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Of All the Programming Languages in the World, Why Haskell? (Part III)

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Key Highlights

  • Cardano is both a cryptocurrency and a decentralized computing platform
  • Cardano is often criticized for building its smart contract platform on Haskell, a programming language used mainly in academia in which programmers are difficult to find
  • Hoskinson says Haskell is more precise and helps secure open-sourced blockchain to internet-based platforms

Listen to the full podcast version of this interview

Transcript of Part III

When you break it down to even just your choice of using Haskell as a programming language, famously very difficult to find these programmers, right? And so, how do we get to that kind of plethora of applications and ideas and projects when, you know, few people, few talents exist for this language? 

Well, yes and no. So, we do get a little bit of criticism from time to time about using Haskell for the base layer of the system. But it’s like saying, well this surgical equipment is super difficult to use. Well yeah, of course…

Haskell is basically built for high-assurance code. It’s built by very smart people, academics and high assurance engineers. So people in the financial industry like Standard Chartered and Barclays, people in Wall Street like DML, Digital Asset Holdings. And basically what it allows you to do is get a very high assurance that the code you implemented is correct. If you look at the history of the cryptocurrency space over the last ten years, we’re riddled with exchange failures due to poor code. We’re riddled with multi-sig failures where people are able to steal hundreds of millions of dollars. The Dow hack was the most famous hack in our industry — just because we had an intent of what we wanted to do, but the reality was the code didn’t match that intent. 

So you need a programming language that gives you a much higher degree of certainty and a larger toolbox, and is much more precise. It’s like a scalpel that can allow you to very carefully implement things, so you know that it’s going to work correctly. Now that’s your base layer. 

Then, when people build on top of that platform, you have to think about the whole ecosystem. The problem right now with smart contracts is some people are running around believing that we are just going to throw away the entire Internet, start over. Get rid of Amazon web services, get rid of Azure, and these platforms and do something entirely new. That’s very unrealistic and unreasonable. You’re still going to have the server-client model, you’re still going to have Android apps and iOS apps, and you’re still going to have Amazon. So what we need to do is say, the blockchain is a service layer and what it’s doing is it’s making your app better. It’s reducing the level of trust that you have, it’s guaranteeing that you still have access to it. 

Like, let’s say an online game. What if the online game vendor goes out of business. Well, the game ends. What if you could guarantee the game would continue, even if the company went out of business? So these kind of things. 

So you create more complex applications, and they have more dynamism to them and the blockchain is just providing services to them instead of trying to replace the traditional server model, client model. If that’s the case, then you could still use all your tools and all the things that you do for the normal server-client model. That’d be JavaScript or Java or C#, or however you write those applications. But then for that very particular very precise code, if you get it wrong, people lose money, people lose their privacy and they get hurt – that needs better tools and that needs very specific tools and every 10, 15 years, the industry goes through this one. 

Steve Jobs launched iPhone. He didn’t say how do we stay interoperable with Windows, and how do we keep everything that Bill did? He built a completely new app model, understanding that there was going to be a little bit of a learning curve. But after they got through it, you could get a significantly better user experience. 

Is that the goal of Cardano? Is that the goal of IOHK?

It’s basically to balance the needs with what we have in the past with what we need to do today. And to introduce smart contracts in a very pragmatic, reasonable way instead of trying to reinvent the Internet, throwing everything away. We’re trying to say let’s add some additional services to your standard server client model, so that you can reduce the amount of trust, increase your amount of privacy, and also to decentralize it so that you always have access to these types of infrastructures, if necessary. 

There’s two messages that I’m hearing from you: incremental change with Haskell and really kind of formulating and using the code that really is the understructure of the JP Morgan’s and the Standard Chartered’s and all that, and the systemic change which you are doing at a country-wide level. Is one isolated from the other or do both have to work in concert with each other? 

You have to look at trends to get a good strategy of how to get to market and get adoption and scale. So, one of the magic miracles of companies like Tesla is at the end of the day, they live and die by the quality of batteries — how fast they can charge, their energy density, the cost of the batteries, the weight of the batteries. So are they doing the research? 

No. The research comes from your device and my device. All these big multinational companies, they want to give you an iPad that has the 24-hour battery life. They want to give you a cellphone that charges in 30 minutes. That same technology can then be backported into what Tesla is doing. 

So similarly, if you look at where Africa is at, where Southeast Asia is at, where Latin America is at, you have these huge international mandates for fair trade, for sustainable farming, for tracking and traceability of products. And if they want to be global citizens, actually make money in the marketplace, they have to actually start adhering to these new standards. 

We have to move from a paper-based, analog, person-to-person, oral economy to a digital economy. So, whether there’s blockchain or not, there’s IOHK or not, there’s many many billions of dollars and huge international pressure, for carbon reduction. All these things to get these countries back into a new framework that is understandable, so then what we can do is interject ourselves in the conversation, and say the money is there, the need is there, the demand is there, blockchain is actually a really good solution for your guys. And once we have that, then we can take these incremental things that we’ve done and wire them into these revolutionary things that we’ve done and both systems will work together and bring lots of users into the space.

Keep Watching

Part I: Charles Hoskinson, Co-Founder of Ethereum / IOHK, on Why Cardano is a Better Platform
Part II: Launching a Blockchain-Powered Coffee Supply Chain Project in Africa with Cardano
Part III: Of All the Programming Languages in the World, Why Haskell?
Part IV: Revolution or Evolution? The Philosophy of Blockchain with Charles Hoskinson, Co-Founder of Ethereum and IOHK
Part V: From Africa to Asia, What does Global Growth Look Like for Cardano?
Full Interview: In Conversation with Charles Hoskinson