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Author Topic: Bitcoin minting is thermodynamically perverse  (Read 16456 times)
gridecon
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August 06, 2010, 01:52:00 AM
 #1

Let me begin by saying that Bitcoin is an amazing project and I am very impressed with the implementation and the goals. From reading these forums it seems to be understood that debate about the design and operation of the bitcoin economy ultimately serves to strengthen it, so I hope these comments are taken in that spirit. *EDIT - I have been convinced by further research and discussion that Bitcoin is actually highly efficient compared to most traditional currencies, because the infrastructure required to support a government issued fiat currency represents a much larger investment of resources than Bitcoin's cpu power consumption. I am leaving this thread active though because it has been generating a lot of interesting discussion.*

I believe that the amount of energy input required to the bitcoin economy represents a serious obstacle to its growth. I think in the long-term, transactions may be even more serious than minting in this regard, but I will for the moment discuss minting because it is more precisely bounded and defined. The idea that the value of bitcoins is in some way related to the value of the electricity required, on average, to mint a winning block is generally accepted, but the precise nature of this relationship is contentious.

One argument is that anyone who chooses to generate coins is actually making the choice to purchase bitcoins with electricity/computational resources, and that because some/many people are in fact making that choice, bitcoins have at least that much "value" to the generators, who can be assumed to be maximizing their utility. A contrasting argument is that cost of production is different than market value, and the most objective measure is the current market conversion price to a more liquid and widely traded currency such as the US dollar.

My contention is that both of these arguments miss the point and the real problem, which is the fundamental perversity of wasting large amounts of energy and computations in generating the winning blocks for the minting process. The minting process exists because of the necessity of actually "printing" the currency, and certain desirable properties of crypto-math for making the currency's behavior predictable. The fact that the current minting process requires a large energy input of computational work is highly unfortunate and has the perverse consequence that bitcoin may actually be "destroying wealth" in the sense of wasting energy producing a digital object worth less than the resources invested in it.

As is often pointed out, a currency does not necessarily have, or need to have, any inherent value - a medium of exchange is a useful tool and can have value purely as a consequence of social convention. The cost of production of bitcoins in electricity consumed represents a waste, a "thermodynamic burden" that the currency has to carry. Consider a hypothetical alternative digital currency called "compucoin", which purchases cpu cycles from nodes on the network. The market value of this currency would converge very closely with the cost of electricity required to generate cpu cycles. Instead of costing cpu cycles to mint, the value of the cpu cycles the coins could be exchanged for would create a rational basis for the currency's value and integrate it with an existing market. I imagine that alternatives to Bitcoin (many of them probably sharing a lot of Bitcoin's source code) will inevitably emerge and Bitcoin's current minting process makes the currency "expensive" in terms of energy input. I believe this places it at a competitive disadvantage to other currencies and can only hinder its widespread adoption and long-term value. *Edit - as mentioned above, I am now much more optimistic about Bitcoin long term. I still think compucoins would be a cool idea, though!*
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knightmb
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August 06, 2010, 02:26:50 AM
 #2

I believe that the amount of energy input required to the bitcoin economy represents a serious obstacle to its growth. I think in the long-term, transactions may be even more serious than minting in this regard, but I will for the moment discuss minting because it is more precisely bounded and defined. The idea that the value of bitcoins is in some way related to the value of the electricity required, on average, to mint a winning block is generally accepted, but the precise nature of this relationship is contentious.

One argument is that anyone who chooses to generate coins is actually making the choice to purchase bitcoins with electricity/computational resources, and that because some/many people are in fact making that choice, bitcoins have at least that much "value" to the generators, who can be assumed to be maximizing their utility. A contrasting argument is that cost of production is different than market value, and the most objective measure is the current market conversion price to a more liquid and widely traded currency such as the US dollar.
My only counter is that it will seem that way to a first time user, because they have no bitcoins at all. But there are a possible 3.6 million bitcoins out there plus a member here runs a site that gives away free bitcoins so people can experiment with the system. The amount of actually energy, if you break it down, is only that of the PC itself. When you consider how few watts a processor runs to get a block where each 50 BTC block is worth about $3 USD, that's much more than the electricity cost it took to create it. Right now, you can generate BitCoins and sell them for more than it cost the electricity to run the PC to do it unless your electrical rates are the highest in the world. The only reason no one does is the scale of economics that would be required to make it profitable.
Quote
My contention is that both of these arguments miss the point and the real problem, which is the fundamental perversity of wasting large amounts of energy and computations in generating the winning blocks for the minting process. The minting process exists because of the necessity of actually "printing" the currency, and certain desirable properties of crypto-math for making the currency's behavior predictable. The fact that the current minting process requires a large energy input of computational work is highly unfortunate and has the perverse consequence that bitcoin may actually be "destroying wealth" in the sense of wasting energy producing a digital object worth less than the resources invested in it.
The same can be said about gene folding or SETI since a ton of CPU time and electricity often does not reward the individual user of the their client software. It's the collection as a whole that rewards everyone in non-monetary ways (find cure for cancer, find aliens, etc.)
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As is often pointed out, a currency does not necessarily have, or need to have, any inherent value - a medium of exchange is a useful tool and can have value purely as a consequence of social convention. The cost of production of bitcoins in electricity consumed represents a waste, a "thermodynamic burden" that the currency has to carry. Consider a hypothetical alternative digital currency called "compucoin", which purchases cpu cycles from nodes on the network. The market value of this currency would converge very closely with the cost of electricity required to generate cpu cycles. Instead of costing cpu cycles to mint, the value of the cpu cycles the coins could be exchanged for would create a rational basis for the currency's value and integrate it with an existing market. I imagine that alternatives to Bitcoin (many of them probably sharing a lot of Bitcoin's source code) will inevitably emerge and Bitcoin's current minting process makes the currency "expensive" in terms of energy input. I believe this places it at a competitive disadvantage to other currencies and can only hinder its widespread adoption and long-term value.
Unless electrical rates go up higher than the value of BTC, there will always be people willing to trade out CPU resources for it. Currently, cheap VPS farming has a return on BTC generation, though not very much. The other benefit is that the generation rate tries to remain constant, so it's not always going be hard to generate BTC if less and less people decide to do it, the difficulty goes back down.

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August 06, 2010, 03:00:12 AM
 #3

Thanks very much for the extensive and informative reply. I do not disagree with the points that you made, but I also don't believe it invalidates my fundamental point: it is not inherently necessary for a digital currency such as bitcoin to require as much energy input as bitcoin does. A digital currency that offers bitcoin's behavior at a "lower cost" of energy overhead of the currency and transaction system has a competitive advantage. The digital currencies that will win and become standards, I believe, are the ones that offer the most value-added on top of the costs of running the system. Of course, there is room for many currencies - we already have a multiplicity - so it is not necessary for Bitcoin to become the "one true money" for it to succeed, but I believe the current minting policies will be harmful to its growth and adoption long-term. Much of the utility value of bitcoin resides in the work done to establish the security and reliability of the system - accomplishing that work with a smaller energy input would seem to be beneficial.
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August 06, 2010, 03:30:45 AM
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Thanks very much for the extensive and informative reply. I do not disagree with the points that you made, but I also don't believe it invalidates my fundamental point: it is not inherently necessary for a digital currency such as bitcoin to require as much energy input as bitcoin does. A digital currency that offers bitcoin's behavior at a "lower cost" of energy overhead of the currency and transaction system has a competitive advantage. The digital currencies that will win and become standards, I believe, are the ones that offer the most value-added on top of the costs of running the system. Of course, there is room for many currencies - we already have a multiplicity - so it is not necessary for Bitcoin to become the "one true money" for it to succeed, but I believe the current minting policies will be harmful to its growth and adoption long-term. Much of the utility value of bitcoin resides in the work done to establish the security and reliability of the system - accomplishing that work with a smaller energy input would seem to be beneficial.

I think though you are comparing apples to oranges. The coin generation is for currency creation. You don't need to generate any coin to use the bitcoin system. You can purchase it from many market sites or get some donated for free from other sites. The current minting policy is what makes it useful because a digital currency where everyone has unlimited amounts (or large starting amounts) just causes unnecessary starting inflation. The overhead for the currency is by design, otherwise if someone creates an *easier* system, it will be quickly abused. Since you can't make everyone play fair, you create something where it's nearly impossible to cheat by using math. To make cheating expensive instead of "easy" is where this system works. If it's more profitable to generate coin than to cheat it, guess which one everyone will go with?

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August 06, 2010, 03:50:10 AM
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Nicely written gridecon. I completely agree.

I've been considering posting a similar critique but you've laid the issue out clearly. if you don't mind I'll add my thoughts here.

As the minting process and the transaction recording process are one, there is really no reason to separate them. I don't disagree with knightmb's points at all. But I do think that is is really important to point out that all that CPU power and electricity usage is absolutely NOT required for the task at hand.

Generating blocks serves three critical but independent functions in the bitcoin system.

1. It permanently records valid transactions in a roughly chronological order.
2. It creates *consensus* among all nodes on what transactions took place and when, WITHOUT relying on a central authority. That was a hugely clever breakthrough.
3. It trickles bitcoins into circulation at a regularly scheduled rate. (roughtly 50 BTC/10 min) Also a nice motivational trick.


However, all of these required tasks could be done in a much more efficient manner.

Generally in a P2P system, if you add more nodes then the necessary machine resources needed per node decrease. (for a given usage level of the service)
However, if we add more nodes to the bitcoin network the necessary machine resources needed per node increase. This is true of CPU usage and network bandwidth.

Satoshi already pointed out that the goal of this is not to scale to millions of pure P2P nodes. But instead to have thousands of transaction checking peers each having thousands of clients. That means the goal is to create core "central authority" of peer nodes each of which is trusted by some clients, but the core peers do not necessarily need to trust each other. This is a absolutely critical design construct if the current implementation of bitcoin is expected to scale to millions of traders.

However, there are other design possibilities that could meet each of these three critical goals without exponential growth in resources utilization.

Implementing the transaction graph using a redundant distributed hash table comes to mind. This could be done with or without a core of central peers. Another possibility would be just to store the transaction graph in a SQL database and use database replication among the core peers. Either of those satisfies goal 1 and 2 using minimal system resources.

Goal 3 is implementable by simply generating a distributed shared secret, then using that shared secret as a concensus random node to send 50 BTC to.


I agree with gridecon that such an implementation would out compete the current implementation. Even if it otherwise following exactly the same external behavior and transaction validation rules.
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August 06, 2010, 03:53:24 AM
 #6

I understand that bitcoin's utility as a currency is independent of the method of minting - that is crucial to what I'm trying to express. My claim is that the positive properties of bitcoin's security could be implemented using a different method of minting, and that users will likely gravitate to currencies with whatever they believe are the most fair and efficient minting systems.

Maybe an even simpler way to put it is that I think that it is a huge waste of resources to generate a digital currency by doing fundamentally useless computational work. If you want to regulate currency production in this way, it should be done "parasitically" on top of useful computation, such as that done by distributed computing research projects.

Let me make an analogy that I believe is actually very close to the current truth of the matter. The current method of coin minting is similar to a currency based on photographs of burned wheat. People grow wheat, burn it, and take photos of the burned wheat to prove that it was really grown and burnt, and then use the photographs as a medium of exchange. Does that sound sensible? No, and fundamentally it is just as senseless to waste potentially useful computer cycles on calculating the hash of random data until you hit the winning number.
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August 06, 2010, 04:51:07 AM
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I understand that bitcoin's utility as a currency is independent of the method of minting - that is crucial to what I'm trying to express. My claim is that the positive properties of bitcoin's security could be implemented using a different method of minting, and that users will likely gravitate to currencies with whatever they believe are the most fair and efficient minting systems.



Go for it.  In the meantime, I think that you both miss some fundamental truths.

1)  The point of the system is not to 'mint' coins at a high energy cost, but a high computational cost, to protect the system no matter how high Moore's law may go. 

2)  The award of bitcoins is not 'minting' really anyway, it is an award by lottery for participating in the strenghtening the currency.  Those 50 bitcoins already existed from the moment that the rules were conceived and the process set into motion.  They are just distrubuted from the original owner in a systematic manner.

 The computations are a neccessary part of keeping the system strong and confidence high, and are a small price to pay when compared to the costs that we all incur from the administration of fiat currencies.  I think that it was a brilliant idea.

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank...sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world."

- Carroll Quigley, CFR member, mentor to Bill Clinton, from 'Tragedy And Hope'
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August 06, 2010, 08:30:23 AM
 #8

I believe that the amount of energy input required to the bitcoin economy represents a serious obstacle to its growth. I think in the long-term, transactions may be even more serious than minting in this regard, but I will for the moment discuss minting because it is more precisely bounded and defined. The idea that the value of bitcoins is in some way related to the value of the electricity required, on average, to mint a winning block is generally accepted, but the precise nature of this relationship is contentious.

I don't accept that.
The idea that the value of a Bitcoin is in some way related to the value of the electricity required on average is a fallacy that has been widely spread by armchair economists to get-rich-quick merchants who don't understand the system.

Quote
My contention is that both of these arguments miss the point and the real problem, which is the fundamental perversity of wasting large amounts of energy and computations in generating the winning blocks for the minting process. The minting process exists because of the necessity of actually "printing" the currency, and certain desirable properties of crypto-math for making the currency's behavior predictable. The fact that the current minting process requires a large energy input of computational work is highly unfortunate and has the perverse consequence that bitcoin may actually be "destroying wealth" in the sense of wasting energy producing a digital object worth less than the resources invested in it.

It's not about the minting at all.

The computation required is to maintain the integrity of the system by growing the block chain which serves as a 'timestamp' of transactions.
It is probably possible to make the computation required for this process less than it currently is, but it would be at the expense of disk space or bandwidth or integrity or processing power required to validate transactions, or all of the above. The current system provides a good balance of all these things.

The minting is just a side effect, and an elegant way to reward those who have contributed processing power to the integrity of the system.
There are many other threads that try to propose 'better' ways of rewarding these contributions, but the 'winner takes all' system is the one we have at the moment.

Quote
As is often pointed out, a currency does not necessarily have, or need to have, any inherent value - a medium of exchange is a useful tool and can have value purely as a consequence of social convention. The cost of production of bitcoins in electricity consumed represents a waste, a "thermodynamic burden" that the currency has to carry. Consider a hypothetical alternative digital currency called "compucoin", which purchases cpu cycles from nodes on the network. The market value of this currency would converge very closely with the cost of electricity required to generate cpu cycles. Instead of costing cpu cycles to mint, the value of the cpu cycles the coins could be exchanged for would create a rational basis for the currency's value and integrate it with an existing market. I imagine that alternatives to Bitcoin (many of them probably sharing a lot of Bitcoin's source code) will inevitably emerge and Bitcoin's current minting process makes the currency "expensive" in terms of energy input. I believe this places it at a competitive disadvantage to other currencies and can only hinder its widespread adoption and long-term value.

Good luck with implementing compucoins..

Again, it is not about the minting

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August 06, 2010, 09:24:47 AM
 #9

I understand the bitcoin is not INTENDED to be about the minting. The essence of my criticism is that a digital currency SHOULD NOT be "about the minting" but the current bitcoin system works against that goal! My argument is that the current minting system limits the utility of the currency largely because entirely too much attention is focused on "winning the block generation lottery" and the process of choosing these winners is highly inefficient and resource intensive. If potential users of the currency believe that bitcoin is simply a way for botnet herders to convert spare cpu cycles into cash, they are unlikely to participate in the emergence of the economy. The current system could easily result in the perception that bitcoin is basically being used as a vector for the indirect monetization of the theft of electricity via compromised computer systems. I assume most people interested in bitcoin understand that self-interested individuals will obviously seek to exploit opportunities like this, and the design of a popular currency has to prioritize how a prospective user will evaluate its fairness.
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August 06, 2010, 09:37:43 AM
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The minting should be seen as digging for gold in a gold mine. This is similarly wasting energy and resources for actually not doing anyone any favor since you increase the supply of gold. Except for yourself of course, and that why people will always will dig for gold as long as the price of gold dug will be higher than the cost of resources needed to dig. However, this difficulty is what gives scarcity and therefore value to gold.

Similarly, if and when bitcoin becomes more mainstream and follows economic sense (rather than beeing driven by curiosity, fun and excitement for participating in something new) the cost of electricity (in dollars or equivalent bitcoins) to create a bitcoin will never exceed the value of the created bitcoin. If that would happen, many will shut down their bitcoin generation for it would make no economic sense (I already stopped mine!). Luckily, and unlike gold mining, this behavior will adjust the cost of creating bitcoin to a sensible level (below the value of the generated bitcoin)

In the long run i expect that bitcoin minting will indeed be left to the supernodes which will probably have specialized hardware  that are excellent in hash calculations and can do that way better than anyone with a general purpose pc. Similarly to specialized gold digging machines.

So although you are right that it would be nice to find a system that provides scarcity without cost (I dont know whether this is possible, it seems not), the costs are certainly connected and less to the value of the created bitcoin. And it is a self regulated system that will increase the cost of creation only if the use of bitcoin actually adds value (in the form of ease of use, anonimity etc.) and therefore is worth it.
The cost of creation is therefore is no limitation of the growth but more and indication of the added value of the use of bitcoin.

fuuny note: Following this logic the cost of minting will be somewhat less than 21million bitcoins which with the current prize of bitcoin is  around 1 million dollars.

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gridecon
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August 06, 2010, 10:00:16 AM
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Thanks to everyone for all the well-considered responses. I am, you could say, half-convinced - I understand the motivations for the design decisions bitcoin has made, but I still think more optimal solutions are likely to evolve. That said, the obvious intelligence and open-mindedness shown by the discussion here is in some ways the most convincing selling point! Any currency with a user community who engages in quality dialogue earns additional credibility with me, so based on the quality of this thread, I have acquired a few bitcoins, and distributed some of them to the posters who included a bitcoin address. As I hope I have emphasized, I think bitcoin is brilliant and I want it to succeed, I raise these issues because I would hate to see the success of bitcoin impeded by something, the minting model, that everyone agrees is in many ways arbitrary.
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August 06, 2010, 10:46:29 AM
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If the problem you are identifying is that too much attention is
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too much attention is focused on "winning the block generation lottery" and the process of choosing these winners is highly inefficient and resource intensive.

I would tend to agree with you on the first part, but disagree on the second.
Chosing the 'winners' is a side-effect of the security of the system, if we were to choose the winners just based on picking a random address out of the transaction list this would certainly be less resource intensive, but you still need to make sure that the that the blocks cannot be easily forged by an attacker.

Perhaps you could contribute your ideas on how bitcoin should be publicized.
We (the bitcoin community) don't have a large corporate PR department who are paid to sit around and come up with good ideas.
Bitcoin video bounty thread might be a good place to start.

Another problem is that there is no one controlling focus group to set the direction of Bitcoin publicity and there are people who want to use bitcoins for all kinds of different reasons.

P.S. Thanks for the tip.
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August 06, 2010, 10:51:51 AM
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I understand the bitcoin is not INTENDED to be about the minting. The essence of my criticism is that a digital currency SHOULD NOT be "about the minting" but the current bitcoin system works against that goal! My argument is that the current minting system limits the utility of the currency largely because entirely too much attention is focused on "winning the block generation lottery" and the process of choosing these winners is highly inefficient and resource intensive.
I think that's the issue you have though, you think it's inefficient and resource intensive on purpose when really it's not. No one is required to generate coins to use the system. If you click the generate coin list, you are basically volunteering your resources to strengthen the network and in exchange, you *might* get some coin for it. Since coin is in demand to use the system, someone has to generate it. If generation was as easy as "input how many you want, *bam*, you have 1 million now" it would make the entire system pointless. It's a chicken and the egg puzzle except there really isn't a puzzle here. People need bitcoins, they generate them at a fixed rate to make it worth spending the CPU time.
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If potential users of the currency believe that bitcoin is simply a way for botnet herders to convert spare cpu cycles into cash, they are unlikely to participate in the emergence of the economy. The current system could easily result in the perception that bitcoin is basically being used as a vector for the indirect monetization of the theft of electricity via compromised computer systems. I assume most people interested in bitcoin understand that self-interested individuals will obviously seek to exploit opportunities like this, and the design of a popular currency has to prioritize how a prospective user will evaluate its fairness.
There's no reason to think of it that way, anymore than the local barber is collecting hair to clone an army of super-men for world domination. You have to draw the line somewhere. If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense.

I have seen the topic come up here a few times "what if someone seeks to exploit this?" and the answer is the same over and over, it has been designed from the ground up to counter this exact concern. If you want to "game" the system, you need a lot of CPU power. CPU power cost money. The system scales itself to the available CPU power it has so if you bought 10,000 EC2 sessions from Amazon and started a massive bitcoin generating farm, you would never make more money out of it than what you put into it for long because the system would self-adjust against it. If someone throughs a massive botnet at it, the same thing will happen. The system is set for self-feedback, so to try to steal from everyone is to try to steal from yourself at the same time.

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August 06, 2010, 04:48:00 PM
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If potential users of the currency believe that bitcoin is simply a way for botnet herders to convert spare cpu cycles into cash, they are unlikely to participate in the emergence of the economy. The current system could easily result in the perception that bitcoin is basically being used as a vector for the indirect monetization of the theft of electricity via compromised computer systems. I assume most people interested in bitcoin understand that self-interested individuals will obviously seek to exploit opportunities like this, and the design of a popular currency has to prioritize how a prospective user will evaluate its fairness.
There's no reason to think of it that way, anymore than the local barber is collecting hair to clone an army of super-men for world domination. You have to draw the line somewhere. If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense.

I have seen the topic come up here a few times "what if someone seeks to exploit this?" and the answer is the same over and over, it has been designed from the ground up to counter this exact concern. If you want to "game" the system, you need a lot of CPU power. CPU power cost money. The system scales itself to the available CPU power it has so if you bought 10,000 EC2 sessions from Amazon and started a massive bitcoin generating farm, you would never make more money out of it than what you put into it for long because the system would self-adjust against it. If someone throughs a massive botnet at it, the same thing will happen. The system is set for self-feedback, so to try to steal from everyone is to try to steal from yourself at the same time.
I think you are rationalizing away a serious issue. Botnets exist, and the owners of botnets seek to monetize them. Bitcoin minting is an available strategy. Saying "If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense" is a complete non sequitir. Being in control of a botnet means YOU ALREADY HAVE STOLEN the electricity, the question is - how are you going to make use of it? It is very simple economics that bitcoin production is roughly proportional to energy input, and that therefore the most efficient producers will be those who are able to obtain that electricity at zero cost.

In making an analysis of an economic system, you obviously proceed by determining how self-interested actors will behave in that system. I am completely unconvinced by hand-waving arguments that try to claim people will not behave in selfish and unethical ways, if they see an opportunity for profit. We already KNOW that people are throwing a lot of computational resources into minting bitcoins, the steadily increasing difficulty is exactly equivalent to a steadily increasing computational cost of the system! The more energy invested in the production of the same quantity of coins, the harder bitcoin has to work to deliver value added on that cost.

Again, an analysis of the behavior of self-interested actors is instructive. The most energy-efficient scenario for bitcoin generation in the current regime would be if there was ONE NETBOOK that generated all the coins - the rate of coin production is fixed, so you'd still have the same amount of coins entering circulation. The person who ran that netbook would obviously be in a position to charge a high "rent" from the population that needed bitcoins for their transactions. An examination of this limit case makes it clear that bitcoin minters have a strong incentive to encourage use and circulation of the currency while discouraging additional minting nodes from coming online. This is not any kind of criticism of anyone's ethics - it is simply an examination of how the game is set up, and what strategies players will adopt.

As an overall point, I also do not agree with the idea that the very high computational burden of coin generation is in fact a necessity of the current system. As I understand it, currency creation is fundamentally metered by TIME - and if that is the fundamental controlling variable, what is the need for everyone to "roll as many dice as posible" within that given time period? The "chain of proof" for coin ownership and transactions doesn't depend on the method for spawning coins.
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August 06, 2010, 04:52:12 PM
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If potential users of the currency believe that bitcoin is simply a way for botnet herders to convert spare cpu cycles into cash, they are unlikely to participate in the emergence of the economy. The current system could easily result in the perception that bitcoin is basically being used as a vector for the indirect monetization of the theft of electricity via compromised computer systems. I assume most people interested in bitcoin understand that self-interested individuals will obviously seek to exploit opportunities like this, and the design of a popular currency has to prioritize how a prospective user will evaluate its fairness.
There's no reason to think of it that way, anymore than the local barber is collecting hair to clone an army of super-men for world domination. You have to draw the line somewhere. If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense.

I have seen the topic come up here a few times "what if someone seeks to exploit this?" and the answer is the same over and over, it has been designed from the ground up to counter this exact concern. If you want to "game" the system, you need a lot of CPU power. CPU power cost money. The system scales itself to the available CPU power it has so if you bought 10,000 EC2 sessions from Amazon and started a massive bitcoin generating farm, you would never make more money out of it than what you put into it for long because the system would self-adjust against it. If someone throughs a massive botnet at it, the same thing will happen. The system is set for self-feedback, so to try to steal from everyone is to try to steal from yourself at the same time.
I think you are rationalizing away a serious issue. Botnets exist, and the owners of botnets seek to monetize them. Bitcoin minting is an available strategy. Saying "If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense" is a complete non sequitir. Being in control of a botnet means YOU ALREADY HAVE STOLEN the electricity, the question is - how are you going to make use of it? It is very simple economics that bitcoin production is roughly proportional to energy input, and that therefore the most efficient producers will be those who are able to obtain that electricity at zero cost.

In making an analysis of an economic system, you obviously proceed by determining how self-interested actors will behave in that system. I am completely unconvinced by hand-waving arguments that try to claim people will not behave in selfish and unethical ways, if they see an opportunity for profit. We already KNOW that people are throwing a lot of computational resources into minting bitcoins, the steadily increasing difficulty is exactly equivalent to a steadily increasing computational cost of the system! The more energy invested in the production of the same quantity of coins, the harder bitcoin has to work to deliver value added on that cost.

The computational and energy cost for generating bitcoins is quite irrelevant to the bitcoin economy since it does not compromise the integrity of bitcoins. People should be more concerned about a botnet trying to cheat rather than mine bitcoins.

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August 06, 2010, 04:55:22 PM
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As an overall point, I also do not agree with the idea that the very high computational burden of coin generation is in fact a necessity of the current system. As I understand it, currency creation is fundamentally metered by TIME - and if that is the fundamental controlling variable, what is the need for everyone to "roll as many dice as posible" within that given time period? The "chain of proof" for coin ownership and transactions doesn't depend on the method for spawning coins.

Hear hear!

I though I tried to explain the lack of necessity, but people seem distracted by their repetition of mantras.
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August 06, 2010, 05:15:28 PM
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As an overall point, I also do not agree with the idea that the very high computational burden of coin generation is in fact a necessity of the current system. As I understand it, currency creation is fundamentally metered by TIME - and if that is the fundamental controlling variable, what is the need for everyone to "roll as many dice as posible" within that given time period? The "chain of proof" for coin ownership and transactions doesn't depend on the method for spawning coins.

You seem to have things backwards.
The "dice rolling" is to maintain the "chain of proof".
Actually giving out the coins is a side effect.

I have 2 questions for you:

Without high computational burden how do you propose we:

a) Maintain the integrity of the system?
b) Distribute/Seed the system with coins?
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August 06, 2010, 05:24:10 PM
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I think you are rationalizing away a serious issue. Botnets exist, and the owners of botnets seek to monetize them. Bitcoin minting is an available strategy. Saying "If someone is going to steal electricity, targeting a 30 watt computer doesn't make a lot of sense" is a complete non sequitir. Being in control of a botnet means YOU ALREADY HAVE STOLEN the electricity, the question is - how are you going to make use of it? It is very simple economics that bitcoin production is roughly proportional to energy input, and that therefore the most efficient producers will be those who are able to obtain that electricity at zero cost.
A botnet is a stolen computer already, the concern people have is that it will take over bitcoin in some way. What you are talking about is what we already know. They use the stolen CPU time to generate BTC and then sell it on the market. It's stolen CPU time, we have no control of that. What we do have control over is how much damage it can do to others that are running honest clients.
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In making an analysis of an economic system, you obviously proceed by determining how self-interested actors will behave in that system. I am completely unconvinced by hand-waving arguments that try to claim people will not behave in selfish and unethical ways, if they see an opportunity for profit. We already KNOW that people are throwing a lot of computational resources into minting bitcoins, the steadily increasing difficulty is exactly equivalent to a steadily increasing computational cost of the system! The more energy invested in the production of the same quantity of coins, the harder bitcoin has to work to deliver value added on that cost.
The system was designed with that in mind. That's why it uses a formula that forces anyone that participates in the protocol to behave or else they are ignored. So if anyone is going to game the system, they have to do it by the rules that everyone else is following. Right now, the only rule to game is CPU time. It's either expensive, donated, or stolen.

Quote
Again, an analysis of the behavior of self-interested actors is instructive. The most energy-efficient scenario for bitcoin generation in the current regime would be if there was ONE NETBOOK that generated all the coins - the rate of coin production is fixed, so you'd still have the same amount of coins entering circulation. The person who ran that netbook would obviously be in a position to charge a high "rent" from the population that needed bitcoins for their transactions. An examination of this limit case makes it clear that bitcoin minters have a strong incentive to encourage use and circulation of the currency while discouraging additional minting nodes from coming online. This is not any kind of criticism of anyone's ethics - it is simply an examination of how the game is set up, and what strategies players will adopt.

As an overall point, I also do not agree with the idea that the very high computational burden of coin generation is in fact a necessity of the current system. As I understand it, currency creation is fundamentally metered by TIME - and if that is the fundamental controlling variable, what is the need for everyone to "roll as many dice as posible" within that given time period? The "chain of proof" for coin ownership and transactions doesn't depend on the method for spawning coins.
That's the problem with having one PC generate all the coin, that one PC is a central authority of it and can price it anyway he/she likes. To de-centralize it means you need some way to force everyone to play by the rules or else one person will try to bend the rules.

I respect that you don't agree with how it works, so I offer up that we be shown a better way that we can't all punch holes in. It's open source software, if there is a better way, it can be used. Currently the rules are why they are because the entire network is designed with "trust no one" but instead "trust everyone collectively".

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August 06, 2010, 05:30:41 PM
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Currently the rules are why they are because the entire network is designed with "trust no one" but instead "trust everyone collectively".

You mean it is designed  to "trust no one", not of "trust everyone collectively"?

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August 06, 2010, 05:46:56 PM
 #20

Currently the rules are why they are because the entire network is designed with "trust no one" but instead "trust everyone collectively".

You mean it is designed  to "trust no one", not of "trust everyone collectively"?
Trust no one node, but if enough nodes are saying the same thing, then trust that.  Grin

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