“The nature of Bitcoin is such that once version 0.1 was released, the core design was set in stone for the rest of its lifetime.” So said Satoshi Nakamoto on June 17th 2010.
By that he presumably meant things like blocks, in a chain, validated by nodes, to whom people “speak” by giving “commands” through signing private keys.
That being the foundation, the rest is more tinkering. The ten year old bitcoin, in fact, hardly looks any more different today than even ten years ago.
There may have been some changes, but a node is still as clunky as ever. The capabilities remain just as limited, if not more so. The thing, effectively, has been set in stone.
Perhaps prematurely. Yet it may be the aim of any public blockchain to reach a stage where there isn’t really much else to be done at the protocol level, with the base sort of backend and kind of irrelevant as everything runs on top of it.
Scalability is a major bottleneck towards that end, but if we try to realistically look at how this would work at a global scale, one does have to ask whether it will ever be set in stone.
If we speak far too plainly, a cryptocoin is the product of a miner or staker who then has to sell this product to the public based on whatever benefit they claim it has.
Currently, the product is conceived by mainly volunteer developers who in some cases may be as big a holder of the crypto in question as the biggest miner.
That’s because public blockchains are still just little babies with some of them not yet even “born.” A decade on, however, we’d probably reach the stage where we have solved sort of everything that has to be solved.
At that point, we perhaps wouldn’t have “devs.” If we do, then it may be no one listens to them because if it reaches a good enough stage, any further upgrade would probably be a decades long process.
For now, it is mainly start-ups and a small community which can quickly coordinate if there’s a bug or whatever. In a world where your local WalMart sells a bot who can walk to the corner shop and pay with a blockchain account, getting a network wide upgrade might not even be possible.
In bitcoin, they think the solution to that might be backwards compatibility. New nodes don’t have to know or utilize the new capabilities, but they can handle fine the current capabilities.
At the scale of global usage such backwards compatibility might be necessary, but it doesn’t come without its own risks.
The main one is that devs can be a point of weakness because at the end of the day there is only one person who owns the bitcoin github, for example, and thus technically can do whatever he wants.
At a global scale that would give this one person, or team, an incredible amount of power which can be amplified if not made absolute through backwards compatibility or soft-forks in crypto language.
So if one’s aim is to get a blockchain that just runs without anyone being able to easily change it in an abuse of power, you’d probably want to reach a stage where there are no protocol developers as such or, if there are, where no one listens to them.
That’s difficult, but let’s suppose with our magic wand we’ve achieved it. The network is now more decentralized and less fragile, but not completely.
The current design makes miners or stakers a necessity. Miners have, in our view, abused their power by limiting capacity to gain higher fees, so we know they do have power and they do use it.
It isn’t easy to see how they can be gotten rid of, with or without a magic wand. They’re the ones who effectively put a “seal” on produced transactions. Without them, as far as we currently know, the system can’t work. While without devs it might not work as well, but it would keep on running.
Ten years on, therefore, we might not have the latter to a significant extent, but we’ll probably still have the former with the same if not a higher level of power.
Much has been tried to get rid of miners as we now know them, but it isn’t clear whether conceptually it is possible because even if some cpu only algo was found, you can easily sybil that by buying a million laptops.
Game theoretical time equations could perhaps provide better solutions than hardware algos. That being your one crypto staked for two years has more voting power than a million crypto staked for say a day.
That would still, however, allow for coordination which could mean collusion but to a lesser extent than the current 2 or three pools required for most cryptos.
In such case we’d still have devs suggesting certain upgrades which in effect would mean they’d be wielding power as they’d effectively be campaigning for stakers’ votes.
Alternatively, miners or stakers could be more like current ISPs, charging effectively a monthly fee to provide access to the network, with some of the funds used to develop the network, increase capacity, and so on.
In either case the blockchain would be liquid, rather than set in stone. But as an intellectual endeavor, can a blockchain be designed in such a way that it can’t be changed?
For that you’d need either a sybil resistant method which doesn’t require crypto or hashcash, or you’d need to reach the stage where the system is so refined to the point no one would bother to go through the hassle of persuading the entire infrastructure to upgrade.
Meaning there will probably be no stone blockchain, but one of them might reach the stage where it can effectively be said it is set in stone.
It is probably only at that point when the full potential of the blockchain is utilized. To get there, however, it will require a wholistic solution to scalability.
That will probably take at least another five years, if not an entire decade. Making the current period one of the most exciting for it is now when meritocracy truly reigns.
The current blockchains are ripe for disruption. The low hanging fruits remain unpicked throughout the many fields. The guilds are non-existent. The centralizing power points which eventually will probably exert themselves are currently no where in sight. The world, at least the blockchain world, is in this current time very much our design.
Tis here perhaps where the next immortal name will be made for few other fields so openly offer what in many ways is the ultimate power: shaping centuries to come.