Zero-knowledge technology is one of the key enabling assets for decentralized finance, or DeFi. With over US$725 million in funding in 2022, ZK tech plays a vital role in privacy, scalability and interoperability. 

However, its complex and technical nature makes it daunting for newcomers. To ensure its sustained progress, developers must prioritize improving accessibility. Is the juice worth the squeeze for this industry niche? If ZK technology is to progress and sustain itself, developers in the space need to address its accessibility. 

The hype surrounding zero-knowledge technology 

ZK wasn’t invented for the blockchain, but it might well have been. A mathematical cryptographic technique turned scalability solution, the rise of DeFi has helped push ZK well beyond its original confines. It has been used in DeFi for private token transactions, solving Ethereum’s scalability issues and interoperability, to name a few. 

Recent developments in Ethereum scaling projects, like Matter Labs’ zkEVM and initiatives by Polygon and ConsenSys, have further demonstrated the potential of ZK tech in revolutionizing the industry. 

However, the true potential of ZK technology extends beyond blockchain applications. Industries such as gaming, machine learning and trustless data access can greatly benefit from the provable computations offered by zero-knowledge proofs. The future scope of ZK technology is vast, and this is why accessibility is so important to its potential. 

Without zero-knowledge proofs, blockchains such as Ethereum would struggle to scale to a mass market because ZKPs not only help conserve privacy but also act as a scaling solution for developers. This is because ZKPs fundamentally “condense” a number of transactions by bundling them up into one provable computation without the need to reveal the specific contents of said proof. 

In an increasingly digitizing world, zero-knowledge-proof generation will become instrumental in fostering a new age of digital identities — currently, users and developers are limited in how they can interact on-chain due to the fact that everyone is under constant scrutiny.

Why ZK tech lacks adoption 

The adoption of ZK technology remains limited in spite of its potential. Firstly, the cost of implementing ZK-enabled applications and generating proofs is often prohibitively expensive for many developers. 

Secondly, the complex nature of ZK circuits and the manual development required makes the process both time-consuming and prone to errors. Lastly, the lack of user-friendly tools and resources has made it difficult for developers to enter the ZK ecosystem. 

What’s being done to make ZK Tech accessible

ZK accessibility challenges are being addressed, but not at the rate of knots that it needs. One bit of technology speeding up adoption is zero-knowledge Ethereum Virtual Machines (zkEVMs). This is an Ethereum state machine that is compatible with ZKP technology and executes smart contracts. 

zkEVMs have been touted as the key to improving Ethereum performance, reducing costs and solving Ethereum’s scalability problem. But, knowledge is power and the industry needs to explain itself better. While the technology is being touted for its benefits and capabilities to plug holes in security and scalability issues, the hypothetical user manual is complicated, and the value in how to utilize ZK can be lost. 

The industry’s pipeline includes a decentralized proof generator marketplace, which presents an opportunity to outsource proof generation, alleviating the burden of infrastructure maintenance and reducing costs. 

These marketplaces connect developers with suppliers who specialize in implementing proof-based computation compressions, providing a transparent and efficient verification process. 

But making things easier for developers to integrate ZK technology into their projects without breaking the bank isn’t linear. There needs to be a toolchain created that simplifies the implementation process. Like adding tokens to a wallet directly from a DEX, the industry needs to simplify and standardize itself in order to encourage adoption. This could simultaneously lower the learning curve for developers.

Furthermore, reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary — there just needs to be an established best practice for adoption. Projects could create and disseminate accessible resources like documents, blog posts, training materials and mentorship opportunities through their websites or other public platforms. By fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusion, the industry can encourage risk-taking and facilitate the development of cutting-edge ZK technology. 

Overall, ZK technology is somewhat standing in its own way. While it’s a quantum leap in crypto technological advancements, there are areas of the industry that are way easier to adopt than others such as those looking to expand their digital identification processes for know-your-customer (KYC) purposes. Despite the nature of this particular beast, ZK tech needs a helping hand in getting itself to that same place of effortless adoption. 

There are incredibly advanced technological developments taking place, which are borderline revolutionary for the industry, but so much so that they’re nearly impossible to explain in layman’s terms. The learning curve in and of itself is to create things and explain things at the same time in a much more user-friendly way. 

Looking to the future

While ZK technology has gained recognition for its scalability benefits within the blockchain industry, its potential reaches far beyond that. 

Overcoming barriers to entry, including complexity, lack of understanding, and high costs, is crucial for the growth of the ZK tech industry. By simplifying its implementation and making it more accessible to developers, we can unlock innovation and secure interactions across various industries. 

The ZK industry needs to broaden its vision and look at other corners of the industry in order to gain inspiration around making the technology adoption process easy. ZK technology’s advancements aren’t commonplace and it needs industry-wide collaboration and support to help get it to a user-friendly place. 

By fostering collaboration, providing resources and creating user-friendly tools, we can pave the way for the widespread adoption and integration of ZK technology. 

Only then can we fully realize the transformative potential of ZK proofs in every transaction, whether on or off the blockchain.