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Illia Polosukhin

Illia Polosukhin is an artificial intelligence researcher and software engineer, best known as the founder of , a layer-1 protocol that allows the creation and execution of and . He is also the CEO of the NEAR Foundation. [1][14]

Early Life & Education

Polosukhin holds a Master’s degree in Applied Math and Computer Science from the National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute”, an institution where he also had his undergraduate studies. [1]

He is a fan of Russian science fiction literature and particularly enjoys reading the works of Heinlein and Asimov. [4]

Career

He started his career as a Software Engineer at Salford Systems, where he was in charge of the development of new tools for big data predictive analytics, text mining, geo mining, and the refinement of the existing Salford Predictive Miner toolkit. [1]

Afterward, at Google Research, Polosukhin managed a team of researchers focused on Deep Learning and Natural Language Understanding. He also worked on TensorFlow (specifically TF.Learn, also known as SKFlow). [1]

NEAR Protocol

In June 2017, Illia Polosukhin co-founded with . The original name was "Near.ai". The idea for NEAR began with Illia's participation in programming competitions during his high school and college years. [4][15]

"Is not starting something that makes me proud, but executing a vision of what that can be. That’s definitely what I’m proud of."

In the beginning, was not related to the but only to AI:

"It’s purely AI. And as we were doing our AI thing we tried a lot of stuff, but nothing worked particularly well. We didn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars of hardware to train models on, like some companies right now. But what we did have was a crowdsourcing system.

It was a system that allowed us to find students, specifically computer science students around the world. From China, Russia, Ukraine, Poland. Countries where students are from humble means, and they do work for us for cents, pretty much. So we would need to pay them. And it was actually hard to send them money. It’s really hard to do through a traditional financial system. And that’s where the blockchain came in." - Illia explained NEAR's journey to blockchain. [9]

The team delved into research on , , and technologies as they searched for a suitable platform to build their applications. However, they were unable to find one that met their needs, leading them to develop the NEAR Protocol to fulfill their desired requirements. [15]

On how NEAR Protocol grew within a short time, Illia emphasized doing things differently and fostering an environment for developers:

"We did a few things very differently. For one, we talked with about 300 blockchain projects. We literally just talked with them and asked, what are the problems you have? What are the challenges to your growth? So we had a very good understanding around the product side of blockchain.

And we actually built a developer environment first. We called it the Dev Node. And the first app on Near was built in December 2018, in an internal hackathon by our team. Part of our team started focusing on the developer experience right away. They didn't need to wait for everything to be done. There was already an environment you could build and iterate on. We ended up implementing five different consensuses and three different charting designs. We were trying different things, implementing them and seeing how they behave." [9]

NEAR Foundation

On November 7, 2023, Illia Polosukhin was appointed the CEO of the NEAR Foundation, a Switzerland-based non-profit organization that supports the mission of the NEAR Collective. His role is to oversee the growth of the NEAR Open Web Ecosystem and guide the constellation of teams building on NEAR to work together towards that common vision. [8][12]

“I’m honored and excited to officially join the NEAR Foundation and continue working together with the ecosystem to build towards our shared vision of an open web,” said Illia Polosukhin about his new role. “Effectively coordinating a decentralized ecosystem involves a lot of iteration and experimentation and I’m proud that NEAR has committed to refining this process since the very beginning. I believe this next step in our shared evolution will help us build our respective verticals faster and work together more efficiently.” - Illia said during his appointment[10]

On November 8, 2023, the NEAR Foundation launched NEAR Data Availability (NEAR DA). NEAR DA helps developers reduce costs and enhance the reliability of their rollups while keeping the security of . [13]

Blockchain Operating System (BOS)

On March 2, 2023, Illia introduced the Blockchain Operating System (BOS) for the NEAR Protocol during the Conference in 2023. The platform is intended to act as a common layer for browsing and discovering products including crypto exchanges, (NFT) galleries, and social networks, according to Polosukhin. [11]

"We’re moving away from just being a blockchain to being a blockchain operating system that allows you to kind of use any blockchain. Underneath Near you can use an Ethereum app or you can use a Canto app or whatever. So we’ll have the [Near] presentation layer, but on the back end the smart contracts can be on any chain. And then we are going to be linking everything through middleware to make the experience unified." - he explained[12]

NEAR Token

is the native token used in the NEAR Protocol. The token is used for paying transaction fees, and for storage, and it can be  by holders to participate in validating transactions and reaching network consensus. [13]

The helps secure the network, it provides a unit of account used for processing transactions and storing data, and it serves as a medium of exchange. [14]

Investments

Polosukhin has made several investments in companies including Clear Street, 3Box, Kurtosis, ClayStack, Syndicate, KYVE, SEDA, Datrics, , Sitehop, Luda, etc. [2]

UnChain Fund

Illia Polosukhin led fundraising efforts to assist Ukraine in its defense against Russia's aggression. He and other Ukrainian cryptocurrency professionals established the Unchain Fund, which has collected nearly $7 million in cryptocurrency contributions.[5][6]

After the fund receives the donations, they convert them to local through local that are still operating within Ukraine. After conversion, volunteers of the Unchain Fund who are based in Ukraine purchase essential items and distribute them among civilians who have become trapped in conflict areas or had to evacuate their homes. [7][9]

“For the sake of full transparency, we’re running fully community-led vetting initiative of the trusted orgs and cases we’ll all collectively fund. That means that you could actively participate in the process and decision-making.” - UnChain Fund

The Unchain Fund is supported by and accepts donations in fourteen blockchain networks, including , , , , , , , , , , , , , and , in various cryptocurrency forms. [10]
wikiThe fund also introduced a digital charity debit card, known as the Unchain Help Card, to directly distribute funds to the most impacted groups affected by the conflict. The card, which enables everyday payments and cash withdrawals, is issued in partnership with Ukrainian cryptocurrency card start-up Weld Money and Unex Bank. Eligible individuals receive an allowance of 25 euros per person per week. [11]

Transformer 8

Polosukhin co-wrote the now famous 2017 paper, “Attention Is All You Need” alongside seven Google colleagues, who have collectively become known as the “Transformer 8.” Seven of them appeared on stage together for the first time at Nvidia’s annual developer conference in March 2024, where CEO Jensen Huang said, “Everything that we’re enjoying today can be traced back to that moment.” [16]
wiki Seven of the “Transformer 8” joined Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang at GTC, San Jose

Polosukhin said Google started utilizing transformers in 2018 in Google Translate, which made for a “massive improvement.” But a broadly popular use of the technology didn’t come until OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022.

“OpenAI had very little to lose by opening this up,” Polosukhin told CNBC. “If, for example, any other company, especially public company, opened it up and the first question you ask there, it was like an inappropriate answer, that would be in the news.”

By the time the formative paper was published at the end of 2017, Polosukhin had exited Google to start , with fellow software engineer . All eight of the authors have now left Google. [16]

While at Google, Polosukhin was a proponent of open source.

“At the time, opening it up and making it available to everyone to build on top of it was the right decision,” he said.

With Near, Polosukhin is focused on what he calls user-owned AI, “that optimizes for the privacy and sovereignty of users.” [16]

See something wrong? Report to us.

Illia Polosukhin

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July 9, 2024

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added info on Transformer 8

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