Join me as I dive deeper into the diverse 0x Protocol ecosystem and get a closer look at some of the interesting projects being built using the protocol. Check out my previous article to see the ecosystem from a macro view.
While on a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview both of the Hut34 project founders, Tim McNamara and Peter Godbolt, and learn about their vision to “enable A.I., Bots, IoT, other digital services and data sets to connect, interact, and monetise data, information, and knowledge,” ultimately “creating a shared global superintelligence.” (quoted from the Hut in 1 page)
Not only did I come away with a better sense of what the Hut34 project is trying to achieve using the 0x protocol, but I had a wonderful time getting to know Tim and Peter as well. It was an afternoon of learning, laughter, and even some delicious local beers.
Date of interview: August 5, 2018
Who are you and what do you do at the Hut34 project?
Tim: Tim McNamara, I’m founder of the Hut in conjunction with Peter Godbolt sitting next to me. What do I do, Pete?
Peter: Well, Tim conceived of the Hut back in early 2017 and I came on board as a co-founder in the middle of that year.
Can you briefly share your background?
Peter: I was born at an early age. I grew up in England. I was born in Cambridge, not far from Bletchley Park, perhaps a bit more later. I’ve been in Australia for 15 years…I spent time in the agency world building apps and websites for people. I came across Bitcoin in 2012 and got heavily into blockchain in 2013.
Tim: I was born and raised in country Victoria…completing my university degree in Melbourne. Most of my professional career has been in a range of trading and investment roles both locally and offshore, including quantitative algorithmic trading, derivatives dealing, and equity derivative asset management. I have worked on the buy and sell side…spending a lot of that time interacting with data and understanding the importance and value of that data. I’ve also been an early stage investor in various fintech businesses across the data and payment space…most recently I spent a lot of time building micro artificial intelligence agents, aka chatbots, which is what led to the genesis of the Hut…trying to find ways to make these bots more intelligent and useful to the end consumer.
What is the Hut34 project and what problem(s) are you trying to solve?
Peter: I think we’ve got to tell the origin story [of the Hut]. In Bletchley Park, during the second world war, there were a number of code breaking efforts made famous by Alan Turing and the cracking of the Enigma code. It was a really important part of the war effort at the time. And the way it was set up…they had a number of physical huts…small buildings…Hut 1, Hut 2, Hut 3, Hut 4, etc. Alan Turing was in Hut 8, but Huts 3 and 4 played an information gathering role. So, the naming of the project was a product of Tim’s creativity and imagination…a combination of Huts 3 and 4.
Tim: So, just as the Bletchley Park Huts 3 and 4 were responsible for the routing of important data to the correct resource, the same applies to the Hut.
Peter: Fast forward to today…we live in a very data-rich world, with incredible interconnections and there’s an incredible international network, an internet, with data sharing…and it’s a cliché, but data really is the new oil. The other thing is that we’re trending towards centralized solutions…the most powerful A.I. agents in the world are Siri, Alexa and Google. And that’s all well and good for driving technology forward, but a decentralized solution is very important for a wide range of reasons.
So, the problem that the Hut34 project is trying to solve is to build a decentralized data marketplace…one where bot builders, artificial intelligences, even people, can connect fairly…they can route and resolve their queries and they can monetize them using a token on the Ethereum blockchain.
Tim: Data marketplaces are a critical and an important part of the vision, but the vision is also about the device interconnectedness that will drive the network effects of what we’re trying to build. Initially, it will be the interconnectedness of these devices through a centralized [Hut34] platform…[but] as we move forward with building an open protocol, the interconnectedness of these devices through decentralized or multiple platforms is critical to the global sharing of information, data, knowledge, and if all of these little micro agents can successfully communicate with one another, you never know where that will lead…
I would say the idea [of the Hut34 project] is greater than the decentralized marketplace. It is a decentralized global intelligence.
Peter: Sometimes we’re perhaps a little modest…I mean, yes, absolutely, the aim is a global superintelligence.
But you don’t get up in the morning and build a global superintelligence.
We believe in an approach that we call incremental decentralization…we’re now working with the major chat bot platforms…we’ve got integration pieces for all of them. So, for example, if you’re a Dialogflow chatbot developer you can connect your agent to the Hut. You’ll see on our medium feed…proofs of concept around Google Home…MS [Microsoft] bot framework, and things like that. And the aim is to make these connections and then over time, slowly move toward the ultimate decentralized solution.
How many people are currently on the team, and are they centralized or distributed?
Peter: We’re coming up to ten…that’s including Tim and I. We’re largely Sydney-based and we do have a couple of offshore developers. We have offices in Manly [and] offices in the city. There’s a working hub called Stone and Chalk, which is an incubator/accelerator, and we have some desks there as well.
What makes your team special relative to other teams in the space?
Peter: I think the most obvious difference is both Tim and I are a little older. There’s a culture to younger start-up tech and what we perceive is that there’s some growing pain…classic mistakes that young organizations can make. And I think that the first thing you notice about us is that we’re coming from deeper experience in more traditional worlds and therefore the dream is big, the big picture is still there, but there’s also a reality and a bit of experience. And that’s what we’re all about, just slowly but surely building real things, getting in there. One of the unique strengths that our team has is willingness and desire to build bridges between traditional enterprise developers, traditional corporates, and the emergent blockchain space.
Tim: I think we are strongly and passionately focused on execution and delivery. Personally, I see this as a key strength for our team.
People that execute…they’re not as common as you would think. There’s a lot of enjoyment in speculation and idea chasing the latest, greatest thing…but you need to execute.
Our defining feature is a group of intelligent, motivated people, strongly focused on executing a vision and working incrementally towards that goal… one foot in front of the other.
What is the Entropy (ENTRP) token and its purpose?
Peter: The Entropy token is the medium of exchange on the Hut network. So, when we’re connecting, routing, resolving queries…the monetization is provided by transfers of the Entropy token.
Tim: There’s growing talk about tokenomics. But at this stage most of it remains theoretical and speculative…untested. What’s clear to us is that the strength of the Hut 34 project will be derived from the strength of our network. And one of the ways in which we seed the growth of this network is through incentivizations…the incentivization of economic reward for contribution [and] the disincentive for bad actors.
What are your thoughts about the 0x project?
Peter: I think 0x have always knocked it out the park in terms of presenting a credible roadmap and regular releases that it seems like this very big idea might be achievable, because we’re getting there step by step.
I’ve been particularly interested in decentralized exchanges. The year of the DEX is coming [but today there exists a] central[ized] exchange paradigm where we want to be our own bank, we want to promote a decentralized future, and then we all trade on Bittrex…you know what I mean?
Tim: It’s incoherent.
Peter: It’s incoherent…it’s inconsistent. In [the] Ethereum space, MetaMask is a wonderful product…it’s done incredibly well. But it’s really important that we look for other solutions because otherwise you see it [MetaMask] get pulled from the Chrome Store and the world goes into a panic. And gosh, how are we going to unlock all this decentralized goodness if there’s is a centralized point of failure?
Tim: For me, it came back to having a background in markets and trading… looking at their idea initially and thinking it was a fantastic idea. Secondly, looking at the beginnings of their execution of that idea and thinking they’re doing a great job. And those guys are delivering…their execution is there…they’re delivering real product to drive the move towards decentralization.
The interactions we’ve had with them have been positive for everybody and they appreciate that the value of their protocol is dependent upon the network they can build, just as we need to build a network…it’s all about the network effects.
We think 0x [is] a great illustration of a smart team executing an idea very well.
We hope to work [with] and stand on the shoulder of those guys, in a positive and collaborative way.
How are you using the 0x protocol?
Peter: In the creation of a decentralized data marketplace and a global superintelligence, there was a need to create a couple of basic tools. So, we’ve gone out and built a Google powered wallet and we’re also involved in an asset-backed stable coin, which puts dollars in the blockchain called OnRamp. The wallet is live now in production at walletbeta.hut34.io.
The wallet will contain in-wallet, 0x-conversion. So, the promise of what we’ll be doing in production soon…the classic example is…your mum will be able to click on a Google button which says, “yes, now you’ve got an account”…she’ll be able to receive a balance and she’ll be able to trade using 0x between tokens, and possibly even token baskets. So, you might start off with a single ether and then you can buy some ZRX, buy some ENTRP, buy other tokens. And that will be in-wallet.
Tim: One function of the wallet will be in assisting the growth of the decentralized exchange ecosystem. Wallets are a critical piece of infrastructure and there are some real opportunities to innovate in this space.
Peter: That’s what we’re doing right now, and then what we’re working on is the extension of 0x to include, not just token transfers, but to include data requests and response objects such that the exchange needn’t be a token to token transfer, it could also be a question-and-answer transfer. We’re calling it “Hut X,” which is an extension of 0x to provide a decentralized protocol for the exchange of data.
The exciting thing is that then people can monetize their exchange in traditional ways by collecting fees from their users, but they can also become a node on a knowledge network. We’re targeting submitting an improvement proposal to 0x this calendar year. We are currently doing R&D in how much weight can this simple [Hut X] protocol take to achieve what we need. And it’s exciting frankly. It’s an uncertain outcome. We don’t know that we can do it, but we’re going to try.
Tim: If a token can be considered an asset, which at its simplest form is just a piece of data, then by logical extension just as 0x facilitates the trading of token assets, we see no reason why the 0x protocol can’t be utilized to allow the trading of an extended set of data assets.
Peter: It’s certainly valid conceptually.
Where do you see the Hut34 project in 3–5 years?
Peter: I can give you one outcome, and it’s obviously massively uncertain. Global super intelligence whereby a standard human will be interacting on a daily basis with probably thousands of devices, not just a single supercomputer which is your phone, but hundreds of embedded devices and all sorts of things, and they’re empowered to act as microeconomic actors. That means that your medical sensors will find the best provider of analytics…the best provider of healthcare…all this sort of stuff. And the Entropy token is the medium of exchange across networks. And it’s all happening seamlessly in the background power by Hut X and the 0x protocol.
Tim: I just want to be alive in three to five years.
Tim: The moonshot of building a global superintelligence is, by definition, very ambitious! From a more micro perspective I see us…every day, every week…digging holes, incrementally stepping towards the vision…executing it the best way we can. There’s so many unknown forces out there that are outside of our control so, for me to talk five years ahead, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this week we’ll be executing on the Hut…next week we’ll be executing on the Hut.
Where do you see the 0x ecosystem in 3–5 years?
Tim: 0x is awesome. 0x as a protocol for the exchange of crypto tokens is pretty cool, but let’s have a look at the size of the data markets. Let’s have a look at when data can be monetized using the 0x protocol.
Peter: If you’re looking for a team that has built something upon which much more could be built, then it’s hard to look beyond 0x for success in that regard.
Tim: The concept [of the 0x protocol]…fantastic. The proven capacity to deliver has been impressive. We’re excited to participate and contribute to its future growth and success.
Peter: I think what you could see in 3–5 years is that 0x takes on a role like TCP/IP, whereby it’s a protocol which forms an agreement by which lots of things…we extend it to power data transactions…someone else extends it to power other measurements of other sorts.
Tim: And I think you’re seeing that already in the fact that they’re shifting away from ZRX as a transactional fee, as a rent on the usage of a network, to ZRX more as a governance token. And imagine back in the day when TCP/IP was started…if you were charging .001 cent per…
Peter: …per IP address…
Tim: …it would be certainly be a friction upon its success. And I haven’t spoken to anybody at 0x [about this] but it seems to me that those guys are illustrating that they’re thoughtful guys, looking to the future.
Peter: So, in a way…
One of the greatest measures of success may be the [0x] brand itself almost dissolves to being vital and ubiquitous in its requirement, but absent in its marketing and its brand.
Tim: Does it go from being a noun to a verb?
Peter: Oh, geez. Is it a verb right now? Do you 0x something? I need some ZRX…I’m going to 0x it. (laughing)
Tim: Well, that’s my definition of success…
Peter: You could hut it…
Both: Ask the hut…(both chuckling)
Tim: Google went from a noun to a verb. That’s the definition of success…the ultimate success.
Do you have any heroes in the blockchain space?
Peter: Well, I always go back to the original white paper…Satoshi Nakamoto…that’s my hero. It’s worth reading and rereading. I read that white paper every so often and I get something different each time. I think it’s always good to have a little anchor to first principles.
Tim: No, I don’t have any specific blockchain heroes. Perhaps maybe Peter…he’s my hero. (laughing loudly)
Where is the best place to find out more about the Hut34 project?
Peter: www.hut34.io — you’ll find links to our medium feed there, links to our Telegram group…we’re active in the Telegram group…come and talk to us anytime. And the wallet we’ve spoken of is live in production now…there’s a link from the website. Please do get involved, you know, that’s the key.
And that wraps up my interview with the Hut34 project. (Thanks for your time Tim and Peter!) If you’re interested in learning more about the Hut34 project or the 0x project, check out the resources below.
To learn more about the Hut34 project…
Check out their: Wallet