- What I Learned from 250 Whys — Let’s Plan for a Future Where We’re All As Stupid as We Are Today.
- Thoughts on Amazon Dash (Matt Webb) — In a way, we’re really seeing the future of marketing here. We’ve separated awareness (advertising) and distribution (stores) for so long, but it’s no longer the way. When you get a Buy Now button in a Tweet, you’re seeing ads and distribution merging, and the Button is the physical instantiation of this same trend. […] in the future every product will carry a buy button.
- A Collection of Links for Streaming Algorithms and Data Structures — is this not the most self-evident title ever?
- Lightning Networks (Rusty Russell) — I finally took a second swing at understanding the Lightning Network paper. The promise of this work is exceptional: instant, reliable transactions across the bitcoin network. But the implementation is complex, and the draft paper reads like a grab bag of ideas; but it truly rewards close reading! It doesn’t involve novel crypto, nor fancy bitcoin scripting tricks. There are several techniques that are used in the paper, so I plan to concentrate on one per post and wrap up at the end. Already posted part II.
The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Steve Omohundro on AI, cryptocurrencies, and ensuring a safe future for humanity.
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I met up with Possibility Research president Steve Omohundro at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain Radar Summit to talk about an interesting intersection: artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain/cryptocurrency technologies. This Radar Podcast episode features our discussion about the role cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies will play in the future of AI, Omohundro’s Self Aware Systems project that aims to ensure intelligent technologies are beneficial for humanity, and his work on the Pebble cryptocurrency.
Synthesizing AI and crypto-technologies
Bitcoin piqued Omohundro’s interest from the very start, but his excitement built as he started realizing the disruptive potential of the technology beyond currency — especially the potential for smart contracts. He began seeing ways the technology will intersect with artificial intelligence, the area of focus for much of his work:
I’m very excited about what’s happening with the cryptocurrencies, particularly Ethereum. I would say Ethereum is the most advanced of the smart contracting ideas, and there’s just a flurry of insights, and people are coming up every week with, ‘Oh we could use it to do this.’ We could have totally autonomous corporations running on the blockchain that copy what Uber does, but much more cheaply. It’s like, ‘Whoa what would that do?’
I think we’re in a period of exploration and excitement in that field, and it’s going to merge with the AI systems because programs running on the blockchain have to connect to the real world. You need to have sensors and actuators that are intelligent, have knowledge about the world, in order to integrate them with the smart contracts on the blockchain. I see a synthesis of AI and cryptocurrencies and crypto-technologies and smart contracts. I see them all coming together in the next couple of years.
Widespread blockchain adoption requires understanding between developers and domain experts.
Editor’s note: this post is part of our investigation into the future of money. The full video compilation from our first event, Bitcoin & the Blockchain, is now available.
The vision for bitcoin and the blockchain is unabashedly optimistic, though already it is being realized. More and more technologists, venture capitalists, financial institutions, and even regulators are seeing its long-term potential to transform industries, from financial services to data management to the Internet of Things. In the medium term, there remain hurdles to overcome before blockchain technology can offer sufficiently compelling solutions for the complex financial and technological world we live in, but there is progress to date — and it’s promising.
Blockchain-based remittance vehicles offered by Coins.ph, BitPagos, and BitPesa, though early stage, aim to take a chunk of the $450 billion remittance industry by offering speedier, more efficient, and cheaper alternatives to traditional solutions. BitPay offers bitcoin/fiat payment processing for merchants as well as bank integration. Increasingly, private investors are diversifying their portfolios by purchasing bitcoin alongside traditional assets. Most recently, Coinbase even received funding from a group of blue-chip investors, including the New York Stock Exchange, and launched its own exchange, signaling both greater acceptance by the financial services industry as well as confidence in its future value. Ripple Labs has taken a very different approach with its protocol, permitting the decentralized transmission of practically any currency type — cryptographic or fiat — like an SMTP for money, and circumventing traditional payment networks. And to this end, it’s already inked agreements with Cross River Bank (New Jersey), CBW Bank (Kansas), and Fidor Bank (Germany), with more on the horizon. Read more…
The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Vitalik Buterin on bitcoin, the blockchain, Ethereum, and the future of money.
In this Radar Podcast, I chat with Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine. We met at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain summit in San Francisco to talk about the disruptive potential of the bitcoin and blockchain technologies. He also outlined some of the problems he’s trying to solve with Ethereum and weighed in on how the use cases of money are going to change over the next 10 to 20 years.
Buterin told me that his father initially introduced him to bitcoin in 2011, and he wasn’t immediately interested — in fact, he outright rejected it, thinking, “It looks like it has no intrinsic value, and it’s obviously not going to work.” As he kept hearing about, he decided to investigate more and came to the realization that ultimately led him to create the Ethereum platform:
I immediately recognized that the way bitcoin works is the way that money should work. It’s exactly the correct approach, where you have: here’s the address you’re supposed to send to, here’s how much you want to send, here’s the button to send it. It’s money made for the Internet, not like the credit card approach, where you just basically give everyone the details to take as much as they want from your bank account.
On a trip to Israel, Buterin encountered projects, such as Colored Coins and Mastercoin, using blockchain technology for things other than bitcoin currency. “They were trying to let people issue their own assets,” he said. “They were trying tack features on top, tack financial contracts on top.” The protocols, Buterin noted, were overly complicated and he realized there might be a better way: “You could make it much simpler just by replacing everything with a programming language, and then if you do that, then people can write as many features as they want in the programming language after the fact.”
The real challenge going forward: we can't trust anything.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about postmodern computing, and characterized it as the computing in a world of distrust.
This morning, I read Steve Bellovin’s blog post, What Must We Trust? — Bellovin explains that “modern” (my word) security is founded on the idea of a “Trusted Computing Base” (TCB), defined (in part) in the United States’ Defense Department’s Orange Book. There were parts of a system that you had to trust, and you had to guard their integrity vigilantly: the kernel, certainly, but also specific configuration files, executables, and so on.
The TCB has always been problematic, particularly since (at least initially) it did not consider the problem of network connections. But networking aside, Bellovin argues that recent events have blown the idea of a “trusted” system to bits. We’ve seen attacks against (Bellovin’s list) batteries, webcams, USB, and more. If Andromedans (Bellovin doesn’t want to say NSA) have managed to infiltrate our disk drives, what can trust mean? And it would be naive to think that this stops with devices that have disk drives. Our devices, from Fitbits to data centers, have been pwnd even before they’re built. Read more…
The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Balaji Srinivasan on the bigger picture of bitcoin, liquid markets, and the future of regulation.
The promise of bitcoin and blockchain extends well beyond its potential disruption as a currency. In this Radar Podcast episode, Balaji Srinivasan, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, explains how bitcoin is an enabling technology and why it’s like the Internet, in that “bitcoin will do for value transfer what the Internet did for communication — make it programmable.” I met up with Srinivasan at our recent O’Reilly Radar Summit: Bitcoin & the Blockchain, where he was speaking — you can see his talk, and all the others from the event, in the complete video compilation now available.
The bigger picture of bitcoin
More than just a digital currency, bitcoin can serve as an instigator for new markets. Srinivasan explained the potential for everything to become a liquid market:
“Bitcoin is a platform for programmable money, programmable interchange, or anything of value. That’s very general. People have probably heard at this point about how you can use a blockchain to trade — in theory — stocks, or houses, or other kinds of things, but programmable value transfer is even bigger than just trading things which we know already exist.
“One analogy I would give is in 1988, it was not possible to find information on anything instantly. Today, most of the time it is. From your iPhone or your Android phone, you can google pretty much anything. In the same way, I think what bitcoin is going to mean, is markets in everything. That is, everything will have a price on it — everything will be a liquid market. You’ll be able to buy and sell almost anything. Where today the fixed costs of setting up such a market is too high for anything other than things that are fairly valuable, tomorrow it’ll be possible for even images or things you would not even think of normally buying and selling.”
Understanding the value of the blockchain above and beyond bitcoin.
Editor’s note: Lorne Lantz is a program co-chair for our O’Reilly Radar Summit: Bitcoin & the Blockchain on January 27, 2015, in San Francisco. For more on the program and for registration information, visit the Bitcoin & the Blockchain event website.
I remember the first time I heard about bitcoin. It was June 2012, and I was invited to a bitcoin meetup. The whole time I was sitting there, I thought these were a bunch of computer geeks playing around with nerd money.
At the same time, I felt excited about the possibilities. If what the bitcoin believers were saying was true, it could become something very big. When I took a closer look, I realized why it could be so groundbreaking: decentralization.
Unlike other currencies and payment networks, bitcoin is not controlled by a bank, government, or financial institution. Instead, thousands of computers around the world verify transactions and manage a global decentralized ledger. This innovative technology is called the blockchain, and it provides a unique pathway that allows — for the first time — many computers that don’t trust each other to achieve consensus. In bitcoin’s case, they are achieving consensus on updates to the global ledger. Read more…
A look at the stumbling blocks to blockchain scalability and some high-level technical solutions.
Author note: Vitalik Buterin contributed to this article.
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“I have no worries that bitcoin can scale, and the simple reason for that is that I know that IPv4 can’t, and yet I use it every day.”
The issue of bitcoin scalability and the phrase “blockchain scalability” are often seen in technical discussions of the bitcoin protocol. Will the requirements of recording every bitcoin transaction in the blockchain compromise its security (because fewer users will keep a copy of the whole blockchain) or its ability to handle a great number of transactions (because new blocks on which transactions can be recorded are only produced at limited intervals)? In this article, we’ll explore several meanings of “blockchain scalability” and some high-level technical solutions to the issue.
The three main stumbling blocks to blockchain scalability are:
- The tendency toward centralization with a growing blockchain: the larger the blockchain grows, the larger the requirements become for storage, bandwidth, and computational power that must be spent by “full nodes” in the network, leading to a risk of much higher centralization if the blockchain becomes large enough that only a few nodes are able to process a block.
- The bitcoin-specific issue that the blockchain has a built-in hard limit of 1 megabyte per block (about 10 minutes), and removing this limit requires a “hard fork” (ie. backward-incompatible change) to the bitcoin protocol.
- The high processing fees currently paid for bitcoin transactions, and the potential for those fees to increase as the network grows. We won’t discuss this too much, but see here for more detail.
We’ll consider these first two issues in detail. Read more…