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The crypto alternative (techcrunch.com)
89 points by tdurden 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

The author fails to mention a likely outcome: the co-mingling of centralized solutions and decentralized ones. Decentralized solutions would be at global scale (not at 2% usage) and they'd complement centralized solutions, not replace.

For example, digital property rights might be best preserved via decentralized tech. But perhaps you might take your digital property and use it to interact with centralized services. Imagine a video game where the player truly owns the in-game items they use as crypto tokens, but the game itself runs on centralized servers.

The same might be said of Facebook-like applications. Rather than imagining a future where a decentralized Facebook exists, perhaps it becomes more of a hybrid decentralized-centralized platform.

> Imagine a video game where the player truly owns the in-game items they use as crypto tokens, but the game itself runs on centralized servers.

This is a neat thought experiment, but beyond the novelty what value does it give you to own an item in a decentralized way if a centralized entity can take it away from you if they want to (even if it means patching the game instead of knowing your private key?)

Truly decentralized, Sybil-resistant networks are necessarily expensive to maintain, so it has to provide more than just novelty value.

The value of the decentralized token would be determined by the free market.

If the centralized entity ever had a history of patching the game to block tokens, then the value of that token would go down a lot.

But if the value is determined by a single centralized entity, what is the value that crypto tokens bring?

For example, if WOW currency were to become decentralized overnight -- what would practically change? Either way Blizzard can take them away. Either way value of token will drop if Blizzard does this a lot.

A better example might be Minecraft, where there are different servers hosting the game and you can't necessarily port your items over.

But verification of rare digital assets could produce some interesting scenarios. One could make a virtual trophy room showcasing their in-game achievements. Imagine there's some game tournament for StarCraft for example. Winners get paid in cash and also get one-time issued virtual medals as proof of their achievement. Like Super Bowl rings, these medals would have sentimental and tangible value.

> A better example might be Minecraft, where there are different servers hosting the game and you can't necessarily port your items over.

How would items appear on the blockchain in this case? If every minecraft server can record created items on the blockchain, I can just run my own server that's modified to give me whatever I want. At that point a simply federation of servers seems to provide the same utility of transferring items between servers (but for free).

EDIT, added: > Winners get paid in cash and also get one-time issued virtual medals as proof of their achievement. Like Super Bowl rings, these medals would have sentimental and tangible value.

They have to be issued by the organizer of the tournament to provide any value. What does decentralization buy me there? The organizer might as well just put on the website "X won Y".

A lot of these pie in the sky ideas seem poorly thought out once one asks what new value would a blockchain solution add.

http://erc721.org/ <= That gives you the spec for Ethereum's ERC721 standard, which provides the ability to produce non-fungible assets on the blockchain (which is what CryptoKitties is based on). The creators of Minecraft (or insert future hit video game here) can issue limited release assets using this standard. Whatever arbitrary criteria they want to come up with for dispursing these tokens is ultimately up to them. It's not hard to imagine scenarios where this plays out in in-game economies. We've already seen multi-million dollar economies spring up in MMOs. It's also not hard to conceive of cross-game assets that grant special in-game abilities, special in-game decor, or what have you. If you think the big names like Blizzard have no incentive to do so, well how about the indies? Someone could easily come up with some reward scheme that several or more indies agree to recognize within their games. This would produce an incentive for players to play multiple games and succeed to a certain level in order to collect a complete set of items.

As for organizers of tournaments issuing an ERC721 token in recognition of some achievement, well, as noted...the asset is non-fungible. It will last on the blockchain for as long as Ethereum as a network stays functional. A note on a webpage isn't tradeable. It isn't referenceable by other games. It can be duplicated infinitely.

Provably rare digital assets now exist. And the implications of that are just beginning to be explored. I think it's exciting times.

CryptoKitties seems to work because all the game logic is on the blockchain. But for a more involved game this is not feasible. Whenever you have to interface with the outside world you have a trust issue there: You need to somehow trust the correctness of the data put on the blockchain in the first place. This is the same problem where smart contracts break down when they concern stuff outside of the blockchain.

E.g., if I wanted to, say, give out blockchain-diamonds to Minecraft players when they mine diamond ore in Minecraft, I need to somehow be able to trust that when a server reports "player X mined a diamond on my server", that this is actually correct. Whenever you you have an interface to the outside world you get these kind of trust issues. And then you might as well go with a centralized or federated solution, since the trust issues are the same but a federated system is much more efficient.

Same for the indies: To make the economy worth anything, it can't be trustless in the sense of blockchain. Indie company A must somehow be sure that indie company B (or anyone else) isn't giving out rewards for cheap. At this point you might as well build a federated system built on public/private-key cryptography and save yourself the overhead of a blockchain.

As for the tournament prize: I don't see what the blockchain accomplishes over an email/piece of paper/whatever saying "Player X won tournament Y" that is PGP signed by the organizer of the tournament. It is even more resilient than the blockchain (the receiver can keep and show it as long as he wants), you can send it to whomever you care to, and you can copy it as often as you like.

My understanding is the ethereum-based tokens can't scale so a true gamecoin will need its own chain. I've been following/waiting for this coin that is supposed to come out in a few days: https://chimaera.io/

A game accepting the token would be able to get an instant potential audience of people who had built up a lot of value in it already

So this sounds like a good reason for game developers not to use decentralised currencies, since it makes it easier for competitors to steal players away.

It’s the same question as whether or not an office suite or a graphics editor should use an open format. There are arguments for and against. If you are open, you can attract users from other products, and being open may make users want to use your software. If you’re closed, then you get to lock users in, which can also be very lucrative.

While not participating means no "real world" money involved and an uphill battle for adoption. The game would have to be an outstanding gem, and even then markets will form.

Would it be worthwhile for a game developer to spend time on an economic system, or the game? Unless the game is an economic system...

Generally speaking, game developers need to create and maintain "fixed" economic systems to make the game fun. Games regularly suffer from ridiculous economic effects because it's too easy to get money and not enough sinks, or vice versa. Making the tokens tradeable outside the game doesn't fix this, and in fact creates even more problems - the presence of gold farmers and those who pay them can unbalance the game for others playing the game with them.

People spend their lives struggling under capitalism and use games to escape - and then you want to create a capitalist class system there too?

You can try to stop it, but that never works in the long run. Ever.

If there's going to be a social element, it will be exploited to the game's level of popularity.

That isn't to say a game can't remain closed and private with a simplistic model, just that popularity will generally weaken whatever community aspects made it great early on.

We kind of have that situation with crypto kitties - you own a number representing the cat but the image is rendered on a centralised server. I guess if they shut / patched the server people could write / fork a new one. It's a funny business based on perceptions of what things are worth like art.

> Likelihood: essentially nil, for many, many reasons, such as: The overwhelming majority of people don’t want to maintain their own private keys, and if you don’t maintain your own private keys, cryptocurrencies are essentially no different from fiat money held in banks, except for the many ways (such as the irrevocability of transactions) in which they are wildly inferior.

Looks like an complete failure of imagination. Is it really that hard to assume there could be solutions to problems like that?

I'd say the onus is on the cryptocurrency people to show that "the many ways [...] in which they are wildly inferior" are fixable.

For example "irrevocability of transactions" is fixable by introducing arbitrators. This has the huge benefit of making the trade off explicit and still allowing for irrevocable transactions. With 2-of-3 multi-sig escrow services can be implemented in a decentralized and trust less way (if both parties agree no escrow agent has to be involved).

Handling private keys has also become much simpler in the past years due to hardware wallets and hierarchical deterministic keys. But I can see why someone could not want to be responsible for the safekeeping of their savings.

"Arbiter" aka a centralized authority. At that point you're better off with a bank.

I think we still have a long way to come in regards to handling private keys. In my efforts to get my family/friends informed on cryptocurrency it amazes me how difficult these things are.

I think that is why Coinbase has been so successful. If my mom wants to hold some bitcoin, I'm sending her to coinbase. She can't be trusted with her own private keys.

I'm interested to read more on the multi-sig escrow services you mentioned though. Do you have any recommended reading material on the matter? Thanks.

Perhaps we should go physical. After all we seem to cope rather well with physical keys. Perhaps we should set up an infrastructure with 3D-printing keys and backup keys. Key scanners are able to read the key if (and only if) you insert the key. The keys are designed such that it is not possible to copy them from a picture of them.

The idea is, if the majority of people understands private keys like they understand door keys, then perhaps managing cryptocurrency private keys will be possible for everybody? Perhaps with some prevention measures against physical loss or theft like Dapp-based insurance or arbitrage?

The option to control your private keys is nice, but not necessary for crypto to thrive. Crypto key management services exist, and the average user will use these services just as they do their current banks.

The difference is, key management services are much cheaper to provide than full-on banking solutions.

As for the irrevocable nature of crypto transactions...this can be alleviated with smart contracts on ETH network, or likely some 3rd party will develop some kind of purchasing/account insurance that provides this service for those willing to pay for it.

The nice thing is, you will have the choice as a user. That is wildly superior to the current system.

I'm pretty sure that most of the cost of normal banking does not stem from storing the currency amounts in customer's accounts (which is analogous to storing their private keys for them), but rather from providing customer service, securing the data and compliance with regulations.

A crypto-currency equivalent of a bank that could replace traditional banking for the majority of users would have all those costs as well.

The reason that full-on banking solutions are more expensive to provide is because storing money is a tiny part of what banks actually do.

The primary business of a bank is extending credit. Of course it's easier to build a wallet app then run a bank - the former's scope is orders of magnitude smaller.

It (and also the role they play in wealth management and fraud prevention) is why banking devours such a large percentage of our gdp. It's not going to be replaced by another Bitcoin fork.

Why should I have to comb through my imagination looking for a problem that fits this solution? No other technology community has to use so much exposition to convince others why their technology is useful.

There are a lot of problems blockchain technology solves. And I would disagree. Personal computers were thought of as mostly useless hobbyist technology until years later when spreadsheets were introduced. Even then, home computers didn't exactly go mainstream until the 90s, when the internet began to take off and OS technology matured (Win 95). Cell phones suffered a similar skepticism up until the networks and pricing models matured in the late 90s. And no one needed text messaging when that first came out. You also couldn't convince most people that a data plan was worth it on the mostly useless browsers of the time.

" Personal computers were thought of as mostly useless hobbyist technology until years later when spreadsheets were introduced."

"Cell phones suffered a similar skepticism"

The people that invented them could tell you what you might be able to do with them and you'd find that way better than your current situation. Whereas, the design of these cryptocurrencies are worse than our current situation in a lot of ways. The problems they allegedly solve appear to be fixable with better forms of existing technology, law, etc that's used in centralized systems. The people pushing cryptocurrencies never even try to do that. They're ideologically against it rather than looking for whatever solutions are most practical.

So, the potential usefulness of the desktop vs the terminals connecting to shared mainframes/minicomputers or mobile phones vs fixed-location phones is nothing like banks, cards, Venmo, and contracts vs Bitcoin or Ethereum. Actually, the current system works so well at what it does that most people are happy with it. The gripes they have are usually on policies, fees, etc that a non-profit, centralized, customer-focused organization can solve. A series of them cooperating via a standard protocol (i.e. better SWIFT) across jurisdictions and currencies can reduce those risks, too. There's nothing about the problems of current system that makes most people think: let's ditch existing currencies, databases, and accounting practices for decentralized, blockchain-based, crypto algorithms. A solution in search of a problem is an apt phrase.

Cell phones aren't the best example for you. As soon as economic and technical hurdles were cleared, cell phones became one of, if the most, rapidly and widely adopted technologies ever.

Cell phones also provided something genuinely novel and useful for those who adopted them, in a package that was familiar and easy to use.

Bitcoin, by comparison, okay I can pay for some things, well I could already do that. I have to adopt hard to understand security measures and my every action with my 'money' is fraught with peril if I'm not exceedingly careful. Well, that's new, but it's not something that appeals to most people.

Cell phones are a great example. They had absolutely dismal coverage in the early days and your bill would be hundreds if not thousands of dollars if you happened to roam in the wrong county. No one questions them today, but to many folks, they were a hard sell in the early days. Most folks thought they'd use a cell phone for emergencies only.

I don't know how you can look at distributed blockchain technology and not see something genuinely novel there. A set of algorithms and code are capable of replacing the functions of a bank (and then some). That is, you can store, transfer, and program the behavior of money around the world without any third party telling you can or can't.

Besides being open source money and all the awesome implications of that, crypto currencies are programmable. You can control the timing and flow of crypto according to scriptable logic. Please explain how you'd write a smart contract that escrows money and disburses according to preconfigured rules using USD.

What would you have to do to achieve that with code, today?

The technology is useful for exactly the things proponents are trying to fight against.

Crypto systems are incredibly powerful control and tracking systems - the ideal tool for banks and governments. That's where the use case is.

Well you don't personally have to comb through your imagination but people see the market cap, currently $390bn and wonder if those things could be worth that or not. And could they make a bob by going long/short.

And? I'm responding to:

> Looks like an complete failure of imagination

Your response doesn't demonstrate a use for the technology, only that people are throwing money at it hoping to get rich. Communities built around useful technology don't spend so much time trying to convince everyone that the technology is useful.

We may long argue who should prove what and why, pointing to existing successes or failures. For me it's more interesting to figure out if the idea has merit, as to me merit is a hint to value.

Bitcoin whitepaper state goals rather clearly, and the problems outlined there aren't going anywhere far right now. So the question is, can cryptocurrencies provide a solution? I'd say it's too early to say.

Bitcoin looks like a much more serious idea than this article to me. On that level of analysis approaches like "come on people... etcetera etcetera" seem somewhat half-baked. The imagination jump which creators of cryptocurrencies made is much more significant and deserves a better review. The article is a good reminder that we need to think more here.

> So the question is, can cryptocurrencies provide a solution? I'd say it's too early to say.

Well the stated goals of the bitcoin whitepaper are pretty narrow in scope, but setting that aside... Can cryptocurrency tokens provide a solution? I think the question is undeniably yes, the question then becomes, is the solution practical and do its tradeoffs represent a net benefit compared to the status quo? In this case the answer is clearly no. "Too early to say" is always true in technology so it's essentially meaningless. It's like if I said it's too early to tell if Diaspora will transform the social media landscape... sure, something unforeseeable could make that a real possibility but just like with cryptocurrency all the hype and fanfare has amounted to technically interesting novelty without much substance.

>Is it really that hard to assume there could be solutions to problems like that?

That's kind of venturing into a recursive loop of pointlessness.

The "problems like that" you mention, are actually the ostensible "solutions" that cryptocurrency was designed to provide.

So the solution to those "problem solutions," is to acknowledge that 10 years of cryptocurrencies with little more to show than Willybots and hot potato hype-machines, says something about their essential value to most of society.

There are already solutions for that! We've had one out for a year:


That line caught my attention also. Right now most people don't maintain their own private keys, most have online wallets such as Coinbase do that for them.

That was already addressed, in the parent comment's quote

> and if you don’t maintain your own private keys, cryptocurrencies are essentially no different from fiat money held in banks

Or even better, just describe each shortcoming as an opportunity.

Title should be "The cryptocurrency alternative"

I am a keen watcher of crypto although I have zero skin in the game, just friends that did get bitten by the bitcoin fever. I use bitcoin as a generic term for all the alt coins and any business that talks of 'blockchain' or 'ICO' - it is all the same snake-oil to me.

A mere six months ago everyone and his dog was advising me to get into one coin or another as if they were trying to get me into their pyramid scheme. This chat is now absent from the watercooler.

So I pressed my bitcoin mad neighbour on 'how are the coins going?' earlier today. I got an answer that they weren't doing it at the moment which sounded like the answer you would get if you asked a drug addict if they are still on crack knowing that their dealer had been busted.

I asked some more and the response I got was that bitcoin was seasonal and that right now is just not the season for it. I asked some more but there was no more other than 'seasonal'.

I also no longer get notifications of bitcoin things on YouTube and Twitter. For instance the guy 'bitfinex'd' was writing daily about the scam that was going on with that coin that was pegged to the dollar, he has not written in weeks.

So my analysis is that the coin thing has gone the way of 'cold fusion'. It sounded like the next big thing but it is not.

There is a lot of momentum with these things, I am sure that bitcoin is worth many thousands of dollars and I am sure that there are people putting together new coin scams, however, the word on the street and by the watercooler is that bitcoin is passe. People have moved on.

On the contrary, we are about to start the second wave of things. The next wave will be an order of magnitude larger than the last, and this will continue until Bitcoin and blockchain has disrupted the vast majority of current industries.

You sound like an Internet hater after it failed to find a killer app besides email for most of the mid-90s.

Then, in 2000, as Pets.com was imploding, no doubt you would've dusted off this consistent criticism: "I am sure that internet stocks are worth many thousands of dollars and I am sure that there are people putting together new scams, however, the word on the street and by the watercooler is that internet stocks are passe. People have moved on."

Ten years later, the stock market is dominated by tech stocks.

If your criticism was based on actual knowledge, I'd give you credit, but it sounds like you have no idea what you're talking about, and you're using derision as an excuse not to educate yourself.

Indeed, I think $8500 per Bitcoin is a bargain. Come check with me in a year.

Theodores seems to have some actual knowledge from the water cooler. Bitcoin has no intrinsic value - the price is entirely driven by various people buying and selling it so seeing what such people are thinking is relevant.

Don't listen to what people say...watch what they do.


>If your criticism was based on actual knowledge

Actual knowledge would probably say that institutions are positioning rapidly.

Look to the crypto systems that are currently being integrated into the financial system, the primary of which is Bitcoin due to it being battle-hardened and consistent. Follow that with Ethereum, Litecoin and Ripple.

Others have their markets but none as mature as the majors, and most of the rest will simply fade away.

"Come check with me in a year" - I wonder : is there a way to make an online bet using smart contracts?

Yes, there is, but it's not worth my time. I'm invested in crypto, so if I win, I win.

The article does not address what I think is the Achille's Heel of crypto currencies: Controlling the money supply is one of the most powerful rights that a government has. Why do you think the governments in the EU have not unified their fiscal policies? Why do you think EU countries cheat on their budget deficits? Governments want to be able to make money plentiful during economic downturns, and tighten it up when the economy starts overheating. They set nonzero target inflation rates to encourage people to consume and invest. The idea that governments will allow some technology to remove that power from them is silly. If a crypto currency ever becomes a significant medium of exchange, it will be outlawed (following predictable reports about Drug Kingpins, Terrorists and Child Pornography).

Most cryptocurrencies are spec'd to stop creating new coins after a period of time. But that doesn't mean one couldn't design a coin where inflation is controlled by an entity with the right key.

Even without that consideration policy changes can be enforced by Software updates. In the case of bitcoin gridlock has stalled this process but other coins have managed fine. The government has a strong compelling argument to force upgrades - you can't pay your taxes if you don't and then you will go to jail.

That's only a problem if you expect cryptos to replace fiat in everyday things like paying wages and taxes. If it's a parallel currency like at present it doesn't really effect the money supply stuff.

The different scenarios don't seem to follow the same time line. The first example seems to be far in the future while the others closer to now, making the comparisons flawed

How can he be so good at understanding the possibilities but so bad at judging the likelihood of significant change?

some good points there but saying "uh, nah" as a valid argument for dismissing probable outcomes doesn't awe me

the subsidization of real world real estate, art and other things that solve numerous problems did not enter this article.

"Suppose, just for a moment, just for argument’s sake, that (some) cryptocurrencies are not a giant scam, and what’s more, they’re not just another kind of financial asset. Come on. Don’t look at me like that. Work with me here. Imagine, just for a moment, that there exist plausible futures in which they matter."

I'm afraid my suspension of disbelief has its limits.

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