Blockchain Capital Why did we lead the $40 million financing for ZK infrastructure company RISC Zero?

Why did Blockchain Capital lead $40M financing for ZK infrastructure company RISC Zero?

Original: Bart Stephens, Ryan Sproule, and Yuan Han Li,

“Democratizing Zero-Knowledge Computing: The Power of RISC Zero’s Bonsai Network”

Translation: Zen, LianGuaiNews

On July 19th, RISC Zero, an infrastructure company aimed at helping developers build zero-knowledge proof software, announced the completion of a $40 million Series A financing round. The round was led by Blockchain Capital, with participation from Galaxy Digital, IOSG, and others. As the lead investor, Blockchain Capital analyzed the development of zero-knowledge computing, the characteristics and advantages of RISC Zero, and LianGuaiNews provided the translation.

Imagine a world where data privacy, security, and trust are no longer concerns, where software supply chains are transparent and verifiable, and where the power of zero-knowledge computing can be harnessed by the next generation of applications to address some of the most urgent challenges of the digital age. This is the promise of zero-knowledge (ZK) computing, and it is the reason why we invested in RISC Zero, a pioneering company that aims to democratize ZK access through its Bonsai Network.

Zero-knowledge computing is a revolutionary primitive that allows applications and protocols to leverage three key properties: succinctness, correctness, and zero-knowledge. This means that by verifying a ZK proof (correctness), a verifier can be nearly certain that the computation has been executed correctly.

In addition, the verified proof is much more succinct than the original computation and can also leverage the zero-knowledge property of the proof to ensure that the verifier knows nothing about the computation itself. This unique combination of properties has profound implications and offers a new way to verify information. Together, these properties balance the needs for privacy, security, and trust, and provide the potential for a more secure and private digital world. However, there are still some obstacles to overcome before ZK can fully realize its potential.

Firstly, computations in ZK are currently too time-consuming and costly. The proof time and cost need to decrease significantly in order to achieve complex computations in ZK. The good news is that these are rapidly decreasing: the trajectory of ZK proof time and cost follows familiar trends in technological history, whether it’s Moore’s Law (halving the cost of computing every two years), Fratelli’s Law (the cost of human genome sequencing decreasing at an even more significant rate), or Clyde’s Law (disk density doubling approximately every 13 months). The latest architectural advancements in proof systems (Plonky2, Hyperplonk, STARK) and progress in underlying cryptography (Poseidon) are reducing the overhead required to create ZK proofs for any computation. And these advancements in the field will continue to happen at a similar pace (especially with recent talent influx into ZK), and the cost of managing proofs will also benefit from the progress of hardware acceleration (MSM, NTT), which is something that has not been fully developed yet.

Another major obstacle to the widespread adoption of ZK is the inherent complexity of the mathematics and cryptography in ZK systems. The depth and level of expertise required to drive ZK innovation is only accessible to a small fraction of highly skilled technical developers.

In an ideal scenario, developers can freely write programs in their preferred language while still being able to perform zero-knowledge proof calculations without having to handwrite inputs and design circuits using low-level, ZK-specific programming languages. This is where RISC Zero’s Bonsai platform comes in as a game-changer for developers worldwide, and it is why we have invested in RISC Zero.

By creating a zero-knowledge virtual machine (zkVM) that emulates the RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), RISC Zero has built a system that can prove the execution of low-level code. Since the ISA serves as a bridge between human-readable code and machine-interpretable instructions, this achievement means that the Bonsai network can prove that any high-level program can be compiled into this architecture. As most modern programming languages are compatible with RISC-V, RISC Zero’s Bonsai can execute almost any arbitrary computer program using zero-knowledge proofs.

In the future where zero-knowledge (ZK) computing becomes prevalent, many previously impossible applications will become possible. This includes not only Ethereum-based applications utilizing RISC Zero’s Bonsai network as a co-processor to perform resource-intensive off-chain work before validating results on the verification chain but also extends to applications beyond cryptocurrencies. For example, Bonsai can allow white-hat hackers to prove the existence of security vulnerabilities and errors without directly disclosing them. It can also prevent future software supply chain attacks by allowing users to download and verify ZK proofs to ensure the code they are running has been audited in advance in Bonsai. The most exciting part is that the widespread adoption of Bonsai may bring about entirely new use cases that have not been imagined before.

Beyond impressive technological breakthroughs, there is a strong and unique team behind RISC Zero. The three co-founders, Brian Retford, Jeremy Bruestle, and Frank Laub, have known each other for over 20 years. Their shared experiences include co-founding multiple companies, with their most recent venture being in the field of artificial intelligence optimization and compilation, which was eventually acquired by Intel.

Each member of the trio brings rich experience to RISC Zero: Brian has worked on pricing and measurement systems at Google Cloud Platform; Jeremy is a lifelong math enthusiast dedicated to GPU acceleration in genetic sequencing and has a background in cryptography, high-performance computing (HPC), and security; Frank has a strong background in compilers and has built numerous code libraries. With their shared history and diverse skills, the RISC Zero team has a unique advantage in providing zero-knowledge computing to the masses and potentially reshaping the digital landscape in the process.

As we look towards a future where zero-knowledge computing is widely adopted, the possibilities for innovation are limitless. RISC Zero’s Bonsai network, with its ability to support a wide range of programming languages, will democratize ZK computing and empower developers to create secure, private, and trustless applications in various domains. From strengthening network security measures to enhancing trust in the software supply chain and significantly increasing the computational capabilities of on-chain applications, the potential impact of zero-knowledge computing is enormous. The rapidly decreasing ZK proof time and cost, RISC Zero’s dedicated team, and the emergence of Bonsai as a versatile computing platform herald a new era of computation where privacy, security, and trust are built into the fabric of our digital world.