Building with Zero Knowledge

The Promise of Zero-Knowledge Proofs: Personae and Pluto

Zero-knowledge proofs are one of the most talked-about technologies in crypto. But Personae’s Lakshman Sankar and Pluto co-founder Tracy Livengood say there’s lots of confusion over what exactly they are—and what ZKPs will mean for web3.

We brought the two founder-developers together for our Variant Founder Fellowship to discuss the most common misconceptions about ZK, how cryptography enables personal expression, and what computing will look like in 10 years. 

Catch our key takeaways below the video.



Zero-knowledge proofs present unique challenges for app developers.

Using ZKPs in apps is challenging from a security perspective. “It’s very easy to make mistakes in ZK proofs than can invalidate everything you’re doing,” says Tracy. Lakshman agrees. “This stuff is particularly nefarious relative to smart contract development.” (Hear other challenges with ZKP development at 36:00.)


Privacy doesn’t mean what you think it does.

To Lakshman, it’s clear that though ZKs have privacy benefits, privacy alone isn’t the selling point that will drive mass adoption. “My personal thesis…is that the ‘private part’ of zero-knowledge unlocks more nuanced expressions between people.” He sees the tech enabling multiple, perhaps even ephemeral, online identities. (Listen to Lakshman describe how ZKs can enhance human expression at 45:50.)


More experimentation is needed.

Though ZKs hold tons of promise, it’s difficult to see where developers will take them. That’s because, according to Tracy, “it’s so hard to experiment right now.” For instance, it takes several minutes to generate a snark, even for simple signature verifications, meaning “you have a limited budget of what you can do.” He points to a need for new tooling so people can start experimenting with the apps of the future. (Listen to Tracy outline some low-hanging fruit for developers at 58:00.)



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Variant is an investor in Pluto.