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Why Digital Asset is taking DAML to WeBank

D.A.’s Jon Rout explains the goals behind the partnership with Chinese blockchain community FISCO-BCOS.

Jon Rout, Digital Asset, and the Tencent HQ

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WeBank, the virtual bank owned by Tencent, is looking to extend operations beyond mainland China. One route to international markets is via FISCO-BCOS, China’s biggest blockchain protocol of which it is a shareholder.

This is the motivation from WeBank’s side to partner with Digital Asset Holdings, the blockchain vendor helping Australia Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Stock Exchange develop their distributed-ledger projects.

“Our core product is DAML,” said Jon Rout, D.A.’s head of business development for Asia Pacific, referring to the company’s programming language for distributed business workflows, Digital Asset Modeling Language. “We want it to become the universal language for smart contracts.”

FISCO-BCOS is the largest blockchain initiative in China, with over 10,000 developers contributing to projects based on the technology. It is an open-source protocol, meaning developers from anywhere are free to contribute to its underlying language and capabilities.

Competing communities

For D.A., the China partnership is a way to advance DAML against rivals such as Ethereum, which has perhaps 300,000 developers working on it and related projects. (Developer numbers are not exact; protocols are more accurately measured by projects per month, but these totals don’t capture the overall size of a community.)

FISCO-BCOS is a blockchain developed by partners based in Shenzhen, including Tencent, Huawei, and mainland financial-services vendor Forms Syntron (formal name, Shenzhen Forms Syntron Information). Its website says it was set up explicitly to challenge Hyperledger in the area of financial services.

With that kind of backing, FISCO-BCOS has naturally positioned itself as an enterprise blockchain, more akin to Hyperledger Fabric (around 17,000 developers, according to Chainstack) or R3’s Corda (up to 6,000). FISCO stands for Financial Blockchain Shenzhen Consortium. In China it is working on projects such as supply chain finance.

In that regard, the comparison to Ethereum – a public blockchain, as opposed to permissioned ledgers used by enterprises – is not entirely appropriate. But ConsenSys and other Ethereum developers are also creating enterprise solutions that can draw from the wider community, and FISCO-BCOS’s own language is a derivative of Ethereum’s.

DAML, on the other hand, despite its high profile in capital markets, has a narrow developer base of a few hundred. To grow its developer community, D.A.  went open source in April 2019 and enabled solutions to be build on AWS’s cloud. The company is keen to see DAML integrated into solutions built on Hyperledger Fabric (an IBM initiative) or Sawtooth (Intel), or R3’s Corda. So the partnership with WeBank regarding FISCO-BCOS is part of that trend.

“We’re working with WeBank to add another ledger that DAML developers can work on, with the intention of going to market with FISCO-BCOS,” Rout said. “They’re looking to go international and we can help.”

WeBank executives declined to comment. “WeBank has no commercial objectives in mind at this stage,” a spokesman said. “Open-source technology is the key focus of our technical collaboration.”

Blockchain + A.I.?

Rout says D.A. also has no commercial objectives in mind at this stage. The focus for now is technical, adapting smart contracts, data storage, and consensus mechanisms to enable FISCO-BCOS to operate overseas, while allowing it to service DAML-based functions.

For example, FISCO-BCOS uses zero-knowledge proofs as part of its encryption methods. Rout says this is the first time D.A. is integrating with a ledger using that particular privacy method.

Zero-knowledge proofs are tools to allow information to be shared only to those entitled to view it. WeBank’s development team has also been working on federated artificial intelligence, another tool to help firms use third-party data without knowing the identity of related users. However they declined to comment on whether these various intiatives could be combined.

Rout said, however, that any A.I. or machine learning process needs clean, quality data. In distributed ledgers, this becomes the “golden source of truth”, on which smart contracts can be based.

“There has been exploration of combining A.I. and blockchain,” Rout said, “but our focus has been to ensure DAML works on FISCO-BCOS, get their developers to use it, and create new ideas for smart contracts.”

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Why Digital Asset is taking DAML to WeBank