Meet the Team: Arto Bendiken, Aurora Lab’s Co-Founder & CTO

Meet the team is a series that highlights the work and expertise of Aurora Labs' team members.

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Cypherpunk, autodidact, serial entrepreneur, and CTO of Aurora, Arto Bendiken has been involved in the digital currency space since the early days of e-gold, long prior to Bitcoin. With over 25 years of experience in programming and software engineering, Arto is one of the few top-tier professionals that has extensive experience in the crypto industry both from the technology and business side.

Learning How to Code in the ‘90s

Arto’s interest in programming developed in the early 1990s when at the age of eleven he began hacking with QBASIC and Visual Basic. Learning how to code in Finland at the time was not easy. Most homes did not have an Internet connection and the available learning resources were scarce and difficult to access outside universities. To learn new skills, Arto had to develop his problem-solving skills and perseverance. In just a few years he managed to teach himself C, x86 assembly coding, graphics & game programming, as well as kernel hacking.

By the age of thirteen, he was living in his own apartment. As programming skills were in high demand, he found himself flooded with job opportunities of different kinds, from making web pages to creating basic visual applications for local businesses. As time passed and the web continued to develop, Arto continued working on more sophisticated projects and expanding his skills.

At fifteen he landed his first full-time programming job, and at eighteen he formed his own consultancy company. While deepening his programming skills, Arto also continued to be an avid reader and cultivate his interest for science fiction. In particular the novels of Robert A. Heinlein, Neal Stephenson, and Ayn Rand proved a combination that would eventually lead him to learn about libertarianism and cypherpunk activism.

e-gold and the Early Days of Bitcoin

“We would never have needed Bitcoin if there wasn’t so much state interference in digital currencies…. with all the inefficiencies and complexities Bitcoin wouldn’t need to exist. Bitcoin came about because there was this active adversary — the US government. They had the biggest interest in seeing these projects fail — and that is why Bitcoin exists.”

In the late 1990s Arto got interested in different projects aimed at maximizing financial freedom and sovereignty which laid the foundation for crypto as we know it today. One such project was e-gold, one of the first digital currencies to gain popularity among crypto-anarchists. In many respects, e-gold had the potential to bring about free communication, and importantly, minimize government interference with the economic life of individuals, objectives that deeply resonate with libertarians.

e-gold and similar early centralized digital currency projects were short lived since their naive designs were not sufficiently resistant to opprobrium by powerful governments. These developments, however, motivated crypto-anarchists to develop increasingly open and decentralized solutions. In the decade prior to Bitcoin, Arto spent a lot of time experimenting with and implementing digital currency projects. In 2009-2010 he learned about Bitcoin from the Cypherpunks mailing list and mined his first Bitcoin on his home server.

Soon after, Arto moved to Berlin, at the time the epicenter of the Bitcoin universe. There he began socializing with other crypto-anarchists in the famous Room 77 Bar, the very first brick and mortar place to accept Bitcoin payments. It was hanging out atRoom 77 that Arto lived through the Bitcoin craze of 2012-2013, as well as the early days of Ethereum soon after he met a very young Vitalik Buterin who had just co-founded Bitcoin Magazine.

Busy working on a startup he had founded, Arto declined several offers to work at the nascent Ethereum Foundation, but did refer several friends who joined the Foundation.

The Rise of DeFi and NEAR Protocol

“Bitcoin was the first generation. Ethereum, the second. Now we have the emergence of sundry third-generation blockchains which may finally take crypto to someplace serious.”

After taking a break from crypto, Arto was brought back to the industry in 2020 by DeFi, something that, he says, “has the potential to attract a large segment of the population”. However, as he came to see DeFi as a valuable advancement, he also understood that DeFi happened a couple of years too early, meaning it happened on Ethereum, with its scalability limits, instead of on a more scalable third-generation chain. It was at this time that Arto decided to come back to crypto and try out some different projects. One in particular caught his attention for its “clean design and potential for scalability”. That project was the NEAR Protocol.

After learning about NEAR, Arto began to test prototypes on it and to contribute to NEAR’s open-source Borsh library. Soon enough, the NEAR Foundation offered him a contract on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) team, first in a consultant capacity and eventually as the EVM team lead.

The Inception of Aurora

When Arto first joined NEAR in 2020, the EVM team there had begun embedding an EVM implementation into the NEAR Protocol. However, after Arto took over the team, they realized that in order to preserve NEAR’s clean and elegant design, the EVM should be built layered on top of it instead of hardcoded into it. Following this decision, the EVM and Bridge teams spun off to become what is now known as Aurora Labs. By early 2021 a new EVM execution layer built from scratch was up and running:

“We built an EVM that is 100% compatible with Ethereum from scratch–that hasn’t been done so many times. Almost everybody in the space took the original Ethereum codebase, forked that, and worked on that basis. We are among the few who developed a full EVM implementation and made it work, made it fast, and also uncompromisingly compatible with Ethereum.”

Besides having built a new EVM from scratch, Arto recounts other notable achievements that the Aurora Labs team accomplished in little over a year, from the decision to use Ether (ETH) as the unit of account to creating what may be industry’s first hyperscale RPC infrastructure:

“Over a period of a year, we built a global, distributed, real-time infrastructure that is likely the best in the industry, there is nothing else comparable to it. We call it Borealis, and it’s one of our best kept secrets so far. Our infrastructure scales linearly and predictably to handle soon trillions of RPC requests monthly. At the same time, we reduced the cost of the infrastructure by over 20 times compared to the norm, compared to the others in the space. It’s a game changer.”

As the project will soon be celebrating its second anniversary, the team continues to innovate and bring blockchain technology to a new level.

Building a Tech-First Company

Arto is one of the co-founders of Aurora and as such he has played a key role in the early development of Aurora. As the CTO, he continues to manage the technological advancement of the protocol making sure Aurora keeps delivering highly scalable and reliable software for developers and businesses to build on.

What he is particularly proud of when it comes to Aurora’s development is that the engineering department has never compromised its integrity for short-lived hype. Every decision that engineering made was aimed at improving the state of the art:

“If we had embedded a hardcoded EVM into NEAR instead of cleanly layered it on top of NEAR, if we had built a trusted bridge instead of a trustless bridge, and if we had used our own token instead of ETH as the unit of account–these would all have been easy decisions. Almost everyone else made such decisions. But in every instance we made the right decision instead of the easy one. And so we lived up to NEAR’s tradition for technical excellence.”

Taking the more difficult route sometimes means sacrificing some short-term gains for the benefit of building solid foundations for the future. In many instances it also means solving challenges that had never been encountered before, giving the team an opportunity to be at the front and center of innovation:

“We are retrofitting legacy tech on top of next-generation technology and people might perhaps consider that a boring challenge; but it’s actually quite important because without someone doing it, it is not likely going to be a scalable future for Ethereum, and the challenges are big enough to keep it interesting.”

About Aurora

Powered by its high-performance EVM, and fully trustless Rainbow Bridge, Aurora combines an Ethereum compatible experience with the modern blockchain performance of NEAR Protocol. Aurora provides an optimal environment for the creation of scalable, carbon-neutral, future-safe, and low-cost Web3 services, as well as the perfect tools to bring to life your Web3 initiatives. Try Aurora Cloud, our all-in-one blockchain solution for enterprises, and get your Web3 journey started!

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