More or less decentralized? For Jimmy Song, there’s no in between.
An author and partner at venture firm Blockchain Capital, Song made that point repeatedly in a debatewith IBM engineer and Hyperledger Fabric co-lead Chris Ferris at SXSW Thursday, where he told the crowd at the Hilton Austin in no uncertain terms: “You either have control over your stuff or you don’t. It’s a zero or a one.”
The debate pitted permissioned blockchains – the private networks being pitched to big business – against permissionless blockchains – the technology undergirding bitcoin and other open-source networks. Billed as a “deathmatch” on the festival agenda, Song was determined to give the audience what they came for.
“Why do you need permission if it’s supposed to be decentralized?” he asked. “There has to be an entity that’s giving you permission, and that’s by definition centralized.”
While Song took the binary view of decentralization, Ferris argued that blockchains can exist on a spectrum. Sure, permissioned blockchains are less decentralized, Ferris said, but their added trust mechanisms mitigate perceived risk.
“Permissionless blockchains do not necessarily solve the problem of trust,” he added.
Song wasn’t having it. To illustrate the degree to which he was willing to extend his point, Song used the example of the ethereum fork following the infamous hack of The DAO, when the project’s developers and users agreed to introduce a code update aimed at rolling back the stolen funds.
“I think Ethereum is a permissioned blockchain,” Song said, adding:
“When Vitalik says, ‘These particular transactions aren’t particularly good for the ecosystem so we’re going to roll them back,’ that, to me, is a permissioned blockchain.”
On stage and in conversation with CoinDesk beforehand, Song argued that every application of blockchain to anything but bitcoin is a waste. “Blockchain is really useful for bitcoin,” he said during the debate. “Everything else has a central point of failure.”
Prior to the debate, Ferris told CoinDesk that he hoped he could make the point that there’s just different use cases for different kinds of blockchains, and those use cases should determine what level of decentralization should be called for.
“Certainly part of the conversation will be that bitcoin doesn’t solve the same problems we are trying to solve in an enterprise context,” Ferris told CoinDesk.
IBM, he explained, is primarily building products that allow large enterprise partners to share information rather than exchange money. For example, today Big Blue announced a deal to record information about businesses’ legal status across France. Trying to find some common ground, Ferris argued there’s space for the approaches of both sides.
“I think there are a ton of use cases where permissioned blockchains make a ton of sense,” Ferris said. “I also think there’s a ton of use cases where a permissioned blockchain doesn’t make any sense.”
But Song didn’t come to accept concessions. He said all the blockchains besides bitcoin’s might as well just run on a faster, cheaper centralized database.
“A permissioned blockchain is an oxymoron because it’s a centralized database that’s masquerading as something decentralized,” Song said.
The exchange case
The QuadrigaCX exchange debacle captured the difference between the two positions better than any other part of the debate.
The Canadian exchange’s owner died and lost $190 million worth of cryptocurrency when it turned out he was the only person with access to the system’s private keys. Both Song and Ferris saw a disaster and yet came to very different conclusions about it.
Ferris brought up Quadriga late in the debate by first saying, “The whole point of permissioned blockchain, enterprise blockchain, is reducing risk,” he said.
It’s a system where every major user of the protocol knows everyone else. “We can put a governance model over that and legal framework around that says: ‘If you do something to disrupt the system, we’ll sue the pants off you and you’ll regret that,’” Ferris said.
Song saw that as precisely the problem. If it’s possible for a governing body to step in and punish the operators of a platform, then to Song that defeats the fundamental point of decentralization.
Ferris saw Quadriga as an illustration of the fundamental user experience problem of permissionless systems because it illuminates dramatically how bitcoin doesn’t have a fallback if private keys are lost.
But Song saw that as its virtue:
“You are either self-sovereign or you or are not.”
Bitcoin does have its powerful authorities, though, a point that was argued by the debate’s mediating presence, Angela Walch, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
“I am struggling with how bitcoin doesn’t have similar centralization of power with the core developers,” she said.
Walch used the example of the inflation bug disclosed in September 2018, in which developers originally minimized its true implications prior to pushing the fix.
“They list a total of 11 people who knew about this. Those people made a decision about how they were going to fix this,” Walch said. “They told a few select miners at the beginning. That miner was given privileged knowledge.”
She used the point to argue that bitcoin’s core developers have outsize power in the network. Users had to trust, for example, that none of those leaders who knew wouldn’t short bitcoin in advance of the ultimate disclosure. “I’m arguing those people were exercising centralized power,” she said.
Song countered by saying that Bitcoin Core is not the only bitcoin software and it’s open source, run under an MIT license that warns everyone to use it at their own risk. If something is wrong with the bitcoin software, users should be able to find that and report it.
“If the goal is to get mass adoption, for hyper-bitcoinization,” Walch said, “Ninety percent of the people are not going to understand how the code works, so just saying it’s open source is not an out.”
Ferris took this point further and pointed out that there is a very small number of people who are maintainers of bitcoin code, alleging that if something happened to all of them it would yield chaos.
Ultimately, the debate circled back at that point to another round on sovereignty. Should users be made collectively responsible for making sure core maintainers aren’t malicious or should they use the state as a fallback?
“You are speaking about regulation and governance frameworks as if it’s a bad thing,” Ferris began.
Song cut him off, saying, “A lot of the time it is.”
Ampleforth [AMPL] To Conduct First IEO on BitFinex and Ethfinex’s Blockchain Project Launch Platform, Tokinex, in June
Ampleforth expected ticker symbol AMPL, announced today it will be the first initial exchange offering to be conducted on Bitfinex&Ethfinex’s token project launch platform, Tokinex.
Ampleforth’s whitepaper, co-authored by Manuel Ricon Cruz, a researcher at the Hoover Institute, introduces the Ampleforth protocol. Further context for understanding the implications of AMPL as a new type of synthetic commodity and economic theory is provided in the accompanying Red Book.
The appeal of digital assets like Bitcoin is that they are uncorrelated with traditional asset groups. But, among large-cap digital assets, there is a high degree of non-diversifiable risk and the price volatility of most cryptocurrencies mimic that of Bitcoin.
Evan Kuo, CEO, and founder of Ampleforth said,
“We see Amples as having a near-term utility that naturally dovetails into a much bigger vision, and I can’t wait to see it unfold. The Bitfinex and Ethfinex user communities are among the best in the industry, and we are excited to work alongside the Tokinex team for Amples’ exchange debut.”
Ampleforth’s protocol receives exchange-rate information from trusted oracles and propagates that to holders of Amples by proportionally increasing or decreasing the number of tokens each individual holds according to the magnitude of the exchange rate fluctuations over the previous 24 hrs.
For traders, these changes in the exchange rate and quantity translate into changes in Ample’s market capitalization. Ultimately, unique trader behavior in response to the protocol’s incentives is expected to produce an asset price with lower correlation to Bitcoin than other digital assets.
Jean-Louis van der Velde, CEO at Bitfinex, stated
“The Ampleforth project is fascinating to us with its refreshing vision to become a unique digital asset and serve as a potential future reserve currency. We believe it can provide a unique volatility profile, uncorrelated to other digital and traditional assets. This uncharted territory makes Ampleforth, and the team behind it, the perfect first project to list on Tokinex and we are excited to provide an opportunity for the community to be a part of it.”
Paul Veradittakit of Pantera Capital said,
Ampleforth is interesting because there’s not another asset like it, so it will likely not be correlated with other large-cap cryptocurrencies. With more traders and enthusiasts entering the ecosystem since the last rise, there needs to be an option like AMPLs, which could reduce the risk for the entire space, and potentially attract more institutional interest.”
Ampleforth is a digital asset protocol for smart commodity-money funded by Brian Armstrong, True Ventures, Pantera Capital, and Slow Ventures. For more information, please visit our website.
Launched in May 2019, Tokinex is the IEO platform of Bitfinex and Ethfinex that brings fair opportunity to participate in curated token projects. It gives qualified participants the chance to contribute to pre-vetted token sales directly from their personal wallet through common crypto assets, and with no personal data or funds held by the exchange.
Tokinex uniquely does not require tokens to pay an upfront fee for listing and following a successful capital raise are subsequently listed on the two exchanges as permitted by applicable law.
For further information please contact.
State Street’s Blockchain Lead Departs to Build Data Privacy Startup
Moiz Kohari, State Street’s global chief technology architect, has traded his position at the custodian bank for a move into the startup world, he told CoinDesk.
Kohari helped kickstart the bank’s wide-ranging technology transformation program structured on a bedrock of distributed ledger technology (DLT) from the point he joined State Street in September 2016. Prior to that, he spent five years as head of technology innovation for London Stock Exchange Group.
While Kohari and the co-founders of his new project are officially in stealth mode, he said that at a high level, the incipient startup will focus on the data privacy space and how enterprises interact with users in this area.
Kohari told CoinDesk:
“We are looking at how best to create a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that allows enterprises to really provide compliance to [data privacy] regulations and at the same give control of that data directly to the users. It will use both DLT and traditional types of data stores such as [Amazon Web Services’] S3. We think this is an underserved area and a great opportunity.”
Data as an asset
Kohari explained that the work he did in the open source community building a DLT backbone for State Street’s custody business informs the new privacy project. The difference is that the latter treats data itself as the asset class.
“Normally we don’t think of data as an asset class,” said Kohari citing as typical examples consumers’ personally identifiable information (PII) or the way data is managed in the adtech space. “It’s about how do you represent that information in such a way you allow consumers to take direct control of that data, instead of enterprises allowing it to happen via archaic interactions in emails and written communications.”
Many of Kohari’s team members have been working as maintainers of Hyperledger Fabric for some years now and adopted the open-source blockchain tech with his team at State Street. Kohari further confirmed that work on Fabric continues within the bank.
“That journey continues in full force and I’m very excited to see where that will land and the huge implications of how that changes the custody world so you can create reconciliation-less systems,” he said.
State Street declined to comment.
Draper Venture Network Selects Blockchain-Focused Venture Studio, GHV to Join DVN Beta
LOS ANGELES (May 22, 2019) – Goren Holm Ventures (GHV), a fintech and blockchain-focused venture studio based out of Santa Monica, California, has joined Draper Venture Network’s DVN Beta program.
Founded by legendary venture capitalist Tim Draper, DVN currently comprises of 24 VC funds that operate in 60 cities globally and collectively manage over $2B in assets under management. It is a global, self-governed organization of independent venture funds that cooperate on investment diligence, marketing intelligence, corporate relationships, and co-investments. The DVN Beta program focuses on supporting budding VCs and exposing them to the world’s best investors and investment infrastructure. It is also meant to be a testing ground for first-time funds and alternative funding models.
“We are thrilled to bring in GHV as a member fund,” said Tim Draper, Founder of Draper Associates and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. “Josef and Alon have a great reputation for networking and inclusion. We are confident that they will be a great source of deal flow and wisdom to the network. We look forward to working with their team and their portfolio companies going forward.”
By joining DVN Beta, GHV accesses a global nexus of business development
opportunities and tech hubs with a local footprint in emerging economies around the world.
“GHV has amassed an incredible, global platform,“ says Gabe Turner, DVN’s Executive Director“By providing strategic introductions and access to partner funds, corporate partners and industry leaders, we will bring visibility and scale to their portfolio.”
GHV’s portfolio companies also benefit through this partnership by gaining access to a worldwide network of capital and expertise while procuring entry into localized private events and exclusive gatherings.
“As a former DVN portfolio company CEO, I had access to DVN’s incredibly powerful, global network and private events,” said Alon Goren, Founder of GHV. “Later as a venture partner for one of their funds, I experienced just how valuable DVN can be from the other side of the table. When we decided to formalize GHV, Gabe and Tim were our first call, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that they asked us to join them.”
The partnership will deliver more exposure to early-stage blockchain and crypto startups for DVN, as well as provide GHV with a larger global entryway for investment opportunities.
“We are humbled and excited to gain access to a vast network of funds and resources that not just GHV, but also our portfolio companies will benefit from directly,” said Josef Holm, Founder of GHV. “This takes our strategy of amplifying and exposing the work of the best blockchain entrepreneurs in the world to a whole new level.”
About Goren Holm Ventures (GHV)
Goren Holm Ventures (GHV) was founded in 2018 as a limited partnership between founders Alon Goren and Josef Holm. The firm has evolved to a venture studio, accelerating six startups and incubating 3 more, while simultaneously producing the premiere blockchain and cryptocurrency events in the Los Angeles area, Security Token Summit and Crypto Invest Summit. Sponsors for GHV events have included American Airlines, tZero, and eToro, and prior keynote speakers include Steve Wozniak of Apple, Anthony Pompliano of Off the Chain Podcast, and Shruthi Rao of Amazon Web Services. More information can be found at GorenHolm.com
About Draper Venture Network (DVN)
Starting in 1990, Draper Venture Network has grown into a self-governed organization of independent venture funds on four continents who cooperate on investment diligence, marketing
intelligence, corporate relationships, and co-investments. Draper Venture Network is a robust venture collective that brings together experienced investors with innovative entrepreneurs from around the globe to share strategies, source opportunities and create value. All member funds maintain independence while raising capital and managing investment decisions. More information can be found at DraperNetwork.com.