Proof-of-Work Alternatives: Massive electric consumption by cryptocurrency mining

Some blogs and news outlets eschew long titles. Publishers want readers to scan a list of topics that fit on one-line each. But, a better title for this article would be:

“Massive electric consumption by cryptocurrency mining:
An unfortunate environmental nightmare will soon pass!
… Proof-of-Work alternatives are on the horizon”

A considerable amount of electricity is used in the process of mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Miners are effectively distributed bookkeepers, and this use of resources is part of a system called “proof-of-work”. It keeps the books fair, honest, and without an ability for the miners to collude (In other words, they cannot ‘cook the books’).

What makes the process unique and exciting is that this “distributed consensus” does not require a trusted authority, like a bank. In fact, the whole point of the blockchain revolution is that users trust a mechanism rather than a bank, government or even each other.

But, for any network that hopes to become part of the financial fabric, it must be ubiquitous and in constant motion. Proof-of-work just doesn’t make the grade, because it doesn’t scale. The need for miners to prove that they did something complex sucks up too much power. If Bitcoin or any proof-of-work currency were to be adopted for even a small fraction of commercial and personal transactions, it would overwhelm the world’s energy services.

One reader suggests the problem will be solved by the recent boom in shale fracking and renewable, non-polluting energy. He points out that crypto mining may even drive a market for distributed, clean electric production.

Unfortunately, clean and cheap power makes the problem worse. Even if electric capacity were to rise dramatically and experience a great cost reduction, cryptocurrency networks would automatically demand all the extra electricity. It is a no-win game, because mining incentives escalate with an increase in supply or drop in cost.

Will large-scale, blockchain-based networks fail, because of enormous electric demand? Fortunately, the future is not so bad, after all. Although networks, like Bitcoin, currently use proof-of-work to ensure honesty and fairness, it is only one of many possible measurement and enforcement mechanisms. Eventually, developers and miners will swap in another proof mechanism to keep the network humming—and without creating an environmental catastrophe.

Will Change in Proof Come in Time?

The political process for changing the fairness mechanism (“forking the code”) is complex and fraught with infighting, but the problem will eventually be addressed, and it will be solved before electric demand becomes a critical issue. Despite a messy voting process, the miners have too much at stake to ignore this problem much longer.

Various proof alternatives are already being used in altcoins. Since Bitcoin is perfectly free to steal these techniques (none can be protected by patent or trade secrecy), we can think of these other coins as beta-tests for Bitcoin. How so? As the first and biggest elephant in the room, Bitcoin will likely reign supreme, as long as it doesn’t wait too long before grabbing the best technology and tucking it into its quiver.

Proof-of-Work Alternatives

  • One method, already used by some altcoins, is called “proof-of-stake”. It’s a bit like getting voting rights based on how much land you own. This method does not demand lots of electricity—but some analysts feel that is not as fair, because it cedes network control to the wealthiest members.
  • Another method, called BFT Replication was developed by Marko Vukolić, at the IBM Blockchain Group in Zurich Switzerland. It might be exactly what we need.
  • Yet another method was proposed by C.V. Alkan, an amateur analyst with a passion to solve this problem. He calls it Distributed Objective Consensus.

These aren’t the only alternatives to proof-of-work. Ultimately, one or more of these fairness enforcement mechanisms will make its way into Bitcoin and other currencies and blockchain services. In my opinion, the electrical crisis is a genuine threat, but it is one with a solution that will be implemented soon—perhaps even this year.

Related:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

How does the Blockchain ‘know’ you have printed a paper wallet?

Let’s say that you no longer trust your currency exchange to host your Bitcoin wallet and you don’t trust a Trezor or Nano hardware wallet. You don’t trust your memory and you don’t trust your kids. And you certainly know better than to keep your wealth in your PC or phone. That would be downright crazy—right? What can you do?!

A growing number of people are printing paper wallets. It is the ultimate form of security. Some individuals even delete their cloud wallet, leaving everything to a string of hex characters or a QR code printed onto a slip of paper. (NB. You had better be certain that you and a few trusted individuals know how to find that piece of paper!)

But here’s an interesting mystery. If you print the paper wallet off-line and delete your other wallets, then how can the blockchain ‘know’ that you have changed wallets? The short answer: It doesn’t and you haven’t!

Let’s explore a bit deeper…

  • The deed to your house is stored and maintained by a registry. It is housed in a court house or other government building.
  • With a bearer bond, a certificate in your posession is the actual item of value.

But, in both cases, the fact that you made a photocopy of your deed or corporate bond is not of any consequence to others. It is the same with a Bitcoin wallet. (In this case, the ownership record is netiher in a government warehouse nor in your posession. It is crowd-sourced).

Printing out a paper wallet does not change your wallet ID. The paper wallet is simply another method of storing and retrieving the proof that you own a part of a mathematical solution set—That is, you know the solution to a problem.

Your paper wallet is just a copy of the keys to your wealth. You may choose to destroy the other keys, that’s your business. No one knows or verifies that you still have access to your stored secret or how you stored it. It’s up to you to maintain access to the keys. The blockchain only records a transfer of ownership from one wallet to another at the time of a payment transaction.

Got it? I hope you like the metaphors. I am fairly proud of myself for this explanation.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. Last month, he kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Should we ‘out’ Bitcoin creator, Satoshi?

Everyone likes a good mystery. After all, who isn’t fascinated with Sherlock Holmes or the Hardy Boys? The thirst to explore a mystery led us to the New World, to the ocean depths and into space.

One of the great mysteries of the past decade is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin and the blockchain. Some have even stepped forward in an effort to usurp his identity for fame, infamy or fortune. But in this case, we have a mystery in which the subject does not wish to be fingered. He prefers anonymity.

This raises an interesting question. What could be achieved by discovering or revealing the identity of the illusive Satoshi Nakamoto?…

The blockchain and Bitcoin present radically transformative methodologies with far ranging, beneficial impact on business, transparency and social order.

How so? — The blockchain demonstrates that we can crowd-source trust, while Bitcoin is much more than a payment mechanism or even a reserve currency. It decouples governments from monetary policy. Ultimately, this will benefit consumers, businesses and even the governments that lose that control.

Why Has Satoshi Remained Anonymous?

I believe that Satoshi remains anonymous, because his identity, history, interests and politics would be a distraction to the fundamental gift that his research has bestowed. The world is still grappling with the challenge of education, adoption, scaling, governance, regulation and volatility.

Some people are still skeptical of Bitcoin’s potential or they fail to accept that it carries intrinsic value (far more than fiat currency, despite the absence of a redemption guaranty). Additionally, we are still witnessing hacks, failing exchanges and ICO scams. Ignorance is rampant. Some individuals wonder if Satoshi is an anarchist—or if his invention is criminal. (Of course, it is not!).

Outing him now is pointless. He is a bright inventor, but he is not the story. The concepts and coin that he gave us are still in their infancy. Our focus now must be to understand, scale and smooth out the kinks, so that adoption and utility can serve mankind.

Related Ruminations:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Jump into Bitcoin with Intuitive Understanding

In the past, I have written articles for beginners:

More recently, I have written about economics of adoption, tech issues / growing pains, and the politics of a stateless money that cannot be controlled:

It’s time to try something different. The largest segment of society is still sitting on the sidelines. They want to know more about Bitcoin, but they don’t want baby steps. They are business people, students, armchair economists or investors—and they want to get up to speed quickly.

Grab a cup of coffee and view these two videos by the eloquent and charismatic Andreas Antonopoulos. They can bring anyone up to speed on the economic and geopolitical ramifications of Bitcoin—without wading through code, math or gobbly-geek. If you are college educated or experienced in finance or economics, these short presentations are all you need. You can fill in the blanks with your own experience or by checking out the articles linked above. They provide the missing details.

Who is Andreas Antonopoulos?

No one knows who is Satoshi Nakomoto, the effusive genius behind Bitcoin and the blockchain. So without an inventor or founder to appear on TV news interviews or the evening talk shows, we have Andreas Antonopoulos as the charismatic face of Bitcoin. He is intelligent, passionate, incredibly articulate and he is an advocate for individual empowerment.

Like Andreas, I teach a class on the Blockchain, give academic lectures, consult to banks and businesses, write columns and develop courseware. But there is no way to get around the fact that I run a distant second behind Andreas. His voice (and his widow’s peak hairline) are associated with the most important financial development of the 21st century.

I first met Andreas at the 2015 MIT Bitcoin Expo. Later that month he was keynote speaker at the New York Bitcoin Event at which I was co-host and producer. Way back then, Andreas told me that Bitcoin would never become a money—and so, it would never be a threat to national currencies. Well, if these two videos are any guide, then he has certainly changed his mind. Either way, my more popular peer is now in violent agreement with my view of Bitcoin’s full potential, and so it is no accident that these videos will also give you a dose of our shared economic and political perspective.

  1. Fake News, Fake Money (26 minutes)

2. Money as a System of Control (17 minutes)

These videos don’t describe how Bitcoin works, where to obtain it, or how it is mined. Those are just details. Instead, the videos put Bitcoin into perspective against the history of money and the geopolitical interests of governments. Once you have viewed the videos, browse the articles linked at the top of this page. They backfill the details. Then, you will have become a Bitcoin pundit the quick way…by jumping into the deep end of the pool!

Free, Online Blockchain Courses

I develop Bitcoin and Blockchain courses for a profitable venture—And so, I may be shooting myself in the foot with a competitive referral. But, hey!—It’s for a good cause.

Jeremy Boris; Zero to 60 in six months

Jeremy Boris has a degree in business management. He became interested in blockchains a few months ago. In just the first half of this year, he has leapt beyond the realm of enthusiast. He already casts himself as a blockchain developer.

Now, Jeremy seeks to spread the joy (and the potential for career income). Here is his annotated list of free, online blockchain courses, covering all six critical technologies.

Everyone needs a starting point. This is a great one!

Incentivize Bitcoin Miners After All 21M BTC Are Awarded

Individuals who mine Bitcoins needn’t be miners. We call them ‘miners’ because they are awarded BTC as they solve mathematical computations. The competition to unearth these reserve coins also serves a vital purpose. They validate the transactions of Bitcoin users all over the world: buyers, loans & debt settlement, exchange transactions, inter-bank transfers, etc. They are not really miners. They are more accurately engaged in transaction validation or ‘bookkeeping’.

There are numerous proposals for how to incentivize miners once all 21 million coins have been mined/awarded in May 2140. Depending upon the network load and the value of each coin, we may need to agree on an alternate incentive earlier than 2140. At the opening of the 2015 MIT Bitcoin Expo, Andreas Antonopolous proposed some validator incentive alternatives. One very novel suggestion was based on game theory and involved competition and status rather than cash payments.

I envision an alternative approach—one that also addresses the problem of miners and users having different goals. In an ideal world the locus of users should intersect more fully with the overseers…

To achieve this, I have proposed that every wallet be capable of also mining, even if the wallet is simply a smartphone app or part of a cloud account at an exchange service. To get uses participating in validating the transactions of peers, any transaction fee could be waived for anyone who completes 1 validation for each n transactions. (Say one validation for every five or ten transactions). In this manner, everyone pitches in a small amount of resources to maintain a robust network.

A small transaction fee would accrue to anyone who does not participate in ‘mining’ at all. That cost will float with supply and demand. Users can duck the fee by simply participating in the validation process, which continues to be based on either proof-of-work, proof-of-stake — or one of the more exotic proof theories that are being proposed now.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Blockchain can dramatically reduce pollution, traffic jams

The World Economic Forum has posted an article that hints at something that I have also suggested. (I am not taking credit. Others have suggested the idea too…But advancing tech and credible, continued visibility helps the idea to be taken seriously!)

I am not referring to purchasing and retiring carbon credits. I like that idea too. But here is an idea that can enable fleets of autonomous, shared, electric vehicles. Benefits to individuals and to society are numerous. And the blockchain makes it possible early in the next decade. It is not science fiction.

The future is just around the corner. Non-coin applications of the blockchain will support great things. Goodbye car ownership. Hello clean air! The future of personal transportation is closer than you think.

Read about it at the World Economic Forum.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.