Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Responsibility of Decentralization

Yesterday I watched a live episode of “Chris Before Coffee” on Youtube. It turned out to be a class on social and political aspect of Bitcoin. This Hangout was broadcast from a “bitcoin squat” in London. Among other developers and bitcoin enthusiasts, there was Amir Taaki. He is the developer behind Dark Wallet. He is an Anarchist and has pretty different, or should I say, a more true perception of what bitcoin is. He shared lots of his thoughts and I recommend everyone to watch this podcast. In my opinion, it is the answer to the most important question of all “What is Bitcoin?” I asked two questions during the podcast. Amir’s answers helped me improve my understanding of how decentralization works and why this experiment in decentralization called Blockchain will fail or succeed.

My first question was about “Mining Centralization”. Pretty much anyone who cares about Bitcoin is worried about 3-4 major pools accounting for majority of mining power. I am worried that as merger & acquisition in the industry grows, we might see a lot of hashrate in the hand of people with lots of fiat money. Although, Amir’s answer showed me how a minority of miners can be manipulated/coerced for attacking the network.

The biggest takeaway for me from his answer was that Bitcoin protocol or Blockchain is only a set of rules that shows you the way, but it is you, a participant in the network, who have to apply these rules to achieve decentralization. The decentralization gives you the power to own yourself but it also comes with responsibilities which you have to take. The responsibility to secure your own money/data, responsibility to keep the network alive. So, to keep decentralization and your freedom alive, you have to leave the comfort and ease provided by centralized power structures along with the loss of liberty and own up to the responsibility that comes with power of decentralization.

My second question was about “Decentralized Decision Making”. The idea in my head was voting on features through our wallet softwares. But Amir’s answer opened my eyes. It drew me out of my comfortable assumption that if enough people want a feature then developer has to implement it or developers can decide on which features people should vote on. That is democracy, a broken system as all of us know. He said that development is a process and an iterative one. If you want to influence the development then you have to get involved in the discussion via various channels. Decentralized decision making can work only if you are ready to invest time and resources into the process.

Again, you have to take responsibility and get involved in the good, the bad and the ugly of a development decision. You cannot sit in comfort of your twitter feed and just click on a button to take decision or influence others to tag along with you. You have to reason with the community, listen to their feedback, and reason again until it is proven that what you are proposing will take everyone forward. You have to fill your place in the decentralized whole.

So, if you want to claim that you have a right to freedom that comes with decentralization, then you also have to fulfill the responsibility that keeps that freedom alive. As Uncle Ben said
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Suggested Reading: Listen, Little Man!