Roundtables vs. Honey Badger (0-2)

As the ongoing debate in Bitcoin between the Core and the Classic camp rages on, early signs of tentative order emerging spontaneously from the un-orchestrated chaos can be seen.  For one, most of the intelligent proponents on either side finally seem to have recognized the fundamental irreconcilable differences of opinion on either side of the divide, having spent the last 3 months weeding through the army of trolls and sycophants which always seem to amass around idealogical movements.

escudo-shatoshi

The industry has started to look upon itself in a satirical way, from high profile jokers like Samson Mow, to the absurd display at the Miami Satoshi RoundTable, organized by Bitcoin Foundation Bruce Fenton, which sported such medieval artifacts as an actual suit of armour and a Bitcoin Magna Carta which would make 45 year old AD&D live roleplaying nerds giddy.  The industry has certainly reached its apogee of insanity, absurdity and self flagellation, and it can’t possibly get any worse, and thus, we should expect to see things starting to come back to reality very soon.

Several promising things have been happening recently that give me cause to be hopeful that we may yet see the end of this “Rite of Passage” in the life of Bitcoin:

  1. Core has started to consider a hard fork proposal themselves.
  2. Interest in Bitcoin has been re-kindled in the form of 2000+ (as of writing) new nodes added to the network.
  3. Mining pools have started to implement miner voting systems within their constituents.
  4. New consensus tools have emerged which help bring visibility to and encourage people get involved in, the decentralized crypto-governance process.
  5. A total of 4 past attempts at securing industry participants into binding agreements have all failed to produce consensus.

Let’s examine each in turn.

Continue reading

The Decentralization Myth

I have often observed that disagreements between smart people inevitably devolve into a difference of opinions based on assumptions which are either ignored by one or both sides or insufficiently proven, which leads to the construction of a belief system built on top of nothing more than reasonable guesses.  Because of this, it takes a long time before one can peel away the layers of conditional truths before you reach the core assumptions over which the principle disagreement is erected upon. (one needs to look no further than the renewed flat earth movement to see how you can rewrite your entire belief system to support your theory). Over the last month as I have debated with the decentralists on the foundations of their “decentralization is the most important thing about Bitcoin”* argument, I believe I have finally discovered the crux of the dispute, the mistaken assumption, upon which all other conclusions are derived upon, the genesis block of the debate, if you will.

Network_topologiesThe problem comes from the fact that the term decentralization has been overloaded to mean so many different things.  From topological point of view the old graphic from Paul Baran (1964) (inset  right) may seem to provide a good enough definition but only from the perspective of a network topology which is certainly not the common usage of the term today.  More recently some folks have improved upon the definition to more clearly indicate that it is the notion of control (the little puppet master hands in the diagram) of the network nodes that make them more or less decentralized.

Continue reading

How do YOU measure Decentralization?

The disagreements between the ‘big blockers’ and the ‘small blockers’ in Bitcoin are heating up.  Bitcoin Classic is poised to release its first client to compete with Bitcoin Core, and Bitcoin Unlimited has had its first vote on its new feature set.  It is a time of peril in the galaxy…

Now as the credits fade into the star field background picture a big wedge shaped Star Destroyer with the banner reading “Decentralization” filling the screen.  This word is really the Battle Cry of most crypto-currencies, and as I have written in the past, it is so poorly understood.

decentralisation

Everyone wants it, but few know what it is

It is a repurposed term, that simply describes a quality of network topology, transformed into a rallying call of rebellion.  The problem is that almost everyone that I read or encounter in the industry uses this term as a panacea for all the problems that they see in the world today, without actually knowing what it truly means. They believe it because of faith from authority, and through basic reasoning, that it is good and thus must be fought for without actually knowing why.  This is dangerous, as this is how cults start.  The Cult of Decentralization.

Continue reading

Begun, this Bitcoin Clone War has!

I ask you, dear reader, please forgive me.  I am going to break from my normal “impartial observer” commentary on the Bitcoin space and speak personally about a project that I am involved in, because I believe it matters.  election-ahead-sign-375x250

There is an election going on in Bitcoin space.  At least this is what the media is going to call it very shortly (perhaps in a months time, after it is all settled, as mainstream media is apt to do… always late to the party).  This election, like any, is political.  It is a battle of wills, of differing philosophies, of ways of thinking.  But like all elections, I believe that the will of the people, the majority, will determine the results.

Bitcoin Classic, is an implementation headed by Gavin Andreson, Jeff Garzik, Jonathan Toomim and others, which aims to deliver an alternative implementation of Bitcoin, aimed at addressing the demands of the users and businesses in Bitcoin.

Continue reading

The Future of Bitcoin Governance is Unlimited*

 

Inverted-Gravity-Vlad-Tenu-02-795x524

Nature is full of self-organizing, self-optimizing structures

There has been a lot of chatter recently on coat-tails of Bitcoin core’s 2016 Roadmap which was disappointing for a lot of people in the industry who were expecting to see a more immediate capacity increase via a non-contentious hard fork.  This has brought the debate back to the issue of Bitcoin governance and our current lack of consensus on how Bitcoin should be governed.  I had previously written a proposal about creating a meta-protocol above the technical protocols of Bitcoin itself, which would be a basis for competing ideas, goals and principles to be proposed and agreed upon, much in the same way the BIP is a process by which competing enhancements or features are proposed for the protocol itself.  In the prevailing months, I have come to realize that a free market solution has manifested which makes such a rule system unnecessary: one of Emergent Consensus. (a sort of self-organizing property)

This is a completely new idea, and not one that we are accustomed to understanding, given that all organizations and political systems in present times rely on a notion of democracy where the general public (lacking sufficient time, knowledge, or rigor) delegate their rights to a representative, whom they vote into power, who in turn should make decisions on their behalf for a designated period of time.  They do this for no visible reward, and the cost of failing at their task is losing the vote the next time around.  In such a system, we are basically basing the entire security of the system on the premise that we will be able to find enough of these altruistic ‘saints’ who will consistently put the good of the many above their own desires.  Of course, as we all know, supply of these saintly people are in hard supply, and thus corruption is born, inherent to the system itself.  (Remember politicians are not supposed to be rewarded proportionally for the services that they perform)  Bribing politicians is how the free market reacts to this inequality.  This talks to the root of the problem with Proof-of-Stake systems, which serve to enrich the rich (those with more stake) proportionately more than the poor.  This is also the base of consensus systems which rely on weak subjectivity* instead of objective consensus**, all of which are still theoretical and have not been shown to work in practice at scale.  Our current democratic system of politicians and government is a weak subjectivity system.   We must trust that there is a critical majority of politicians that are not corrupt, as well as trusting one specific honest politician to tell us what is in our best interest, in order for the system to work for us.  I will leave you to ponder on whether or not it is an inherently stable system in the long run.

Continue reading

Block size: We have consensus! Or do we?

It seems the row between the Bitcoin conservatives and the Bitcoin progressives are widening much as you would expect Liberals to disagree with Conservatives, Democrats against Republicans.

Teenagers hands playing tug-of-war with used rope

I am a pragmatist first and foremost.  The only thing that I am vehemently against is fanatics and zealots.  Unfortunately you will find them in either camp in spades.  I suppose that is the curse of politics.  It is the science of influence and manipulation after all (if I may be excused in dirtying the word ‘science’ in that manner for but one illustrative instance).

I will be upfront.  I really didn’t like XT.  I thought Gavin was a bit cheeky in the way he just left the table and tried to convince many exchanges and wallets providers to support Mike Hearn’s upstart rebellious XT fork of Bitcoin.  It seemed rash, unwarranted, and generally an attempt to ‘rock the boat’.

Continue reading

Dr. Bitlove* (or how I learned to stop worrying and love XT)

Ok.
So with such a contentious title which is sure to be an attention grabber aside, let me explain:

I don’t *love* XT, I love what it represents. Not specifically small blocks vs large blocks, but a counter voice in a collective democracy which is the Bitcoin community. I believe that we as a community need to have contrary views and healthy debates which voice all sides of an issue, so that we can remain impartial and objective, and resist becoming an echo chamber of unified thought, which is just another form of centralization.

In my previous writings I warned against moving into a dictatorship like model, where we blindly follow leaders.  What we must also be wary of is the propensity to naturally devolve into such a situation when all counter viewpoints are forced from the public discourse.

That unfortunately seems to be the case with Mike Hearn leaving XT, along with a lot of anti-XT vibes I felt at Scaling Bitcoin.  I think that I feel as many do, that the consensus was that a small bump in block size is not contentious, and such a hard fork should be pursued in parallel with other non-block size scaling initiatives (such as SegWit), if for nothing else but to collect data on how a non-contentious hard fork would propagate through the network, and to prove that the network has the resiliency to execute such a change if and when it is needed.

Continue reading

Articles of Bitcoin Constitution – A Genesis Block of Governance

One of the ongoing issues with Bitcoin, besides the scalability issues, is the fact that it lacks a clear governance model.  The fact that we don’t have one is likely an artifact of Satoshi not really knowing how far Bitcoin would go.  Actually it’s not so much of a governance model problem than the fundamental issue that we don’t know who we are.  What is the Bitcoin project and what are its goals?  Indeed, it was designed to be an (almost) foolproof solution to the problem of consensus without governance.  But, like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (which proves that no formal system of proof — such as mathematics, can prove its own validity using only its own set of inference rules) Bitcoin’s consensus solution itself has an Achilles Heel — the hard fork.  A hard fork basically means that competing versions of the same network are simultaneously running a different set of consensus rules.  In the real world, we call these competing rule systems, ‘jurisdictions’ or ‘countries’, and we call the methods by which we come to agreement, ‘politics’.

Bitcoin developers have debated this problem at length in the past, and the problem is not an unfamiliar concept to them, but they have failed to come up with any workable solutions to date.  The Bitcoin Foundation was founded originally with the mandate of governance, but it fell apart due to infighting, alleged corruption and scandals.  Several of the ex-board members are presently in jail, and others have reputations which have been mired in dubious dealings.

A brief history in politics

Some political systems had their share of faults

Some political systems have their share of unfortunate downsides

Up to this point, changes to the Bitcoin protocol have been loosely controlled by a small set of people, rightly called the ‘core devs’.  They extend from the dynasty of Satoshi, through appointed successors, through to Gavin, and now to Wladimir van der Laan.  Like a mirror of human society, which has seen a progression through the phases of political development from a dynastic empire, to monarchy, to the current oligarchy,  how a move to a true democracy can be accomplished, is truly a difficult problem.  It is hard because it skirts on difficult socio-political issues that human society has always struggled with: corruption, collusion, nepotism, uninformed or disinterested masses etc.  Many attempts in human history have been made in an attempt to solve these problems, such as the monastic system of organized religions, (Gregorian monks, Shaolin monks, the Sisterhood of Nuns) which requires one to devote one’s life to monastic pursuits and restricts interaction with society at large.  Our current system, that of a republic, was borrowed from ancient Greece, and focuses on the mutual distrust and competition of senators in order to achieve consensus.  Other more drastic solutions practiced in dynastic China, such as the forced castration of all political advisors to the court, ensured that one would have no other loyalties than that to the state.  I should hope we, in this age of information, need not have to resort to such barbaric methods of stemming the corruption of human virtue and integrity in our leaders.

So what can we do?

Must have been chaos back then.

I think we have managed to solve problems like this in the past.

We can try to follow in the footsteps of the American Founding Fathers.  Indeed, what we are experiencing presently, is something akin to what I would imagine the debates and infighting that must have occurred when the initial Continental Congress was being formed.  Putting yourself in the shoes of say, John Adams, with the full might of British Empire oppressing them, they had to come up with a way to galvanize the support of the colonists, to fight the crown rule, and to defend their freedom.  On July 2, 1776, the congress gave a unanimous vote for independence, and 2 days later, the Declaration of Independence, was signed.  The United States of America, was born.

We, citizens of the global nation of the internet, need something equivalent, to guard the founding principles of Bitcoin.  We need to define principles, articles of constitution, if you will, and we need the current leaders of Bitcoin, to vote unanimously to support them.

The current model – BIP

Everyone technical in Bitcoin is familiar with what a ‘BIP’ is.  It stands for Bitcoin Improvement Proposal.  Developers wishing to change the Bitcoin protocols create a BIP.  It is vetted by the core devs and if it is valid, then it is given a number, like BIP101 (which is Gavin’s auto-block-limit increase change).  Being valid doesn’t make it accepted however, it needs to be further discussed, debated and only if a unanimous agreement on the BIP can be reached by all core devs, will it be accepted into the code base which is released to the public.  This is the current system of governance.  It has flaws in that it makes it very easy for 1 member to veto changes.  This is one of the criticisms that have been raised by Gavin Andresen in the past; which is that it takes just 1 dev with ulterior motives to sink an improvement proposal.  Given that some of the devs are involved with other companies, it soon becomes clear that this system is inefficient in coming to consensus, assuming everyone may have personal agendas.

Hard forks need to be resolved by humans.  So humans need to agree on a set of principles to follow.  Open principles. Clear principles.  These core principles should be held by all who wish to propose changes to Bitcoin as BIPs, as well as all who evaluate these change proposals to ensure that they adhere to these principles.  I touched upon these in my previous article, but here I shall elaborate on them more fully.

Words and ideas. It's what binds us together, as a people.

Words and ideas. It’s what binds us together, as a people.

Articles of Constitution of Bitcoin (draft)

BGIP 0.1 – The use of BGIP as the governance model

A Meta-BIP.  A BGIP, or Bitcoin Governance Improvement Protocol.  Which would govern and guide core devs (present and future) on how BIPs are accepted or rejected.  Of course, having a way to modify a governance model implies we need a governance model to begin with, a sort of ‘genesis block’ of governance if you will.  Bitcoin needs a Constitution.  A BGIP itself is subject to change, via amendments, but these amendments must receive 95% approval of the miners (not the devs), and cannot amend the Core Prime Principles. (that is amendments can be added, so long as they do not subtract from the efficacy of the pre-existing Core Prime Principles.  Any such violation of the Core Prime Principles, amounts to a rejection of this process entirely, and shall not be deemed ‘legitimate’ by those who honour these Articles of Constitution of Bitcoin.  So long as every core dev, can justify their approval or rejection of any future BIP based on these rules, then we should regard them as acting on behalf of the legitimate blockchain of Bitcoin.

Core Prime Principles

In order of importance:

First Principle (axiom)

Consensus, above all must be prioritized. Consensus by means of adhering to a core set of principles, which we are defining henceforth.

(anything which is deemed to break from these principles, shall be rejected)

Second Principle:

Decentralization must be preserved, any change should not detract from decentralization, or indirectly result in more centralization of the network.

(anything which can be shown to cull the diversity of miners etc, shall be rejected)

Third Principle:

Open Access.  Bitcoin network should be open for anyone to use, free from censorship or prejudice, regardless of political affiliation, geographical location, religion, race, or creed.  Bitcoin core code shall always be open sourced for all to examine

(anything that stands to restrict access, mark coins, block users shall be rejected)

Forth Principle:

Store of Value, the value of the token (bitcoin) should be preserved, that is, disregarding free market effects, the value of the bitcoin token on the network should not be endangered with existential risk.

(any attempt to change the money supply, money base, or fixed inflation schedule, shall be rejected)

Fifth Principle:

Efficiency as a Payment System, should be improved so as to increase the reliability, availability, utility, and security for all users.

(anything which will adversely affect the efficiency of the network, shall be rejected)

The Pyramid of priorities

Pyramid of prime first principles

Pyramid of Prime First Principles

The above is just a draft.  It is my proposal.  I am not a lawyer, so I make no presumptions about the above proposal being air tight, or all-inclusive.  If you have helpful suggestions to add to it as an official amendment, I give permission for any core dev (or anyone better at legalese) to amend it if you wish.  All I ask is that if you do, you name it appropriately, so that people can identify different versions.  For example, the first alternative can be called BGIP 0.2,  If it is adopted and ratified by the core devs, then any future amendments should only be allowed as additions to the Constitution, and proposals to add them shall be called BGIP 1, BGIP 2… and so forth.   I would encourage miners who support this to put the message into their block headers; “BGIP 0.1” which would mean showing support for this constitution and governance process.

When enough miners have shown their support for the core devs to take notice, I would like a unanimous vote by the core devs to adopt and adhere to this process, and use it henceforth to govern judgments on BIPs.  How they chose to technically do so, I leave it open for discussion, (and perhaps an official amendment), but I envision that BIPs shall be ‘innocent until proven guilty’, which is to say, if a BIP can be shown to not violate any of the principles, then it should be adopted.

I’d like to think that if we can all agree on this constitution, then any competing fork in the future can be clearly identified as ‘not-bitcoin’, and should be encouraged to create their own blockchain, avoiding dangerous Hard Forks.  This is not meant to stifle competition. It is not meant to restrict innovation. It is meant as a unanimous statement of identity, of who we are and the values that we hold. It is the hope that once that is clear, then at least a certain group can always claim to be upholding these values.

This is the ‘genesis block’, for Bitcoin governance.  With it, I hope we all can build a future together cooperatively, and collaboratively.

If you liked this post, please consider dropping me some satoshis:

Tip me with ChangeTip!

Please donate!

Governance begins with consensus