Agoric AMA with Dean Tribble and Chorus One

This is a revised transcript of the Chorus One latest Q&A session with Dean Tribble and Mark Miller that followed Chorus One podcast episode on the Agoric platform.

Welcome Dean! Why don’t you start with giving us some background about you and Agoric?

Dean: Thank you for having me. I’ve been working on smart contract technology since I helped with the first production one in 1989 :) Agoric was founded last year. Our Chief Scientist, Mark Miller, inspired lots of blockchain and distributed systems work with his Agoric Open Systems papers (in 1988). As you can imagine, that’s where we got our name from. That was really the first clear vision of software components creating and participating in markets.

So you have started to work with Mark straight after reading these papers? Or was your first production smart contract unrelated?

Dean: Mark and I worked together at Xerox PARC before that, starting around 1986. That was work on secure distributed programming lgnauges and operating systems. So we were indeed working together at Xanadu (one of the origins of Hypertect before the Web), and our sister company, American Information Exchange (AMIX) was starting a business that was basically an online, hosted smart contract. I helped with a big part of their smart contract design.

How closely aligned are the smart contracts of the 80s with those of today? What are similarities / differences?

It really combines both smart contracts and blockchains. Our definition of a smart contract: A contract-like arrangement, expressed in code, where the behavior of the program enforces the terms of the contract. The AMIX system hosted that on a “trusted 3rd party”. Blockchain eliminates that need, which gives us much better ability to build new kinds of cooperation.

So the contracts are quite closely aligned, though the early focus was using markets to manage compute resources.

Other things are surprisingly the same: we observed at the time that the dominant paradigm of identity-based access control did not well support dynamically the changing “permissions” that smart contracts require. That’s why we helped champion to “object-capability” model.

I think one of the big difference now is how powerful frameworks have shown themselves to be. The websites people build now are amazing. That’s in large part because programmers of diverse skills can create components that other programmers use to build those sites. So that across the millions of developers, only a few need to be experts at for example creating new fancy animation and styling tools, and the others can just leverage them. We need the same thing for Smart Contracts if we are going to get a large and growing online economy. Read more