The best anecdote to summarize the conference was a speech by IBM where they covered a project which they did with major retailer to track a supply chain. The speaker mentioned some impressive results which caused a noticeable people around me to literally say "wow". However, they did not once mention specifically how blockchain was the cause of these results or give reasons why blockchain was superior. From what I could tell as an engineer, the entire application could have been built without blockchain.
I was surprised at how blockchain was being touted as the next technological revolution (and very light on the details) and was concerned at how quickly the other attendees accepted blockchain as it was being sold. I left the conference thinking that it would only be a matter of time before blockchain would be touted as a silver bullet in the larger community due to conferences like these (although I am sure they've been happening for a while, and this was my first exposure). It will not be long before a large number of software projects will be based on blockchain needlessly, and/or the engineers will be arguing with management why using blockchain is a mistake.
What's it called?
That's right! Blockchain.
I hear their energy use makes fans whir loud.
It's as energy efficient as a GPU cloud.
Is there a chance a fork could bring the end?
Not on your life, my Nerdy friend.
What about us brain-dead slobs?
You'll be given cushy MLM jobs
Were you sent here by the ICO Devil?
No good sir, I'm on the level.
The wheels came off my project plan.
Take my ASIC, my good man.
I swear it's Company's only choice.
Throw up your hands and raise your voice.
What's it called?
But our product quality is still all broken.
Sorry Bob, the mob has spoken.
(with apologies to The Simpsons).
The only thing block chain adds to any problem is when you don’t want a managed good or service to be under central authority or if it can’t be under a central authority (the later situation is probably more interesting). Crypto currencies make some sense (though I like my currency backed by the full faith and credit of a government, personally). However every other situation I hear of I wonder why someone couldn’t just manage a central service. Chain of trust on crates of produce? Supply chain professionals have solved the problem of authenticating sourcing of goods quite a long time ago (especially when laws required them too). Personally I think the one benefit that people don’t talk enough about is cases where the block chain can provide its users perfect forward secrecy on their transactions against the ledger, though again you don’t really need the block chain to do that.
Trust (and thus the ability to use an authority) is not black and white. There are a lot of situations where some trust is allowed up until a certain level. Right now authorities are managed through some form of government or through legal enforcement (contracts and such).
- The first one only works in specific scenarios.
- The second one is extremely expensive (especially when working across borders). It might technically be not as elegant. But generally speaking servers are a lot cheaper than lawyers. Code is designed to be extendable and reusable, contracts are not. Let's not even talk about the long process of enforcing those contracts manually with very expensive lawyers in a physical court building.
How does trust play a role in a company tracking its own inventory? What does blockchain offer in terms of trust even when working across borders?
So specifically, blockchain offers a totally accurate, reliable, secure way to track and exchange data across a multitude of distinct businesses with little opportunity for corruption. I'd say that's very valuable, and NOT something that can be done with a central database.
This is genuinely amusing to me. I feel like in these discussions you can replace "blockchain" with "philosopher's stone", like it's some kind of magical element that solves problems using the power of dreams and internet memes.
Let's imagine that we're in the real world for a second (I know, lame). Now we're in a company that deals with fruit imports. We have a ton of contractors all around the world and we use the Holy Blockchain to deal with that.
One of our contractors adds a transaction to our chain saying "we're sending you the container #12 containing bananas". Then almost at the same time an other contractor in the same area says "we're sending you the container #12 containing lemons".
How does the Holy Blockchain, Peace Be Upon It, solve this issue? Do we use PoW? Does the contractor with the most powerful computer decides who's right? If it turns out that the lemon contractor wins somehow and gets its transaction on the blockchain but it turns out they lied or were mistaken, do we tell the customers that "the code is law" and they're just eating extra-bitter bananas?
I mean seriously, it's not magic, it's a bunch of data chunks linked through a SHA-256, it's not going to bring world peace and it's not going to magically make everybody in the world agree about everything. As long as bananas won't grow directly on the Holy Blockchain (May Satoshi Grant Peace and Honor on It and Its Blocks) then nothing will ever be totally accurate, reliable or secure. Unfortunately I hear that digital bananas are not very nourishing.
I don't know any private blockchain solution in the supplychain space that uses PoW. There are more ways to form consensus.
> This is genuinely amusing to me. I feel like in these discussions you can replace "blockchain" with "philosopher's stone", like it's some kind of magical element that solves problems using the power of dreams and internet memes.
You can use any type of software, as long as it has one clear picture of what the current status is (a database would work, 100 different databases would not work). A bulk of commodity trading is a done on paper right now, because no one wants to trust a single party to hold this database. I am not familiar with fruits but I work in soft and hard commodities (anywhere from grains to beans to oil to metals) and everyone is looking into distributed systems to solve this exact trust issue. But maybe all these companies should hire you to build a mysql database instead I guess?
> One of our contractors adds a transaction to our chain saying "we're sending you the container #12 containing bananas". Then almost at the same time an other contractor in the same area says "we're sending you the container #12 containing lemons".
Those are two different transactions, I don't know any type of software that wouldn't compute that you get 12 bananas and 12 lemons? I guess I'm not understanding what you are trying to say.
I am involved in commodity trade finance (the financing of supply chain) and the current process is basically a huge number of different companies all checking the same data (documents & contracts). The banks actually check these documents multiple times (4 eyes principle).
You can build an API around a mysql database that does the checking. But no company would trust your checking for compliance, legal and trust reasons. If you offer them a full node (piece of software that doesn't trust all data thrown at it) in a blockchain system that they can run on their own infra it's a different story.
That was the parent commenter's point: the really hard problems are not ones that technology can solve.
Having said that, while I agree with that point, your extremely informed comments in this thread on the usefulness of a private blockchain for a real use case have been the best argument for the the technology that I've seen. It's an interesting space; I just wish I saw more of your kind of perspective instead of the constant hype and "crypto" speculation.
It's just a "tamper-proof" ink for a reasonable price, nothing more, nothing less. It won't grow bananas or lemons, and GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) principle still applies.
How about if instead of coming up with the fictional scenarios that won't work, you instead learn about technology, ignore hype (and greed) and come up with the some that will work? Hint: they exist.
> So specifically, blockchain offers a totally accurate, reliable, secure way to track and exchange data across a multitude of distinct businesses with little opportunity for corruption.
There is nothing said there about contents of the data, so the GIGO principle still applies, as always. Attacking blockchain that it doesn't help if input is garbage is thus pointless.
I would suggest you read the quoted statement again. It is very precise and true (imho of course).
How will blockchain help in tracking shipments in an accurate, reliable and secure manner and most importantly, how does it stop corruption? If possible, how about using an example for clarity? Let's say Apple shipping a new MBP from China to a customer in US. How does blockchain work in ensuring all the above features?
We already had double entry accounting in order to establish immutable book entries but that gives us a problem of a potential multiple sets of books. The publishing of these records to the blockchain via PoW therefore establishes a sort of triple entry system where the Proof of Work idea is intending to prove a single unmodified ledger.
I work IT for a retail manufacturer. We have to track ingredients for every product we create and what products they each go into and to which customers they ship out to. I'd say it's reasonable that we trust our own database but do you? Is it reasonable for you to trust my database? What if there's a huge recall because of a tainted ingredient? What if I found out I'd lose my job or the company would fold because of this recall and maybe I was lied to and told the tainted ingredient is harmless(Im no food scientist)? I think we have enough evidence to show that companies will sometimes alter books and lie to avoid responsibility but not me no, I'd NEVER do such a thing, i'm a good boy who would never get fired for doing such a thing but maybe that's what would get me fired....fuck what do I do? Oh you meant data corruption....yea no one has double spent yet have they?
Meanwhile, blockchain networks advocate a functional network that doesn't require trust - it's kind of predicated on the fact that you _can't_ trust anyone. But if a single party obtains 51% power, you have to trust them anyway. If you're going to require trust, you may as well just do away with the whole complicated setup and be explicit about it.
There are efforts to deal with this issue. One example being the whole debate around moving from PoW to PoS and other systems.
What does that mean for Walmart and tracking their inventory?
You'll still need them at the end of the day though ? Code running in a computer somewhere doesn't rule the physical social very animal side of things.
Laws and lawyers are fuzzy constructs because humans are fuzzy creatures to start with, and imo we need that flexibility in laws and in their application, hence why I don't trust the "code is law" catch phrase.
This is a very common statement on here regarding blockchain solutions, and is effectively like saying "There's no program you can't write with 1991 Visual Basic" (or build in Excel -- I've had financial sorts try to hammer every problem into an Excel workbook). Theoretically true, but outrageously off the mark given the nuance on needs of many very varied projects.
Blockchain style solutions are not relevant for many projects. They have some legitimate uses, however, and saying "But you could..." isn't a retort.
Except you've got that backwards. Since none of those solutions actually exist yet beyond hype, it's the blockchain proponents who have to show how using blockchain technology in those situations is not only feasible but superior. Saying that you can already solve those issues with existing techniques IS the default.
The problem is that the more we look at potential use cases, the more we found that trust relations are necessary to handle a load of basic process requirements that cannot be solved by blockchains alone, thus requiring the addition of trusted actors, thus removing the need of blockchains to begin with.
Blockchains proponents tend to see trustlessness as a benefit by itself. In their view, Blockchains are better than traditional databases because trustlessness is better than traditional client-server models.
System designers see trustlessness as a constrain. If you are in a bad situation where no single actor can be trusted by everyone else, then you can implement a decentralized database using blockchains. It's going to cost a lot in term of performance and efficiencies, but it's doable. But as soon as this constraint of truslessness is removed, why the hell would you bother with something like blockchains? And experience show us that, well, there's actually not a lot of contexts where trustlessness is an absolute requirement.
Blockchain tech is ultimately about trust. Trust that the accounting hasn't been altered. You don't quite have it solved with just a double entry ledger right?
A simple git repository offers this property. Really it's just any data structure where only growing it is permitted. You don't need a blockchain to get this.
In other words, the argument here is why would you do it this other way that is more complicated and/or expensive when you could do it the default way which is simpler and cheaper.
I happen to work in a product that manages produce traceability, and I can confirm that it is quite within the realm of possibility to track produce in under 2 seconds with a simple web app and a relational database. We have been doing it for about 10 years.
To add, the produce supply chain is full of connectivity and digital literacy issues, so I would venture a guess that a blockchain implementation would generate a lot of attrition on the operations side of things. Another point of concern is performance since this is a fast moving supply chain due to the product short shelf life.
It was interesting to see how this audience thinks that blockchain somehow "solves" traceability when this has been going on in several different forms in a wide array of different industries with specific needs. They seem to also think that the right way to do it is with IoT and smart contracts, as if it were just a step away to push such a solution to an existing supply chain.
It keeps me up at night that one day a top-down decision will come that says we must a have a blockchain solution because market, or new competitors will bloom in the face of absurd amount of money being thrown at blockchain solutions and take market share. I imagine that 5 years from now, the winners of today's hype battles will be the losers when they have to maintain an overly complex inflexible solution for many years more.
But now IBM can do it in 2 seconds as well! This may create a big boon for "DB2->blockchain" conversion contracts.
We still seem to be in this weird period with blockchain stuff where it's a neat idea, but the problems people are tackling with it are mostly... mild variations of solved problems so far. This may be understandable - these are problems which are known to have value, and as new companies want to solve these problems, they may opt for a blockchain-based version vs traditional "old school" relational db. But there may also be limited value there compared to old school version.
This feels a bit like "key value store" systems vs databases. There was (is?) a lot of hype around schemaless and "lightweight" KV stores, but most of the problems are also solved by intelligent use of SQL. Ditto for the XML-databases rage from ... 12-15 years ago.
If the people making the calls don't understand the technology, you can just make up jargon to keep them happy. Make a regular app, call it a "blockchain solution" and call it a day.
I work in the Danish public sector, and we’re sold tech by consultants who hype politicians and upper management, both ares with very little technical understanding. But while they don’t understand what tech is, they do understand change management, and if there isn’t a proven benefit, they won’t buy the hype.
We’re doing a lot of RPA these days, and from a technical standpoint that’s really fucking stupid. An API would be a gazillion times better than a screen scraping macro. In reality, however, we run 370 different IT systems and the truth is that a lot of them won’t have a decent API in the next 20 years, if ever. So while RPA is really stupid technically, it has immense value on the business end because it automated shit we couldn’t automate otherwise.
The reason I mention RPA is that I asked my engineers if it was worth looking into about 3 years ago, and they gave me a straight no. So we didn’t pay it attention until our CEO asked me what RPA projects we were doing after having attended a Deloitte conference on the business application of RPA in the public sector.
Blockchain doesn’t have a use case, and that means it won’t sell, even if it’s hyped to non-tech people.
You do see a few public block chain projects, but they are mostly poc’s that never lead anywhere and they are all run by in house enthusiasts, who were “allowed” to “run with it as long as you keep doing your regular work as well” because allowing your workforce to play with their ideas is motivational, even if it’s really just a waste of time.
I don't usually worry much about over-hyped technologies that gets the executive types all fuzzy inside while the rest of us look from afar wondering if they even understand what they're talking about. Web 2.0, NoSQL, IoT, Blockchain... The list is long. And it's not all trash, there's often some value at the core of the hype once you remove all the fluff.
But Blockchain is a bit more nefarious that this IMO, because it goes hand in hand with cryptocurrencies. The huge valuation of cryptocurrencies is the only reason Blockchains got so much publicity in the first place. I'm certain that if Bitcoin hadn't recovered from it's huge crash a couple of years ago you wouldn't see nearly as much Blockchain this and Blockchain that everywhere.
Conversely if you look at cryptocurrency enthusiast forums they use these news articles about big companies investing money and resources into "the blockchain" as proof that there's some high intrinsic value to the technology and to justify a very high valuation and pump it even more, especially to newcomers. "IBM is going to create a blockchain, BUY BUY BUY!"
It results in a big spiral of hype enabling scams enabling hype enabling scams... Meanwhile as far as I can see the only practical use cases of cryptocurrencies and even "the blockchain" at large is unbridled speculation, pyramid schemes and buying illegal stuff online. All that while expanding a ridiculous amount of energy mining the damn thing.
You aren't looking very hard, then!
A world where such failures causing production to fail become more likely because its challenging to predict ahead of time who depends on what and it what way.
Where they presumably have to then debug the mess.
Your engineers were right and unfortunately you are probably wrong about dumb ideas not selling.
If we can save nurses for 10.000 administrative hours a yearwith RPA, then we’ll absolutely do it, even if it comes at the cost of having more work in operations. I mean, why wouldn’t we? Supporting the business end is our sole purpose of existence.
It’s not that bad though. We mainly use it as a last resort, either as something temporary while we wait for an API or on systems that will never have an API. A lot of these systems are old, one of our mainframe interfaces haven’t changed in 16 years.
On top of that, patch notifications in the public sector are often written solely for end users. This means that it’s actually easier to predict a button changing in an interface than an API breaking.
I’ve seen REST interfaces change, and break, without warning because the REST bit was really just slapped on there by sales.
Our first RPA poc saves us around 9.000 hours a year. It helped us get our case working up to a point where we’re within the legal deadlines (something we’ve never been before) and due to the lower pressure in the department we’ve managed to turn employee satisfaction from a 4/7 to a 5.6/7 and reducing sick leave from 15% to 8.
My department had to hire an extra engineer because if it and the business end had to allocate 1/4 of a yearly position to support the process. The business case is still green financially.
My engineers have never been more wrong. Even if the tech sucks, but that’s still my headache. Because I fully realize I can’t have a CS candidate do drag-and-drop programming full time and keep them happy.
Imagine walking in to a Starbucks café, order a cup of coffee, digitally signing a payment transaction on your mobile or laptop and then wait for it to be confirmed by the Blockchain while enjoying the hot cup of coffee you have ordered.
What is more, think about AI, you will not need to talk to the staff to place an order for your coffee. The staff can relax and watch you make gestures to a camera. They will be able to read on a screen if you’d like it white or black.
I think the article is too negative and does not see the big picture of transformation that is going on (as exemplified above).
You could do the the exact same thing now with credit cards, except the waiting. And then you could get your money back if the coffee sucked, and you wouldn't lose all your money if someone happened to steal your private key .
I think you can already pay contactless either by your mobile or credit card and without the need of Blockchain.
> What is more, think about AI, you will not need to talk to the staff to place an order for your coffee. The staff can relax and watch you make gestures to a camera. They will be able to read on a screen if you’d like it white or black.
In McDonalds you have automatic machines that you can place an order and pay, e.g., contactless, without bothering the staff. Later you only just need to pick your order up.
You can do that right now, with no blockchain in sight.
I suspect it will end up being more like 'nosql' - appropriate as an adjunct tech to deal with specific use cases, vs a foundational mindset to build everything on top of. But... that's just my own half-coffeed-this-morning thoughts...
Everything is fine, right up until the moment it's not.
Blockchain may be used by businesses and make early proponents wealthy
The funniest project involved parking meters 'on the block-chain' ...
It seems the more computational power we have access to, the quicker we find ways to waste it with inefficient systems ...
> IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University have piloted the use of blockchain to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the U.S., as they move through the supply chain to store shelves. Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying blockchain reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.
I assume that what IBM did was centralizing mango grower info in a database instead having to go through complicated, manual processes. They did that through a Blockchain for some reason but I'm sure you could get similar result in some PostgreSQL DB. Of course I can't know for sure because the announcement is all fluff and hype and no substance.
I think the point is, though, that you can trust someone to be honest whilst someone is watching them, but you can't necessarily trust them not to change their minds at some point in the future. If it's all on the blockchain you have an immutable historical record.
Why not have auditable mutability? The audit log is the thing that should be immutable.
can you give examples? where all stakeholders have the same immutable "ledger"?
...and then you could group the ledger entries into "blocks" of merkle trees and signing using HMACs, you mean?
You've basically reinvented the "blockchain". The commercially available blockchains are essentially this - they don't use proof-of-work. The enterprise blockchains are not the same as the one that underpins bitcoin.
The current blockchain craze is supposed to find its root in the Bitcoin whitepaper which is about a decentralized distributed trustless immutable ledger. If you remove any of these attributes you end up with something absolutely mundane that definitely doesn't warrant the ridiculous amount of hype, resources and money being poured into it. There are only a very small number of problems that can be solved with a decentralized distributed trustless immutable ledger. That's exactly the point of TFA.
I think this is a very important point to make because many cryptocurrency zealots ofter argue that "the blockchain technology is here to stay, ergo cryptocurrencies is here to stay". Except it turns out that the term became almost meaningless because anything sort of qualifies as a "blockchain" these days, including many centralized systems like IOTA or Ripple or systems that are de-facto centrally managed and mutable (like Ethereum).
If people realize that Blockchain is 90% hype, 9% old technology and 1% actual innovation then maybe they'll think twice about whether having a ~$400 billion market cap for cryptocurrencies is sustainable in the long term.
This is what usually happens when marketing around a term gets too froth (see also, AI).
The temper resistance is not god-given, it's a consequence of the miners racing to mine new blocks. If you want the same type of resistance for a custom blockchain then you need to convince a bunch of people to mine your chain. Why would I mine MangoCoin?
So instead immutability is achieved by making a "side-chain" that eventually links to a big and secure chain like Bitcoin or Ethereum. But then it's basically the equivalent of having a SQL database, computing a checksum every day and uploading it in a custom bitcoin transaction. Effectively you could achieve the same thing by computing the checksum, signing it with your PGP key and uploading it publicly on your website for all to see. This way anybody can make copies and if you attempt to modify an old entry in your DB it'll invalidate the checksum and anybody having a copy will be able to prove it.
So with this scheme your SQL database is immutable, verifiable and temper resistant. Unfortunately if you implement it that way your announcement won't make the rounds on social media and give you a lot of free PR and a boost to your stock, so better brand it "with real bits of revolutionary Blockchain(c)(tm) technology inside" instead.
>ie there’s nothing to hack
The Blockchain runs on computers, computers can be hacked. People can forge a bad transaction saying that some mangoes are organic when they're not. People can say mangoes have been stolen when in fact they've been sold to avoid paying taxes. The blockchain isn't harder to hack than any distributed database. The Blockchain isn't magic.
It's just not the same thing, completely different security profile.
The only way to forge transaction is to steal private key.
Nobody is saying that blockchain will force humans to not click "organic" checkbox for non-organic mangoes, this is absurd - but it can encode digital signature of somebody who checks it so it can be later traced back and allows to write logic that signature is required for the mango to go to the next step in the supply chain for example.
I think you don't realize (most people don't) how many problems this little thing solves.
It's not replacement for sql, big data or what not - it would be silly to say that - when designing blockchain systems you actually spend a lot of time on finding the most minimal thing that has to be stored on the chain for your contracts to enforce all required logic. It allows you to trust data in it without security ceremony/setup.
On the contrary. Let's say that you institute a blockchain to trace the chain of custody for evidence (not much different than tracing the chain of custody, cough supply chain cough, for mangoes). From the creation of a piece of evidence to transferring custody between different law enforcement officials, each block on the blockchain contains the private key signatures of law enforcement agents who have testified that they have taken custody of the evidence at a certain period of time. In theory, the benefit of a blockchain here is a publicly auditable record of custody which has clear value for the admissibility of evidence at public trial. Imagine that we wave away issues of latency for the sake of argument.
With cryptocurrency, actors are motivated not to share their private keys, because sharing their private key means risking irrevocably giving away all the currency in the wallet controlled by that key. What is the similar motivation here, for law enforcement agents not to share or otherwise compromise their private keys? If one cop tells another cop "hey I need you to do me a favor and sign custody of this evidence now while not actually taking it, so I can take it somewhere else and mess with it to make sure we can for sure put this guy away," or "hey do me a favor, I'm not going to sign custody on this now, but I'll do it later on" - what prevents this from happening?
Is it supposed to be the threat of perjury? Because the courts already have a problem with testimony which has been found to be false, where perjury cases are rarely subsequently prosecuted. Put it this way - just because something is auditable, who will audit it? And how do you police domain violations which are still valid blockchain transactions?
A blockchain where you have a publicly auditable, irrevocable record is meaningless if it doesn't really mean anything for blockchain actors to "act in their own interest". In this case, undermining the private keys is everything, because that's what undermines faith in the entire blockchain.
Police officer would issue a request to that 3rd party to sign this fact.
Blockchain doesn't magically make people honest, but it can encode claims that you can verify.
It could have been done even without those, but since the cool kids are using them, then they spread
Block-chain tech is awesome in distributed scenarios where actors don't necessarily have contact with, or trust for, one another. That's a very narrow band comparatively.
Yes, people jump on bandwagons. Yes, engineers are often distracted by 'the new hotness'. But when Amazon, Google, MS, and VMware all align on virtualization technology it's something a bit bigger than people simply falling for 'cool tech'.
Something like Docker brought to light tech that many developers weren't familiar with but that existed before. But it actually accomplished concrete things in a very short amount of time.
Blockchain on the other hand is attractive not necessarily to developers, and it so far has promised a lot more than it has actually delivered. We see talks of huge figures and white papers and half finished products where the important features are coming in "the next milestone".
This is draining investment from others more viable solutions and creating the possibility for any blockchain startup to somehow shoehorn the tech into a product and insert themselves in a market of their choice.
IMO this is the wrong kind of disruption where potentially everyone loses in the mid to long term.
It is an empty signifier.
The blockchain isn't interesting as a business case any more than TCP/IP was.
The blockchain is the foundation of a new decentralized infrastructure for the digital space (which physical properties), but we still haven't "opened up the internet" to the public.
You present blockchain as a new "TCP/IP" (meaning successful technology) but it might as well be a new "IPX", left on the margins of history books after a decade of struggle. Currently nobody knows for sure.
Furthermore as far as I am aware there is not BlockchainX
If you're surprised by this you must not have gotten online much in the last 10 years, especially on this site. Blockchain technology has been heralded as the next great revolution in human society that will transform all aspects of human existence and usher in an endless golden era of freedom and prosperity.
Consensus in that design is:
1. Perhaps the single most expensive consensus algorithm ever designed.
2. Deliberately one of the slowest.
3. Does not actually provide trustless consensus once 1/3 of the miner nodes decide to collude.
Other than "our data is a merkle tree but you have to trust us to submit transactions to it", and "a currency system with a failed promise to deliver either scale or trustless consensus" what, is the proper application?
I won't speak for what "blockchain" can or will become, but you might see the hype more clearly by considering the ideology inherent in asking specifically for the "proper application." You imply that you or someone in a position you understand might "apply blockchain" to a "problem," as you commonly understand it.
I see "blockchain" more as a movement, which completely evades "application" in the common sense. People building these technologies, and organizations around them, live in a separate world that makes little reference to the broader world of which most of us are a part. They start with distinct priors, which rule out most existing solutions on the grounds that they demand political centralization (see: https://medium.com/@VitalikButerin/the-meaning-of-decentrali...).
You can summarize this ideology as: 'if there's a sysadmin, the system is broken.'
It may very well be the case that they are creating a new world that will be marginalized and outcompeted by incumbent systems and organizations, but that's how I understand what's 'actually going on'.
If you try to mitigate this by controlling who has access, you just eliminated the advantage of being trustless and thus made blockchain an expensive database.
The problem is the invisible governance patterns that an unreliable consensus algorithm creates.
Not really, just because a change is pushed to the github repo, doesn't mean the network (and its participants) will automatically accept it. Those unhappy with the changes can always fork the network if they want.
Am sysadmin, is this best practice or just us being reciprocally lazy again?
> It may very well be the case that they are creating a new world that will be marginalized and outcompeted by incumbent systems and organizations, but that's how I understand what's 'actually going on'.
I keep telling people exactly this! Just because X makes sense or is the best doesn't mean the crowd will agree with it's application. See also all politics ever as an example. I feel like I can say it because I identify as one but, It's just another libertarian fantasy.
But cryptotulips aside, every real-world use case I've looked at can be solved some other way (e.g., real-time published transaction logs). Humans are pretty good at creating trust contexts (see, e.g., 99% of commerce), and they're quite averse to doing anything significant in truly trustless contexts.
Blockchains in particular carry a business penalty for a few reasons. One is that they're novel. As Dan McKinley says, we should "choose boring technology"  unless we have a strong incentive not to. Blockchain expertise, to the extent that it exists, is bid up in the marketplace, giving another excellent reason to pick something else. A third is that the vigorous blockchain hype has created a fair bit of blockchain skepticism in reaction. I know people looking for work that won't even talk to blockchain companies. And then we have questions about security, efficiency, reliability, and all the other operational concerns that one mainly learns through hard lessons (hopefully other people's hard lessons written up for the rest of us to read).
Or you can have a "private blockchain", which defeats the purpose entirely.
As far as I can tell, they provide inferior guarantees AND performance to existing methodologies and algorithms.
Digital signatures have been a thing for ages.
Some other cryptocurrencies are trying alternatives. But none have been as “battle hardened” as bitcoin.
Follow the core developers and you’ll see their focus is on creating an open distributed platform. It’s up to us to figure out what to use it for.
IMHO, there's a pretty compelling argument to be made that Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies have had a significantly net-negative impact on the world, from facilitating scams and other illegal activity to now having to worry that sites we visit will monetize by stealing CPU cycles to the significant impact on climate change, these technologies have caused a lot more harm than benefit. And all the while, they haven't even figured out how to build a ledger that can scale to day-to-day transactions. My bet is that the whole thing ends up being a tax on people who've forgotten their 17th century Dutch history.
The same was said over and over on the nascent days of the internet, about how it facilitated anonymity so easily and how it would be used by criminals.
> by stealing CPU cycles
Difficulty in bitcoin mining is raising all the time (because of the competition among miners). This is why nobody mines nowadays with CPUs or GPUs but with ASICs. The fact that some sites are trying to achieve some decent mining hashrate by pulling the amount of visitors of a website is a naive move that will soon be off-set by even more raising levels of difficulty. Soon this will not be profitable at all, even if your website was the 1st in Google's page rank.
> to the significant impact on climate change
I like that skeptics raise this point, because:
1) The cryptocurrency mining industry is the fastest one to chase energy-efficient solutions. As soon as a device consumes less electricity, it's adopted widely because of the huge incentives to do so (e.g. CPU->GPU->ASIC).
2) Compare the electricity spent by the entire banking industry with the electricity spent by the entire crypto-mining industry. Now guess what's more efficient.
There's 2 things I want to say about this comment:
1. Those accusations were not wrong. In the same sense that we have pretty clear evidence that a lot of the value injected into bitcoin and stored there is via money laundering.
2. Unlike proof of work currency blockchains, the internet clearly delivered and had no direct theoretical challenges to its very existence that people subsequently and fervently denied.
Proof of work is a bad idea. It's been discredited. It doesn't do what people thought it did. And it's MUCH too expensive to keep doing.
Before PoW was invented, there was no way of doing this.
Now, thanks to layer2 technologies, PoW will start becoming much more (orders of magnitude more) energy efficient.
How is that a bad idea? Make something possible, and later make it sustainable. So long as there's demand for that something, then it's a good idea.
Even for purely financial transactions, any kind of loan or investment still has counter-party risk.
So even if a crypocurrency worked perfectly, it doesn't solve very much.
You have this same problem with any form of money.
The problem I raised is counterparty-risk when holding your assets (before transacting).
> Even for purely financial transactions, any kind of loan or investment still has counter-party risk.
Yeah, that's why maybe loans should have higher interest (right now, the low interest is artificial, because the bank is really making more money from the fact that it's working as a fractional reserve, not from the interest it gathers from loaning you money).
> So even if a crypocurrency worked perfectly, it doesn't solve very much.
It solves just one thing. Granted, it's not a silver bullet. But there are never silver bullets. Every single invention that humanity achieves, just improves the world a little tiny bit. Cryptocurrency does this as well.
Bitcoin made no practical dent in existing legal financial transactions because it's not better for the great majority of use cases.
> Before PoW was invented, there was no way of doing this.
If I pay with my credit card and am scammed, I just let them roll back the transaction and let the other side prove their case.
With Bitcoin, that mechanism is _impossible_.
The fact that Bitcoin doesn't is primarily down to the ideology of early adopters, not technology reasons.
Cyptocurrencies were not designed to facilitate illegal activities. Yet every fuddite makes it seem so.
Every single fiat currency in the world is/can be used for illegal activities. Do we discard them? Care to wager which currency, USD or BTC; is used more for illegal activities? No, I didn't think you would. But media and fudders will repeatedly point out that it's cryptos that are used to transact illegal things.
Do you shysters read from a script or something? Is this the counter argument you guys always use to try to squelch criticism?
Bitcoin is more than 10 years old. That is ancient in tech. It has yet to be used for anything besides an excellent vehicle for running scams.
It's also a blink of an eye for a paradigm shift.
But Bitcoin only does 7 transactions per second. You can't say it's an alternative to something extremely larger.
Tulip Mania lasted 6 months
Fundamentally: people aren't buying BTC because online coins are pretty, they're investing in an alternative distribution model whose value is 'fixed' by willing parties on the other side who also rely on that distribution model. Yes, it is the Tinkerbell Effect, but a Tinkerbell Effect backed by centuries old markets of surprising strength (weapons and drugs, just to start with).
The value isn't the thing being exchanged, it's the ability to exchange.
Just use any authentication/authorization solution, contracts, the rule of law, reputation, everything we've always used to deal with varying degrees of trust.
Utter lack of trust is not a problem people have.
If you want to apply blockchain technology to anything real world (as opposed to coins that only exist _in_ the blockchain), then you need trust anyway whenever there is interaction (e.g. when someone inputs data, you need to trust its true anyway).
It's really only useful for coins, that are themselves less useful than existing money.
It was an interesting mathematical puzzle to solve, shouldn't have been made reality.
I agree that it doesn't seem useful outside of money, but when it comes to money, feel free to trust this. I don't:
This is putting the cart very much before the horse.
I have no objection to people researching, experimenting, playing. Godspeed. Spending billions creating a technology that sounds cool but may be useless, though, is absurd.
We didn't get the Internet because somebody said, "Hey, let's spend billions wiring up a lot of computers and see if it's good for anything." The Internet's growth was driven by an expanding set of very specific use cases.
If so, I've got a thrilling investment opportunity for you.
It's a joke at 1/3rd because that's sort of a naive threshold of for the BGP anyways.
Bitcoin was supposed to provide a stable solution where distributed actors could come to consensus on a ledger. That's how it was sold in the original paper. Majority attacks against the system will always exist, but the paper mentioned proves that the Bitcoin proof of work algorithm is much worse than we realized, and (more troublingly) that bad actors are harder to detect than it was passively assumed.
The scheme neatly solves the free-rider problem that plagues other distributed systems, where your continued usage of the network can be ensured by your active participation within it.
A parallel example would be various P2P filesharing protocols which was plagued by freeloaders from day 1, and had to come up with various schemes to regulate the user's contribution. The simpler solutions are not exactly Byzantine fault tolerant (user profiles in ed2k) whereas the more elaborate mechanism typically requires a centralised record keeper(private trackers, etc).
A lot of the inefficiencies of PoW are necessary to keep the network permissionless, and conversely you don't need PoW if the system has any kind of entry requirement.
Source? This does not match my understanding of POW blockchains.
While I'm not completely convinced that the countermeasure of "spy mining" completely mitigates the attack, it does appear that this is not a new vulnerability. Further, if a pool had all of the hardware under one roof, it wouldn't be possible to spy at all which would reinstate all of the problems outlined in the paper.
And if you believe this mitigates the attack, then "spy selfish miners" must also exist then, keeping parity.
Proof of work as implemented now is fatally flawed, and it's primarily a tenant of faith instead of logic that it isn't. Just google "selfish mining debate" and enjoy the plethora of inane and tedious reactions.
But also: yes the paper is not at all new. After replication and other checks, the Bitcoin community has gotten up on its high horse, plugged its ears tight with wax, and started signing, "I can't hear you!"
That thing being sending censorship resistant, electronic financial transactions.
If you don't believe me that this worked, then please go back to 2010 and tell me a better way to donate money to Wikileaks.
At the end if the day, I could send money to Wikileaks, and there were no other options that worked at the time.
The points that you brought up don't really matter, because Bitcoin has been around for 8+ years and we don't see those attacks happening.
I don't care about the theoretical. I care about the practical. Come back to me with that attack vector once it actually happens on the live network, and money going to Wikileaks or whoever ACTUALLY gets censored.
But it doesn't appear to do so.
1. It cannot meet demand, so folks are recreating existing point to point financial networks and then using the chain in the event of reconciliation. These define a new topology as surely as credit card companies redefined the topology of modern digital economies.
2. It appears that it is very easy to gain a secret majority and do all sorts of nasty things, in addition to freezing out miners.
P.S., if I had a magic wand that could make WikiLeaks disappear in a sweeping curtain of sulphuric fire, I'd stick a bell on the top and wave it happily until my doctor informed me my RSI was fatal.
Are you talking about the Lightning Network?
While it has a different topology and its own limitations, I wouldn't call it a replication of existing systems. It's an extension of the blockchain transaction concept more than anything.
Users can still make trustless payments without relying on a third party. The routing nodes do not require trust due to the hash time locked contract system.
You need to establish each tunnel on chain, as I read it, this requires a commit to the block. So any time you want to open a payment to a 3rd party you need a btc chain transaction. I'm happy to be wrong here, but that's how I read it, and if so then that's not really gonna fix the problem at all; it's just going to make more not-actually-decentralized services.
Maybe it's an okay thing to imagine a world where there is a primary chain for major institutions and then brokers on this chain using lightning. But I gotta confess I was sorta signing up for something more revolutionary than "disrupting visa with a new visa."
eg: Alice opens a channel with Bob. Charlie opens a channel with Bob. Alice can send payments to Charlie by having them routed through Bob (in a trustless way using Hashed Timelock Contracts).
There are valid concerns around what the topology looks like and how efficient it is to find optimal routes through a large network. These are the problems the developers are working on though.
Or am I misunderstanding?
I think many people envision it something like an account balance you top up as you need to.
I put the vast majority of my money in the stock market. And I have some money in other currencies, centralized services like venmo/paypal/ect, and yes, a bit in crypto. Currencies which I then use to spend on things.
The point of a currency, yes even cryptocurrencies, is to SPEND it, not hold it.
At the end of the end, it has been working for 8 years, and it is the best tool out there to solve the problem of censorship resistant financial transactions.
This is proven by the fact that even though people want to shut down payments to places like Wikileaks they are still happening
So the purpose is to subvert people and groups like you, who want to stop these payments, and yet the payments and money still flows.
The nasty things that you claim COULD happen, AREN'T. This is proven by the fact that groups like Wikileaks still recieve their money.
My definition of "working" has nothing to with theoreticals. It has to do with the practical, historical examples. And the historical example is that these groups are still receiving their money, so by definition it did work.
Or in other words, if it really doesn't work, as you claim, the how come it its working? As defined by the fact that it is literally the best existing tool out there for this usecase. (IE, visa and mastercard will block your money, and yet bitcoin still works)
If you disagree, fine, go ahead and try to stop my money going to places that you don't want it to (ex, such as Wikileaks). Report it to the NSA or whoever, for supporting "russian propaganda", or whatever. Betcha won't succeed.
You cannot try to shame me into saying a technology that's been proven to have a major security flaw doesn't have that flaw. It's precisely because I care about this more than you that I can accept that bitter pill and you cannot.
> My definition of "working" has nothing to with theoreticals
Then you are a sucker, and you deserve to lose what you put in. Still, I hope you'll be okay, mmkay?
> Or in other words, if it really doesn't work, as you claim, the how come it its working?
Well, aside from the fact that its not working very well at all... It's prototype-level technology escalated to national limelight because of initial interest from a lot of questionable and probably illegal people. Unlike previous things like the internet, the value exchange mechanism is very direct, making it much more attractive for money laundering.
> As defined by the fact that it is literally the best existing tool out there for this usecase. (IE, visa and mastercard will block your money, and yet bitcoin still works)
I'm fairly sure the cost of a dozen viable stolen identities to use as money movement channels is MUCH cheaper than the transaction fees on bitcoin, so it's not like the enterprising criminal doesn't have a classical, high performance, downmarket option.
Bitcoin in particular is libertarian chic and anarchist crypto-religion. Ethereum has MUCH more interesting properties, but still needs several years to bake.
> If you disagree, fine, go ahead and try to stop my money going to places that you don't want it to (ex, such as Wikileaks).
If you really wanna donate to a bunch of authoritarian-loving pro-rapist people with such bad opsec that a single twitter actor blew a core comms network wide open? Be my guest. Crypto-fash it up.
Ok, and in 2010 did the average person have access to such a network?
I personally didn't have access to those things. Thats sounds pretty difficult, actually. But what I DID have access to was bitcoin. And it worked! And it didn't get censored like visa or mastercard was doing.
Thats the usecase. Me sending money to wikileaks. I cannot think of any other plausible way for me personally to send money to wikileaks back in 2010. Stolen identities sounds like it would get me sent to jail, and it seems hard. No thanks. Bitcoin was easier. (A dollar for a transaction fee is still cheaper than cross country money transfers, actually.)
Yes. It was called IRC.
Regular SWIFT wire transfer always worked. The blockade applied to VISA/MasterCard/PayPal/Western Union.
> 1. Perhaps the single most expensive consensus algorithm ever designed.
It's like arguing that bubblesort is one of the most expensive graph traversal
algorithms. It's not, because it's a protocol for document timestamping, not
establishing a consensus.
> 2. Deliberately one of the slowest.
Indeed. It was designed so verification of the timestamps is much, much faster
than producing them. In previous work, with trusted third party operating
a timestamping service, it was enough to control a single service, so there
was no need to design this into the very data structure.
> 3. Does not actually provide trustless consensus once 1/3 of the miner nodes decide to collude.
Indeed it does not, because it was never designed as a consensus protocol.
> [...] what, is the proper application [of blockchain]?
When you need to establish an order in a sequence of related documents, like
with trade contracts. Outside of this very narrow purpose, blockchain is
pretty much useless.
What exactly do you think a distributed ledger is other than a normal ledger and a trustless consensus protocol?
There is no such thing among cryptographic protocols as "distributed ledger".
The ledger is implemented on top of document timestamping and while required
for Bitcoin, it doesn't exist for blockchain data structure. It's like
calling HTTPs a cryptographic protocol for serving files.
About this "trustless consensus" part, how do you define "consensus" and how
does it relate to what computer science calls "consensus" with its most
prominent problem of Byzantine generals, especially with the impossibility
proof (the one that talks about 1/3 traitors)?
Firstly: the single most important function of the Bitcoin network is to maintain a ledger that prevents double spends. Ethereum's charter is not so easily summed up bit it shares a responsibility here.
The tools Bitcoin uses to do this do indeed stem from cryptographic research, but the primary function of a blockchain is not to certify the past but to come to consensus on the immedate future.
No elliptic curve will do that for you. It is a distributed algorithm leveraging guarantees given by cryptographic primitives. Every expert accepts it as such.
As for your final note: multiple "solutions" for the Byzantine generals exist and have been published for years. Many of them give better guarantees than what a post-selfish-mining PoW blockchain gives you.
If your argument was, "It was never possible to come to consensus to begin with" then what are we talking about. If your argument is that it works fine, you should refute the cited paper directly. If your argument is that it's fine despite the flaws, I do not agree.
The point boils down to this: you throw the "consensus" term left and right.
The term has a concrete meaning in computer science, and you use it
incorrectly, so stop doing that.
> As for your final note: multiple "solutions" for the Byzantine generals exist and have been published for years. Many of them give better guarantees than what a post-selfish-mining PoW blockchain gives you.
Note that the Byzantine generals problem has a rigorous proof that says you
cannot have a consensus if loyal nodes don't outnumber the traitors by more
than 2:1 (so you need 2/3 + 1 loyal nodes), and the proof is not about just
the original algorithm Lamport et al. designed, it's about the consensus
Where does the blockchain's "50% + 1" stands against that if blockchain was
supposed to be a consensus algorithm?
> If your argument was, [...] If your argument is [...] If your argument is [...]
My whole point is "don't use the 'consensus' term incorrectly" and "call the
blockchain what it is, i.e. timestamping protocol".
The time is 35. If you don't agree, we'll have to come sort of... Oh wait I'm not supposed to use that word.
* Deliberate slowness.
* Comparative slowness (given the problem space).
* 1/3 collusion breaking trust-less consensus.
* A definition of "us", "trust" and "scale" for your 6th line.
As for the 1/3 citation, I guess that's slightly less known: "Selfish Mining". Citation:
Of course "1/3" is a joke. It's actually closer to 1/4.
Due to the way that the Bitcoin protocol works, honest miners will sometimes "help out" the colluding group by mining on that published fork. This basically amplifies the power of the colluding group, which is the goal. Worse, the paper proposes that the percentage of honest miners switching to the fork can be influenced cheaply, by choosing which blocks to forward along in the p2p network.
This then bridges into traditional 51% attacks.
This is not true. Colluders diminish the value of their PoW reward by reducing the trust of all other participants in the system and honest actors have an even strong incentive not to join them. Just a few years ago a mining pool that gained a very large share of the Bitcoin hashrate had members choose to leave -- https://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-miners-ditch-ghash-io-pool-...
Because Selfish Mining attacks are not inherently detectable, you cannot expect the average user to detect them.
Too many refutations of selfish mining appeal to an oracle. This is an example of such an argument.
As OP article alludes, bitcoin difficulty is tuned for a very long interval between blocks, to reduce the risk of nearly-simultaneous "uncle" blocks.
Other blockchains such as Ethereum have seemingly successful alternative approaches. IMO the article has a very limited perspective on blockchain technology. It's understandable, since the space is exploding and very hard to keep a handle on, but I think it should be less sweeping in its claims.
There's an enormous amount of interesting blockchain technology, so sweeping dismissals of it tend to be lazy and ignorant.
How much of that was neither exit scammed nor lost to contract bugs?
... oh and all at the low low cost of the several small nations worth of electricity required to power the brutally slow, inefficient by design Rube Goldberg contraption that is the blockchain...
The whole space is a joke.
I want a good answer to this question before I put money back in. Because tbqf, it's very easy to raise capital on buzzwords. Especially if you're so we'll suited to money laundering.
But don’t let it blind you, blockchain technologies will deeply change our societies. It’s a trust machine: it creates trust where there is none. Trust being one of the pillar of our civilization, the scope of its applications is wider than you would expect.
Edit: thanks for the downvotes... if your confirmation bias can’t handle a contrarian, respectful point of view, i’d seriously question your rationality as a member of this scientific-related community.
That’s how the banking system has worked for centuries.
The use case for a blockchain is narrower: it can be used to establish trust between two parties in absence of a trustable third party.
It doesn't though. Now you're requiring a trusted (not a given) block chain that involves at least one third party but most likely many more at a high cost with more waste than traditional means.
And I cannot really see how a blockchain could have prevented it... I would be interested in hearing ideas about this!
Others think that credit is just a scam and the main utility of banks is storing money and processing transactions, which is absurd. (In this scenario bitcoin takes over these functions and the financial system is no longer necessary.)
Does your view fall into one of these categories?
The terms of the Cypriot bailout (and bail-in) are as simple as they are startling. Germany will cough up about $13 billion, and, in exchange, Cyprus will levy a "one-time" tax on bank deposits to raise an additional $7.5 billion. This tax will take 6.75 percent from insured deposits of €100,000 ($129,000) or less, and 9.9 percent from uninsured amounts above €100,000.
Something like this could have easily* been created via ETH and automatically cascaded without and brakes and caused a chaotic meltdown that would be TRUELY destroyed the trust, not in ETH, but in the other people which we could lend money to and stop the growth of the economy which credit is built on.
* in a world where we used ETH to make these contracts normally as we do today using English and our existing Property/Tax/etc. laws.
No, it does not. However, if someone lends bitcoin to a borrower, it does not involve third parties, and therefore cannot "run" like a fractional reserve bank.
Someone (A) can loan Bitcoin to another person (Bank), with the terms that if he asks he can have it back at any time, and he'll also receive a small percentage of interest each year.
Bank can then lend 90% of the money to a third person (C), betting that A will not ask to get all his money back at the same time. To decrease this risk, he does this with lots of people so he is covered in case only a few ask all of it back (but still is in trouble if too many of them do at the same time).
A still has money (his assets are very liquid as he can ask for them back at any time, very liquid assets are what we call money), C has money, the sum is more than the initial amount, so money was created through fractional reserver banking.
That's all fractional reserve banking is, and nothing about Blockchain prevents it.
Implicit in my comment was the idea that it would be a bad idea to start a fractional reserve bank which used a currency of account that wasn't available in infinite supply from a nearby government.
Also, I merely stated a way in which Bitcoin could be used as a sound bank, not that all possible banks which use Bitcoin are sound.
What you're suggesting is we get rid of credit and investing other people's money or, rather, that we use a system which makes that system impossible.
This is pure meaningless buzzwords. Blockchain doesn’t solve any problem in the financial space besides providing a means to conduct financial fraud.
Zero-knowledge proofs can be provided to show trustless distributions of data (credit score attestations for example, or resource commitments), and can definitely lead to things like the ability to share trustless commitments. FWIW, only ZCash really uses zero-knowledge proofs right now, and even then just for private transactions (a subset of all transactions made in ZCash). Maybe read a bit before attacking something?
Ah yes, it's turtles all the way down.
Speaking of science, do you know of any peer reviewed paper that concludes that the blockchain “creates trust where there is none”?
Before bitcoin this wasn't possible without trust in a third party, as far as I'm aware.
No paper needed.
Anyway, we're both speculating here. Like I said, if "science" is going to be brought to the table, I'd like to see the science backing your claims. For example, do you have research showing that no trust is required to make bitcoin work? Can the system survive without us trusting the developers, chip manufacturers and miners?
Consider the scenario where you go to a grocery store, your transaction points to your face because of surveillance in the store. Buying something online, your transaction points to your physical address. You'd still have to trust the people you trade with, otherwise you lose anonymity, and your transactions and amounts can be traced. Now they know how much you earn, how much you spend, where you spend, when you spend, etc. It's very hard as an average consumer relying on Bitcoin to avoid being traced without trusting another third-party, e.g. an exchange or similar service that allows you to "cut connecting strings".
The most populated country in the world had no issue making all cryptocurrencies illegal. If we can't find something useful and non-criminal to do with Bitcoin, I wouldn't exclude the possibility of at least mining being made illegal. Why should we spend so much of our planet's resources for proof-of-work if it's only to fuel crime?
Very true. But I would argue that blockchain is a technology that obviates the need for trust between humans (by delegating it to a technology), and therefore erodes civilization.
Can you describe to me a situation where blockchain actually does this. Please be as detailed and specific as possible.
I keep hearing this claim, but everytime I look into cryptocurrencies, I see a wild west full of scams and snake oil, so I'm not sure I understand what is meant by 'trustless' in this case.