Saturday 13th December 2014

The Dawn of Trustworthy Computing

“Block chain computer” (not just “block chain”) & “fiduciary code” very helpful concepts for building mental model – Richard Gendal Brown

The most elegant explanation of on-chain computing, well, ever. By Nick Szabo – Stephan Tual

This Nick Szabo post on the ‘rise of trustworthy computing’ is one of the top 10 things I have read on blockchains – Antonis Polemitis

The most important breakthrough in computing since the Internet. “The Dawn of Trustworthy Computing” by Nick Szabo – Bill Barhydt

This new Nick Szabo article “The dawn of trustworthy computing” is a roadmap to about a dozen new companies – BTCplainEnglish

Today’s computers are not very trustworthy, but they are so astronomically faster than humans at so many important tasks that we use them heavily anyway. We reap the tremendous benefits of computers and public networks at large costs of identity fraud and other increasingly disastrous attacks.

Recently developed and developing technology, often called “the block chain”, is starting to change this.

A block chain computer is a virtual computer, a computer in the cloud, shared across many traditional computers and protected by cryptography and consensus technology. A Turing-complete block chain with large state gives us this shared computer.

QuixCoin is a recent and Ethereum is a current project that has implemented such a scheme. These block chain computers will allow us to put the most crucial parts of our online protocols on a far more reliable and secure footing, and make possible fiduciary interactions that we previously dared not do on a global network

Much as pocket calculators pioneered an early era of limited personal computing before the dawn of the general-purpose personal computer, Bitcoin has pioneered the field of trustworthy computing with a partial block chain computer.

Bitcoin has implemented a currency in which someone in Zimbabwe can pay somebody in Albania without any dependence on local institutions, and can do a number of other interesting trust-minimized operations, including multiple signature authority. But the limits of Bitcoin’s language and its tiny memory mean it can’t be used for most other fiduciary applications, the most obvious example being risk pools that share collateral across a pool of financial instruments.

A block-chain computer, in sharp contrast to a web server, is shared across many such traditional computers controlled by dozens to thousands of people. By its very design each computer checks each other’s work, and thus a block chain computer reliably and securely executes our instructions up to the security limits of block chain technology, which is known formally as anonymous and probabilistic Byzantine consensus (sometimes also called Nakamoto  consensus).

Trust-minimized code means you can trust the code without trusting the owners of any particular remote computer. Regardless of where any of the computers or their owners are, the block chain computer they share will execute as reliably and securely as consensus technology allows, up to the aforementioned limits. This is an extremely high level of reliability, and a very high level of security, compared to web server technology.

While there is much futurism in many block chain discussions, including many trying to solve problems that aren’t actually solved by the block chain, I will generally stick to low-hanging fruit that could be usefully implemented on Quixcoin, Ethereum, or similar technology in the near future, often interfacing to still necessary parts of traditional protocols and institutions rather than trying to reinvent and replace them in whole – Nick Szabo



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