Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
MIT Media Lab's concerns about the cryptocurrency IOTA (mit.edu)
147 points by dsr12 on Dec 21, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

It's mind boggling to me that anyone takes IOTA seriously anymore. The fact that it's in ternary should be enough to convince the more risk-averse technical people of the folly of its design. More optimistic techies should have been convinced when researchers showed that its hash function was trivially broken. Everyone else should've jumped ship when it was revealed that all of their "corporate partnerships" were made up to pump the coin.

It goes to show that anyone with good marketing can make a killing in the cryptocurrency world.

What's wrong with Ternary? Other than being obscure?

I'm not happy they seem to be spending more on PR than development, but that does seem to be the case for most startups these days.

In an engineering context, the question is "does the benefits of ternary exceed its costs?" The benefits of ternary over binary on binary hardware are basically nothing. There is no operation made possible by ternary that isn't possible in binary, especially given that, again, you're on binary hardware, nor is anything made particularly easier. (Except useless things like "modulo 3" that aren't particularly hard in binary anyhow.) The costs are programming complexity and runtime penalties for conversions, which is an ongoing price paid by all users.

So in engineering terms, "zero benefits, non-zero costs", it's no contest; use binary, or, more generally, use the native integer system on the hardware you are running on. That is, the same argument would apply in reverse on an already-existing ternary-native system. There is still a non-zero chance we'll see such a thing in our lifetime, once we run out of other ways of squeezing performance out of things (although if ternary logic is possible, if we can also get to quaternary logic that has a very trivial mapping to the binary world, so that might win instead).

>whats wrong with Ternary The dude just mentioned a bunch of reasons, read his post

Take a few minutes to read the blog posts by the creator. Writing aside the general process and motivation around creating a custom hashing algorithm is very strange -

"Curl-P was created by following the idea of simplicity. While de-jure I can say that it was me who created Curl-P, de-facto it was created by a primitive AI created by me. That wasn’t AI of general purpose; an improved version of the AI is working on the final version of Curl now while I’m writing this post. This situation is quite funny because it look unusual, interesting if in the future we’ll see cases similar to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/06/monkey-selfie-... but with an AI instead of an animal. By the way, there are a lot of attempts to create a lightweight hashing function, I’d be grateful if someone confirmed or refuted my observation that Curl-P is winning this competition.

IOTA was created to be immune to quantum computer attacks, today I have revealed that it was also created to be immune to attacks from an AI. IOTA was the very first distributed ledger technology to consider imminent threat from technologies which look exotic now. NSA already validated our prediction regarding quantum computers. I think that the both threats (QC and AI) have equal chances to become real in the near future and I’m confident that in few years we’ll see confirmations that the prediction about AI was prophetic too. If someone hasn’t got it yet – IOTA is about the future and it relies only on those paradigms which pass the test of critical thinking."

- http://come-from-beyond.com/time-for-a-paradigm-shift-has-co...

Honestly, this sounds like the blog of a borderline schizophrenic or delusional person.

I'm sure he's a very capable developer, but this just doesn't sound... sane.

Edit: Okay, after reading his "About me" page, I honestly am not sure if he is joking or ill: http://come-from-beyond.com/about-me/

"Things started by in the 1980s. I developed a time-machine which was engaged through a complex series of early ternary devices (very early prototypes of Jinn). Things have evolved since then, as the latest iteration of this function is now built into something else (undisclosed).

I went back in time in the mid-eighties to Ancient human times, and constructed a complex of pyramids using some technology I put together in my early teens. When I returned, all history of humans with regards to human development had changed drastically, with this so called ‘mystery creation’ in Egypt."

interesting, IOTA is the timecube of cryotocurrency

Seems sane, didn't forget the shop.

I believe that CFB could be an extraordinary talent and could possibly have created something valuable that is tremendously unlike anything we have ever seen.

But I also think that it's much more likely that they are just rolled their own crypto which might be BOTH novel/groundbreaking and critically flawed.

Stay away from IOTA, it's off the charts risky.

The problem is not that they rolled their own crypto. I mean that is a problem, but it's not the problem. The real problem is that these people have a substantial degree of control over the IOTA network (centralized coordinator, control of wallets and clients, access to funds), and their actions and words are not those of a competent, reasonable technical team. They're at best bizarre. There are real people who have invested a ton of money into this currency, and they stand to be really hurt if this blows apart.

I am very skeptic with regard to IOTA myself and consider it an overhyped piece of tech that probably will not deliver on any of its various promises. And CFB seems to be a questionable person as well. But...you really should not fall for this elaborate prank site ;-)

The thing about the AI that wrote the algorithm is already pretty crazy, but you really need to take a look at the shop's contents. “Tangelized Viagra“, yeah, sure. I had a good laugh while exploring the entire thing!

Can anyone explain the reason behind the push for ternary? They say that with special ternary hardware added to IoT devices (which is a big ask), it'll make their proof of work process more efficient on those devices. Why not just make the proof of work easier then? It's not like thousands of low power IoT devices are going to be able to compete against the hash rate of a few powerful PCs anyway unless I'm missing something.

I've tried asking in other places but I've just had people regurgitating buzzwords at me... It's quite worrying how easily convinced non-technical people find jargon when there's so many red flags here. I can't believe some people are really buying the story that the broken hash function was a deliberate form of copy-protection to prevent open source copy cats.

Apparently ternary is the 'sweet spot' for computing because it's closer to e (2.7...). We used binary for a while because on / off was the only way we processed stuff but now we have the ability to do ternary with more accurate measures of voltage? Something like that.

Apparently ternary makes math easier in terms of signs etc. as well. The below article explains it better.


Given the wealth of experience with binary though I don't think its prudent to jump to ternary...

With balanced ternary, setting aside a bit for signed words goes away. We'd stop having to think about signed versus unsigned, and we'd get the full word width if it were based on trits, regardless of the sign. It makes a lot of sense. It also has dramatic implications for floating point, I understand, though I grok that aspect a bit less. If you go unbalanced (I think is the term?) and let each trit express one of three trinary digits from 0 to 2 in an integer, then a 64-trit word can make it 11 significant digits further (3^64-1), and this is a pain point in game engines trying to express astronomical distances such as Star Citizen. You'd open up a number of cool primitive data types; I could see a balanced integer being "signed" and an unbalanced integer being "unsigned/long" for example, and relative pointers could go backwards without having to do a ssize_t-style dance, etc., etc. Tri-states give a native word a lot of possibilities.

There's a lot of people thinking in ternary already, and not realizing it. bool? is ternary: true, false, or null. Think about the implications on error handling of such a primitive at the logic level. I'm positive that's true, I'm positive that's false, I'm not sure. It's a pretty powerful way of computing, and has a lot of implications up the stack.

If you step back and look at the gymnastics we do around boolean logic and arithmetic in typical, day-to-day programming, being able to express a third state at the logic level is something you never knew you wanted. New logic based on unknown values could be expressed -- think about a tritmask, for example, and what you could express with a number of "don't care" trits. I certainly see the value in ternary, with the caveat that I know nothing about IOTA nor how it uses it.

I've seen discussion about "why don't we build 128-bit computers?" and I think it's a similar thought exercise to "why don't we build 63-trit computers?" with the added complexity of three-level logic compared to plain word extension. I gather that a lot of benefits of ternary overlap with what's going to happen in quantum computing, too, though approaching ternary from a traditional computing mindset makes it a lot easier to understand for me.

What's the use in picking a proof of work function that is easy to optimise in the future though? Isn't this like a new Bitcoin coming out that picks a proof of work function that is easily adaptable to ASICs? I thought the whole point of proof of work functions is that they're meant to be difficult?

Supposedly it creates lower power chips.

Are we at that point where we can have ternary signals though?

Here are the logic levels in standard VHDL:


Maybe some of those can be multiplexed to create Ternary chips with todays tools?

> However, later, he offered a conflicting explanation that he didn’t write the curl at all, but that an AI wrote it.

Does this guy even know how to code?

Edit: Here’s another gem!

> IOTA was created to be immune to quantum computer attacks, today I have revealed that it was also created to be immune to attacks from an AI.[1]

Wow dude, it’s not only immune to Shor’s Algorithm, but an AGI too!

[1] http://come-from-beyond.com/time-for-a-paradigm-shift-has-co...

> The first explanation was that the flaw was intentional—that it was meant to serve as a form of “copy protection.” If anyone used this code in their own work, he said, the IOTA developers would be able to exploit the flaw and damage other systems that were using the hash function.

Is this a common practice in the cryptocurrency community? Seems sort of pointless to put flaws and bugs in an open source project as copy protection instead of just keeping it closed source.

Be rest assured that this is NOT a common practice.

This is clearly someone trying to save face over a practically trivial break in their hashing function.

Think about what kind of engineer would try to save face by claiming to have deliberately introduced a critical security vulnerability into their payment system.

No, it's not. I assumed that it was 'like cartographers putting in fake streets into maps' and put that to them.

Not common practice in software, but something that other industries have been doing for a while.

All of the other points aside, this is the About Me page of one of the four founders of IOTA:


Even if this is a joke, and I consider it 99.9% likely to be a joke, if any startup had a founder that was publishing some like this, venture capital wouldn't touch them.

I can only conclude that IOTA is a long-term social experiment in 'doing as much wrong as possible' and yet still being able to turn a profit based on heavy PR spend and humanity's tendency for "wanting in on the latest craze".

On the topic of their 'partnerships' with leading technology brands, they're still listed on the Wikipedia page, so it's obviously a convenient misunderstanding.

Excerpts from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOTA_(technology%29:

"With the participation of Deutsche Telekom, Microsoft, and Fujitsu,[8] the Foundation opened up a data marketplace using IOTA technology.[9] The IOTA Foundation is also a founding member of the Trusted IOT Alliance, which includes the companies Bosch, Consensys, and USbank"

"The project gathered participation of over twenty global organizations, including Deutsche Telekom, Bosch, Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Airbus, Samsung, Orange S.A., Fujitsu, and China's Huawei Group."

I don't have a dog in any cryptocurrency fight, but don't take my word for anything. Do your own research and determine how they all 'smell'. For me, IOTA smells pretty bad.

Pretty surprised that Bosch actually invested in IOTA. The tech seems fishy even at first glance. Have they not done any research beyond reading the marketing materials?

Some of the points of the article, albeit not new, still stand. The coordinator and the evident immaturity of the network as well as the tech are off putting. At the same time I feel like this write-up, and also a lot of the attitude here on HN, is too harsh, borderline deceiving. The first quote is backed by links to two articles by IOTA team members. The response conveys the notion that David intentionally mislead the readers into thinking that IOTA is formally partnering with the companies he, as the source article reads, presents as merely participants. The word partner is casually used by the representatives of the participating companies and that's what the other linked blog post explains - it's not an admission of wrong-doing as the author suggests. The third response is also something of a rather unfair nature. By nitpicking to the concept of free transactions the article accuses IOTA team of deceptive practices. The response seems like it's trying to not only downplay the significance of zero-fee transactions but to event present the current model as the better thing - a notion that seems preposterous considering the actual dollar value of current bitcoin transaction fees.

The Spam problem is difficult to solve with IOTA and 'valueless' transactions; the Tangle is elegant but doesn't seem to be standing up to real world usage just yet. I'm looking into helping verify the IOTA network by writing a simulator based on the Tangle WhitePaper to do some stress testing and to see if the holes can be plugged.

Arguably, it's still Alpha.

So now adding the term cryptocurrency to your product to make it look good is a thing now?

that would sound crazy even on April 1st

Ramblings of a schizophrenic?


Or, it is all a part of an elaborate MIT prank!

I expect more from the HN community. Are you guys doing your homework before commenting? Doesn't seem so.

1. about crypto Every time there is some news about iota here the usual 'don't roll your own crypto' comes up. Yes, I think everyone agrees that doing that, if you don't know what you are doing, is dangerous. This is especially the case for you app and web developers. You guys have no business rolling your own crypto. But think about it, if nobody rolls their own crypto then how will crypto progress?

Their use case is valid, they need something lightweight for IoT. They are trying to push the current state of the art. They hired a company to help them improve their algorithms. https://blog.iota.org/iota-foundation-hires-cybercrypt-615d2...

2. about 'fake' corporate partnerships There is already so much clarification to be found via google but let me repeat. We had this blog post announcing the data marketplace: https://blog.iota.org/iota-data-marketplace-cb6be463ac7f where some quotes from companies can be found. The mass media took this and interpreted it the way they wanted to. I mean just check headlines in newspapers etc. They are 90% bullshit. And because of that you give the iota people so much flack? You denounce them as liars and whatnot. Very unprofessional. They never themselves said 'we have a formal partnership with Microsoft'. It's the people writing news articles, writing reddit comments, doing YouTube videos that interpret things, and other people just accept that as the truth. Go to the source for information, don't take third party info for the truth. I know the crypto space has a lot of people manipulating markets and ripping people off. But having followed the iota people for some time they, to me, don't seem like ill-natured people.

3. about ternary Similar to point 1, keep an open mind. They have a hardware startup working on ternary hardware for IoT. So arguing that emulating ternary on binary is shit makes no sense. That's not the purpose for iota. Iota is for IoT. The project is kept under wraps so we don't know much about it and now you might say, why believe them? Well, no proof but, if you think about Bosch investing a large sum in iota and knowing they tried their tech for the last your, don't you think they vetted it and thought it could have potential? Bosch is a huge company with LOTS of experience in hardware. I am pretty sure they got a look at the ternary hardware, too. Instead you guys think you are better than Bosch in making decisions, even you have none of the info Bosch has. Ridiculous.

4. coordinator There is not much to say here. If I say 'in the future there won't be a coordinator' you guys will just say that won't happend. Anyway, think about how decentralized Bitcoin is.. got it? Not much. Pretty much centralized. 2-3 companies having most of the mining power. So why cry about the coordinator? No idea.

I wish for this community to be a bit more open and forward thinking and not just regurgitate things like 'don't roll your own crypto'.

Response three is quite the bullshit. every transaction in every coin uses some kind of computing power already, even without the confirmation part. what kind of computer is not powerful enough to handle iota? I don't know the exact numbers, but i read even internet routers can do it.

I have no stake in iota at all, but this response makes one wonder

why? please add some comment.

because the fees thing is very semantical

people have an abundance of computational power and can process IOTA transactions

there is no lowered balance of IOTA for performing this or sending more IOTA to a destination

the article goes on about how the computational power is a fee for no other reason except to discredit the IOTA devs

would be stronger if that point was removed, it isn't a point of contention and can be explained elsewhere

> the article goes on about how the computational power is a fee for no other reason except to discredit the IOTA devs

Well someone has to buy hardware and pay for electricity to run the computers.

Computational power is not free, unless you're running a botnet or something.

> people have an abundance of computational power and can process IOTA transactions

And they get in return... ?

A warm fuzzy feeling for having paid money for hardware and electricity so someone else can put something on a blockch-- whoops, I mean a "Tangle."

yeah but I didn't ask you or anyone about that, or say that it wasn't a form of a fee, I was explaining what the grand parent comment saw as obvious as it was obvious to me too.

> people have an abundance of computational power and can process IOTA transactions

On IoT devices?

Plus they state that having to participate in the network as a full node (fridge using 99% of your bandwidth) is also a "fee" in this context.

> ...for no other reason except to discredit the IOTA devs

They seem to be doing a fine job of that on their own -- reading the linked page where people can't recover their coins (plus having to jump through a bunch of hoops) because they were focused on unrelated projects seems bad.

1. > IOTA’s relationships with top-tier companies continue to be nebulous.

Not a big deal to me.

2. > IOTA network relies on the “coordinator”

And it's planned to be removed in the future.

3. > while IOTA users do the proof of work on their own devices, per transaction

Because of that proof of work can be rethought and built into cheap hardware for IOT.

4. Security vulnerabilities

I'm pretty accepting of software having bugs at the beginning, even stupid obvious ones.

> I'm pretty accepting of software having bugs at the beginning, even stupid obvious ones.

Even cryptographic security bugs intentionally placed by the lead developer? https://gist.github.com/Come-from-Beyond/a84ab8615aac13a4543...

> Remembering how quickly Nxt protection was disarmed I was keeping in secret the fact of existence of such mechnism in IOTA.

Not to mention they don't even learn from their past mistakes...

Though I find it perfectly reasonable to protect ~2 billion dollars through hidden backdoors published on github.

IOTA's relationship with top-tier companies was more than nebulous it was intentionally deceptive. They stated they had a partnership with Microsoft's Azure, when in fact they were simply using some Azure services. I don't think it's fair to claim I have a partnership with AWS just because I host a website on an EC2 instance.

> 2. > IOTA network relies on the “coordinator”

> And it's planned to be removed in the future.

It's very clear from reading the specs that there is no way for IOTA in its current form to exist without a coordinator.

The heuristics for tip selection depend on things that are inherently vulnerable to Sybil attacks. Proponents consistently argue that network topology will prevent double-spend attacks, but there's no question that it is easy to create incompatible sub-tangles that are not mutually reconcilable, which will result in the same situation anyway.

I love most of the design of IOTA, including the admittedly somewhat ridiculous use of balanced ternary, and especially the use of one-time signatures, but under the current scheme there is no path to transitioning to a decentralized censorship-resistant scheme.

> 2. > IOTA network relies on the “coordinator” And it's planned to be removed in the future.

If someone told you they were going to create their own currency by releasing a completely decentralized 100% electronic brand new form of money based on cryptography, would you have believed them before bitcoin was released? Even when it was already up and working for 5 years, people were STILL saying it wouldn't work!

Now for some reason instead of being skeptical, people buy into wild claims with nothing backing them up.

> And it's planned to be removed in the future

Common response. Everything is promised to be fixed and shiny in the future in the cryptoworld these days.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact