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Equilibrium's Infra Bulletin #8: WebGPU for ZK, Problems With On-Chain Games, and Zeth - a type 0 zkEVM
Equilibrium Labs builds the state-of-the-art of decentralised infrastructure. We are a global team of ~35 people who tackle challenges around security, privacy and scaling.
This newsletter allows us to share more about what we read, what excites us and what we think is relevant to the space. In addition, you will get a glimpse into the organisation and our culture. We are now also on Telegram!
Research, Articles and Industry News:
Privacy-enabled applications such as shielded wallets and pseudonymous identity platforms require users to generate the proof on their own hardware to maintain privacy. While a lot of work is being done around proof outsourcing to make proof generation faster, client side proving isn’t getting as much attention. In addition, in-browser proof generation is inherently bound by the browser's resource limits which typically can’t leverage the same computing resources as command-line binaries.
WebGPU is a new browser standard developed by a W3C working group since 2017. It allows browser applications to access GPU computing resources, hence combining the accessibility of browser-based web applications with the compute power of GPUs. One interesting application of WebGPU is accelerating client-side ZK-proof generation since many client devices already contain GPUs. In addition, browser support for the WebGPU standard is maturing.
The article highlights various ways that WebGPU could be used to accelerate cryptographic algorithms, based on current research. This includes acceleration of finite field arithmetic, MSMs and NTTs. However, there is still a lot to do, including building WebGPU-powered ZK applications and developer tools, performing security research, and translating existing GPU optimisations from other platforms like CUDA.
Key Takeaway: Client-side proving is important for privacy applications, but it’s significantly slower than outsourced proving. WebGPU could accelerate client-side proving, which would in turn improve the user experience of many private applications. That said, while WebGPU offers an interesting area for exploration, there is still a lot of research and engineering work that needs to be done.
The intersection of crypto and gaming has been a hot narrative for some time already, but does it actually make any sense? Charlie and Doug from Paradigm dig into the topic to try to discover which aspect of on-chain games add value, why they still haven’t taken off, and what open problems and frictions still persist. The post caused a lot of discussion, such as this response by Ryan Berckmans.
One benefit of on-chain gaming is making it easier to create, trade and be rewarded for user-generated content (UGC). This includes more flexible and composable mods (i.e. the ability for third-party developers to implement content beyond what was envisioned by a game’s original developer), and permissionless open economies that any game developer can tap into and easily integrate.
The open problems highlighted in the piece are:
Technical constraints - Despite generous investment and advancement on this front, the supporting infrastructure is still not mature enough.
Financialisation arising from composability - Need to consider incentives around real-money markets (MEV and economic exploits) and second-order effects from the financialisation of mods.
Achieving some autonomy while avoiding stagnation - On-chain games have longer release cycles to maximise emergence and require audits for upgrades. Some developers also see permissionless autonomy as a goal in itself.
Key Takeaway: On-chain gaming introduces some interesting opportunities for game developers, but has yet to live up to its expectations. The article by Paradigm focuses on composable mods and permissionless open economies as the key benefits to on-chain gaming and also raises some open problems as frictions for adoption - some of which are easier to solve than others. While it’s still unclear exactly how game developers will leverage on-chain resources, it’s likely that something new and unique will eventually emerge.
Most blockchains today, including Ethereum, verify blocks through re-execution. This is both slow and wasteful, leading to a lot of redundant compute with every node re-executing transactions to verify their correctness. While Ethereum wasn’t designed with ZK-friendliness in mind, it plans to eventually integrate ZKPs to the base layer and enable easy verification of execution. However, this is a hugely complex task and will likely take years to implement.
Zeth is an open-source ZK block prover for Ethereum built on the RISC Zero zkVM. It enables proving the validity of a given Ethereum block by doing the work needed to construct a new block within the zkVM (no need to rely on the validator or sync committees). Creating the proof takes minutes, not hours as originally predicted by Vitalik. Zeth has been verified to work on several real-world blocks from Ethereum mainnet and passes all relevant tests from the official Ethereum testsuite.
In order to reduce cost and prover requirements, Zeth uses parallelisation of proof generation: The program is split into smaller segments (distributed to a pool of workers) and then rolled up into an aggregate proof. The time to generate the proof decreases with the number of workers, as the number of the program can be split into more (and smaller) segments.
Zeth is coined to be a “type 0” zkEVM since it goes further than Vitalik’s definition of a type 1 by combining full protocol compatibility with significant code re-use. However, the terminology used is less important than the actual technical achievement.
Key Takeaway: Zeth is a block-prover, which enables proving the validity of Ethereum blocks by utilising RISC Zero’s zkVM. It allows developers to build validity rollups with completely native EVM and Ethereum support while leveraging on-chain proof verification. Zeth also makes it easier to build other ZK-powered infra, such as light clients and bridges, on top of Ethereum.
Personal recommendations from our team:
📚 Reading: Debt - The First 5,000 Years: Anthropologist David Graeber shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. This is a stark contrast to the conventional wisdom.
🎧 Listening: DOMi & JD BECK - Tiny Desk Concert: This brilliant jazz duo was also seen at the Flow Festival in Finland a couple of weeks back.
💡Other: Alexandria: An attempt to create the next great Library of Alexandria by bringing books on-chain. Designed for reading, browsing, and publishing web3 ebooks which are accessible globally and can never be taken down.
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