Jameson Lopp Helps Us Understand Bitcoin



thanks everybody uh great to be here in Amsterdam it's my first time to the Netherlands and you know I just went by the anne frank house earlier today and it was really a stark reminder of the danger that we can get into when we allow power to be concentrated in the hands of a few so-called authorities and and I went by the Dutch tulip Museum and and I saw the dangers and the power that can be caused by speculative bubbles and you know maybe it's just me and maybe I have this bug in my brain that I see Bitcoin everywhere but Amsterdam has been a wonderful place I've got to meet some of the Bitcoin startups while we've been out here and it's great to see that you have a thriving startup scene so when I first became interested in Bitcoin I probably spent several months devoting my life to it just trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and after years of doing that now I devote a fair amount of my time trying to distill all of that and save a lot of other people the same rigors that I had to go through so that they can understand it and now some people call me a Bitcoin expert but from my perspective I'm still a novice I'm still learning things every day and I have yet to find the bottom of the rabbit hole that is Bitcoin and in fact the esteemed Andreas Antonopoulos once said I wrote a book that answers the question of what is Bitcoin it's 300 pages long it was obsolete the moment it was printed and has to be corrected and updated every few months just to keep up with the changes words to live by I suppose so this is a game that's never going to end for us so out of curiosity how many of you believe that you have a decent understanding of what bitcoin is show of hands we have a few brave people in the back alright this guy up here things you know the thing or two about Bitcoin – you'll get to hear from him so I've I've maintained a list of educational resources that you can spend months devoting your time to you know trying to ingest all of this information but at the end of the day you'll only be chipping away at the tip of the Bitcoin iceberg and in fact meltem de mirrors posted this chart a while ago that I thought was perfect and depending on how long you've been in this space you're going to fall somewhere along this continuum I'm not really sure what the time units there are I think at least in my case this is several years over here and which you may be deluding yourself about how much you really understand Bitcoin will go into some details about why I believe that is the case and it's not just a phenomenon that I ran into so one challenge of understanding this system is that it's multifaceted cross-disciplinary system that's constantly evolving and this is a little chart from Ferdinando I'm at Renault in Italy where he really hit a key point that I'll be delving into and that is Bitcoin is not just a technology it is in fact a technology that is representing something even less tangible it's a living protocol as you said that emerges from this melting pot of ideas and and contributions from all of the people in the world who think that this is an interesting project that's worth working on now you might be thinking to yourselves surely somebody understand what bitcoin was right I mean what about what about that Satoshi guy I mean he created the system right but in my research I found that even Satoshi did not fully understand what he'd built with regard to Bitcoin and its security model and all of the games theory behind it they actually ended up fixing a multitude of bugs in the first few years of bitcoins existence for example did you know that in the first year so if the coins existence anyone could spend anyone else's transactions and their coins to my knowledge this didn't actually happen because the bug was caught fairly early on but there was a problem with the Opera turn-up code which would allow you just to do an up true and then up return which would evaluate to true and allow you to spend any inputs that you wanted that's just one example Satoshi also fixed a major consensus flaw when he changed the consensus algorithm from looking at the longest Shane to the most weighted Shane which has the most proof of work around it interestingly enough a lot of people still refer to Bitcoin as being the quote-unquote longest Shane as the correct force fork but it really comes down to which Shane has the most proof of work he also as I'm sure you're all aware set the block size limits so originally this was only limited implicitly by the network message size which was like 32 megabytes and he soft forked it down to one megabyte in fact there is a bug currently in the Bitcoin protocol that a lot of developers have to work around if you've ever gotten to the level of writing your own raw off cheque multi-sig transactions you ran into an issue where you had to actually put in a duplicate meaningless off 0 simply because there's an off by one bug when executing the script which requires you to have this dummy value in there otherwise your multi-sig scripts will not work at all and of course who could forget a number of years ago the infamous Bitcoin bug which allowed someone to create a hundred and eighty four billion bitcoins out of thin air obviously that didn't last very long before it was fixed but my point here is that Bitcoin did not really follow a code is law type of mindset at least in the early days it really followed the idea that Satoshi his vision was law and changes were made as necessary to correct that when misunderstandings and the current code were discovered now I think that this distinction is particularly relevant for a couple reasons one Satoshi stopped contribute Bitcoin years ago and to Bitcoin has no real formal specification like some other cryptocurrencies like aetherium so I would make an argument that in fact once Satoshi stops contributing and you know was essentially a benevolent dictator then it really comes down to all of us and as contrived as it may sound I think that we are all Satoshi now so to get a little bit better idea of how little Bitcoin is understood you can look at some metrics and you can see here that like the academic interest in Bitcoin continues to grow that last number is actually probably a lot higher because I pulled it at the very end of last year but there's there's a lot of of meat and to be discovered still inside of this system and I think that as the years continue going on more and more revelations will be discovered about the potential applications of this protocol Satoshi once said that the core design of Bitcoin was set in stone and that other implementations would be a menace to the network people often take this quote along with many others to fallaciously argue that the Bitcoin protocol must evolve in one way or another but as we've seen Satoshi actually had to make a lot of changes to Bitcoin early on as the various developers were exploring the code and discovering edge cases and today there are over half a dozen different Bitcoin implementations which as far as I can tell are not disrupting the network all that much we've even seen that a single implementation can be a menace to itself and can cause consensus failure when low-level machine differences happen a good example of this was actually the 2013 berkeley DB chain fork so recall my earlier description of bitcoin is this melting pot of contributions I think it really took hold one Satoshi left his pet project that he had been working on privately and released it out into the world and those first few weeks when Bitcoin launched it also gained its first collaborator Hal Finney he was one of the few people who really saw the promise of this technology Finney actually released a number of email with the Wall Street Journal private emails between himself and Satoshi they're very interesting read you can google them and you can actually see Satoshi surprise as how manages to find several bugs that Satoshi had not anticipated even though he had quote-unquote tested it heavily so since Bitcoin is definitely this this evolving protocol how do we describe it I think that Charlie Lee actually did a really good job when he basically said that it's like the definition of a word no one you know even your favorite dictionary does not actually have the power to define a word it is this amorphous thing that slowly gains consensus over time and may in fact change over time as the rest of the world changes in response to it so I pose to you the Bitcoin strength comes not from being the embodiment of some dogmatic beliefs about immutability or decentralization or some other buzzword but rather from collaboration and from the community and it's this process of taking collaboration and using it to determine the human consensus which can be very noisy and messy but I think it's the governance model within which we have to work and from a philosophical standpoint I believe that this is really the embodiment of voluntary ism and voluntary ISM and mutual cooperation are really the only aspects of this system that are truly set in stone so an interesting result of this is that while we can describe Bitcoin as a trustless system in the sense that if you're operating a fully validating node you don't need to trust any other nodes in the system at a meta level there's actually several forms of trust involved for example almost none of bitcoins users actually read and understand the software of the protocol itself they are trusting various developers to be careful not to introduce flaws and implement and it appears to me that the fact that only a few people have a deep understanding of bitcoins technical operations results in those with less understanding of the protocol to then have to decide which experts they trust and as a result when experts clash on various opinions the crowd divides it takes sides behind whichever experts they deem their arguments are most compelling and unfortunately this results in politics sometimes being injected into the decision-making process as Shaolin Frye an anonymous developer recently noted we should actually strive to avoid politicization of proposed protocol improvements and to be clear I don't mean that that means that that no one is motivated by political ideals but rather that the direction of this system should not be driven by politics in which one group is forcing their ideas upon another I think that one of the problems that we're seeing a lot recently is this idea of voting and and voting generally means that some sort of political process is running where a majority vote gets to decide and have their will upon imposed upon the other people but I think that we should instead be striving for a system of permissionless innovation wherein participants can signal to one another that they want to interact in a specific way regardless of what other participants are signaling so we end up having with this clash between different ideologies and it's because of this this root fundamental human consensus that we're trying to figure out how to code up as a result significant portions of participants have have taken their ideologies and and almost developed them to the point of dogma or religion and it makes it very difficult for us to engage in civil political and intellectual discourse now one reason that I believe that it's easy for people to do this is due to the lack of a specification lack of clear objectives of what Bitcoin really is and what bitcoins goal should be for example Satoshi describe Bitcoin as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system but even this simple description can be interpreted in many different ways peer-to-peer provides no context around how many peers that there should be or how expensive it should be to be appear on the network while cash provides not very much context around what the speed or cost of transactions should be on the network so you can find a variety of perspectives and interpretations of things like the US Constitution or the Bible or the Koran and so can the writings of Satoshi Nakamoto be interpreted and debated but the projection of individual perspectives on the Bitcoin has led to a fracturing that we can see easily in a number of different political philosophical and religious systems and now in Bitcoin as well and and these individuals are fostering tribalism there they're polarizing their perspectives and drawing party lines and applying litmus tests to newcomers and perpetuating propaganda Communications continue to break down and people retreat within their echo chambers so as a result today Bitcoin debates often devolve into fallacious assertions and name-calling we're where one party assumes the other to be either ignorant or malicious and it's unfortunate because people often end up talking past each other under the assumption that they're right and the other person is simply wrong and it's troubling to me to see the ossification of perspectives into these dogmatic beliefs that degrade the quality of discourse because there is no single correct approach to viewing Bitcoin there are rather this multitude of perspectives of what it is and and I'm not saying that we all have to agree with each other or this that we even have to participate in the rhetoric that's going on but rather I would say that you seek what I am calling the Tao of Bitcoin and and that is that Bitcoin is going to follow its own path that you realize you have no control over its future though you are certainly welcome to give your input and – to find this meatspace consensus but at the end of the day that coin doesn't need you to defend it rather on the other hand you defend your own perspective of Bitcoin by running a fully validating node which is essentially automating and extending your own human beliefs the the rules to which you are agreeing will be enforced by your node and you can then worry about what everyone else's rules that they're agreeing to at a separate level but it's that automation I believe that really gives power to this system of self sovereignty so an alternative title to this talk I suppose could be how to gain a bit of humility in Bitcoin because I think that we should all be more humble when discussing it rather than confident that our understanding of the system is superior to other people who are participating in a discussion and you can achieve the Tao of Bitcoin by accepting that Bitcoin is on its own path there's no need to be frustrated if your vision does not align perfectly with those of others I believe that Bitcoin will naturally converge upon the least common denominator of human consensus and by that I mean that which is beneficial – or at least not harmful to the greatest subset of participants in the system and I will continue upon my own quest my own quest to consume as much information as possible but about this system but I have long given up the goal of understanding Bitcoin because the faster I run towards this finish line the further it moves away from me and while some people in this space are more confident than others about the direction that it's headed in the truth is we're all blazing new trails and learning more as we move forward so I want you to realize that you don't understand Bitcoin and that's okay because neither does anybody else as a person here let's risk it to us then I come based on the fact that you do not know Bitcoin so how do you what you think what happened in August how much trust you have in this system which doesn't go anywhere which we understand it's still over actually here your per second yeah it's weird that we have these conflicting incentives both to want to follow our own path of what we think the short term vision for Bitcoin should be versus the possibly even greater incentive to all stick together and and I gave a talk in arnhem a few days ago where I was making a case that yes there may be irreconcilable differences like fundamentally and that it would be better for us to split but I believe that our long-term vision our long-term goals for the system are in fact the same so I believe there would be a terrible idea for us to split because that would make it much harder for us to reconverge later on once we all achieve these the technical hurdles that we want I believe that with with respect to this August I think there is a very good chance I'm very confident that we will avert any disaster Forks I know there's like six or seven different possible scenarios all the game theory works out a number of different ways but but as a bitter pill it may need a swallow it likes egg with 2x I believe that maybe we compromise that everyone loves and hates just the right amount to get us you know a few months further into the future where we can then once again begin arguing about hard Forks and and other potential improvements so this August versus deadline is coming up but cautiously optimistic thank you one questions here in the back hello Lulu I hope I don't really have a question but I'm mostly having a station right now because when you're first added late poop your fears but you into simple enough that's like leaves in my head but the arguments made you realize that while I do understand this way I understand what all perspectives hope is going and I'm free to do a perspective as I desire exactly and and so your perspective of Bitcoin then you can worry about how it overlaps with everyone else's perspective and I think that that's really what all this argument is about right about what is the corner what should it be for the majority of us and and that's why I think like finding a least common denominator amongst such a diverse group of participants all around the world it's a very messy process eventually they're so mobile isn't from this really strong eventually they will fight ourselves finding a solution to everything but in hopeless as a society go and be better better at making decisions together because but like one thing that marching can help us at least in my perspective is to make a decision together yes definitely I mean it could be really weird where if if we actually manage to solve the fundamental problems that we have in this community of finding consensus then perhaps those processes could actually be ported over to governments and other systems of governance to improve them it would be pretty funny to see Bitcoin software eating the government in that standard thank you very much thank you very much

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