Thinking Big about Bitcoin Again: An Introduction
I am writing this fresh off of a week full of people thinking big about Bitcoin again. Really big. This will be the first in a series to introduce to you just how big Bitcoin can be. Still to this day, we have many telling us that Bitcoin can’t scale without changes from others. Some of us have chosen to take Satoshi Nakamoto’s words to heart:
“There is only one global chain.
The existing Visa credit card network processes about 15 million Internet purchases per day worldwide. Bitcoin can already scale much larger than that with existing hardware for a fraction of the cost. It never really hits a scale ceiling. If you’re interested, I can go over the ways it would cope with extreme size. By Moore’s Law, we can expect hardware speed to be 10 times faster in 5 years and 100 times faster in 10. Even if Bitcoin grows at crazy adoption rates, I think computer speeds will stay ahead of the number of transactions.”
- Satoshi to Mike Hearn in April 2009
The theme of the last week is Bitcoin as a global commodity ledger. The implications of this are vast, but not necessarily new for anyone who has imagined the world being run on Bitcoin. Craig Wright announced the completion of his 20 year project “Metanet” — a topic that was first explored by Timothy May in the 90’s as an encrypted peer to peer internet. “BlackNet”, as it was introduced, was “a system that appeared in 1993 and that allows fully anonymous, two-way exchanges of information of all sorts.” May understood that in order for a system like this to emerge, it needed a form of digital cash. May’s thoughts on digital cash were interesting, and in a way it mirrors the non-maximalism stance many take in the cryptocurrency community today. Ignoring this, it is clear that Bitcoin solved the first step of creating a new internet: it solved the problem of digital cash. It did so in a way where the economics of the system introduced promise, for the first time in history, of sound global money. Metanet envisions a new internet for the world — one built entirely on the Bitcoin blockchain that uses the global ledger as the source of truth and controller for devices connected across the world.
YouTube comments can’t be taken too seriously, but a comment in particular caught my eye when looking at the comments for Dr. Wright’s announcement.
Unfortunately, this comment misses the entire promise of what Metanet (Bitcoin) brings to the globe.
The future of humanity is a merging with big data. To my wife’s chagrin, I have been a constant opponent of putting an Amazon Echo in our house, or a Google Home. The idea of having a microphone in my kitchen sending data constantly to Amazon’s headquarters was never appealing to me. To my own chagrin, I now use it daily to set timers, reminders, play music, and ask it random questions. Integrating connected technology that leverages our data undeniably adds utility to our lives. If you have an Android phone with Google Services, then your phone is probably telling you the weather outside, how long it will take to get to work, and much more useful information. When a traffic jam emerges on my route to work, I get an alert telling me of an alternate path home to take. All of these actions route themselves through Google’s servers and are useful only because Google has built services around the data that they so benevolently hold for us. What Bitcoin promises is a future that removes our reliance on trusted third parties to store and use our data, and instead brings us a future that empowers us to use and share our data how we see fit — assigning value to it as we see fit!
The important thing to understand is that when data is stored on the blockchain, it is simply data. Data becomes information when it is deemed valuable. In today’s modern internet, there is very little value associated with data aside from software that is sold for a profit and digital books that are sold online. In fact, the “cypherpunk” movement is built on the idea that information is free. What metanet promises is that “everything socialist about the internet will be made capitalist”. We’ve written extensively on “searchability” in a network. The overlay network theorized in metanet would be a network of nodes capable of using the high searchability of the Bitcoin small-world network to access information. All information across the network will have inherent value associated with it based on the free and open market.
Imagine every wikipedia edit you made giving you a reputation based on how valuable your edits are deemed over time. Every edit, stored and audited in the blockchain. Imagine a similar reputation system for Stack Overflow, where every valuable contribution you make will earn you revenue every time it is viewed. Imagine the everday search results you make to find information more valuable since they are based on natural economic conditions instead of subsidized by ads. Yours.org is the first example we have seen of content being determined by economic forces. The entire world will soon be run this way.
In today’s world the internet is subsidized for those of us with ad blockers by those that don’t use them. This is a problem. The problem hasn’t revealed itself to us clearly, but it has taken the form of large corporations that survive by selling the data they do obtain from their users to the highest bidders. Metanet is interesting because of the emergent topology and subsequent Mandala Network that arises, but in reality all it is is Bitcoin at scale. It is a world where Bitcoin underlies everything we do. It is the original dream of Bitcoin, unhindered by those who tell us it can’t scale.
The services provided by Google and Amazon with our data are inherently useful. Bitcoin and metanet simply subverts their business model to rely not on the selling of user data (though it can — with the users’ permission!), but on the selling of their services. I can use the Amazon Echo and be certain that my data is impermeable to leaks, hacks, or man in the middle attacks. The data itself can be provably hidden from Amazon too — they will be processing and analyzing data that they can’t even see. I can combine the usefulness of data collection and analysis, and no longer worry about trusting the third parties to store and secure that data.
Bitcoin is growing up, and it is time to stop thinking small.