This article is a continuation of our series of interviews with members of the Veil team. In this installment, we’ll meet Veil cryptographer Paul Moonshine.
Tell about yourself prior to getting into crypto. Where were you living? What were you doing? What where your interests?
I’m a theoretical physicist, with an inclination toward the mathematical. Before joining Veil I lived in Kentucky where I did a postdoc at the University of Kentucky, working on string theory. I’m from the Netherlands originally, but live in beautiful Belgium now. I guess I’m a little decentralized myself sometimes.
Can you tell us the story of how you got into crypto?
I always had knack for cryptography. Moreover, in contemporary physics, aspects of (quantum) computing and error correcting codes are actually important when studying black holes. When I moved back to the Old World, I got in touch with @gets and James. Things moved pretty quickly from there.
What prompted you to go from becoming someone interested in crypto, to someone contributing to crypto projects?
From an engineering point of view, crypto combines the applied and the academic in a way that is ideal for me. The fast pace of the development of zero-knowledge proofs (my main focus) today resonates with what I was used to in academia, but the applications, implementations and consequences can be more direct which I like after having spent a lot of time in rather niche corners of the academic universe.
What is your specific role in Veil? What are working on?
An important and distinctive part of Veil is its privacy: the way transactions on the chain are confirmed is done without making public information about the parties involved in the transaction. The right way to do this is with “zero-knowledge proofs”: protocols that allow for proving knowledge of data, without sharing that data. This is a very active area of research. The main challenge is to make such protocols light-weight and fast. I work on such protocols and their implementation.
What have been the best aspects of working in crypto projects?
Like any job there’s always multiple aspects to liking a project. The best for me is the intellectual challenge: it’s an exciting time to be doing cryptographic research. I’ve enjoyed working with the people I’ve met so far too so that’s already too important marks checked.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Working all by yourself with an ocean an a couple of time-zones in between your colleagues and peers.
Project yourself a decade into the future. What does the crypto world look like? Is bitcoin still the leading coin? Is privacy added to bitcoin or does it remain transparent?
I feel like crypto is still in it’s infancy, and we’ll be seeing a “revolution” within the decade to come: scalable, decentralized coins that are easy to use and trusted by the public. Bitcoin will always be of some value, if only nostalgic, like there’s still some value in old pioneer age silver dollar coins.
Still projected 10 years into the future, let’s imagine that Veil has become a top privacy currency. Looking from that point backwards to today, what are the aspects that were core to its success? How did it become a success?
The team. This may be hard to see from outside but Veil has a very inspiring and close team of talented, passionate folks who aren’t in this for a cash grab but really care about the technology and the principals of private coins.
What are your non-crypto hobbies and interests?
I play the banjo, and listen to music a lot, mainly folk, country, bluegrass; the real stuff, Blaze Foley, Townes, Gram. In Lexington, I had a radio show from Friday 4pm till 6pm—the “Juke Joint at the Edge of the Week”. You can check some playlists on my Spotify account pauldelange88.
What does a typical week in the life of Paul Moonshine look like?
I wake up pretty early at the sounds of my daughter. Then after cooking breakfast I’ll flip through the latest publications on the arXiv in crypto and physics and will read the ones that look interesting (2 max). I’ll start working on whatever project I’m engaged in. Currently I’m finishing a review article for the Veil community that intends to explain the inner mechanics of our current operation in some technical detail.
Apart from Veil, which other projects in crypto are you impressed with today?
The Halo paper by Bowe, Hopwood and Grigg (ECC) really impressed me. It uses the latest advances in zero-knowledge proofs to propose a way for blockchain clients to check the validity of the chain without having to carry the entire chain around. Advances like these could bring high-frequency applications closer. On a more academic note, lately I’m finding myself pondering the following conundrum: if zero-knowledge proofs are a way to convince someone you do know something: could there be a set-up where I could convince you that I do not know something. As paradoxical as it sounds, such a set-up and protocol could actually mean a lot in crypto.