13 Questions: Interview with Yanbo Li, NKN founder and OnChain co-founder

22 min readJul 1, 2021

This article was originally published on The Daily Chain, 18th November 2019.

“I turned my attention to open source and Linux, and began following the footsteps of Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, instead of Kevin Mitnick.”

— Yanbo Li, November 2019


The single greatest thing about doing these interviews is meeting all the people from different walks of life, cultures and backgrounds, who are involved with this technology. Whilst talking tech is always great fun, and the bread and butter of any crypto interview, talking exclusively tech can sometimes obfuscate the more subtle and vital sparks of illumination: Why are they doing this? What’s the point (seriously)? What makes them tick? This interview does not mention ‘exchange listings’ or (cough) ‘Binance’. No, dear reader, not this one. This one’s a little different.

Since there is already a plethora of technical information written, recorded, and streamed on the subject of NKN (New Kind of Network), and a primer by yours truly, I have taken this interview with Yanbo Li as an opportunity to get personal, in what I hope will prove to be the most detailed and candid interview ever recorded in the crypto space to date.

Yanbo grew up in China, made it to Stanford, then went to Motorola, Qualcomm and finally Nokia before co-founding OnChain with Da Hongfei and Jun Li (founder Ontology), the company behind NEO. More importantly Yanbo is the person who first thought of using cellular automata in a scaling solution for blockchains, a revelation which struck him after reading a book by Stephen Wolfram. This is the foundation stone of NKN. Even though competitors in this space are reaching similar solutions (notably Ethereum and IOTA), NKN was first, and will be first to roll-out what promises to be a paradigm shift in cryptocurrencies from centralized mining solos to a massively distributed P2P network comprising 10’s of thousands, then 100’s of thousands, and ultimately millions of consensus nodes reaching agreement within a second or two.

It is often said that ‘information is power’. If true, what then of those that control the flow of information? Are they not as gods to men?

With NKN Mainnet coming in just a few days we usher in a new age for blockchain. NKN does not seek to disrupt finance or banking, supply chains or land registries. What NKN does disrupt is who controls the flow of information. And that is more important than money, because money IS information, and whoever controls the information controls the money (51% attack), and so much more.

NKN has an important vote for Huobi coming up on June 20th, and will release its Mainnet by the end of this month (June). Yanbo and the team are exceptionally busy, but he still found time to answer 13 questions. Since Yanbo is most comfortable expressing himself in chinese, I include his original answers in chinese (in the hope it might attract Chinese readers), together with his translation of them.

The Interview

1. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and what your earliest years looked like, what hobbies you had as a child, and how you ended up moving to the USA to study at Stanford (is that when you started boxing)?

2. Could you tell us about your career prior to blockchain, at Nokia, Motorola and Qualcomm?

我出生在中国一个相对比较偏远的地区,小的时候哪里的电脑普及率并不高, 更谈上不上接触因特网了, 不过也许是受父亲是名教师的影响, 从孩提时我的学习成绩一直都还不错, 尤其对数学物理特别的感兴趣, 坏消息是那时候我对学习英文一直都提不起兴趣 :),也是从那个时候就像所有有好奇心和梦想做科学家的小孩一样,开始思考很多比较空泛的问题, 比如宇宙的边界,生物的诞生等。 (我是一个喜欢刨根问底的人)

当我进入大学后, 我疯狂的迷上了计算机,甚至一度想放弃学业去花所有时间研究计算机, 我那时候整天鼓捣研究操作系统的各种核心实现以及网络攻防技术,梦想着成为一名像Kevin Mitnick那样的“黑客”。但也就是在那一年,中国掀起了蓬勃的开源运动, 很多有技术天赋的年轻人都纷纷成立软件公司推出自己的Linux发行版本.

当时有一个Linux公司来公司做活动, 我在现场有提问他们一个关于操作系统的问题,并被赠与一套他们全新Linux发行版本。当我回去试着把这个系统运行起来之后, 我的潘多拉盒子打开了, 这里面有很多远远比我们在windows里面看到的有想象力和丰富功能的软件,而且这些全都是免费的,更棒的是它是开源的。 在使用和研究他们的过程中我发现做一个创造型的hacker要比一个破坏型的hacker有意思的多得多, 当然从某种意义上讲也难得多,因为破坏往往比建造同样的东西相对要容易一些。

Yanbo, aged 3, in his home town

I was born in a relatively remote region of China where the installed base of computer was low and access to the Internet was scarce growing up. I had performed quite well in my studies even from my early childhood, which was perhaps a benefit of having a father who was a well respected teacher. I had a special interest in mathematics and physics, but never in English

. I always like thinking about many big “vague” questions since childhood, such as the boundaries of the universe and the birth of creatures, just like all other curious young scientist-to-be dreamers. This habit later grew into my inquisitive nature.

When I entered college, I became obsessed with computers, and was once even contemplating giving up my studies and spend all my time to focus on researching computers. At that time, I learnt and studied various core implementations of the operating system as well as computer network security, gradually progressing towards my dream of becoming a “hacker” like Kevin Mitnick. However, in that year, a booming open source movement was unveiled in China. Many technically talented young people established software companies and launched their own Linux distributions.

Yanbo, during his hacker phase

During an event organized by a Linux company, I asked a question about the operating system and was rewarded with a copy of their latest Linux distribution. When I went back and tried to run the system, my curiosity was stoked. The system integrated lots of software with far more imaginative and richer functions than what I could get in Windows, not to mention that most of which was free of charge. But what’s even better was that it is open source. Over the course of exploring and studying the system, I found that being a creative hacker was much more interesting than being a destructive hacker. Certainly, it is much more difficult in a sense, because it is always easier to destroy than to build the same object.

所以从那时起我的注意力就转向了开源, 转向了Linux, 黑客的形象也从Kevin Mitnick 变成了Richard stallman, Linus Torvalds。

So from then on, I turned my attention to open source and Linux, and began following the footsteps of Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, instead of Kevin Mitnick.

毕业后我进入到了摩托罗拉,当我并不是做摩托罗拉最有名的手机系统, 而是在做一套加速文件编译时访问速度的虚拟文件系统VFS,我愿意做这件事是因为整套系统是基于Linux开发的,而且可以很好的了解和利用到Linux kernel文件系统的整个结构和细节。 这对于我了解Linux的核心会非常有帮助。 不过不尽人意的一点是就像当时所有的大公司一样, 我们所做的东西都是私有的, 并不能开源出去, 也无法和外面有天赋的程序员进行深度的交流。 所以与此同时我也在业余时间和Linux社区协作开发一款无线网卡的驱动, 这是一个纯社区的开发工作,来自世界各地的开发者通过邮件列表,通过IRC 进行沟通和交流, 在这里我认识了很多Linux 社区的顶级开发者和维护者,像Kalle Valo,Luis R. Rodriguez, Jouni Malinen等,当然在做这件事的过程中我的兴趣也更多的迁移到了网络协议研究和开发上面。

California, USA (2015)

After my graduation, I joined Motorola. However, I did not develop the most famous mobile phone system for Motorola, but developed a virtual file system (VFS) that accelerated the access speed at the time of compile program. I preferred to work on it, because the entire system was based on Linux, and I could better understand and utilize the attributes of the Linux kernel file system. This was very helpful for me to understand the core of the entire Linux. But unfortunately, like all other large companies, all that we did were private, not open source. Being in such a working environment also prevented me from having a deep communicate with some of the most talented programmers. As a result, I spent my spare time developing a device driver for a wireless network card, in cooperation with the Linux community. It is a pure community contributed development effort, where developers from all around the world communicate over mailing lists and IRC. In this community, I have had the honor of becoming acquainted with many top developers and maintainers of the Linux community, like Kalle Valo, Luis R. Rodriguez, and Jouni Malinen and etc. In doing so, my interest in network protocols and development started to grow.

也就在这个时候,我认识了我们现在的联合创始人Bruce , 他当时正在Nokia领导团队开发一套在基于WiFi的Mesh系统, 这和我当时做的Wifi传输领域非常匹配, 所以我决定加入去一起开发这套系统, 在这个期间,我和Bruce一起紧密合作,开发了多种WiFi mesh 以及4G LTE接力的传输系统, 也就是在这个时候我们深刻的研究和开发了基于无线的点到点传输系统, 从硬件到软件, 从网络的最底层到应用层。

It is also at this period when I met our co-founder, Bruce. He was in Nokia then, leading a team to develop a mesh WiFi-based data relay system. This made a perfect match with the WiFi software I was developing, so I decided to join the team and further develop this system. During this period, Bruce and I worked closely together to develop various WiFi mesh and 4G LTE small cell relay transmission systems. In addition, we deeply researched and developed wireless-based point-to-point transmission systems, from hardware to software, and from the network bottom layer all the way up to the application layer.

在这个阶段我们接触了很多的P2P或者说Mesh的无线项目,也意识Peer to Peer的网络传输本身是一个很好的技术,不过我们也发现它的两个缺点或者局限性, 一个是如果是只支持无线的(二层实现)的P2P的话它的适用范围会受到限制,另外一种覆盖层的P2P协议(比如像 BitTorrent)虽然没有这个问题,但由于服务节点没有很好的激励,所以参与其中的更多是一些技术极客,大众对参与这样一个网络系统的动力并不大。 后来Linux开源社区的Kalle Valo 他们加入到了Qualcomm 和Google合作开发下一代的Wi-Fi路由器,(也就是现在的Google 路由器的前身),他们正在找既懂WI-FI 又能够和Linux开源社区很好合作的开发者, 所以我也搬到了Qualcomm位于美国硅谷的办公室和他们一起做这套系统.

By now, we had already encountered many P2P or mesh wireless projects. Peer-to-peer network transmission itself was a good technology, but we also found two major limitations. Firstly, if only wireless (but not wireline) P2P was supported, its scope of application would be limited. Secondly, overlay P2P protocol (like BitTorrent) does not have this problem, but the relay nodes were not properly incentivized. Even though some technology enthusiasts are participating, there is no clear motive for general public to jump in. It was about this time that Kalle Valo of the Linux open source community joined Qualcomm and cooperated with Google to develop a next-generation Wi-Fi router (the predecessor of the current Google WiFi router). At that time, they were looking for a developer who not only had an extensive knowledge of Wi-Fi but also been successful in cooperating with the Linux open source community. So I relocated to Qualcomm US office and came to work with the rest of the team in Silicon Valley.

也就是在这个期间,我花了大量的时间研究Bitcoin和支撑它的密码学基础, 同时在这个期间我也是一边工作, 一边在Stanford上著名密码学家Dan Bonel的密码学课程。 当然上这个课程并不简单的是为了获得一些密码学的知识,一些基础的东西在我上大学期间都已经学到了, 上这个课程主要还是为了深入的研究Bitcoin, 因为Dan Bonel也是在大学里最早开设Bitcoin课程的教授之一, 他同时举办了很多Bitcoin原理的一些讲座和交流。 同时在这个阶段, 我也和同在硅谷工作的Bruce有很多交流,区块链经济和通信网络的结合也是我们经常讨论的话题, 所以虽然这时候NKN项目还没有启动,但可以说从这个时候已经为我们后面一起正式启动NKN埋下种子。

During my Silicon Valley period, I spent a lot of time in researching Bitcoin and the foundation of cryptography. I also took the cryptography course offered by Professor Dan Bonel, a famous cryptographer, at Stanford University. My purpose of taking this course was not to simply accumulate my knowledge on cryptography (I have learnt some fundamental knowledge in my college), instead, my main purpose was to get into a deeper research on Bitcoin. Dan Bonel was one of the professors who offered bitcoin courses in college for the first time. And he also held many lectures and seminars regarding the principles of Bitcoin. During that period, I frequently talked to Bruce, who was then working in Silicon Valley, and discussed about the newest status of blockchain economy and communication network. Although the NKN project had not yet begun, a foundation was already laid to officially launch the NKN project at a later date.

至于Boxing 嘛, 这个其实是我很长时间的一项爱好, 我差不多从大学期间就有学
Muay Thai, Kicking boxing,不过后来膝盖有受伤,所以就转向腿部运动稍少一些的Boxing了。 当然美国的练习boxing 氛围还是很不错

Yanbo and his Muay Thai kick-boxing trainer (2013)

Boxing is actually my long-time hobby in sports. I started taking Muay Thai and Kick boxing training when I was a college student. Regretfully, due to my knee injury, I had to learn boxing which has less emphasis on leg movements. It has also come to my knowledge that boxing is a sport well received in the United States.

Boxing in the USA (2018)

3. When did you first hear about Bitcoin and get excited about blockchain?

我在2011年末2012年初的时候知道的Bitcoin ,不过坦白讲那个时候我并没有花时间深入了解它, 只是想当然的想, 哦, 又是一个类似像游戏积分一样的东西吧,所以并没有引起我的注意。 真正了解和深入研究它是在2014,有一天我深入的了解一下Bitcoin背后的原理和它的白皮书, 我忽然发现它依赖的P2P网络, 密码学协议这些本来就是我专业研究在做的技术呀,另外它所倡导的信任技术而非第三方,开放源码的理念和我早期的黑客认知以及开源精神是完全吻合的, 所以就在深入研究的那一霎那, “砰” 我立刻就意识到,这就是我要做的事情,这就是我要深入研究的方向。

I first came across Bitcoin between late 2011–early 2012. But frankly speaking, at that time, I didn’t spend much time looking into it. I just assumed, “Oh, must be another virtual thing like game points,” so it didn’t catch my attention. It was only until 2014, that I truly understood and delved into it. One day, I looked into the principles behind Bitcoin and its Whitepaper, and suddenly realized how the P2P network and cryptographic protocol Bitcoin relied on were exactly the same technology I was working on. Also, the concept of trusting technology instead of any third party, was completely consistent with my early hacker ideals and open-source spirit. So as soon as I studied it in depth, “Bang,” I immediately realized this was what I wanted to do, this was the direction I wanted to drill deep into.

4. In October 2016 you co-founded OnChain. Please tell us how that started, the role you played, and your current involvement?

Opening Day, OnChain, Beijing (2016)

在2015年的时候我已经意识并决定将Blockchain (当时这个词还没有像现在这么热) 作为自己主要研究和发展方向, 2016年初的时候, 我回到了中国, 在网络上认识了达鸿飞先生, 当时他正在组织开发和推广小蚁(Antshare),大家都对区块链很感兴趣,所以聊了很多区块链技术的东西。当时小蚁在考虑支持国有加密算法,所以在这 个期间我以开源开发者的身份为小蚁开发了支持国密算法的C库。并且一直和Antshare团队保持联系联系,到2016年中的时候,准备成立一个区块链的 商业公司Onchain来开发和推广企业级的区块链服务,我这个时候正式以联合创始人的身份加入Onchain,成立了Onchain北京办公室。

In 2015, I was already aware and had decided to focus on blockchain (which was not as popular as it is now) as my main research and development direction. In early 2016, for personal reasons, I went back to China and was acquainted with Mr. Da Hongfei on the Internet, who was leading the development and promotion of Antshare at that time. We were both very interested in blockchain, so we talked a lot about blockchain technology. At that time, Antshare was considering supporting state Cryptography standard (SM2&SM3) algorithms, so I developed the C library supporting SMx algorithms for Antshare as an open-source developer. And ever since then, I kept in contact with the Antshare team. By mid-2016 Onchain, a commercial blockchain company, was established to promote enterprise-grade blockchain services. That’s when I officially joined Onchain as a co-founder, building up Onchain Beijing Office.

所以Onchain北京办公室基本上是我从零建立起来的,负责分公司的运营和日常管理以及人员的招聘等等创业公司都要面临的工作,当然最核心的还是 我们的开发任务,因为Onchain 成立以后的第一个开发任务就是开发出一套企业级应用的区块链产品,当时虽然已经有NEO,但NEO作为一个公链,并不太适合做定制化的企业级区块链服务, 所以我们用Golang开发一套基于Apache-2.0开源协议名为DNA的区块链系统用于商业项目服务,很高兴我也是DNA系统的第一行代码的提交者 并且一直陪伴了整个DNA的开发全周期。DNA虽然是用Golang写的,但它的一些核心算法比如共识协议还是源自于NEO,所以我们当时称DNA为企业 版的小蚁。

So Onchain Beijing Office was basically built by me from scratch. In addition to that, I still had to handle the operation and daily management of the branch office, as well as the personnel recruitment and other work start-ups have to face. Of course, the most important was our development tasks, because after the establishment of Onchain, the first development task was to develop a blockchain product for enterprise-grade applications. At that time, although we already had NEO, as a public chain, it wasn’t a suitable option for customized enterprise-grade blockchain services. So we developed a blockchain system called DNA (Distributed Network Architecture) under Apache 2.0 open source license, using Golang for commercial projects. Gladly, I was also the submitter of the first commit of the DNA software and had taken part in the entire DNA development process. Although DNA was written in Golang, some of its core algorithms, such as the consensus protocol, were still derived from NEO。 That was why we called it an enterprise version of Antshare.

作为开源代码,DNA也成为后NKN的初始代码库的一部分。虽然现在NKN的核心代码,包括共识算法,经济模型, 账户模型已经和当时的DNA完全不同了,但对于一些基本的东西像库,数据结构,我们并不需要重造车轮。 在2017年的后半年也就是DNA开发完后我就在思考如何把我们之前做的网络传输和区块链很好的结合起来, 因为之前我已经积累的很多的P2P网络的开发经验, 又有DNA在开发中所积累的区块链开发能力,所以将这二者结合在当时也是一个很自然的一个想法。

As open source code, DNA became part of NKN’s initial code base. However NKN’s core code including the consensus algorithms, economic model, and account model, are now completely different from DNA. In terms of some basic modules such as library and data structure, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. In the second half of 2017, after the completion of DNA, I began to think about how to combine the network transmission and blockchain we did before. As at that time, we already had a lot of P2P network development experience, not to mention that the blockchain development ability had been accumulated during the DNA development. So it was quite natural to consider combining the two.

具体到实现层面,一直在我脑中萦绕和关注的CA方法论也跳了出来, 所以当时我觉的这是一个非常有意思的事情,既能做我喜欢的P2P网络也能结合区块链,同时还能将一种全新的算法CA引入到共识体制中,我把这个想法和 Bruce沟通之后他也觉得是一个很好的方向和时间点,当然这样做也有一定的风险,因为毕竟之前还没有人在区块链中实现过这样一种全新的共识理论,所以在 第一版介绍NKN的演讲文稿里面我提到,NKN除了是一个大规模的P2P网络和区块链之外, 它也是一种新的方法论和科学研究的试验田。不过现在回头看,我们做到了,而且是在正确的轨道上。

At the implementation level, the Cellular Automata (CA) methodology I had been focusing on also jumped out. So I thought it was a very interesting thing, as I could work on the P2P network I liked, combine it with blockchain, and also introduce a new algorithm, CA, into the consensus system. I discussed this idea with Bruce, and he also thought it was a good direction and timing. Of course, there was also a certain risk in doing this, since, after all, no one had ever implemented such a new blockchain consensus theory. For the same reason, in the first few NKN overview presentations, I mentioned that NKN, in addition to being a large-scale P2P network and blockchain, was also the test field of a new methodology and research. However, as I look back now, we made it, and it was on the right track.

这时候另外一个事情就是如何平衡在Onchain的工作了,当时Onchain 作为区块链公司已经发展的挺不错了, 也有大量的人员加入进来。我除了开发工作还有大量的日常管理工作,这样我就没有更多的时间去把NKN的想法实现,所以考虑再三, 我决定辞去Onchain 所有的工作,全身心的去做NKN,这样才有可能去将这样一件比较难的事情做好。

Another thing was how to balance the work in Onchain, as Onchain at that moment had developed quite well as a blockchain company, and a large number of people had joined our team. I also had a lot of daily management work apart from the development work, which caused me not to have more time to realize the NKN idea. So after much consideration, I decided to quit all the work in Onchain and dedicate my entire time to NKN. As only doing so could I have the chance to successfully accomplish such a hard task.
所以我目前可以说是120%的精力都在NKN上面,可能大家看到我在NKN的提交代码上面没有 以前活跃, 这时因为一方面是作为一个独立运营的公司,我平时还有很多除了coding之外很重要的事情需要及时处理。 不过我们核心的算法讨论和日常开发我依然是积极的参与的。 另外一方面我们在开发方面也找到了非常优秀的联合创始人Yilun Zhang博士,他本身有深厚的CA理论背景和研发能力,这也让我们在研发领域省了很多心。

So now you can say that I’ve put 120% of my energy into NKN. You may have noticed that I’m not as active in NKN’s code submission as before. That’s because, for one, as an independent company, there are many important things that I need to handle timely besides coding. But I’m still actively engaged in the discussion and daily development of our core algorithms. For another, in the development area, we’ve also found an excellent co-founder, Yilun, who not only has a great CA theoretical background but also full stack software development capabilities, which is of great help to us in the research and development area.

Yanbo and Yilun meet for the first time in San Fransisco (2018)

5. How are OnChain and NEO related, and were you involved in NEO?

我的理解Onchain是一个商业化的区块链公司, NEO只是一个开源的区块链项目,这是两者之间的区别,联系呢就是Onchain公司的一些人和NEO项目的人是有交集的。 就像我在上个问题里面提到的,在2016年的早期我有给NEO(当时还叫小蚁)开发过国密算法的模块, 不过后来他们有没有实际用到就不太清楚了, 在Onchain 我的主要任务是开发DNA,虽然DNA的原理和NEO基本上是一脉相承,不过这是两个不同的项目。

Onchain is a commercial blockchain company, while NEO is an open-source public blockchain project. This is the difference between the two. As to the connection, some people in Onchain have also participated in NEO. Like I’ve mentioned in the previous question, in early 2016, I developed the SMx algorithm module for NEO (known as Antshare at that time), but I’m not sure if they actually used it. In Onchain, my main task is the development of DNA. Although the principle of DNA is basically the same as NEO’s, they are two different projects.

6. What is a New Kind of Science and when did you read the book? How did it impact you?

这本书对我有非常大的影响。它是一部大块头的巨著, 全书有一千多页, 所以我差不多是在15,16年两年的是时间里面读完它的,不过读这本书的时候可以说并不是它选择了我,而是我选择了它,因为从小就对如何从简单的东西衍生 出复杂的事物甚至智能的生命很感兴趣,所以一直对这方面的东西保持着关注,2010年左右的时候有一部非常有意思的BBC 纪录片 “The Secret Life of Chaos” 就有描述类似的一些简单和复杂系统之间的一些关系, 所以在2012,2013年的时候我也有花时间研究 Benoit Mandelbrot 的Fractal,同时我又是个实用主义者,就会看这门学科在现实中的应用,fractal更多应用还是在几何或者图形相关的领域稍微多一些,然后据此沿 伸学习, 就学习了Cellular Automate理论, 当然一进入这个领域,肯定需要去深入了解和学习Wolfram的NKS呢。所以是这样一个学习和研究的路径和轨迹。


This book has a great impact on me. It’s a heavy book with over a thousand pages, so it roughly took me two years, from 2015 to 2016, to finish it. However, when reading this book, you can say it was I who have chosen the book, not the other way around. As I’ve been particularly interested in how to derive complex things, and even intelligent life, from simple things since an early age, I’ve been keeping an eye on things in this aspect. There was a very interesting BBC documentary, “The Secret Life of Chaos,” around 2010 which described the relationships between simple and complex systems. So in 2012 and 2013, I also spent time studying Benoit Mandelbrot’s Fractal. I’m a pragmatist, so I tend to look into the subject’s application in reality, while most of the applications in Fractal are in geometry or graphics-related areas. Starting from it, I learned the Cellular Automata theory, and as I entered this area, naturally I should look into and learn about Wolfram’s NKS. So this was my learning and research path.

这里面很重要贯穿的一点是, 这些理论都在探究现实世界的复杂是如何由一些看似简单的个体或者初始状态下在简单的规则下衍生成为我们最后看到的已经复杂的用传统科学无法解释或者很难解 释的程度。 这不是一本简单的科学书籍,更是一种新的方法论,以另外一种视角和方法解释我们现有的世界,包括运行其中的各种事物甚至生物。 这和我们传统所学的数学甚至物理解构这个世界然后去理解的方法论还不一样, 我并不是想说谁对谁错, 而是想说它提供了一种新的思路和方法去理解复杂的事物, 这为我打开了探索事物和研究系统一种新的思路和想法。

One important thread across all these is, these theories are all exploring the complexity of the real world, how seemingly simple individuals or initial states, under simple rules, develop into a degree so complex that it cannot, or can hardly be explained by traditional science. This is not a simple scientific book, but a new methodology. It explains our existing world, including the various things and creatures in it, from a different perspective and approach. It’s different from math, and even the methodology of decomposing and understanding this world. I’m not saying which of it is right or wrong, but it has provided a new way of thinking and method to understand complex things, and this opened up a new way of thinking and ideas for me in the exploration of things and systems research.

7. In the simplest of terms please describe Cellular Automata?

和 Stephen 上次的介绍https://medium.com/nknetwork/stephen-wolfram-creator-of-nks-tries- to-understand-nkn-b4018d747a3 里面都有介绍, 我就不再赘述, 我想强调的其实还是CA本质上是试图用一种我们人类可理解的行为规则去描述复杂现实中各种事物(甚至包括现在很热的AI)的生成过程和发展方向。 这种方法不同于传统将复杂的东西解构分析或者自顶向下设计的方式, 这为我们研究现有的或者构造一些新东西提供了一个新颖且有趣的一个视角和方法。

Actually, there’s already a lot of information about the basic definition of CA on the Internet, including https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellular_automaton and Stephen’s introduction last time around, https://medium.com/nknetwork/stephen-wolfram-creator-of-nks-tries-to-understand-nkn-b4018d747a3 , so I’ll not go into details here. What I want to emphasize is, CA, essentially, is an approach which attempts to describe the generation and evolution of various things in the complex reality using a behavioral rule that we humans can understand. This approach is different from the traditional way of decomposing and analyzing complex things or designing from top to bottom, and has provided a novel and interesting perspective and approach for us to study the existing things or construct new ones.

8. Can you describe the moment when you considered applying cellular automata to blockchain scaling? Why didn’t these ideas appear in NEO?

在2017年中开发完DNA的时候, 其实我就在想如何把区块链和我之前熟悉的大规模点对点网络结合起来,我在前面提到过我和Bruce当年在做P2P网络的时候,其实一个很大现实问题是如何 鼓励大家做中继节点扩大整个网络规模。 一般人们加入P2P网络都愿意做资源的下载者而不是数据的传送者, 因为这会额外的消耗他们的带宽资源, 在我们从头实现过一套区块链系统DNA之后, 我对区块链的经济激励模型更加的清晰,当时我在想完全可以把区块链的挖矿经济激励和网络传输服务结合起来,这样P2P网络里面的中继者就会有直接的经济动 力去为其他人传输数据了, 也能让整个P2P 网络的容量规模达到一个新的高度。因为对于一个网络, 只有参与的节点足够多, 才能充分发挥其网络优势,方便参与方建立链接和传输数据。

Actually, I already began to think about how to combine blockchain with the large-scale peer-to-peer network I was familiar with back in mid-2017, after the completion of DNA. I’ve mentioned earlier that when Bruce and I were working on the P2P network, a major real problem is how to encourage everyone to become relay nodes to expand the scale of the entire network. Generally, people who joined the P2P network wanted to be resource downloaders rather than data transmitters, as it would additionally consume their bandwidth resources. After completing the blockchain system DNA from scratch, I was clearer about the economic incentive model of blockchain. At that time, I thought I could definitely combine blockchain’s mining economic incentive and network transmission services. So the relayers would have direct economic incentives to transmit data for others, and the capacity of the entire P2P network could reach a new level. As for network effect, its network advantages can only be fully utilized when there are enough participating nodes for the connectivity and transmission of participants.

同时我们也看到当时区块链行业里面很多的项目为了片面的提高区块链的交易速度而牺牲了其去中心化属性,具体的讲是把参与共识的权利集中到了个别或者 极少数节点中,对于这样的做法我们并不赞同, 因为我始终相信去中心化才是区块链的灵魂所在, 而更多的节点参与共识互相制约和平衡对于去中心化会非常有帮助, 所以从构造一个更好的网络传输和去中心化区块链系统两个方面,我都希望能够打造一个新的能够实现这两个目标的网络系统,或者说区块链系统。

Also, we noticed that many projects in the blockchain industry have sacrificed their decentralization attribute to improve blockchain’s transaction speed (TPS). To be specific, they concentrated the right to participate in the consensus in individual or very few nodes. We did not agree with this approach. As I always believed the soul of blockchain is decentralization, and letting more nodes to participate in the consensus to balance each other was very helpful to decentralization. Therefore, in creating better network transmission as well as a decentralized blockchain system, I hoped to create a new network system or a blockchain system, that could achieve these two objectives.

但是这样马上就面临一个难题,我们既希望于参与的节点越多越好,也希望节点能参与到共识流程里互相制衡以使得最终的共识结果足够正确和公平, 那效率怎么办? 越多的节点参与到共识流程里面势必涉及到更多的信息协调,确认和通信的开销。 而且当这个系统如果有数以百万甚至千万节点的时候,这个系统的复杂度会是一个什么样子,如果按照传统的设计方法,对于一个这样将会涉及到千万节点的通信共 识系统,我必须要自顶向下的设计一套非常复杂的交互协议才能让他们之间充分交换信息达成共识,这样一个复杂系统已经很难用传统的方式来构造,而且即使构造 出来,这样一个复杂的系统也将会像一个定时炸弹一样,每一处的错误都有可能导致整个系统的崩溃。

However, we were immediately faced with a difficult problem. We hoped there could be as many nodes as possible, and also these nodes can participate in the consensus process and balance each other so the final result could be sufficiently correct and fair, but what about efficiency? As more nodes participated in the consensus process, it was bound to incur more expenses for the coordination, confirmation, and communication of information. Also, when this system had millions, or even billions of nodes, how complex would this system be? If it were to follow the traditional design methods, for such a communication consensus system that would involve billions of nodes, I must design a very complex hierarchical protocol from top to bottom to allow them to fully exchange information and reach a consensus. And such a complex system could hardly be built in a traditional way. Even if it could be built, a system so complex would be like a time bomb, and each error might lead to the catastrophic collapse of the entire system.

所以最好的办法是有一套相对简单的规则, 每个节点都能够独立的运行,但是他们运行的结果交叠能得到我们最终想要的一个看似只能通过复杂过程才能得到的一个结果, 这和我当时研究的CA理论不谋而合,更准确的说其实是因为我一直在学习和研究CA以及相关的方法论, 所以当我遇到问题的时候也会从CA的角度或者理论去看有没有好的解决途径。 当然想到这个点之后一切都豁然开朗,这个系统的构建和雏形已经在脑内里可以运行了,作为致敬, 也是出于对NKS这一范式的喜爱,我给这个系统取名叫NKN。

Therefore, the best way was to design a relatively simple set of rules, so each node could run independently, while the combined outcome could produce a result we wanted, which could seemingly only be obtained through a complex process. This coincided with the CA theory I studied at that time. Or more precisely speaking, it was because I’d been learning and researching CA and the related methodologies that when I met problems, I’d also think from the perspective or theory of CA to see if there were better solutions. After pondering on this, everything became clear to me, and I could already run the implementation and prototype of this system in my mind. As a tribute, and also out of love for this(NKS) paradigm, I named this system NKN.

对于NEO而言, 首先当我想到用CA来做区块链共识的时候已经是2017年的下半年了, 这时候NEO主网已经上线很长时间并且有自己的共识机制dBFT,它已经沉淀了大量的已有区块链数据,另外NEO的应用场景和NKN并不一样,NKN是要 用在网络传输中所以需要大量的节点参与并且共识,而NEO并没有这方面的需求。

For NEO, it was already the second half of 2017 when I thought of using CA to achieve the blockchain consensus. At that time, NEO’s main network had been online for a long time and already had its own consensus mechanism, dBFT, which had already accumulated a large amount of existing blockchain data.
Also, the use cases of NEO wasn’t the same as that of NKN. NKN will be used in network transmission, so it required a large number of nodes to participate and reach a consensus, while NEO didn’t have such needs.

9. What other books have influenced you most?

有不少,简单列几本我印象比较深刻的有Bertrand Russell的The conquest of happiness, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,王小波的时代三部曲, Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension, 当然还有NKS

There are quite a few. Here I’ll list some books that have a greater influence on me: Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Wang in Love and Bondage by Wangxiaobo, Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension, and of course the NKS

10. Whitfield Diffie and Steven Wolfram are two of the greatest minds in the world today. How did they become involved as advisors to NKN?

Whitfield 博士是在NKN项目创建之初在旧金山湾区我们互相了解到的, 当然他之前已经很有名了,已经是密码学教科书里的人物, 他在18年初的时候开始更多的关注区块链领域,刚好我们有一个共同的朋友把NKN项目介绍给了他, 他也对项目的理念和里面一些创新的算法很感兴趣, 所以我们安排了好几次面对面和远程线上的沟通,大家都觉得有很多可以共同研究(包括Crypto Labs)的东西,当然他也从专业的角度提了很多尖锐的技术难题, 这些也都在我们后续的实现中逐步得到了解决, 他也顺理成章的成为了我们第一位技术顾问。

Whitfield Diffie, co-inventor public key cryptography and NKN adviser

Dr. Whitfield and the NKN US team met in the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after the initiation of the NKN project. Of course, he was already famous before that as an authority in cryptography textbooks. He began to pay more attention to blockchain in early 2018, and a mutual friend of ours happened to introduce the NKN project to him. He was quite interested in the concept of the project and some of its innovative algorithms. We arranged several face-to-face meetings as well as video conferences, and we both thought the project was quite interesting and had a lot of areas we could research together (including Crypto Labs). Of course, he also raised many technical problems from a professional point of view, which were solved one-by-one in our subsequent implementation. And naturally he became our first technical Advisor.

Wolfram 博士我个人一直都很敬仰他,以前曾自发翻译过Wolfram的两篇关于NKS十周年和十五周年的文章, 我不知道Wolfram从哪里听到NKN或者是看到NKN,他可能觉得CA的概念和NKN名字潜在一定和NKS有某种关系,他是一个非常睿智而且好学的 人,所以想弄清楚这个究竟是一个怎样的系统,他就在Linkedin上ping了我们的CTO Yilun ,不过不凑巧的是,因为消息太多, Yilun 当时漏掉了那个消息,后来他们公司的其他人又给我们发了邮件,我们才注意到这个重要的消息,所以立刻和他联系做了更近一步深入的沟通和交流,深入的交流让 他全方位的了解NKN以及MOCA CA共识从NKS理论中获得的灵感, 我们也在交流中也学到了很多的东西并邀请他成为了我们的顾问。 我们期待后续在商业或和研究上能和他或者他的公司有更多的合作交流。

Stephen Wolfram

As for Dr. Stephen Wolfram, I always admire him. And I’ve voluntarily translated both of his articles commemorating the 10th and 15th anniversary of NKS into Chinese language. I don’t know where Wolfram heard or saw NKN, but he probably thought that the concept of CA and this NKN name had something to do with NKS. He’s a very wise and intellectually curious person, so he wanted to figure out what kind of system NKN was. As a result, he pinged our CTO Yilun on Linkedin, but unfortunately, because there were so many messages that Yilun missed his message. Later, someone else in his company sent us an email, and only then did we notice this important message. We immediately contacted him and made an in-depth discussion, which helped him better understand the inspirations NKN and how NKN’s MOCA algorithm gained from the NKS theory. We also learned a lot during the process and invited him to become our advisor. We look forward to having more cooperation and exchange with him and Wolfram Research for business or research in the future.

11. Talk about your baby, a New Kind of Network. Tell us how it started, and what makes it special. Talk about its future. What do you see?

Presenting in San Fransisco, 2018

NKN立足于做更好的网络传输系统和更好的区块链系统, 这一点我们从未改变, 而且现在我们看到人们出于对安全,隐私和效率的要求而掀起的一个对未来新一代互联网架构去中心化的浪潮,刚好NKN也能在这样一个趋势下找到一个合适的位 置,能够为新一代网络提供更好的网络支撑。具体的讲,我们希望NKN能够:


同时作为一个区块链,也有其经济和社区属性,我们希望大家在NKN这样一个更大范围参与, 相对更加公平的区块链平台发起社区自治和经济体的发行,为资产提供更好的流动性和支付手段。 来支撑和构建新的上层经济活动。

NKN was created to build a better network transmission system and a better blockchain system: this has never been changed. Also, as we can see now, a new wave of the decentralization of the next-generation Internet architecture has risen by people’s security, privacy, and efficiency needs. And NKN can find a suitable position in such a trend, to provide better network support for the next-generation Internet. To be specific, we hope that NKN can:

1. Allow people to better connect and transmit information, combine with the existing Internet to provide content distribution and delivery function

2. Infrastructures that can be extended all the way to the bottom layer of Internet stack to provide connectivity for the future network

3. Host various network services. In the future, when people build network services, they don’t need to publish them to the cloud, and can simply publish them to NKN.

Also, as a blockchain, it also has economic and community attributes. I anticipate a more extensive participation from everyone in such a fair blockchain platform as NKN to contribute to the initiation of autonomy for the communities and economic entities, provide better asset liquidity and payment methods, as well as support and build new upper echelon economic activities.

12. Please tell us a bit about the NKN team and community, and upcoming events.

我们的风格是一个少而精的团队,作为开发者,更看重实际做的产品和产出,就像开源里面我们尊崇 “Talk is cheap,show me your code” 去扎实的把概念实现出来,而不只是空想, 这个世界空想的人太多,我们缺少的是一些实干的人。 不过有利也有弊,好的一面的是真正接触研究过NKN的人知道我们在做什么和做的进展, 不好的一面就是可能还有很多人不知道我们在做什么, 甚至在我们的核心共识算法在实现并且运行了很长一段时间之后还有人说他们首次提出了类似算法。这很有意思,不过另外一方面也未尝不是一件好事,说明在核心 系统算法设计上,更多的人和我们想到了同一个方向上了。

We’re a small and elite team. As developers, we value the actual delivery and what one has achieved a lot more than airing one’s daydream. This is similar to the “talk is cheap, show me your code” saying in the open source world. This world has too many daydreamers, and what we lack are those who can actually do things.

However, it has both advantages and disadvantages. The good thing is that people who have really met and learned about us know what and how we’re doing, while the downside is there might still be a lot of people who don’t know what we’re doing. And some people, even after our core algorithm has been implemented and running for a long time, still say they’ve proposed similar algorithms for the first time, which is quite amusing. But that, on the other hand, is actually a good thing, as it indicates that more people are thinking in the same direction as we do in the design of core system algorithms.

我们一直在往前推进不断产出卓有成效的产品,有时候我们做总结或者写周报回顾的时候才发现。 哦, 我们已经实现了这么多东西了,这也是我们非常有成就感的时刻,当然在这个过程中我们也非常感谢社区长期以来的陪伴和支持, 我们经常被社区的支持所感动,比如上次投票中,对于一些不公平的事情,社区很多成员表现的比我们还要积极去支持NKN,同时我们在社区的讨论中也获益匪 浅,有技术的,有经济模型的,并且参与构建了现在NKN这样一个最大的共识网络。 还有像您这样积极传播NKN的支持者,都让我们非常感动,也督促我们更有责任将NKN做的更好。无论是从技术还是经济层面。

We’ve been moving forward quickly and constantly delivering great products, and only when we do summaries or write bi-weekly reports can we sometimes be aware of how much we have achieved, “Oh, we’ve accomplished so many things,” which is also a very fulfilling moment for us.

Of course, during this process, we’re also very grateful to the community for their company and support along the way. We’re often moved by the support of the community. For example, when some unfairness occurred in the last voting, many members of the community seemed to be even more active than we were in expressing their support for NKN.

To be honest, we’ve not only learned a lot from the community discussions, be it about the technology or economic models, but also witnessed how the community has shown their support by participating in the buildout of NKN, the largest consensus network at present. It really is a very touching and moving experience to testify the number of supporters who are willing to actively publicize NKN as much as you are, and this sentiment and feeling have become our additional motivation that drive us into constantly improving the quality of NKN, both technically and economically.

13. Thanks Yanbo and finally, could you share with our readers some wisdom or philosophy, something perhaps which may have guided you? (p.s. what do you have for breakfast?)

“在 锻炼身体保持健康的同时多思考磨练自己的心智” 这二者同样重要,同时在现在纷乱又充满活力的区块链或者电子货币领域,做决定前多停下来思考一些。 顺便说一下, 早餐我都吃一个苹果, 因为俗语说的好 One apple a day keeps the doctor away


Normally I don’t like to give advice to other people how they should live their lives, because I respect everyone’s freedom in their own choice and belief. If I have to say a few words about my personal ideals and guidelines, here is one:

“Reading to the mind while exercise to the body. In the cryptocurrency world, pause and think”

Oh, by the way, I eat an apple for breakfast every day [I asked him about his breakfast routine, for a friend]. According to the old saying, “One apple a day keeps the doctor away”.



I wanted this interview with Yanbo because over the last few months he has so impressed me with his measure, calm and modesty. Yanbo’s beatific smile belies his brilliance, and he seems to me to carry the self-assurance of a person who has life pretty much sussed out. Since his modesty does not easily permit him to broadcast his remarkable contributions to the crypto space, it has been my absolute honor to help facilitate it. Thank you Yanbo.


Thanks to Yanbo Li for a new kind of crypto interview.
Thanks Bruce for your help with translation.
Thanks to Alex and The Daily Chain for all your hard work.

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The Immutable Network (DARA), founder. Immutable builds free blockchain products and platforms to fight censorship and stop data loss. Also a journalist/writer.