Bitcoin : a form of electrical matter

Elliot Vaucher

“What scarce objects provide is a straightforward basis for implementing, in an intuitively secure way, the anonymous commodity exchange economies formalised in microeconomics in a P2P fashion on the Internet.” Nick Szabo.

Attending “Internet ways of networking” seminar

Thanks to the Internet Society, I had the chance to attend a series of webinars concerning Internet ways of networking. It was the first time I was following one of the numerous Internet Society’s initiatives. It was interesting. I had the opportunity to learn about the philosophy that underlies the Internet as an ongoing project.

Most of us, in the civil society, as laymen, not knowing much about the infrastructure on which all of our modern societies rely, often forget that there was a time when TCP/IP, HTTP, and other networking standards and protocols didn’t even exist. Engineers, philosophers, thinkers, had to come together to thoroughly think about a way to connect computers to one another, enabling communications between machines which, at that time, were merely ultra specialised super-calculators used only by a bunch of very patient people.

It took a lot of imagination to think that these machines could talk to each other. One article by Licklider and Taylor, that I was reading at that time, dated from 1968, offered me a glimpse into a time when vision and foresight had at least as much power as technical abilities. Today, when we think about the Internet, we mostly think of ways of preserving it as a neutral information transfer protocol. What I found essential in the Internet ways of networking seminar is the idea that we, as a society, must preserve the fundamental philosophy of the 1990’s Internet pioneers : namely, a fair, reliable, and worldwide communication protocol. But that’s only the first step.

The next one is to envision the future. We must secure, preserve, and maintain the Internet network because it’s the infrastructure on which further networking protocols can thrive. But we must also think further. And that’s the object of my paper.

I’m working on a paper describing the Bitcoin protocol as new layer enabling us to transfer value via the Internet infrastructure. There’s nothing new about this view on Bitcoin. It’s basically exactly what a computer scientist such as Nick Szabo has been saying for the last ten years, at least. I’m not inventing anything. I’m trying to make sense of a new paradigm in computer networking capabilities. I’m trying to push Bitcoin further. We must give credit to all of the cryptographers that worked together since the 1980 to put all of Bitcoin’s pieces together : SHA-256, Hashcash, bitgold, b-money, DigiCash, trusted digital time stamping, Merkle trees and so on.

But now that the technology is out in the open. Now that it’s working, everyday, since 2010, we must envision its full potential. Bitcoin is more than digital cash. It’s a form of electrical matter. As Nick Szabo put it, it is a way of creating digital scarce objects.

At first, Internet offered us a way of transmitting information. It could offer us a way of transferring scarce objects. Obviously, scarce objects aren’t very interesting in a world where their existence is trapped in a laptop screen. But imagine this technology being linked to holographic displays, glasses, or lenses. Bitcoin would then be the protocol on which we would send and exchange these scarce objects.

Some of you might think : yeah… Sure… But the real question you should ask yourself is : what would you have said to anyone working on the Arpanet in 1966…

Lausanne, 28.06.21.

Elliot Vaucher

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