Op Ed: User Activated Soft Forks and the Intolerant Minority

Op Ed: User Activated Soft Forks and the Intolerant Minority

It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.
Samuel Adams

In The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how a strong enough minority with more strict preferences can end up with the majority following their preferences. He speaks of many examples  —  food preparation standards, languages and taboos.

This principle can also extend to Bitcoin and the concept of soft forks. By extending this principle, it can show that a soft fork that has strong support from a minority still may be enough to provide economic incentives to its enforcement, even if the majority is ambivalent.

Soft forks, by their nature, are a form of intolerance. Users who enforce a soft fork are intolerant of some types of transactions or blocks that miners can produce. They will reject those blocks that miners produce much as an Orthodox Jew will reject pork. In cases where the majority is ambivalent and the cost for producers is low to adhere to the stricter standards, then the result is producers keep everyone happy by following those stricter standards.

In Bitcoin’s case, many potential soft forks fall into this category. Soft forks that do not degrade the security properties of Bitcoin, that do not take away from any currently used features, do not add costs to miners, and are preferred by some, would result in profit-maximizing miners choosing to serve a wider audience by enforcing the soft fork.

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Ambivalent Majority

In the above case, if there were strong believers committed to a soft fork with stricter rules, miners face a choice  —  do they allow the chain to split or serve everyone with the new stricter rules? If they allow the chain to split, they must pick a subset of users to serve, giving them less value than if they were to serve all. This also harms the network effect, which means the sum of the two parts is now worth less than the original. Thus, as long as the minority committed to the soft fork was sufficient in size that they cannot be ignored, a profit-maximizing miner will follow them (assuming there is little to no cost of enforcement).

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Miners’ Interests

In a case where a strong-willed minority requires non-GMO, organically certified food, this may not result in the minority getting its way. The cost of production may be too high to be worth it. A theoretical soft fork that reduces the block reward by half would be a good example. A minority may feel the block reward is too high and wish that it be lowered, and only allow miners to claim 6.25 coins instead of 12.5 per block. In this case, miners would give up a significant amount of income to have to enforce it, and the loss of “business” from excluding these users may be less costly than reducing their income.

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Strong-Willed Minority

A third case is when a strong-willed majority ends up alienating another portion of the potential consumers. If a new religious sect required that all food have bacon added to it, Jews and Muslims would not tolerate this and would splinter off, even if the majority did not care either way. In this case, a split is inevitable.

In the Bitcoin case, some users may wish to have all addresses logged in a government registry to ease KYC compliance. They could demand that miners only mine blocks that adhere to these standards. This type of action would be rejected by many users who would not go along with such a plan, and in fact may even take steps to block it if it was enforced. In this case, a split would be inevitable if both factions were sufficiently intolerant of the other.

The Importance of Commitment and Stubbornness

This only works if users are absolutely committed to their rules being followed. Commitment must be absolute and unwilling to change, no matter what the majority does. The most important part of the intolerant minority is to truly be intolerant! If the cause is not worth putting your neck on the line for, it will not be successful.

Some supporters of user-activated soft forks (UASFs) have stated that they intend to enforce the UASF unless it is not widely supported or followed, and then would back off. This is the surest way to guarantee failure. If you are unwilling to follow a minority chain with an economic minority, you aren’t truly an intolerant minority. You are only one with a preference.

Guidelines for User-Activated Soft Forks for Maximizing Success

  • Take away no existing useful features (do not create a hostile minority).

  • Do not add significant costs to miners (make burden for miners as low as possible).

  • Include functionality that users are willing to fork off for.

  • Ensure there is a sufficiently sized minority willing to commit.

A sufficiently sized, committed, economic minority is enough to have a successful user-activated soft fork. While Shaolinfry said that without an economic majority behind a soft fork, it should be withdrawn, I believe that statement to be too weak. The history of intolerant minorities making changes is long enough to show otherwise.

This guest post by Alphonse Pace was originally published on Medium and is reproduced here under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Bitcoin Magazine.

The post Op Ed: User Activated Soft Forks and the Intolerant Minority appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

Op Ed: User Activated Soft Forks and the Intolerant Minority
It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.
Samuel Adams

In The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how a strong enough minority with more strict preferences can end up with the majority following their preferences. He speaks of many examples  —  food preparation standards, languages and taboos.

This principle can also extend to Bitcoin and the concept of soft forks. By extending this principle, it can show that a soft fork that has strong support from a minority still may be enough to provide economic incentives to its enforcement, even if the majority is ambivalent.

Soft forks, by their nature, are a form of intolerance. Users who enforce a soft fork are intolerant of some types of transactions or blocks that miners can produce. They will reject those blocks that miners produce much as an Orthodox Jew will reject pork. In cases where the majority is ambivalent and the cost for producers is low to adhere to the stricter standards, then the result is producers keep everyone happy by following those stricter standards.

In Bitcoin’s case, many potential soft forks fall into this category. Soft forks that do not degrade the security properties of Bitcoin, that do not take away from any currently used features, do not add costs to miners, and are preferred by some, would result in profit-maximizing miners choosing to serve a wider audience by enforcing the soft fork.

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Ambivalent Majority

In the above case, if there were strong believers committed to a soft fork with stricter rules, miners face a choice  —  do they allow the chain to split or serve everyone with the new stricter rules? If they allow the chain to split, they must pick a subset of users to serve, giving them less value than if they were to serve all. This also harms the network effect, which means the sum of the two parts is now worth less than the original. Thus, as long as the minority committed to the soft fork was sufficient in size that they cannot be ignored, a profit-maximizing miner will follow them (assuming there is little to no cost of enforcement).

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Miners’ Interests

In a case where a strong-willed minority requires non-GMO, organically certified food, this may not result in the minority getting its way. The cost of production may be too high to be worth it. A theoretical soft fork that reduces the block reward by half would be a good example. A minority may feel the block reward is too high and wish that it be lowered, and only allow miners to claim 6.25 coins instead of 12.5 per block. In this case, miners would give up a significant amount of income to have to enforce it, and the loss of “business” from excluding these users may be less costly than reducing their income.

Strong-Willed Minority vs. Strong-Willed Minority

A third case is when a strong-willed majority ends up alienating another portion of the potential consumers. If a new religious sect required that all food have bacon added to it, Jews and Muslims would not tolerate this and would splinter off, even if the majority did not care either way. In this case, a split is inevitable.

In the Bitcoin case, some users may wish to have all addresses logged in a government registry to ease KYC compliance. They could demand that miners only mine blocks that adhere to these standards. This type of action would be rejected by many users who would not go along with such a plan, and in fact may even take steps to block it if it was enforced. In this case, a split would be inevitable if both factions were sufficiently intolerant of the other.

The Importance of Commitment and Stubbornness

This only works if users are absolutely committed to their rules being followed. Commitment must be absolute and unwilling to change, no matter what the majority does. The most important part of the intolerant minority is to truly be intolerant! If the cause is not worth putting your neck on the line for, it will not be successful.

Some supporters of user-activated soft forks (UASFs) have stated that they intend to enforce the UASF unless it is not widely supported or followed, and then would back off. This is the surest way to guarantee failure. If you are unwilling to follow a minority chain with an economic minority, you aren’t truly an intolerant minority. You are only one with a preference.

Guidelines for User-Activated Soft Forks for Maximizing Success

  • Take away no existing useful features (do not create a hostile minority).

  • Do not add significant costs to miners (make burden for miners as low as possible).

  • Include functionality that users are willing to fork off for.

  • Ensure there is a sufficiently sized minority willing to commit.

A sufficiently sized, committed, economic minority is enough to have a successful user-activated soft fork. While Shaolinfry said that without an economic majority behind a soft fork, it should be withdrawn, I believe that statement to be too weak. The history of intolerant minorities making changes is long enough to show otherwise.

This guest post by Alphonse Pace was originally published on Medium and is reproduced here under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Bitcoin Magazine.

The post Op Ed: User Activated Soft Forks and the Intolerant Minority appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

Bitpay Founder Stephen Pair Addresses Conspiracy Theories

Stephen PairThis week Bitpay founder Stephen Pair addressed the multitude of conspiracy theories being spread about the company’s relationship with the Beijing-based mining manufacturer Bitmain Technologies.   Also read: India’s Government Forms Committee to Investigate Bitcoin, Report Due in 3 Months Bitpay Founder Further Details the Company’s Relationship With Bitmain Tech Lately, there’s been a lot of

The post Bitpay Founder Stephen Pair Addresses Conspiracy Theories appeared first on Bitcoin News.

Stephen Pair

This week Bitpay founder Stephen Pair addressed the multitude of conspiracy theories being spread about the company’s relationship with the Beijing-based mining manufacturer Bitmain Technologies.  

Also read: India’s Government Forms Committee to Investigate Bitcoin, Report Due in 3 Months

Bitpay Founder Further Details the Company’s Relationship With Bitmain Tech

Lately, there’s been a lot of angst towards the mining industry for not backing certain bitcoin implementations and the recent Asic Boost controversy. Just recently Bitpay partnered with Bitmain to work together on open source mining software and alternative bitcoin clients. Since the announcement, quite a few bitcoin enthusiasts got upset with Bitpay for dealing with Bitmain and its founder Jihan Wu.

Furthermore, there have been numerous forum posts, and Twitter comments calling for bitcoiners to boycott Bitpay. Bitpay founder Stephen Pair has noticed the conspiracy theories and detailed how the company partnered with Bitmain stating;

I’ve enjoyed reading the conspiracy theories about our relationship with Bitmain — That relationship was initiated by me reaching out to them. I had very good conversations with them about the issues at hand and we found we had a mutual interest in developing a viable alternative to the various Bitcoin C++ clients.

‘Conspiring With Bitmain to Make Bitcoin Better’

Bitpay Founder Stephen Pair Addresses Conspiracy Theories
Bitpay founder and CEO, Stephen Pair.

Pair says at one time he didn’t believe in alternative clients to the original C++ code but has since seen a new light. He says the original codebase has improved but believes large C++ software can fold under its own weight over time. “We need alternatives, but in the past, we’ve decided we didn’t have the staff needed to sustain an alternative implementation and make it successful,” explains the Bitpay founder.

The alternative client Bcoin has been running in production for months and is the only alternative code that has been battle-tested by miners. The project Pair says, is an opportunity for Bitpay and fit the company’s technology stack. Bitmain had also seen potential in the Bcoin client, and Pair thought the partnership was a great way to “get a commitment to funding on a sufficient scale.”

“So, I guess we are conspiring with Bitmain to make Bitcoin better,” details Pair.

Addressing the Angst Towards Bitcoin Miners

Another thing Pair has noticed is a negative attitude towards bitcoin miners lately. Pair says the company has been “bothered” by this sentiment against miners. Since the scaling debate has become more contentious, bitcoiners have scorned miners for not supporting scaling solutions on both sides of the debate.

“Bitpay’s success depends largely on miners providing a well-functioning network,” explains Pair. “We appreciate miners and we think they deserve to be treated better. If miners have an issue, we at Bitpay want to help identify the problem and find a solution.”

The Bitpay CEO says the company initiated the collaboration with Bitmain to address difficulties working with miners “head on.”

What do you think about Stephen Pair’s statements about Bitpay’s relationship with Bitmain? Let us know in the comments below.


Images via Shutterstock, and Twitter. 


Need to calculate your bitcoin holdings? Check our tools section.

The post Bitpay Founder Stephen Pair Addresses Conspiracy Theories appeared first on Bitcoin News.