University students reveal new Web3 solutions at ETHDenver 2023

Thousands of attendees recently gathered at Denver’s National Western Complex for ETHDenver 2023 to learn about the current and future cryptocurrency ecosystem. 

John Paller, founder and executive steward of ETHDenver, told Cointelegraph that 15,000 ticketholders attendedr ETHDenver’s main event.

While ETHDenver attracted a diverse crowd, many students from leading universities attended the event, showcasing new solutions to advance the crypto and Web3 sector.

Devs focus on UX, security and privacy

Gil Rosen, president of the Stanford Blockchain Accelerator — a program that connects Stanford University students and alumni founders in the blockchain space — told Cointelegraph that he believes current Web3 technology platforms are generally non-performant. “These platforms often lack privacy preservation, are extremely challenging to develop on (especially complex applications), and are even more complex to use,” he said.

Given this, Rosen mentioned that student attendees at ETHDenver 2023 seemed to be focused on building developer tools, and solutions to simplify user experience and privacy. “These features will enable future applications to be easily built and fully capable. This is what the teams that are part of the Stanford Blockchain Accelerator are primarily focused on this year,” he said.

Student builders at ETHDenver 2023. Photo credit: Tim Gillies

For example, Rosen noted that Stanford’s “0xPass” team was present at ETHDenver 2023 to demonstrate how account abstraction could be used in the future to enable Web3 wallets to be externally controlled by smart contract code. Such a feature would mean that wallet owners would no longer have to sign off on every transaction. The launch of the new ERC-4337 standard is set to enable use cases like account abstraction.

Kun Peng, an adviser for 0xPass and a Stanford lecturer on Web3 entrepreneurship, told Cointelegraph that while several projects were demonstrating how the ERC-4337 standard could be used for account abstraction, 0xPass is unique because it has built a software development kit (SDK) to simplify account abstraction implementation. He elaborated:

“This SDK will provide decentralized apps with a significantly better onboarding and authentication experience. As a result, the Web3 market will expand to ‘normies’ who don’t want to use wallets with private keys. Such a feature will allow the use of social logins for authentication, the same login for multiple wallets, password recovery and more.”

While enabling better wallet experiences has become critical, zero-knowledge proofs (ZK-proofs) were also heavily discussed at ETHDenver 2023. For example, the Modulus Labs Stanford team spoke at zkDAY Denver — a side event focused on ZK-proofs — about zero-knowledge approaches to verify artificial intelligence (AI) models. As AI becomes more widely used, verifying accurate information using cryptography will become crucial.

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Ryan Cao, chief technology officer of Modulus Labs, told Cointelegraph that applications built on the existing smart-contract ecosystem are limited in their capabilities. He explained that Modulus Labs had built a solution to enable offline computation to be verified as conforming to certain AI traits.

Ryan Cao, chief technology officer of Modulus Labs at zkDAY Denver. Source: Modulus Labs

For example, Cao explained that Modulus had built a proof-of-concept that is a fully autonomous, on-chain trading bot powered by AI that can make predictions about the price of Ether (ETH). According to Cao, this could enable cryptographically fair AI decision-making. He said: 

“At zkDAY we demonstrated an on-chain AI game called ‘Leela vs. the World,’ where players stake to compete against a hyper-intelligent AI chess bot. The game is fully on-chain, and the decisions of the AI bot are carefully verified by cryptography. In other words, players can bet with or against the game knowing that no one can secretly shift the outcome toward one’s favor.”

In addition to privacy applications using ZK-proofs, participants demonstrated a number of security solutions. Tianzuo Zhang, a master’s student at Tsinghua University in China and a student ambassador for the Algorand Foundation’s university program, told Cointelegraph he is building a security defender application to mitigate the damage that decentralized applications (DApps) could face from various security threats.

Known as “HoneyDApp,” Zhang shared that the project was one of the winners of the “OpenZeppelin Bounty” competition, which was hosted during ETHDenver’s BUIDLWeek.

According to Zhang, HoneyDApp uses Defender OpenZeppelin — a secure operations platform for smart contracts — to detect and identify attacks against DApps. In addition, Zhang noted that the “honeypot” protocol could trap attackers before they can cause any significant harm.

Such a solution may be critical, as Zhang explained that the risks of cyberattacks and vulnerabilities are becoming more common with the rise of Web3 DApps. “HoneyDApp becomes important, as it provides a proactive security solution that can detect, respond to and defend against attacks. It limits damage and reduces risk to the project,” he said.

Students focused on Web3

While many students demonstrated solutions at ETHDenver this year, university programs focused on Web3 advancement will likely push innovation forward.

For example, Polkadot — a Web3-focused blockchain project — will launch its third iteration of the “Polkadot Blockchain Academy” (PBA) with the University of California, Berkeley, from July 10 through Aug. 10, 2023.

Pauline Cohen Vorms, head of the Polkadot Blockchain Academy, told Cointelegraph that PBA has previously conducted courses at the University of Cambridge and the University of Buenos Aires. She noted that this is the first time PBA courses will be taught at a university in the United States.

Polkadot Blockchain Academy at the University of Buenos Aires. Source: Polkadot Blockchain Academy

According to Cohen Vorms, PBA aims to educate and support the next generation of blockchain engineers and developers. She added that PBA’s curriculum is led by Gavin Wood, founder of Polkadot and a co-founder of Ethereum. “PBA doesn’t only focus on the Polkadot ecosystem. Our intent is to provide a strong foundation of blockchain and Web3 that can be applied to different projects.” 

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While it’s difficult to predict what students will focus on building at PBA in Berkeley, Cohen Vorms shared that courses will focus on cryptography fundamentals, governance options, interoperability between blockchain networks and tools available to help developers build their own blockchains and parachains.

Rosen added that students at Stanford are primarily focused on building infrastructure, developer tools, and security and analytics mitigation tools for institutional and enterprise use cases, all while focusing on the simplification of the user experience. He added:

“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.”

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