Cryptocurrency trenches: Are bitcoin & blockchain really transformative?

Today, I interviewed Phil Raymond. He co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation and is a top Bitcoin writer at Quora.

For the people who don’t know you, what can you tell about yourself?

I was originally a hardware design engineer, creating electronic memory systems for computers and a few consumer products. Later, I started a company that designed and manufactured local area network devices for the smart building controls industry.

Back at college, I studied hardware engineering, of course. But I was always fascinated with encryption, compression and error correction. I studied under Gilles Brassard (inventor of Quantum Cryptography), and I met Claude Shannon (the father of information theory) and David Chaum (founder of DigiCash). In the early days of email, I latched onto PGP, RSA and the public key infrastructure that enables internet commerce. I realized that these concepts would enable transformative products and services, and that they would radically benefit consumers.

Nine years ago, Satoshi hit the scene with a solution to the Double-Spend problem. In a very brief whitepaper, he articulated the blockchain and even introduced a test platform which used a blockchain as a distributed consensus mechanism for digital cash that required no central nexus or authoritative bookkeeper. He called it “Bitcoin”.

I was fortunate to appreciate the tectonic importance of Satoshi’s gift to mankind. The blockchain and Bitcoin are easily misunderstood or dismissed today, but they are no less important than the internet or public key cryptography. They will radically change how we work, play, spend money and how we interact with each other. Ultimately, they will redefine the relationship between citizens and their governments, because these concept allow us to redefine trust and democracy in a way that more closely matches our goals and ideals.

I was involved in cryptocurrency early on, even in the pre-PayPal days of DigiCash and Digital Gold.

So, what do I do today?

I co-chair the Cryptocurrency Standards Association, a loose-knit collaborative of researchers, journalists, enthusiasts and vendors. I host the New York Bitcoin Event and more recently, I am keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. I also sit on the New Money Systems board at Lifeboat Foundation. I am a top Bitcoin writer at Quora and editor of the Blog, AWildDuck.com

What is blockchain and, how does it work?

We hear a lot about the blockchain. We also hear a lot of misconceptions about its purpose and benefits. Some have said that it represents a threat to banks or to governments. Nonsense! It is time for a simple, non-political, and non-economic definition…

What is a Blockchain?

A blockchain is a distributed approach to bookkeeping. Because it opens and distributes the ledger among all participants, it offers an empowering, efficient and trusted way for disparate parties to reach consensus. It is “empowering”, because conclusions built on a blockchain can be constructed in a way that is inherently fair, transparent and resistant to manipulation. At scale, it is also massively redundant. This further leads to a hardened network which can resist loss whether caused by accident, faulty infrastructure or attack.

This is why blockchain-backed systems are generating excitement. Implemented as distributed and permissionless, they take uncertainty out of accounting, voting, legislation or research, and replace it with trust and security. Benefits are bestowed without the need for central authority or arbitration. The blockchain not only solves a fundamental transaction challenge, it addresses communication and arbitration problems that have bedeviled thinkers since the ancient Egyptians.

Related explanations:

What is a cryptocurrency and, how does it work?

Cryptocurrency is a blockchain-based token that has achieved a two-sided network and is used like money in payment for goods, services or debts. It is not simply traded by investors, hoarders and speculators (although these trades dominate the early adoption phase) — and it is not simply used as an asset-backed payment instrument like a gift card or debit card. (Those are instruments are tied to dollars or the solvency of banks and retailers). Rather, a cryptocurrency is traded with the potential to be the money itself. It’s value floats freely with supply and demand.

It is important to distinguish cryptocurrency from ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) and other digital tokens. Cryptocurrency always refers to Bitcoin or other altcoins that are built on an open source, transparent and permissionless blockchain. They have no proprietary code or features, and every transaction from the very start of time is open to public scrutiny.

A cryptocurrency might have a functional purpose like some ICOs (That is, they might be used for something other than a payment instrument). But they are never associated with Airdrops, multi-level trading, or promotions that generate benefits to early adopters or those who refer. These gimmicks never apply to genuine cryptocurrencies. They are concepts from the marketers who hawk ICOs. Those are digital products for speculators and not a cryptocurrency.

How do they work?

Cryptocurrencies work by permitting trust without any central authority keeping the books. Instead of a bank or retailer tracking your ownership of coins, a network of miners act as a giant network of distributed accounts. Their activity maintains the transaction logs, attests to the validity of transactions and keeps track of who owns what.

Here are some really interesting facts about miners:

(a) Anyone can be a miner. There are no restrictions on joining the party

(b) Eventually, everyone will be a miner, whether they realize it or not. That is, it will become a part of every wallet. The reason that everyone will become a miner, is because the rewards will eventually run out. When they do, the spread of mining to all parties is the glue that will keep transactions fast, free and trusted.

(c) Miners don’t “see” that they are writing, validating, publishing and guaranteeing validity of the books. From their perspective, they are participating in a massive networked gaming community. They race other gamers, trying to solve a math puzzle, while seeking little rewards as they go along.

Do you see future where we will adopt cryptocurrencies at international scale and, why?

It is inevitable! Someday, Cryptocurrencies will replace government issued currencies. I am certain of this. Why is this? Because Bitcoin is not only good for consumers, vendors, banks, lenders, creditors and NGOs — it is especially good for governments.

Today, some legislators and politicians fear that cryptocurrency will undermine a country’s control over its own monetary policy. This is true. Indeed, governments will lose that control. And this is good.

A government no more needs control over monetary policy as it does over telecommunications or the package delivery services. We are conditioned to believe that value comes from a trusted party, and this makes it hard to give up our assumption that governments must control the creation of wealth. But, in fact, nations are much healthier if they must balance their books like any individual, business, NGO, club, state or municipality. They can still borrow, of course. But they will no longer be able to print funny money and continuously hoist their debts onto unborn generations.

Why did bitcoin reach such a high value??

Bitcoin had a significant rise in 2017. From $1000 to almost $20,000 per BTC unit. During that time, the subject spread like wildfire — and so, of course did investor interest. News stories flourished and these led to functional studies by banks, vendors, exchanges, and settlement houses. But, more than 95% of trades were made by investors, day traders, hoarders and speculators, and this leads to a volatile commodity. (Not a bubble, but a very rapidly changing value). This exchange value makes for great dinner-table discussion. It also makes some very rich and poor traders. But, in the end, it is quite meaningless.

In the end, 1 BTC will always be worth 1 BTC. When the exchange rate fluctuates relative to the dollar or some other currency, you will wonder what good or bad news affected the value of the dollar. You will not wonder about Bitcoin, because goods and services will be quoted and exchanged in Bitcoin, and the value to your household will not fluctuate rapidly.

What is the best cryptocurrency out there and, why?

Bitcoin is the only viable long-term cryptocurrency. Others, like Ethereum, may survive or even flourish, but this is because they serve other markets, and are not trying to be simply money.

The reason that Bitcoin will not be dethroned as the future of money, is:

  • It has already achieved a ubiquitous two sided network in every country
  • You may recall that VHS video format overtook the momentum of Betamax. But this won’t happen with Bitcoin. That’s because VHS and Betamax had competing proprietary technologies and each came with a minefield of licensing fees and requirements. Eventually, the market chose the one with the lowest cost and fewest encumbrances. Bit Bitcoin is different. It is free to steal any clever innovations demonstrated by altcoins and then add the features into Bitcoin itself. In this field, there are no proprietary ideas, licensing requirements or secrets.

Developers that I work with view every altcoin as a beta test platform for Bitcoin. Any improvement, new feature or clever innovation can be backed into Bitcoin. It’s a messy exercise in democracy, but ultimate, it only requires that the new code is accepted by a majority of miners — or championed by rising user awareness.

Do you think ETFs will be possible?

Sure. This will happen. Some government bodies will be against it and some will be for it. But either way, it is fait accompli. Eventually, every country will be dragged into the party. In any democracy or capitalist country, there is no reasonable basis for government or regulators to forbid citizens from creating securities out of any commodity or asset. Cryptocurrencies do not present any unique issues for brokers and traditional exchanges. They can be easily securitized or partitioned into derivatives. Sure, some of these instruments will amplify risk, but in the end, the public will create and market whatever instruments they wish.

Do you think decentralization will be inevitable and, why?

Yes. Decentralization is inevitable, because it addresses the goal of fairness, accountability and capitalism. It has always been a viable solution, but without a mechanism to enable applications.

Trust built on decentralized consensus (especially money) creates a fair, transparent, fluid network. It keeps governments honest.

Contrary to early pundits, decentralized cryptocurrency does not lessen a government’s ability to tax, spend or enforce tax collection. Additionally, it does not facilitate crime. These are early myths from analysts who did not fully understand or appreciate the blockchain.

But, cryptocurrency will certainly change the social contract between a government, its citizens and its creditors. Walls will come tumbling down, and this benefits everyone.

Do you think we are making history and, why?

Yes indeed. Just like the steam hammer, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, the transistor and the internet, our grandchildren will look back on the 20-teens and 2020s, and ask what it was like to witness a revolution is real time. The advent of cryptocurrency is a bit harder to grasp at first. But it is just as transformative; just as beneficial; just as important to our future.

Can you name some of the projects who will have huge impact in society and, why?

Voting, Real estate (deeds, transfers, liens), contracts, multisig consensus (related to anything), peer review (in any field), medicine, genetics, law (adjudication & arbitration), sports (scoring and consensus) — and hundreds of fields that we cannot yet imagine.

What advice can you give to the people who are starting their own project on the blockchain?

Keep your eye on the fundamental things that make the blockchain credible and beneficial. That is, Be very skeptical of any implementation that is not:

  • permissionless
  • open source
  • without any licensing or legal restrictions
  • fully accountable genesis period
  • based on a trusted, recognized, vetted blockchain code with a lineage that is directly traceable to Satoshi’s 2009 whitepaper
  • without the slightest hint of airdrops, MLM or referral fees, or any marketing behavior that smacks of these things

If you are involved in a project that uses a new coin or token, ask yourself if the problem could be addressed by Bitcoin or Ethereum. If so, why bother with the new coin? It certainly cannot be as fair, transparent, vetted and scalable.

Where should people start when they want to begin to learn how blockchain works?

What resources can you share with us, besides the ones that you already share?

I write a lot of articles about the revolution under our feet. With irreverent modesty, I refer you to my own articles:

WildDuck I write under the pen name, “Ellery” [View articles]

• LinkedIn Blockchain columnist: Dozens of published articles. Additionally,

• Lifeboat Board member, Columnist [View articles]

• Quora Most active author Bitcoin & blockchain [1000 articles as “Ellery”]

Sophos Bitcoin wallet security [View article]

What is the next milestone to the blockchain?

In the past few months, we have seen the gradual roll out of Lightning Network. It successfully addressed critical infrastructure problems associated with of transaction speed, cost, and other issues affecting scalability.

There are several minor issues to be addressed, mostly related to security, malleability, and testability. But I am most interested in two long term issues that must eventually be addressed:

1. Energy Consumption Caused by Proof of Work

The blockchain is the engine of Bitcoin and all other fair cryptocurrencies. Currently, Bitcoin’s blockchain is based on a distributed consensus mechanism called Proof of Work [POW]. It is fair, but it is very expensive. If solar power and other cheap energy sources spread across the world, the economics of POW guarantee that all the new, inexpensive energy will be diverted into mining and will not free humanity from fossil fuels and massive cash payments across borders.

We must replace the current Proof-of-Work mechanism with one that does not suck up every available kilowatt. Currently, POW is the scalability elephant in the room. Other cryptocurrencies have introduced alternate consensus mechanisms, but, in my opinion, they are either centralized or unfair.

Fortunately, other fair, distributed consensus mechanisms are on the horizon. You can read more about it here:

2. Dwindling of Mining Rewards and the Alignment of Goals

Every user must eventually become a miner. This will align the interests of stakeholders, incentive validators (what is now called miners), and enhance Satoshi’s vision of a fair, decentralized system of accounting and consensus.

What motivates you?

I am very fortunate to have discovered a calling and a career that fires my passion in every way. I recognized the importance of the blockchain and Bitcoin very early, and as an amateur writer, I realized that I could dispel myths that were bound to arise. The biggest myths about cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular, are:

  • It is a bubble — just like 16th century Tulip mania
  • Nothing tangible backs it
  • It facilitates criminal activity
  • Governments won’t allow it
  • It enables tax cheating
  • It is deflationary, and this stifles economic growth (or leads to war, unemployment, recession, or planter’s warts!)

Absolutely none of this is true. But it makes for great press and it leads to a state of fear, which helps to mislead the public. I try hard to counter such misunderstanding and irrational fear in my articles, presentations and consulting.

What’s your definition of success?

Cryptocurrency transactions fall into two classes:

1. Transactions driven by money exchange or investment (speculators, hoarders, day traders)

2. Transactions driven by commerce (purchases, sales, debt settlement, staff salaries, interbank transfers, bonding shipments).

Today, the first category accounts for 95% or more of all Bitcoin transactions.

The first stage of “success” will be the time at which the fraction of Bitcoin transactions in Category 2 exceeds those in Category one. This will be the day that Bitcoin stops fluctuating and becomes a serious economic instrument.

Later a 2nd success will arrive when citizens of the world begin to shift their accumulated wealth and credit from legacy, national currencies to Bitcoin.

What you think of work/life balance?

With any career or project, there is always a risk of abandoning family responsibilities or the need to relax. I find my work to be both rewarding and relaxing (my career in cryptocurrencies and blockchain). But, I still spend more than half of my time with family and friends. For me, the balance is crucial to leading a fulfilling life.

Many of these friends are interested in the same things as me, and i always try to learn from those with different interests and skills.

What is the best advice you can give to the people who are reading this?

Don’t get sucked into ICOs. They are scams

More about this:

(a) Is every ICOs a scam?

(b) ICOs & altcoins rise and fall, but Bitcoin endures

  • Don’t think of Bitcoin as just an investment. Accept it in business and avoid converting all revenues into fiat.
  • Retain some cryptocurrency so that you can use it to purchase materials, pay staff and settle debts. Look for vendors that make it easy to pay with Bitcoin. Keep it circulating! If it does not achieve significantly more adoption (at least as a payment instrument — but more critically as a currency), then your nest egg will never provide you with security. Use it! Keep it circulating.

Philip Raymond

Phil
Blockchain columnist: Dozens of published articles. Additionally, Admin/Moderator of Largest Bitcoin group; 30,000+…bitcoinreferee.com

Thanks for reading. If you have thoughts on this, be sure to leave a comment.

If you found this article helpful, smash the clap 👏 button.

You can follow me on twitter for more.

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