ETHDenver 2023 attracted thousands of attendees to Denver’s National Western Complex, eager to learn about the present and future of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. John Paller, founder and executive steward of ETHDenver, revealed that the event drew 15,000 ticketholders. While the audience was diverse, the event showcased a significant presence of students from top universities, exhibiting emerging solutions that could advance the crypto and Web3 sector.
Developers Prioritize UX, Security, and Privacy
Gil Rosen, president of the Stanford Blockchain Accelerator program that connects blockchain-focused alumni and students at Stanford University, indicated in an interview with Cointelegraph that today’s Web3 technology platforms are generally non-performant, challenging to develop on, and use. As a result, attending Stanford students seemed to focus on building developer tools and solutions that would simplify user experience and privacy. “These features will enable future applications to be easily built and fully capable,” Rosen explained, “and these are what the teams that are part of the Stanford Blockchain Accelerator are primarily focused on this year.”
Stanford’s 0xPass team was at ETHDenver 2023 to demonstrate how in the future account abstraction could be used to let Web3 wallets be externally controlled by the smart contract code. This feature would remove the requirement for wallet owners to approve each transaction. The new ERC-4337 standard’s launch will facilitate use cases like account abstraction. Kun Peng, 0xPass’s adviser and Stanford’s Web3 entrepreneurship lecturer, informed Cointelegraph that while many projects demonstrate how the ERC-4337 standard could be useful for account abstraction, 0xPass is unique due to its development of a software development kit (SDK) for easier account abstraction implementation. Peng revealed that the SDK would provide decentralized apps with much better onboarding and authentication experience, thus expanding the market to “normies” who don’t prefer private key wallets.
Apart from actionable wallets’ betterment, participants at ETHDenver 2023 discussed zero-knowledge proofs (ZK-proofs) for privacy applications. For example, the Modulus Labs Stanford team spoke at zkDAY Denver — a side event that put emphasis on ZK-proofs — about zero-knowledge methods to verify Artificial Intelligence (AI) models. As AI increasingly finds more use cases, confirming accurate information with cryptography will become crucial.
Ryan Cao, Modulus Labs’ chief technology officer, informed Cointelegraph that while present smart-contract ecosystem-built applications have limitations in their abilities to date, Modulus Labs developed a solution that allowed verification of offline computation that conforms to specific AI characteristics. Cao provided an example; he stated that Modulus developed a fully autonomous on-chain trading bot powered by AI that predicts Ether’s price, allowing fair AI decision-making via cryptography. Cao remarked, “At zkDAY, we demonstrated an on-chain AI game called ‘Leela vs. the World,’ where players placed bets to compete against an exceptionally intelligent AI chess bot. The game is fully on-chain, and the AI bot’s decisions are carefully verified by cryptography. Players can wager for or against the game, knowing that no one secretly shift the outcome toward their favor.”
Students at ETHDenver 2023 also exhibited various security solutions. Tianzuo Zhang, a Tsinghua University master’s student and an Algorand Foundation student ambassador from China, told Cointelegraph that he was currently constructing a security defender application that would mitigate damage to decentralized applications due to various security threats. Known as “HoneyDApp,” Zhang mentioned that the project won one of the OpenZeppelin Bounty competitions held during ETHDenver’s BUIDLWeek. Zhang explained that HoneyDApp makes use of Defender OpenZeppelin, a secure operations platform for smart contracts that could detect and identify attacks against DApps proactively. He also discussed how the “honeypot” protocol could trap attackers before they caused significant harm.
Students Focused on Web3
Emerge as a result of many student solutions demonstrated at ETHDenver 2023, Web3-focused university programs may advance innovation. For example, Polkadot’s Web3-oriented blockchain initiative will launch the third iteration of the Polkadot Blockchain Academy with the University of California, Berkeley, from July 10 through Aug. 10, 2023. Head of the Polkadot Blockchain Academy, Pauline Cohen Vorms, remarked that the academy had previously taught courses at the University of Cambridge and the University of Buenos Aires. This is the first time PBA’s courses would be offered at a university in the United States, Vorms revealed.
Cohen Vorms informed Cointelegraph that PBA aimed to support and educate the next generation of blockchain engineers and developers. She explained that Gavin Wood, Polkadot’s founder and Ethereum co-founder, leads PBA’s curriculum. “PBA doesn’t only focus on the Polkadot ecosystem,” Cohen Vorms added. “Our intent is to provide a strong foundation of blockchain and Web3 that can be applied to different projects.”
Rosen added that Stanford students primarily focused on building infrastructure, developer tools, and security and analytics mitigating tools for institutional and enterprise use cases while emphasizing user experience simplification. Rosen said, “Most developers today are building for the 90% of current Web3 users and developers whose use cases were often exchanges, decentralized finance, and social nonfungible tokens. But these will likely represent 10% of future users. Therefore I believe that student developers need to focus on the broader use cases now and not be as focused on the current user base that was attracted to the last bull market.”