Blockchain, a Return to Decentralization – Brian Behlendorf at The Interval at Long Now

Like many of you, you probably first heard about Bitcoin around the time that it first appeared, in 2008 was when Satoshi’s first paper came out. And I think like many of you at that point I was a little concerned that this internet thing that we had built on top of was recentralizing in a way. I mean it was never really totally decentralized and we can have an interesting conversation during QA about the word “decentralization.” But it was certainly a place that felt flatter. It was a place where you could run your own mail server. You could run your own website. You could run a lot of your own software.
You didn’t have to, but the fact that you could was an incredibly liberating kind of thing. There was just enough decentralization on the internet that it was a place where
a lot of new businesses could be formed. And I don’t know if this makes me a good ancestor or not but I along with some others here were complicit in putting the first ad banner on the web. And I tell people I’ve been atoning for it ever since. But even in those days it felt like the internet was this wide-open frontier but by 2008 it didn’t quite feel so much as like a frontier. It felt a little more like things were organizing to get back to what
Thomas J Watson, the founder of IBM, said which was maybe there’s only a market for actually five of these computers in the world. It turned out that they would be:
Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, etc. So at that point the launch of Bitcoin felt like like there were a number of projects along these lines that were about a set of developers going “Can’t we just reinvent the underlying protocols to not have this centralizing network effect?” Is there a way that we can make it cheap again, and create a financial incentive and a protocol that made it so that you could host things in a decentralized way and didn’t have to worry about these
centers of gravity forming out there in the world. Impossibly idealistic. I resonated with it,
but I had some issues with it, too. I had some issues with the idea of proof-of-work serving as the fundamental basis for how this works. And I can go into it in a bit, but proof-of-work is basically burning CPU power to run a lottery to figure out
who puts the next link in a chain. Which for a lot of as they start looking at this makes you go, ewww. I’m not sure I want to get into this. I kind of call it the mercury mining of our generation. In that it’s cool technically, but also kind of icky once you get into it.
And certainly can leave a toxic legacy. What I also was concerned about was whether a speculative financial instrument really was the right way to build the web 3.0, right? Was there a risk that this would be gamed the way financial markets have always been gamed? And we would find a whole new set
of empires being built out of thin air fairly or unfairly. Because the internet never felt that way. Internet technologies and protocols
you’d release a piece of software, the thousandth person to adopt it didn’t benefit from it less than the first person to adopt it. In fact they probably benefited more it was
a snowball effect that grew and grew. And so I stayed kind of away from Bitcoin
much to again our family’s detriment. I did not invest early on in Bitcoin or any of the others. But kept my eye on it. And it was when I kind of realized that
there was perhaps another take on it which was to look at the technology underneath cryptocurrencies to try to understand was there something innovative and unique there. And a way to detach it from
some of these things that felt weird that I decided to jump in.

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