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Author Topic: Wasted Computations and Grid Computing  (Read 8536 times)
Timo Y
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June 23, 2010, 10:29:37 AM
 #1

Here is an idea how Bitcoin could be improved:

In the current implementation, scarcity is created by setting up arbitrary computational problems whose sole purpose is to create scarcity. The computational problems are artificially created by the system, much like a fiat currency. There is no natural demand to solve those problems.

This is macroeconomically suboptimal because a lot of CPU power is being "wasted" instead of being put to good use (opportunity cost). It would be bad for the environment too, if BC were ever to become a world currency.

Why not use those CPU cycles to perform computations with real value? This could be done via some sort of grid computing infrastructure such as BOINC, except that it would be a marketplace instead of a volunteer grid.

For example:
A drug company wishing to model the structure of some protein could use Bitcoins to buy "computing credits". The computing credits can then be used to secure the right to define the data and algorithm of each computational chunk.  The CPUs of the BC users solve these chunks and send the results back to the drug company. As before, the BC user gets newly generated Bitcoins in return for computing each chunk. In addition, the user receives the Bitcoins paid by the drug company.

This would have the benefit of backing BC with something more tangible than just the collective faith in the project. It would also generate lots of extra demand for BC.

Any thoughts?

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July 06, 2010, 02:29:00 AM
 #2

I completely agree.  My main hesitation with BitCoin at present, from an market-anarchist perspective is that BC lacks intrinsic value.  By this I mean simply that BC is a medium of exchange by design and by declaration, not through natural market selection.  Taking gold as an example, the market had already chosen and accepted gold as a medium of exchange long before governments got involved and "endorsed" it.

What I'm wondering is if the BC concept would be better applied to a community like I2P?  In my opinion, what I2P is missing is an underlying agreeable cryptocurrency which it's nodes can earn by keeping the network online, and it's members can use as a form of payment.  If this were the case, BC would probably start having some intrinsic value within the I2P community which creates a positive feedback loop for I2P: more nodes pop up, stronger network, etc.  And next thing you know, a completely encrypted and anonymous internet can emerge in parallel to the existing one.  I think this would be incredible, especially being able to jump between the two.

What do you guys think? I really don't know much about I2P, but I wonder if something like this is feasible?  It would be great to see non-geek types start migrating towards a true privacy protected internet, and perhaps the ability to earn something of value for keeping the network up would motivate them?
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July 06, 2010, 03:06:30 AM
 #3

I completely agree.  My main hesitation with BitCoin at present, from an market-anarchist perspective is that BC lacks intrinsic value.  By this I mean simply that BC is a medium of exchange by design and by declaration, not through natural market selection.  Taking gold as an example, the market had already chosen and accepted gold as a medium of exchange long before governments got involved and "endorsed" it.

What I'm wondering is if the BC concept would be better applied to a community like I2P?  In my opinion, what I2P is missing is an underlying agreeable cryptocurrency which it's nodes can earn by keeping the network online, and it's members can use as a form of payment.  If this were the case, BC would probably start having some intrinsic value within the I2P community which creates a positive feedback loop for I2P: more nodes pop up, stronger network, etc.  And next thing you know, a completely encrypted and anonymous internet can emerge in parallel to the existing one.  I think this would be incredible, especially being able to jump between the two.

What do you guys think? I really don't know much about I2P, but I wonder if something like this is feasible?  It would be great to see non-geek types start migrating towards a true privacy protected internet, and perhaps the ability to earn something of value for keeping the network up would motivate them?

Nothing is stopping the I2P community from adopting it right now.  It'd be great if they did.

I'm not a believer of intrinsic value though.  Not even for gold.
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July 06, 2010, 03:56:57 AM
 #4

There is nothing stopping you from creating such a system.That to me is the intrinsic value of Bitcoins.You cant send actual gold over the internet and it is labour intensive to dig it out of the ground.Bitcoin could be the virtual equal of gold because it fits the virtual world.Gold is physical and is perfect for the physical market.For the virtual market you need something else.The market always decides what the perfect method of exchange is.What we have to do is make it incredibly easy to use virtual currency while maintaining is security.

Governments and criminals can easily seize your gold .

Bitcoin can exist in the cloud,gold can only exist in the material world.
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July 06, 2010, 06:30:51 PM
 #5

AFAIK, there are no "useful" computational problems that have the properties necessary to be used as a proof-of-work. 

The hash function is used because it is irreversible, easily checkable, small in size, and probably some other things I'm forgetting.  Even if you could, for example, encode the transactions as a polypeptide (chain of amino acids), and then made folding the polypeptide into a protein the proof-of-work, such a proof-of-work could not be checked without redoing the entire computation.

Even if you could come up with a suitable problem, due to the economics of BC you would never actually generate any additional value by using a "useful" problem.

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July 07, 2010, 02:50:51 PM
 #6

It does seem kind of wasteful that bitcoin relies on the consumption of resources in order to achieve its properties as a store of value. Once all bitcoins have been generated, will it continue to consume a great deal of resources?

I think that this could be one technical source of a downfall would it ever to become highly popular; what do you guys think?

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laszlo
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July 07, 2010, 03:02:05 PM
 #7

The coin generation is just a clever (in my opinion) way to limit the supply; the rate at which they're created.  It lets everyone feel like they can get a piece but it still makes it so you can't just mint a billion of them overnight.

It is not about consuming energy or resources - it's meant to be used on computers that the users already have.  I understand that some people may turn their computers off at night and leaving it on for bitcoins indirectly consumes energy but that's not the point of it; it's like folding@home and such, using resources that are already 'wasted' if you consider potential CPU usage a resource.

If you plan to set up a datacenter full of computers to generate more coins then you would be investing dedicated resources into it and that's your own business decision with its own set of risks.. but it is not necessary to do that in order to trade bitcoins.

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Need2Revolt
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July 15, 2010, 08:53:34 PM
 #8

I also love the idea of a "native online currency" but as others here my hearth is sorry to waste all this electricty, heath and cpu over time.
i know it runs as idle priority, and i'm not leaving my pc on 24/7 for this, but the consumption is bigger than simple cpu idle cycle.
so, since there are no other suitable problems to let our cpu work on, why don't we adopt an existing one (seti or folding at home, for example) and give bitcoin rewards based on time spent on the network, by pinging other nodes at intervals?
sorry if i'm saying some nonsense =)
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July 15, 2010, 09:07:53 PM
 #9

theres no need to "waste energy" to use bitcoin, just dont generate any blocks.
bitcoin is not about "being rewarded for running a client", it's about transferring money (or value).
IF you help the network by generating new blocks, you'll get rewarded, but new blocks are not generated by folding proteins, or listening to E.T.

the network NEEDS coins, so it's USEFUL to generate them, i personally don't see anything wasted here.

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July 15, 2010, 09:42:41 PM
 #10

That's an important point:  You don't need to generate bitcoins any more than you need to go mine your own gold.

Turn off your computer, go do some "real work" that people value, and sell it for bitcoins.
Anyone is free to leave the energy-burning computational expense to those that want to do it.

I sleep just fine.  My computer and network are 100% solar-powered. Smiley

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July 15, 2010, 10:37:01 PM
 #11

The hash function is used because it is irreversible, easily checkable, small in size, and probably some other things I'm forgetting.  Even if you could, for example, encode the transactions as a polypeptide (chain of amino acids), and then made folding the polypeptide into a protein the proof-of-work, such a proof-of-work could not be checked without redoing the entire computation.
I'm no biochemist, so I'm not sure about this, but I think you could do that. Folding proteins is about finding states with low energy (because in nature, proteins occur in the state that has the lowest energy). So you could encode the information in a polypeptide, have some energy limit that you have to fit in order to generate the block and fold the polypeptide until you find a state with low enough energy. Verifying what energy does a certain state have should be relatively fast.

On the other hand, such computations probably don't have any value to biochemists, so this would just replace one “useless” computation with another.

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July 16, 2010, 01:48:03 AM
 #12

AFAIK, there are no "useful" computational problems that have the properties necessary to be used as a proof-of-work. 

The hash function is used because it is irreversible, easily checkable, small in size, and probably some other things I'm forgetting.  Even if you could, for example, encode the transactions as a polypeptide (chain of amino acids), and then made folding the polypeptide into a protein the proof-of-work, such a proof-of-work could not be checked without redoing the entire computation.

Even if you could come up with a suitable problem, due to the economics of BC you would never actually generate any additional value by using a "useful" problem.

I think this point needs to be stressed in the BTC documentation...it's kinda like the uncertainty principle: the more useful the work, the less suitable it is to being proof-of-work for currency purposes (kind of like how Heisenberg himself misled the Nazi's doing "useful" work on the bomb)...

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July 16, 2010, 02:05:21 AM
 #13

The original post is, in my opinion, missing out on one subtlety.

The computation isn't "arbitrarily pointless."  The computation being performed is what keeps the system valid.  You're contributing your CPU to the task of making the system itself secure.  The only thing that's chosen arbitrarily is how hard to make that problem (and thus how "secure" and less fake-able to make the network), and that's done for supply limiting reasons.  You're performing a distributed computation, the intrinsic value of which is that it makes the economy more lucrative and viable as a REAL economy.

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July 16, 2010, 06:18:42 PM
 #14

thanks to all the replies (also the ones in this thread: http://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=335.0 ) i have now a clearer idea.
I also see that this problem is bigger in the initial phase, when there are few bitcoins so we need to generate them, while it will be less important once we reach a big number of coins and the most important thing becomes the exchange.
that problem was the only point keeping me from using bitcoin, so now i guess i'll join your ranks =)
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July 16, 2010, 07:36:03 PM
 #15

Wouldn't any NP-complete problem serve just as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NP-complete)? I think the hashing target thing we currently use is NP-complete, right? So in theory any other NP-complete problem can be transformed in polynomial time into bitcoin generation.

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July 16, 2010, 07:45:12 PM
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Gould: The fact that the problem is "hard" is almost a happy coincidence which the system takes full advantage of.  The reason the hashing algorithm is used is because it's answer incorporates the data of the system.  An NP problem would satisfy the "proof of work" aspect, but wouldn't provide any verification about the validity of the transactions, nor would it be unique to those transactions: You could work on an NP problem for 10 years, and then once you solved it, say "Oh hey, I solved this for the current batch that's here right now" when secretly you had started it for the batch from 10 years ago.  It wouldn't verify the accuracy and validity of any of the transactions, whereas the answer to the hashing problem is unique to the set of transactions for that time period, and can't be "faked", thus proving that those transactions are valid.

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July 17, 2010, 04:13:12 AM
 #17

The search for a low hash value is used for two things. Firstly it is a verification of the absence of any alterations to the block contents. Secondly it is a proof of work.

A hash will always be required for the former but the proof of work portion could be fulfilled by some suitable "useful" mathematical problem which has to enjoy the following properties to be useable.
(1 - Quick ) The time taken to check the work is correct needs to be small compared with the time taken to do the work.
(2 - Small ) All the essential data to verify that instance of the work must be hashed into the block in some fashion.
(3 - Portable) The problem should run on computers without requiring lots of disk space, network io, memory etc..
(4 - Relevant) The starting conditions for that instance must be tied to the previous block's contents. This stops an attacker doing lots of work in advance and then using the stored work to take control of the block chain.
(5 - Interchangable) The bitcoin software must be able to change to a new problem set without disruption.

I can think of several suitable problems such as running ECC curves for factoring, finding discrete logarithms, brute-forcing encryption, double checking Mersenne prime searches.
I can imagine a plug-in architecture which allows new suitable problems to be added. The cost would be a substantial increase in interface code complexity and some substantial security concerns.

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July 17, 2010, 09:15:51 PM
 #18

Even if there was a suitable "useful" function, it would be pointless to use.

In order for Bitcoin to work, the electricity and resources for the computation needs to be "wasted" in a way.  If there was some additional value to the computation, then people would just be able to afford to node more for the same amount of reward, including the attacker.

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July 18, 2010, 03:26:44 AM
 #19

Bytecoin:  If it was implemented in that fashion, what's to stop people from running a modified client with an advantage over the other?  Person A, running a legitimate client, spends half his CPU cycles hashing, and half his CPU cycles solving useful problems.  Person B, running the modified client, spends all his CPU cycles hashing, thus doubling his chance of solving the current block.

The verification and proof of work have to be one and the same problem, so that you can't do one (thus getting paid for your verification service), without doing the other (thus ensuring you're not cheating the system).

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July 18, 2010, 12:29:33 PM
 #20

It does seem kind of wasteful that bitcoin relies on the consumption of resources in order to achieve its properties as a store of value. Once all bitcoins have been generated, will it continue to consume a great deal of resources?

will it consume more resources than the Armored Guards (that's what they're called in australia, the armored vehicles that deliver coins, etc. to businesses), the ATM network, etc?

lisa
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