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How I became Leonardo da Vinci on the Blockchain (shkspr.mobi)
206 points by edent 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments



There are other prohibitive problems with this idea.

What happens if someone dies or the private key is otherwise lost?

What if the private key is stolen and the thief uses it to authorize a dirt-cheap sale to themselves?

What happens if the item is sold but the "token" is accidentally (or deliberately) sent to the wrong recipient?

What happens if the courts determine that someone else is legally entitled to the work in question (e.g. via divorce judgement) but the current owner destroys the private key out of spite?

Additionally, this system does not solve any practical problems. If I am a collector of stolen art, I don't really care about some ephemeral blockchain token, all I really care about is being in possession of rare art that I can personally admire.

Finally, it is impossible to generate a reproducible hash based on a physical object, so there is nothing preventing someone from keeping the original and selling off a fake in its place, forever corrupting the supposed chain of trust established by the artist.


> being in possession of rare art that I can personally admire

Isn't it usually more about showing off that de Hory painting[0] to your Yakuza friends?

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmyr_de_Hory


Blockchains don't really work for ownership of non-digital assets.

I think they can and will be incredibly useful for digital trade, but too many people are trying to make rigid secure digital systems represent the squishy nondeterminism of analog law. Fundamentally, you can't keep an accurate ledger, because there is no interface for proving ownership of physical items.


There is an interface for proving ownership of physical items. It is a centralized system, composed of courts and governments, but it works.

If someone challenges your ownership of property, you bring your papers to court.

The same thing could work for cryptoassets: you have a centralized, trusted system for validation of custody of assets, and then its share distribution is handled on the blockchain.


In this instance, what advantage does blockchain offer over the existing systems?


I guess fast, low cost transactions


Using cryptotokens as a method of recording who-owns-X-physical-thing seems useful at first glance. It would work for as long as there are no bad actors.

The main issue is dealing with a 'fork'. If Person A has the private key that 'possesses' an item, but the courts say that Person B is the rightful owner (and physically transfers it to them), how do you securely fix the chain?

If person A cannot or will not be compelled to transfer the cryptoasset with their private key, then the chain now has incorrect and uncorrectable information on it. If some records on your chain are not trustworthy, trust in the whole chain breaks down.

The only fix is requiring a centralized backdoor, at which point you might as well just use a non-blockchain database.


Cryptocourt? Bitjudge?


Blockchains don't work for digital assets either because there is no way to 'give' anything digital i.e., ensuring sender no longer has a digital copy


True for things likes movies and songs, but you can make sure that a "bitcoin" / UTXO is transferred. So, "things" on the blockchain you are interested in can be accounted for.

And that can be used in conjunction with a server-side process to give a client some benefit of server-side processing. e.g. Player A has sword "X" in their inventory.


Yeah, I think access rights is a big use case. Even could be useful for real-world services, assuming people are willing to trust the service provider.

- Spend a cryptotoken as the cost of creating a forum account to fight spammers or malicious users.

- Only stream this video to people who have signed a message with a privkey that controls a token which corresponds to the video. Use steganography to encode privkey into stream, so if they release it publicly, their access rights can be stolen.

- Concert tickets that can be validated and transferred on a blockchain would also be cool, but maybe a bit heavyweight and unnecessary. Have trust when buying ticket from a scalper that it is real and valid, transfer to your own privkey so it can't be sold twice.

All of this is complicated by regulatory uncertainty, though. No way that any of these are economically viable if you have to deal with AML on every transaction, and it's not clear you can transact in non-monetary cryptoassets without being liable for following money transmitter laws.


AWS and Google Cloud are in the business of providing digital assets to customers (results of calculations.)


I disagree, the ERC721 standard for non-fungible assets is serves just that purpose.

https://eips.ethereum.org/EIPS/eip-721


To wit:

"In other words, blockchain can guarantee parameters of transactions, but it cannot sanitize the endpoints. It cannot impose the type of social-justice and good-actor constraints that some of its proponents believe will lead to disintermediation of centralized marketplaces like Amazon (customers will still want easy returns, "no questions asked" guarantees and customer service) or large financial intermediaries (banking clients will still want automatic fraud reversal and credit card rewards)."

-- http://goo.gl/BtVyx3


The only good implementation of blockchain stamping is OpenTimestamps from Peter Todd.

And because it is smart and nor an overhyped ICO, it is offered for free and actually works.

See https://opentimestamps.org/

edit: oh, it seems the project in question (veritart) is actually using opentimestamps.


You don't need a "blockchain" for timestamps. There have been timestamping services for years.[1] There's a standard: RFC 3161. Many of the SSL cert providers also have a timestamping service.

Timestamping would be very useful if Google used signed timestamps to determine provenance. Scraper sites should be outranked by the original source.

[1] https://freetsa.org/index_en.php


You need a blockchain for decentralised timestamps. That is because a blockchain is basically a slow clock. Its not easy to spoof as you would need to spoof the Proof of Work. Any existing signature relies on a 3rd party trusted clock (like symantecs signing service for Authenticode).


In the white paper it's literally called the "timestamp server" and that is its sole function. Timestamping transactions in a decentralized environment.


You could have stopped at

> You don't need a "blockchain"


Sure, but then I wouldn't have learned something!


The obvious rebuttal to your claim is that those services are all centralized.


You can use timestamps from multiple services on the same data. There are many RFC 3161 timestamp services run by different organizations in different countries.

Wordpress could use time-stamping services to prove provenance on postings. That would be useful if Google paid attention to the timestamps.


The obvious rebuttal is, do they need to be decentralized?


To prevent any one party from being able to deceive others about the timestamp.


His claim was:

> You don't need a "blockchain" for timestamps.

He didn't say anything about whether the timestamp services were centralized or not.

So saying "ha, but they're centralized!" is not a rebuttal.


But that's a disingenious argument. The main reason people claim that the blockchain is a good use for timestamps is that nobody can be bribed, or hacked, to change the results.


Given that the blockchain does not solve for human error, the argument for true immutability is not necessary a strict positive.


Well hey, I have and will go on record saying that the Blockchain isn't a panacea for everything - but if you do want to claim that you did X at time Y, a big blockchain is a pretty good way to register that claim.

(Note that I didn't say prove that you ddi thing X at time Y...)


Except in the case of the etherium fork.


True, but that's less of a concern for timestamps, right? You can always point to the original pre-fork chain.


> Blockchain is amazing technology - but it is a solution in search of a problem.

True.


I disagree. Blockchain and crypto currencies that use PoW are a terrible invention. Bitcoin mining alone is now using more electricity than Ireland, and this figure is only increasing even more. In an age where the global effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent while still too little is done to mitigate it, maybe we should not exacerbate the problem even further This applies especially to something like crypto currencies that, so far, provide very little in terms of tangible societal benefits.

We could of course discuss PoS solutions, but those have their own drawbacks, and that still would not change the fundamental fact that crypto currencies and blockchains have yet, after roughly a decade, to find any kind of non-niche use case. Google needed far less than a decade to become the dominant search engine. Netflix did the same of video streaming. Modern smartphones exist for about as long as Bitcoin, and they have become globally ubiquitous. So how good can the blockchain really be?


I think the two of you are violently agreeing with each other.


Good thing there are no negative externalities from our current financial system! /s


sorry, but blockchain should be compared to internet, not google & yes packet-switching took a decade to become TCP/IP and took more than 2 decades, to become the internet. Bitcoin should be compared to google.


No it's not. Blockchain was created to solve a very specific problem, "how to achieve consensus on a distributed ledger without trusting any participant" and it did so with great success. It is the thousands of startups that try to apply this solution without having this exact problem.


> how to achieve consensus on a distributed ledger without trusting any participant

The problem is that that is just a solution in disguise as a problem. Why do we need to achieve consensus on a distributed ledger without trusting any participant? It works, I think, for bitcoin because the ledger is an end unto itself and didn't have to interface with any existing system (no existing accounts/items/entries to assign to existing owners).


Credit card fraud and chargebacks online are brutal, and can sink many innocent and legitimate online small businesses.

The 'cash-like' quality of Bitcoin, that the sender cannot take it back or contest the transaction after the fact, is a solution to a real problem.


> Credit card fraud and chargebacks online are brutal, and can sink many innocent and legitimate online small businesses.

Unless you're talking adult businesses, gambling or one of the other industries with known issues with card fraud and/or excessive charge-backs, they aren't a significant problem for legitimate businesses at all. Even a 1% charge-back rate is unusual enough that card providers will flag the retailer for investigation.


Not sure that's totally accurate, here is a counterpoint article I read on here recently.

https://www.candyjapan.com/behind-the-scenes/how-i-got-credi...


On the opposite side of the coin the same reversibility is also great for fighting fraud from scammy sellers. For consumers anything interacting with real world items really needs to be reversible or scammers will have a field day with it and damage the brand.


You think online small businesses are transacting directly with their customers using Bitcoin?


It's ironic how the blockchain claims to let you do all these things without trusting any of the participants, yet it attracts some of the most untrustworthy participants the world has ever seen.

#BrockPierce from @AnOpenSecret on #LastWeekTonight with John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TAnAYa8gas

Brock Pierce posing with his "Make Bitcoin Great Again" at Trump's inaugural lounge: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155736654012782&se...

DEN Sources: A document-in-progress compiling firsthand reporting on DEN, Bitcoin, Brock Pierce and the Mike Egan / Bryan Singer lawsuit: https://medium.com/@cuttlefish_btc/den-sources-af289efd690b


> It's ironic how the blockchain claims to let you do all these things without trusting any of the participants, yet it attracts some of the most untrustworthy participants the world has ever seen.

Hmm. Ironic or just expected? Individualized trust isn't required, but trust in the system is required. Honor among thieves is what makes the system work, so to speak.


That's not surprising at all. Untrustworthy people doing untrustworthy business are the people most in need of a platform that doesn't rely on trust.


So you're saying the Bitcoin Foundation should let anyone like Brock Pierce be the director, because the Blockchain globally and completely eliminates the need to trust anyone, and EOS shouldn't have parted ways with Brock Pierce, and should hire even more untrustworthy people, because the Blockchain makes it perfectly safe and wise to work with untrustworthy people?

Black is white! Good is bad! It's wonderful for scammers to be in charge! The Blockchain is the solution to everything! You can trust the Blockchain so much, that you don't need to trust people any more! Nothing could possibly go wrong! No snake oil! You're the snake oil! ;)


I didn't say any of those things even remotely. It kind of feels like you've imagined both sides of an argument in your head, and are projecting the other side on me.

The only thing I'm saying is: If I'm a known con man, and I'm trying to do a deal with another known con man, I'd like to have a platform that supposedly doesn't require me to trust a con man.

I never said anything about whether blockchain can or cannot do that, never said anything about globally eliminating the need for trust, nor that blockchain is a solution for anything, nor what is "safe and wise".

I'm not even a proponent of blockchain...I can just see why some types of people are attracted to the advertised benefits.


Then "consensus on a distributed ledger" is a solution in search of a problem.


No, it's not. The problem is clearly laid out in the Bitcoin whitepaper. The problem was known long before the solution.

The root problem is how to make functional and secure trustless money which doesn't rely on third parties. Decentralizing the control is the best solution known to date to remove trust from the system. This introduces the problem of ordering distributed events in a trustless environment. The solution to that is the timestamp server proposed in the Bitcoin whitepaper. That timestamp server is what has been rebranded "blockchain". It's useless for 99% of things it's proposed to solve, but it's the only known solution the original problem.


Except that we don't want trustless money. We want reversible transactions, and funds that can be seized.

Given how My.Gox and the DAO thefts went down, so do people actually using cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin does a great job of being trustless money, and a terrible job of being money. I don't need trustless money in my life.


You may not need it, but I am thankful that it now exists.

You may be happy with centralized services such as banks and credit cards. But those institutions are vulnerable to intimidation and so proved unsuitable for pot growers in Colorado and for Wikileaks.

In the cases of Wikileaks and Colorado pot farmers, they angered a government, even if many other governments (and the state of Colorado) supported them. So it's not about being some bad-ass who fights all forms of government. It's about pushing the boundaries enough that somebody powerful may choose to intimidate your financial provider. Given the number of powerful entities in the world with conflicting world-views, if you're doing anything interesting, you may run afoul of one of them.

Even if you personally will never use trustless money, having it exist in the world is making you a little bit more free.


It does make the world a little more free, and I have some sympathy for some of those causes.

It also seems to come at a great price, in terms of pollution and energy waste. Your right to buy heroin, or child pornography, or organically grown cruelty-and-cartel free marijuana is great, but your externalities are horrific.


I really don't want to get into a global warming fapping session with you, on a thread that has nothing to do with that, but casually dropping the "horrific" bomb is difficult for me to ignore.

I will just remind you that there is a thing called a carbon cycle. Carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere. Carbon is not a poison, but is instead, a fundamental component of all life on earth. It does not accumulate forever, but instead, is reabsorbed back out of the atmosphere at some often debated rate. Climate scientists know this, but people who drop the "horrific" bomb, generally do not.

Please reserve the word "horrific" for things that actually are. I'm sure you'll find something that is legitimately horrific if you try.


> I will just remind you that there is a thing called a carbon cycle. Carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere. Carbon is not a poison, but is instead, a fundamental component of all life on earth. It does not accumulate forever, but instead, is reabsorbed back out of the atmosphere at some often debated rate. Climate scientists know this, but people who drop the "horrific" bomb, generally do not.

That's not only patronising, it's completely irrelevant when we are currently producing more carbon dioxide than can be absorbed by all of the world's carbon sinks, and so additional carbon dioxide being produced means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


You need to provide a source for that. You will not be able to. The CO2 level was MUCH MUCH higher in the past. As long as plants exist, CO2 will be absorbed, and it's absorbed at a higher rate as it goes up, thus stabilizing the system. Think partial pressures.


> to buy heroin, or child pornography, or organically grown cruelty-and-cartel free marijuana

All of those existed and were traded before bitcoin was created.

> energy waste

I'd really love to see an analysis of the carbon emissions attributable to Bitcoin mining vs emissions which were funded by the extravagant salaries of wealthy-elite workers in the traditional finance/banking system. I fully accept the premise that there is some amount of CO2 emitted for maintaining the Bitcoin network, but wonder what the true cost to the climate is for rent-seeking behavior in the financial industry.


If nothing changed, what's the value of BTC, then?

You can't have it both ways. You can't credit it for enabling good illegal transactions, but disavow yourself from all the bad illegal transactions (because they would have happened anyways!) It's an agnostic protocol, you get the bad with the good.


With Ethereum, you could make "reversible Ether" that is 1:1 exchangeable for ordinary Ether but has a two week waiting period before it's finalized.

You could make "seizable-by-the-FBI Ether" too, but I suspect nobody would want it.


This video does a very good job explaining what exact problems you would face if you tried to create a decentralized payment system and how bitcoin solved these problems. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBC-nXj3Ng4&vl=en


One could be generous and call it a problem in search of an application.


Yea exactly, there is only one problem it really solves, and it's already found it. Currency (and sure some stuff that touches it like smart contracts) is the one use case where all the blockchain's properties are useful. Everything else, just use a public/distributed cryptographic ledger, save yourself a ton of money. Use technology that's worked for 30 years.


I disagree, I don't think there is anything amazing about blockchains. But I do agree that it is a solution in search of a problem.


A blockchain only guarantees that calculations are done in a certain way, not that the input data is correct. That same problem also existed before the blockchain as you can see with e.g. Amazon reviews and fake news. Traditionally that problem was solved by having a centralized authority that decides on what input data is correct and what isn't, but that, of course, comes with the usual problems of centralization and monopolies, and also, doesn't seem to work well at scale (as you can again see with the crumbling Amazon review system).

While the criticism in the blog post at blockchain as a technology is misdirected in my opinion (and maybe even purposefully misunderstanding what problems blockchains solve), I think the main problem of "shit in - shit out" is a very interesting and important one, even more so in decentralized systems where you don't have the crutches of a centralized verifier available.

However, I'm pretty optimistic that that problem can even be solved with the help of blockchain. I hoped that I wouldn't have to plug our project[0] before we have anything published, but this seems too close of a topic to pass up. Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing both code for our first testnet and our whitepaper for a decentralized information verification system that aims to solve the problems laid out in this blog post, that we worked on for quite some time.

[0]: https://rlay.com


The criticism wasn't aimed at blockchain-as-a-technology, but at blockchain-as-a-panacea - at businesses who seem to think that slathering some blockchain on a problem is going to magically solve the problem.


How is the information verified in your system? Why does it need a blockchain?

You mentioned that the "criticism in the blog post at blockchain as a technology is misdirected", how so?


> How is the information verified in your system? Why does it need a blockchain?

The information is verified by creating an open system where anyone can point out wrong information (by providing oposing information). That is done with the help of a token in our system, which is issued to people who help establish consensus about what's true and what isn't. The token is the main reason we need a blockchain, and the gametheoretic aspects behind it dictate that there needs to be a token or similar in our system for it to work.

> You mentioned that the "criticism in the blog post at blockchain as a technology is misdirected", how so?

The "shit in - shit out" problem exists also with traditional systems and is not solely a blockchain-problem. That's what I meant to say with that.

I think that's about as much as I can share right now without angering my colleagues. The whitepaper which is coming out in a few weeks goes more into depth about the specifics of each part of the systems and provides some game-theoretic and economic foundations for the system.


> The information is verified by creating an open system where anyone can point out wrong information (by providing oposing information).

How do you combat "spam", were some users send thousands of fake registrations of well known art works?

How do you combat sockpuppet that send wrong opposing information to steal the art work of the original creator?

How do you combat sockpuppets that send wrong information to support fake claims?

If some piece of art has two claims, who decides which one is the correct?


> If some piece of art has two claims, who decides which one is the correct?

In the end I would say that all of your other questions can be reduced to this one, by adding weight to claims, which makes the quantity of claims and indentities irellevant.

We are not focused on the art market, but open to any kind of information. But for the example of the art ownership verification:

- Person A (true owner) claims that they own the Mona Lisa with a weight of 10 tokens

- Person B (non-owner) claims that they own the Mona Lisa with a weight of 10 tokens

- An additional actor X who knows about the ownership can add additional weight to the claim of Person A. If the consensus in the end decides (based on the weights) that Person A is the true owner, actor X will be rewarded. There are some specifics about how we construct the reward function that I can't talk about yet, but the core of it is that all participants in the network are incentivized to only submit true information, and also incentivized to combat any wrong information they see by providing conflicting true information.

If you are interested in the topic and would like to discuss more deeply feel free to reach out to me via the email on the website (I'm Max).


I can see and am grateful for your effort to answer the questions as helpfully as you can. But to me, when you say "the owner of the Mona Lisa is whoever has the most tokens in our system", it sounds like complete nonsense. The Louvre owns the Mona Lisa, and if your system disagrees with that, your system is broken.


I can definitely see where you are coming from since that mechanism of "most token wins", sounds very unintuitive and inherintly cheatable (and in a lot of places has rightfully bad connotations like "pay to win" in video games). When I first heard it I also had the same reaction. Sadly I don't think that I can offer any more information right now, but we are all very eager to publicize it and put it out into the open for critic ASAP.


>I can definitely see where you are coming from since that mechanism of "most token wins", sounds very unintuitive and inherintly cheatable (and in a lot of places has rightfully bad connotations like "pay to win" in video games).

It does indeed seem exactly that way. You said upthread:

>An additional actor X who knows about the ownership can add additional weight to the claim of Person A.

But how do you verify that X is someone "knows about the ownership"? What if X was someone A or B paid or incentivized to vouch for them so the consensus would be swayed? How do prevent bad actors from gaming the system in this way? If the asset in dispute is valuable enough it would certainly be worth it to a bad actor to pay a little to cheat and have the consensus fall on their side.


> What if X was someone A or B paid or incentivized to vouch for them so the consensus would be swayed?

If B were to pay X a bribe of amount N, so X enforces the statement with amount N, B could also directly enforce the statement with amount N, which would lead to exactly the same result. If X would receive less than N, to add a weight of N, they would be gifting some money to B, and vice versa. So between rational untrusted parties, a simple bribe would not make sense. There are some rationality assumptions relating to 51% attacks similar to PoS oriented systems that have to be met, but there are some mechanisms in place that should reduce the practical requirement regarding rationality among participating parties significantly.

> If the asset in dispute is valuable enough it would certainly be worth it to a bad actor to pay a little to cheat and have the consensus fall on their side.

Good question, but I'm afraid that's one of the questions I can't answer right now without leaking too much information.


> If B were to pay X a bribe of amount N, [...] B could also directly enforce the statement with amount N

Okay, better question: how do you deal with the (pathologic, and therefore approximately guarranteed to come up) situation where A's life savings are ten dollars and a horse, B has 100 million dollars, and B claims (with amount ≥ 11$) that B owns A's horse.


As long as the "100 million dollars" don't make up more than 50% of the tokens in the network, the incentives are supposed to play out in a way that all the other participants of the network contest the wrong statement made by B, and thus B isn't able to introduce information that is deemed wrong. So in general the situation should be preventable. There are some specific versions of that edge case that come to my mind that where that situation could indeed be unresolvable but in those cases that should be detectable and displayable to the users of the system.

As I said in my previous comment, there are some rationality requirements regarding some of the token amount.


> If B were to pay X a bribe of amount N, so X enforces the statement with amount N, B could also directly enforce the statement with amount N

You're assuming the bribe comes in your made up currency. B could bribe X with real money or out of band coerce/intimidate X with threats and violence.


> B could bribe X with real money

So a connected market with goods that can be bridged similar to the stock market.

> or out of band coerce/intimidate X with threats and violence

I'm not pushing for a world without governments and law enforcement.


I guess your idea is to have an ultimate veto power to revert any decision. So it's a centralized service that can run in a traditional database instead of a blockchain.

What will you do in polemic cases? For example, some people think that La Gioconda is own by the Italian people and should be returned to Italy (because Leonardo was Italian). What would you do if there is a huge campaign to claim that it is owned by some Italian museum? What about the Tutankhamen mummy? Alaska?


> I guess your idea is to have an ultimate veto power to revert any decision. So it's a centralized service that can run in a traditional database instead of a blockchain.

Not at all, and I don't know where you are getting that idea from. The system, as it is designed right now has no requirement for a single centralized or trusted party. It also has no requirement for any trust between the participants (which most systems in the same realm do).

> What will you do in polemic cases?

That's a good question, and one of the things we want to explore during iterations of the testnet. Without going into more specifics I would say that there is a part of the incentive mechanism that rewards a more clear-cut consensus (a 50/50 split on a boolean statement is the least favourable situation for participants on both sides). This unfavourable situation should then in turn fuel the contribution of more information so people can make a more informed rational decision which should then lead to a more clear consensus. There are also some higher level market mechanisms that we anticipate to develop which could be used to both stabilize and destabilize the consensus about a certain statement, like a off-chain PR campaign as you mentioned. We'll have to see how each of those can potentially impact a consensus and if that is something that needs a countermeasure in the core protocol.


It's almost like rule 0 of the modern internet. There will almost certainly be many cases in which there are more additional actors willing to pledge tokens stating that [arbitrary person] painted the Mona Lisa than there are additional actors willing to pledge tokens stating that Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. In fact, given what so far seems like a tiny value in having information be correct, I would guess that the majority of works of art would end up attributed to the wrong artists given enough time.

I know you said your system isn't tracking this specifically, but the general principle remains true in any problem domain. The integrity of a common-consensus system depends entirely on how little trolls care about disrupting it.


"The integrity of a common-consensus system depends entirely on how little trolls care about disrupting it."

That is actually the key point why a blockchain (or ledger that allows for money-like transaction) is an important part for us. By binding what you say to a monetary reward people that act irrationaly and do it for the lulz will lose their money and ultimately have to leave the system by running out of funds.

Simmilarly, trolls could dimish the value of a PoW blockchain by creating and exploiting 51% attacks, but that hasn't happened with Bitcoin, since that is far too expensive to do it just for fun. Monetarily motivated attacks are of course a different discussion.


Of course, this depends on the cost and value of the truth being higher than the cost and value of a lulz.

The art example is a great demonstration of the mismatch. There is essentially zero value in the truth, so it was worth a bit of the author's time for the lulz.

With cryptocurrency, the cost to subvert the truth is pretty high, so the value of doing so, although high, doesn't exceed the cost. With anything for which the value isn't inherent, like a cryptocurrency, it's hard to see that working out.

I mean, if I'm using a hypothetical art-ownership blockchain system, and I see that someone has spent $5 to claim authorship of Mona Lisa, do I care enough to spend $6 to say no, it's Leonardo? Do I care enough to spend even $1, along with five other people? What if 200 4chan trolls have each pitched in a dollar to say Hitler painted it? Eventually, maybe, enough people kick in a combined $201 to say no, seriously, it was Leonardo. But then what? Am I expected to continue paying a regular fee to maintain the truth? Why would I even care that much?

Wikipedia is a great example of something working really well, but many of the reasons it works so well are contrary to what you've described. It is in fact often people with far more time than money that ensure the truth generally remains on wikipedia, and they use non-blockchain-like tools, including the exertion of authority and locking of article pages, to do it.

I'm not trying to crap on your super-sekret whitepaper at all! I'm mostly thinking this through as I type, and responding to the poor design, heck, the poor goal of the described art-authorship application. You might have solved all of this in a way that doesn't depend on trolls being poor or getting bored easily. I hope so.


> You might have solved all of this in a way that doesn't depend on trolls being poor or getting bored easily.

I would argue that most markets in existence are fundamentally based on that holding true. And somehow the world, for some reason inexplicable to me hasn't collapsed yet.

> Wikipedia is a great example of something working really well

In the general case, yeah I agree. However, there have also been cases where authority on Wikipedia has been blatantly misused to overrepresent personal views of privileged contributors and censor contradicting contributions. I'm not saying that permissioned information/knowledge gathering platforms like Wikipedia have no right to exist - as with any centralized system they probably have efficiency gains - but I think there are some properties of it that can be improved upon.


Most markets in existence are in meatspace, and trolls in meatspace risk life and limb. Online, the costs of trolling are much lower, which is why trolling threatens to destroy everything good on the internet.

If your solution is counting on "some reason inexplicable" that took me literally two sentences to easily and accurately explain, I'd worry.

If you think trolling hasn't caused collapses, well, I note that your site has four pictures of people who are unlikely to experience what I'm talking about.

Wikipedia definitely has issues, but most of those issues involve exactly the sorts of things we're talking about here: trust, and who has it. Most of their issues would be solved with more centralized control, not less, and still the issue of who to trust with that control remains.


> Most markets in existence are in meatspace, and trolls in meatspace risk life and limb. Online, the costs of trolling are much lower, which is why trolling threatens to destroy everything good on the internet.

Yes, since traditionally the cost of trolling is ~the cost of the time of the troll. Do you think the internet would look the same if there would be enforceable fines on slurs in Tweets or Youtube comments? More relatedly, have trolls managed to destroy Bitcoin and Ethereum, which are based exactly on those anti-trolling mechanics of rational players being in place?


I know it's not fair to critique your system without access to the code or the whitepaper, but it sure sounds like "truth is whatever the person with the most money to spend says it is."


Thanks for answering! I am very interested in prospect Blockchain solutions.

> the core of it is that all participants in the network are incentivized to only submit true information

How is this done? What is the incentive?


Yeah, these seem like impossible hurdles without a centralized identity system to fall back on. The good news is that we have several: FB, Twitter, etc. These centralized networks already pour tons of resources into identity verification- IE, the 'verified' tag on Twitter.

The combined reputation from many of these services could act as a badge of trustworthiness on the blockchain. You just need a system like Keybase to cryptographically associate accounts to a public key.

I have been shocked to see so few crypto solutions integrate with Keybase as a trustworthy identity network. I wonder why people aren't doing this?


> as you can see with e.g. Amazon reviews and fake news.

If Amazon wants to implement a stricter review check you can rest assured that it will be like YouTube demonitization all over again. So companies err on the safer side and take actions only when things get out of hand. Sure it is not perfect but it is better than system which leaves less leeway.

I read your below reply about how blockchain is required but you lost me at game theory, which frankly has become a go to explanation for everything blockchain. Why will this work in a blockchain? Is always followed by "because game theory and prisoners dilemma etc."

Still given that you are implementing such a system, I am curious what is your background and experience in game theory, maths, voting etc?


> If Amazon wants to implement a stricter review check you can rest assured that it will be like YouTube demonitization all over again.

Why would it? No one makes money from legitimately written Amazon reviews.


Because people rely on reviews and ratings to buy stuff? And stricter guidelines will mean lot of real reviews will be deleted along with fake ones? In which case some of the genuine items will be deprioritized because they have less reviews/rating?


> Because people rely on reviews and ratings to buy stuff?

There are people who try to make a living on YouTube. Demonetization hurt them and they have a ready-made audience to vent to.

But legitimate reviewers won't really care if Amazon implements stricter checks, because their livelihood doesn't rely on Amazon reviews. People won't have much sympathy for the people pushing crappy products using sketchy reviews who might get hurt, and they don't really have a high-profile forum to complain.

If Amazon wants to implement a stricter review check you can rest assured that it will not be like YouTube demonitization all over again.



your website has no details and you don't publish your whitepaper.


> Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing both code for our first testnet and our whitepaper

If you can be patient for a bit there will be something to see. If you want to you can also shoot me an email, and I'll send you the whitepaper ASAP.


Would you agree that this is a harder problem than say casino and gambling on the blockchain? There are great use cases for improving trust with smart contracts and ledgers that prevent the house from cheating or running off with the money.


Not sure what specifically you mean. Doesn't gambling on the blockchain usually work without a "house", e.g. smart contracts that are not in anyone's control? Those are the only gambling systems I've seen so far on the blockchain, but I must admit that I've never deeply looked at that topic.


The smart contracts have to be in someone's control. It's better if they aren't controlled by the house though. Check out FunFair.


Ah, the FunFair example makes it more clear what you mean. I think the main obstacle there is finding/creating a decentralized way for (pseudo-)random numbers to establish true fairness. From what I've heard that problem has mostly been solved, but I don't know for certain.

> The smart contracts have to be in someone's control.

They don't _have_ to be. Someone has to deploy the smart contract, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they get any privileged access to alter/use the smart contract after deployment. That's where a lot of the beauty of smart contract enabled blockchains comes from in my opinion.


There are various solutions for randomness. Funfair's is for the user and the house to generate chains of hashes, e.g. hash(hash(hash(secret))). Each posts the outermost hash to the smart contract. Then each can reveal successive preimages, and the contract can XOR each pair to get a random number.

Here's an article on an idea very similar to theirs, with sample code: https://www.blunderingcode.com/gamble-channels-fast-verifiab...


You can assert that you created media by proving that you had it before anyone else. Blockchains allow you to upload media or a hash of the media into a (relatively) permanent, (relatively) immutable ledger. Relative permanence and immutability are valuable qualities.

Uploading a hash into the bitcoin blockchain is trivial; marketing this type of service is not. The advertising or promises of a specific venture do not necessarily reflect the value of a technology.


...and that is the purpose of a copyright too when filed with the USPTO.


This is confusing claim and dispute resolution.

The Louvre Museum possesses the Mona Lisa, and claims it is the owner. If I break in and steal it, I possess it, and I can claim ownership. But the Louvre can take me to court and the judge will resolve the dispute.

Any blockchain is not a dispute resolution mechanism but an efficient claim storage, and as such blockchains can never expect to replace authority of courts - which leads to back to the usual politics


I think cryptocurrencies could be part of a novel arbitration system, actually. Parties to a human-readable contract put up a bond on a smart contract which authorizes some mutually agreed arbitrator to disburse the bonds on completion of the contract, according to how things turned out. It's an irrevocable submission to the arbitrator's authority over restitution and punishment, but the smart contract prevents the arbitrator from absconding with the bonds (though they could still collude with one of the participants.)


This is how we do arbitration in OpenBazaar. Users can offer their services as arbitrators and compete on terms, price, and reputation. When a buyer makes a purchase they can choose one from a list of ones pre-approved by the seller. Then funds are sent to a 2-of-3 multisig address where each of the parties has 1 key.


I don't see the difference - both parties are agreeing to submit to a third party decision. Given most lands have hundreds of years of case law, generally strong ethical expectations of judiciary etc, I think this would be something i would only trust as an escrow service still under a strong legal system


Aren't there far more efficient forms of "claim storage"?


We actually built something very similar to this recently. It's an art auction house app running on a private blockchain that we spun up using Hyperledger Fabric, with the front-end written in React.

Video walkthrough of the app if you're interested: https://youtu.be/HScND22bPcU?t=198

(Actual demo starts at 3:20)


it seems the ethereum blockchain is not immune to human lies. Aka the oracle problem, provenance problem.


My criticism of blockchain is how niche the uses are.

Bitcoin is great, worldwide transactions that are immune from the US government printing money every year. I understand that.

Voting and timestamps, great uses for blockchain.

However more complex work may need significantly more oversight. Sure its not great to add columns to a database, but you are not going to have this ability if millions of people dont need the columns. Thats the fault of decentralized chains.

Centralized blockchains defeat the purpose obv, but that hasnt stopped hundreds of coins from doing this.

Im very skeptical of crypto outside of bitcoin.


Bad application of technology doesn't (necessarily) mean that technology sucks.

Not that I care for most projects in blockchain sphere, as 95% of them are scam and 4.9% naive / misguided. But blockchain does have its uses, it's just the ICOs (and other manifestations of greed) that gave it a bad name. Audit logs anyone? That's the killer feature.


Honest question, what uses does blockchain have?

I have yet to find a single use case that isn't better served by a few centralized or federated systems.

Even digital currency I believe is better solved by systems like GNU Taler.


For auditing there are auditing companies, they can timestamp the consumers data.

If you don't want to pay an auditing company, you will have to pay the computing power for proof of work. Not a big gain.


Sure it is. It commoditizes trust, making audit logs easily accessible and cheap for many many companies. Besides, which auditing company do you trust?


"On two occasions I have been asked, — 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Charles_Babbage#Passages_from_...


Which is cute and all but it's the blockchain proponents that seem to think it will give right answers. Hell they frequently ellide the need to supply figures-right or wrong- at all.


I don't think this is accurate. It's the nontechnical zeitgeist shouting blockchain, not those in the know. Just like how carbon nanotubes were supposed to be the best at everything from conductors to batteries to bullet proof vests, and there are 0 usable products on the market. It's just easier to to get away with for programs.


And yet here we are discussing a blockchain start up putting almost zero effort into verifying the provenance of a piece of art despite verifying the provenance of art being its entire business model. Or are we just going to Scotsman them into non-technical shouting?


Perhaps unwittingly the earliest request for the "DWIM" command in a computing environment...

DWIM==<Do What I Mean>


If you take this question out of context, it’s pretty easy to dismiss that a human operator, on the other hand - would be, in most of the cases, be able to tell if the numbers are wrong.

So I believe Babbidge is incredibly wrong here.


This is a deeply disingenuous characterization of the author's point. The linked post is responding to claims made by blockchain proponents and businesses that the blockchain completely obviates the need for trust or outside verification, and points out that the actual technology falls far short of the hype and isn't the dagger in the heart of centralized institutions that proponents so often claim it is.


It’s worth noting that Verisart is very similar to https://www.ascribe.io which preceded it. Though ascribe has focused their marketing more towards digital art.


In the comments the author says, "Blockchain is amazing technology - but it is a solution in search of a problem." That's really the tl;dr of this article. Blockchain has a lot of potential value but arbitrarily throwing it at problems won't magically create the value (not counting investors blindly throwing money at buzzwords).


I have yet to come across any problems that are solved better with a blockchain than with any other traditional technology - except for the original one, a distributed electronic currency.


I strongly agree with your comment. It's frustrating that people won't even attempt to address this glaring deficiency. When I ask people for examples they do the verbal equivalent of running away babbling.


also decentralised clocks, which can provide decentralised timestamps, which is a kind of related concept (double spend resistance)


Also a non-redactable public record, although it's a bit hard to do that robustly; you need a transaction saying "find md5^[N]([X]) xor [md5^N(X) xor data]" to ensure you data is already securely embedded before anyone can determine that it's classified/copyrighted/otherwise-censor-bait.


It's not just related, it's the entire idea of the blockchain. It only exists to timestamp data; in the case of Bitcoin that data is a commitment to a set of transactions.


Blockchain is not optimized for physical reality but the digital one.


One could use blockchain to record the microscopic surface imperfections on the art. It would be like matching up the broken ends of stick...


When you only have a hammer, everything's a nail?


After just reading the title I thought this was going to be an article about all of the bots "painting the tape" and manipulating bitcoin prices on various exchanges.


now try to sell it


Check out the book The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace if you're interested in learning the background on why blockchain technology won't solve these kind of problems. Hardy Rodenstock fooled the foremost wine expert in the world.


> I don't understand the blockchain hype.

> A startup has certified my artwork & placed their verification on the bitcoin blockchain.

> Now art dealers & auctioneers can feel secure that I am the original artist.

> One small problem… I am not Leonardo da Vinci!https://www.verisart.com/works/23f2c64a-08c6-4a42-8013-84ac8...

Mkay, so the system is working as designed? It seems the issue in this case is that the people behind that startup are dumb. How does that translate to blockchain tech not being useful? If you don't properly verify the information you commit to a blockchain, don't trust the information on the blockchain. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that the information was committed by someone who controls a specific private key. Why would anyone expect anything more?


> How does that translate to blockchain tech not being useful?

By proving that without a central authority (centralization) verifying everything going into the blockchain, it is actually useless?

I have seen tons of threads where people like to mention shipping as a good use-case for blockchain. Supposedly it ensures manifest etc can't be doctored. And as this example shows if the data is tainted at source, blockchain is just a database, a rather complex one at that. In that case, it is better to use a traditional and controlled database.


How about if you need some central authority to verify everything going into the blockchain don't use a blockchain and use a database instead?


> By proving that without a central authority (centralization) verifying everything going into the blockchain, it is actually useless?

So then I guess there's no use for cryptographic signing, hash chains, and graph-theoretic consensus protocols? Because that's what you're saying. Your characterization of blockchains as "useless" only makes it seem like you have no idea what it actually is. It's not that complicated. It's just a handful of known and widely-accepted-as-not-being-useless-on-their-own algorithms which have been combined in a creative way.

> In that case, it is better to use a traditional and controlled database.

So then you get...what? You get the same thing but without cryptographic integrity checks. If incorrect data is committed, don't use that data. Or, better yet, commit a revocation of that data. At least you don't have to worry about Larry's shipping company cooking the books after the fact to their own advantage.


> So then I guess there's no use for cryptographic signing, hash chains, and graph-theoretic consensus protocols? Because that's what you're saying.

What's being said is that it's not useful for shipping (and physical asset provenance) applications. The validity of the components is a necessary but not sufficient step in validating the application, and the latter cannot be derived from the former. The usefulness of blockchains for currency does not, in itself, imply their usefulness in shipping.

>At least you don't have to worry about Larry's shipping company cooking the books after the fact to their own advantage.

This is not as much of an advantage as it seems, if Larry can defraud you by going around the blockchain. Your risk is then determined by Larry's inclination to fraud, which is the same in either case. Fixing one hole in a fence doesn't help if the cattle can get out through another that you cannot fix.

What this argument needs is the outline of an actual solution to the problems.


You're technically right. It is not the problem of the Blockchain technology. Once something is persisted in the Blockchain you can (depending on the concrete implementation) be sure that it cannot be changed without the original owner's private key.

I feel however that the whole "Blockchain Startup Universe" always comes up with the same bullshit claims. It usually goes like this: "Here is a difficult problem. To solve that problem we use Blockchain. The End." No one really explains how Blockchain is so much better at solving this than a regular database. But everyone just believes it is.

So far I have not heard a satisfying explanation on how anyone will securely verify that a physical object/subject is indeed this one particular hash on the Blockchain.

You will always need a third party to verify this. And then I wonder: If you need a trusted third party anyway, why do you need a Blockchain in the first place?


> I feel however that the whole "Blockchain Startup Universe" always comes up with the same bullshit claims. It usually goes like this: "Here is a difficult problem. To solve that problem we use Blockchain. The End." No one really explains how Blockchain is so much better at solving this than a regular database. But everyone just believes it is.

You're wrong to claim this. The "whole" blockchain startup universe is not coming up with bullshit claims. It's the bullshit portion of the blockchain startup universe that is doing this. The rest of us understand what we're dealing with and why it's novel. Perhaps you've only encountered bullshit claims about blockchain. Does that mean that hash chains are bullshit? No, we've been using them for years to power git. Oh, then does it mean that distributed conflict resolution schemes are bullshit? Nope, we've been using them for years with replicated databases. So then why do these things suddenly become bullshit when put them together? Beats me. Ask the haters.

> So far I have not heard a satisfying explanation on how anyone will securely verify that a physical object/subject is indeed this one particular hash on the Blockchain.

Why does that need to be done? That's not universally accepted as a problem that every blockchain company is trying to solve.


One of the major points that people like to push to justify the valuations of blockchain is that it will make things that verifying authenticity near free and trustless. Then people make the leap to say that you can basically assign ownership of physical items or IP on the blockchain then you increase the efficiency of all of the actions taken on it.

What they seem to miss is that you need a real authority, or oracle, to issue and enforce the connection. It only works if that authority can be trusted and doesn't lose control of their private keys.

This is an example of someone not to be trusted.


Its a distributed trustless ledger that relies entirely on trust.


That's a very crafty over-simplification. You can choose to interpret "trustless" literally like it's magic, or you can actual work to understand what blockchain advocates mean when they say that. It's "trustless" because you don't have to trust a central authority not to tamper with the data once it's been committed to the ledger, not because there's no need for trust of any kind or at any level.


I have yet to see things like key revocation protocols on the blockchain. Mistakes will inevitably be made somewhere along the line. You can bolster the fragility of being unable to cope with these mistakes with external processes, but that doesn’t change the underlying problem.

The most sensible thing is usually to trust - and pay - a third party to manage the data. The net cost of a blockchain secured by PoW is quite high for a hopefully trustless consensus model.

An immutable ledger has some properties that make it of questionable value to real world applications. The author calls out a number of scenarios that make it impractical for tasks that people keep trying to apply it to.


If a system can't cope with "dumb" users who occasionally make mistakes - I have to question whether the technology works at all.

Any technology which doesn't take into account its potential to be misused is also deficient.


>If a system can't cope with "dumb" users who occasionally make mistakes - I have to question whether the technology works at all.

Which technologies meet this standard?


Any mutable data store or versioned immutable data store that allows either the user or an administrator to manually correct the wrong input.


> immutable data store that allows either the user or an administrator to manually correct the wrong input.

Blockchains are this. What's to prevent a user or administrator from committing a "deletion" of some piece of data on the blockchain and then for users to refer to the most recent commit? That's how immutable data structures work.


cool, now we all know that you are a fraud, permanently. Your reputation as an artist is doomed since the blockchain is nothing but a reliable and immutable ledger. Since it's public and verifiable now that you are knowingly stealing other artist's work, all of your other works and contracts will be crushed in the market. (yes, I'm being hypothetical here, I know it was just a proof of concept, etc)

So.. it is working as intended?


But the knowledge that he's stealing others' work comes from sources other than the blockchain record, if you don't count the fact that it's internally invalid for a living person to claim a work created in 1506. So the immutable ledger provides no value.

Regardless, taking a picture of a painting doesn't verify that you painted, or even currently own that painting. Adding a timestamp doesn't change that.




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