The post-Snowden no trust society

Black stele of Hammurabi Code, ca. 1754 BC (Wikipedia)


A mathematical utopia is on the way and it seems powerful enough to tackle the huge loss of confidence in the information society and in power structures at large.

2008 – Satoshi Nakamoto. “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”

Abstract. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to attack the network, they’ll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.

Read the entire paper

2013 – Vitalik Buterin. White Paper

A Next-Generation Smart Contract and Decentralized Application Platform

Satoshi Nakamoto’s development of Bitcoin in 2008[1a][1b]–2009[1c][1d] has often been hailed as a radical development in money and currency, being the first example of a digital asset which simultaneously has no backing or intrinsic value[2] and no centralized issuer or controller. However, another, arguably more important, part of the Bitcoin experiment is the underlying blockchain technology as a tool of distributed consensus, and attention is rapidly starting to shift to this other aspect of Bitcoin. Commonly cited alternative applications of blockchain technology include using on-blockchain digital assets to represent custom currencies and financial instruments (colored coins),[3] the ownership of an underlying physical device (smart property),[4] non-fungible assets such as domain names (Namecoin),[5] as well as more complex applications involving having digital assets being directly controlled by a piece of code implementing arbitrary rules known as smart contracts[6] or even blockchain-based decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).[7] What Ethereum intends to provide is a blockchain with a built-in fully fledged Turing-complete programming language that can be used to create “contracts” that can be used to encode arbitrary state transition functions, allowing users to create any of the systems described above, as well as many others that we have not yet imagined, simply by writing up the logic in a few lines of code.

Read more of the “White Paper”.

2014 – Ethereum: A Secure Decentralised Generalised Transaction Ledger
Eip-150 Revision
Dr. Gavin Wood
Founder, Ethereum & Ethcore

Abstract. The blockchain paradigm when coupled with cryptographically-secured transactions has demonstrated its utility through a number of projects, not least Bitcoin. Each such project can be seen as a simple application on a decentralised, but singleton, compute resource. We can call this paradigm a transactional singleton machine with shared-state. Ethereum implements this paradigm in a generalised manner. Furthermore it provides a plurality of such resources, each with a distinct state and operating code but able to interact through a message-passing framework with others. We discuss its design, implementation issues, the opportunities it provides and the future hurdles we envisage.

1. Introduction

With ubiquitous internet connections in most places of the world, global information transmission has become incredibly cheap. Technology-rooted movements like Bitcoin have demonstrated, through the power of the default, consensus mechanisms and voluntary respect of the social contract that it is possible to use the internet to make a decentralised value-transfer system, shared across the world and virtually free to use. This system can be said to be a very specialised version of a cryptographically secure, transaction-based state machine. Follow-up systems such as Namecoin adapted this original “currency application” of the technology into other applications albeit rather simplistic ones.

Ethereum is a project which attempts to build the generalised technology; technology on which all transactionbased state machine concepts may be built. Moreover it aims to provide to the end-developer a tightly integrated end-to-end system for building software on a hitherto unexplored compute paradigm in the mainstream: a trustful object messaging compute framework.

Read the entire “Yellow Paper”

ĐApps: What Web 3.0 Looks Like
Note: originally posted Wednesday, 17 April 2014 on gavofyork’s blog Insights into a Modern World.

As we move into the future, we find increasing need for a zero-trust interaction system. Even pre-Snowden, we had realised that entrusting our information to arbitrary entities on the internet was fraught with danger. However, post-Snowden the argument plainly falls in the hand of those who believe that large organisations and governments routinely attempt to stretch and overstep their authority. Thus we realise that entrusting our information to organisations in general is a fundamentally broken model. The chance of an organisation not meddling with our data is merely the effort required minus their expected gains. Given they tend to have an income model that requires they know as much about people as possible the realist will realise that the potential for convert misuse is difficult to overestimate.

The protocols and technologies on the Web, and even at large the Internet, served as a great technology preview. The workhorses of SMTP, FTP, HTTP(S), PHP, HTML, Javascript each helped contribute to the sort of rich cloud-based applications we see today such as Google’s Drive, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the countless other applications ranging through games, shopping, banking and dating. However, going into the future, much of these protocols and technologies will have to be re-engineered according to our new understandings of the interaction between society and technology.

Web 3.0, or as might be termed the “post-Snowden” web, is a reimagination of the sorts of things that we already use the Web for, but with a fundamentally different model for the interactions between parties. Information that we assume to be public, we publish. Information that we assume to be agreed, we place on a consensus-ledger. Information that we assume to be private, we keep secret and never reveal. Communication always takes place over encrypted channels and only with pseudonymous identities as endpoints; never with anything traceable (such as IP addresses). In short, we engineer the system to mathematically enforce our prior assumptions, since no government or organisation can reasonably be trusted.

There are four components to the post-Snowden Web: static content publication, dynamic messages, trustless transactions and an integrated user-interface.

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