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TLDR: Liveness and safety are two inseparable properties of consensus protocols. Liveness is a guarantee that a protocol will do something useful even in the face of failures. CBC Casper, a family of consensus protocols, leaves out liveness from their analysis. Treating 1 out of 2 doesn’t get you 50% of the way to a full protocol; it leaves you with almost nothing.

The crypto ecosystem is rapidly growing and working on innovative technical solutions for fundamental computer science problems. These problems touch distributed systems, applied cryptography, and game theory, amongst others. Each of these scientific fields has rich literature, peer-review processes, and established concepts and terminology that can be used in crypto protocols.


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Technical breakthroughs happen slowly and then suddenly. People were actively working on mobile computing a decade before the iPhone. We underestimate how long it takes for a breakthrough technology to fully develop and get adoption, but we also underestimate the scale of disruption.

I believe that decentralized computing will mark a transition away from cloud computing and is the next major wave of computing. Some core tech components have been developed for 8 years now.

What would decentralized computing look like?

When I imagine the future of decentralized computing I think about:

  • Physical keys for a digital life: In the real world, we have physical keys that limit access to our belongings. A key for your house. One for your car, your bank locker. We’ll see physical hardware based access control for almost everything in the digital world. A physical key that has the authentication credentials for your email, bank account, digital tokens etc. …


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This year we saw a major spike in funding using crypto tokens with over $3 Billion raised in 2017 alone [1]. I think that token sales can potentially disrupt the traditional venture capital model, but they have a long way to go. We’re in the “honeymoon phase” of token sales, and there are challenges that need to be sorted out.

1. Democratization of venture capital

Token sales potentially open up early access to investment opportunities to not just sophisticated investors but everyone. On the surface such democratization of venture capital might look like a good idea; why should only a select few get preferred access to investment opportunities? However, the regulations around securities exist for a reason. The securities regulations are there to protect the general public from misrepresentation and outright scams. …


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Social Security Numbers and personal data of 143 million people have recently been breached in a hack of Equifax. That’s almost half of the US population. The consumer outrage and media stories after the hack are not fully grasping the root problem.

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian maintain centralized databases of sensitive consumer data. We’ve not opted-in to using their services, but they maintain information on us regardless. These are not tech companies, and online security is not their core competence. Their security practices are mediocre at best, but that’s not the root problem.

Centralized databases will always get hacked:

On the internet, any company that stores your data will (eventually) get hacked. There are no exceptions to this rule. …


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On the internet, we trust the “good guys.” The companies who store our data, who host our domains, who serve our content. Companies like Google, Cloudflare, and GoDaddy have the power to shut down websites or block specific users, but they don’t flex that muscle. Until they do.

Cloudflare recently made the extremely tough decision to terminate the account of a neo-Nazi website. Cloudflare remained content neutral for years before this incident, and they realize why this decision is dangerous. They still made the call to terminate the account.

The point here is not to question if it was the right call to make given the situation. The point here is that no person or company should have the power to make such calls, to begin with. …


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Entrepreneurs, tech investors, and policy makers spend considerable time thinking about the future of computing. In this post, I’ll present my prediction for what the next major wave of computing will be.

To predict the future, we must first understand the past.

Early computers were bulky and filled entire rooms. The mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s had a “centralized” computing model where a single mainframe would serve an entire office building, and “dumb” terminals would send compute-jobs to the mainframe.

The desktop revolution of the 1980s and 1990s was a massive shift away from mainframes. For the first time, people had computers in their homes; they owned the physical machine, the software, and all their data. …


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I’ve been working in the blockchain industry since late 2013, and a lot of friends have recently started asking about how should they evaluate new protocol tokens. Here is a 5-star system that I use:

  1. Code speaks louder than words

When I come across a new protocol token, I skim the website and go directly to any link to the open-source code. The code quality and commit history tell me more about the project than all other metrics combined. If there is no code for the project, then the next best thing is relevant code commits of the lead developers. …


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Eight years ago, I moved to the US and witnessed the election of Barack Obama — the first African-American President. Emotions were running high that day. I remember the tears rolling down the face of an old black man when Obama was starting his victory speech in Chicago.

It felt like being part of history.

Obama’s approval rating is among the highest Election-Day approval ratings in recent history. Under Obama our economy bounced back, unemployment went down, we didn’t start any major new wars, and made serious progress towards fighting climate change. …


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It’s not just the toasters. They have friends. A large group of cameras, DVD players, thermostats, and, yes, toasters are attacking us. They’re breaking the Internet. It’s not science fiction.

The toasters don’t particularly hate us. At least, we hope they don’t. They’ve been hacked and organized into an army of tiny devices. On the attacker’s command, this army attacks a victim.

The attack is similar to death by a thousand cuts.

The hacker is smart. The hacker is not attacking any particular website, but going after critical Internet infrastructure. …


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The Ethereum hard fork was quickly declared a success, but consensus has many complicated layers and I don’t think we’re done with the fork yet. The hard fork attempt provided a fascinating look into fork dynamics.

Decision to fork:

After the DAO hack of $50M, Ethereum developers had a tough decision to make: should they fork the blockchain and kill the DAO or should they let the DAO hacker get away with other people’s money?

This is similar to the classic trolley problem in ethics and the Ethereum developers picked the lesser evil, as most people would.

About

Muneeb Ali

CEO, Blockstack PBC. Building a decentralized computing platform. Princeton PhD.

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