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January 23, 2018

Statebox: A Universal Language of Distributed Systems

Posted by John Baez

We’re getting a lot of great posts here this week, but I also want to point out this, by one grad students:

A brief teaser follows, in case you’re wondering what this is about.

The Azimuth Project’s research on networks and applied category theory has taken an interesting new turn. I always meant for it to do something useful, but I’m too theoretical to pull that off myself. Luckily there are plenty of other people with similar visions whose feet are a bit more firmly on the ground.

I first met the young Dutch hacktivist Jelle Herold at a meeting on network theory that I helped run in Torinio. I saw him again at a Simons Institute meeting on compositionality in computer science. He was already talking about his new startup.

Now it’s here. It’s called Statebox. Among other things, it’s an ambitious attempt to combine categories, open games, dependent types, Petri nets, string diagrams, and blockchains into a universal language for distributed systems.

Herold is inviting academics to help. I want to. But I couldn’t go to the Croatian island of Zlarin at the drop of a hat during classes. Luckily, my grad student Christian Williams is fascinated by the idea of using category theory and blockchain technology to do something good for the world: that’s why he came to work with me! So, I sent him to the first Statebox summit as my deputy. Now he has reported back. A snippet:

Zlarin is a lovely place, but we haven’t gotten to the best part — the people. All who attended are brilliant, creative, and spirited. Everyone’s eyes had a unique spark to light. I don’t think I’ve ever met such a fascinating group in my life. The crew: Jelle, Anton, Emi Gheorghe, Fabrizio Genovese, Daniel van Dijk, Neil Ghani, Viktor Winschel, Philipp Zahn, Pawel Sobocinski, Jules Hedges, Andrew Polonsky, Robin Piedeleu, Alex Norta, Anthony di Franco, Florian Glatz, Fredrik Nordvall Forsberg. These innovators have provocative and complementary ideas in category theory, computer science, open game theory, functional programming, and the blockchain industry; and they came to share an important goal. These are people who work earnestly to better humanity, motivated by progress, not profit. Talking with them gave me hope, that there are enough intelligent, open-minded, and caring people to fix this mess of modern society. In our short time together, we connected — now, almost all continue to contribute and grow the endeavor.

Ah, the starry-eyed idealism of youth! I’m feeling a bit beaten down by the events of the last year, so it’s nice (though somewhat unnerving) to see someone who is not. Read the whole article for more details about this endeavor.

Posted at January 23, 2018 7:55 PM UTC

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