8 Questions: One-on-one with Tor Blair of Enigma Network
Exclusive Interview with Tor Blair
E-Crypto News was intrigued by the idea of private smart contracts occurring on a public blockchain. The Enigma Network is a blockchain network that offers privacy as regards smart contracts. Tor Blair had many things to say about this.
1. Will the introduction of privacy on blockchains destroy the central idea behind them?
The central idea behind blockchain originally was Bitcoin itself – a peer-to-peer protocol for open transactions, without fear of censorship or centralized control. That was the original vision expressed in the Bitcoin whitepaper. But blockchains are bad at privacy by design, which creates a large rift between what blockchains want to do and what they can do. Privacy, whether we are speaking about Enigma’s secure computation network to basic cryptography, has everything to do with decentralization, peer-to-peer communication, and censorship resistance. I would say the question is backwards – without privacy, blockchains will never achieve their stated purpose. Enigma exists to help build and support the vision of a decentralized internet.
2. How secure is a secret smart contract?
There is no technology that exists anywhere that is a “perfect solution”. All technologies, especially in security, involve tradeoffs between reliability and performance, among other factors. Anyone who claims to have something “perfectly secure” is lying and possibly malicious. That said, we believe we’ve created a platform for smart contracts that is highly performant and usable while still providing strong guarantees for data privacy. This tradeoff informed our choice to focus on trusted execution environments (TEEs) and secure hardware for the first iterations of our network. Given the slow speed of purely software-based privacy-preserving technologies, and how little they’ve been tested in production, utilizing TEEs was the clear best choice for Enigma at this time.
3. How will Enigma change the world?
We are building a decentralized, open-source protocol that lets anyone perform computations on encrypted data. Our primary mission is to improve the adoption and usability of decentralized technologies, for the benefit of all. This directly supports our other mission: to make the internet more secure and more sustainable. We envision a privacy-first future where every computation online or offline protects the privacy of user data. Given all the evidence – from Facebook to Uber to Equifax – we firmly believe that trusting large corporations and governments to protect our data and ourselves is a terrible solution and an impossible expectation. With Enigma, there is a better way.
4. What are your greatest fears about the cryptospace?
Our largest fear is that all of the groundbreaking work being done by entrepreneurs and technologists in this space will be rejected out of hand or slowed down dramatically because of bad actors and regressive politicians. We are facing a privacy crisis. Building and scaling decentralized solutions like Enigma must be a critical piece of the response. But if we can’t move fast enough, or if it becomes impossible to achieve adoption, it will be too late. We have no doubt in the potential and the necessity of these technologies. Now we have to work hard to prove it to the world.
5. Are we seeing any new shifts concerning the use of Smart contracts and decentralized applications?
The biggest shift we’ve seen in the past five years since Enigma was founded is the acknowledgement of the necessity of privacy to achieve adoption for decentralized applications. We were the first project writing openly about how privacy technologies could be combined with blockchain to create a decentralized platform for secure computation. This was the subject of our initial whitepaper, “Decentralizing Privacy”. In the “boom years” of this space, people moved fast and broke things without much regard for privacy. But that only meant that decentralized applications would stay novelties, without much practical application. We believe that with the right technologies supporting them, dApps can become necessities – and that Enigma will help drive adoption of the first million-user dApps. We’re already seeing substantial progress in verticals like decentralized finance, machine learning, gaming, and more.
6. Apart from Privacy, what else is Enigma bringing to the table?
Our solution for privacy is also a solution for scalability and usability. By moving computations off-chain and onto Enigma’s network, we let blockchains focus on what they’re good at (verification and auditability) instead of forcing applications to conduct slow and expensive computations on-chain. Everything scales better and moves faster. This directly relates to usability – both for end users and developers. dApps are incredible difficult to use today, not just because of bad UX but because of user privacy concerns, slowness, and vulnerabilities created by exposing data-in-use. Enigma solves these problems for developers and helps protect end users of their applications.
7. Where do you see the world going as regards data privacy?
People around the world are finally understanding the critical nature of data privacy. Whether its users who have had their data leak, businesses looking to protect their bottom line, or politicians proposing sweeping regulations, recognition of the privacy crisis is growing. However, we believe that we cannot solve this crisis by only changing user behavior or enacting more regulations. Asking users to choose privacy over simplicity has never worked, governments are often slow to act and impossible to coordinate, and businesses have little incentive to act first in defense of privacy. We need to build new types of scalable technologies that protect privacy. For now, that’s where Enigma is contributing most. But we will help solve the privacy crisis in any way possible, including user education and public advocacy.
8. If you had three wishes for the cryptospace and a genie who could grant them, what would those wishes be?
I wish that more entrepreneurs and investors were focused on the big, difficult problems that will take years to solve, not the small problems that get tackled because they are easy. I wish that everyone built privacy-first, with a focus on protecting users. And lastly, I wish that we could all collaborate better in service of a common goal – onboarding millions and billions of users to decentralized alternatives to failing centralized systems. There is too much tribalism in the cryptospace. We can be fragmented in how we build, but not in our mission. Our only enemies in building a better world are inertia and inaction.