Meaning and value to hold an engineer and academia Bitcoin conference in Tokyo: toward Scaling Bitcoin 2018 Tokyo

On November 4 and 5, 2017, the Scaling Bitcoin 2017, which is the latest event of the series of international conference among Bitcoin engineers and academia, was held at Stanford University, California, USA. This is one of the biggest conferences which collect over 300 engineers and academic researchers to discuss purely technology topics with eliminating business, financial and political interest. For example, the original proposal of Segregated Witness (SegWit) was accepted by program committee of the 2nd Scaling Bitcoin Hong Kong, then engineer community applied this technology to Bitcoin specification. At the end of Scaling Bitcoin 2017, it was disclosed that the venue for 2018 will be Tokyo. The conference date will be fall, almost same as this year, and BASE (Blockchain Academic Synagized Environment) alliance, a Japanese neutral academic alliance for Blockchain research established by Keio University SFC laboratory and Institute of Industrial Science of the University of Tokyo, will be an academic host. It is great honor to hold Scaling Bitcoin workshop in Japan, where there are many activities on Bitcoin and Blockchain. It will be a great opportunity for Japanese engineers and researchers to broadcast their activities to global scale.

Reason why Scaling Bitcoin was born and its meaning

The first Scaling Bitcoin workshop was held in Montreal, Canada in September 2015. One of the main reason why this workshop was born was, as indicated the word “Scaling” in its title, solving scalability issues of Bitcoin became a front burner issue. On the other hand, the situation was far from solving this issue. Some of approaches to solve scalability issue may discount essential “decentralization” philosophy of Bitcoin. Many technical and political debate arise from financial incentive, because technical modifications may dramatically change the Bitcoin’s exchange rate to fiat currency. They disturbed and are still disturbing sound technical discussions to solve the problem. Thus, it was needed to initiate a place to discuss pure engineering and technology issues without business and financial incentives, with adding contributions from academia, then facilitate more sound and trustable technology development. Scaling Bitcoin begun as a place to meet and discuss among Bitcoin engineer and academic researchers from this background.

One of the essential principle of Scaling Bitcoin is “No debate, no decision.” In the development of decentralized Bitcoin, the technical specifications are formed by community oriented rough-consensus process. This principle aims to prevent any debate from any economical/political interest and bias.

In the web page of Scaling Bitcoin, there is following sentences.

This may be considered as similar in intent and process to the NIST-SHA3 design process where performance and security were in a trade-off for a security critical application.

The process, progress of NIST-SHA3 competition and how its philosophy can be applied to Bitcoin development process was presented by me at the first Scaling Bitcoin workshop. The main difference against NIST-SHA3 process is, there is a centralized authority (NIST) in the case of hash standard, but there is no such authority in the case of Bitcoin. For SHA-3 competition, researchers and engineers took over 7 years in defining required specification of new hash function, collecting new proposals from all over the world, doing rigorous security evaluation and software/hardware performance evaluation for 64 candidates, and deciding the winner by transparent competition process. Essence of this process is effective to the development of Bitcoin technology. Scaling Bitcoin workshop is quite valuable as a place to do such sound and transparent technology discussions.

Neutrality needed now

As wrote in the beginning of this article, we have much concern on Bitcoin and blockchain such that they are subject to be affected from business and financial interests, because the data can be exchanged to fiat currency. Scaling Bitcoin itself is not independent from such concern. We cannot deny existence of possibility such that immature projects and ICO projects to take advantage of Scaling Bitcoin to raise their reputation, and some immature companies tries to discount the value of the neural discussion and philosophy of the Scaling Bitcoin by becoming sponsor. Currently, Bitcoin’s exchange rate to fiat currency becomes incredibly high and huge amount of money is cast to ICO project. Apart from such noise, topics regarding Bitcoin’s exchange rate to fiat is out of scope, and discussion from economic interests are not allowed. Additionally, discussions from government and centralization viewpoint are not preferred, with considering the reason why Bitcoin was born. Hence, it is a big challenge to keep neutrality in the Bitcoin space, where economic interest grows day by day.

In this sense, it makes much sense that BASE alliance becomes the academic host. BASE alliance is established to become a neutral academic alliance for Blockchain research by university which is independent from specific economic interests. The neutrality of BASE alliance is one of the important factors to decide the venue of next Scaling Bitcoin. It is responsibility of Japan to keep neutrality of Scaling Bitcoin from viewpoint of economic/political interests with help of BASE alliance.

In the Scaling Bitcoin web page, following three groups are indicated as participants who should attend.

  • Engineers (related areas of expertise)
  • Academics with research in related areas
  • Journalists affiliated with technical publications

Participants are not limited to above, but we need to make this place for sound and neutral discussions, with broadening Japanese Bitcoin and Blockchain base.

Things needed to decentralized community

As described before, there is certain form of standardization process and governance when we have standardization authority as NIST. However, it is difficult to keep soundness of the process and governance when a decentralized community forms technical specifications. Internet technologies are standardized in IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) and rough-consensus process is used here. It took long years to make the IETF governance mature, and we still need continuous efforts to keep its soundness. I’m not sure if we can directly apply the IETF style to Bitcoin and blockchain technology, but I’m sure that we need to establish some kind of style. It is needed for Scaling Bitcoin Tokyo to contribute maturing the process.

Unfortunately, the Bitcoin community is still not strong and fragile. Scaling Bitcoin indicates strict Code of Conduct from the beginning of the series of workshop. Especially, privacy of participants is strongly considered; no photo and video which record participants are not allowed, and Chatham House rule is applied to all discussions. Any advertisement and promotions are prohibited. Though it is desired better rules are formed, I hope Scaling Bitcoin 2018 Tokyo will contribute as a big step to establish fine ecosystem of decentralized blockchain community.

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