Sunny King, the masked crypto figure behind the proof of stake Peercoin token, has come out of hibernation with a new project to furnish blockchain with a fully functioning database. Sunny King teams up again with Peercoin and Primecoin partner Scott Nadal for this new venture, which has been four years in the making.
Virtual Economy Era (VEE) draws its inspiration from the relational and cloud database models already in use on the internet. It aims to combine the two to create a general purpose database that allows companies to more efficiently convert their data and run their business over blockchain.
As its name implies, VEE also has applications in the world of virtual economies.
The VEE project is backed by Hong Kong-based private equity firm Millennium Capital Group. MCG provides the professional financial and marketing expertise, allowing the engineers to concentrate on developing the project, according to CEO and co-founder John Yuan.
Ahead of a meet-up event in Zurichexternal link, Sunny King chatted on Peercoin to swissinfo.ch about the new project that aims to solve one of blockchain’s most challenging technical conundrums.
swissinfo.ch: Hi Sunny King, can you explain what Virtual Economy Era means?
Sunny King: So in this vision the world would have not only real wealth, but also abundant virtual wealth. This virtual wealth can take many forms, we have so far been mostly focused on virtual currencies and stocks, but in the future many other things may join the forces, for example virtual objects inside virtual world.
So in order to achieve this level of virtual economy, it definitely would need a lot better data support on the blockchain platforms.
swissinfo.ch: Give me some examples of these virtual objects.
SK: Let’s give you an old example. Second Life has been around for a long time. It’s probably a pioneer in taking virtual economies very seriously. Second Life focused on the economy aspect much more than other games worlds of the time.
Players essentially were trading virtual properties within that world, like virtual land, virtual houses and so on. Although, one doesn't have to be tied down to this concept if one doesn't believe in virtual economies. We also see plenty of real economy applications that want to move to blockchain.
swissinfo.ch: Such as?
SK: A lot of the currently popular web applications may find it beneficial to run on blockchain platforms. For example, it might make sense to make an Airbnb on blockchain. But for such applications, the previous generations of blockchain platforms are sorely lacking in features and capabilities to handle the relevant data.
VEE introduces some of the traditional database features to the blockchain, so you can create these structured data in blockchain through an API, instead of having to program at a low level into your blockchain software. You would have more flexibility than you currently have to deal with in relational databases.
The goal is that you could as easily treat your blockchain like a general purpose database and design your application around it. This should lower the cost of developing blockchain apps greatly.
swissinfo.ch: Sounds delightfully simple & intuitive. Has no-one else thought of this before?
SK: Actually, Namecoin has done something along this path early on, although it's mostly for a specific purpose of domain name system, so the feature is very limited.
It is also hampered by the bitcoin system it was based on. But VEE would be designed from ground up for general purpose database use, so it's not really comparable.
swissinfo.ch: So is VEE rewriting the rules of blockchain - creating a whole new version - or providing a general purpose adaptor plug to allow the traditional digital world to access blockchain more efficiently?
SK: It's more like viewing blockchain as a database, instead of storage. Database is the tool for structured data, it's more aware of the structures inside the blockchain. Previous generations of blockchain systems can be viewed as a storage medium, so there are still projects storing data inside bitcoin blockchain.
VEE's vision is that a rebuild of the blockchain infrastructure is a better solution than attempting to retrofit existing blockchains, so in that sense, no it doesn't allow you to use existing blockchains as your database.
swissinfo.ch: One of the stumbling blocks is figuring out how to deal with complex, changeable data on blockchain. There are quite a few challenges. How will VEE change the playing field?
SK: We attempt to look at this more from the angle of databases, because these existing technologies are already running countless applications. In fact, it wouldn't be exaggerating to say that relational databases are still the 'data engine' of the Internet.
So, we have relational databases, cloud databases, those general purpose data systems that allow you to better organize and use your data. So, it would be natural to learn from these guys what might greatly improve the productivity of the blockchain industry.
swissinfo.ch: So, we're talking about a blockchain cloud? Lots of people use conventional cloud systems. They're very useful, but they are run centrally by companies that charge what they want and require trust that the provider won't sell your data to third parties. Is VEE going to change all that?
SK: Yes, the cloud aspect of the project is to help new blockchain apps to start up their own blockchain much more efficiently - just as Amazon Web Services did as a cloud provider to web application developers.
Of course, you mentioned centralized control of data with traditional cloud. With VEE Cloud, the applications are on blockchains so you don't need to worry about data getting modified, or getting compromised. On blockchains, what's private data is well defined through public key cryptography.
So, the application developers are in full control to define what is public data and what is private, the private data would be protected by encryption even if it sits on a public blockchain. This is one of the aspects that blockchain database differs significantly from traditional databases.
swissinfo.ch: Can VEE protect data from malicious attacks from malicious hackers?
SK: Of course, this is the breakthrough of blockchain technology. We would generally favor proof-of-stake consensus systems over proof-of-work consensus systems, but application developers will have the choice to choose their favorite consensus system - provided their application runs on its own blockchain.
A great benefit of proof-of-stake consensus is that you don't need to worry about getting overwhelmed by 51% attack at the early stage of your blockchain, when the total mining power on the blockchain is still relatively low.
Another option could be not having an independent consensus system, but tie it to the VEE blockchain which already has strong security.
swissinfo.ch: Let's look at the issue of immutability. If I put my data on blockchain it can't be changed or erased - it lives there forever in the same state. In the real world, contracts and other data needs constantly updating & maybe the terms changing. How can I do that without clogging up the system with old copies of my data?
SK: I thought about this problem before, though currently it's probably not among the highest of priorities right now. You can certainly modify your data, but under current technology all the old versions are still available in the blockchain. If the wastage amounts to too much at some point, it's possible to design a modified blockchain protocol to recycle/archive these obsolete versions of data.
Note that immutability is still preserved even though data can be modified. This is because it's application defined policy. Whether some data is allowed to be modified or not - typically only the owner is allowed to modify.
swissinfo.ch: When will VEE be up and running?
SK: Our initial release is still quite a few months away due to the ambition of the project. We would like to take an agile approach to make a couple releases a year to gradually introduce its features.