The Blockchain Revolution: Is the Future Permissioned or Permissionless?
The blockchain gold rush is among us, and those at the fore are infected with the “fever,” racing to secure prominent roles in the revolution ahead.
Among the droves seeking to ensure future profitability in staking claims to the open-source technology, our favorite major banks, and payment networks have been diligently pushing through blockchain-related patents. Not to be left out, self-proclaimed “creator” of Bitcoin, Craig Wright, is also filing suit for his piece of the virtual pie. Patent pending.
Meanwhile, on the alternative blockchain space, Ethereum Enterprise formed an Alliance, just, not an alliance with the Ethereum Foundation, the team of researchers and developers responsible for the Ethereum public blockchain.
Despite the honeypot of untold rewards attracting those in the business of reaping, the Trojan horses that have been quietly advancing toward the double iron-clad gates of Finance, Banking, and Money Distribution, are installed in the public domain.
Blockchain technology has been extolled for many deservingly laudable properties. Arguably the most valuable property of all, social scalability, is at once the most underrated. The property of social scalability which makes Bitcoin so valuable, indeed, so precious, as described by Nick Szabo, the author of the Bit gold concept that predated Bitcoin, is “…the ability of an institution… to overcome shortcomings in human minds and in the motivating or constraining aspects of said institution that limit who or how many can successfully participate. It’s about human limitations…” Szabo adds that value is derived not from the institution that facilitates the scalability of a technology but from the social scalability of a technology that facilitates an institution. It is precisely this inversion of the conventional paradigm that is setting the stage for the blockchain revolution.
Said institutions not already built on this paradigm are dutifully, so as not to concede incumbent status, taking heed and making headway with their own blockchain solutions. In the Google DeepMind lab, a blockchain-est implementation is being built for healthcare data auditability.
In the broader Information Technology frontier, the term “Distributed Ledger Technology” has been coined by the likes of IBM and the UK Government campaigning to respectfully distinguish their namesake technology and “go beyond” that of what’s capable on the public blockchains.
The dichotomy of a private permissioned versus a public permissionless blockchain, about which of the two will end up prevailing, has inevitably become the subject of many watercooler debates. Quelling the discussion while popularizing the analogy to one of internet versus intranet, security expert Andreas Antonopoulos, also known as Bitcoin Buddha, makes his position clear. Defer to the authority of history for the debate instead, and therein find history repeated; or rhymed, rather. The following case study looks at the prominence of email to lend to the subject of this debate.
Federations: A Case Study
While the definition of “federation” in computer science is varied and broadly spans many subfields, in his paper on Federated Systems, Jeremy Rubin references Stijn Peeters to redefine it as equivalent to decentralized and distributed. In this context and the context of the Internet age, email was the analogous “killer app.”
Federated by nature, wrote Rubin, “any domain running a mail server can communicate with any other. It is an amazingly potent tool and has cemented itself firmly in the work and personal routines of many millions of people. Part of its long-term hardiness is in no small part due to its federated nature. As a federated service, the entire network of individuals able to email one another did not go down when one or two email providers failed, nor did potential competitors such as MySpace put email out of business because email wasn’t a corporate competitor, just a protocol.”
Retrace time back to today’s cryptocurrency context, and we have Blockstream’s strong federation implementation, the Liquid sidechain. Whereas earlier, the debate was between siloed blockchain “sides,” Blockstreamers are leading the way with a hybrid solution, solving for commercial privacy while settling transactions on the publicly-verifiable parent Bitcoin blockchain. But the fun doesn’t stop there.
Now Entering: the Internet of Blockchains
In the wake of the blockchain revolution, public alt-blockchains, private-permissioned blockchains, consortium blockchains, multi-chains, pegged sidechains, federated sidechains, and a bevy of assorted solutions enough to make a non-crypto fanatic’s head spin, have emerged, continue to emerge, by the hundreds, and soon to be hundreds of thousands. Responding to this overwhelming expansion of human ambition manifesting in the form of distributed ledgers, the Cosmos network, and Polkadot framework take on the onerous challenge of linking the as-yet unchained chained universe, creating the dubbed “Internet of Blockchains.”
The future is hazy when discussing a contentious debate between private enterprise blockchains versus public trustless blockchains. The future seems likely to favor a more collaborative, socially scalable solution in the form a networked, interoperating universe of autonomous chains; at least that is the rosy hope for a Crypto Utopia.
Special thanks to Eric Martindale @martindale