The NEAR blockchain was created and developed by the NEAR Foundation. Its mainnet went live in April 2020, and network validators voted to unlock token transfers in October 2020. NEAR’s bridge to Ethereum (called the Rainbow Bridge) was launched in March 2020.
NEAR was a machine learning project before it became a blockchain development platform. Illia Polosukhin and Alexander Skidanov started NEAR.ai in early 2017 to explore program synthesis: the field of automated programs from a human specification. Named for the science fiction novel The Singularity Is Near, the NEAR project drew from Illia’s work as a lead contributor for TensorFlow at Google and Alexander’s as the lead engineer at MemSQL.
Researching program synthesis led the team to explore programmable smart contract platforms and crypto payments in late 2017 and early 2018. As they explored the solution space and tried out a variety of blockchain protocols, they realized the current state of the tech didn’t meet their needs and began to design a blockchain that could. Illia and Alex gathered a team of engineers and formally started building NEAR Protocol in August 2018.
The founding vision for the NEAR platform was to offer developers an easy path to building decentralized applications that can scale to mass usage. NEAR adopted a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) mechanism to achieve these goals to support transaction verification and block production.