Every blockchain network is fundamentally a software development project. It starts with a small team and a big idea. If the idea works, the resulting technology will require constant attention over time. The birth of a new technology is not an endpoint - it is just the beginning!
We all experience this process in a personal way with our phones and other devices. Sometimes it’s a sudden security patch to ward off the latest bug. Other times, a planned upgrade brings new tools and enhancements to our fingertips. In both cases, these are evidence of a busy team behind the scenes, working hard to give your technology the latest edge.
If you are a devoted fan of your device, you may have taken the time to look at their “roadmap” - every successful project has one. The roadmap reveals new features that are planned for the future, along with expected release dates. Even the best laid plans can change, but they paint a picture of the likely path ahead. If you are trying to decide between two different technology tools, checking out their roadmaps might help you understand which one is headed in a direction that excites you! Likewise, an uninteresting or unrealistic roadmap is evidence that a project lacks organization or vision, which could be a warning sign.
Along with Bitcoin, Ethereum, and all the rest, Cardano is a software development project. From the beginning, Cardano has had a public roadmap that is ambitious and inspiring. Their research-first ethos means that progress has at times seemed slow compared to other flashier networks. However, many people who take time to understand the roadmap become believers in the Cardano journey.
Let’s take a peek at the Cardano Roadmap. But first, a word about naming:
The Cardano network is named after Gerolamo Cardano (1501–1576), an influential Italian mathematician. Cardano’s currency is called “ADA”, and was named after Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), an English mathematician and writer who is recognized as history’s first “Computer Programmer”. (You should really check out her Wikipedia page, no short summary can do justice to Ada’s amazing life and work.) As we look at the Cardano network’s “roadmap”, you will notice that each destination on the map has a clever name. The cute names are not necessary, but they are an intentional nod to the people whose work paved the way for this project. Like their important contributions, we hope the discoveries and contributions of the Cardano network will be written down in history.
Byron - Foundation
Lord Byron (1788-1824) was an English poet; but for us it is most notable that he was the father of Ada Lovelace.
The vision for Cardano started in 2015, with its founders setting out to create a network that would address the challenges of scalability, interoperability, and sustainability. The network protocols were built based on research, peer-review, and community feedback. The first version of the Cardano network went online in September 2017, thus launching the “Byron Era”.
In the Byron Era, users could buy and sell ADA.
Shelley - Decentralization
Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was an English novelist, best known as the author of “Frankenstein.” She was also friends with Lord Byron through her husband, Percy Shelley, and the idea for her famous book came out of a bet between the three of them. The Shelley era is all about achieving network decentralization, and the name is clever indeed - when reaching this network milestone, one might say, “It’s ALIIIIVE!!!!”
When the Cardano network was launched, it was necessarily centralized - it began at a handful of datacenters controlled by a few organizations, at a particular time and place. Of course the point of blockchain is the opposite - decentralization, but it takes time to grow into this promise. The Cardano network grew as community members set up network nodes, and as yet more community members staked their ADA to these nodes. The systems for staking and rewards were set up to incentivise participation, leading to a robust decentralized network.
Cardano reached full decentralization around the end of Q1 2021. By way of comparison, Cardano is considered to be 50-100x more decentralized than other large blockchain networks. This means significantly less risk from malicious attacks of various kinds.
In the Shelley Era, anyone can run a server to grow and further decentralize the Cardano network.
Goguen - Smart Contracts
Joseph Goguen (1941–2006) was an American computer scientist and professor. His research inspired others to develop something called the K framework. The K framework can be used to automatically check smart contracts for flaws, which is critically important. (For example, it would have prevented something like Ethereum’s catastrophic 2016 DAO hack.)
Many people think of “blockchain” and “digital currency” as nearly synonymous, but there is much more that can be done with this technology! Bitcoin and digital money was one of the first, and flashiest, uses of blockchain technology, but it was just the beginning. Smart contracts are the next frontier of blockchain utility. Smart contracts allow safe and trustless interactions, secured by the network.
There is some confusion about the term trustless - don’t we want trust? Well the answer is yes, but…. While we imagine a utopia where we could always trust our fellow humans to do what they say, we know that real life isn’t like that. So we have extensive networks of middlemen - banks and brokers and agents of all kinds, who build whole industries out of the need to provide TRUST in the middle of human transactions - and take a healthy cut of the pie while they are at it! Smart contracts can provide the same level of trust assurance for a fraction of the cost, and with no opportunity for red tape or human biases to affect the outcome.
Cardano released Smart Contracts in September 2021, thus entering the Goguen era. With smart contracts available, the developers and inventors of the world can now use the Cardano platform to create DApps (decentralized applications) that will show the world that blockchain isn’t just “fake money” anymore.
As of this writing, we are in the Goguen era of the Cardano roadmap.
In the Goguen Era, users can interact with decentralized Apps: buy and trade nfts, trade crypto without giving up their identity to a centralized exchange.
Basho - Scaling
Matsuo Bashõ (1644–1694) was a Japanese poet, recognized as the greatest master of haiku. We know haiku as the elegant poetic form that communicates great meaning with few words. In the Basho era, Cardano plans to expand in size and function, while retaining its fundamental elegance and small carbon footprint.
The two big innovations planned for the Basho era are side-chains and parallel accounting styles. These will allow one of the founding dreams of Cardano to be realized: “Interoperability” means the ability of one blockchain network to interact and transact with other networks. While we might imagine a simple world with ONE blockchain emerging as the big winner, that is not realistic. Cardano is building for the world we live in, which means being able to transact with other networks and other currencies, and do it at a global scale.
In the Basho Era, the cost to use the network is reduced by up to 90% in certain conditions. Businesses can run millions of transactions on Cardano per second.
Voltaire - Governance
François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), known as Voltaire, was an Enlightenment philosopher who advocated for individual liberties in a way that was revolutionary at the time. Today, we are still striving to create a world where everyone has freedom and agency.
In the Voltaire era, Cardano will fully integrate treasury and voting functions into the main network, becoming a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization). While the physical network is already decentralized, its ongoing maintenance and development is still under the stewardship of IOHK, the company that built and launched it. From the beginning, this team has known that their creation was being built to fly into orbit, out of their control; to be owned by the whole globe. In the Voltaire era, the treasury and voting systems will reach full maturity. Anyone in the global Cardano community will have access to propose improvements, to vote for other ideas, and to contribute their own work. It will be a public utility that is truly public, stewarded, guided, and maintained by its citizens.
In the Voltaire Era, organizations and municipalities can run parts of their governance and voting systems on Cardano, enabling direct democracies for their members and citizens.
What do you think?
Understanding the Cardano Roadmap is helpful for understanding the Cardano community. The conversations, work, and excitement that you will witness are a reflection not just of what exists today, but what we are building together for tomorrow. If you are like me, you may have some questions about these big ideas, and even some skepticism. Is any of this really possible? I think the questions are healthy, and welcomed. I invite you to stay plugged in; there may be a facet of this experiment that captures your interest, and could use your talents. If the Cardano experiment achieves its goals, it will be because people like you participated - The future is for everyone!