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Proof of work systems are, at the core, a race towards ever greater energy consumption. They're an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Surprised how little attention this gets.

I would argue that the benefit of decentralization is not worth the price.




It really seems like a race to the bottom. We produce specialized hardware, stick 'em in giant mining farms where they devour power - for what? Crunching arbitrary numbers. It just seems incredibly wasteful.


Bitcoin advocates ought to understand that the whole mining thing, and the increase on the rate of difficulty in mining, and the eventual limit on the number of bitcoins that can exist, are just as artificial as anything that happens with fiat currency, and controlled by a much smaller number of unaccountable people.


Except that fiat money is stored on a "normal" server. Not on many computers that constantly do full power calculations, on purpose!

If all the super computers on the world started mining Bitcoins, it would take them 10 minutes (or so) of calculation to mine a block. The 10 minutes are fixed, it doesn't get faster even if you get faster computers. Just the power waste gets higher.


That's not strictly correct, the difficulty to mine Bitcoin has increased massively over time:

https://bitcoinwisdom.com/bitcoin/difficulty

Every 2016 blocks the difficulty adjusts so that ON AVERAGE a block is found every 10 minutes. If the hashing power of the network is increasing over time, the amount of time it takes to find a block goes down (can be less than 10 mins) as it approaches the next difficulty adjustment (and vice versa).

But you are correct that as the hash rate increases, the total power consumption increase along with it -- at the moment there is no proven alternative.


You're correct that the cap on Bitcoin is somewhat arbitrary, but the point is that there IS a cap, which is not the case with fiat currencies which can be printed indefinitely (which is why the purchasing power of all fiat currencies goes down over time).

You're incorrect to state that crypto is "controlled by a much smaller number of unaccountable people" -- Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash are decentralized networks with lots of different stakeholders (miners, developers, exchanges, wallets, users) and no single group is in control. Quite the opposite -- there has to be broad consensus among all the groups for a cryptocurrency to survive long term. Not possible to fork your own currency off of the USD or the EURO!


Compared to the military and law enforcement which back a regular currency, it's incredibly efficient. Especially when you count the human cost of conventional power politics in terms of oppressed minorities and corruption.


We had military and law enforcement long before regular currencies. Societies were already investing significant amount of energies into these activities as well. The idea that switching to bitcoin or whatever will remove the need for either is a bit far-fetched.


The advent of currency took them to a whole new level, though. Graeber describes the new social structures around currency as a "military-coinage-slavery" complex in his book Debt.

https://books.google.com/books?id=lliTBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT297#v=on...


War was prevalent in primitive societies as well, it hardly appeared with currency. Currency and in a more general way, an organized society makes you better at waging war, hence their success. If anything primitive societies' wars were bloodier compared to the population base. As for crime and law enforcement, it's the same, people have killed for some gold or cows since eons.

I still fail to see how bitcoins would let us get rid of either crime or war, nor downsize the army or LEOs. Same for the "conventional power politics", it's hardly a new thing, put a 100 random people on a island and you'll see the same mechanisms at play.


As the link I gave in the GP argues, currency was specifically developed as a tool for population control: As the sole source of currency, a state can influence its people's priorities and behaviors by providing a budget for the tasks it wants accomplished. All tax must be paid in the state currency, which creates an intrinsic demand for it from the whole population, and ultimately the only way to obtain it is to fulfil the missions on the state budget. Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State [0] provides a very good overview of how this worked in Nazi-occupied territories, but it's a similar game in any nation state, autonomous or otherwise.

If a currency were to arise with no political group can control, this mechanism of domination would be short-circuited. I don't doubt that there would still be organized violence, but there's good reason to hope it wouldn't be on the scale we see today.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Beneficiaries-Plunder-Racial-...


Clean energy production is becoming increasingly viable and cost competitive. CA already produces surpluses of solar power at times [1]. A significant portion of electricity consumed by Bitcoin is already clean energy - Chinese hydropower, Icelandic geothermal power, etc.

The hand-wringing over Bitcoin's energy consumption, and suggestions of sacrificing decentralization for it, I'm not sure are justified just yet.

[1]:http://247wallst.com/energy-economy/2017/07/03/why-californi...


> significant portion of electricity consumed by Bitcoin is already clean energy

Electricity is very fungible, and hydro locations are limited. This means that when the (very limited) hydro energy is converted into heat to mine bits because it is easier to colocate some ASICs next to the dam than an aluminium smelter - then the smelter will run on slightly-pricier coal instead. The marginal carbon emissions can still be blamed on the coin mining.


I'm not even convinced it _is_ decentralized. Seems like mining is clustered around a few big operations (mostly in china) that have access to cheap electricity.


Even if it's not perfectly decentralized, the fact that users can fork and create their own cryptocurrency acts as a fail safe. Miners with > 51% mining power would only be destroying their own long term profitability if they destroy the network.


PoW isn't the only path to decentralisation. A proof of stake system is also possible; or a hybrid approach, where PoW is used to bootstrap the currency, and PoS incrementally takes over after a certain hash-rate.


Maybe, hopefully they figure it out, Vitalik Buterin et al are certainly working on it -- but there is no proof yet that a Proof of Stake system can function at scale like a Proof of Work system can.


Bitshares and Steemit are both based on Delegated Proof Of Stake and work great. If you're interested in Decentralized Autonomous Organizations you should definitely check them out


Have there been any attempts at attacking or bringing down those systems yet? How did they hold up if so?


There are vulnerability disclosures on these platforms as much as any other piece of software you are accustomed to. Sometimes upgrades are rolled out before an attack, sometimes an attack just happens.

Where we are right now is that the news aggregators aren't that good, and the interested communities are currency specific who will downvote censor any potentially negative discussion because of their investment.

Its very NIMBY


The combined market caps of Steem and Bitshares is ~$500m, that is not the same as a $30bn market cap like Ether.


An odd thing to say because that same argument could have been used when bitcoin and Ethereum's combined market caps were ~$500m and were still orders of magnitude higher than their competitors. In fact, many experiments on those networks were NOT tried by developers because they were "soooo big and financially important" at $500m valuations.

Due to this relative nature, I don't think that is valid reason to shut your mind off to discussion by trivializing other network's sizes.

Cryptocurrencies gets attacked all the time. Much smaller and more insecure cryptocurrencies are double-spent where possible, because these "bug bounties" are still worth several hundred thousand dollars.

Its not international news when it happens. It happens.


I'm not shutting my mind off to it, my point was that it's not proven at as large of scale yet.


What would you say is the value of decentralization?


I'm not advocating for decentralization. Just offering that up as a common argument that PoW advocates use.

I think that in reality, PoW systems become more centralized over time. You can already see that with Bitcoin. Eventually the gatekeepers become those with the largest energy resources available to them, and "we the people" will be in the noise when it comes to hashing power.

I'd rather take energy efficient centralization than faux decentralization that also happens to destroy the environment.


The ability to fork off from the main chain and create your own coin + the long-term economic interest of miners being aligned with the entire ecosystem acts as checks on these potential problems.


Same as the value of free speech. Civil forfeiture is a great example of a chilling effect based on seizure of property. There's nothing illegal about buying a car with cash, but you might not want to because if a US cop stops you and searches your car, he gets to just keep your money, so people think "eh, maybe not, wouldn't want to be mistaken for a drug dealer".

It's not healthy for a society when people start self-censoring their actions like that. If nothing else, it places banks in a privileged position where they can get away with more predatory behavior, because people are more likely to see them as a necessity.

It's for this reason that anonymous transactions are valuable. You really should be able to buy legal marijuana or books about firearm construction without worrying that people might judge you. Neither is illegal, if you want one (or both) you should have the freedom to purchase them. However, many people would choose not to buy them, simply because they know the bank might see it on their balance sheet if they ever have to call the support line, and they're worried about follow-on consequences to their insurance premiums or their job if knowledge about that purchase ever circulates. That's a chilling effect in action.


Freedom?

On some stuff you cannot put a price tag - like mastercard ads say, some stuff is priceless.


I know this proof of work is not efficient (energy wise) but I think is worth the price to get rid of centralized entities. I hope with time we will find more efficient ways to handle the decentralization but for the moment is a good start.


Some delightful trains of thought along these lines have an answer to the Fermi Paradox as their last stop...


It’s but a tiny fraction of the environmental damage the US mulitary creates, with it’s reliance on oil.


Common misconception. I let the great Andreas to educate you: https://youtu.be/rsLrJp6cLf4


Not convinced. He seems to be preying on willing believers like an MLM salesperson. Mixing truth with omission.


You're assuming people know or care who Andreas is. Many aren't glued to /r/Bitcoin. A common misconception is that the various Bitcoin heroes are well known.


By the downvotes it seems you are true. But the ideas speaks for thselfs regardlea. I suppose it doesnt fit to the worldview of sillycon valley "hackers" :))


HN has a higher standard of dialog than Reddit. Appeals to authority without qualification and name calling doesn't really work here.




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