What is Satoshi’s Vision?


Conor Maloney

May 17, 2018

People who aren’t that into crypto might not understand just how… biblical the whole thing can be.

On the surface, there are the interesting debates about the potential use cases, the stories of insane gains and heartbreaking losses ($85 million spent on two pizzas – never forget). There are plenty of interesting figures in the space to provide us with juicy drama as different camps choose their heroes and villains, but the most influential figure of all is most notable by their absence.

Satoshi Nakomoto.

Like an absent God watching from afar, Nakomoto gave cryptocurrency and blockchain the gift of life and then promptly bailed out with their billions of dollars worth of Bitcoin as far as anyone can tell, leaving the community to bicker over how the Great One would have wanted it to be. You have different factions squabbling over their differences in belief, each claiming that Nakomoto is on their side, but it’s difficult to say what he, she, or they would really have wanted.

I’ve written on the mystery of Nakomoto’s identity in a previous article, and in it I voiced the opinion that their absence isn’t selfishness or cowardice, but a conscious decision to create a leaderless movement that thinks for itself with no figurehead for governments to try to take down, weakening the currency in the process.

With no God at the helm, the Bitcoin project has its own free will, and the civil war between BTC and BCH rages without any divine intervention. Whether mining pools control the hash rate or not, Bitcoin is certainly decentralized in one way – nobody’s in charge. The creator won’t weigh in on what the right direction to take is, and because they’re in the ether, they can never be framed or arrested or targeted in a way that would harm Bitcoin. That strikes me as a great idea, but it begs the question – what did Satoshi Nakomoto want for Bitcoin, and if they’re not here any more, does that even matter?

Scalability: Bigger Blocks or Second Layers

There are a lot of issues in Bitcoin, and at the forefront is the issue of how to scale the network to allow for greater volume of transactions as the userbase increases and Bitcoin smashes the establishment and creates a utopian new world order where everyone is free to live in an anarchistic nirvana of their own choosing becomes more widely used as a currency or store of value. Ahem.

This was of course the main reason for the hard fork that split the currency into BTC and BCH, with the former advocating for second layer protocols like Segwit and the Lightning Network and the latter opting for bigger block sizes with no second layer on top of the Bitcoin blockchain.

The arguments for either are as numerous as they are bitterly proclaimed from the battleground of crypto forums and social media platforms everywhere, with BTC supporters insisting that bigger block sizes will lead to further centralization and the BCH side claiming that their version of Bitcoin is the true Bitcoin outlined in Nakomoto’s scripture white paper.

Interestingly, much like any old timey religion worth its salt, there are a number of gospels to choose from. Nakomoto didn’t just drop off the face of the earth after launching Bitcoin, and there are forum comments from 2009 and 2010 that most people agree are written by the enigmatic figure on the subject of Bitcoin.

Dan Larimer Meets The Maker

Dan Larimer is best known for his creation of Steem and the invention of the Delegated Proof of Stake system of verifying blockchain transactions, which is used by cryptocurrencies like EOS and Lisk. Many in the blockchain community see him as a central figure and a community leader, and in 2010 he went toe to toe with none other than Satoshi Nakomoto over the scalability of Bitcoin in a bitcointalk.org thread.

A user named Red sparked it all off with this question:

I’m curious about the developers feelings on scalability. For example, could the system handle a million users, doing say 5 transactions each per day. 5 million transactions per day is roughly 35,000 transactions per 10 minute period? Is there a bottle neck in propagating 35,000 transactions to a million nodes for block generation? Or has that issue been designed for?

Under the name “bytemaster”, Larimer weighed in first:

I am convinced that bandwidth, disk space, and computation time necessary to distribute and “finalize” a transaction will be prohibitively expensive for micro-payments. Consider for a second that the current banking industry is unable to provide a reasonable micropayment solution that does not involve depositing a reasonable sum and only allowing a withdraw after a reasonable sum has been accumulated.

Besides, 10 minutes is too long to verify that payment is good. It needs to be as fast as swiping a credit card is today.

Satoshi followed shortly afterwards with the following rather snarky response:

The current system where every user is a network node is not the intended configuration for large scale. That would be like every Usenet user runs their own NNTP server. The design supports letting users just be users. The more burden it is to run a node, the fewer nodes there will be. Those few nodes will be big server farms. The rest will be client nodes that only do transactions and don’t generate.

Quote from: bytemaster:
“Besides, 10 minutes is too long to verify that payment is good. It needs to be as fast as swiping a credit card is today.”

See the snack machine thread, I outline how a payment processor could verify payments well enough, actually really well (much lower fraud rate than credit cards), in something like 10 seconds or less. If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.

Larimer responded that he had already read the snack machine thread in which Nakomoto explains how Bitcoin avoids double spending, and said that he had had come to the same conclusion as Nakomoto.

So what’s the vision already?

Here’s the thing. An argument could be made that Nakomoto’s vision doesn’t really match either camp, and wouldn’t really have ever worked in the first place. Far be it from me to question the infallible creator of the crypto that started it all, but Nakomoto’s vision, apart from being vehemently claimed by both BTC and BCH supporters, also included something that neither camp bargained on – direct leadership.

It may sound strange in the current climate where Nakomoto is a legendary figure to endlessly bicker over, but at one point they seemed to intend to stick around and lay down the law.

It can be phased in, like:

if (blocknumber > 115000)
maxblocksize = largerlimit

It can start being in versions way ahead, so by the time it reaches that block number and goes into effect, the older versions that don’t have it are already obsolete.

When we’re near the cutoff block number, I can put an alert to old versions to make sure they know they have to upgrade.

In that particular thread, Satoshi essentially said that they’d be the one to decide how things were going to be by “putting out an alert” to the miners to instruct them to change consensus. Yes, in this case they’re suggesting a block size increase, but they’re also suggesting what is essentially direct centralized leadership.

So why the change of heart? Nakomoto never really issued a goodbye, but simply dropped off the radar one day in 2010. Maybe the government got to them, maybe they had a change of heart over direct leadership, maybe they went into hiding – maybe they died. Who knows.

What we do know is that Nakomoto got the ball rolling and gifted the world with an incredible technology that has the potential to change everything. That’s their contribution. Had they stuck around, they may have found that the reality of one figure telling the community what to do would never have worked, and maybe that’s why they disappeared. Vitalik Buterin nearly got skinned alive on social media over the mere suggestion that there was some kind of secret meeting to establish a “plutocratic government” to call the shots with Ethereum consensus.

It just wouldn’t happen. A major feature of Bitcoin is that nobody’s in charge, but Satoshi’s famous vision may have evolved as time went on. Can’t think of everything, right?

Hands down the best thread I’ve read on this is this one where users discuss what Satoshi’s vision was only to be bombarded with people saying it didn’t matter, and that Bitcoin had exploded beyond the vision of one person to a decentralized community around the world. People are arguing that Nakomoto would likely have welcomed the fork to explore both options, that they left the scene to promote community decision making, and that the community are the ones who should decide, not the creator – personally, I agree with all of those points, but the important thing is what you believe.

Bitcoin is seen by many as a self-empowering tool. Money 2.0, blockchain technology enabling peer-to-peer payments and much, much, more, and above all, taking the power from authority figures and putting it in the hands of the public.

So don’t take my word for it – take a look at the thread, take a look at the information that’s out there, and decide for yourself – what is Satoshi’s Vision, yes, but even more importantly – do we need it, now that Satoshi gave us the power to decide on a vision of our own?

Interested in other cool crypto posts….check out Mining Wars: Bitmain vs Dragonmint and The Price of Bitcoin vs Cost of Mining.

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3 thoughts on “What is Satoshi’s Vision?

  1. That first GIF cant be unseen Conor…Thank you. It’s beautiful. To be honest while I do not agree with the Bcash hardfork and the subsequent PR effort to make it “the real bitcoin”, the very nature of decentralization is to give people the power to make their own decisions. Bcash has a large and strong community, and the bcash dev team is developing the tech in their own way, and everyone should be supportive of that. Just not trying to claim bcash is bitcoin. That’s misleading. My 2cents

  2. I find the religious-like bickering over what Satoshi’s vision for scalability was to be complete nonsense. He left the community, whether by design or not, so that we now have a leaderless community, which is fitting in with the decentralized nature of the technology. It doesn’t matter if Satoshi would have preferred larger blocks or 2nd layer or both. The only question is how to adapt his creation to create the vision that is core to his creation of Bitcoin. That central vision is a decentralized payment system and personal bank. His technology was as is was hopelessly unscalable. Without him the community needs to figure out the best way to scale while keeping decentralization. Barring a huge advance in blockchain technology, the only way to currently do that is a second layer, combined ideally with small block size increases whose main purpose is to expand the ability of 2nd layer payments to readily settle up with the blockchain.

  3. Here, here. Thanks for the opinion Todd, great comment. I agree with you that the religious like bickering (biblical smackdown) has reached a crescendo showing the pettiness of both communities. With a decentralized blockchain like bitcoin that requires consensus from so many different parties change will be slow, but that is what happens when you don’t have a “leader”.

    Bitcoin Cash can do as they please, and Bitcoin devs will continue to move BTC forward. And the world may be better for it.

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