This week's interview is with Rob Viglione, co-founder of Horizen (formerly ZenCash). Rob is a former physicist and mathematician with experience working on Bitshares, BlockPay, Zclassic, Seasteading and Bitgate. As a PhD Candidate in Finance, his research interests span cryptofinance, venture capital, and asset pricing. His goal with Horizen is to 'Uberize' finance to create a freer, fairer and nicer world by bringing fintech to the disenfranchised, and pioneer decentralized blockchain-based systems of governance.

After the 51% attack on zen, you’ve managed the update the protocol giving people who mine in private a time penalty to prevent another 51% attack. I believe Horizen was the first to develop and implement this. There are a lot of cryptocurrencies that are also vulnerable to this attack. Do you expect other blockchains to implement your solution? And would it benefit Bitcoin as well considering the amount of hash power they have?

Absolutely! Any PoW blockchain based on Nakamoto (Bitcoin) consensus should consider adopting our penalty mechanism. The point of the penalty is to create a double check and not just accept as truth that the chain with the greatest accumulated work is valid. Our system makes it significantly more costly to execute the common 51% attack method, which is to mine a sequence of blocks in private and then submit them simultaneously to the network.

Around July, you’ve introduced Super Nodes (with a collateral of 500) in addition to your basic Secure Nodes (collateral 42), which will be used for side-chains and decentralized applications. However, currently, they have been functioning as normal nodes. When can we expect the Super Nodes to start with the heavy lifting they were designed to do?

Super nodes were always meant to be the work horses of our sidechain system. We released a tech paper last month detailing the model that we’re building now, which will be a truly decentralized and generalizable sidechain system. We’re expecting development of the SDK to wrap up end of Q4 and to go through testing in early Q1. We’re targeting end of Q1 for production release.

In my opinion, a decentralized VPN service on the Horizen framework would be an excellent use-case and business-opportunity. Have you considered this?

I agree! We certainly have considered a decentralized VPN, but detailed plans as to how we’d implement such a system are not yet ready for public release. That said, two things that drive our decision-making: 1) We want to build out a privacy-related product suite, and 2) we want these products to bring in new revenues streams from outside our current ecosystem for our node operators. A decentralized VPN is certainly in line with both of those goals.

How is the development of zenpub (the ability to anonymously publish data, documents, and media in a way that is resistant to censorship) advancing? Can we expect something similar to WikiLeaks or will it be more of a file-storage system?

ZenPub is the last remaining item on our original roadmap that we’ve yet to scope and commit resources to start. It’s still an excellent idea, but given both legal ambiguity of how node operators would handle potential for illegal content being stored on their machines, and just given the other high priorities of building out our core infrastructure, this project got a wait-and-see status until early 2019 when we’ll revise priorities and plan the next batch of projects. The goal was to create a distributed file storage system, something akin to a light version of Dropbox, but clearly we haven’t been building out a machine network optimized for storage, so we’d have to either update those requirements or limit the file storage system to high value items.

What is your experience with running this project until now? Most software projects tend to be delayed (and especially in the new cryptocurrency space) because of complications. What is the best way to deal with setbacks like these and others?

I certainly didn’t bargain for what we’ve experienced in the last couple years! I joined Zclassic as a hobby while finishing my PhD, and then naively figured we’d have a much more self-propelling ecosystem right at launch for ZenCash. I’ve been all-in since our first crisis and haven’t taken a break since, and it’s not just me…the entire team has been on full throttle since the beginning and things only look to be accelerating. We have excellent leadership, especially with my co-founder, Rolf, and our Director and management team, but maybe more importantly is that we’ve built a sustainable system that can not just endure, but improve, from hardship.

There is no arguing the fact that governments regulations have been a major driver in the prices of cryptocurrencies. Also, some governments and regulatory bodies have been opposed to privacy cryptos in the past. Do you think that such regulations will affect Zen? How will the Horizen team circumvent this, if it ever happens? Although, some could argue an innovative project like this needs key players (like Rob and Rolf) to succeed, what is your strategy to further decentralize?

As much as we want to see ourselves as creating a new and different world separate from legacy systems, the reality is it’s all endogenous! We all live within well established systems that have their own rules, regulations, and constraints. We’ll keep pushing boundaries, but regulations certainly effect us…there’s no getting around that. Our perspective is that we’re operating legal entities, complying with regulations, and doing what we can to educate regulators so that we can influence better rules going forward.

Strong privacy actually supports regulatory goals, especially in places like the EU with GDPR, where popular and government backlash is against companies that hijack so much of our personal data. We’re creating systems that reverse these negative social externalities. We’re also creating a Treasury DAO so that the Horizen ecosystem can operate independently of anyone in particular. Once we systematize a decentralized framework for budget allocations and system-level decision-making, the project can exist into perpetuity. This is the ultimate form of decentralization!

Horizen was recently listed on Netcoins, which enables the purchase of ZEN in more than 20,000 retail locations. This is an addition to other partnerships sets Horizen on the path to being a cryptocurrency as well as a decentralized platform. Can you share the long-term vision of this project? At what point can you say that you have reached your benchmark?

The Netcoins integration is the brainchild of our business development Director, Rowan Stone, who has been on an absolute warpath to get ZEN out into the world. In just this last year, Rowan and his team have had ZEN listed on over two dozen exchanges, integrated into numerous payments platforms, and other partnerships that both geographically diversify the project and also get us out there as a viable cryptocurrency. This is all just laying the initial foundation for what we ultimately hope to accomplish, which is to solve the big demand for privacy in our digital lives that we forecast.

Our infrastructure, technology, and products are all pointing towards endowing individuals with ownership of their digital footprints, to essentially reverse the 20-30 year business model that’s evolved out of Silicon Valley to capture and harvest user data. We want to give that data back to individuals. When we enable our average user to feed their families and put a roof over their heads simply by participating in our ecosystem and capturing the economic value of their own data, then we’ll have hit the ultimate benchmark of success.

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