John McAfee, Brandon Smietana and the Skycoin ‘Skyminer’

John McAfee, computer security OG and international man of controversy was at it again at the recent Malta Blockchain summit. After insulting the organizers at VIP dinner with a tweet stating he preferred a McDonalds meal, McAfee used his keynote speech to make all the suits and VCs in the room uncomfortable as possible with a heartfelt pitch to consider less fortunate in the world when counting crypto profits.

McAfee’s most interesting appearance was a short conversation called ‘Dark Side of the Chain’ with Brandon ‘Synth’ Smietana, the lead developer of a relatively obscure project called Skycoin. Brandon has some solid credentials according to his bio, notable for early contributions to Bitcoin and an extensive technical background in math and applied cryptography.

Brandon ‘Synth’ Smietana and John McAfee trade war stories at the recent Malta Blockchain Summit.

Whether this was a paid shilling or an organic discussion slot is unclear. The conversation was low key— Skycoin wasn’t mentioned once. McAfee and Brandon traded war stories on kidnappings, arrests and running international borders. Brandon then talked about the libertarian roots of Bitcoin and gave a slightly conspiratorial but fascinating take on the financial elites and the future of the financial system.

Brandon’s unique perspectives plus McAffe’s post-conversation shill tweets were enough to arouse your author’s interest and was the impetus for a deeper look into the Skycoin project.

‘Skyminer’ — a Skycoin miner

Mcafee tweeted himself with Skycoin’s flagship piece of hardware. It is a box containing 8 Orange Pi computing boards and a router framed by perspex and aluminum . The Skycoin team called it a Skycoin Miner or ‘SkyMiner’ and eventually gifted it to McAfee.

It turns out that this device processes bandwidth on a new incentivized MESH net internet protocol called Skywire. Rather than computing hashes like traditional mining, its 8 CPU boards encrypt and decrypt information packets, operating in parallel to receive and forward internet traffic. For Skycoin, the purpose of mining is not security of the chain or creation of new blocks, but contributing useful computing power to a different type of distributed network.

McAfee in front of the Skyminer. Each machine contains 8 orange pi computing boards that serve as nodes on a peer-to-peer decentralized internet called Skywire. By running a Skyminer, people can earn Skycoin for providing bandwidth to the network.

The Skyminer network is in effect acting as a giant whitehat botnet — all the parallel computing power being harnessed to create a new encrypted information transfer protocol. The hardware platform is currently running a new decentralized VPN service according to the project has 8000 active nodes, which corresponds to a minimum of 1000 Skyminer devices assuming 8 nodes per Skycoin miner.

The Skyminer is apparently intended to be multi-purpose in that it can also act as a personal cloud device, sharing storage and computation on the Skywire network in addition to bandwidth. Being encrypted, the Skycoin team boasts that it will serve as the ultimate un-censorable highway for cryptocurrency transactions (either Bitcoin, Skycoin or any other coin).

The Skycoin rabbit-hole runs deep

Delving even deeper into Skycoin revealed a remarkably ambitious project. They have claimed to have solved the problems of Bitcoin and Ethereum, among various other claims of infinitely scalable blockchain solutions (which are well and truly becoming marketing cliches by this stage of the market). It would be tempting to dismiss as another marketing vaporware coin if not for the astounding depth of content associated with the project.

In addition to creating their own hardware platform in support of what appears to be an incentivized replacement for TOR and a complete re-work of the Bitcoin source code, they have apparently also created their own programming language (called CX) based on Golang and an immutable object system for some sort of advanced, next-generation file distribution system that leverages concurrent peer-to-peer downloading of files based on cryptographic hashes (called CXO).

Browsing through the Skycoin website and medium page, I found more information than is reasonable to digest in less than several months –

  • The Skycoin launch thread on Bitcointalk is dated to 2013 and contains 196 pages of Skycoin development discussion.
  • The Skycoin blog with references to MESH networking protocol and blockchain engineering challenges dating back to 2014.
  • A recent series of long-form articles on ‘Cyberbalkanziation’ and Net Neutrality that justify the creation of the Skywire network. Googling ‘Cyberbalkanization’ reveals Skycoin are the only crypto project to even mention this massive worldwide problem and actively build a solution.
  • Numerous long-form videos of Brandon ranting for hours on all matters blockchain, technological, economic and geopolitical, demonstrating a polymath’s understanding and depth of analysis.
  • A recently solid track-record (August, September, October) of well organized community updates throughout the depths of this 2018 bear market.

You can be forgiven for thinking this all sounds a bit much — there doesn’t appear to be any other altcoin projects with a comparatively ambitious vision of how blockchain and digital currencies fit into the current technological paradigm. If Brandon and the team succeeds in pulling off a fraction of what they are attempting, Skycoin could create substantial real-world value, starting with those looking to act as their own decentralized community ISPs.

There are too many questions to list regarding the Skycoin miner and Skycoin:

  • how soon will the MESH net actually generate economic value, easy enough for say an advanced Bitcoin user to employ and route traffic through?
  • how soon will users be able to buy antenna hardware from the Skycoin project store and create this MESH network?
  • how soon will people be able to run their own Skycoin full nodes attached to the Skyminer?
  • how much will it cost to route a typical household internet connection through the Skywire VPN app?

The answers to these questions will fascinating, and I will be following the project closely to see what becomes reality. It seems that Skycoin could be one of the few coins with the technological foundation and real-world use cases to shift the needle past Bitcoin. Intentionally or not, McAfee might have just unearthed a gem, which among all the shilling, assassination survivals and bizarre behavior would be classic John McAfee.

P.S. following the writing of the article, McAfee went ahead and got the Skycoin logo tattooed onto his back, that was also picked up by blockchain finance guru Ari Paul. He wrote, ‘Why Skycoin? If you have to ask, you’ve been living in a fucking closet.’ Wow.