Disrupting the internet?
Not just fodder for TV jokes, it’s a goal that continues to capture the imaginations of developers in the blockchain sphere, and Ben Gorlick and Johnny Dilley are no exception.
Turns out, the developers liked the idea so much they ditched one of the most renowned tech companies in the blockchain industry, Blockstream, to join up with a startup called Crowd Machine where they now serve as the CTO and chief of system architecture, respectively.
In short, the developers believe today’s cloud computing services, which power most of the internet, leave much to be desired. And, like many other blockchain and ICO projects, Crowd Machine thinks blockchain technology could be crucial to improving the situation.
But with this project, there’s a twist.
The long-in-development distributed cloud computer is unique in that it aims to harness the power of blockchain to make app creation faster and cheaper, and to do this using “any blockchain” they want, starting with ethereum.
The idea has already attracted a handful of Fortune 500 companies such as GE and Anthem, who are now customers of Crowd Machine (according to the project’s website). Other “big IoT” company partners are reportedly planning to use it as their primary application, to be revealed in the coming months.
Gorlick told CoinDesk:
“What we’re working on is a real gamechanger with the way in which software can be built and executed.”
That’s why Gorlick’s switching gears. Though he cherished working with “top minds in cryptocurrency and computer science” at Blockstream, he thinks it’s a problem that blockchains are so difficult to build on.
“Empowering people to do that,” he said, was a key reason he switched.
To explain how Crowd Machine works, Gorlick offered the idea of a basic calendar app.
Usually such an app would be deployed on a commonly used cloud platform like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud, because these tools make it easier to deploy and manage websites. Under the hood, every time a users updates the calendar, in what’s called an “activity,” the developer is charged.
Gorlick thinks this setup is a “bottleneck” that leads to lot of waste.
The efficiency of Crowd Machine, Gorlick said, comes from breaking each of these activities into a bunch of pieces then shooting them off to a network of devices that each computes them together. “The still runs and executes the program, but users aren’t bottlenecked to a single provider,” he said.
If everything goes according to plan, users will be paid to run these programs on all sorts of devices, say if people have free space on their laptops, smartphones or even Internet of Things devices using Crowd Machine’s so-called “Crowd Computer,” set to be released in the final quarter of 2018.
“That’s where the crowd computer was born,” Gorlick said.
But, is this really a bottleneck for users? Gorlick offered the example banks using AWS have to reconcile their databases at the end of every day, a process that takes about an hour with platforms like AWS.
“What we figured out if we didn’t need to depend on a single providers to many devices. That cuts down the time significantly, to 10 seconds or a minute,” Gorlick said, adding:
“That’s going to be a huge money saver.”
It uses “strong federation,” an idea Gorlick and Dilley came up with while at Blockstream, to give guarantees that nodes will run the code as they’re supposed to – in part incentivized by the Crowd Machine tokens.
Coding without code
In short, the core idea is to cut down runtime costs, but another huge component is that Crowd Machine want to cut down the costs of creating the app as well.
“Writing a smart contract sounds quite daunting. The barrier needs to be lowered,” Gorlick said.
There are a few pieces to Crowd Machine, which makes it a bit confusing, almost with a “Rube Goldberg” feel to it. For example, the idea is you won’t necessary have to know how to code at all to be able to create blockchain apps, because Crowd App Studio allows users to create apps by way of a drag-and-drop visual interface.
One section of the app even allows users to design ethereum smart contracts without needing to know ethereum’s programming language, Solidity, which is notoriously difficult to learn.
Other blockchain languages, such as bitcoin’s Script, will be supported one day, too.
Gorlick went as far as to say his dream is to make it easier for users in developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia to bring their blockchain ideas to fruition without the costs of AWS.
Will it work, though?
If these two pieces sound like unrelated, they actually tie together in a clever way.
While the general idea of a distributed computer has an been an idea for a long time, Gorlick thinks tying easy app creation with the network will help with this problem.
“It’s funny, there are a bunch of different companies out there looking to solve this problem of creating some sort of a supercomputer or a mesh network or edge computers,” Gorlick said.
But he believes all to date have been lacking.
“You kind of have the chicken-and-egg problem. If you build the best network ever, but you don’t have a development environment to utilize it, it won’t be used and you won’t get a network effect. You need to have a compelling reason to use a network in the first place,” Gorlick continued.
He thinks the missing piece could be a development environment along the lines of Crowd App Studio making it easy to actually deploy apps on the blockchain.
“We believe that having an environment where you can execute and run them on a whole variety of blockchains is a compelling reason.”