Bitcoin blockchain is not a thing, it’s a design pattern


Imagine somebody in the decentralised Internet space for over 10 years seemingly attacking the first decentralised information system?

This is not an attack on bitcoin!

Bitcoin as a decentralised system of value transfer is indisputable. It has proven that to be the case and it’s growth is now exponential. Many features are being created, many people now invest in a multitude of ways, it is a wave of innovation that will lead the way for us all.

Is it guaranteed to work? Well no, but it has led the way towards the information based world being managed by agreed algorithms and this is hugely important.

A decentralised system is a phenomenal solution to many issues today. There are many things we need to get decentralised fast and money is an obvious first choice. I have been to bitcoin meetups and conferences etc. it is amazing to see the grungy enthusiasm and I am certainly including myself there.

I firmly believe bitcoin will be around for many years, as I said before though it may be the broom with many new heads and several new handles. It will have to be, that’s evolution.

This is an attack on centralised structures

So we all know of centralised structures being an impediment to innovation and furthering of humankind. We have seen banks now fail dramatically. We have seen the financial system fail dramatically. We have seen government manipulation of finance fail dramatically. We have seen many ways that a centralised solution to a mathematical problem creates failure and it must. The handling of wealth is a purely a maths problem and must be handled by maths. The handling of information of all kinds falls into this category.

So we all know that! It goes further though. Mt Gox is a centralised structure in bitcoin and it will fail in its current form, I believe all closed source, human manipulated systems in bitcoin will, and should fail!

What about the blockchain then?

I hear blockchain being touted continually as a solution to everything and it’s frustrating. Bitcoin is not a great solution because of the blockchain. Bitcoin is a great solution because it can cryptographically confirm transactions in a manner that is not reversible. The blockchain is a mechanism to agree the lock, that’s it.

Many projects say, we will build X on the blockchain so it’s guaranteed to work right?  No!

Instead I would like projects to state how they will make use of decentralised mechanisms, fixed in space and time via an agreed and open algorithm that serves a specific purpose. This is key to building on bitcoin, not adding code and figures to a centralised (even if it is distributed) data structure. The blockchain is currently a distributed centralised data structure and this is important.

What I mean is that the blockchain is not decentralised in itself and it must. Decentralisation that is partial in my mind is only distributed. The further we can decentralise then the more robust our systems will become.

It’s the human psyche to just build on the first bit of a system like this. The systems just now like MasterCoin, Ethereum etc are great, do not get me wrong. We need to keep innovating for sure. We must, though, extend what bitcoin has started and that means we must continue to decentralise information systems at their core as well as extending them where it’s seemingly obvious, as in the earlier examples.  It’s the reliance on ‘the only blockchain’ that concerns me. These projects can exist without doing that, if we get it right.

The key to decentralised systems is decentralisation

In nature we see many decentralised systems, ants, plants, wolves etc. Nature has a ton of decentralised systems and it works. We need to pay attention to this. An ant does not grow a paw and become a wolf, a sunflower does not grow its roots in a wolf. These systems are decentralised and at their heart they have their own ‘blockchain’. They co-exist in an eco system that allows them all to survive with connections at the edge!

I think nature shows a system of decentralised species that are all co-dependent, but not by sharing parts of their core system with each other. They do share design patterns and are all co-existing in a system with varying degrees of co-dependency. The co-dependency is very loose in general and these co-dependent relationships can be replaced by other relationships as the system evolves. for instance Native Americans may have depended on Bison to survive and now depend on other species, the co-dependency is not fixed, the failure of one species does not necessarily end another. So in this case co-dependency is a fleeting notion in a huge system of co-existence locked in time.

What I mean by this is that many species will feed other species in many ways, food, altering environment, protection in numbers etc. The world we live in is a huge system of interconnected decentralised systems. They are interconnected though and not built on each other. If wolves become extinct, ants will probably survive, close symbiotic relationship related species may die out, but in essence the whole system keeps going and importantly improving.

If all of our decentralised systems shared ‘the blockchain’ then we design against the systems nature shows us to work.

Is the blockchain bad then?

No the blockchain as a design pattern is evolving for now, it is incomplete as a pattern. It is one mechanism to decentralise information. In the case of bitcoin this is decentralising the agreement of where coins or wealth is currently located. It’s structure may change and it should, that’s evolution.

The blockchain as a single centralised data structure is OK for now, it works and will continue to work for a while, perhaps a very long while. It will not last though and I feel it must decentralise at least. That’s perhaps not so difficult, but I would add a merkle tree approach is not the answer, it’s just an easier to manage centralised data structure (it has a root). The answer is very complex (still not difficult) though. It requires taking the core bitcoin thinking and growing that. At maidsafe this is all we do and we have done that for years now. We know it’s a very tough transition in thinking and requires a completely different view of data structures, I believe Satoshi also went through some of the same debates and issues we have had to overcome. I also hope he would agree with this piece.

What about projects built on the blockchain?

I believe these are a good thing! Now that seems to fly in the face of what I have laid out so far, is this not the ant growing a paw? Well yes this is in many ways bad. To have many projects depend on a centralised data structure is bad. The core protocol could take down the eco system so it is bad in that sense.

The intent is great though. I believe these projects do not need to be locking themselves into ‘the blockchain’ they simply need a mechanism of an agreed mathematical lock. Bitcoin agrees this for them and they can flourish. They do and will continue to flourish if their offering is of value. That’s evolution again.

If the blockchain could be distributed and become a design pattern then we will all win. If any project fails (including bitcoin) then it should have a positive net affect (evolution again). This is what I believe must happen and this will need a larger set of algorithms and data protection to be made available to the world. If we are to manage information effectively and in a way that allows failure to exist in a non threatening manner then the future of decentralised systems will be unstoppable.

Enthusiastic human :-)

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Posted in bitcoin, complex systems, MaidSafe, nature

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