Bitcoin, Scalability & Getting to the Moon

If you’ve been into Bitcoin for a while, you will often see the reference of Bitcoin going to “the moon”. In this post, I’ll use this metaphor to help you understand the current scalability debate and how we might effectively get to the moon (Earth has adopted Bitcoin).

From zero to one

For decades, corporations were dominating the global infrastructure and heavily taxed all people who wanted to make use of it. A mysterious engineer called Satoshi Nakamoto believed that these corporations held too much power and couldn’t be trusted with it, so he continued the work that had been done by others before him, to work towards an alternative future for those that wished it.

In 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto took us from zero to one. He created the first launchpad and spaceships to take us to the moon and open-sourced this technology so anyone could start helping out to get us there. His technology ensured that people could only reserve a seat in one spaceship at a time (double spend), couldn’t leave the ship while in space (immutability) and that usually only one spaceship would launch at a time (cryptographic puzzle), to minimise collision risks (forks) and ensure we always launched around the most cost effective time-window (10 minutes).

At some point, Satoshi mysteriously disappeared and left the project in the hands of hundreds of voluntary engineers around the globe, who all believed in his vision to get us to the moon.

Other people began to take note of this open-source technology and they copied and altered it to create their own launchpads and spaceships. The initial enthusiasts in space travel appeared less excited about these and didn’t consider them as safe as the widely used and heavily tested spaceships and launchpads by the original design.

Corporations took note as well, and started experimenting with the spaceships to see if they could drive them over their existing roads.

From one to n

As the years progressed, more and more people started to find out about the spaceships and flocked towards the launchpads to get on board. The ships started getting full and heavy, and with that, the ticket price began to rise, much to the frustration of some of the people trying to board for the old prices.

The engineers that volunteered to help improve the technology saw this problem coming for years and had been discussing all the ways they could think of to move space travel forward. They wanted to ensure that ticket prices would remain affordable, yet not so cheap that there would be a lot of freeloaders and spaceship construction would become unprofitable in the future.

While they couldn’t agree on the best way forward yet, the engineers didn’t want to sit idle and they worked tirelessly behind the scenes on many optimisations to make space travel more robust. They wanted to ensure that nobody would need to fear travelling to the moon, by optimising blueprints that would allow us to create the most solid launchpads and spaceships you could possibly imagine. Meanwhile they began the tough work on additional methods to get us to the moon.

Time began to tick though, and different visions on how we could all best reach the moon at cheap prices started to emerge. Some people felt like we should increase the size of the spaceships, which seemed like a relatively easy way to push down the cost of the ticket prices. In their opinion, our spaceship technology would continue to advance as it had in the past, which would allow us to create ever larger spaceships to accommodate immediate demand. What they didn’t consider was the impact this would have on the launchpads and the cost to maintain these. It only looked like a small upgrade anyways right?

Opponents of this vision feared that eventually, only the wealthy could afford to maintain launchpads that were strong enough not to collapse under the weight of the spaceships. This would make all of us dependent on these wealthy, privatised launchpads to get to the moon for the rest of time.

While it looked like those in favour of bigger spaceships only wanted a slight size increase initially, doing so didn’t come without risks and would set a precedent to continue this trend. It would distract the engineers from focusing on a real solution to make space travel affordable for billions, within the realms of physics.

Passengers started to become desperate for a solution and many of them feared that space travel would become like the already existing global infrastructure, in which travel opportunities were at the whim of a few corporations. While this would definitely help the globalisation of space travel in the short term, it would never be able to accommodate everyone. There is after all a physical limit to how large we can eventually build the spaceships. Sadly many seemed to ignore this simple truth and assumed that the engineers would rapidly solve that problem too.

Going from zero to one again

Meanwhile the vast majority of the engineers felt like we needed to make better use of Satoshi’s space travel technology before focussing on globalisation. Satoshi had initially described ways to do this in the early years, but never got around to building them.

The most promising of these innovations is to create stations in space. In these we could fill up the spaceships much quicker and launch them without gravity holding us back, from more launchpads than on earth. This lightweight structure would enable many innovations that weren’t possible back on earth.

There is only one innovation needed to allow us to begin experimenting with these space stations outside of our simulations on earth, we’ll call it SegSpace.

The initial idea behind SegSpace was an optimisation to ensure everyone would be safe on board the spaceships, but as the engineers worked on it, they discovered it could optimise other problems too. These extra optimisations would even create space for more passengers, with minimal consequences for the launchpads. This would buy the engineers some time to get the space stations operational, while releasing other optimisations building on top of SegSpace that would allow more passengers as well.

The opponents of this vision, some of the passengers and spaceship operators, felt like after a year of rigorous testing, SegSpace probably still wouldn’t guarantee everyone to be safe on board, let alone the other innovations building on top of it. Additionally, they argued it would take far too long to get the space stations operational and they really wanted the permanent ability to make space travel possible in ever growing spaceships and launchpads, to constantly meet immediate demand.

Instead of trying to overtake the spaceships and launchpads by force, they had the option to create their own space travel program, they didn’t do so. They wanted to build on the success that the initial program already created and didn’t want to create confusion among passengers about what the real space program was.

Recent events

The lack of support from the majority of the passengers made the minority louder than ever before to get their larger spaceships. They began to spend money on billboards and accused the voluntary engineers of being insiders from corporations. As things started to get out of hand, some community managers began to silence them, which lead to more fighting.

Now people began to hold personal grudges and generalised everyone with a different vision of how to get to the moon, which lead to many people being unfairly treated everywhere and a stalemate in progress.

Some people began to call the engineers away from their work to negotiate with the community managers to allow more freedom of speech. This didn’t help much in their progress towards the space stations and other optimisations. It also wasn’t the kind of work they volunteered for in the first place. There were only so many engineers capable of working on space travel and having them resolve conflicts among passengers seemed like a very inefficient way of getting to the moon.

The engineers did begin to realise that they hadn’t always communicated as well as they could have. This originated from several reasons, one being the intended lack of central coordination, another being human traits.

This week

While the vocal minority was ramping up their efforts to get the larger spaceships ready, someone suddenly exploited a weakness in their adapted launchpads and rendered all of them inoperable within an hour. Years ago Satoshi had foreseen variations of launchpads as a menace to space travel, and his prophecy came true. Strangely this part of Satoshi’s vision had been segregated from the rest by the vocal minority for unknown reasons.

This incident brought to light the delicate engineering processes required to make space travel secure at scale and made many people reconsider what would be the best way to get us to the moon. Many envisioned what would have happened to space travel had we all been using the new space travel program.

What the space travel enthusiasts will ultimately agree on remains to be seen… Will they come to the conclusion that all of us want to eventually get to the moon? Will they revert to conversing in calm and respectful ways and realise that personal grudges help nobody? Will they realise that we will need to pull off another Satoshi-like feat to make space travel scalable for billions of people? Will they reconsider the viable SegSpace solution that’s on the table to buy more time? 
Find out soon…

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Sam Wouters’s story.