of just a few nodes and an n-of-m voting mechanic.
ZK bridges dramatically reduce the attack surface, preventing the kind of hack we saw on Ronin. By proving the state of chain A from within the execution environment of chain B, we remove the trusted nodes inbetween. If a hacker wants to attack the bridge, they have to attack the security of an entire chain (relatively hard), rather than just the security of a few nodes (relatively easy).
We’d love to build cross-chain infrastructure to enrich emerging L1s, L2s and dApps with the liquidity and convenience of multichain functionality.
A particular application of this we’d also love to explore is the ability to port rich NFT data from one ecosystem to another. Right now, NFTs are being used to track the state of valuable physical assets like whisky and wine, but struggle to transmit full provenance information when ported across chains. We’d love to use SNARKs to build a secure, low-cost solution that ports rich information on physical asset NFTs across chains.
Porting Semaphore to altchains
We’d like to transplant some of the rich zero-knowledge tooling from the Ethereum mainnet to enrich alternative ecosystems with anonymous, credentialled interactions.
Sempahore is an open-source library created by the Privacy and Scaling Explorations group at the Ethereum Foundation. Using zero-knowledge cryptography, Semaphore lets you define a group of entities (such as people) and for those entities to prove that they are members of the group, without revealing which particular member they are. Semaphore also includes on-chain smart contracts so that people can prove their group membership on-chain. This primitive unlocks anonymous, credentialled interactions and so acts as a key part of the self-sovereign identity stack.
We’d like to enrich alternative ecosystems with the functionality of Semaphore. Right now Semaphore is available as a library and as smart contracts in the Ethereum Mainnet, but this is a tool that would enrich builders on alternative L1s, L2s and dApps, were it to be available in their native environment.
Private, anonymous, credentialled social media
Using the abovementioned Semaphore tooling, we’d like to build new forms of social interaction and online coordination that propel us toward a future where our identity is self-sovereign.
We believe there is a “sweet spot” of online interaction when you can make trustless claims about yourself, withour violating your anonymity. Online anonymity and pseudonymity unlocks particular forms of social interaction, such as the ability to speak without fear or favour. In turn this makes it possible to speak out against oppressive regimes and norms. However, forums for fully anonymous interaction are also hotbeds for toxic behaviour, fake accounts and socio-political sybil attacks. The traditional solution is to require users to verify themselves or otherwise disclose their identity - resulting in an unfortunate tradeoff between privacy and trustful interaction.
Thanks to zero-knowledge primitives like Semaphore, it’s now possible to achieve trustful interaction without breaking privacy. Semaphore can be used as a way to selectively disclose facts about yourself while minimising identity information leakage. We take particular inspiration from projects like ZKitter, and we’re also excited about the prospects for decentralised social in general, with an eye to Lens Protocol, DeSo and Bluesky.
We’d love to build some tooling for social dApps, or even a new social platform, using these zero-knowledge primitives coupled with a delightful user experience.
One particular example that we’d be interested in building is a credentialled anonymous app for whistleblowers to safely and trustlessly disclose critical information that belongs in the public sphere.
Anonymous but secure voting and forum for DAO governance
Using the abovementioned Semaphore tooling, we’d love to build new DAO governance mechanics that use anonymous credentialled interaction to protect against collusion and blackmail.
As Puja Ohlhaver, E. Glen Weyl and Vitalik have written, DAOs currently suffer from governance hacks. Governance token holders can collude and are vulnerable to blackmail, given the transparent nature of on-chain voting. We love on-chain transparency but it would be useful for DAO members to vote on project proposals without dislosing their identity.
With a Semaphore group it would also be possible to appoint key experts as “senators” in your DAO governance constitution, such as a panel of 100 cybersecurity experts. These “senators” could vote anonymously on key decisions, protecting against collusion and blackmail.
We’d love to build tooling that makes it incredibly easy for experts to steer DAOs from a Semaphore group, avoiding the introduction of governance vulnerabilities.
Furthermore, decisions are not made in isolation, but as the result of rich social interaction and discussion of key issues. Normally this happens in the comments section of Snapshot or similar apps. These forums would benefit from the private-but-credentialled interactions we outlined above, and so we would love to create a delightful social app for thoughtful, anonymous debate on DAO votes without risk of collusion or blackmail.
If any of these solutions sound interesting to you as a partnerships manager, software engineer or investor, we’d love to chat!
PS - oh, and of course, like many others, we’d love to build a compliant privacy coin that replicates the anonymity of TornadoCash but suitable for widespread enterprise adoption!
💡 Applied Cryptography | Collaborative Enterprise | Self-Sovereignty
Accessor Labs applies cutting-edge cryptographic research to solve the highest-impact problems for institutions and individuals.
Novel cryptographic primitives, such as zero-knowledge, will transform modern communication. When combined with blockchains and other peer-to-peer networks, we can unlock private and scalable data flows, in pursuit of a more collaborative, creative internet. We see a future in which platforms no longer disempower individuals. Instead, we will be self-sovereign over our own information.
Accessor Labs pursues this vision by (1) identifying high-impact applications of cryptography and (2) building tools, standards and prototypes. In the spirit of open collaboration and to further communal knowledge, we share our research with the world. We are primarily grant funded.