How the 2017 Future of Bitcoin Conference Took Us by Surprise – A Recap
The Future of Bitcoin conference in Arnhem, Netherlands finished up on the weekend. Attendees saw a colorful variety of visions for Bitcoin’s future — including scaling techniques and capability extensions. Most importantly, presenters gave their opinions on how important decisions could happen without re-living the years-long block size debate.
[Update — 7/4/2017, 11:23 AM EST]: This article has been updated to add coverage of the Bitprim presentation.
Day One Highlights
The need for improved governance and on-chain scaling solutions were central to most presentations. Speakers also presented various opinions on where decision-making powers should lie.
Some called The Future of Bitcoin a “big blockers” conference. Although the participants generally favored on-chain scaling over “layer two” projects, their views on how this should happen were more nuanced.
Could Bitcoin Use a ‘Benevolent Dictator’?
Bitmain CEO Jihan Wu reiterated some of the points he made in a recent interview with Bitsonline’s Theo Goodman. Having one private company making key decisions on the Bitcoin protocol is contradictory to the open-source software spirit, he said.
Whether Bitcoin has a “benevolent dictator” or a design committee, the community had to accept multiple implementations — only then could we share around the final decisions. Wu said he personally supports the “extension blocks” method, as this could help safely introduce innovations like MimbleWimble and RSK Labs’ smart contracts.
Companies proposing changes need to be open about their plans so users could make the best decisions. Without the chance to innovate, Bitcoin risks getting left behind “like Nokia”.
Bitcoin Unlimited Still Favors ‘Market Governance’
We haven’t heard as much about Bitcoin Unlimited lately, and the team’s plan for flexible block sizes is probably the most radical scaling option currently on the table.
Unlimited’s Antony Zegers said he disagreed with Wu’s benevolent dictator paradigm, and prefers market forces to make key decisions. While it’s impractical and risky to have a fork split on every block size decision, the community should not fear hard forks as they send a clear signal of preference.
Zegers used elements of Game Theory to present the case for bigger blocks, competing clients, and more decentralized bitcoin holdings (all on-chain). The more valuable Bitcoin became the larger the incentive to control or subvert it, and it’s hard to tell who’s arguing in good faith, he said.
Using prediction markets and “fork futures” could place actual value on different options before any chain split even happened.
‘FSH’ Extension Blocks Another BU Option
Zegers’ colleague at Bitcoin Unlimited, Andrew Stone, spoke later in the day about FSH Extension blocks. He described the superiority of extension blocks to extend Bitcoin’s capabilities over the alternatives — such as sandboxing, layer two solutions and creating an altcoin.
Some have proposed extension blocks over the similar segregated witness (SegWit) option. Stone said the “achilles heel” of this method is that all miners must agree to mine them. Instead, he proposed a “FSH” or “federated soft/hark fork” model — this does not split the chain straight away, but the data can be added to one arm of a fork at a later date if it gains support.
Craig Wright Entertains the Crowd
Perhaps the conference’s most contentious presentation happened when nChain’s Jon Matonis introduced his firm’s commitment to “radical on-chain scaling”. He then handed the floor to colleague Dr. Craig Wright. Bitsonline has an extended report on Wright’s presentation here.
In an animated speech Wright slammed existing bitcoin frontends, SegWit, Lightning Networks, and taxation authorities as he argued on-chain scaling is entirely practical. He also described nChain’s split-key solutions for more secure exchanges, and enhanced network monitoring techniques.
Was his style too aggressive, or did he “threaten” anyone? Or was he just being passionate and… Australian? Watch the presentation and judge for yourself.
Yours.org Wants to Pay Content Creators
Ryan X. Charles talked about his new project Yours.org, which he described as “Medium.com with a paywall”. Content creators are struggling to monetize their content under the current advertising/subscription model.
Micropayments could be Bitcoin’s killer app and bigger than Facebook, Charles said. Yours is experimenting with a preview and pay-to-finish model, or even pay-to-comment. Charles predicted the information economy would soon be the entire economy, and micropayments are the answer. Content creators and curators should both get paid, as well as anyone who views an online ad.
To make this feasible, however, Yours must also throw its support behind on-chain scaling for Bitcoin.
Several other developers spoke about their Bitcoin projects. Nikita Zhavoronkov of the Blockchair blockchain search and analytics engine gave his reasons why Bitcoin needs a scaling solution. Marek Kotewicz spoke about the Parity Bitcoin and Ethereum clients. Parity is a simple and modular full node client, but without a wallet frontend. Tomas van der Wansem spoke about BitCrust, a light client for Bitcoin.
Day Two Highlights
After the theatrics and controversy of Craig Wright’s presentation on day one, the second day of the conference may have seemed quiet by comparison. However, day two’s speakers gave informed presentations, culminating in a panel discussion on the broad topic, “The Future of Bitcoin.”
Peter Rizun: Cryptocurrency is Theology
Bitcoin Unlimited chief scientist Peter Rizun opened his presentation with an anecdote of a conversation he had with someone at the May 2017 Consensus conference in New York. During that conversation, he learned that cryptocurrency — Bitcoin in particular — is closer to religion than science. Both sides of the scalability debate, he realized, have ideas about Bitcoin that they consider to be “divine,” much like the scriptures of the Bible.
As such, it is difficult to come to a consensus when two or more of these “divine” notions about Bitcoin clash with one another. Thus, he concluded, the scalability debate “can never be settled by science alone.” Instead, much of the debate has to do with conflicting ideologies of what Bitcoin should be.
Rizun then transitioned into his presentation, titled: “A SegWit Coin is not a Bitcoin.” In this presentation, Rizun offered his reasoning for why he thinks SegWit does not satisfactorily solve the scaling problem.
Jameson Lopp: We Need More ‘Coopetition’
BitGo software engineer Jameson Lopp — known for sharing his controversial opinions on social media — gave a presentation on the concept of “coopetition” in the world of cryptocurrency.
“Coopetition,” he said, comes from the notion of approaching problems with a “builder mindset”. Meaning, we should look at Bitcoin with the intention of making it work, rather than just pointing out the ideas we think are bad. This attitude has faded from the community over the years, Lopp said, and it has hindered Bitcoin’s progress.
Using Hal Finney as an example, Lopp suggested that community members supplement their criticism with suggestions on how Bitcoin can be better. Instead of picking an idea apart and leave it for dead, tell your adversary how they can make their idea better.
Lopp closed his presentation with a Q&A, fielding answers from the audience.
Bitprim: Making Bitcoin Development Accessible to the Entire World
Juan Garavaglia of Rootstock joined his team at Bitprim on stage to showcase their product and its goals. Bitprim, as the title of their presentation suggested, aims at “bringing bitcoin to everyday life.”
In essence, Bitprim is a platform for developers to help them build Bitcoin-based applications that have real-world use cases. By making Bitcoin accessible to more developers, Bitprim said, the digital currency will gain mass adoption around the world. “Our service is money,” the team said in their presentation, and they want to make better money accessible to the entire world.
Bitprim spent the remainder of their time giving an overview of the Bitprim tools and architecture. According to the team, they have already mined real Bitcoin and Litecoin blocks using these tools. The details of the platform can be viewed in the full day-two stream down below.
Other day-two speakers included:
- Piotr Narewski – Gocoin
- Nicola Dimitri – economist, University of Siena
- Dagur Valberg Johansson – BIP 100 (BitcoinXT)
- John Swingle – “Smart Contracts vs. Dumb Money”
- Amaury Sechelt – “Back to Basics”
Panel Discussion: ‘The Future of Bitcoin’
Lastly, the main part of day-two ended with a panel discussion on the topic, “The future of Bitcoin.” Five people participated in the panel, each bringing a different perspective and set of skills to the table. The participants are as follows:
- Ryan X. Charles, Yours CEO
- Andrew Clifford, Bitcoin Unlimited president
- Jon Matonis, vice president of corporate strategy, nChain
- Tom Zander, software developer, Bitcoin Classic
- Head of business development, Bitcoin Vietnam
A stream of day-two at The Future of Bitcoin can be viewed in full here.
What did you think about The Future of Bitcoin conference? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Images via The Future of Bitcoin
Jon Southurst and Evan Faggart contributed the writing to this article.