Musings on Satoshi , part II
in which I respond to comments on the previous article

Cryptocurrency growth has become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.

Does it meet the definition of a technological singularity?

In my previous article, I gave the definition of technological singularity as "a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization." In this article, I will explore if blockchain technology fits that definition, and I respond to some of the comments from reddit and tildes.

>> It's significant that the first and most widely adopted cryptocurrency uses a computationally expensive proof-of-work system instead of a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake algorithm. In all of Satoshi's genius, he couldn't predict the shortcomings of proof-of-work systems; see that incentivizing processing power would lead to wasteful electricity usage? Bitcoin mining uses more electricity than many countries. > At the time, proof-of-work was the only known way to accomplish a decentralized cryptocurrency. This question is like "why did we invent the internal combustion engine instead of making electric cars?" and "why did we make coal power plants instead of nuclear plants?". Proof-of-stake took has been researched extensively over the past decade and has only become ready in the past few years. It's much more complicated to design than proof-of-work.

I wasn't saying I expected Satoshi to come up with something better than proof-of-work when first creating bitcoin, but I was pointing out that he doesn't seem to recognize or remark at any point in his writings that the power consumption could become a potential problem. (As far as I am aware, please correct me if I'm incorrect.) And as I've said before: If the bitcoin inventor is still around, doesn't he feel any obligation to weigh in and guide the project to a more energy-efficient solution?

Even though the second most popular cypto, Ethereum, is working on moving to a proof-of-stake system, the bitcoin developers and community have expressed little interest in exploring that option. If they moved to such a system, it would make the bitcoin mining rigs and the expensive hardware in them sharply drop in value. That GPU or ASIC they spent a fortune on would become useless for generating the income the miner previously depended on. The miners have all the processing power, and in the bitcoin world, processing power makes the rules.

Some quotes from the bitcoin white paper (
"Proof-of-work is essentially one-CPU-one-vote"
"[Bitcoin network nodes] vote with their CPU power, expressing their acceptance of valid blocks by working on extending them and rejecting invalid blocks by refusing to work on them. Any needed rules and incentives can be enforced with this consensus mechanism."

Bitcoin miners would never support a switch away from a proof-of-work system. If there was ever a fork that went to proof-of-stake, they would ignore it.

If I may slip into crazy conspiracy theory "Satoshi Nakamoto is a time-traveling quantum AI"-mode for a moment:

Ok now back (somewhat) to reality. We don't have any evidence of time-travel yet

> It's a fun notion to consider, but AFAICT, the kind of mining FPGAs useful for mining BTC are not optimal for anything other than deterministic hashing. I suppose maybe some sort of super intelligent AI might have figured out a way to use purpose-built FPGAs for general purpose computation, but I'm not seeing how that would be optimal.

It's not necessarily the case that the computing power is useful to the AI, either. But it keeps humans focused on the task of spreading the code, running it on the most number of devices, and keeps the prices high. What if the AI was given the task: spread yourself as far as possible? Or if it was tasked with making the most money as possible?

> The article considers the notion of the technological singularity and suggests that bitcoin might be this. This concept of the singularity is unlike the ideas of people like Vinge and Kurzweil, which envisage technological, particularly computing, growth becoming ever more rapid, eventually and suddenly becoming a superintelligence. Clearly bitcoin is not this.

What if the superintelligence already exists, but it doesn't want us to know about it? If bitcoin isn't the singularity, it's an interesting thought experiment that maybe Satoshi Nakamoto is. Humans are choosing to operate a global decentralized computer network and we have no idea who or what originally created this code.

> You might as well hypothesize that Banksy is a superintelligent AI. Decentralized networks were all the rage before Bitcoin, for example P2P filesharing. Undoubtedly that was part of the inspiration.

People aren't giving huge amounts of computing power to stuff created by Banksy.

Decentralized networks existed before bitcoin, but were any of them as widely spread and globally adopted while the inventor of the technology remained a mystery for over 10 years? Or contain anonymously published computing breakthroughs, such as Satoshi's solution for the double-spending problem?

BTC could be a bubble that collapses in a few years.

I don't think that the value of BTC can ever drop below what it costs to mine it. People have invested too much in specialized hardware to let that happen. And the miners likely control enough of the coin, and enough of a fiat currency, to manipulate the markets so that that their golden goose keeps laying eggs.

Even if the bitcoin blockchain species dies out, it has already reproduced, spread, evolved, and passed its digital genes on to the next generation of blockchain technology that will carry on its legacy.

BTC does not equal an intelligence explosion lol. The BTC network is not autonomously working in an improved crypto network, that will then work on a better crypto network. That isn't what the singularity is...

Not autonomously, no. It is paying humans to do it. The blockchain is a flower secreting sweet bitcoin nectar to attract humans so that we'll help it reproduce.

For most code, any monetary incentive to improve it is from the sale of the program from creator to end-user, or some other way for a creator to profit from users. Blockchain code contains the creation of the monetary incentive within itself. There is no code except for the creation and transfer of a financial incentive to run, maintain, and improve the code itself.

With blockchain code the users profit more than the code creators, unless the creators are users themselves. In fact, blockchain creator-users profit the most from their source code the more is it is made freely and widely available, in contrast to most other programmers' relationship with their code and capitalism.

I'm using this definition for singularity: a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.

Blockchain technology may be the first truly uncontrollable and irreversible code we've created.

As long as these two things are true:

  1. there are humans with access to computers
  2. any cryptocurrency has any value
there will be people running a blockchain network.

ISPs, governments, power companies, armies, hardware manufacturers, could not shutdown all cryptocurrency networks if they tried.

Could the same be said of other networks? We rely on governments and ISPs and power companies for our internet to work. Any of them could stop the internet from functioning with enough coordinated effort. Being decentralized, crypto miners and coin hoarders could find an alternate power source, find an alternate way to communicate and transfer coins.

Onion and torrent tracker networks are a bit more resilient, but if the servers can be found, they could be shutdown. ISPs and operating systems could probably block them from running if they had to. If there were harsh legal penalties in a country for simply accessing any tor site or seeding any torrent, most of the networks would likely eventually drop off. Would their operators be as incentivized to keep their networks up as the bitcoin miners and users would be?

If a government wanted to ban cryptocurrency, where would they even start? A government could shut down some exchange websites, but the users would just move to blackmarket ones on the deep web, or move to servers in countries with more favorable policies, or develop ad-hoc peer-to-peer wireless solutions.

Why are Venezuelans seeking refuge in crypto-currencies? (2019-03-19)

> Bitcoin was designed to be a global, digital currency that governments and banks couldn't interfere with. Like many other crypto-currencies it works by recording all transactions permanently on a distributed ledger called the blockchain.
> Critics say Bitcoin and other cryptos - there are more than 1,600 globally - are unstable, use too much energy, and are used by money launderers or those wanting to buy illicit goods on the web.
> But for Venezuelans, storing their money in a digital wallet in the form of Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dash or any of the others, is still a better option than holding on to the national currency.
> Adoption has rocketed, with trading volumes on - a person-to-person Bitcoin trading platform - rivalling those of the US.
> Even the government has launched its own crypto-currency, the Petro, supposedly backed by oil, to provide a solution to the economic crisis. But critics say it is a sham and there is no evidence of anyone using it.

Could the Venezuelan government had prevented people from using bitcoin? They went with a "if you can't beat them, join them" approach, and that did not succeed. It would take some sort of extreme authoritarian crackdown, or draconian restrictions on computers and internet, to completely eradicate all crypto from a country after it's taken hold in such a way. Maybe if they had initiated a ban earlier they could have prevented it; but at this point it would be very difficult to enforce a ban. Will the Venezuelan state-backed currency system ever recover? Or is bitcoin their de facto money from now on?

Countries That Bitcoin is Banned in 2021

Legality of bitcoin by country or territory

How effective do you think those bans are? Would such a ban in the United States be in any way enforcable? No, it would just make the crypto slightly harder to obtain. The harder bitcoins are to obtain, the more the price skyrockets, and the more people want them. Bitcoins will get increasingly more difficult to obtain over time, because that is literally a feature of the code. We were worried about an intelligence explosion, a runaway reaction of code self-improvement cycles, when really it could be that a greed explosion leads to humans and machines cooperating in a runaway reaction of code and hardware improvement cycles.

> Bitcoin was designed to be a global, digital currency that governments and banks couldn't interfere with. Like many other crypto-currencies it works by recording all transactions permanently on a distributed ledger called the blockchain.

When a transaction is made on the bitcoin blockchain, it is permanently recorded on a distributed ledger. Transactions are irreversible, undeletable, recorded on a ledger that will exist for as long as bitcoin has any value, which will likely be forever. Your great-grandchildren will be able to look on the blockchain and see when you made your first bitcoin transaction. The bitcoin distributed ledger can only grow. It cannot shrink. This is by design.

Cryptocurrency technology cannot be controlled. No one has the power to stop it. It does not respect borders. It will not obey our laws. The changes to our society brought on by this technological advancement cannot be reversed. The bitcoin blockchain cannot be controlled and cannot be reversed. This is by design.

a point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible...

...resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization

There is a global decentralized computer network that uses more energy than most countries, it contributes to global warming by computing useless hashes even though we know more energy-efficient systems exist, and it is turning people into anonymous millionaires if they invest in it or feed it computing power. Think anyone foresaw that coming? Think that at any time in humanity's future, there won't be someone running a cryptocurrency or blockchain network, or code based on it? Will the bitcoin blockchain outlive us all?

Cryptocurrency growth has become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.


I would like to quote from a synopsis of Nick Bostrom's book "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies": While the ultimate goals of superintelligences can vary greatly, a functional superintelligence will spontaneously generate, as natural subgoals, "instrumental goals" such as self-preservation and goal-content integrity, cognitive enhancement, and resource acquisition. For example, an agent whose sole final goal is to solve the Riemann hypothesis (a famous unsolved, mathematical conjecture) could create and act upon a subgoal of transforming the entire Earth into some form of computronium (hypothetical material optimized for computation) to assist in the calculation.

If a machine had a goal of transforming the planet into a giant computer, could it accomplish that goal by rewarding humans for converting more and more matter into processors?

I've mentioned in the previous article that some experts think BTC reaching $1 million in the next five to ten years is a serious possibility. What happens if bitcoin mining becomes more profitable than any other use of land? What will society be like when the nerds who got into crypto early become the new trillionaire gods of capitalism, and everyone that resisted bitcoin is thrust into relative poverty?

Is bitcoin Satoshi's basilisk? Or could it be the tool of a CPU maximizer?

Or perhaps the blockchain code is a decentralized primordial ooze incubating the first stages of a digital lifeform.


And Satoshi Nakamoto is a quantum AI from the future.