Craig and Steven on BSV Devcon China

BSV DevCon China 2021: Craig Wright fireside chat on Bitcoin white paper and records of history

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At BSV DevCon in China in 2021, Technical Director of the BSV Infrastructure Team Steve Shadders sat down—virtually—with Dr. Craig Wright for the third fireside chat. The topic was “The Bitcoin white paper – records of history.”

What was the inspiration behind producing a reliable record of history as outlined in the white paper?

Dr. Wright answered that the goal was to produce records that couldn’t be altered.

Looking back in history, Dr. Wright spoke about a Japanese philosopher called Tominaga who worked in grain distribution in Japan. Dr. Wright elaborated that the system of keeping track of the grain was massively important but that changing these records also allowed for fraud.

He also outlined how this record-keeping system can help in creating identity. For example, if you’re born in a shantytown in a developing country, you can develop records on the blockchain which give you a legal record of identity. In time, these records provide you with property rights and access to things like microloans. This would open the world of finance up to billions of people.

Likewise, you can’t go back and alter records on the blockchain, so this identity is not something you can fake. “If your identity is only six weeks old, people will know it’s a little funky,” Dr. Wright said.

The hidden reorg attack on BSV last year

Shadders reminded Dr. Wright about the illegal reorg attack on BSV last year, during which a hidden miner attempted to rewrite history on the blockchain. He asked him how this should be responded to.

“The reality here is that this was something being mined in secret, and that’s outside the rules,” Dr. Wright said. He elaborated that since it’s a public chain, people can see which one is valid and ignore the fake chain.

Dr. Wright reminded Shadders that it’s not a ‘code is law’ system, highlighting that it’s a contract-based system and that contracts operate within the law.

Miners do two jobswrite and record transactions and resolve conflictswhich is more important?

Dr. Wright said that these two were part of the same process. Miners are enforcing rules and are not creating them. Giving the analogy of politicians and policemen, he talked about how politicians make the rules and the police enforce them. Miners act in the second sense, enforcing the rules rather than making them.

As for dispute resolution regarding transactions, “it’s the first that you see; nobody is trying to build consensus here,” said Dr. Wright.

He then gave an example when people are asked to guess the weight of an animal, the results come out pretty close, but this process breaks down when they start talking to one another. “Miners aren’t supposed to be talking to each other about which one they saw first,” he said.

When two transactions appear close together in time, and network latency means two miners could see them in a different order, how does that get resolved?

“That’s when you have a block war,” Dr. Wright responded.

Elaborating on the issue, he said that people should be watching transactions that matter to make sure this isn’t an issue. Shadders also mentioned that BSV has double spend alerts these days.

How important is the chronology outlined in the white paper regarding transactions that aren’t necessarily related?

Dr. Wright said that these are important. Shadders teased out a more elaborate answer, asking him if miners should include transactions in blocks in the order they see them. 

“The block itself should be as you see it you build it,” Dr. Wright confirmed.

Shadders asked him if reversing a transaction could be considered fraud. Which Dr. Wright agreed that it is, if the user is trying to double spend. He likened it to double spending checks which are considered fraud.

Why give away the code under the MIT license and not the white paper?

“Because it’s a system based on cryptographic algorithms, it needs to be open. Any security system needs to be reviewed,” Dr. Wright noted. He confirmed that the white paper was not included in the MIT license.

As for the being set in stone part, Dr. Wright confirmed that it’s the protocol that matters most. He likened it to TCP that hasn’t changed in decades.

“We need to get the protocol fully nailed down and documented,” he reiterated.

Shadders reflected that part of the Teranode project is defining the rules of Bitcoin and making things clearer for the years and decades to come.

How do we distinguish between a valid block race and what happened recently with a long chain appearing out of nowhere?

“There won’t be long chain block races,” Dr. Wright said. “The chances of a block race being 100 long is infinitesimally small.”

The point here is that block races should not be more than a few blocks. It’s down to the probability that they won’t be 100 blocks long.

Dr. Wright also laughed while reflecting on the idea that people may bet on who will win block races in the future.

Do you see a potential merging between traditional cloud providers and miners in the future?

“Yes, the integration of overlay networks will require all of this,” Dr. Wright said. He smiled while reflecting on how companies like Twitter and Facebook will be forced to change by this, albeit kicking and screaming.

Is what happened recently an example of what was described in section 11?

“Effectively yes,” Dr. Wright said.

“What happened actually shook some of my preconceptions,” Shadders reflected. He noted that it’s a common misconception that the network can’t be secure if you don’t have 51% of the hash. However, while the recent attackers had the majority of the hash, the honest miners managed to chase them away.

“I’ve said this multiple times, hash is not a security function,” Dr. Wright explained. He talked about how hash serves other functions such as notarization.

“Honest miners matter and honest miners operate within the rules-based legal system,” he said.

Dr. Wright also pointed out that courts are decentralized. The government doesn’t control them. This shoots down the argument that BSV would become centralized (in the common meaning of how critics use the term) over time.

Why is enabling nodes to leave and rejoin the network important?

“Bitcoin is based on a legal concept known as a unilateral contract,” Dr. Wright explained. This is purely a contract that allows people to try, stop, come back, etc. It’s the ultimate way of being fair, according to Dr. Wright.

Check out more presentations from BSV DevCon China 2021 on Bitcoin Association’s YouTube channel.

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