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Author Topic: Another respected cryptographer predicts collapse in bitcoin mining  (Read 9977 times)
Timo Y
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February 23, 2012, 12:00:13 PM
 #21

Botnets are only a temporary problem for Bitcoin.

The authors have missed several important points:

1 Some honest miners also have a zero cost curve for electricity. Market forces will ensure that their market share will rise. Every electric heater in the world has the potential to be converted into a mining rig.  This market can potentially absorb a huge amount of Ghash/s.
 
2. Most ordinary people (=botnet victims) are ditching their PCs for laptops and laptops for tablets, which have humble GPU power compared to even an amateur miner.

3. Successful botnets operate stealthily.  Botnets that cause too much disruption for their victims are the ones that get shut down.  It is difficult to run a stealthy mining botnet for an extended period of time, because at the very least the fan noise is going to bother the victims.  

4. Botnets have a limited lifetime. Hackers must constantly work hard at infecting new machines in order to make money. A miner, on the other hand, has a passive source of income once he has invested in the rig.

5. CPU => GPU => FPGA => ASIC => highly specialized non-silicon IC

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February 23, 2012, 12:00:18 PM
 #22

I won't defend economics as an actual science. It isn't.

There are two ways of doing economics. Empirically, like physics, or aprioristically, like math. I agree that it is not scientific to do economics empirically, because you simply cannot isolate all the buzillions variables involved, nor repeat your experiments enough times to get good samples. They actually can't even experiment.
But economics can be done like math, using logically sound constructions on top of axioms. This works much better and it is scientific.

Sure, economics is done like math. This is how it is done in academia, and doing this would be a great improvement over what the authors did in this article.

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science. Science requires the formulation of testable hypotheses. In economics, particularly macroeconomics, it is typically impossible to credibly test theoretical assumptions. That is why I say it is not an actual science.

+1

But as I said before, not only economists and sociologists (with their respective lingos) can effectively speculate about human behaviour.

Quoting myself:

People are already starting to use FPGAs, and maybe one day we'll even see ASICs.
Botnets won't have such specialized hardware. Ok, they have free electricity, but they are limited in size.

And by the way, in what concerns the bitcoin network, botnets are not a problem. It only becomes a problem if one single botnet is too large and manages to get >50%.

PS: I confess I did not read the paper so sorry if I'm saying something which is already addressed by it.

+1, I had the exact same thought. I read through almost to the end of the article, and FPGAs/ASICs are not mentioned - a gaping hole in such an article.

I'd say this is a bug rather than a feature. Traditional botnets never have significant power (in any measure) in comparison with the that of the complete network, they are only of any use because they can profitably attack reduced sets of individuals. They can trounce a carefully selected individual or company. If a 50%+ attack on the whole was necessary they would be completely useless.

However, amassing very specific tools that are out of reach for most people is something a cartel can try and maybe succeed in doing.

For instance, if the higher end of these (  discussion ) are available, then it would take around $4M to control mining (provided they could ramp up production to that scale).

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February 23, 2012, 01:23:45 PM
 #23

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science.

That's how mathematics itself is done... you don't consider Mathematics to be a science?

EDIT: Correcting myself, mathematics (and sound economics) derive results from a set of axioms, not assumptions, it is not the same thing.

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February 23, 2012, 01:25:57 PM
 #24

Botnets are only a temporary problem for Bitcoin.

The authors have missed several important points:

1 Some honest miners also have a zero cost curve for electricity. Market forces will ensure that their market share will rise. Every electric heater in the world has the potential to be converted into a mining rig.  This market can potentially absorb a huge amount of Ghash/s.
 
2. Most ordinary people (=botnet victims) are ditching their PCs for laptops and laptops for tablets, which have humble GPU power compared to even an amateur miner.

3. Successful botnets operate stealthily.  Botnets that cause too much disruption for their victims are the ones that get shut down.  It is difficult to run a stealthy mining botnet for an extended period of time, because at the very least the fan noise is going to bother the victims.  

4. Botnets have a limited lifetime. Hackers must constantly work hard at infecting new machines in order to make money. A miner, on the other hand, has a passive source of income once he has invested in the rig.

5. CPU => GPU => FPGA => ASIC => highly specialized non-silicon IC
+1

I believe one of the reasons that Bitcoin uses the type of algorithm that can be solved faster with specialized hardware is the issue of botnets. Right now it's already difficult for botnets to do anything with Bitcoin because they don't have specialized hardware. It's still in the realm of possibilities but saying that this will get worse in the future is totally ignorant. As Bitcoin gets bigger there are two things that ensure that botnets will be less and less of an issue.

As Bitcoin grows the value of bitcoins go up, which will cause an increase in the computing speed of the mining network. Bitcoin is fairly safe now but imagine a price of $100+, we would probably have a mining network with over 100 thash. At the same time there are other developments going on such as the mass production of FPGA's and eventually ASIC. These developments combined will make sure that worrying too much about botnets is unfounded.

Right now you could do something with a botnet of millions of regular computers but not in the future. In 5 years you'd probably need billions of computers and nobody has that many in their control.

There is another issue which is actually more significant and that is the centralization of mining pools. It becomes much easier to target Bitcoin if you first ddos all the big pools out of the way and then start hashing. I'm not too worried about this either, we have seen in short time that Deepbit has lost a lot of hashing power and new innovations such as p2pool have been very successful.

I'd say that the future of Bitcoin mining is looking bright.

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February 23, 2012, 01:39:56 PM
 #25

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science.

That's how mathematics itself is done... you don't consider Mathematics to be a science?

Science in the classical definition meant "field of knowledge" - in that sense it is. But in the modern, more strict definition of science it doesn't qualify ("natural science" - as described by Sir Francis Bacon, XVII century). It's still the philosophical base for most if not all relevant science.

I brought this semantic distinction in the first place because non-sciences like economics don't prove anything at all in the real world and only give degrees of certainty in repeatable scenarios. In this case they are basically applied statistics.

The author(s) here are making highly speculative assertions about unprecedented situations without providing much base for them and taking a lot of dubious preconditions for granted. This level of discourse is very common in economics and sociology, even at academic levels. Just look at keynesianism.

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February 23, 2012, 01:51:04 PM
 #26

Topic title: Another respected cryptographer predicts collapse in bitcoin mining

What does his point have to do with cryptography?

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February 23, 2012, 01:53:49 PM
 #27

I brought this semantic distinction in the first place because non-sciences like economics don't prove anything at all in the real world and only give degrees of certainty in repeatable scenarios. In this case they are basically applied statistics.

You're wrong there, sound economics can prove things, just like math. And sound economics shouldn't even use statistics as a basis for knowledge building, that's why I made the distinction about "empirical economics" (which I consider flawed, for the same reasons you point) and "aprioristic economics".

The author(s) here are making highly speculative assertions about unprecedented situations without providing much base for them and taking a lot of dubious preconditions for granted. This level of discourse is very common in economics and sociology, even at academic levels. Just look at keynesianism.

Keynesianism is not sound economics, it's done empirically.

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February 23, 2012, 02:08:26 PM
 #28

I couldn't find any mention of transaction fees in the paper. He only mentions the subsidy. Subsidy will decrease to almost nothing, but block rewards will not.

If he's right, we will see Litecoin collapse far sooner, giving the community enough time to develop a replacement like EnCoin. Don't worry.
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February 23, 2012, 02:10:45 PM
 #29

You're wrong there, sound economics can prove things, just like math. And sound economics shouldn't even use statistics as a basis for knowledge building, that's why I made the distinction about "empirical economics" (which I consider flawed, for the same reasons you point) and "aprioristic economics".

Mathematics "prove things" within their own models. This is why they are not proof of anything in the real world. Aprioristic economics also prove things within their own models. They can have a lot of merit and be arguably very solid, not discussing that. However there is always a "leap of faith" in taking proof from a model and saying that model is also sound and applicable to reality. This "leap of faith" exists even in extremely developed fields like physics. For instance, between Newton's model and reality there was a leap of faith, and for centuries it was considered absolute truth. Then Einstein proved it wrong and came up with a more precise model. Considering the Einstenian model to be absolute truth also requires a "leap of faith." If that elusive neutrino from the LHC was truly faster than light, then Einstenian model would actually be "wrong" (it would be an approximation just like the Newtonian model, but this time we don't have a "better" one that looks like the real deal - the faster-than-light neutrino observation is still being disputed though, so actually Einstein could theoretically be "right").

Anyway I think we are taking this off-topic and entering philosophical territory.

Let's just agree that this "paper" is highly speculative and not to the scientific standards one would expect of a Computer Science paper. I was arguing that in economics you read this level of "thing" even in the most reputable publications. Sad but true.

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February 23, 2012, 02:17:36 PM
 #30

There are such things as "proofs" in mathematics; given certain axioms.  As muyuu says, they are disconnected from the physical universe and are valid only within the abstract universe of mathematics.

The is no such thing as a "proof" in science.  All there is is a weight of evidence.  We have models that fit all currently observed data -- that's as good as it gets for there is no way to know that tomorrow an apple won't fall upwards from a tree.

Since economics is a study of things that happen in the physical universe; it can offer proofs that are no stronger than those of physics (and given the enormous number of confounding variables, probably not even that level) -- i.e. no proofs at all.

Economics is all empirical.  If any proof you offer isn't empirical then it isn't economics, it's mathematics.

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February 23, 2012, 02:46:48 PM
 #31

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science.

That's how mathematics itself is done... you don't consider Mathematics to be a science?

EDIT: Correcting myself, mathematics (and sound economics) derive results from a set of axioms, not assumptions, it is not the same thing.

No, I don't consider mathematics a science at all.

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February 23, 2012, 03:00:44 PM
 #32

I won't defend economics as an actual science. It isn't.

There are two ways of doing economics. Empirically, like physics, or aprioristically, like math. I agree that it is not scientific to do economics empirically, because you simply cannot isolate all the buzillions variables involved, nor repeat your experiments enough times to get good samples. They actually can't even experiment.
But economics can be done like math, using logically sound constructions on top of axioms. This works much better and it is scientific.

A bit like astronomy then Smiley 
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February 23, 2012, 03:09:30 PM
 #33

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science.

That's how mathematics itself is done... you don't consider Mathematics to be a science?

Science in the classical definition meant "field of knowledge" - in that sense it is. But in the modern, more strict definition of science it doesn't qualify ("natural science" - as described by Sir Francis Bacon, XVII century). It's still the philosophical base for most if not all relevant science.

I brought this semantic distinction in the first place because non-sciences like economics don't prove anything at all in the real world and only give degrees of certainty in repeatable scenarios. In this case they are basically applied statistics.

The author(s) here are making highly speculative assertions about unprecedented situations without providing much base for them and taking a lot of dubious preconditions for granted. This level of discourse is very common in economics and sociology, even at academic levels. Just look at keynesianism.

That is a bit of a stretch. Keynesian makes up a large minority viewpoint in academic macroeconomics. It is not dominant. It is only among government policymakers that Keynesian is the dominant viewpoint.

[Don't get me started on Austrian economics because that is complete wackjob rubbish that asshats believe in. I'm not responding to asshats here. It is not an enjoyable use of my time.]

It is not that Keynesian is necessarily wrong. In fact, I think it is correct, but exceptionally difficult to prove or disprove. From the empirical side, it is impossible to perform random experiments with national economies. From the axiomatic side, it is very difficult to derive a Keynesianism model based on seemingly sensible assumptions. The typical assumptions are that people are rational, have rational expectations about the future, and that prices adjust freely.

However, this is not surprising. The idea that people behave irrationally is at the core of Keynes' thought... "animal spirits" and such. If you allow people to deviate from rationality, then the axiomatic approach becomes pretty useless. People can deviate from rationality in many ways. Oftentimes there are multiple types of deviations which could generate similar macroeconomic data. That is multiple potential axioms could be broadly consistent with the same data. In this case, who is to say what the right way to set up axioms is? It becomes faith-based. This is like math, where people can disagree about whether parallel lines ever meet. This kind of theorizing is pretty useless in my view.


By the way, Francis Bacon and the scientific method is what I have in mind when I think of science.

The economics that I do is more in the way of applied statistics as the person above mentioned. It is not very scientific though it strives to be. The point is to tell a convincing story, where your audience believes you have thoroughly analyzed a situation and considered many possible explanations for it. There is no sense of certainty like you get in the natural sciences in which I did research prior to becoming an economist.

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February 23, 2012, 03:11:44 PM
 #34

However, deriving a result from a set of assumptions should not be confused with science.

That's how mathematics itself is done... you don't consider Mathematics to be a science?

Science in the classical definition meant "field of knowledge" - in that sense it is. But in the modern, more strict definition of science it doesn't qualify ("natural science" - as described by Sir Francis Bacon, XVII century). It's still the philosophical base for most if not all relevant science.

I brought this semantic distinction in the first place because non-sciences like economics don't prove anything at all in the real world and only give degrees of certainty in repeatable scenarios. In this case they are basically applied statistics.

The author(s) here are making highly speculative assertions about unprecedented situations without providing much base for them and taking a lot of dubious preconditions for granted. This level of discourse is very common in economics and sociology, even at academic levels. Just look at keynesianism.

That is a bit of a stretch. Keynesian makes up a large minority viewpoint in academic macroeconomics. It is not dominant. It is only among government policymakers that Keynesian is the dominant viewpoint.

[Don't get me started on Austrian economics because that is complete wackjob rubbish that asshats believe in. I'm not responding to asshats here. It is not an enjoyable use of my time.]

It is not that Keynesian is necessarily wrong. In fact, I think it is correct, but exceptionally difficult to prove or disprove. From the empirical side, it is impossible to perform random experiments with national economies. From the axiomatic side, it is very difficult to derive a Keynesianism model based on seemingly sensible assumptions. The typical assumptions are that people are rational, have rational expectations about the future, and that prices adjust freely.

However, this is not surprising. The idea that people behave irrationally is at the core of Keynes' thought... "animal spirits" and such. If you allow people to deviate from rationality, then the axiomatic approach becomes pretty useless. People can deviate from rationality in many ways. Oftentimes there are multiple types of deviations which could generate similar macroeconomic data. That is multiple potential axioms could be broadly consistent with the same data. In this case, who is to say what the right way to set up axioms is? It becomes faith-based. This is like math, where people can disagree about whether parallel lines ever meet.


By the way, Francis Bacon and the scientific method is what I have in mind when I think of science.

The economics that I do is more in the way of applied statistics as the person above mentioned. It is not very scientific though it strives to be. The point is to tell a convincing story, where your audience believes you have thoroughly analyzed a situation and considered many possible explanations for it. There is no sense of certainty like you get in the natural sciences in which I did research prior to becoming an economist.

Actually, it would be simple to turn economics into a science. All you have to do is add, at the end of any theorem, the words that Richard Feynman said should be etched in gold on the doors of every lab: "If it disagrees with experience, it is wrong".
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February 23, 2012, 03:11:57 PM
 #35

Competing botnets could take over the Bitcoin network, but that will strengthen it, not collapse it. Botpools: it's the future  Wink

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February 23, 2012, 03:13:12 PM
 #36


Let's just agree that this "paper" is highly speculative and not to the scientific standards one would expect of a Computer Science paper. I was arguing that in economics you read this level of "thing" even in the most reputable publications. Sad but true.

Now that is complete BS. Link to a recently published example in a leading journal.

But one more thing. It is true that the other sciences also just generate a weight of evidence rather than proof. It is a matter of degree, not black or white. It is just that the level of certainty attached to a laboratory result is much, much greater than in economics.


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February 23, 2012, 03:22:23 PM
 #37

I won't defend economics as an actual science. It isn't.

There are two ways of doing economics. Empirically, like physics, or aprioristically, like math. I agree that it is not scientific to do economics empirically, because you simply cannot isolate all the buzillions variables involved, nor repeat your experiments enough times to get good samples. They actually can't even experiment.
But economics can be done like math, using logically sound constructions on top of axioms. This works much better and it is scientific.

A bit like astronomy then Smiley  
Astrophysics and nuclear physics, both of which rely heavily on statistical data.

Any significantly advanced cryptocurrency is indistinguishable from Ponzi Tulips.
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February 23, 2012, 03:30:45 PM
 #38


Let's just agree that this "paper" is highly speculative and not to the scientific standards one would expect of a Computer Science paper. I was arguing that in economics you read this level of "thing" even in the most reputable publications. Sad but true.

Now that is complete BS. Link to a recently published example in a leading journal.

But one more thing. It is true that the other sciences also just generate a weight of evidence rather than proof. It is a matter of degree, not black or white. It is just that the level of certainty attached to a laboratory result is much, much greater than in economics.



I didn't say "journal", I said reputable publications. People actually respect "The Economist", "Financial Times", and the economy section in any major generic newspaper. And they don't come short on BS.

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February 23, 2012, 03:32:16 PM
 #39


Let's just agree that this "paper" is highly speculative and not to the scientific standards one would expect of a Computer Science paper. I was arguing that in economics you read this level of "thing" even in the most reputable publications. Sad but true.

Now that is complete BS. Link to a recently published example in a leading journal.

But one more thing. It is true that the other sciences also just generate a weight of evidence rather than proof. It is a matter of degree, not black or white. It is just that the level of certainty attached to a laboratory result is much, much greater than in economics.



I didn't say "journal", I said reputable publications. People actually respect "The Economist", "Financial Times", and the economy section in any major generic newspaper. And they don't come short on BS.

But these are like Popular Science. I'm sure you could find BS in Popular Science too. Were you referring to popular science when you said "Computer Science paper?" If not, then it is not really a valid analogy, is it?

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muyuu
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February 23, 2012, 03:38:51 PM
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But these are like Popular Science. I'm sure you could find BS in Popular Science too. Were you referring to popular science when you said "Computer Science paper?" If not, then it is not really a valid analogy, is it?

If the majority of professional CompScis read, quoted and applied Popular Science at work, then I'd have to say Popular Science is "considered reputable." There's simply a different standard between these two fields. The evidence is out there in the streets Wink

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