In the technology circle, there are big news almost every day in 2023. It is the first year of generative AI and the year of Web3. People who once thought "Web3 is the new sexy" felt that "Web3 is no longer sexy" and turned to AI. But in the bear market, there are also people who choose to enter the market at this moment, such as the old recruits from the big companies of Web2. They are also called "big factory gangsters". They have relatively mature technology, but they have also encountered suspicions that they are not “CryptoNative” enough. We interviewed several former Web3 ants who are catching up in this track to find out.
01. AI is taking over Web3, is it no longer sexy?
The two technological revolutions that have been given high hopes in the technology world are AI and Web3. AI is expected to reshape productivity, and Web3 is expected to reshape production relations.
In the technology circle, there are big news almost every day in 2023. It is the first year of generative AI and the year of Web3.
Web3's total financing in 2023 is only US$3.6 billion, a 78% decrease from nearly US$16 billion in 2022. Financing funds in the AI track in the first half of the year reached US$25 billion. Paradigm, one of the largest venture capital firms in crypto, has ushered in a paradigm shift, saying that it no longer only focuses on the fields of cryptocurrency and Web3, but has begun to expand its focus to include AI.
People who once thought "Web3 is the new sexy" felt that "Web3 is no longer sexy" and turned to AI.
But we have to admit that this time the Shenxiong of Web3 seems to be more lively than before. In the bear market, there are still people talking about compliance, ZKP (zero-knowledge proof), and Bitcoin ETFs. Some people choose to enter the market at this moment.
“When I was communicating with colleagues at Ant, I often compared AI and Web3. Their development trajectories are very similar.” Jerry Li made an analogy. There have been three waves of artificial intelligence in the past sixty years, and almost every time Billions to tens of billions of funding were invested, and highs and lows continued to alternate until OpenAI was born. "This new large-scale technological revolution needs to go through cycles after cycles before it can truly bring about leapfrog development."
Jerry Li once had several prominent labels: former chief architect of Ant Chain, former R&D director of Apple China, top scorer in the Shanxi Provincial College Entrance Examination, and now he has one more - Web3 newcomer.
Of course, strictly speaking, Jerry is not a Web3 newcomer. After graduating from Tsinghua University, Jerry worked in Silicon Valley for more than 10 years before returning to Shanghai in 2015 to build Apple's Asia-Pacific R&D center. In 2017, Jerry joined Ant Blockchain, which had not yet been upgraded to Ant Chain, with a rank of P10.
"The industry is still too early. Compared with AI, it has not yet reached its last round of development. Today, the market value of the entire cryptocurrency market is less than half of the market value of Apple." Jerry compared the former employer, Web3's cake It seems too young.
Of course, compared to AI, which is over fifty years old, Web3 seems to be still in its adolescence.
The concept of Web3 was first proposed in 2014. The concepts of "cryptocurrency" and "blockchain" as its predecessors were only released for the first time in 2008 through Satoshi Nakamoto's "Bitcoin White Paper". It's only been 15 years now.
Rebellious and unstable, the painful period that Web3 is going through makes "parents" shake their heads. After the collapse of FTX, which had a market value of US$32 billion, in November last year, local regulators began to put a tight curse on this "skin kid".
At this juncture, at the end of 2022, Jerry left Ant Chain and officially All in Web3, starting a public chain project Artela. He said he would not consider doing anything else in the short term. When talking about the reason, Jerry used the famous saying of ants: "Because you believe, you see."
02. Mass Adoption Ambition of Ant “Gangster”
The Artela team chose the public chain track, which is the infrastructure of Web3 and is also called the "highway" of Web3. Only roads can transport everything.
In the public chain track, there have been long-developed Web3 creation projects, such as Ethereum, which have already built their own moats based on the ecological "network effect". Later, there are also many all-star lineup projects with golden keys.
Now choosing a more crowded track, "WSJ." chatted with Jerry about his views on the "first-mover advantage".
"Although there is a lot of competition in the public chain market, it is still far from perfect, and there are still many gaps." Recently, Jerry has been traveling around the world, which is his first step in adapting to his new identity. It was a very rewarding run. “After communicating with many projects, our confidence has actually increased.”
The biggest difference between Artela and other chains is not the Scalability (performance scalability) that is somewhat "involved" now, but the Extensibility (functional scalability) and compatibility with EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine). Developers Apps can be transferred with one click.
This is to prepare for future Mass Adoption.
Mass Adoption is a word on the lips of Web3 people. In other contexts, it can also be described as the "iPhone moment of the industry" and the "last mile", but in fact, the core of the problem is very clear, how to make Web3 available to ordinary people?
The Ant “Gang” was the shaper of Mass Adoption during the Internet era. In their context, Mass Adoption is closer to building an "Alipay" in Web3.
Of course it is full of experience. Artela's CTO Qiu Honglin (nick name: CP) once worked as the underlying architecture support for Ant's digital collection platform Whale Explorer. He said that Whale Explorer has already achieved hundreds of millions of daily users through its New Year gathering of five blessings. “ At that time, we had already achieved stable transactions worth hundreds of millions on the chain, and Ethereum was only in the millions. To a certain extent, Ant Chain has truly achieved Mass Adoption.”
CP was once the team OG of Ant Chain. He joined the original Ant Chain in 2015, when it was still an interest incubation group.
"They said that if someone among the ants wants to talk about blockchain, usually the second person I ask will definitely have my name." CP has slightly curly hair, speaks with a slight Cantonese accent, and always smiles but doesn't smile. It may seem like he is talking about a commonplace topic, but if you listen carefully, you will find that the content is very professional and detailed. Ant Chain has the largest number of patents in the world, and CP alone holds hundreds of blockchain patents.
Regarding Extensibility, CP gave an example: "In addition to the front-end player input, the game also has a back-end, such as map refresh, time and weather, or if the big boss dies, the little monsters next door will also be eliminated, etc. Blockchain There are no background tasks, because all executions of the blockchain must be interacted by users.”
In the future, running Fully On-Chain Games (full-chain games) on Artela may become "the earth will still turn without you", that is, players design the rules and the system runs automatically.
For blockchains where it is a bit difficult to play chess games now, to achieve interaction without lag, there are higher requirements on the computing layer. "We want to achieve a hundred times the EVM." Thanks to the experience accumulated in Ant Chain, CP added, "In fact, the current test data shows that we can already approach two orders of magnitude at the computing level."
But they do not want to replace Ethereum. Projects on the Ethereum chain can be transferred to Artela with one click. CP "Abstract" summarizes the characteristics of Artela: "To put it simply, if we compare the EVM to the CPU of the blockchain, we are adding a GPU to the blockchain." To put it more simply, in the future, we can add a GPU to the blockchain. It’s time to play a big game.
"Jiubei and Huabei in the Internet financial era are innovations from 0 to 1. Our group of people have experienced the process of turning a vague concept into a concrete commercial product, and we know the complexity behind it." CP I feel that walking the same road again in the public chain era will pose many challenges, but fortunately I have experience to refer to.
Most of Artela’s team members are from Ant. "A team of more than a dozen people who have a good understanding of each other can make almost the same progress as a team of more than two dozen people." Just a few months after its establishment, Artela has received US$6 million in seed round financing, led by Shima Capital, with participation from A&T Capital, Big Brain Holdings, SevenX Ventures, Dispersion Capital, Amino Capital and others participated in the investment.
Artela's test network was launched in September and adopts a targeted invitation system for current ecological partners. Defi and Fully On-chain Games may both constitute the future focus. CP said that Artela does not intend to engage in airdrops and conventional combinations of public chains, but rather wants to explore innovation with ecological applications. They will devote themselves to development in the next few months, and will officially launch it in public beta around December.
03. Awkward alliance chain
It can stably run hundreds of millions of daily users. There is no doubt that Ant Chain has already reached the ceiling in some areas of Web3. But their activity is vaguely isolated from Web3.
Just as the decentralized background of Web3 should bring "open source", not "patent". Compared with the public chain, which is the mainstream of foreign technology, it is also somewhat "incompatible" with the currency-less blockchain, also known as the alliance chain, which is more suitable for the domestic context. And Ant Chain wants to develop a different Web3 in China, open alliance chain, and industrial Web3.
As early as 2017, Ant already believed in the future of blockchain. Although the industry had not yet taken shape at that time, Ant had regarded blockchain as a core strategy. "At that time, Ant said it would focus on investment, but in fact no one understood it. We were a very small team. After reading a lot of foreign literature and reports, I felt that this thing still has great potential, especially in the context of globalization. I think it is particularly valuable if it can have financial applications.”
Jerry, who serves as the chief architect, studied the white papers of Bitcoin and Ethereum. As the research deepened, he became more and more convinced that blockchain is the next stage of "using technology to serve finance".
In the same year, Jiang Guofei, the “first brother” of Ant Chain, joined Ant Financial as vice president and president of the financial technology business line, in charge of Ant Blockchain. Ant Chain’s strategic level within the group continues to rise. Ant Chain is booming. Cross-border remittances, supply chain finance, electronic bills, judicial certificate deposits... all of a sudden, industry-based applications are fully implemented.
In 2018, Alipay Hong Kong launched a cross-border remittance function based on blockchain. When more than 180,000 Filipino domestic workers send their wages home, they no longer have to wait for several days and pay relatively high cross-border fees. In terms of inclusive finance, Ant has achieved successful solutions very early.
CP also became the company’s Internet celebrity engineer for a time. Jack Ma mentioned CP and his widely circulated blind date anecdotes when attending the Second World Intelligence Conference.
"We have an engineer at Ant Financial. He wrote on his resume that he is an 'engineer' and a coder who writes code. However, no one clicked on his resume and girls were not interested in him. Later he changed his resume to I'm a 'blockchain engineer' and I've received over two hundred love letters."
In 2020, Ant Blockchain announced its brand upgrade to Ant Chain, and company executives said the decision was "no less than the decision to establish Alipay."
However, three years have passed, and Ant Chain, which is deeply involved in the Web3 industry, has not ushered in a truly "Alipay" level application.
Taking cross-border remittance as an example, the relevant person in charge of Ant told "WSJ." that there are no technical barriers to cross-border remittance, but each country's policies and regulations have different support for this technology, so this type of project is closer to Customization. "We were cooperating with Standard Chartered Bank, and they were our long-term partners."
Even Whale Detective, which has a daily revenue of over 100 million during the Spring Festival, faces the problem of unsaleable collections and difficulty in breaking through the circle. Previously, the digital collections launched by Whale Explorer were mostly humanities artworks, which were difficult for young people to find trendy. "But my dad likes it very much. This is the only product I have made that he uses all the time." CP's work content is very concerned by family members, and Whale Explorer may be the most understandable product among them.
"Although Ant is already very advanced in financial technology, the domestic regulatory framework is mainly based on alliance chains. This actually takes away the essence of the blockchain, which is to use digital assets as its value representative. I think in the future we still have to use public chains However, public chains currently have no ground in China.” Jerry is more optimistic about the future of public chains.
Without the concept of digital assets, there is no way to confirm the rights and incentives of the alliance chain. “The alliance chain only undertakes things at the data level. To truly reconstruct production relations, I think we are still far from that stage.”
" To truly run through a commercial scenario, having a chain is not enough. There are still many aspects of technical support that are not in place, and it is still difficult to run through it end-to-end. In fact, the current application scenario only needs to use a database plus Just setting permissions is enough, but if you insist on using a blockchain system, it seems a bit superfluous.”
CP has experience in building multiple alliance chain application scenarios. He gave an example that food traceability using blockchain technology was expected to eradicate food violations such as "poisonous milk powder".
But the reality is that no one is paying for a better system. "Food traceability, from food production, overseas transportation, customs clearance to sales on the platform, is an industry chain matter. Everyone needs to access the blockchain to work, but when it is finally given to consumers, a penny It didn’t go up.”
"Many companies in the industry chain are passively pulled in, and there is no consensus." Consensus is the core driving force of Web3 and the secret to getting twice the result with half the effort, but the current market is far from that level.
Before achieving "consensus", it seems foreseeable that the alliance chain will be in an awkward position for a long time. People outside the circle don’t know him, and people inside the circle don’t like him.
While at Ant, Jerry joined public chain-related interest groups, and CP was among them. Now, this interest group has once again become the initial incubation soil of the project.
CP left his job in March this year to join Artela, which was also his first entrepreneurial venture. "Actually, Web3 projects come to me every year, and I think about it seriously for a long time, because I have never started a business before. But this time Artela's opportunity, I didn't think about it for a long time." CP's basis is that he believes that in entrepreneurship, what is more important than a team? All are important. "Especially in Web3." In the circle, he has heard many negative teaching materials.
When he met with "WSJ." this time, CP mentioned his status as a former "Internet celebrity engineer" and said with a smile: "It's gone." CP already had a Möbius ring on his ring finger, which was the same as the former "Internet celebrity engineer". Saying goodbye to the blind date story, his career and life have moved to the next stage.
Dr. Chen Jidong (nick name: Pi Dong), a member of the Standing Committee of the Big Data Expert Committee of the China Computer Federation and a man who has been deeply involved in AI for nearly 20 years, has also become a "Web3 newcomer". Pi Dong also had a more well-known resume before - the founder of Alipay face-swiping payment and Ant Shield anti-fraud, with a rank of P10.
He is more optimistic about the combination of Web3 and AI. He founded the Web3 security project Trusta Labs in October last year, which is a product that benchmarks Alipay's "Sesame Credit".
Pi Dong was transferred to Ant's blockchain team in 2017, responsible for the commercialization of security technology, and thus came into contact with blockchain. Before coming to Web3, their team had been operating independently from Ant. The team was closer to an entrepreneurial form, so Pi Dong had rich experience in technology, business, and going overseas.
But now, when the wind blows towards AI, Pi Dong chooses to be a rebel.
Full of expectations, Pi Dong went to CP to "learn" Web3. After researching for half a year, Pi Dong decided to bring his experience in AI to Web3. Less than a month after its establishment, Trusta Labs won the Gitcoin Open Data Hackathon championship.
Compliance is on the rise, and this time, the architecture of Ant Chain has also expanded compliance Web3 based on industrial Web3, and moved forward on two legs.
People close to Ant Group told WSJ. that Ant Group has hired people internally to give a series of Web3 lectures. “They don’t want to miss this opportunity.”
In April, Ant Chain open sourced cross-chain protocols, announced compatibility with ecological protocols such as Ethereum, and reached cooperation with Conflux, the only domestic compliant public chain, which means that Ant Chain's open alliance chain will further support the Web3 ecosystem.
Industrial Web3 is still being developed and will not stop. If you compare helping companies build apps to "building a building", after the building is built, the next step is to "build roads", that is, to realize data circulation and realize incentives in a non-token way.
“We don’t think Web3 is about issuing a currency and then exploring business models.” explained the relevant person in charge of Ant.
"Multi-party incentives are the spirit of industrial Web3, but it does not necessarily have to be done in the form of tokens. Why do we have to use tokens to incentivize? It is because there are a group of strangers in foreign circles. But we are doing industry in China It is impossible for people to do business if they don’t know each other. There are already acquaintances in TO B’s industry, so it does not necessarily have to be in the form of tokens. It can still complete the rapid transfer of assets in the entire industry chain and gain the trust of all parties.”
Ant Chain has also made new moves towards the development of compliant Web3 in Hong Kong and overseas markets. At the Bund Conference on September 8 this year, Ant released a new Web3 product ZAN. ZAN provides technical solutions for Web3, especially security and compliance technical products. Former Ant Chain CTO Zhang Hui serves as ZAN CEO. Zhang Hui is currently stationed overseas.
ZAN is a team of dozens of people. Technical support comes from Ant Chain, and it is recruiting new people from the outside on a small scale. The difference is that ZAN does not mention the number of patents or industrial blockchain, but talks about open source and RWA (compliant asset issuance).
"We have actually been paying close attention to it, and we are just looking for a suitable time." The relevant person in charge of Ant said that ZAN was not a "slap on the head" decision.
In fact, it's not just ants. Major manufacturers such as Huawei and Tencent have chosen to "advance bravely" this year.
Huawei Cloud has made frequent appearances at various summits in Singapore and Hong Kong, and held the "TechWave Web3.0 Special Day" at the Hong Kong Cyberport, and released a series of blockchains such as Web3.0 Node Engine Service NES and QingTian Enclave Confidential Computing. Serve.
The "Goose Factory Gangster" is more famous. Cai Yige, the former head of Tencent Blockchain, resigned at the beginning of this year and founded the Web3 wallet Punk Code. In addition, many employees in business lines such as Yuanhuan Core and Zhixin Chain that have more contact with the blockchain and the Metaverse have turned to Web3 to start their own businesses.
04.The next question is, why now?
"In 2021, there was a lot of money, but the projects were also in chaos. Many well-known people in the industry ended up being ruined." Jerry began to contact investors in October last year, when the financing window had not yet closed.
"If we do it this year, it may be difficult to start the project." "WSJ." learned that another major company's Web3 project encountered major difficulties when seeking financing this year.
"It's not too early or too late." The deep bear bottom may be a good time for long-term investors who have raised funds.
“In previous cycles, blockchain was not considered an industry.” Kevin, another co-founder of Artela, studied psychology at Fudan University. After working at Ant for more than a year, he entered the family office of Alibaba’s top executives to manage investments. Out of personal interest, he entered the communities of Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2016.
Kevin feels closer to the original encryption geek in the industry. He doesn't like to show his face, but he always has deep connections with the industry. In Web3 slang, Kevin is "Crypto Native."
"There was no concept of bear market or bull market at that time, and the community atmosphere was really different from now. Everyone gathered together to discuss economics and currency denationalization."
Kevin later became completely disillusioned with the industry due to the ICO currency issuance wave in 2017 and 2018. He described that there was a "dislocation of idealism" at the time. He sold most of his coins and turned to start a business in the field of AI education, and also obtained financing. But then the education industry also took a hit, and Kevin went to Columbia University to get a master's degree.
Now, he is back to Web3. “Because I have seen the development of the public chain to this stage, if I want to go to the next level and go to Mass Adoption, what I have done, seen, and experienced in other industries is exactly what they need. This is my motivation. I Personally, I have a very strong builder mentality. Although the market situation is very bad, if this thing makes sense, I will do it.”
"The development of things is still a tortuous process. This industry has taught me one very important thing, which is not to make value judgments." Kevin explained.
"The aliens sent a piece of code, and we interpreted it as a frog egg. But what exactly does the frog egg represent? I tend to believe that we actually call it a build in this industry, or that it actually has a driver. Under the influence of force, it will develop and grow on its own, and then grow something that may not be expected. I think this process must be meaningful."
"Entrepreneurship is very fragile, but personal motivation is not. The basics of the Web3 industry are still there, and we just need to grow with it."
Kevin is very fond of the science fiction novel "The Voice of His Lord", which is a science fiction novel about humans receiving signals from extraterrestrial beings. Thinking of part of the signal as a production recipe, a wonderful organic substance "frog eggs" can be produced, but no one can decipher the information of the frog eggs.
Reflected in reality, the emergence of the Bitcoin white paper seems to be a signal from outsiders. The value of Bitcoin is "frog eggs". What will Bitcoin bring to mankind? It is a mirror through which each person interprets and sees himself. "The voice of its owner is actually my voice," Douban has an accurate summary of this book.
"This is a bit abstract. To sum up, we don't make value judgments, but we always do things that are beneficial to the industry."
Kevin believes that Web3 will become more and more mainstream as it is accepted by the public and find his own living position and integration point, even if it deviates from the ideal destination at the beginning.
The industry is indeed moving forward. The blockchain industry was originally built by crypto geeks. As the concept continues to be upgraded, the name has also been iterated from "blockchain" to "Web3". The industry has become differentiated, and more narratives have been included in it, making people more aware of it. It’s easy to find your role in it.
"This time I started a real business. Although I was a fake start-up at Ant before," Jerry smiled. "In the past, Ant was a very good office, and the middle and back offices could provide a lot of technical and other support. Although at Ant, we have always talked about using the spirit of entrepreneurship, but real entrepreneurship and fake entrepreneurship are still completely different."
Perhaps the most obvious change is that the office environment has fallen from "sky" to "underground".
“We now have a very small team working in the basement, you know, a real basement.” In addition, Jerry is also fully responsible for administrative matters such as renting a house.
The Artela team rented an office that can accommodate 6 people in a public office space in Hangzhou. The largest object on the table, besides the computer, is an air purifier. There are no windows, there are green plants, but no sunlight. "We all say we are Underground." CP said with a smile.
During this interview, "WSJ." and the interviewees all mentioned the same question. "Will the experience and advantages accumulated in Ant Chain have a dimensionality reduction impact on Web3?" They all denied it.
In Web3, it is not called "Founder", only "Founder" or "Early Builder", and the organizational structure is no longer a "corporate system", but a "DAO". These are all things that make these "old recruits" feel novel. Jerry is still learning how to transition from Web2 to Web3. "We still need to be in awe of the industry. Web3 has many concepts, values, and community cultures. If we directly copy some things from Web2, it will appear out of place. We must avoid this phenomenon."
Although big manufacturers have a halo, they are easily questioned by the community as not being “Crypto Native” enough. Jerry said he had heard the word many times. "On the one hand, it is positive and relatively advocates the spirit of freedom. But on the other hand, I think it is not right. From the perspective of the Web3 community, we cannot limit ourselves. If we keep rejecting new teams, the Web3 community will never grow. Not big."
Although they resigned from Ant, Ant is still fertile ground for them. In September, Artela, Trusta Labs and Ant Chain’s overseas Web3 project ZAN launched A³DAO. Public chain, security, solutions, brother projects have formed a complementary ecosystem.
It’s unclear when the industry’s “Alipay” moment will arrive, but what is known is that the Ant “gangsters” will not miss it.