Exploring Space and Time: Proof of SQL

Exploring Space and Time is a deep-dive interview series on the various components of the Space and Time platform.

Exploring Space and Time is a deep-dive interview series on the various components of the Space and Time platform. In this episode, Creative Director Spencer Reeves interviews Co-Founder and Head of Research Jay White on Proof of SQL: the novel cryptographic protocol developed to guarantee that queries made in Space and Time are tamperproof.

Jay White is a Co-Founder and Head of Research at Space and Time. His primary focus is on the research, design, and implementation of Space and Time's innovative database tamperproofing mechanism, called Proof of SQL. Before Space and Time, Jay was a Professor of Mathematics, with research focused around computational mathematical problems. Jay's background in algorithmic development and algebraic research has uniquely positioned him to fuse the theoretical mathematics of cryptography with the scalable implementation needed to create cryptographic guarantees for enterprise-scale databases. At his core, Jay is a passionate problem solver, visionary, and researcher who is building an essential solution to the infrastructure of Web3.

Spencer: How's it going, everybody? Welcome to Exploring Space and Time. This is the first episode out of a miniseries we're doing that's exploring some of the tech within Space and Time. Who's working on it? What are we working on it for? We have Jay White with us today, Head of Research and Co-Founder of Space and Time. Jay, why don't you do a short introduction of yourself and maybe lead off with how you got into the blockchain space and maybe a little bit about what we're going to be talking about today.

Jay: Yeah, so I've been following blockchain since before Ethereum, pretty quickly after Bitcoin. I got excited about what they're doing and just this whole idea of Web3 and decentralization. I have a PhD in mathematics and I've been coding for as long as I can remember. So me and Scott and Nate realized that there's no data warehouse for Web3, and that this is a needed thing in the community. So, we set out to build this, and one of the key components that we said we need, that needs to belong to any true decentralized data warehouse, is we need some concept of Proof of SQL.

Spencer: So, at a high level, what is Proof of SQL trying to accomplish?

Jay: So really the idea behind a lot of Web3 is this concept of trust, or not needing trust. If you think about cryptocurrencies, the idea is we don't want to trust governments to control our money anymore. And if you think about smart contracts, you don't want to have to trust a legal system to execute a contract. You just want code to automatically execute things. And this is the big idea behind Web3, and that's what we need for a database. We need some database where you can query the database using SQL, and you can get a result back and you can guarantee, you can know, that you get the right result without having to trust that database. Currently, to do that, you need to trust your data warehouse. But with Proof of SQL, you don't.

Spencer: Absolutely. It's kind of just removing this needed trust from centralized parties. So let's unpack this concept of trust for a bit. When we talk about trustless applications and protocols in Web3, what does that mean for Proof of SQL and for Space and Time as a whole?

Jay: What it means is that you don't have to trust Space and Time. You don't have to trust your data warehouse. You can run a query, you can set up a database, you can ask for prices of different blockchains, of different tokens. You can take your gaming data that's on-chain or off-chain, and you can query against it and guarantee that the results you get back are correct. You don't have to trust Space and Time. You don’t need to trust anyone. All you're trusting is this protocol, this Proof of SQL protocol.

Spencer: And we're doing this through the use of ZK proofs, correct?

Jay: Yeah.

Spencer: So from a high level, how are we utilizing ZK cryptography and ZK technology?

Jay: In some sense, what we're doing is we're standing on the shoulders of giants. There's been a huge explosion over the last five years of a bunch of research into this concept of ZK, this concept of arguments, snarks, proofs, and just verifying and hiding outsourced compute, and checking that these things work and doing it in such a way that you don't have to trust other parties. So we're taking a lot of the primitives, we're taking a lot of the long history of just cryptographic primitives, and we're building on top of that. We're building our own very specialized SQL-specific proof.

Spencer: It's like 2023 is going to be the year of ZK proofs. It almost feels like the space was pretty void until the later part of 2022. And then it's just like everybody's talking about them, which is pretty crazy. So as we talk about developers building on top of Space and Time, why should developers really appreciate building on top of Space and Time with regards to Proof of SQL? And why does a developer care in general about utilizing something like this?

Jay: I think there are a couple of answers to this. I keep mentioning trust. You have to ask yourself as a developer, do you really trust your data warehouse? Maybe you put it on your own premise—maybe you're hosting the data warehouse itself—but if you're not, can you really trust it? And I think the second, maybe more pressing answer for a lot of people is that customers are going to start to realize, “Why aren't you using Proof of SQL?” This is a technology. We don't know what data warehouse you're using. So customers are going to start to demand that you use Proof of SQL. Customers are going to start to say, "Hey, we want this trustlessness. We don't want to trust you. We don't want to trust anybody. We just want to be able to trust that the results we get back to our app are going to be correct.

Spencer: And I think that with recent news, it's becoming more and more apparent that everybody needs something like this. Space and Time is a platform. Proof of SQL is a key feature of this platform. Where does it fit within the ecosystem of Space and Time?

Jay: Space and Time has got a bunch of tools for you to just access data. You can access data that's on-chain, off-chain, transactional. It's hybrid transactional and analytic queries, so you can hit it with a transactional query and you can hit it with an analytic query. But in certain circumstances, maybe not in most, but in certain circumstances, you're going to want to know that whatever query you send to Space and Time, you can get the correct result. That's not necessarily going to be everything, but there's going to be times where you want a correct result. If you're loading this result into a smart contract, the result of which determines where a bunch of money gets paid out, you're going to want to guarantee that the result is correct. So in that case, you're going to need to use Proof of SQL. But we're a bigger platform; you can do a lot of other stuff with the data in Space and Time. But when you need that guarantee, when you need that tamperproofing, that's when you use Proof of SQL.

Spencer: Sure. And when you talk about familiar tools, I think it's really important to mention that this is SQL language. It's a familiar tool, to get more mass adoption into Web3. If you are an enterprise, you have familiar tools available on our platform to jump right into it.

Jay: And to some degree, Proof of SQL is going to be entirely transparent. You're barely going to know it's there computing. The only time it's going to execute is if the warehouse actually does something malicious, and then you'll get a notification that, hey, they did it wrong. So most of the time, it's going to be pretty seamless to actually develop with this.

Spencer: Definitely. And it kind of leads me into my next point: as this becomes a little bit more mainstream and people start realizing that this is kind of a necessity within data warehousing, what does that mean for data warehousing as a whole moving forward?

Jay: I think what we're going to see is kind of what I mentioned earlier: people are going to start to demand this. People are going to start to realize that if you don't have a data warehouse that supports Proof of SQL, or you're not using some sort of technology that guarantees your results, why not? Why don't you have that as a feature? Why aren't you using Proof of SQL? So this is going to become a standard. This is going to become something that everybody needs in their data warehouse, that everybody wants, and customers, developers, everybody's going to start demanding this.

Spencer: Yeah, it's going to be a little bit suspect if people don't want to use Proof of SQL.

Jay: If you're a data warehouse and you say, "I'm not going to use Proof of SQL," it's like, "Well, okay, then I don't want to use you."

Spencer: Yeah, exactly. Well, this is just a short kind of series. I'm glad to have at least sat down with you for a little bit here, Jay. I'm looking forward to doing this again with you. Hopefully we can do a longer format in the future and really get into the nitty-gritty of Proof of SQL. But I'll leave you off with one last question. As we look back on the first year of Space and Time, it's been a wild ride. Between our team, between the PR, between some of the funding announcements that we've put together, and some of the partners that have been involved with this whole journey, what are some moments that stick out to you, and if there are any parting thoughts you want to leave with the community, what are those?

Jay: I think the biggest thing that's stuck out to me has just been just the sheer excitement around what we're building. Customers are excited, investors are excited. Everyone we work with, all of the employees at Space and Time, are super excited about what we're building. That's one of the greatest things, is just working with a great group of people and the community around it. The support from the community around us has been super, super awesome. Everybody just wants to see us succeed, and it's really great to see everybody as excited about this as we are. So we're just looking forward to creating this thing, putting it out there so that people can start using this. We're excited about it.

Spencer: Absolutely. The community has been a huge part of this whole journey. Speaking of which, thank you all for watching. Thank you all for tuning in. We’re excited to roll more of these out, and we'll talk soon. Cheers.