Ethereum Launched
August 7, 2015 12:34 AM   Subscribe

In case you missed it Ethereum announced its first developer release a week ago. What is Ethereum? According to the video it's a "planetary scale computer powered by blockchain technology." Given the breathlessness, some skepticism is in order, but what if it purports to do on the tin is true?

One good sign, I'd submit, is they recognize that Ethereum does not exist in a regulatory vacuum despite their claims of being a 'trustless' computing platform. On that note, I'd say widespread adoption, of any digital currency, hinges on gov't/central bank[*] backing, viz. fedcoin or cf. any other govcoin.

also btw...
  • Vapor No More: Ethereum Has Launched - "These are very early days; this is only the first preliminary phase of a multi-stage launch. (One which will theoretically end with an eyebrow-raising transition from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake, for you hardcore cryptocurrency nerds out there.) Even then, performance will be terrible; it will be a decentralized virtual machine, but a painfully slow and weak one compared to the computer on your desk, or even the one in your pocket."
  • Ethereum Network Continues Thawing Process in Anticipation of the Start of Trading - "The gas limit will not be released immediately, but will grow gradually. Ethereum's gas price is determined by miners and how much of their computing power they are wiling to contribute to the network. If no miners update their client and raise the artificial limit they are willing to accept, then no transactions will be possible on the Ethereum network."
  • Ethereum Launches Frontier; Ether Mining Begins, Trading to Follow - "The Frontier release is an achievement to be lauded and not taken lightly, but Ethereum still has a long, difficult road ahead. Its technical merits continue to be challenged by different parties, and significant development milestones remain. However, to anyone excited by the promises of decentralized blockchain technology, Ethereum is a project that is surely awe-inspiring and, if successful, to be one of the greatest technological feats since the advent of the Internet."
Some previous hype:
  • The Utopia Algorithm - "When you buy something on eBay or Airbnb, a cut goes to the company for facilitating the transaction. A handful of programmers are planning to build an online marketplace on Ethereum where buyers and sellers can connect without a third party and their commission."
  • Come With Us If You Want to Live[*; pdf] - "I prefer thinking about the problem of 'How do we make sure that all people have at least something?' So figuring out how to create a currency that would, say, give everyone on earth one unit per year—to me, that would be the ideal."
  • More on the possible benefits of Ethereum[*] - "One of the more advanced concepts being touted for a next-generation Bitcoin is the idea of decentralised autonomous corporations (DAC) – companies with no directors. These would follow a pre-programmed business model and are managed entirely by the block chain. In this case the block chain acts as a way for the DAC to store financial accounts and record shareholder votes."
  • Filtered for the future of the firm - "So, y'know, the idea that a corporation - an organisation for orchestrating human endeavour to deliberate ends - an entity invented in the 1600s, and entity which BY ITS INESCAPABLE LOGIC forces us into mass production, mass consumption, mass media, alienation and the loss of individuality, and all kinds of ugly inhuman shit... the idea that we can re-invent the corporation, and create new forms of it: That's interesting."
  • The idea that we might create a type of organisation which is empowering, has local value which doesn't mean everything gets coerced into the value of giant companies, is smaller, can be interrogated and critiqued because it's just code, that avoids the priesthoods of capital and law.

    That a company might be a fuzzy-edged thing, where consumers are owners too...

    I'd say: Make a little bottle-city company that embodies all of this. Consumer-owners, internal currencies for resource allocation, corporate governance as executable code, doing an actual interesting tractable not-too-ambitious thing. Half co-op, half lifestyle business, half startup. Show what happens when we use capital, instead of capital using us. Do it simply and elegantly. Make a little nest of these companies. Then sit back and see what happens.
  • Teenage Hacker Transforms Web Into One Giant Bitcoin Network - "Ethereum and other next-gen crypto-platforms paint a very attractive picture of our online future, one where users are in control, not governments or big companies."
  • There's a blockchain for that[*] - "There's this hopelessly geeky new technology. It's too hard to understand and use. How could it ever break the mass market? Yet developers are excited, venture capital is pouring in, and industry players are taking note. Something big might be happening. That is exactly how the Web looked back in 1994 — right before it exploded. Two decades later, it’s beginning to feel like we might be at a similar liminal moment. Our new contender for the Next Big Thing is the blockchain — the baffling yet alluring innovation that underlies the Bitcoin digital currency."
There is a contingent on today's Internet—a minority, perhaps, but influential—who believe that the industry took a wrong turn over the past decade. That an Internet dominated by a few big companies is an unhealthy one. That the centralized-computing paradigm—of privately owned data silos housed in giant server farms that harvest our personal data in order to sell ads—is one that needs to change.

The entrepreneurs, coders and crypto experts leading the blockchain charge — I shall call them blockchainiacs, because they need a name — see this new technology as an antidote, and they are hopped up on dizzying visions of a disrupted future. (One sure sign that this technology has achieved geek-cred critical mass: The tech publisher O'Reilly just announced a new conference on the topic.)
Some more background material:
  • Understanding the blockchain - "The technology concept behind the blockchain is similar to that of a database, except that the way you interact with that database is different. For developers, the blockchain concept represents a paradigm shift in how software engineers will write software applications in the future, and it is one of the key concepts that needs to be well understood. We need to really understand five key concepts, and how they interrelate to one another in the context of this new computing paradigm that is unravelling in front of us: the blockchain, decentralized consensus, trusted computing, smart contracts, and proof of work/stake. This computing paradigm is important because it is a catalyst for the creation of decentralized applications, a next-step evolution from distributed computing architectural constructs."
  • The reality is that the crypto-led computer science revolution is giving us concepts that go way beyond a one-currency type of scenario. Yes, bitcoin is programmable money, but the blockchain is also programmable value, programmable governance, programmable contracts, programmable ownership, programmable trust, programmable assets, etc. And we have barely scratched the surface on these applications.

    It is too early to tell exactly where the cryptocurrency landscape will end up. Maybe it will be like social media, with four giant platforms, dozens of large players, thousands of other companies as beneficiaries, and of course, millions if not billions of end-users. And that would be a good thing.

    But to get there, let's not forget the basic golden rule of network effects: without users, there is no network effect.
  • Blockchain scalability - "Blockchain scalability is an essential set of issues that must be tackled as blockchain technologies become more popular. It's particularly difficult to build for scalability and to maintain backward compatibility. Solutions are being proposed, in academic papers and whitepapers, but we'll have to wait and see what really works."
  • The Blockchain is the New Database - "It's a bit like your home address. You can publish your home address publicly, but that doesn’t give any information about what your home looks like on the inside. You'll need your private key to enter your private home, and since you have claimed that address as yours, no one else can claim a similar address as theirs. The blockchain can also be seen as a software design approach that binds a number of peer computers together that commonly obey the same 'consensus' process for releasing or recording what information they hold, and where all related interactions are verified by cryptography."
  • Enabling Blockchain Innovations - "Chaum introduced the blind signature, which he used to provide a cryptographic means to prevent linking of the central server's signatures (which represent coins), while still allowing the central server to perform double-spend prevention. The requirement for a central server became the Achilles' heel of digital cash."
  • Clarifying the Foundational Innovation of the Blockchain[*] - "Let me repeat that again for emphasis: before the blockchain's existence there were *no* systems that were organizationally decentralized, yet logically centralized. This is why Bitcoin is such a foundational technology."
  • Blockchains as a public and private resource - "In other words, what's still to be determined is whether Ethereum and its ilk would ever be more cost efficient on a per participant basis than just trusting the government to run an equivalent database on the public behalf, funded by good old fashioned tax dollars.‏"
  • Demystifying incentives in the consensus computer[*] - "Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies are a massive network of computational devices that maintain the robutness and correctness of the computation done in the network. Cryptocurrency protocols, including Bitcoin and the more recent Ethereum system, offer an additional feature that allows currency users to specify a "script" or contract which is executed collectively (via a consensus protocol) by the network. This feature can be used for many new applications of cryptocurrencies beyond simple cash transaction. Indeed, several efforts to develop decentralized applications are underway and recent experimental efforts have proposed to port a LinuxOS to such a decentralized computational platform."
  • In this work, we study the security of computations on a cryptocurrency network. We explain why the correctness of such computations is susceptible to attacks that both waste network resources of honest miners as well as lead to incorrect results. The essence of our arguments stems from a deeper understanding of the incentive-incompatibility of maintaining a correct blockchain. We explain this via a ill-fated choice called the verifier's dilemma, which suggests that rational miners are well-incentivized to accept an unvalidated blockchain as correct, especially in next-generation cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum that are Turing-complete. To explain which classes of computation can be computed securely, we formulate a model of computation we call the consensus verifiability. We propose a solution that reduces the adversary's advantage substantially, thereby achieving near-ideal incentive-compatibility for executing and verifying computation in our consensus verifiability model. We further propose two different but complementary approaches to implement our solution in real cryptocurrency networks like Ethereum. We show the feasibility of such approaches for a set of practical outsourced computation tasks as case studies.
  • A simple model to make sense of the proliferation of distributed ledger, smart contract and cryptocurrency projects - "I think the two dimensions that help me think about these projects are: [1] 'Who do I trust to maintain a truthful record?'; and [2] 'What do I need the record to be about?' "
  • Cost? Trust? Something else? What's the killer-app for Block Chain Technology? - "Imagine we're living five or ten years in the future. Perhaps we have a securities block chain that records ownership of all securities in the world. Perhaps we have a derivatives smart contract platform that records (and enforces?) all derivatives contracts? Maybe, even, there will be a single, universal platform of this sort."
  • Sure – everybody still has a copy of the data locally... but the consensus system ensures that we know the local copy is the same as the copy everywhere else because it is the shared consensus system that is maintaining the ledger. And so we know we're producing our financial statements using the same facts as all the other participants in the industry.

    Does this mean we no longer need audit? No longer need reconciliations? Obviously not, but perhaps this approach is what is driving some of the interest in this space?

    But notice: this is just a way of ensuring we agree on the facts: who owns what? Who has agreed to what? We can still run our own valuation algorithms over the top and we could even forward the results to the regulator (who could also, of course, have a copy of the ledger) so they can identify situations where two parties have very different valuations for the same position, which is probably a sign of trouble.
  • Smart Contracts? - "I reprised my current theme that the world of 'blockchains' is really two distinct worlds – the world of Ripple-like ledgers and the world of Bitcoin-like systems – that happen to be united by a common architecture, the Replicated, Shared Ledger. This unifying concept is based on the idea that each participant has their own copy of the entire ledger – and they trust the 'system' – whatever system that is – to ensure their copy is kept in sync with everybody else's. The differences are about what the ledger records and how it is secured."
  • Broadly speaking, Ripple-like systems are focused on the representation of "off-system" assets and are secured by identifiable entities. Systems like Ripple, Hyperledger and Eris are broadly in this world, I think. The security model of these systems is based on knowing who the actors are: if somebody misbehaves, we can punish them because we know who they are!

    Bitcoin-like systems are more focused on "on-system" assets and are secured by an anonymous pool of actors. Bitcoin and Ethereum are broadly in this space, I think. The security model here is based more on game-theoretic analyses of incentive structures: the goal is to make it overwhelmingly in the actors' financial interests to do the "right" thing...

    Bitcoin-like systems could be disruptive to existing institutions if they gained widespread adoption, whereas Ripple-like systems seem, to me, to be far more closely aligned to how things work today and are, perhaps, a source of incremental innovation.

    If this observation is correct, then firms looking at this space probably need to assess the technologies through different lenses. The question for banks for Ripple-like systems is: "how could we use this to reduce cost or improve our operations" whereas the question for Bitcoin-like systems is: "how would we respond if this technology gained widespread adoption?"
  • A Simple Explanation of Balance Sheets - "One can imagine a world where the bank still records that it owes some money to its customers but the shared ledger is the place that records precisely who those people are. This is fundamentally different to using the shared ledger as a mirror (or mirroring it to the bank's own ledger) – it's more akin to seeing the shared ledger as a partial subledger. And it might perhaps be something that gets adopted to different degrees by different firms... hopefully this sketch shows some possibilities for where this could be going. And, like I said earlier, none of this will happen unless we get everybody to the same page with the right mental model for how banking works."
  • Two revolutions for the price of one? - "Bitcoin is worse than existing solutions for all the use-cases that banks care about. It's expensive. It's slow. And it's 'regulatorily difficult'. And this is by design."
So, if this is true, we should expect to see adoption of Bitcoin come from the margins, solving marginal problems for marginal users. But disruptive innovations have a habit of learning fast and growing. They don't stop at the margins and they work their way in and up...

Bitcoin essentially runs on a MASSIVELY replicated, shared ledger. (The trick is in keeping it consistent, of course...) It sounds insanely inefficient and expensive... and perhaps it is. But we also have to ask ourselves: inefficient and expensive as compared to what?

Just look at the state of banking IT today... Payments, Securities, Derivatives... Pick any one. They all follow the same pattern: every bank has built or bought at least one, usually several, systems to track positions and manage the lifecycle of trades: core banking systems, securities settlement systems, multiple derivatives systems and so on.

Each of these systems cost money to build and each of them costs even more to maintain. And each bank uses these systems to build and maintain its view of the world. And they have to be connected to each other and kept in sync, usually through reconciliation...

But what if... what if these firms – that don't quite trust each other – used a shared system to record and manage their positions? Now we'd only need one system for an entire industry... not one per firm. It would be more expensive and complicated to run than any given bank-specific systems but the industry-level cost and complexity would be at least an order of magnitude less. One might argue that this is why industry utilities have been so successful.

But a centralised utility also brings issues: who owns it? Who controls it? How do the users ensure it stays responsive to their needs and remains cost-effective?

The tantalising prospect of the blockchain revolution is that perhaps it offers a third way: a system with the benefits of a centralised, shared infrastructure but without the centralised point of control: if the data and business logic is shared and replicated, no one firm can assert control, or so the argument goes.

Now, there are lots of unsolved problems: privacy, performance, scalability, does the technology actually work, might we be walking away from a redundant (antifragile?) existing model? Who will build these platforms if they can't easily charge a fee because of their mutualised nature? Difficult questions.
posted by kliuless (57 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
easily charge a fee
posted by Mblue at 12:39 AM on August 7, 2015

This sounds like a really cool and complicated way to waste electricity.
posted by ryanrs at 12:39 AM on August 7, 2015 [39 favorites]

a planetary scale computer

And they didn't name it Deep Thought?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:25 AM on August 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

This all sounds so... Naive. I mean, making a system that automatically takes care of transactions and prevents misunderstandings through its own language and code only makes sense if everyone who uses it has a complete and perfect understanding of that language, right? Otherwise it's just a dark alley for people who don't know any better to go down and get mugged by people who understand the language better. Am I totally misunderstanding the premise here?

I mean, these are people who seem to believe that bitcoin can't be manipulated, so...
posted by shmegegge at 1:32 AM on August 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Core War with stakes. Nice.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:20 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

tl;dr how does it meaningfully differ from Bitcoin? Will people understand this time that a replacement for cash isn't the same thing as a replacement for gold?
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:29 AM on August 7, 2015

Having seen way too many disputes about how intentions/requirements were translated into code, I cannot see EtherScript replacing law. For simple, standard cases, boilerplate legal text exists already; for complex cases, this can only add another layer of potential problems.

In any case, the kinds of things that cause issues in law -- ambiguous semantics, arguments over fact -- will be a problem with Etherscript. Imagine that putative town whose bylaws are in Etherscript writing traffic by laws. How will they define, say, "vehicle"? How will that definition be less arguable than a definition in English words? Except worse, the base layer of Etherscript will be a natural human language, so you'll have two sets of problems instead of one.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:38 AM on August 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

The dream of the 1690's is alive!
posted by thelonius at 2:53 AM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

So this is what end-stage Engineer's Disease looks like.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:04 AM on August 7, 2015 [54 favorites]

Well, if corporations are people, a computer-run corporation is probably the shortest route to AI equal rights.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 3:29 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

The very first example, an inescapable contract, is also an example of inescapable starvation since presumably when everything's electronic your money and assets are automatically taken, even as you earn them. So that's bad.
posted by mobunited at 3:54 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is it Engineer's Disease to attempt to engineer a new form of virtual machine?

I saw a brief talk by Vitalik Buterin; he struck me as operating at a rare level of technical acumen.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:43 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

That "purports to do" video reminded me so much of a lot of product engineers do when pitching a new gadget. They design a small, non-functioning card of plastic with a couple of buttons, then surround the thing with about a bajilion call-outs, bullet points, and arrows, each highlighting some trendy feature/function that the plastic piece "incorporates".
posted by Thorzdad at 4:52 AM on August 7, 2015

I saw a brief talk by Vitalik Buterin; he struck me as operating at a rare level of technical acumen.

I'm glad to hear that, as the video of him describing this is a PR nightmare. He is bored with the task of reading the dumbed-down version and meaningless claims off the cue cards.
posted by oheso at 4:54 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Haha wow yeah he seemed much more engaged/comfortable holding forth on fault tolerance models...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:02 AM on August 7, 2015

I know a guy who's really into this thing. He kept trying to sell me on it the other night, and I kept asking what problem it's going to solve. Finally he admitted that he just likes it because it's "futuristic". It is, well and truly, a neat and clever idea—but a lot of people seem to think that means it's a good idea, i.e., an apt solution to the problem.

You know, I've been trying to understand why there's so much overlap between libertarians and Bitcoin/Ethereum evangelists, and maybe I just figured it out: libertarianism is Engineer's Disease's answer to sociopolitical questions.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:02 AM on August 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

Is it Engineer's Disease to attempt to engineer a new form of virtual machine?

No, what's "Engineer's Disease" is to think that intractable political or social problems will be easily solved once this device is fully operational.
posted by thelonius at 5:03 AM on August 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Engineer's Disease is the idea that because you are good at a particular thing and smart and knowledgeable in a particular field, you must be good at all the things and smart and knowledgeable in every field. It's so named because for whatever reason it seems to manifest in engineers more frequently than most.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:16 AM on August 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

Not that there's an official definition, of course, but I've always understood "engineer's disease" to be the belief that all problems can (or should) be solved via the application of the same kind of methods and reasoning that engineers use to solve technical problems. Also a tendency to prefer technically novel or neato solutions regardless of whether they're actually a good fit for the problem, coupled with an inability to understand why the human world refuses to conform to the contours of this neat technical solution that the engineer dreamed up.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:36 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

But how do we solve the problem of our energy expenditure being too low?
posted by Artw at 5:54 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

just from looking at one the first links, i was surprised that dates are described in epochs (called "computer time"). that's such a basic UI mess that my immediate reaction is that this is very rushed and/or very low priority for ibm. so then i am wondering whether i just noticed a small oddity and am over-reacting, or, if not, then exactly how was this developed? the programming language looks very like the visual programming stuff that came out of mit, i think, a while back. is it lifted from there? and if they've been rushed about the cryptocurrency side too, how secure is this?
posted by andrewcooke at 6:16 AM on August 7, 2015

There is no such thing as "trustless" contracts.
posted by j03 at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2015

Apparently its programmed in Scratch?
posted by signal at 6:24 AM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

There is nothing basic about dates. Using epoch skips a million stupid problems.
posted by idiopath at 6:24 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow this post is so intense I haven't even begun to read through everything. One thing I'm really confused about is the "smart" contracts. The example the "What is Ethereum" page gives is a little too easy: selling a digital commodity (a website) by a certain date. Assuming you could develop a kind of cryptographic signature that ensures that the code is the agreed upon code and not sold to someone else or whatever, the smart contract could work well. And really code is the only thing that makes sense for it: for example, you could provide a freelance programmer with a set of crytographically secure unit tests, such that they cannot be manipulated into giving false positives (I wonder, how difficult of a problem is that, definitely non-trivial), and then have a smart contract that disburses funds if the unit tests pass. So long as the funds are put in escrow before the work begins, so that you don't get into a situation where the funds just aren't there, that could work. But is there any other situation that sounds feasible? For example: what about paying the person who writes the unit tests? (Unit tests for unit tests?)

Or say: drug transactions. You could digitally verify the purity through random sampling, and then verify the weight, and then disburse funds. But what if I manipulate the scales? Or paying for art: I agree to pay X if you deliver the design I want. But what if I say: that's not the design I wanted! How do you enforce that digitally? Don't you still need a judge for 99% of the potential disputes between contractees?
posted by dis_integration at 6:26 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

The first example I clicked to was resolving a date (March) in a contract. The solution was 20-30 lines of not incredibly clear code. Ok, fine, although just writing "March 2016" in a contract would have solved that examples problem. Now add 50 thousand lines of intentionally obfuscated code that embeds many "bugs" both unintentional and secretly planned by the bad party(probably all parties involve :) - now this would not be an issue if there were an ethical compiler that resolved all moral and contractual issues A priori but until the singularity that's just not going to be available.
posted by sammyo at 6:30 AM on August 7, 2015

It's amazing that libertarians never get tired of being scammed.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:31 AM on August 7, 2015 [18 favorites]

Unit tests necessarily test a small subset of the problem space. If the programmer knows the conditions of the unit test beforehand, and they want to get out of an inconvenient contractual obligation, they could just satisfy the unit tests with dummy code that's hardcoded to give the right answers for that subset.

The client would then resort to conventional legal means to address the grievance, of course—but then what was the point of a crypto contract in the first place?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2015

Yeah I don't know how you'd provide any kind of digital verification that couldn't be tricked into giving false positives... I really have no idea how they imagine these smart contracts will solve any problems.
posted by dis_integration at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2015

Is Etherium Latin for vaporware? Because it smells like it is.
posted by Sphinx at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

epoch is a great date format that solves many problems - users should be exposed to it never.
posted by Artw at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also, I'm an attorney who works with tech startups in NYC. I wonder if Ethereum had any attorneys involved in the creation of any of this, because this "EtherScript" nonsense sounds exactly like the poor understanding of the law and legal work that I am forced to endure when speaking to some programmer afflicted with a particularly terrible case of Engineer's Disease.

I also wonder about issues like liability if Ethereum is advertising their product as creating "unbreakable" contracts and a contract is inevitably broken at some point as discussed in the comments above.

I think I'm going to start crashing programming groups and meetings and sagely telling anyone who will listen that Ruby is better than Python because jewels are better than snakes, since that's generally the level of commentary I see from tech "legal experts" who want to disrupt the law.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:44 AM on August 7, 2015 [21 favorites]

epoch is a great date format that solves many problems - users should be exposed to it never.

Which means you've merely migrated the bugs from the epoch to the epoch-to-civil calendar conversion routines, of course, because nobody is going to write a contract to close in EPOCH +391703819432.

The moment I read "The Utopia Algorithm" pretty much every single BS detector I had pegged and then exploded. We're talking "geiger counters at Chernoybl" levels of pegged. We're talking "I blew whaaaa?" after a GOP debate drinking game pegged.

This isn't a solution looking for a problem, this is a solution looking to create problems that it can then claim to solve, but won't.
posted by eriko at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

will it work in IE8? 'cause where I work they use IE8
posted by mattoxic at 6:55 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

level of commentary I see from tech "legal experts" who want to disrupt the law.

After Hans Reiser's guilty plea in the murder of his wife, I got into an argument with a Linux kernel dev on slashdot who held that Reiser should have been released because the investigation could not logically have produced him as a suspect. Invalid investigation <> invalid conviction. Many there argued the same in less concise ways.
posted by fatbird at 7:15 AM on August 7, 2015

It's amazing that libertarians never get tired of being scammed.

That's because in libertarian terms, taking advantage of people (be it inside or outside the rules to do so) is a way of life. Getting scammed is their idea of a natural consequence for not reading the fine print, or just being not quite as deviously clever as the scammer.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:20 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Reiser should have been released

Were they arguing this before or after he led authorities to his wife’s body?
posted by Fongotskilernie at 7:22 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's amazing that libertarians never get tired of being scammed.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:31 AM on August 7 [2 favorites +] [!]

Libertarianism is, at is core, the idea that all social interactions can potentially be 100% voluntary for all parties, and that individual assent to said interactions defines the morality and utility of those interactions.

In such a world view, the only real crime is getting an outside party (the government, a court, whatever) to non-consensually settle disputes. Consequently, from this perspective, it's almost impossible to ever be truly "scammed" -- because the existence of a scammer implies the existence of information asymmetry. That is, the scammer was smarter than you about something, and was able to pull the wool over your eyes.

But libertarianism generally denies that this is even possible. If everyone acts in their own enlightened self-interest, everyone will "do their research", their "due diligence" and consequently scams through information asymmetry will be basically impossible. Also, in this world view, self-interested individuals would never engage in scams, because that would ruin their chances to engage in future business -- so in a totally free market, scams would never happen. Of course, this is not how human beings operate. People enter into contracts and engage in scams for non-rational reasons (emotion, sentiment, confusion, self-delusion, etc.).

The practical effect of this is that there are a huge number of successful scams oriented towards libertarians. Bitcoin, Galt's Gulch, Sealand, etc. They tend to be very successful because the typical libertarian refuses to believe that he cannot be scammed (because he is smart) and also because scams between enlightened self-interested individuals are virtually impossible.

If you don't believe any of this, I have some wonderful gold bullion to sell you....100% inflation proof!
posted by Avenger at 7:26 AM on August 7, 2015 [19 favorites]

Libertarians are greedy scammers and greedy scammers make for the biggest marks.
posted by Artw at 7:28 AM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

because nobody is going to write a contract to close in EPOCH +391703819432

Which is a bug in the human part of the system. My backend can handle times just fine until your "human friendly" "intuitive" bullshit fucks everything up.

But seriously, this whole concept is absurd. I don't want to live in a society that is easy to program, and I refuse to live in a society that is programmed incompetantly.
posted by idiopath at 8:08 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

That regulatory link goes to a map on a blog about "Blockchain technology" and doesn't help clear up any questions.

So what happens when the Sam gets 5000 ether via Ethereum and the Frank sues? How is Ethereum going to protect Sam from the enforcement mechanisms of the court with jurisdiction over the case if Frank wins?

What do we expect to happen when I write up an Ethereum lease with a tenant and it is void due to some clause like IF TENENT.CHILDREN > 0 THEN LEASE.TERMINATE? Will they be writing automated code validators to detect these bugs?

Why do they expect the existing legal systems of the world to give up jurisdiction?
posted by bdc34 at 8:16 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Were they arguing this before or after [Reiser] led authorities to his wife’s body?

After: literally, the /. thread in which it was first announced that Reiser had accepted the deal of pleading guilty and leading the police to Nina's body; at the moment when it was most factually clear that Reiser was totally, 100% guilty of the most deliberate murder possible.
posted by fatbird at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2015

the investigation could not logically have produced [Reiser] as a suspect

that is ridiculous, like many appeals to "logic": it's routine that the police investigate the spouses or significant others of murder victims
posted by thelonius at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2015

you could provide a freelance programmer with a set of crytographically secure unit tests, such that they cannot be manipulated into giving false positives (I wonder, how difficult of a problem is that, definitely non-trivial), and then have a smart contract that disburses funds if the unit tests pass.

Ok, but who writes the tests? It turns out that, for the vast majority of applications, writing a comprehensive set of tests covering all possible conditions is generally harder than writing the software itself. Then you have the added complication of ensuring they can't be gamed.

What this seems to be looking for is a programmatic way to specify all the behavior of a program so they can test when it it's been delivered. But we actually have a term for that already: it's called computer programming. If you've defined how the program works at such a detailed level in a way a computer can understand, congratulations, you've just written the program. And we're not taking into account all the aesthetic factors.
posted by zachlipton at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

yeah, trying to prove the correctness of programs has been an area of CS research for decades, and it's really really hard to do, it seems
posted by thelonius at 9:33 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you've defined how the program works at such a detailed level in a way a computer can understand, congratulations, you've just written the program. And we're not taking into account all the aesthetic factors.

Yeah, the map is the territory. I was trying to think out loud about how this would possibly work (smart contracts) in the area it would be most likely to work (delivering digital work) and I think the answer is: it won't. Someone' s gonna get screwed, and then you'll need a third party to arbitrate. Or I guess you use smart bombs to solve your problems with the smart contracts?
posted by dis_integration at 9:35 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's like the blockchain for everything!
(uber for everything anyone?)
posted by shenkerism at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Grar aside, we could really use a way to do things like distributed repeatable bit-identical software builds. Not sure this is a solution but even boneheaded experiments teach you something.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

On some reading of this, it looks like it uses the blockchain and language to unambiguously express and execute the contract. Okay, but it also looks like it requires essentially putting the elements of the contract in escrow or some other available form so that the contract can be 'run' as conditions are met.

The problem is that contracts often express future obligations with penalties for non-compliance. Okay, so the penalties need to be escrowed. This would seem to rule out a lot of contracts where the contractual obligation is sufficient in real life. In other words, if the parties escrow the elements of the contract or the penalties for non-compliance, many of the problems with existing contracts go away.
posted by fatbird at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2015

Thanks for posting this, another fantastic post on a fascinating set of ideas.

What if you could have an economic system with the tremendous power of capitalism to coordinate effort and resources, but without centralizing power into a handful of managers?

What if you could sidestep the problems much of the world has with a lack of functional institutions like non-corrupt law courts?

Whether achievable or not, it’s great thats people are trying these kind of experiments.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:05 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

The dream of the 1690's is alive!

It turns out that, for the vast majority of applications, writing a comprehensive set of tests covering all possible conditions is generally harder than writing the software itself.

How do you solve probability problems that appear to have more than one correct answer? "probabilistic payment systems could be used..."*

Libertarianism is, at is core, the idea that all social interactions can potentially be 100% voluntary for all parties, and that individual assent to said interactions defines the morality and utility of those interactions.

libertarian theology :P
posted by kliuless at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2015

North Korea just created a new timezone. Fuckers.
posted by Artw at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

North Korea just created a new timezone. Fuckers.

You will not make computer science easy by fixing humans.
posted by eriko at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't escrowing contract penalties break capitalism? I mean, if I break my mortgage, the bank gets my house. I don't see where I get an extra houseworth of cash to put into escrow, and if I had the money to do that I wouldn't need the mortgage.
posted by Devonian at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2015

Houses effectively are the penalty in escrow because you can't prevent the bank from foreclosing by hiding or moving the house. But you're right: if you lease a car, you might dodge the repo man, or sell it for parts, pocket the cash, and disappear, leaving the car lease company to eat the loss because they're physically unable to enforce your contract obligation to return the car. I'm not seeing how ethereum helps that because an ethereum contract without escrowed penalties has the same problem as a lease already does, and if you can afford to put the penalties into escrow, then you probably don't need to lease the car.

Would it break capitalism to require escrowed penalties? It would put a huge brake on a lot of economic activity, for sure. What ethereum really appears to end (or offer no improvement on) is unsecured credit.
posted by fatbird at 4:15 PM on August 8, 2015

« Older California is burning. What the hell are you going...   |   The Cat Who Hunts for Dinner Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments