Archive for September 17th, 2015

Protocols

“Protocol governance can come in many forms, these include bureaucratic rules, literal interpretations of religious texts, democracy, proposed block chain or P2P governance, statistics based governance, rule of law, and any other form of governance which seeks to provide a protocol as being ultimately sovereign as opposed to ultimate human judgement,” writes NIO.

The meaning of ‘protocol’ here? I’m assuming, until corrected, that it’s something like: A formalized procedure. If so, it elides a critical difference, because while “bureaucratic rules, literal interpretations of religious texts,” and constitutions tell people what to do, “proposed block chain or P2P governance” doesn’t.

A set of instructions opens itself to derision, if it ‘demands’ human compliance, without possessing the means to compel it. Constitutions, laws, and bureaucracies are massively — and demonstrably — vulnerable to subversion, because they require what they cannot enforce. It is exactly this problem that has propelled the development of software protocols that are intrinsically self-protective. The longest section of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper (#11) is devoted to an examination of the system’s automatic defense capabilities. The problem is a serious and complicated one, but it is certainly not susceptible to resolution by armchair philosophizing about the essence of sovereignty, however much this latter proclaims its possession of the truth.

Claims to ‘truth’ demand trust, and trust is a social and technical problem (of ever increasing urgency). Mere assertion is certainly incapable of generating it. Only a trust engine can, and that has to be built, if it cannot be simply preserved, which — on this at least we are surely agreed? — it could not.

Bitcoin is only a stepping stone, and the scale of the step it enables remains obscure at this point. What is already clear, however, is that the principle of trustless (or open-source, automatically self-policing) protocols is concrete, in large part technical, and invulnerable to a priori dismissal. The theoretical difficulties involved have been largely solved, based upon a series of radical innovations in cryptography — public key systems and proof-of-work credentials, among others — compared to which the recent ‘advances’ of political philosophy, let alone governmental institutions, have been risible at best. If Byzantine Agreement is realizable, protocol subversion is exterminable. What then remains is productive work, in the direction of automatic or autonomized agoras.

Carlyle is a lament (admittedly, a rhetorically attractive, and insightful one). Satoshi Nakamoto has built something. The former is vindicated by progressive socio-political decay, the latter by the escape of self-protective catallaxy from the ruins.

Within a few decades, most of what still works on this planet will be on the blockchain.

ADDED: This is excellent. (Adam Back, via Twitter, describes it as the “Best article yet on what Bitcoin *is* & why decentralisation is necessary”.) The proposal of this post is that the conflict it outlines is obviously of massive importance. Those who think the entire problem of decentralized protocols is an irrelevant distraction from other things, are surely compelled to disagree. The XS position here is that trustless decentralization is worth defending. Clearly, that presupposes it’s something real (and consequential). As far as the NRx discussion is concerned, I’m going to assume that’s the matter at stake.

September 17, 2015admin 76 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Political economy
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