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Money, blockchains, and social scalability(Ⅱ)

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发表于 2018-4-12 17:03:02 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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All of the following are very similar in requiring an securely identified (distinguishable and countable) group of servers rather than the arbitrary anonymous membership of miners in public blockchains. In other words, they require some other, usually far less socially scalable, solution to the Sybil (sockpuppet) attack problem:
  • Private blockchains
  • The “federated” model of sidechains (Alas, nobody has figured out how to do sidechains with any lesser degree of required trust, despite previous hopes or claims).  Sidechains can also be private chains, and it’s a nice fit because their architectures and external dependencies (e.g. on a PKI) are similar.
  • Multisig-based schemes, even when done with blockchain-based smart contracts
  • Threshold-based “oracle” architectures for moving off-blockchain data onto blockchains

The dominant, but usually not very socially scalable, way to identify a group of servers is with a PKI based on trusted certificate authorities(CAs). To avoid the problem that merely trusted third parties are security holes, reliable CAs themselves must be expensive, labor-intensive bureaucracies that often do extensive background checks themselves or rely on others (e.g. Dun and Bradstreet for businesses) to do so.  (I once led a team that designed and built such a CA).  CAs also act as a gatekeeper, rendering these permissioned systems. CAs can become singular points of political control and failure.  "Public blockchains are automated, secure, and global, but identity is labor-intensive, insecure, and local.”


PKI-enabled private blockchains are a nice for banks and some other large enterprises because they already have mature in-house PKIs that cover the employees, partners, and private servers needed to approve important transactions.  Bank PKIs are relatively reliable. We also have semi-reliable CAs for web servers, but not generally speaking for web clients, even though people have been working on the problem of client certificates since the invention of the web: for example advertisers would love to have a more secure alternative to phone numbers and cookies for tracking customer identities. Yet it hasn’t happened.  


PKI can work well for some important things and people but it is not nearly so nice or so easy for lesser entities. Its social scalability is limited by the traditional wet identity bureaucracy on which it depends.


Some significant thefts in the broader bitcoin ecosystem. Whereas the Bitcoin blockchain itself is probably the most secure financial network in existence (and indeed must remain far more secure than traditional payment networks in order to maintain its low governance costs and seamless cross-border capability), its peripheral services based on older centralized web servers are very insecure. (Source: author)

We need more socially scalable ways to securely count nodes, or to put it another way to with as much robustness against corruption as possible, assess contributions to securing the integrity of a blockchain. That is what proof-of-work and broadcast-replication are about: greatly sacrificing computational scalability in order to improve social scalability.  That is Satoshi’s brilliant tradeoff.   It is brilliant because humans are far more expensive than computers and that gap widens further each year.  And it is brilliant because it allows one to seamlessly and securely work across human trust boundaries (e.g. national borders), in contrast to “call-the-cop” architectures like PayPal and Visa that continually depend on expensive, error-prone, and sometimes corruptible bureaucracies to function with a reasonable amount of integrity.


Conclusion
The rise of the Internet as seen the rise of a variety of online institutions, among them social networks, “long-tail” retail (e.g. Amazon), and a variety of services that allow small and dispersed buyers and sellers to find and do business with each other (eBay, Uber, AirBnB, etc.)  These are just the initial attempts to take advantage of our new abilities.  Due to the massive improvements in information technology over recent decades, the number and variety of people who can successfully participate in an online institution is far less often restricted by the objective limits of computers and networks than it is by limitations of mind and institution that have usually have not yet been sufficiently redesigned or further evolved to take advantage of those technological improvements.
These initial Internet efforts have been very centralized. Blockchain technology, which implements data integrity via computer science rather than via “call the cops”, has so far made possible trust-minimized money -- cryptocurrencies – and will let us make progress in other financial areas as well as other areas where transactions can be based primarily on data available online.


This is not to say that adapting our institutions to our new capabilities will be easy, or indeed in particular cases anything short of difficult and improbable. Utopian schemes are very popular in the blockchain community, but they are not viable options. Reverse-engineering our highly evolved traditional institutions, and even reviving in new form some old ones, will usually work better than designing from scratch, than grand planning and game theory. One important strategy for doing so was demonstrated by Satoshi – sacrifice computational efficiency and scalability -- consume more cheap computational resources -- in order to reduce and better leverage the great expense in human resources needed to maintain the relationships between strangers involved modern institutions such as markets, large firms, and governments.





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