Kurt Wuckert Jr. answers queries about empty miners and Bitcoin

CoinGeek Weekly Livestream: Kurt Wuckert Jr. answers queries about empty miners and Bitcoin

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Kurt Wuckert Jr. hosted the CoinGeek Weekly Livestream, where he talked about empty block mining, the nature of contracts and attacks, the law and how it applies to Bitcoin, and more. This show was done in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) format. 

Wuckert clarifies some things

Wuckert begins this episode by clarifying some points. He does not work formally for the Bitcoin Association. He also does not work for CoinGeek and acts as a consultant. This means his opinions are solely his own and do not reflect those of either organization.

He clarifies that he collaborates voluntarily with many people in the space, where they can create mutual value and have goals that align.

Unilateral contracts, empty block mining, and honest nodes

Anyone involved in Bitcoin SV (BSV) is likely aware that an empty block miner has been active on the network and is causing problems by refusing to accept transactions. Wuckert tackles this head-on with his thoughts on the matter.

What is a unilateral contract, he asks first. It’s a contract you can accidentally fall into. This was relevant in the Kleiman vs. Wright case, with the question of whether they had an implied partnership taking center stage. Kleiman’s lawyers thought it was a 50/50 effort, but the jury ultimately disagreed. As such, it’s reasonable to characterize a unilateral contract as an implied agreement even if there is no formal paperwork.

Wuckert then addresses the empty block mining article written by Dr. Craig Wright, stating it is okay to do this. Why was it okay in 2018, and isn’t now? He interprets this as permissible in certain situations, such as orphaning the Bitcoin Cash chain when they decided to deviate from the protocol and break the contract to enforce the rules as honest nodes. As such, attacking an invalid chain is the mandate of an honest node.

Wuckert remains on the fence about whether the empty block miner on BSV is an attacker. It could just be someone ignorant who thinks what they know about Bitcoin being ‘permissionless’ applies. 

“We just don’t know,” Wuckert emphasizes, noting that he has some things that imply malice but is ultimately undecided.

A user asks Wuckert for his thoughts on who the empty block miner might be and what their motives might be. Wuckert says he can’t guess. He’s seen some evidence that it’s Roy Murphy or another miner from MemPool, but there’s no conclusive evidence either way. As for motives, it could be a BSV person that thinks fees should be higher, someone trying to accumulate BSV quickly, a middle finger to TAAL (CSE: TAAL | FWB:9SQ1 | OTC: TAALF), or an attack.

Questions and answers

What is the Bitcoin Association thinking? First op_courtsig, and now miners must do what the party tells them?

Addressing the op_courtsig comment first, Wuckert says there’s precedent for nodes reassigning coins, and this is just a historical fact of Bitcoin. 

“We don’t know if it was a bug,” Wuckert elaborates, stating that we only know that the ability to reassign coins was turned off because it was used to steal coins. We can either accept Dr. Craig Wright’s version of events, or we can conclude he had nothing to do with it, and Satoshi simply made a mistake and then turned it off. Wuckert reminds us that Satoshi also coded an alert key into Bitcoin, which can hint at his overall intentions for Bitcoin.

As for what the Bitcoin Association is thinking, Wuckert surmises that they’re taking a path that they think is ultimately good. He agrees with their chosen path and thinks aligning Bitcoin with laws such as property rights is a good thing.

Answering another question about whether the BA’s announcement is bullish or bearish for BSV, Wuckert says that this miner has been mining for two years, including processing transactions. He’s not entirely sure if this is an attack. Until we know if they have good or bad intentions, it’s difficult to know whether it’s bullish or bearish.

Isn’t the empty block miner just following the rules and setting his own fee? Most hash dictates the rules.

Wuckert immediately checks the incorrect assumption that most hash dictates the rules. Hash power is supposed to enforce the rules only, and nodes have no authority to change anything.

However, a node can set its internal policy, such as minimum and maximum fees, block sizes, etc. This is return of investment (ROI)-driven and is a business choice. Wuckert doesn’t even necessarily think empty blocks are a bad thing, but at some point, when they are degrading the experience of the network, it becomes something like a DDoS attack.

Answering a related question later in the stream, Wuckert says it is mistaken to think the empty block miner has not committed proof of work. They have done so, even though they are not accepting transactions.

How many transactions must a miner accept if he intends to pressure the tx fee to go up?

Wuckert likens this question to similar ones about the minimum wage, interest rates, etc. Ultimately, he’s not sure but thinks the economy itself should decide rather than a central committee.

Why not just orphan empty blocks?

Wuckert says there are a few reasons, and they’ve had some serious discussions about this at his mining firm GorillaPool

“What if we’re the only honest node with 2-3% of the hash power?” he contemplates. He does think it’s the role of an honest node to lead, but it’s complicated.

If GorillaPool was to proceed with this alone, having minority hash power on the chain, it becomes arguable whether or not they are mining Bitcoin. He doesn’t believe that the chain with the most hash power is the valid one. Instead, it should be the one run by honest nodes. It also opens up many questions about obligations to clients. There are also many other practical problems with coordination, exchanges, liquidity, etc.

Answering a related question on whether or not this sort of attack is easier on BTC or BCH, Wuckert says, “not necessarily.” He argues that BTC got conquered years ago, long before anyone even noticed. While a brute force attack based on hash power isn’t likely to happen, it doesn’t need to. All one has to do is convince the BIP editor (one guy) that something should happen.

Why do empty blocks matter? With unbounded blocks, can’t miners that want fees quickly clear the mempool?

Essentially, Wuckert agrees with this statement. However, there are some problems. First, people expect their transactions to be processed quickly and efficiently. Also, low-fee transactions can start to fall off the back, which is a major problem. Likewise, he points out that block sizes are not unlimited/unbounded yet.

Has the drive towards super low fees caused this?

Wuckert says no. The market decides the fees, and if applications want to bid up and send more satoshis to ensure they get their transactions processed, he thinks that’s OK. “That’s the competitive nature of Bitcoin,” he says.

Would GorillaPool stop mining if the fees were too low? No,” Wuckert replies, pointing out that this is why the subsidy exists.

Speaking of competition, Wuckert has decided he’s tired of waiting for others to solve problems on Bitcoin and is launching Jungle Labs to launch both closed and open-source initiatives to solve them.

What precisely counts as a protocol change?

Wuckert makes an analogy with religion to answer this question. He says that orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews will all be sure they are right and that their interpretation of God is legitimate, but then aside from these beliefs, there is objective truth.

Likewise, in Bitcoin, there will be lots of disagreement about what it is, how to implement it, etc. Wuckert points out that Bitcoin is not just code (a mistaken belief many make) but also an economic system.

Summing up, he says that big blockers believe the protocol is a set of rules outside of Bitcoin that apply to Bitcoin. Therefore, something breaking a fundamental rule would be a protocol change.

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