Sazmining Podcast Episode 16: Aleksandar Kuzmanovic on the components of a blockchain system
Synopsis: In this episode of The Sazmining Podcast, Will speaks with Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, professor of computer science at Northwestern University and Founder of bloXroute Labs. They discuss the structure of a blockchain system, challenges that the blockchain industry faces, the future of blockchain, and more.
Will Szamosszegi (00:04):
Welcome to the SA mining podcast at SA mining, we are bringing you into conversations with today's industry leaders and blockchain and cryptocurrency. Our goal with this podcast is to improve the understanding and adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrency by giving you an insider's look at what's being built and informed predictions on what the future holds
Will Szamosszegi (00:30):
Today's guest is a graduate of ETF Belgrade, where he received both a bachelor's and master's degree. He later went on to complete his PhD at rice university. Then he traveled to California where he was a visiting researcher at the Stanford linear accelerator center, an advisor at Naus, Inc. He was co-founder and chief scientist at N Inc. And today he is both a professor of computer science at Northwestern university and founder of blocks root labs, a blockchain distribution network that is solving the largest problems that blockchain face today. So with all that said, I'd like to welcome you Alexander Kuzmanovic to the podcast.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (01:09):
Thank you so much for, for inviting me. And it's a great honor to be here. So I look forward to discussing, uh, things here
Will Szamosszegi (01:15):
Great. After being involved in academia and then going and moving towards blockchain and the work that you're doing today, what is it that led you to be interested in the work that you're doing currently at blocks? Route labs?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (01:30):
So basically blocks route is, is a, a startup that I, uh, I co-founded with my former PG student wood requirement, who is now a CEO at blocks route. So when he came to Northwestern, we never ever thought that we would wanna go with a startup or anything like that. We were just, he was just a great PhD student and we had a lot of fun doing a lot of research together. And at some point we pivoted towards blockchains for no good reason. It was just an interesting topic. And after one or two papers in the area, and after we, we realized, uh, the current, uh, uh, like idea behind blocks route, we started to realizing that this could be more than just an academic paper and academic exercise. And we said like, at some point, Hey, let's go for it. Let's, let's actually, uh, do this in the real world because writing papers on one is, is exciting on one, on one end, because you actually propose an idea, but actually executing that idea in the real world is a totally different ball game. So we wanted to figure out if we can do that in the real world. So that's how we, we found it blocks cells.
Will Szamosszegi (02:44):
Got it. And what was that core idea that you're referring to that's behind blocks route?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (02:50):
Well, basically when we looked at, at, at blockchains and the, the scaling problem, basically both already, and me, we are networking researchers. So, so basically I come from the world of how TCP works. What is the streaming rate when you're downloading something, uh, when you're watching your Netflix and stuff like that. So we really are kind of, uh, focused on the internet protocols and behavior, right? And so when we looked at blockchains, we figured out that that that's basically a network, right? You have a lot of different entities sending data to, to each other. And after TA looking more deeply into it, we said, look, the scaling problem for, for blockchains is basically a network networking problem. Basically, if you can send data more efficiently among all these endpoints, uh, then the scale or the transaction per second rate on that blockchain can significantly be increased. And once we figured out that this, we, we, we should be able to increase this by by lot, by more than 100, or even sometimes in some cases, by more than 1000 times, we said, wow, this is serious. Let's try to actually do this.
Will Szamosszegi (04:02):
Got it. And so just to lay the context for, uh, for the discussion, how would you define, uh, how, what a blockchain is?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (04:12):
The picture that I have in my mind is, is that a Bitcoin of course, because that's the first blockchain, the most successful blockchain. There were many, many other different directions that people took on blockchains afterwards. And these are all very interesting. And some of them actually very can actually work really well. But, uh, my picture of blockchain that I have in my mind is that of Bitcoin, basically you have, uh, different endpoint sending transactions to each other, right transactions, meaning I send you a Bitcoin or even better. You send me a Bitcoin, you signed it with your private key and you send it to the blockchain and then different entities, different minors out there collect all these different transactions. And the key key question is how do we, how do these minors, uh, put these transactions in a unique order, such that everybody can agree that this is your enriched transactions, uh, are actually, uh, put together, uh, one behind another, right? And so basically ordering of transactions in a distributed manner, that's basically what the blockchain is, is all about. So, and how to do that without a central authority, that basically is, is a blockchain to an extent, at least in my, uh, in my version of things.
Will Szamosszegi (05:33):
Got it. So you, you kind of just ran through it where there's a, blockchain's like a ledger and you gave the example of Bitcoin where there's a set of rules that govern how transactions are added to that ledger.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (05:48):
Yes. How the transactions are to ledger and the key, the actually the fundamental problem behind all this, uh, why do we care about how do we order transactions? Well, the key idea is to have a security guarantee so that if I have one Bitcoin, for example, I can't give at the same time to you one Bitcoin and to somebody else, which on the internet is, is very easy, right. I just click a button and then one Bitcoin goes to you. One, one goes to another. So the key idea, the key, uh, uh, threshold that was solved by Bitcoin, the key problem is this double spending attack, right? Because if I can't, if I have on Bitcoin, but I can't spend it on two, two points, two locations, uh, uh, close to each other, then actually that's a very significant because then we actually have a currency where one cannot manipulate it, such that they can go on and, and, and send multiple transactions.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (06:48):
And this is why this ordering of transactions is important. Because even if I send two transactions, I send one to you. And one to somebody else to payments, only one of these payments is going to make on the blockchain because the other one is going to become conflicting. Once it B becomes conflicting, it's not gonna go on chain and has, if I have one Bitcoin, I can only spend one Bitcoin. And this sounds pretty generic and pretty straightforward, but this really is the key problem that Bitcoin solved, uh, initially. And that's why, uh, uh, uh, we can talk about Bitcoin as a, as a currency because people have confidence that, uh, once they receive something and, or send something it's gonna happen only once and he, there is money, right?
Will Szamosszegi (07:36):
Yeah. Well, that, that definitely is revolutionary. How, uh, Bitcoin was able to solve that double spend problem. Yep. One of the things that many people talk about is how blockchain there are these great features that it has, but there are challenges that still need to be addressed within blockchain. What would be some of those challenges that in today's day and age we're trying to solve in regards to blockchain systems?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (08:02):
Yes. So, so basically here necessarily, I mean, the, the one challenge that I can definitely talk about is scalability, because that's something that blocks out actually is trying to solve. And basically scalability means, so we mentioned these transactions going from one to another. So currently, I mean, in, in its original design, Bitcoin supports three transactions per second. So that means if I send you one Bitcoin or, or some part of Bitcoin, and two other people do that in the same second, only three of us can do that in one second. Right. And in the next second, there are three other lucky ones and so on. But as you can imagine, this season sufficient for it to become a really, really viable system, right. Uh, because for example, people always keep talking about credit cards and other similar kinda centralized, uh, infras, uh, centralized systems. And for example, they can support, uh, up to like 5,000 on average and then much more, uh, uh, in the peak, right?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (09:10):
So the one of the first, uh, like one problem that that blockchains need to solve is scaling, right? If you can't support a large number of transactions, that means that that particular money or that particular currency, or that particular system is not used that much. And if it's not used that it cannot be used that much, then it's not used useful for everyday, uh, of people. Right. And so this was the key challenge that we tried to, to kind of address. That's not the only challenge for blockchains. There are other challenges, which is ability, which is, uh, regulations. There are many, many other things that need to be sold, but this for sure is one. So we, we are taking care of this one problem, and we encourage others to, to worry about O other problems so that we can actually, uh, make a big stride in this, in the, in this space.
Will Szamosszegi (10:05):
Yeah. And why is it that blockchains run into the scalability problem where you gave the example of Bitcoin? It was limited to three transactions per second. That seems very limiting.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (10:15):
Yes. So, so basically, uh, that is, uh, uh, uh, I mean, uh, it's surprising for people who are not, uh, into this, into this field, but basically, uh, uh, uh, as we discussed the key, uh, uh, one of the key kind benefits of, of blockchains is that there, there are decentralized systems, right? There is no single entity that controls this, uh, uh, uh, how this particular system behaves, right. There is some code that is executed at different location, at different decentralized locations. And, uh, they keep executing this code and it just works. And that's a kind of magic moment, right? Because, uh, there is no single authority that controls this and it still works right at the same time when you have something great, it comes with some, uh, baggage, right? So the baggage here is yes, it's, it's really decentralized. It can work without a single authority, but at the same time, it's not efficient.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (11:18):
It is not efficient because you have minors all over the planet. Right. And for all of them to come to the same page on which transactions was actually executed, some information needs to travel, uh, in between all these distributed endpoints, which takes time, enhance its slow. Right? And so this is exactly the, the problem statement that we have for box route saying, Hey, uh, blockchain is a distributed system. And he, it doesn't scale because the network in between is not, uh, the peer to peer communication utilized for blockchains is not, is, is not sufficiently. It, it doesn't work that well. And hence, can we do something to make it more efficient?
Will Szamosszegi (12:02):
So you outlined a problem where these blockchains you're in this balancing act where you want it to be as decentralized, not have a central single authority, but then at the same time, you still want it to be efficient where you can put through a lot of transactions and still have that decentralized nature. And yes, just on the surface hearing, that concept sounds very difficult to, to solve. What is it that, uh, that you are doing and working on that is addressing this problem that allows someone to maintain that type of balance between decentralization as well as, uh, practical high throughput currency.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (12:47):
Yes. So, so basically there are two parts of this problem. The first, uh, uh, the first part is efficiency. How do we make it efficient? And the second part is how do we re uh, make it still, uh, be decentralized? And so the efficiency part is something that in theory is not so hard to solve, right? Because we are talking about blockchains, uh, are really, uh, high end blockchain can have, like, let's say 10,000 notes. And they send like, uh, sometimes of megabytes of data every minute or so. And from the networking perspective, this is, uh, this is not a huge problem, right? And I'll give you an example. You see, YouTube serves more than a billion users, and basically YouTube sends more than a terabyte of data, every single second. And nobody blinks an eye, everybody's saying, oh, hi, it's, that's how it should be.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (13:41):
It's it's, uh, an efficient system. It is not considered a surprise. So the question is, why is it a surprise if the blockchain, which is a much smaller scale system, why isn't it able to support much, uh, bigger amounts of data? And so basically block route is putting down a network infrastructure that is really tailored towards blockchains. It is trying to optimize performance for blockchains so that they can send, receive transaction faster. Uh, it can choose routes. It can do many, many different things behind the curtains. So this is one side of the story, and he, we, uh, manage to improve its performance, but at the same time, the key challenge for us while designing this was not to create a new bottleneck, not to create a new central central system that would diminish the centralized nature of blockchains and has, has the way that we do this is that we are not removing the peer to peer nature of the blockchains. It is necessary for blockchains to still, uh, have that peer tope structure and for, for notes to communicate to each other directly. But in this case, we add a really fast and efficient communication, additional communication path, right? And at the same time, we enable these endpoints to audit and to figure out that what we are doing, we are not, uh, discriminated against you against some users on behalf of others. And that basically we are neutrally blindly, uh, pushing data through our system.
Will Szamosszegi (15:15):
So everyone is able to follow. Yeah. Can you explain what a peer to peer, uh, system actually is? Mm-hmm
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (15:22):
<affirmative> so basically a peer to peer system is, is a system where there is no central authority, but each of the end points, uh, uh, uh, has some number of friends or peers to, to which it communicates. So for example, I talk to eight other node in the network, and then my neighbor talks to me and to seven other node out there in the network, right. It just giving you an example with, uh, uh, with the ratio of eight, where each notice connected to eight others. And hence when I, uh, have some information to send, is it an transaction or a block? I send it to my peers only okay. To my eight peers. And then each of my peers send to their peers. And hence the information is then propagated in this, in this cascades, throughout the network. Right? So the good news is that nobody controls, uh, uh, there is no single entity that controls how the data is distributed to the network, but at the same time, the propagation of the, of data through such a network is not really that efficient because it takes some time because it takes a number of rounds for the information to reach everybody in the network.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (16:33):
Right. So it takes eight in the first round, another, uh, eight times, 8 64 in the other round. And so it, uh, the information propagates fairly well, but not as efficiently as it could be propagated.
Will Szamosszegi (16:48):
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (16:48):
Got it. So this is peer to peer.
Will Szamosszegi (16:49):
Is your system tying into these existing blockchains and your systems utilizing that peer-to-peer network?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (16:57):
The way that a, a block route utilizes the peer-to-peer networks is in terms of the blockchain system, the blockchain system only sees some peers around that and has to a blockchain node, a block route point of entry to our network looks just like another P, right? So there is no difference, like, which is important because if you wanna build a system that works with an existing, with an existing system, you really wanna make it be compatible, right? So we are changing nothing in a blockchain system, a as is right. We just add, uh, another peer that actually is far more efficient peer that propagates data more efficiently to everybody else. Uh, but the blockchain node doesn't know, uh, uh, much about it. It is simply seeing that as yet another peer and has, this is how we can embed our system seamlessly
Will Szamosszegi (17:53):
In terms of the scalability metrics that you've been able to see with this type of approach. How, how does that look
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (18:02):
In theory? We were always, we argued that we can in significantly increase those, the scaling properties, uh, somewhere to thousands of transactions per second. Right. Which is a huge upgrade relative to whatever three TPS that the Bitcoin has currently. Right. And so we, uh, it took us some time. It wasn't easy. I initially it looks like, oh, it's gonna be easy. Like everything works on paper, let's just do it. However, once you get into the code and once you get into actually building a system, you'll realize it's, it's, it's not as easy as you thought, but we were able to actually to actually do that. And so, uh, about a year ago, we had demonstrated on Bitcoin cash network, but test network, we were capable of having more than 300 nodes distributed all around the world. And we were capable of pushing the transaction per sec, per second rate, more than 2000 TPS.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (18:58):
Okay. So this in my mind was a huge accomplishment because, uh, we always knew that we should be able to get there, but once you actually get there, it's, it's a completely different feeling. And so actually demonstrating that we can do this. And of course these nodes were distributed all over Europe, us and, and Asia. So it, it wasn't to example, it was a realistic setup in which we really demonstrated that we can actually actually do this. And of course, ever since we are also supporting the Ethereum blockchain. So, I mean, there's a lot going on in actually pushing, uh, existing blockchains to, to move beyond, to increase their TPS rates.
Will Szamosszegi (19:38):
Going back to what we were talking about earlier, in terms of the problems that blockchains face is your company addressing other issues outside of scalability, or is it right now designed specifically for scalability?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (19:54):
So we are focused on, on scalability, however, it's not just like, uh, why do we care about scalability in the first place? Is it that somebody can go on and say, Hey, my system cannot support 2000 TPS. Why do we care about that? Well, we care about scalability because once the TPS rate goes up, this is when the cost of using a blockchain should significantly reduce. Okay. So if you have to pay for example, uh, $1 to send, uh, a transaction on a particular blockchain that's, that can be quite pricey, right? But if you can send it that same transaction for 1 cent or even less, well, that means if the cost of using the, the, of sending transactions on chain is significantly smaller. This is when the usability comes into play because, uh, once it becomes cheaper, this is when people are going to start to use it. Distributed applications are going to use it. Defi applications are going to use it more. And hence, we see this scalability solving this scalability problem, not just like solving some artificial technical problem, but actually pushing the entire blockchain space into a new area of they're using blockchains is cheap, which then increases the usability of blockchains.
Will Szamosszegi (21:13):
The scalability problem is one of those, uh, issues that people are constantly talking about within blockchain and cryptocurrency, uh, talking with you and seeing your perspective on it is, is very interesting. What are the major problems that you think people are currently running into in the development phases and making these blockchains scalable?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (21:35):
There are different approaches to that block out. We are very friendly with all other projects that work in that space, because we are just seeing us solving an important problem at an important layer, uh, and the networking layer, but we are not, uh, bashing or against any other scaling approaches such as layer two approaches or anything else. Right? So we think that by solving this problem, we can help everybody else. Right. And so this is one part of the story. The other part of the story is actually usability and really tying these micropayments smart contracts and everything else into the bigger mainstream infrastructure that exists out there, which means online businesses and, and everything else, the rest of the world. Right? So given that my background is in internet protocols, I am very passionate about thinking about how we can actually use micropayments and, and, and smart contracts and everything else to kind of automate things within the internet itself, right within the different entities, uh, uh, and embed them deep into the internet protocols. And so this is one of the, one of the fields that I'm, I'm kind of thinking on, on my academic academic side of things, but of course for any of this to happen, scaling is, is essential. And so this is why I keep going back and convinced that what we are doing at blocks route is really essential. Uh, not just for, uh, for the short term, but for the long term of the entire, uh, space.
Will Szamosszegi (23:13):
Yeah. And you mentioned how there are some other companies who are working and taking a different type of approach to the scalability problem in blockchain. What is the approach that you see some of these other competitors taking? Yeah,
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (23:26):
I wouldn't call them competitors because I really feel that there is a of synergy in what we are doing. So basically in addition to the existing, uh, blockchain, uh, system, such as Bitcoin, there's been a lot of advancement that there's been a lot of work on how to build more scalable consensus protocols. Okay. And initially, whenever we would see some more advanced consensus protocol, we would think like, oh no, what is going on? These guys are gonna do something that would make us not matter or something like that. However, that's not the case because even if you have this advanced blockchain processes, protocols such as charting, such as many, many other approaches, uh, heart problems are how to distribute data throughout the entire network and how to come to a consensus about what's going on. And for that, you have to send data quickly and efficiently the network, right?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (24:22):
So even if you have a very advanced consensus protocol with blocks route, it becomes far more efficient than without it. Okay, this is, this is on one end on the other end. There are these other layer, two based kind of solutions where you lock some amount of money on the side, and then you can pin exchange off chain at a much larger scale, but sooner or later, you would have to come back on chain to commit whatever you have have been doing. <laugh>. And whenever you come back, if, if, if the cost of writing on that on chain is smaller than it used to be, that's still good for those type of approaches. And so the more, um, if you're working in this space, the more we realize that we are all working towards the same goal, and we are really not seeing others as competitors, but we see ourselves as kind of compatible with what others are doing.
Will Szamosszegi (25:18):
You, you touched on a lot of different, important points in that answer, a couple of them being consensus protocols and how that relates to other types of approaches like charting. So could you explain, uh, what exactly charting is and how consensus protocols are important within charting?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (25:39):
Charting is an approach, uh, that is used in other parts of computer science. No, of course not just for blockchains, but basically the idea is that if I send you a transaction, not everybody needs to know you can partition the network in different parts. So that each part of the network worries about some number of transactions, but not everybody needs to know about every, every single transaction. But when you think about enhance, instead of having all the minors, working on all the transactions, some subset of miners work on a subset of transactions, but then you keep switching these subsets so that you still have the same security guarantees, but at the same time, you can reach, uh, a higher scalability, but going back, you still have the same problem because no matter how smaller that subset is, it still is a distributed system, right? That, that one chart, it is a dis a distributed system where you, you can have minors all over the place. Even if the number of mins is smaller, they're still distributed. And they, if using, uh, good, uh, network infrastructure can achieve much higher TPS rates than if they just do peer to peer. And hence, uh, this is one example of how you can have an advanced, uh, blockchain system that can still sign, uh, benefit significantly from, blockout not at the order of thousands, X improvements, but tens to 100 improvements are still possible. And so this is essential for, for any blockchain.
Will Szamosszegi (27:10):
Yeah. And so charting is just one of those other approaches that is trying to increase the TPS of the amount of transactions that can happen on the network. Correct.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (27:21):
Will Szamosszegi (27:21):
Uh, also simultaneously still be a decentralized system,
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (27:25):
Correct? Correct. Correct. Correct.
Will Szamosszegi (27:28):
Great. And another important aspect of, uh, blocks route is this concept of neutrality. Could you explain how neutrality is important within the work that you guys are doing? Yes.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (27:40):
So basically this is the part of the story that I started talking. When I, when I mentioned YouTube, the goal was to say, pushing up the performance of blockchains so that you can have a much higher TPS rate with a centralized system, which as box route is shouldn't be that hard, right? Because YouTube is already pushing the performance of, for streaming, for billions of users. And here you have a much smaller system and hence improving the performance of a blockchain using, uh, uh, central electric infrastructure is not easy, but it's not surprising. Right? However, the hard part of that problem is remaining neutral so that you, we don't actually have the ability to sensor transaction and to control what is happening on, on a blockchain system. And so this basically is more or less, the PhDs is of requirement, my former PhD student now, our CEO.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (28:41):
And so I'm not gonna try to defend his PhD thesis. This here, that's the list, uh, I wanna do here. But basically the key idea is, is that you can still, uh, bring in the primitives in that underlying network that help convince the blockchain systems, give them the means to control and to see that the network is actually neutral basically, so that the network cannot see the content of these blocks and transactions going through the network. And has, there is a whole theory behind that, but basically this is baked in from the beginning in the design of blocks route. And we were, I mean, our contribution was that we, of course, we initially anticipated that people would ask this. So we said, Hey, Hey, let's build from the B from scratch. Let's build a network that is incapable of censoring data that goes to that particular network. This is how blocks out is designed.
Will Szamosszegi (29:39):
One of the things that that's amazing about this, this project and this concept is because it really seems like you found an approach that you've, you're starting to see traction on solving the scalability problem, but then also keeping that neutrality and doing it in a way that that seems to be working. What is that key component of your particular solution that keeps it neutral while being able to put through all of those transactions?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (30:09):
That basically the network itself is incapable of knowing what it is transmitting. Basically the end points can, uh, opportunistically encrypt the data that they're sending through our network. Okay. So the network itself, when looking at the data does not know what it is, broadcasting, hence it cannot censor, right? And so this is not important just for us to convince the rest of the world that we are neutral, but it is important because I mean, censorship is a real thing in the real world, right? If anybody comes to us, blocks it out and says, listen, we see this little transaction. And we know that these are, these are some very bad people. They're doing some very bad things. Uh, whenever you see this particular address, can you please not us tell us about that or not let it through. And our answer to that question is dear, whoever, we would be happy to help.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (31:05):
And, and we have nothing against law enforcement, anybody else, but we are unable to do that because our network is not, is designed to not be able to do that. Right. And so this is, this is one of the key, uh, ingredients that help us stay neutral, not just for the sake of, of, uh, convincing the blockchain world, that we are not bad guys, but for our own sake, because we don't wanna be pressured by anybody to do anything be, uh, to, uh, uh, because we just can't do it. That's how the network is designed. And so this is one, uh, one important piece of that.
Will Szamosszegi (31:43):
Yeah. I mean, with that, there really is no type of way. There's no back door to get in and see, get any additional information on a particular transaction.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (31:53):
I mean, as I said, we designed it so that we are safe from any, any third party coming to us and telling us to do this and that our answer is we wish we could, but we cannot help you. And still it's a central network, but it's designed to be limited in what it can do. Of course, this raises other problems on how do you defend the network against, uh, trash traffic that somebody can send another things, but we have, uh, a methods to, to deal with that. And it took us some time to figure that out, but of course, nothing comes for free. Everything has its its good and bad sides, but we were capable of pushing this direction while, while solving these other problems that come with such an approach.
Will Szamosszegi (32:35):
Mm-hmm <affirmative> what are some of your bold predictions of how the landscape is going to look, uh, with the integration of blockchain in the future? Yes.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (32:43):
I mean, typically I don't like making these predictions because more often I'm, I'm totally wrong. So my predictions are good in the sense that, uh, whatever you hear from me, then something else is gonna happen. So <laugh>, it's good. It's good for that. Right. But that's why I'm hesitant to do that. I can tell you what I wish happens. My big wish is that we have some type of economic layer for the internet, internet protocols and internet services. And of course there are here and there pieces of different ideas going around, such as file coin and doing, uh, many different things. But I think that there is a more I'm sensing and again, I'm, I might be wrong. There is a lot of, uh, a meat in that direction. That is number one. And number two, I'm seeing basically we are, uh, blocks out is also working with a lot of trading companies.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (33:37):
And basically there is a lot of happening in the Def, so called the defi arena. And so this is something that is obvious because money is involved and he, and there is a lot of volatility in the prices of these different, uh, uh, cryptocurrencies. And he defi appears to be a very, very good direction. There also blocks out is working with a lot of these, uh, trading companies who care about sending transactions fast, faster, the network receiving data faster. Right? And so, so basically this is one of the other directions, but I'm hoping that I'm not cursing all these different directions given that I can be very wrong with, with things. So I'm gonna stop here and, and just say that these are not my predictions. This is what I wish happens, but I don't know if it actually will happen.
Will Szamosszegi (34:26):
Yeah. And defi is one of those topics. That's talked a lot about decentralized finance, just for the people who are listening. Can you outline what exactly, uh, defi is,
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (34:39):
Uh, defi anding, a large number of different applications think of traditional financial services and then think about how you can do that in a decentralized manner. And so in defi, you can have this completely distributed landing and borrowing type of applications there, for example, on a borrow $10,000. And then other people can offer that money to me under a particular trust rate, and then they can compete by decreasing the interest rate. So then eventually I can get that loan for, uh, for a smaller cost. And of course there are many other other applications in this domain. And basically I know about this because we blocks route. Not only do we help blockchain scale, but at the same time, we help entities in these like traders and others here, uh, or hear about transactions sooner and blocks, which is, is essential because once you have information about what's going on a blockchain, you can make, uh, uh, better quicker predictions on how you wanna bet who do you wanna lend money? Who do you not wanna lend money? So it's, it's, it's an interesting direction that I think is, is taking over. And the reason why it is so, uh, popular is that the fluctuation of the value of different cryptocurrencies is, is much more widely going up and down, which, uh, which makes it possible to, to have more significant gains than in traditional finance.
Will Szamosszegi (36:11):
Yeah. So essentially defies a way that you can automate a lot of these financial services that are traditionally performed by banks or other lending type of correct institutions.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (36:23):
Correct. You summarize that much better than me, which is not a surprise, but that's fine.
Will Szamosszegi (36:28):
<laugh> well, you, you got into all the, the, the nitty gritty of it. Yes, yes. Which is very important. That's why you're able to build the, the company's, uh, that are solving scalability.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (36:38):
<laugh> yes, yes, yes.
Will Szamosszegi (36:40):
Thank you for diving into all of that. The next part of the conversation that I want to go into is a little bit outside of cryptocurrency and more into, uh, some of the work that you've done previously Uhhuh. Uh, right now you're a professor. And my first question, whenever I meet a professor is what's your favorite part about teaching?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (37:02):
Wow, that's a, I've been outside university for the last two years because I've been working with blockout, but it's quite a rewarding, uh, experience when you have, I mean, I teach computer networks, computer programming, and, and of course like that, and teaching is rewarding because you, at some point you realize that the students that you're teaching to are hearing these things that may be obvious to me because I keep talking about that all the time are hearing this for the first time from me. Right. Which kind of raises the bar and it makes you think like, wow, look, I mean, that's an interesting process. It can be quite rewarding. And basically this is how I see it.
Will Szamosszegi (37:44):
Yeah. There's almost a weight behind that, knowing that and a responsibility, knowing that a lot of these concepts that you're teaching, you're creating this world view for the people that you're, that are in your classes.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (37:58):
Yes. It basically some people, uh, I mean, uh, uh, non-majors only hear that once from, from me and for example, and then, and then they go into a different discipline and then I, I do feel a little responsible, like, Hey, I, I don't wanna blow this because I mean, if they're gonna, they can form a, a wrong idea about something. So it brings a little responsibility, but the rewarding part is much bigger because then you actually realize that you are actually teaching them something, which is, which is, uh, interesting.
Will Szamosszegi (38:32):
Yeah. And then almost like going back to the peer to peer concept, whatever you teach them, it propagates through their own network. And whenever, hopefully they might be at a family dinner and the concept comes up, they can explain what they learned in the class.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (38:46):
Yes, yes, yes. Yes. That's, that's, that's the case.
Will Szamosszegi (38:49):
You were a systems engineer in Serbia and yes, my, my question here is what was that experience like? Uh, not only in the role, but working in Serbia compared to, uh, just other countries where you've, you've worked
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (39:06):
Serbia is, is a part of formula Yugoslavia. So basically there's nothing particularly different in working in Serbia versus working the rest of the world. People are very smart and it was quite nice, uh, working there. The difference was because I, I came, uh, straight from the college before even I did my master's or PhD. And that's quite an experience because at college, I mean, at least in Serbia, we picked up a lot of, uh, good, uh, theory in science. But then I, wasn't quite sure that I picked up enough of the practical experience. You know, like things, when you actually start working, you actually start doing things practically. And I wasn't quite sure how good or not was I with that because I mean, you are filled with something, but you don't know how good or not you are. And hence working there as a systems engineer at different, uh, uh, positions helped me realize that, that I actually learned something at school <laugh> and I realized that I wasn't that bad at all. So actually, I, I wasn't, I was quite good. So that helped me figure out that I wanna push forward and do, uh, go back to school and do more stuff.
Will Szamosszegi (40:11):
Yeah. So my next question is, what is your favorite movie?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (40:17):
Oh, that's a hard one. <laugh> I'm sure where that comes from,
Will Szamosszegi (40:21):
But sorry to put you on the spot. No,
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (40:23):
No, no, no, but that's a totally, uh, that is the most serious question you asked me. And so I would have to refrain from answering, not, I mean, I have 10 names on my mind, but that's such a serious question. I don't wanna make a mistake. I mean, if I would get things one just out of over, I would say good fellows. Okay. Martin sports.
Will Szamosszegi (40:45):
Oh, wow. Yeah.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (40:47):
<laugh> so, but I mean, that said I could easily give you 10 others, uh, that are that really good. So indeed I'm a big, uh, movie fan and, uh, I wish I go back to the movie theaters because then I will know that the Corona days are over.
Will Szamosszegi (41:03):
Yeah. Yeah. Oh my gosh. The, the movie theaters got hit. Yes. The hardest from, I guess it's hard to say who exactly I hit the hardest, but I, I had seen some numbers comparing, um, the quarter before COVID hit and then post COVID. Oh yeah. I mean, and it was the scariest scariest looking, uh, financials that yes,
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (41:27):
Yes, yes, yes. Well, I'll be the first to go back as soon as that becomes possible.
Will Szamosszegi (41:32):
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Well, thanks again for coming onto the podcast. Uh it's. It was really a pleasure to get the chance to speak with you and learn from you and go through all the work that you're doing. So the last question that, uh, I have for you is where can everyone who's listening right now, connect with you online.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (41:51):
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me. It was a, it, it, it was a great pleasure. It was really nice talking to you. It, it was fairly smooth. Uh, where can I be fine and just, uh, type my name in Google and, and you'll get back. I mean, I have my academic career and has I have my Northwestern account, so you can email me there. I also, you can find mid blocks throughout where you can find me at Alex blocks, route.com or you can reach out on Twitter, on LinkedIn and on other, uh, places. I don't know, telegram, um, vibe and whatnot, wherever you find me. Uh, I'm happy to, to answer any questions or discuss or connect or whatnot.
Will Szamosszegi (42:33):
Great. Well, thanks again for all that you do. We really appreciate it.
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic (42:37):
Thank you so much again,
Will Szamosszegi (42:38):
Take care. Thank you.
Speaker 3 (42:40):
Thank you for listening to this episode of the SA mining podcast. Be sure to follow us on social media and YouTube for the latest updates and previews of upcoming episodes, full episodes and transcripts can be found on SA mining.com every Thursday. If you want to hear us interview a particular guest on a future episode, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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