The Future is DAML

Posted on February 24, 2020

By Natalie Lord

DAML, the open-source language for smart contracts has revitalised the smart contract space that enables peers to transact in an environment of trust. It uses a language that allows developers to reduce the amount of time spent dealing with the fundamentals of encryption and blockchain and facilitates the creation of smart contract for distributed business workflows. In short, it offers developers the ability to focus their time on programming solutions for business processes instead of on more mundane technical tasks.

Like other languages which programmers use to write smart contracts, DAML enables peers to make and honour agreements. Notably, the language describes the process of formation of a contract, the key parties in the agreement, and the parties with delegated rights to the contract. Besides defining the formation process of a contract, the language takes care of the encoding of ideas like contracts, rights, parties, authorisation and obligations. This means that the developer only has to deal with the logic of their business. Technical aspects like hashing, cryptography and consensus protocols no longer need to be considered and are handled by the runtime.  

We’ve looked at various aspects of the technology over the past couple of weeks and end our series today by looking at why DAML considered blockchain as a solution in the first place and how the pieces came together to complete the puzzle.

Shaul Kfir, the man behind DAML, says they opted for blockchain because his background is in cryptography and cryptocurrency and he wanted to show others how blockchain could make things better. Kfir said he thought: “OK, maybe blockchain actually does make sense here, given that a smart contract language could really help these people roll out something faster.” DAML’s intention is to accelerate the pace of innovation in these industries by building a powerful abstraction, along with a powerful set of developer tools, he says.

Kfir ended up joining forces with a Zurich-based company called Elevance, which was made up of programming-language experts, formal-methods experts and ex-quants who had been working on the very same data-modeling problem Kfir and his team had been puzzling over. They had come to realize their approach was one that would work particularly well on a distributed ledger. The two companies combined their distributed ledger and data-modeling work to great success.

Looking forward, Kfir says he hopes DAML will open up innovation throughout the industry. “I think we’ll see the same kind of Cambrian explosion we witnessed in the web world once we started using mutualized infrastructure in public clouds and frameworks,” he says. “An example I often cite is that I had absolutely no knowledge of web development when I started a Bitcoin brokerage in Israel some years ago, since I was very much a low-level assembler and crypto kind of guy at the time. But then it took only three weeks for me to learn enough Ruby on Rails and Heroku to push out the first version of a management system for that brokerage. And that’s because I had to think only about the models, the views, and the controllers – which is to say only the business processes. The hardest part, of course, had to do with building a secure wallet, but that was my expertise.”

He says that if we look at all the networks of financial institutions that currently have mutualized workflows, there aren’t any frameworks, abstraction layers, or mutualization of infrastructure. “There’s nothing that people with good ideas can use to rapidly roll out new systems and then iterate on them or upgrade them. That means if someone comes up with financial innovations that might be used, for example, in the health-care domain to reduce payment counterparty risk, there’s just no easy way right now to deploy that.”

DAML opens the door for people to be able to propose new products and deploy them as smart contracts. The impact of that could prove especially significant in some of the large industries that so far have been slow to adopt innovations. “I think the potential there could be huge,” Kfir says. And with the DAML puzzle complete, all that remains to measure is its level of implementation and success.

 

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