When Everyone Wins: The Bitcoin Consensus Round Table Organized by BitFury
Jan 23, 2016
A day after the North American Bitcoin Conference took place in Miami, Florida, BitFury held a round table discussion. The goal of the gathering that aimed to bring Bitcoin Core developers, Bitcoin Classic developers, bitcoin businesses, bitcoin miners, and other bitcoin network participants together, was to facilitate a consensus-driven discussion on the industry’s hottest issues.
As the spirited debate about the block size increase and the best ways to switch continues, it is clear that there is a need to lead the important industry-wide discussion, bringing all involved parties together, opening the lines of communications, and providing the venue for all points of view to be heard.
More than 70 people participated in the round table discussion in Miami and via online conferencing.
Some notable active participants included: Adam Back (BlockStream), Luke-Jr (Bitcoin Core team), Blockchain.Info, BitMain, Ledge Marco (Genesis mining), Marshall Long (Classic), Gavin Andersen (Classic), Pindar Wong (Scaling Bitcoin), Henry Brade (Prasos), investor Roger Ver, Kang Xie as a representative of the Chinese bitcoin mining pools, and many others.
The key-points of discussion included:
· Block-size increase requirements
· Bitcoin Core team and the “soft fork”/SegWit proposal
· Bitcoin Classic and the “hard-fork” & risks
· Transparency on financing of developers
· Developers governance
· BIP process consensus
Relatively new to the block size debate, the Bitcoin Classic proposal, is different from the recommendations of the Bitcoin Core developers. The Bitcoin Core developers are advocating that more transaction capacity be added without immediately altering the size of data blocks on the blockchain (the soft fork).
Other bitcoin network participants believe that the solution to the block size challenge is a direct increase of the network’s block size limit. They believe that the block size must be increased in order to enable the bitcoin network’s scalability and for the bitcoin economy to further develop and grow.
BitFury advocates for the pragmatic approach: a careful evaluation of all pros and cons and taking into account all potential risks and benefits. We understand the possible risks behind the hard forking — essentially creating the new version of the blockchain that could be incompatible with the old version of software which could potentially cause monetary losses for bitcoin users and impact bitcoin trust. Any hard-fork release should be well coordinated within the bitcoin ecosystem.
During the round table, the Bitcoin Core team announced that it is ready to address the block size issue and offer a more balanced solution for increasing the block size using a segregated witness feature. The segregated witness removes the signature from the transaction and stores it in a separate data structure. By removing the signature from the transaction, the size of the transaction decreases, hence more transactions can fit into one block. If the Bitcoin Core development team delivers a solution in the next 1–1.5–2 months, it may be a workable approach that keeps the “core” intact without undergoing the hard fork, at least for now.
Bitcoin is an open source software. As an open source community, BitFury believes we should consider and support alternative software solutions and industry-wide consensus is a must. We also do not support banning the soft fork nor do we believe we should ban the hard fork proposed by the Classic project. This process is about finding the most balanced and thoughtful solution that accounts for challenges and risks and benefits the entire Bitcoin ecosystem.
BitFury organized and arranged the Bitcoin Consensus Round Table because we want to bring the larger bitcoin community together. We are pleased that this meeting helped open the lines of communication, provided a venue for exchanging ideas and opinions, and allowed for a constructive discussion. Most importantly, we believe that more meetings like this need to happen in the future.
Bitcoin is a highly innovative technology that opens many opportunities and has earned much praise from renowned economists, prominent technologists, and venture capitalists.
As a Bitcoin community we need to stay united. It is through an open welcoming format like what we saw in Miami that we will find workable solutions that benefit all. The recent Consensus Round Table made it clear: finding consensus means that everybody wins.
Keep Calm and Bitcoin On
Jan 18, 2016
I grew up in Soviet Latvia and witnessed firsthand the elimination of my parent’s life savings. All of their dreams were gone when the Soviet Union and the banking systems collapsed in 1991. Then, like a nightmare, my own investment dreams were shattered in the global financial crisis of 2008. I knew as a child, and I know even more now as an adult that we, as a global technology community, can and must do better.
I wrote my first computer code when I was 8 years young. Mathematics is the language I speak and trust. Enter the emerging idea of Bitcoin. I discovered this exciting open source technology in 2010. Together with my business partner, Valery Nebesny, we realized this new way of processing and transferring assets could actually make our world a better and fairer place for people everywhere — in developed and developing countries — all through the use of math, cryptography and thoughtful programming language based on the fundamental value of trust. Fast forward 5+ years, and the world of Bitcoin has advanced beyond our wildest expectations and continues to be a dynamic innovative ecosystem that is evolving every day.
Needless to say, it was disappointing to see Mike Hearn, a prominent contributor to the Bitcoin developer community, recently offer a lengthy blog post stating that the industry was dead and that bitcoin was a failed experiment. Perhaps the road for Hearn has come to an end, but for me and my many colleagues and fellow Bitcoin Blockchain experts, it is safe to say that we are just beginning down this incredible road and we see a promising future.
While Mike is entitled to his own opinion, of course, I thought I would take a moment to address a few of his points with my views. I will caveat that much of what is happening in the Bitcoin space is highly technical and fairly difficult for those who have not immersed themselves in the math and science of late to fully understand.
With that, let me lay out a few facts:
FACT 1: Bitcoin Is Not an Electronic Payments System Like PayPal
Many Bitcoin newcomers view the network as yet another electronic system for instant payments, like PayPal or Visa. Right here we have a very substantial difference in opinion. Bitcoin was never designed to confirm instant payments and believing that is its function is a mistake.
As Nick Szabo, the renowned author of smart contracts wrote:
“Visa and PayPal already exist, and within national borders they do what they do quite well. It’s silly to try to turn Bitcoin into yet another Visa and PayPal.”
I believe, based on the way the system was designed and developed by Satoshi, that it would be disingenuous to expect instant transaction confirmation from the Bitcoin network — it is simply not wired that way. No increase of the block size limit could help make instant Bitcoin transaction confirmation a reality.
Does this mean that Bitcoin cannot be used for instant payments? Not at all. You simply need an additional system operating on top of the Bitcoin Blockchain (with the Blockchain acting as a settlement layer). These systems already exist in custodial wallet services and Bitcoin exchanges. But the larger point is that the potential of Bitcoin is so much greater and transformative than simply hoping it can compete with PayPal.
FACT 2: Bitcoin Is Not and Should Not Be Free to Use
While the Bitcoin network dramatically lowers the cost of transactions, the reality is that the Bitcoin Blockchain is not free to use. The Blockchain is secured with an enormous amount of computing power, and transaction fees are an important incentive to keep contributing that power.
As the Bitcoin network continues to evolve, transaction fees need to grow in order to maintain a high level of security within and for the network. As BitFury has outlined in our white paper on Bitcoin security incentives, the transaction fee market is currently actively developing. The percentage of transactions satisfying a market-based fee margin has grown from 22% in March 2015 to nearly 40% in October 2015.
Just like with instant payments, expensive on-chain Bitcoin transactions do not mean that one cannot use Bitcoin for cheap value transfer. Overlay networks, such as Lightning and sidechains, can successfully deal with this challenge while in-service ledgers already do.
FACT 3: Bitcoin Transaction Processing Is Not Presently Clogged
There is no observable evidence that Bitcoin transaction processing is presently clogged. Key statistics gathered by Statoshi for the past few months show the pool of unconfirmed transactions has held relatively steady at about 10,000 transactions — a significant decrease from over 75,000 unconfirmed transactions during “the stress test” performed in September 2015. Most of these transactions, according to CoinTape pay zero or near-zero transaction fees.
For Bitcoin wallets with proper fee estimation logic, the clogging challenge simply does not exist. According to web-based fee estimation services, such as CoinTape, as of January, 2016, the optimal transaction fee for an average transaction is less than 0.1 USD — quite small for most use cases. The issue we do face is with “free riders” — applications with a business model relying on non-existent Bitcoin transaction fees.
FACT 4: Miners Embrace Bitcoin’s Popularity
Bitcoin miners and transaction processors such as BitFury, are likely the biggest supporters of the Bitcoin ecosystem and any suggestion otherwise is simply ridiculous. Bitcoin miners invest enormous amounts of money and efforts into developing and maintaining bitcoin mining hardware. As the Scaling Bitcoin conferences have shown, miners are generally in support of cautious increases of the block size limit — just not abrupt increases — because such sudden change could undermine the foundation of the Bitcoin network. BitFury has detailed these points in our white paper.
FACT 5: Bitcoin Mining Is Decentralized
Most existing mining pools are public. This means that they consist of tens of thousands of independent users who are free to join or leave the pool at any time. Private mining pools are frequently operated by firms that publicly sell mining equipment, including BitFury.
Even if there were merely ten entities controlling Bitcoin mining (which there are not), this would still not be a threat. There are many Bitcoin nodes not controlled by miners, which would act as a barrier against rogue miners’ misbehavior. However, a rapidly rising block size could put most of these nodes out of work because they would simply have to switch off due to a lack appropriate hardware to perform transaction processing), paving the road to the real centralization (see [The Decentralist Perspective]).
FACT 6: Mass Rule is Not Appropriate for Bitcoin
The pipe dream of some in the Bitcoin community is to govern the system by having ordinary users vote for changes by adopting the corresponding full node software. This approach is not only impractical, it is also not desirable. Most ordinary Bitcoin users do not own a full node and ironically, if they did, it is quite possible they could not afford its maintenance after a hypothetical abrupt block size increase. Users of Bitcoin should most certainly have a say in the direction of this technology, but in order to appropriately and continuously secure the Blockchain, it is responsible for all of us who are knowledgeable about the science to take a leadership role where and when it is necessary.
FACT 7: Bitcoin XT Would Not Have Solved Bitcoin’s Challenges
Bitcoin XT was considered by some a remedy for perceived problems with the Bitcoin ecosystem. However, upon closer inspection, XT leaves at least some of these challenges, and the reality is that XT would not have made transaction confirmation immediate and would not have reduced the risk of double-spending for unconfirmed transactions.
· XT would not have eliminated transaction fees — it would have merely delayed the development of the fee market. (The perspective of having no fees forever is much worse; as the block reward steadily diminishes, the security of the network would eventually take a nosedive.)
· XT would have done nothing about the “mining centralization” problem. In fact, it would have made things worse by pushing small mining pools out of business.
· XT would not have helped decentralization and would have made things worse by elevating the requirements to maintain a full Bitcoin node.
· XT code updates would not have differed from Bitcoin Core in the expressive means of its users — all voting rounds would still need to be introduced into the code by developers.
Bitcoin XT and its predecessor — Bitcoin improvement proposal (BIP) 101 — were not supported by the Bitcoin community simply because they contained too many controversial features in the areas where each mistake could cost the most in terms of Bitcoin value. These proposals were hard forks, meaning that their implementation could break Bitcoin as a system for value transfer.
I believe in Bitcoin. I believe in the Blockchain. I know that the vast potential is just being realized. We wish Mr. Hearn all the best as he commences his work with our friends at R3CEV. It is important that we respect various input but simultaneously resist the temptation to give Mr. Hearn’s voice too much weight.
Bitcoin is not an instant payment network and not a fancy replacement for PayPal or Visa. It is first and foremost a decentralized system, which sacrifices speed in favor of security. A key feature provided by decentralization is permissionless entry for users and developers — and it is thanks to this component that Bitcoin has grown into much more than a currency and has become a platform for Blockchain innovations.
Most importantly, Bitcoin is a new world created for anyone — especially for someone like me — who didn’t grow up in a world where “trusted emissary” was a reality and the idea of “asset security” was something other people in other parts of the world enjoyed.
I believe in Bitcoin because I believe in democracy and I believe in open societies. And as Winston Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all the others.” Open source projects are not perfect, but they unite the best and most innovative thinkers, and I am honored to be a part of this mission.
Bitfury Board Advisor
Combating Bitcoin Use by Terrorists?
Jan 13, 2016
We Need More Education, Not Halting Innovation
As always, we start off the new year full of hope and promise, but there is unmistakably a shadow of fear that blankets many parts of the world. The threat of terrorism, both across the globe and around the corner, is real, and anxieties are high. In the wake of recent attacks, there is an increased focus by governments and the media on the ways that terrorists communicate and move money. That is a good thing. Unfortunately, some of that attention has been directed at bitcoin and other digital currencies and it is often uninformed, with headlines going so far as to predict a government “crackdown” on this technology. (“EU Clamps Down on Bitcoin, Anonymous Payments to Curb Terrorism Funding.”)
In evaluating assertions about the bitcoin blockchain’s use as a means of terrorist financing, it’s important to separate the rhetoric from the reality. While the press and some politicians have indulged in hyperbole about digital currencies, authorities in the U.S. and UK have recognized that the traditional financial system presents at least as high, if not a much higher, risk. Indeed, the UK Treasury recently released a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing, finding that digital currencies present the lowest risk for money laundering. At the top of that list? Traditional banks. As for terrorist financing, the report found “little evidence to indicate that the use of digital currencies has been adopted by criminals involved in terrorist financing, whether as a means by which to raise funds (crowd funding etc.), to pay for infrastructure (e.g. server rental), or to transfer funds.” The report cited money service businesses, cash couriering, and even abuse of charitable organizations as higher risks for terrorist financing than digital currencies. On the other hand, the report noted, “Cash is attractive for money laundering and terrorist financing because it is relatively untraceable, readily exchangeable, and anonymous.”
Having said that, the reality is that terrorists and criminals are using all sorts of technology — like Tor and encrypted messaging platforms — in an effort to hide their unlawful activities over the Internet. And there is unquestionably a risk that they could seek to use digital currencies to help finance their operations. But the reality is that if criminals and terrorists seek to use bitcoin as part of an effort to remain anonymous, they are making a big mistake. In fact, any criminals or terrorists who try to use the bitcoin blockchain to facilitate their activities are foolish. That’s because reports of bitcoin’s anonymity are greatly exaggerated. The blockchain technology that makes bitcoin work uses cryptography to verify and confirm all bitcoin transactions and then records those transactions on a searchable — and unalterable — public ledger. That technology has significant benefits for law enforcement. Having a traceable ledger of every bitcoin transaction ever conducted allows law enforcement to “follow the money” in a way that would never be possible with cash. In addition, because this ledger of bitcoin transactions is permanent, law enforcement does not have to worry that the data will be unavailable months or even years down the road. Because the ledger is publicly accessible, law enforcement does not have to worry about what type of legal process — subpoena or search warrant — is required to access the data. And because the ledger is borderless, law enforcement can get the data without having to go through a foreign government.
We need to make sure that law enforcement and national security authorities have all of the tools they need to identify, investigate, and disrupt terrorist plots. The bitcoin blockchain can be just such a tool. The key is educating law enforcement and national security authorities about how the technology works, so they can enhance their ability to use it to follow the money and protect public safety, reaping the full benefits of this innovative technology. The UK Treasury report made a similar observation, calling for capacity building work among industry and law enforcement.
Late last year, a broad coalition of bitcoin and blockchain companies and organizations joined forces to create the Blockchain Alliance, a public-private forum where law enforcement and national security authorities can learn directly from some of the brightest minds in the industry as they seek to combat criminal activity involving bitcoin and the blockchain. The Blockchain Alliance is a resource to help law enforcement and national security authorities improve their capacity to go after criminals and terrorists who may seek to use bitcoin or blockchain technology.
Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology are not the problem, and a “crackdown” is not the solution. Indeed, a “crackdown” could harm law-abiding companies and users and drive bad actors underground. Instead, we need more education and cooperation between industry and government. This type of engagement will help the government better understand what the risks are, and how best to mitigate those risks. And it will lead to smarter, better decisions by policymakers that protect public safety without stifling innovation.
Jason Weinstein is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP and a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice in charge of cybercrime and organized crime. He is the Director of the Blockchain Alliance and a member of the advisory boards of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, Coin Center, and BitFury.
Global Chief Communications Officer
Why I Believe in the Blockchain, And Why You Should Too
Dec 04, 2015
I believe in the Blockchain and the transformational power of this technology. And you should too. In fact, I believe in the Blockchain so much that I just left my fantastic job working for Edelman, the greatest and largest Public Relations firm in the world, to take on the role of Global Chief of Communications at BitFury — the leading Bitcoin Blockchain infrastructure provider and transaction processing company in the world.
Scratching your head yet? A little intrigued? Keep reading.
Prior to working at Edelman, my career has included serving as Deputy White House Press Secretary and Special Assistant to President Obama, Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Director of Communications for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its then Chairman Senator Rockefeller, Traveling Press Director for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign, and Director of Communications for Secretary Madeleine K. Albright and her consulting firm, The Albright Group, LLC.
So, why would I leave this path to take my chances on the Blockchain? And what is the Blockchain anyway?
Simply put — the Blockchain is an unalterable public ledger where every single bitcoin transaction is recorded, enabling peer-to-peer payments to be made without the need for a bank or other third-party.
BitFury, the company I’m joining, has built out a sophisticated global network of servers whose combined computing power significantly contributes to the protection of the Blockchain. Similar to cloud computing, which has enabled millions of startups around the world to leverage billion-dollar infrastructure for a fraction of the cost, the infrastructure BitFury is deploying allows entrepreneurs to tap into world-class banking infrastructure for a fraction of the cost — unlocking the creativity of entrepreneurs to build financial service applications that can serve the specific needs of the unbanked at a much lower cost than traditional banks.
After a great deal of research, curiosity and examination, it has become very clear to me that in no uncertain terms this technology can — and will — positively change the world.
And I am not alone. Senior officials from the Government, Finance, Technology, Law Enforcement and Civil Society sectors are also getting on board because they see the endless possibilities and doors this groundbreaking innovation will open for millions of people around the world. From my former White House colleague Brian Forde who now heads the Digital Currency Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, to the former Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — BitFury board member Jim Newsome — to the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of cybercrime and organized crime at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division Jason Weinstein, to the former CFO of JP Morgan Blythe Masters, to startup entrepreneur Wences Casares. More and more respected experts from a diverse set of fields are leaving their respected positions to focus on the Blockchain.
Imagine a world where people can send money as easily as we send emails. Sounds crazy, but approximately 100,000 transactions take place on this growing network every single day.
Imagine a world where your bank or favorite e-commerce website isn’t hacked. Sounds crazy, but the Blockchain infrastructure BitFury helps protect hasn’t been hacked since its creation more than 7 years ago.
Imagine a world where criminals attempting misdeeds are logged in a permanent record that law enforcement can leverage in investigations. Sounds crazy, but law enforcement has already prosecuted and jailed illicit actors, including their own people, who have tried to use this technology for illegal activities.
Imagine a world where anyone: entrepreneurs or companies, big or small, can accept digital payments without having to ask banks or credit card companies for permission to pay them exorbitant fees. Sounds crazy, but more than 120,000 merchants around the world from Microsoft to Stoney Creek Roasters Coffee in Dayton, Ohio accept bitcoin.
And that is just the beginning of the possibilities.
We all remember the remarkable 1994 NBC Today Show interview with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel when they famously asked live on air, “What is the Internet?”
Back then, very few fully understood the power of such an open and inter-operable system. And now we live in a world where we stream movies through our iPhones that we searched for in a place called Google, all the while keeping in touch with our friends and family in a place called Facebook, while simultaneously buying holiday presents for our loved ones in a place called Amazon — all in the palm of our hands.
My BitFury colleagues and I will be working together to regularly comment and tell the story of the power of the Blockchain — through speeches, blogs, social, earned and owned media, and technical white papers. Tune in to www.bitfury.com and join the discussion happening across the globe by following us on Twitter and on Facebook. The ongoing Blockchain conversation is riveting, inspiring and — for me — life changing.
Want to learn more? The Blockchain was featured as the cover story on the Economist a few weeks ago. Click here for their take on the power of this emerging technology.
And let yourself imagine.
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