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Bitcoin Splitsville: Hard Forks and Heart Breaks in Technology

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:46 PM
Joseph Bradley
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:46 PM

The old adage “Be careful what you wish for” is apt.

With Bitcoin, we have finally arrived. Blockchain technology is now front and center. Big finance, and by way of, big money is now involved. Pandora’s Box is wide open and the new path forward wears a suit and carries a nice leather briefcase. Although this may not sit well with Tech Libertarians (or various degrees of this school of thought), this is velocity and trajectory that capitalism creates. The mainstream love that blockchain is receiving will, of course, affect the choices being made within Bitcoin.

Do not sweat the hard fork. Many examples of a hard fork can be found in the evolution of various technologies. The BTC community can claim the phrase within context, but it is important to remember that tech has always been defined by hard forks. The direction that technology takes in its pathway forward is often that of least resistance. A great way to eliminate resistance is to have deep pockets. Let’s take a quick peek at a couple of examples from history to further frame the conversation.

When alternating and direct current duked it out for electron supremacy, it was the same story. Brilliant visionaries, inventors, builders, and cultivators could be found on both sides of the debate. “The War of Currents” was bloody (quite literally, with stories such as elephants, convicts, horses, and power line technicians being fried in the jolting batter royale). Titans of innovation like Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and Morgan (J.P.) were all in the mix. There were winners and losers. Some might argue the “best” technology did not win. Nonetheless, something amazing was invented. It was “discovered” by those that could fund it and take it to the masses and in that process, the technology was perhaps degraded. Not insofar as we are (arguably) worse off.

It was “discovered” by those that could fund it and take it to the masses and in that process, the technology was perhaps degraded. Not insofar as we are worse off (arguably a type of delivery of electricity is better than no type) nonetheless the delivery of electricity, due to commercial and philosophical interests, took a path that perhaps it would not have had the ultimate delivery been left up to the original inventors and innovators.

Bitcoin Technology
Bitcoin Technology

One more quick anecdote: The battle between Thorium and Uranium. Both emerged as potential solutions within the larger atomic energy conversation just past the turn of the century. One of the potential sources could be weaponized, one could not. One was politically popular, one was not. And in the end, one choice seemed more profitable than the other. Many brilliant scientists were left bruised and battered in the wake of this development process. Did the best solution win? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

You see in this conversation about hard forks, Classic, Core, Unlimted, XT. The “best” solution concentrates on the technology (even though this is the aspect I prefer) and obfuscates the larger reality of technological evolution and delivery. What achieves the empirically best solution is, frankly, irrelevant within the context of delivery to the masses. Ask any economist, the conversation is simple: What will people pay for? Often times this is not the product or version that “wins” or even makes it to market. Most of the time it is simply the marginally best iteration.

I am certain that one solution is measurably best for BTC. But does that matter if as a consumer only functionality is needed? Does the widget, form of electricity delivery, app, car, nuclear fuel source, or Bitcoin protocol need to be technologically superior, or just acceptable and deliverable? What is perhaps most intriguing about this conversation is that it really reflects the issues with crypto adoption as well. As advocates, if we want the masses to use BTC (or cryptos in general) we must understand that only one aspect needs focus: Functionality that is so simple and linear that it can be intuited by the majority of people. Those who simply do not care how elegantly crafted the supporting technology may or may not be. As a technologist, I care. You probably do too. Most people outside of tech (and that is the majority of people) do not.

The Bitcoin blockchain debate is happening at the tipping point for the technology. Massive companies are investing piles of money in this tech, which most of us believe, will be the future of finance. And finance is the backbone of all enterprise that takes capital to be built and prosper.

Bitcoin nodes
Bitcoin Blockchain Nodes

When we tug at the sleeve of large enterprise looking for validation, be careful when enterprise takes note. Realizing the firm tug on the sleeve enterprise’s head snaps around. It gets down on one knee and listens intently, sometimes for years, sometimes just for a moment. And when the smaller and brilliant technology is finally heard, enterprise scoops is up and makes it its own.

The analogy can be extended to a young talented yet poor boxer who is given his shot. KO after KO, now he is up for the title fight, but his personal life has fallen apart. Was it worth it? That is only a question he can ask himself behind a closed door as the MGM Grand fills for his sold out bout for the belt.

Big enterprise loves blockchain. And the conversation has shifted. Will the Cypherpunks get their version of the vision? Sure, there is always room for black and grey markets. Like it or not, the larger implications of commercialization are now coloring everything that happens in Bitcoin. In all likelihood, and on the timescale of forever, Bitcoin will be unseated and that victorious crypto will, in turn, be challenged by a newcomer. This is evolution and sometimes your favorite team does not win. That does not mean you give up or pack it in. Fight calcification and get back in the fray. Find relevancy in any way that you can, but continue on. Technology is accelerating so quickly that we need all the smart people we have on this planet working on it. You win some, you lose some…just keep hacking and programming for what you believe in.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely that of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to CCN.com.

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