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The Promise of Crypto, Part 2 of 2

Op-ed - The Promise of Crypto

The promise of Crypto part 2 of 2
David Mondrus, MBA, Columbia University & Michael Frank, Ph.D. MIT

Side Note:

In part 1 of 2 we discussed “payloads with paychecks”, an exciting concept that could be considered the beginning of an “Operating System” of Bitcoin. Vitalik Buterin,[1]the creator of Ethereum, announced on his mailing list that the “testnet” is live. This is an incredible milestone in the history of computing, in my opinion. (Disclaimer: Vitalik is one of the founders of Bitcoin Magazine and still sits on the editorial board. He and I did not communicate prior to writing this article. All of my information comes from publicly available sources.)

Parallel processing time sales

Now, picture the global mining plant. US, Europe, Asia… Big mining installs, small rigs, video cards, kids with CPUs, small companies, all mining Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc. … All of them in essence contributing CPU/GPU/RAM/Disk to the global hash plant.

Using Ethereum, or something similar, we can, and likely very soon will, create a parallel processing network using the resources of the global hash plant, and reimbursing the miners for their labor. There is a HUGE need for this kind of a parallel processing “cloud” based computing. This is REAL work, with REAL world significance. Work that requires a LOT of computing power, one for which there isn’t a “ready market,” but work that is nonetheless critically important to us as a species. The global, distributed, parallel processing network that is “mining” is a ready-made system for this application.

The Stanford “Folding @home” project,, which could lead us to a new cure for cancer, needs parallel processing. So does the Berkley “Seti @home” project, . There is an entire universe of parallel processing work that is not filled. The Berkley BOINC[2]list, , shows 40+ parallel processing projects needing power.

The scope of their work is staggering. From astrophysics to cryptography to environmental research, the applications are truly incredible for human advancement. In the fields of science, parallel computing power is an expensive, scarce resource. For particle research, advanced theoretical physics, fluid dynamics, stock market prediction, neural network and artificial intelligence research, in social science research, in materials development, in space design, in all of these things parallel computing is expensive, hard to get, and absolutely CRITICAL.

The global hashing network can be adapted, using standard incentives and motivations, to provide, as a consequence of their “hashing,” research into these fields. And this is not a small amount of power. The BTC hash plant already represents a computing plant that performs 8 times as many binary operations per second as the top 500 supercomputers combined. That is an incredible amount of computing power that is currently “only” used to “mine” coins. There is so much more that these machines can do.

Interestingly, a lovely by-product of this approach is that it reduces a serious and valid environmental concern over the global hash plant. Bitcoin uses a lot of electricity, and no matter your thoughts on Global Warming, or Anthropogenic Climate Change, introducing a large and rapidly increasing electrical demand on our current electrical infrastructure is not something to be taken lightly.

So, while we cannot and should not stop the propagation of Crypto for environmental concerns, the fact that we can, as a byproduct of hashing, advance humanity through the availability of cheap parallel processing, justifies the environmental impact. The gains we, as humanity, can make from the availability of this massive, public, parallel processing system outweigh concerns about the environment in my opinion.

Humanity’s first distributed data vault.

What do you do in a world where the NSA can tap any undersea cable? Where Facebook and Google know more about us than our mothers? Where Britain has 1 camera for every 14 people?[3]

In a world where everything is recorded and stored privacy truly is dead.

But, perhaps, that is not as scary of a thought as it might at first appear. It’s all a matter of power and transparency.[4]

The People Don’t Know Their True Power

We as a society have an incredible amount of power. Do you remember the case of Kiera Wilmot?[5]The Florida school girl who was arrested for a failed chemistry experiment? Initially the state wanted to try her as an adult and she was expelled from high school. But once word of her plight spread on the internet and people started making phone calls, the charges were dropped and she received a much lighter punishment more in line with her actions. The situation ended with a 10 day suspension, and a temporary transfer to another school[6]. I call that an “Internet win”. THAT is our power.

But that power only works if people know, only if the word spreads, only if there is transparency. Only then can an injustice be corrected. And people can be fickle for sure. But I’ve noticed that if 1) the data is available, 2) people review it and 3) there is truly an injustice, people will act. So it is transparency and communication that are important. And in a world where they watch us, perhaps we should watch them too.

As both the Atlantic[7]and Reason[8]have argued, “Watched cops are polite cops”. When the police wear a camera and all of their interactions are recorded, the cops become nicer. As Reason reports “a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. “

As wearable computing spreads and our clothes become “internet connected,” personal cameras and real time streaming devices will allow all of us to stream every moment of our daily existence to the cloud. While some may find this unsettling and scary, their children, or perhaps THEIR children won’t even notice. They will place our concerns in the ancient history department next to the rotary phone and the tape deck.

While this might sound fantastic, the work on this has already begun.

We believe that once the adoption of “payloads with paychecks” has stabilized, the system will evolve into a distributed, planet-wide storage and processing network – in other words, a distributed OS. You will be able to store your data and run your code in the “cloud” very similarly to what you can do now with Amazon or Google, except the data and the processing will be fully distributed through the hash net, encrypted, redundant and constantly moving. The systems running the data won’t know what they’re running, and no-one will know where the data IS at any one time until you access your data. After all, if even YOU don’t know where you data is how can “they”? Whoever “they” are to you.

In a separate, technical white paper[9], we describe the first steps towards a secure, worldwide Operating system with our new concept NDCoin, a cryptocoin framework supporting Nondeterministic Distributed Computation. Invoking tools such as homomorphic[10]encryption[11], zero-knowledge proof verification[12], and succinct computational integrity and privacy (SCIP)[13], we have laid the conceptual groundwork for a distributed, encrypted, organic high-performance computing system and data vault that obfuscates and encrypts users’ mission-critical data and active algorithms with minimal cost. Since the data is in many places at once it is robust, and since the location of that data is uncertain until identity is verified attack vectors are limited. That is not to say that this is a panacea. There are still many attack vectors from biometric spoofing to social engineering to brute force, but we believe this is a step in the right direction. We will publish the implementation details of this project in the near future and will be very happy to collaborate far and wide.

In a world where the government can watch what you do, the best defense might be to always watch what the government does too.