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Author Topic: What is the state of the consensus debate?  (Read 696 times)
BitcoinArsenal
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September 09, 2016, 05:25:42 PM
 #1

Question is in the title.

What is the current state of the Bitcoin consensus debate?




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September 09, 2016, 06:23:05 PM
 #2

What is the Bitcoin consensus debate? Is there a debate about consensus?

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September 09, 2016, 06:26:36 PM
 #3

Agreed, what consensus are we trying to arrive at over Bitcoin?

Is still whether bitcoin should fork? Or is this something new?

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September 10, 2016, 12:16:01 AM
 #4

In one word, Unresolved.

This is a good question, because it highlights what the debate has become about. "Consensus" is a misleading term since it can not be applied in the literal sense of the word within the context of governance, which is what the debate has involved into, a debate about how to govern this decentralized protocol. There currently is a large ideological divide within Bitcoin, the communities have even splintered to the point of using different forums to communicate with each other.

I support increasing the blocksize limit, the other side of this debate might try and tell you that the consensus debate has been resolved, this is not true it is only resolved from their perspective because some of them might think that their side has won, but that is not how the Bitcoin network works and that is not how the protocol is actually governed. If the miners do not fork the Bitcoin blockchain to support bigger blocks within the next six months I am confident that the Bitcoin network will split, most likely into several chains, just like the Ethereum network recently did as well. This is where the consensus debate stands now, I could go into much more detail, check my post history and you will see that I have been debating these points since the blocksize debate started more then a year ago now.

Bitcoin from my perspective is stagnating and losing ground to its competitors, I will not try and rehash all of the old arguments here, but history has proven me correct on many of my predictions so far, the transactional capacity of the Bitcoin network is important and it does need to keep up with demand, the Core development team along side Blockstream is attempting to change this fundamental economic principal within Bitcoin by keeping this parameter restricted, when it simply should have just been increased or removed completely from the Bitcoin protocol years ago. I currently support Bitcoin Unlimited as my favorite alternative implementation. I am looking forward to watching the Bitcoin network split, I just hope it happens before it looses its dominant position in the market.
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September 10, 2016, 02:12:52 AM
 #5

In one word, Unresolved.

This is a good question, because it highlights what the debate has become about. "Consensus" is a misleading term since it can not be applied in the literal sense of the word within the context of governance, which is what the debate has involved into, a debate about how to govern this decentralized protocol. There currently is a large ideological divide within Bitcoin, the communities have even splintered to the point of using different forums to communicate with each other.

I support increasing the blocksize limit, the other side of this debate might try and tell you that the consensus debate has been resolved, this is not true it is only resolved from their perspective because some of them might think that their side has won, but that is not how the Bitcoin network works and that is not how the protocol is actually governed. If the miners do not fork the Bitcoin blockchain to support bigger blocks within the next six months I am confident that the Bitcoin network will split, most likely into several chains, just like the Ethereum network recently did as well. This is where the consensus debate stands now, I could go into much more detail, check my post history and you will see that I have been debating these points since the blocksize debate started more then a year ago now.

Bitcoin from my perspective is stagnating and losing ground to its competitors, I will not try and rehash all of the old arguments here, but history has proven me correct on many of my predictions so far, the transactional capacity of the Bitcoin network is important and it does need to keep up with demand, the Core development team along side Blockstream is attempting to change this fundamental economic principal within Bitcoin by keeping this parameter restricted, when it simply should have just been increased or removed completely from the Bitcoin protocol years ago. I currently support Bitcoin Unlimited as my favorite alternative implementation. I am looking forward to watching the Bitcoin network split, I just hope it happens before it looses its dominant position in the market.
I dont know the name,(consensus) meaning in the world bitcoin, wider knowledge than me thank you for clarifying name (conensus) I want to learn more about this may be useful in the future for me and the people who do not know whether this is related to bitcoin network protocols.
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September 10, 2016, 03:04:54 PM
 #6

"Consensus" is the name we have given the governance mechanism within Bitcoin. On the protocol level it is pretty straight forward, miners have the ability to vote through their hashing power, and miners have a strong game theory incentive to do what is best for Bitcoin since their profits rely on Bitcoins continued success. In this sense Bitcoin is governed by a simply majority rule. This is how decisions are supposed to be made, however because there is disagreement on this fact a lot of people can not even agree on how this governance is supposed to function creating a situation of great uncertainty. This creates confusion for the miners as well who are just following their economic self interest, which means that they are just following what they think is the overall sentiment of the networks participants.

In terms of governance this is where it starts to get more interesting. Unlike other majority rule systems, Bitcoin allows the minority to split off creating their own chain in the case that they do not agree with the changes that the majority is making. This fundamentally solves the age old problem of tyranny of the majority, in this sense I see blockchain as being the next evolution of governance, since it has solved this fundamental problem. Furthermore if the majority of users move to the minority chain after the split then the minority chain becomes the majority chain again, since miners will simply follow the chain which has the most value. In this sense it is not the miners that decide on the rules but it is ultimately the users who have this power, specifically the people who give the blockchain the most value. This is actually an ideal way to resolve disputes within Bitcoin, essentially allowing the market to decide.

I think that many people do not fully understand this mechanism and even fear it. When really what it allows is complete freedom of choice over what development path an individual supports. Some people think that Bitcoin is this unchanging thing, you might have heard the terms "immutability" and "code is law" thrown around. I perceive these blockchain systems very differently, it is not the case that we give up human governance to be governed by this unchanging machine code. The machine so to speak is actually a cyborg, it is part human and part machine. The protocol itself relies on human incentives to keep the network functioning, in other words we are all part of the machine and influence its behavior and rules. In this sense "Consensus" is a social mechanism, which just like other governance mechanism relies on the input of human beings for its continued operation. This I consider to be a good thing, some people have this utopian idea of blockchain being able to remove human beings from governance completely, thereby obsoleting politics. Unfortunately that is not how Bitcoin works and I have never seen a blockchain that can function in such a way.

Arguably this human element in governance is a good thing, since if we are building the systems of the future here, I do think it is good if we program Skynet to have a fork switch, just in case. Wink
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September 10, 2016, 03:13:39 PM
 #7

i'd love to know how much these Chinese pool operators understand about bitcoin itself and whether these guys expected to have so much possible influence when they got started.

sure, it's easy to say that miners can go mine elsewhere, but I really dunno how many of them actually care or understand either as long as the satoshis keep on rolling in.

there might be a crisis of consensus, I don't really know, I think there definitely is a crisis of complacence.

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September 10, 2016, 03:19:38 PM
 #8

I still believe that reducing the block generation time interval is a much more significant improvement.

Has there been any recent discussion about this?

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September 10, 2016, 03:38:15 PM
 #9

I still believe that reducing the block generation time interval is a much more significant improvement.

Has there been any recent discussion about this?
No actually there is a lot more discussion on whether to increase block size or not to solve the unconfirmed transactions issues. I heard somewhere reducing block generation time interval is much more hard to implement than increasing block size.


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September 10, 2016, 03:48:12 PM
 #10

I still believe that reducing the block generation time interval is a much more significant improvement.

Has there been any recent discussion about this?

i don't stay super up to date with the technical discussions but as far as i can tell this has never been seriously proposed by anyone, or with any of the potential forks. i kinda get the impression that 10 minutes is a good tradeoff for security reasons.

not one single other blockchain has ever reached a level where security is an actual issue so i dunno if any of these miracle block times actually hold up under real pressure.

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September 10, 2016, 05:26:44 PM
 #11

I still believe that reducing the block generation time interval is a much more significant improvement.

Has there been any recent discussion about this?
No actually there is a lot more discussion on whether to increase block size or not to solve the unconfirmed transactions issues. I heard somewhere reducing block generation time interval is much more hard to implement than increasing block size.
i don't stay super up to date with the technical discussions but as far as i can tell this has never been seriously proposed by anyone, or with any of the potential forks. i kinda get the impression that 10 minutes is a good tradeoff for security reasons.

not one single other blockchain has ever reached a level where security is an actual issue so i dunno if any of these miracle block times actually hold up under real pressure.
As far as I understand it does not matter that much in terms of security, one hour of proof of work should give an equivalent amount of security mostly irrelevant of the block time, for example. However a single confirmation is much better then there being no confirmation at all on a transaction, even with a much faster block time, which is what makes quicker block times better, however a slower block time would give us human beings more time to respond if something goes wrong, that is certainly an argument that can be made in favor of a ten minute block time.

Reducing the block generation interval is not that much harder to implement, reducing the block interval and increasing the blocksize limit are both relatively easy to implement when compared to something like SegWit. If we where to increase the block interval to five minutes it would have the same effect as a two megabyte blocksize limit in terms of throughput, with the added advantage of quicker confirmation times. There is a good reason why most alternatives to Bitcoin have much faster block times, it makes these cryptocurrencies much better suited for uses as currency.

Ethereum currently has a fifteen second blocktime, the next iteration of Ethereum called Casper will have a three second blocktime, which will be fast enough for retail without the use of payment processors. Allowing for direct peer to peer commerce without any third parties or intermediaries, this philosophy is also why I favor on chain scaling as opposed to the Core road map of predominantly scaling off chain in Bitcoin, truth be told I do not even think the economics of off chain scaling is even viable, exactly because this competition exists.

I would support decreasing the block generation time, however in the current climate it is extremely difficult to implement any major changes to the Bitcoin protocol unless Wladimir approves it, who is the person within Core that has the final say over any code that goes into that implementation. This is why we need multiple implementations of Bitcoin competing with each other, so that we do not end up with such extreme centralization of development.

To answer your question more directly, there has not been much discussion about this, it has been mentioned a few times before over the years but as you can imagine in this environment it seems almost impossible to have such a change implemented. Which is in part why I consider Bitcoins development stagnant.

Part of the problem does lie in the community itself, the lack of a clearly defined governance mechanism has lead to a rift along ideological lines, in more extreme cases some people have even adopted ideologies that run contrary to how the protocol actually functions, promoting ideas of social consensus and immutability, which in my opinion run contrary to voluntarism. Some people, business and developers are moving over to alternatives, worsening the problem of the homogeneity of the culture within Bitcoin.

There is hope on the horizon from my perspective at least, the Bitcoin network will split, giving people the freedom of choice over these parameters. If more value spills over into these alternative genesis chains the miners will follow the value. The people can govern Bitcoin, we can even impeach our representatives (the miners), by changing the proof of work algorithm. Presently I support forking Bitcoin using the original SHA256 algorithm, since I do think that both chains can live side by side, just like Ethereum and Ethereum Classic do now. This way both sides can have the Bitcoin they want, that is true self determination and freedom. A graceful solution to an age old problem.
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September 10, 2016, 05:49:37 PM
 #12

Isn't this how central banks were started?

"Hmm, we should probably have an organization, that isn't regulated by voters, that should have control over the monetary system in our Country."

I'm not naive, I understand why governance is a good thing, but how do we keep governance from turning into manipulation? There's zero mechanism for those using bitcoin to have their voices heard, listened, and (most importantly) responded to. You're talking about the 50 or so people that go to the secret, closed bitcoin developers meeting having complete control over the system. Sounds mighty risky. So risky that maybe it's not worth holding bitcoin at all! And a huge sell off would drop value instantly.

Yikes, I'm scared. But that's only driven because I don't know enough about the alternatives and the ecosystem. I suppose I should get Googling. Thanks for the education.

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September 10, 2016, 06:04:28 PM
 #13

"Consensus" is the name we have given the governance mechanism within Bitcoin. On the protocol level it is pretty straight forward, miners have the ability to vote through their hashing power, and miners have a strong game theory incentive to do what is best for Bitcoin since their profits rely on Bitcoins continued success. In this sense Bitcoin is governed by a simply majority rule. This is how decisions are supposed to be made, however because there is disagreement on this fact a lot of people can not even agree on how this governance is supposed to function creating a situation of great uncertainty. This creates confusion for the miners as well who are just following their economic self interest, which means that they are just following what they think is the overall sentiment of the networks participants.

In terms of governance this is where it starts to get more interesting. Unlike other majority rule systems, Bitcoin allows the minority to split off creating their own chain in the case that they do not agree with the changes that the majority is making. This fundamentally solves the age old problem of tyranny of the majority, in this sense I see blockchain as being the next evolution of governance, since it has solved this fundamental problem. Furthermore if the majority of users move to the minority chain after the split then the minority chain becomes the majority chain again, since miners will simply follow the chain which has the most value. In this sense it is not the miners that decide on the rules but it is ultimately the users who have this power, specifically the people who give the blockchain the most value. This is actually an ideal way to resolve disputes within Bitcoin, essentially allowing the market to decide.

I think that many people do not fully understand this mechanism and even fear it. When really what it allows is complete freedom of choice over what development path an individual supports. Some people think that Bitcoin is this unchanging thing, you might have heard the terms "immutability" and "code is law" thrown around. I perceive these blockchain systems very differently, it is not the case that we give up human governance to be governed by this unchanging machine code. The machine so to speak is actually a cyborg, it is part human and part machine. The protocol itself relies on human incentives to keep the network functioning, in other words we are all part of the machine and influence its behavior and rules. In this sense "Consensus" is a social mechanism, which just like other governance mechanism relies on the input of human beings for its continued operation. This I consider to be a good thing, some people have this utopian idea of blockchain being able to remove human beings from governance completely, thereby obsoleting politics. Unfortunately that is not how Bitcoin works and I have never seen a blockchain that can function in such a way.

Arguably this human element in governance is a good thing, since if we are building the systems of the future here, I do think it is good if we program Skynet to have a fork switch, just in case. Wink
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September 10, 2016, 06:47:42 PM
 #14

Isn't this how central banks were started?

"Hmm, we should probably have an organization, that isn't regulated by voters, that should have control over the monetary system in our Country."

I'm not naive, I understand why governance is a good thing, but how do we keep governance from turning into manipulation?
There are some big differences between this and the state democracies we might be used to. In state democracies our representatives often have perverted incentives. In Bitcoin our representatives (the miners) are incentivized to do what is best for the network, the opposite of a perverted incentive like what often happens in state democracies.

There's zero mechanism for those using bitcoin to have their voices heard, listened, and (most importantly) responded to.
These mechanism do exists, both in the form free market of cryptocurrency, people can easily diversify their holdings switching between alternatives which does hurt the miners directly, and more importantly the capacity to hard fork and split Bitcoin. As I mentioned before we can even "impeach" the miners by changing the POW algorithm.

You're talking about the 50 or so people that go to the secret, closed bitcoin developers meeting having complete control over the system. Sounds mighty risky. So risky that maybe it's not worth holding bitcoin at all! And a huge sell off would drop value instantly.
Yet the huge sell off has not happened, it is this game theory that holds it all together, I agree that the situation now is far from ideal, but if Bitcoin is allowed to grow then it should become more decentralized because of increased adoption. We are at a critical phase now and many theories are being put to the test, not everyone might be comfortable with this situation and this governance model but it is how the Bitcoin network actually functions.

I do think that many of the Core developers do not actually believe in these central principles and are actually critics of Bitcoins design, as technologists they might not fully understand or agree with a network which ultimately relies on the economic self-interest of the masses to govern "consensus". Which is why I think they are attempting to radically change the economic and game theory underpinnings of the Bitcoin protocol and its long term road map.

Yikes, I'm scared. But that's only driven because I don't know enough about the alternatives and the ecosystem.
It is a brave new world, I would definitely advise people to diversify their holdings, many alternatives to Bitcoin do exist now. I am holding my share of Bitcoins in the knowledge that these keys will most likely behold ownership over coins in many different blockchains in the future. Bitcoin splitting at least does protect investors to a certain extent. Since the proportion in the share of total coins in all chains is preserved through this process.
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September 10, 2016, 07:59:31 PM
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There's zero mechanism for those using bitcoin to have their voices heard, listened, and (most importantly) responded to.
These mechanism do exists, both in the form free market of cryptocurrency, people can easily diversify their holdings switching between alternatives which does hurt the miners directly, and more importantly the capacity to hard fork and split Bitcoin. As I mentioned before we can even "impeach" the miners by changing the POW algorithm.


Ok, this makes me feel better. What are the options? I hope you're not talking about not being involved in bitcoin...but certainly you're not talking about an alt crypto currency either. So, what other options exist?

thanks.

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September 10, 2016, 08:22:58 PM
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There's zero mechanism for those using bitcoin to have their voices heard, listened, and (most importantly) responded to.
These mechanism do exists, both in the form free market of cryptocurrency, people can easily diversify their holdings switching between alternatives which does hurt the miners directly, and more importantly the capacity to hard fork and split Bitcoin. As I mentioned before we can even "impeach" the miners by changing the POW algorithm.
Ok, this makes me feel better. What are the options? I hope you're not talking about not being involved in bitcoin...but certainly you're not talking about an alt crypto currency either. So, what other options exist?

thanks.
I was talking about alternative cryptocurrencies as being alternatives to bitcoin as well. But we do have other options besides switching ledger. There are two main options to have our voices heard. The first way is to fork the protocol causing a split in the currency, after this event there will be two "Bitcoins" just like what has happened to Ethereum recently, as a holder of Bitcoin you will have coins on both chains post fork, I am confident that this will happen within the next six months and definitely the moment SegWit is ever activated within Bitcoin. This split would give holders of Bitcoin economic influence in the market based on which coins they choose to hold and in what proportion.

The second option which now seems more unlikely is what is known as "consensus", which can be reached if the majority of miners vote for BIP109, specifically more then seventy five percent of the miners for a certain period of time, which Bitcoin Classic and Bitcoin Unlimited presently do support, you can signal your support by running these full nodes, or even run mining equipment yourself. However for the reasons already discussed it seems unlikely at this time that BIP109 will be triggered or that Bitcoin Unlimited will gain wider adoption by miners within the next six months. Which is why I consider the scenario of Bitcoin splitting the more likely one.

I personally do not think that divesting out of Bitcoin is a bad solution either, until the splits happen at least. Since the decrease in Bitcoins cryptocurrency market share should also put pressure on the miners.
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