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PolyU scholars win ZPRIZE for ground-breaking Web3 technology in zero-knowledge cryptography

18 May 2023

Awards and Achievements

Led by PolyU Department of Computing Professor Prof. Allen AU (1st from right) and Research Assistant Professor Dr Xingye LU (1st from left) and team members Ms. Mengling LIU (2nd from left) and Mr. Chengru ZHANG (2nd from right), the research team won the ZPRIZE for ground-breaking technology on zero-knowledge cryptography

Computer science scholars from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) have won the ZPRIZE in the Plonk-DIZK GPU Acceleration prize category for innovative solutions in empowering zero-knowledge cryptography.

Led by Prof. Allen AU from the University’s Department of Computing and Research Assistant Professor Dr Xingye LU, the research team was awarded a cash prize of US$550,000.

Zero-knowledge cryptography, also known as zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs), allows a “prover” to convince a person of the validity of a computation without leaking any information; it is hence referred to as zero-knowledge cryptography. It is seen as a breakthrough technology impacting Web3, a decentralised online ecosystem based on blockchain, because it enables data privacy protection, efficiency improvement and scalability of transparent systems such as blockchain.

Zero-knowledge cryptography is important to foster trust and promote widespread adoption of decentralised applications, which in turn is crucial for the growth of Web3. It also facilitates the development of innovative solutions for privacy-preserving data sharing and collaborative computation. A variety of industries including financial services, healthcare and supply chain management would benefit from the application of this technology.

Christopher CHAO, PolyU Vice President (Research and Innovation), said, “We take great pride in our scholars’ remarkable achievements in winning the ZPRIZE. It showcases PolyU’s unwavering commitment to advancing blockchain technology and revolutionizing Web3 through innovative research and transformative solutions.”

A major challenge for real-world adoption of ZKPs, particularly for applications at scale, is the high computation cost. In addressing this issue, the research team focused on enhancing the efficiency and scalability of Plonk, a popular ZKP system. The team delivered this achievement by leveraging GPU acceleration to achieve computation speedup and distributing the workload evenly across multiple servers to improve scalability.

Prof. Au said, “This is crucial because generating these proofs can be computationally intensive, and so a faster and more efficient method could enable the use of zero-knowledge cryptographic in a wider range of applications.”

This new implementation can generate a proof in less than one hour for a circuit of size 228 gates, which is the largest circuit with reported successful plonk proof generation. The research team’s solution has achieved a significant computation speedup of over 40% on a single machine. With the new distribution approach, the team was able to improve the overall proof generation process by a factor of 10 compared with existing method.

The Plonk-DIZK GPU Acceleration Prize falls under the open division category of the ZPRIZE for general public interests. ZPRIZE is a collaborative effort across the blockchain industry that involves over 32 global partners and sponsors who contribute time, effort and resources to this industry-wide competition, with the aim of increasing the practicality and awareness of this technology.

Dr Lu said, “Our submission will become open-source libraries for the benefit of the community. We hope this new technology can support the next generation of decentralized protocols and applications to enable secure, interoperable and scalable applications for the next-generation web.”

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