Paul Snow, a founding developer of Accumulate, is currently nominated by HackerNoon’s Annual Noonies Awards as Centralization Vanquisher of the Year. Learn more about Paul in the interview he completed below.
I have been deeply drawn to the blockchain sector since I first understood the idea that we can band together in distributed efforts to make our lives better without paying tolls to centralized parties. Such centralized parties often operate with perverse incentives that do not have the best interests of the actual users and use case at heart. This isn’t always malicious in any way, but it is hugely disruptive and distracting in many cases. I am particularly drawn to data and auditing processes on the blockchain. This includes smart contracts but goes beyond smart contracts into how to integrate and maintain systems and protocols over time.
1. What do you do and why do you do it? (tell us your story)
I have had a love of compilers and interpreters. I have had the opportunity to work at the edges of chip design, PostScript Interpreters, educational software, applications, automation, and rules engines. All this work fits into blockchains in one way or another. When Bitcoin hit, I watched it from afar as it developed. In 2013 I got actively involved, did some design on early hardware wallets (which went nowhere), started a Bitcoin meetup (which through some interactions is still running, the Austin Bitcoin Meetup), started to run some crypto conferences, started planning the first Texas Bitcoin Conference. In 2014 I founded Factom, and in 2020 I began the development of the Factom 2.0 upgrade, Accumulate.
2. Tell us more about the things you create / write / manage / build!
I was involved early on with a project to create security for the electric grid. A long story short, we developed a Validator/Accumulator architecture that allowed validation to be done locally at a device and location level, and produce hashes that were collected by accumulators that themselves could forward hashes to other accumulators until a root hash for the entire network could be produced for the state of the entire grid every few seconds.
Accumulate was named for this method of building the summary of a distributed blockchain by accumulating hashes.
Accumulate is a platform for devices, organizations, and individuals to establish an identity on the blockchain and manage and control digital assets. This of course includes tokens, but also information, relationships, security, processes, and documents.
To fully allow blockchain technology to scale and provide for a world of applications and use cases, parties need to be able to easily integrate the blockchain into their lives. They need to have control over their part of the blockchain. Portions of the blockchain need to be addressable and searchable like the Internet.
In summary, Accumulate is built to allow anyone and everyone to do their own validation on their own terms of their own operations and data. To allow anyone to issue tokens under their own rules. And allow the construction of virtual private blockchains to tie operations together between many dynamic parties under dynamic rules. All the while preserving the immutability of the blockchain and cryptographic proof of adherence to a set of rules.
3. How did you end up on your current career path? Do you like it?
I began my journey in the late ’70s when I encountered programming in college. At the time, true performance could only be achieved by programming at the lowest levels, with attention given to every cycle and every byte. I fell in love with the idea of collecting and managing information through these computational processes.
Computation completely disrupted (even before me) how information was produced, distributed, and applied. It was easily a unique and massive revolution on par with the invention of writing, and thousands of years later, the invention of printing.
The Internet, in the same century, has proven to be the next complete revolution in how information was gathered, distributed, displayed, and consumed. Looking into any coffee shop presents a display of people consuming information on their phones.
I had no idea that the blockchain would appear and allow someone to again focus on the core of computational processes to again transform and disrupt how information is understood, secured, and distributed. I cannot express how rewarding working on the blockchain revolution is to someone like me.
4. What tech are you most excited or passionate about right now and why?
Obviously the blockchain, duh!
But also how the blockchain may be the answer to the greatest threat to freedom and individual rights we have ever seen: The automation and centralized control of government and corporate entities on everything.
We had hopes that the Internet would allow the decentralization of information gathering and distribution. Platforms like YouTube promised (right there in the name) that we, the people, would produce the content that we the people consume! But today, when you might look for information on YouTube on any breaking world event, you will see only corporate data feeds. During a recent hurricane landing on the coast of Louisiana, YouTube provided only ~100 returns on searches for content, zero from individuals.
It turns out the ability of any party to communicate with any other party on the Internet is not enough. We also need platforms to create channels between parties. The blockchain provides the means to create incentives to build channels. Today, that is focused on tokens and smart contracts. The future will allow infrastructure to connect to and drive the blockchain beyond smart contracts. Today smart contracts are composable driving DeFi. The future will make whole platforms and distributed organizations that are composable to create more powerful platforms and organizations.
5. What tech are you most worried about right now and why?
The Tech I worry about the most is the Tech that allows the weaponization of our fears to attack our freedoms. We are constraining companies and individuals with financial restrictions and barriers that generate massive profits for a very few, at the expense of us all. We are restricting speech. Nobody is allowed to be “wrong” as determined by the very few. Nobody is allowed to be “obnoxious” as determined by the very few.
We cannot have an economy based on merit without the unfiltered distribution of information from a massive range of perspectives. We need the blockchain to create distributed incentivized channels of communication. Of commerce. Sometimes, of idiocy. Even of anger. But we cannot filter what people want to do and communicate without losing the channels of brilliance, insight, introspection, and charity.
6. If we gave you 10 million dollars to invest in something today, what would you invest in and why?
I would invest in the blockchain to expand all the use cases it promises. And investment into the blockchain is an investment in creating level playing fields for commerce, engineering, education, reference, reputation, accountability, security, and communication worldwide. I believe creating secure, validated, trackable, auditable information does more than anything else we can do to address the current fears we have in the world around violence, terror, climate, inequality, opportunity, wealth distribution, research, religion, science, truth, and more.
7. What are you currently learning?
I am learning that the simplicity of the blockchain is very hard. While I am focused on my current work and goals, I also need to focus on learning other things too. Economics, linguistics, music, other cultures, cooking, even juggling… are all areas of learning and interest for me.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever given someone?
Life is just a game, so don’t take it seriously. But play to win!
9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
From my mother: Don’t let anyone get your goat. (Make you mad).
From my father: My mother thought I could do anything, but even she didn’t think I could sing. (You can’t be the best at everything, but you can do your best at anything you put your mind to.)
From my uncle: Hair doesn’t grow on anything you use. (He was bald; I still have quite a bit of hair)
From Matthew Chapter 5: The path to God isn’t about fixing others. It is about fixing yourself. (Nothing in the Sermon on the Mount tells us to fix someone else. Return love for evil)
I could go on. I have the blessing of great advice from so many sources. I can’t choose whose was best.