Bitcoin never had a clear future, but it looks even cloudier in the midst of the unpleasant, yet weirdly magnetic, blocksize debate. The debate, which eats up /r/Bitcoin, has led to the meta question of Bitcoin “governance” - a buzzword that sums up the question: What happens when developers and stakeholders don't agree? What's the best process to address this?
Gavin Andresen, who has a unique perspective on the topic as Bitcoin's former lead developer, joined Epicenter Bitcoin for a conversation on just that.
The podcast took on the meta-meta-question of defining “governance” and zeroing in on which Bitcoin governance issues—exactly—need to be addressed. Andresen offered a broad definition. “When I say governance, I don't mean government. We're governed by all sorts of things,” he said. “We're governed by our government, we're governed by the laws of physics, we're governed by social norms. There are all sorts of things that affect our behavior.” He used the word “process” to describe how to reach these decisions.
Andresen and Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn recently announced Bitcoin XT, a variant of Bitcoin core with a larger blocksize. While the questions of when and how much to grow the blocksize is itself controversial, Bitcoin XT's decision-making process is also controversial. Hearn is to make the “final call” when the developers disagree.
Since then, developers that allegedly make up 90 percent of Bitcoin's commits in the last year released an open letter calling for support from the community to work together towards decentralization.
Bitcoin's decision-making process has evolved over time, according to Andresen, “If you go back in time, it was simple. It was whatever Satoshi decided.” He said that he decentralized that by extending commit access—developers that are authorized make permanent changes to Bitcoin—to five people. But Bitcoin has grown. Today, it interests many stakeholders, including miners, payment processors, and everyday users.
“I don't think any of us—especially those five people—want to be the high priests of Bitcoin. We need to find a new way of governing—a new way of coming to decisions and have everyone be happy with the process and the decisions that are reached.”
While he didn't provide an exact answer, he threw out ideas. One of them by way of Bitcoin XT.
Andresen sees two separate governance issues: Protocol evolution and Bitcoin Core implementation evolution. While the two are tightly intertwined today, he thinks there will be more diversity in the future. “I want to get to a point where there are multiple, robust implementations of the protocol,” he said.
And then there's the probably of finding what opinion is, since it's hard to develop clear channels of communication between all of the stakeholders. “We need a better way for best ideas to rise to the top,” Andresen said. He mentioned that prediction markets (potentially) offer a way to measure consensus. Augur, for instance, will allow users to place bets on the outcomes of future events. Prediction markets have led to accurate predictions in a phenomenon known as wisdom of the crowds.
But despite all of these unknowns, Andresen seemed optimistic. “I don't think it's going to make or break Bitcoin if the discussion goes nowhere, because when it comes right down to it, the governance is whatever code the people are willing to run.”
About Epicenter Bitcoin
Epicenter Bitcoin is a podcast about the technologies, projects & startups driving decentralization and the global cryptocurrency revolution. Every week hosts Brian Fabian Crain and Sebastien Couture talk to some of the most influential people in the cryptocurrency space about their projects and get their perspectives on recent events. Their guests, who range from entrepreneurs to academics, to industry experts, join the conversation from different locations around the globe, which gives EB a truly international scope.
You can watch live Google Hangouts every week on YouTube and listen to the audio version on SoundCloud and iTunes.