Silvio Micali had been teaching computer science and cryptography at MIT for decades before bitcoin, the first digital currency to gain popular usage, emerged in 2009. Still, it wasn’t until 2017 when the Italian professor asked one of his students to explain what the hubbub was about, sparking deeper consideration of the emerging technology.
“What a beautiful idea, what an inelegant solution,” Micali recalled thinking at an MIT conference this month. He is a winner of the Turing Award in computer science, the Gödel Prize in theoretical computer science, and the RSA prize in cryptography.
Micali decided to come up with a more elegant version of the underlying technology, the public database of transactions known as the blockchain. He formed a new startup, Algorand, to pursue a blockchain that would go far beyond bitcoin while reducing costs and electricity usage and speeding up transaction processing.
Now Algorand, along with Circle Internet Financial and Flipside Crypto, is at the head of the pack of a growing niche of local crypto startups. The company has raised $66 million of venture capital backing and employs more than 150 people, according to PitchBook.
Algorand built its own blockchain, one that can be used by all kinds of developers to create apps for games, collectibles, and finance. Just this month, FIFA, the world’s governing soccer organization, partnered with Algorand and said it will use Micali’s tech for its own digital wallet strategy. (Micali also points to apps allowing Argentinian farmers to trade grain and the potential for travel tickets that could be freely traded.) Though the price of cryptocurrencies has plunged lately, the value of digital tokens on Algorand’s network remains more than $3 billion.
The technology is also designed to allow for quick updates when most users agree a change is needed.
Through it all, Micali has retained his sense of humility. Rejecting the tech industry’s dominant paradigm of “winner take all” markets, Micali is focused on making it easier for various blockchains and applications to cooperate and exchange data.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be great at something, and somebody else is great at something else,” Micali said at the MIT conference.