Any enterprise system is all about configuration. It's taking a single chunk of software and configuring and tailoring it to your use. NFT, having very wide adoption, has a lot of utility and provides the flexibility enterprises need. In another Edge of Casper episode, we sit down with Medha Parlikar, the Co-founder and CTO of Casper Labs. Today, Medha talks about how they are reshaping the NFT landscape for enterprises. She dives deep into the Casper Network and their innovative CEP-78 Standard approach for NFT contracts. Moving beyond the technicalities, the conversation goes into the vast potential and applications, shedding light on industries and enterprises that can benefit from this revolutionary technology. Discover the strategic focus of Casper Labs on responsible AI and governance, understanding the critical role it plays in the open AI ecosystem. Join us as we look ahead to what's on the radar for Casper Labs, unraveling the future developments in this ever-evolving landscape.
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Reshaping The NFT Landscape For Enterprises At The Edge Of Casper With Medha Parlikar
I'm Medha Parlikar from CasperLabs. We are building next-gen NFT technology to help enterprises generate more revenue and savings. I'm here on Edge of NFT, the show that's covering next-gen NFT technology to help disruptors globally make an impact to the world. Keep reading.
Stay tuned for the episode and learn how the new CEP-78 standard will reshape the NFT landscape for enterprise use cases, and why our guest would think we were not and are not in the bear market. Finally, what might be a powerful and overlook use of blockchain to increase the safety of AI? Yes, it's official. You can dive in to the captivating world of artificial intelligence with Edge of AI, our other show. Join us as we explore the frontiers of AI and its impact on our lives. Subscribe now to your favorite platform and follow us on Twitter @EdgeOf_AI and LinkedIn for exciting updates and insights. You can also visit us on our website at EdgeOfAI.xyz.
It’s a special new recurring segment, Edge of Casper, where we're catching up with the team at Casper every month, keeping on the pulse of this rapid expanding ecosystem and bringing exclusive updates and insights straight from the heart of the action. For those that don't already know, Casper Association is a nonprofit entity based in Switzerland dedicated to overseeing the Casper Network's development, sharing its ongoing decentralization and comprised of independent validators running nodes on the network.
The association also fosters organic growth. In parallel, CasperLabs, which is a Swiss-based AG actively contributes to the Casper blockchain code base and operates as a comprehensive enterprise consultancy providing support and services to clients built on Casper since its inception in October of 2018. This regular segment is sponsored by our friends at Casper who also supported our Edge of Asia series.
We're going to talk with Medha Parlikar about the Casper Network. She's a very special return guest. It's great to have you on the show again, Medha.
Thank you so much for having me on board. I’m happy to be here.
You're very welcome. I feel like I needed a break for all of this introduction, but there are a lot to unpack here with Casper. I will give everyone a little bit of your background, then we can jump into it. Medha is the Cofounder and CTO of CasperLabs. She has many years of tech experience. She's considered one of the top women in blockchain and started working in technology in the early '80s, building computers in the basement. For the past decades, she's been delivering production SaaS software for large companies like Adobe, Omniture, and Avalara.
Her strengths are building high-functioning technical teams and inspiring them to do great things and solve big problems. I wanted to start off by talking about what's been going on since we left hanging out together in Asia. We got to be part of that celebration event for Killer Whales, which is a lot of fun, but we didn't catch up on the details of what's been going on with you in the world of CasperLabs. Why don't we start there? What's new in your world?
At CasperLabs, we're focused on the enterprise adoption of the Casper technology. Our big focus has been around developing products that use the Casper technology. We've got some very exciting internal initiatives that we've been developing and building. We're looking forward to seeing some of those hit the ground and launch here in the coming months. Lots of exciting developments on the technical front.
How long in the building process have some of these developments been?
We've been working for some of them on for about 90 to 120 days. It's in the order of 3 to 4 months from actual coding. The design and ideation phase probably took another 2 to 3 months prior to that. You have an initiative, you come up with a product idea, and then you go into designing and writing out the functional requirements and into implementation and testing. It's a fairly extensive process to do the research, ideate, come up with a design, build a product, and get it to market.
I know you've been at this a long time. I'm curious with Casper in particular. Have your sprints increased in length or have you elongated them? Have they been about the same since the jump in terms of the life cycle of development with these different products?
We stick to the same development life cycle about two weeks. The duration of a sprint is more about how frequently you want to check in on progress than it is in terms of the overall duration of the larger project plan. We still use the sprint methodology when we build out the core protocol upgrades and updates when we contribute to that codebase. We still use a two-week sprint iteration there because we feel that gives us the right cadence to track progress against planned work.
Have the overall life cycles been about six months at a time or on a quarterly basis?
Our contributions for the core protocol operate in about a quarterly cycle. Some of the longer developments is that we've been working on the Condor release, formerly known as 2.0. That Condor release has been in development for quite some time. It's a very big upgrade. Not unlike the Ethereum 2.0 upgrade. It's similar to that in terms of size and scope. Maybe even bigger.
It makes sense. It's one of those things where you're balancing that Shiny Object syndrome in our space where people want to see progress. They want to see new exciting things, but these things take a little while to cook.
They do. We have to approach those contributions to the core protocol with a lot of responsibility and care. It is understanding that there are a lot of people that are depending on the protocol for robustness, uptime, and performance. There are a lot of value locked in the protocol. We have to treat it with it's not like your typical software. Public blockchain protocol infrastructure has to be treated with a lot of care because a lot of people are depending on it.
Speaking on updates, I'd love to dive into the CEP-78 standard a little bit more. When did that concept come about? Where are you now with that standard?
The concept came about earlier in 2023. I wanted to go beyond the basics ERC-721 standard, which was the very basic NFT contract. We have a flavor of that. It's called CEP-47. As we started talking to the community, it became very clear to us that there was a lot of things people want to do with NFTs. We felt that we should make it very easy for developers to create any NFT they wanted without having to fork the code base and create another standard.
We felt this would result in a lot of standard bloat in the Casper ecosystem. The developers came back with the CEP-78 standard, which is very innovative in its approach. There is a single smart contract that allows you to create an NFT contract that has modalities or properties. It's, for all intents and purposes, an audited standard that is completely configurable. Because it's configurable, you can install the contract and set the kinds of modalities you want it to use at installation, and you've got a completely different NFT contract. You can use a single contract to create NFTs for digital media, KYC, authorization, or tickets.
You can set standards such as who can mint into the contract. Is it a single administrator that mints? Are the tokens transferable? Are they burnable? Are they non-transferable? It is all of these different properties and modalities that people find very helpful because NFTs have very wide adoption. I believe NFTs are how we represent the world around us. Everything is non-fungible. There are a lot of utility. It's a very high utility contract. Providing that flexibility out of the box, we felt was super important for our developers. It leverages the capabilities of the underlying Casper protocol beautifully as well.
That's great. I can probably toot your horn better or more appropriately than you can, but I'm very aware of your keynote at NFT LA back in 2022, where you were talking about the ability to evolve the future of trades and attributes in NFTs way before it became cool. There are a lot of projects in the Web3 space now where the NFTs can evolve over time. They can change. The attributes can change. There are secret attributes and all that. Back in 2022, that was a very novel concept. It seems you're continuing to do aggressive customer discovery to think about the use cases not just in a year's time but in 5 or 10 years' time.
That's right. We see enterprise software as a software that needs to be configured. Any enterprise system you look at is all about configuration. It's taking a single chunk of software, configuring it, and tailoring it to your use. Other Web3 projects haven't thought about it that way. Our CEP-78 standard does provide a tremendous amount of simplicity.
If you think you're building a DAP, you have to include and maintain all those lines libraries and all those smart contracts in your DAP. With Casper, it's just one. You just have to pull in CEP-78. Once you have the CEP78 standard in your DAP, then you can create as many different types of contracts you need in your DAP.
What's more is you can upgrade them. You can securely upgrade these NFTs, too, depending on what your future needs are as a business or as an application. We feel that that's the way software has always been made. That's the way software has always been used by enterprises. I'm excited about it because it's a very innovative standard. It has tremendous utility in the enterprise.
What's the connecting pathways that are possible or not possible with other protocols for this particular standard? With an enterprise, control is important. You have to balance that. I'm curious how you look at interoperability.
The CEP-78 standard still has all the properties of NFTs. There isn't anything preventing folks from bridging over NFTs that are minted on Casper over to other protocols if they want to. There are already bridge infrastructure available on the public main net. It's still an NFT. It still has all the properties of NFTs.
Once you bridge the token, you're then bound by the capabilities of the protocol onto which that token is bridged. In terms of being able to bridge the NFTs over, it still follows the ERC-721 standard. I believe a token protocol is a token protocol. The CEP-78 standard provides you flexibility, but the tokens are still following the same token standard that you would expect.
It makes a lot of sense. Let's take this to the next stage and talk about some of the use cases and enterprises that can benefit from this. When you think about the overall landscape. I'm in Abu Dhabi and I spoke with someone about blockchain and AI and what industries they see as most likely to be disrupted. They took the easy route. They said, “Every industry can be disrupted at this point by blockchain AI.”
If you're in any industry, you have to think about using this type of technology, but I'm not going to give you the easy route. We know that's the case, but let's get specific because that's where things get helpful for our audience to contextualize this type of technology. What are some examples of industries that you can think of that would benefit from this and in some of the use cases within those industries?
In terms of industries that there are new industries that are crop up in addition to disruption of existing industries. Let's talk about a little bit about disruption. When you think about what industries are going to be disrupted using specifically NFT technology. I'm finding that any industry where you have a custody solution that is separate from ownership. If you have an asset that has specific custodial requirements that are separate from ownership. That ownership is not being tracked transparently in all probability because they aren't good tools to do it.
That ownership is not being tracked transparently. In that event, I would see that the way things are being done are ripe for disruption. We're seeing a little bit of it with rare whiskey casks and some of it with patent infrastructure. Both of these happening on Casper. You're seeing a little bit of it with real estate. Real estate doesn't have a custodial problem, but it's not dissimilar to that. You're going to see that with gold. You're going to see that with any asset that has a custodial requirement and ownership that are separate. It's ripe for disruption using NFT technology because you can track ownership transparently even though you've got a custody provider.
A custodial solution. That's custodying those assets for you. There are an easy way to do a digital representation of that. You'll see a lot of that in real estate tokenization. Although, they're doing that for liquidity purposes to get liquidity. That is a different type of use case but also related because a lot of the real estate assets are also represented as NFTs and, in turn, tokenized.
We've also done some proof of concepts with automobile leases where the cars are represented as NFTs. The NFTs are put inside and are governed by a leasing contract, or NFTs are put into an auction then governed by an auction contract. This is what Metacask uses on-chain auction infrastructure. The NFT is minted into the auction or contract exists within the auction and only upon completion of the auction, the NFT is minted then transferred to the owner. This capability is excellent use cases in terms of disruption for NFTs.
Do you see this helping companies generate more revenue? The markets have all been impacting by whatever landscape you want to call it. Is it a bear market? Is it a recession or a slowdown? Generating more revenue is the name of the game, or it's also cutting costs. In both regards, how can this type of technology be helpful?
I wouldn't say necessarily. I don't think about it in terms of a bear market or a recession. We're in the trough of disillusionment in the adoption curve. We're firmly entrenched in that trough. I feel like the trough is going to be a fairly long trough. We're finding that as we talk to enterprises, there are less conversations around you should use a blockchain.
It's more like, “We intend to use a blockchain. This is what we're looking to do.” The education is happening in enterprises. They're realizing the security benefits of blockchain technology and how to streamline it. I feel that there are ongoing challenges around interoperability, and capability. If you think about innovation budgets. If you think about where does the recession play a role much more than crypto? The recession plays a role in the budgets in those organizations because an industry is only going to go mainstream. We've always maintained this until enterprise.
Once enterprise adopts, enterprise will need to adopt. Only after that will a technology go mainstream. Enterprise adoption in blockchain is low because innovation budgets have been hit. A lot of the innovation budgets have turned to AI because the AI value proposition is very clear. With blockchain, the value proposition is a little bit more ephemeral. It's a little harder to imagine the new revenue opportunities that could emerge or the cost savings that could emerge from the adoption of blockchain technology.
I feel that it hasn't made itself evident yet, which is why we're still in the trough of disillusionment. We haven't gotten to the mainstream adoption cycle yet. I still think we're a few years out. We have a good way to go. I remember in 2019, when people were like, “Is mass adoption coming next year?” I'm like, “Folks, it's ten years away.” They're like, “What?”
That doesn't mean that we couldn't see some examples brands that are generating more revenue from doing this, enterprises that are. Those use cases need to be developed, and mature showcase during that time.
Metacask is developing new revenue. They are working with whiskey distillers who are recognizing they had a barrel management problem in the warehouse for track and trace. Metacask is coming to solve that problem. There are also a story that they tell with which each bottle. They're able to tell a compelling story about the origin of your whiskey bottle. They can tokenize it so they can treat the cask as an NFT.
They can fractionalize and tokenize that whiskey cask and tell a story to the end consumer. It's a compelling use case. Metacask is out there disrupting the way spirits are bought and sold. You think about some of the high-end spirits, there are a story that you want to tell. NFT is perfect for that. Blockchain is perfect for that for you to be able to capture that story and convey it to the consumer and have that connection.
I was reading another show talking about a spirit company, I believe it was in Tokyo. It has all these rare blends that might not be mass-audience but they could work well for different niches. They're limited editions. When you start thinking about limited editions and special runs for segments of your community and how you segment those folks from award them. Things get interesting when you blend that with NFT technology.
The spirits industry and the distilleries are seeing this opportunity to build because they don't even have a one-to-one relationship with their customer. They have a distributor that's in between. When you start thinking about NFTs being used in the retail landscape where you've got a manufacturer on one end and this is the brand. You have the consumer on the far end and you have a distribution channel. The brand doesn't own that relationship with the customer.
An NFT is perfect at the point of the product for that brand to develop a one-to-one relationship with that customer then reward them and develop a community around that. This is something that brands are interested in. Brands and businesses alike. One of the products that we're building is around brand loyalty, affiliate marketing, and points programs. Using the blockchain technology to dramatically streamline this and make it easy for brands to own their own information. To own their own marketing, and own that relationship directly with the consumer.
Going back to my consulting days and from having an eCommerce company, you get to a certain point of maturation and competition in any industry and any product line or product category, where 1% longer customer lifetime value or 1% more new customer referrals can bring massive scalability to the company in the long run. That 1% compounds over years and shifts the dynamic of that company and their consumer.
Customer retention, and customer loyalty. Customer acquisition is expensive.
That's another area where if you can bring that acquisition cost down by creating reward programs that work. You think about Pepsi. Do they have any way to measure if one Pepsi drinker gets three other Pepsi drinkers hooked on their new product? No, but could you do that theoretically with blockchain technology? It's a possibility.
Fun to geek out with you a little bit on that type of stuff, but a lighter topic. I have some FOMO. I have to admit, I won't be at Davos. I enjoyed participating in your Davos experience in years past and getting to know each other and meeting all sorts of cool people. What are you up to at the upcoming Davos Hub? What NFT-centric content can attendees expect?
We are going to have some cool and exciting NFT content at Davos. It's going to be called the Hub. We've got some amazing partners that are coming in as well. We're excited. If you happen to be in Davos, check it out. Come visit us. Bring a friend. Better yet, bring an enterprise. If you have enterprises that are interested in looking at blockchain technology, bring them on in to the Hub over in Davos. We're excited about the cool NFT content we're going to be showcasing. It's going to be a lot of fun.
You managed to effectively avoid details. I would not be in this business if I didn't follow up and say, is there any hints of what's to come that you can share?
I can't share any hints. All I can tell you is that we're super stoked about what's coming up though. I'm very excited about it.
Fair enough. When you do have the details, we'll share it with our audience. Thank you for leaving us all on the tip of our seats. You're a jack of all trades technologist in a lot of ways. It wouldn't be a contemporary conversation if we didn't talk about AI as well a little bit. It's been an adventure, to say the least, with Sam Altman in OpenAI. He's back in the saddle. That's the news. Hopefully, it hasn't changed when this episode airs but I'm sure you're falling that pretty carefully. Any thoughts on what happened there and markings come from that OpenAI road coaster ride?
It's highlighting a topic that's front in mind for all of us in blockchain. In fact, anyone that operates in a public blockchain, you think about governance. This is why CasperLabs is focused on responsible AI and responsible AI governance because this is the crux of the whole Sam Altman thing. It's the governance. It’s governing of the OpenAI. It's one of the reasons why we partnered with IBM to develop a product and initiative around responsible AI namely with Watsonx.
The reason for that is individuals and companies and organizations need to care about how AI evolves. People are either excited about AI. It's like, “All the amazing things to do,” or people are concerned about AI because all they think about is Skynet. The Skynet thing could be a real thing. The way that AI is progressing rapidly there are concerns around, can you trust content that you see online now that it's not AI generated? The generative AI is so amazing. You can't tell.
Looking at something, you can't tell if it's real or fake. That's a microcosm of future challenges to come if we don't have public open AIs that are responsibly governed in a decentralized way. I fully maintain that AI needs to have decentralized and responsible governance. In the blockchain space, we've demonstrated our ability, albeit fledgling. We've demonstrated an ability to govern systems such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Casper.
We can govern those systems and have a significant amount of value locked in those systems. That's a testament to what is possible in terms of decentralized open governance of something like an AI. I believe you can put a blockchain in front of an AI and you can use that blockchain and the community associated with that blockchain to responsibly govern that AI. It's incumbent upon us as a species to think about that.
A lot of blockchain companies are looking at AI and how to integrate it into maybe how they do their coding or gaming companies are looking at AI in different ways. Folks like Toonstar have improved their social engagement using AI, but what you're talking about is more fundamental. It is the pink elephant in the room with AI.
It's a use case for blockchain that I don't think has been discussed that much thus far. Again, sounds like something you guys are on the edge and with regard to. Did some of this thinking come out of your survey that you did on ethical AI? You folks talked to 600 different enterprise leaders. Did that shape your opinion here at all? What were some of the other findings?
We saw the study and we love to leverage AI workflows. That was the big takeaway. Enterprises love leveraging AI because as I said, the return on investment is very obvious. It's very clear in terms of increasing efficiency.
It is critical. It's not a fun topic to think about efficiency, but in economic times like we have, it's critical to think about efficiency. That's what's going to stimulate the economy again.
That's right. I found through many cycles that even though you have technology that creates a level efficiency and there are some concern about pruning back. This pruning back of human-led resources. When you talk in the enterprise, they're looking to either save costs or increase revenue. It's very simple. When you talk about saving costs, usually they're talking about saving headcount operational efficiency, but then those individuals can go and do other things.
What I'm saying is that every time you see an improvement in efficiency, you see an economic boom on the heels of that. I’m completely agreeing with you. AI is going to bring about the same thing. There are going to be a big economic boom as a result of AI, new products and services, and new capabilities. You're going to see these billion dollar companies that are run by 2 and 3 people because they're using AI behind the scenes. You're going to see these ultra-micro startups.
I'm remembering like this dating app OkCupid that got bought by one of the bigger dating app companies. They had like extremely small team, and you think about the Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Work Week. That becomes a more achievable reality for more entrepreneurs and companies. It maybe breaks down some of the barriers to entrepreneurship because I consider those of us that are in that space masochist by nature.
I've always wondered, it doesn’t have to be that way. What you're talking about is along those lines. I have a friend that showed me a tool that will look at your entire DNA of your company through your website and sit back recommendations for marketing strategies, communication strategies, and competitive analysis all within in minutes. It starts to make you wonder, what is possible down the road?
The key from our perspective is you don't want those AIs to 1) Be co -opted, and 2) Trained in a manner that they stop delivering value. That's where you can think about it a versioning control system for an AI. That's what we're looking to build and taking that one step further. If you have an open AI that's governed by community, that's where the blockchain does step into center stage around its ability to govern. That's what they do. They govern the states of VMs. Blockchains govern the states of virtual machines. Why couldn't they govern the state of an AI? They could.
Makes sense. This has been fun. I'm looking forward to the pictures and highlights from Davos. Before we wrap up, I was curious, what's next on the radar of CasperLabs that you can talk about?
I can talk about some of the protocol upgrades that we've got. We're very excited about the peregrine release that is coming very shortly. It's in testing and that's going to deliver faster block times. Everybody wants more performance and we're always looking at performance so we'll be shortening the block times.
Everyone wants to go faster in life.
We can't sacrifice security for that. We're going to go faster. Condor is coming. It'll be available for customer preview in December. Smart contract authors and projects that are building on Casper will get the first sneak peek of the Condor release, which is due to release middle of 2024 in preparation for pretty big seismic shifts for smart contract developers. We're very excited about that release. Stay tuned.
What does that mean in terms of seismic shifts? What's going to be possible there?
Some of the things that are going to be possible is you'll have contracts that can pay for their own computation and contracts that can stake the network, which opens up a whole new world for any DeFi contracts. They can take advantage of inbuilt network staking as well. Contracts that can do multi-signature upgrades. All the properties of accounts on Casper will now be transferred to contracts as well.
That’s why a lot of big surprises have changes of staff, boards, governance, and authorities. People get fired and leave organizations. You need some flexibility there.
That's something that Casper does provide natively. We provide that with a robust account structure that allows you to manage, and access to contracts on the chain completely separate from the contract code itself. You don't have to build whitelists into your contract. Having contracts that pay for themselves makes it possible for individuals to sign transactions then the contract covers the cost. When you think about streamlining the user experience of interacting with public networks, this becomes very important.
Casper will also become gasless with the Condor release. All transaction fees will be refunded to the user. Your net cost will be zero for using the chain. There are a lot of exciting capabilities. We're going to shorten block times again. The intent is to get to one second block times with Condor. That's a huge change. We'll be probably one of the only protocols that will upgrade consensus within the first four years of launch. It will be a brand new consensus protocol with the Condor release. It's big.
On top of that, you're moving. I do wonder if you're secretly building your own AI persona to manage all of this development.
We have a phenomenal set of core engineers for the Casper protocol. They need no guidance. They know what they need to do and what their mission is. They get it done responsibly, thoughtfully and with incredible care. They don't need a lot of handholding. They have a mission and they know that they need to get done. They go do it. We have an amazing group of core developers for the protocol.
That's great. Shoutout to them. This was fun. Folks can go to CasperLabs.io to learn a little bit more but if they want to go deep down the rabbit hole and get more technical, where do you send folks usually?
Go to Casper.network and you can look at the documentation and the developer portal if you want to get technical and go deep into the protocol. That's where the developer portal is. Check out the developer docs.
This was fun. I appreciate your time in the midst of all this stuff going on and the holidays. We'll have another episode of Edge of Casper. Tune in later. We've reached the outer limit at the Edge of NFT. Thanks for exploring with us. We've got space for more adventures on the Starship. Invite your friends and recruit some cool strangers that'll make this journey also much better.
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