Q&A with Noah Thorp, lead Blockchain architect for GLASS

From hiring staff to smoothing out bugs, Thorp discusses the challenges of building the world’s first decentralized settlement network for token trades.
Thomas Lee
Senior Writer, Digital Assets Group

As SharesPost put the finishing touches on GLASS prior to its launch, we chatted with Noah Thorp to discuss the project. In this Q&A, Thorp spoke about the network’s technical challenges, the difficulty of finding engineers to build it, and how we can tell if GLASS is ultimately successful. (Remarks edited for clarity and length)

What is GLASS?

GLASS will be the first decentralized settlement network to ensure cross-border trades meet applicable regulations. By ensuring compliance regardless of where buyer, seller or the trading platform connecting them resides.

GLASS settlement functions will rely largely on Blockchain smart contracts implemented on Ethereum with an ERC20 compliant GLASS token. The GLASS token and smart contracts are used to automatically coordinate settlement fees, network fees and stakes for Settlement Providers. Even though the GLASS token is hosted on the Ethereum Blockchain, trades from any Blockchain can be routed through and settled using the GLASS network.

Confidential trade data and buyer and seller information will be stored off-chain by the Trade Referrers and Settlement Providers as encrypted files. Only Trade Referrers and Settlement Providers facilitating a particular trade will have access to the encrypted trade data. Compliance Certificates will be anchored to Blockchain transactions using cryptographic hashes. Trade details will be encrypted and routed peer to peer between parties. Only cryptographic hashes of data with one-time pads are stored on the Blockchain as IDs for notarization purposes.

What has been the greatest challenge in building GLASS? What obstacles have you had to overcome?

Writing Ethereum contracts is very rigorous. Even though the Ethereum Solidity language looks like Javascript, it is in many ways as primitive as writing in a programming language from the 1970s. For example, if you add 1 to the largest number you can store in your integer variable, you get a 0. That’s not good when you are working with money - so you have to carefully construct checks in your code to handle these special conditions. There are some other oddities; for instance, there are no decimals, although this ends up being a good thing in some ways. You just have to be really careful and audit the heck out of your code. Which we do.

Another thing is that when you deploy code to a Blockchain, it’s “immutable.” Although you can change the state of the code that’s in memory, you can’t change the code itself. So you have to consider how you would handle bug fixes and network upgrades. We’ve thought considerably about this.

Did you find it difficult to recruit the necessary talent to build GLASS?

Good developers are hard to find. Good Blockchain developers are even harder to find. I’m really pleased that SharesPost now has an amazing Blockchain team to transform what was so recently just a good idea in a white paper into high quality code.

What impact will GLASS have on the overall market to trade tokens?

I am not an investment advisor - LOL. Seriously though, the goal is to make it easier to trade security tokens while respecting global regulations. If GLASS is successful, we will help legitimate Blockchain projects to thrive in the complex global regulatory environment.

GLASS is not exactly what Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto had in mind when he proposed “a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash [that] would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.” However, Blockchain tokenization is enabling new collective ownership structures that will certainly impact the nature of the company and not just the nature of payments. These new ownership and governance structures need space to evolve. For instance, I’m interested in the possibilities unlocked by tokenized collaborative network ownership and the new forms of network governance that will emerge related to these tokens. I hope GLASS helps important experimentation in the Blockchain space while minding the regulatory boundaries that protect investors from foul play.

How will you measure the success of GLASS?

GLASS is a network of trade referrers and settlement providers transacting across global jurisdictions. The more trade referrers and settlement providers use the network to connect and vet each other, and refer trades, the more successful the network will be. At a high level, the success of GLASS is predicated on the reduction of regulatory complexity while maintaining the benefits of regulations for investors.