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Interview With Sherman Lee, Co-Founder of Raven Protocol

POSTED ON 14-08-2019
3 months ago
7 minutes, 57 seconds READ

Interview With Sherman Lee, Co-Founder of Raven Protocol

Raven Protocol is a decentralized and distributed deep-learning training protocol. Providing cost-efficient and faster training of deep neural networks.

Hey Sherman. Thanks for joining me today. Can you tell me more about yourself and your time in the crypto industry? How did you get started? You’re also writer yourself, right?

Hey Michael, thank you for having me! I consider myself a n00b compared to some of these titans in the industry. I learned about Bitcoin years ago, had some, let it sit there, got into ICO craze in 2017, and then finally got into building with blockchain technology itself as I saw an intersection between AI + Blockchain. I find it a little funny that as an engineer I was very skeptical of Bitcoin when I first heard about it. It was a very interesting use case and I thought people who loved it were a little crazy about it. Those should have been good indicators to go all in 🙂

Yes, I’m also a writer. You may seen some of my work on Forbes, Huffington Post, or Hackernoon. It’s a great way to explore the latest developments in the crypto industry. That’s why I have much respect for writers like yourself and excited to see this publication blow up.

How did the concept of Raven originate?

My co-founder Rahul and I were running our respective AI startups and user growth was coming fast. Costs exploded and on AI training alone, we were being invoiced $5–10K/month each from AWS. And the training times were slow. Two weeks to train a 1M image dataset was not acceptable.

From there we did some research, had a hypothesis for a new distribution framework, built a proof of concept, raised a seed round in September 2018, stayed heads down building, launched the world’s first IDO (Initial DEX Offering) on Binance Decentralized Exchange in June 2019, and here we are 🙂

What does a normal work day look like working at Raven? Where are the team members based out of?

The day is really crazy because we’re a fully decentralized team out of Hong Kong, India, and Europe. We’re always coding or talking to users. Our focus is building a real business with revenue. But to get there we need to stay heads down to build and remove as many distractions as possible. A ping on TG from someone asking when exchange definitely has interrupted my flow state several times 🙂

The core team is all devs and while sometimes the madness of TG can be distracting… it’s really enjoyable to be engaged with the community and see their talent shine. For example, here are some creative things the Raven community developed to show their love:

Our roadmap is long. We’re building a framework from the ground up. So having the community of true believers be on the journey with us and fighting side by side with us is really fun. 

Normal work day TLDR; 

Coding, talking to users, TG. 


Rahul and Sherman coding away late into the night in Bangalore.

What would you describe as the main objectives of the Raven?

Raven is creating a network of compute nodes that utilize idle compute power for the purposes of AI training where speed is the key. A native token is the key to bootstrapping a nascent network.

We want to incentivize and reward people all over the world to contribute their compute power to our network. Additionally, we will reward token holders for running masternodes which will be responsible for orchestrating the training of various deep neural networks.

Our consensus mechanism is something we call Proof-of-Calculation. Proof-of-Calculation will be the primary guideline for the regulation and distribution of incentives to the compute nodes in the network. Following are the two prime deciders for the incentive distribution:

Speed: Depending upon how fast a node can perform gradient calculations (in a neural network) and return it back to the Gradient Collector.

Redundancy: The 3 fastest redundant calculation will only qualify for receiving the incentive. This will make sure that the gradients that are getting returned are genuine and of the highest quality.

What is possible with the Raven Protocol vision?

People will be able to train models better and faster. This unlocks a whole new level of value creation and things unimaginable will be developed. The bottleneck today is the sheer amount of time it takes to train models with ever increasing datasets.

How was the reaction to being one of the first projects on Binance DEX?

In this space, there are huge advantages to being first and growing with an ecosystem that is early. We saw that with the growth of BNB in 2 years. Binance DEX will catapult that to new levels. There is no doubt that decentralized exchange is the future. We just don’t know if that future is gonna be in 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years. 

This is also one of the reasons our true believers are supporting us. This is a long-term project that launched on Binance DEX early. If you saw what accomplished in 2 years, what do you think DEX has in store? We’re a few months in since they launched and are on an amazing trajectory.

What was the process of being the first?

Mithril was actually the FIRST project to be listed on Binance DEX. They too were big believers in Binance Chain early on. After the IDO and success of the first batch of projects, we saw projects do a mass migration to Binance Chain.

What is Proof of Steak: The Raven Staking Program?

It is an experimental program where people can freeze Raven on Binance Chain to stand in solidarity. Proof of Steak came from these lovely steak dinners we had in Hong Kong with the other people in the community.

In the future, you can stake RAVEN tokens to run a masternode.

How did your friendship with CZ begin?

The first time i met CZ was for a Forbes Article in 2018. I think this was when they were kicking off their initiatives in Africa. He said something that was pleasantly surprising. Binance had a $1B fund for investing in blockchain projects. They were okay if they lost money on that because there was potential to create disruptive technology. As an engineer myself, I knew from that point on I would be a fan of Binance and the mission. That’s how we migrated to Binance Chain and launched on the DEX. It’s still early days, but let’s see where we are 2 years from now.

What do you think is the biggest problem Raven can solve that that its competitors is not solving now, and why is the problem important to solve?

Our core focus and value proposition is on the speed of AI training. 

Conventional distribution methods have an inherent latency in their network. Large chunks of data need to be passed between machines. Our unique approach to distribution solves latency by chunking the data into really small pieces (bytes), maintaining its identity, and then distributing it across the host of devices with a call to action: gradient calculations.

We’re developing our own framework written in Python and c++.  Because we have no dependency on the architecture of the machine, nodes in the network can be as simple as a Javascript client. E.g. a website could install a javascript snippet and execute gradient calculations on page load.

Data Parallelism in Conventional Distribution Method

What’s the added value of the Raven Protocol in comparison with its competitors?

Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Golem, etc., offer general cloud compute. We focus specifically on the speed of AI training. Thus, building our own distribution framework allows us to bring down the AI training time down. The community will play a critical role in pulling the power out of the hands of mega-corps and putting it into the hands of the community. 

What are the Raven Knights?

A group of true believers who help to continue to grow the Raven Protocol platform, ecosystem, and token utility. Raven Knights are early investors and supporters who volunteer their own time and resources to help Raven grow globally.

What do you need to do as a Raven Knight?

Your role is to be on guard 24/7 to look after and help Raven grow. Such as helping us maintain and moderate communities both online and offline. Be active in making sure the community receives the right information and questions are answered. 

What are the benefits of becoming a Raven Knight?

Get special access to members of the Raven Protocol team. Help to grow your personal brand in the AI + Blockchain space. Invitations to exclusive meetups like our Hotpots and Proof of Steak Dinners. Feedback, recommendations, and suggestions will be considered. Probably some exclusive gifts too! 

What was your team’s reaction to the Raven Knights movement?

The Raven team was humbled and inspired by the dedication of the Raven Knights movement. In the crypto industry, there are so many people that are focused on the short term. We know that we have a long roadmap and only the true believers will stay on the journey with us. 

We thank you for your time Sherman! 

You can follow Sherman on twitter, here!

For more information on Raven Protocol, visit their website, and twitter.