Highlights from Gavin Andresen’s Reddit AMA

October 22, 2014

Gavin Andresen, Chief Scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, hosted a Reddit AMA yesterday.

AMA means “Ask Me Anything” – Reddit users can ask the host all sorts of questions about any topic. Reddit AMAs use the site’s comment system for both questions and answers, and are similar to online text-only press conferences open to all Reddit users. Many celebrities have hosted Reddit AMAs to connect with a global online audience, including President Barack Obama in 2012, Julian Assange, Bill Gates, and Madonna.

Andresen answered a lot of questions about technical, organizational, regulatory and political aspects of Bitcoin, and also questions of a personal nature. Here we can only report selected highlights.

Also read: Hardfork in Bitcoin Scalability Roadmap

Andresen chose not to answer, or to evade, some questions. For example, there are (predictably) no answers about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, besides a tongue-in-cheek “Time travelling alien AI. But from the past, not the future.”

Andresen Is Most Excited About All of the Non-Currency Uses of the Blockchain


What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about bitcoin within the pro-bitcoin camp?

That Bitcoin will Topple Governments and the Powerful. Governments will do what they always do — they will adapt (well, the worst ones will fail, causing misery and suffering; maybe Bitcoin will speed that up a little, and mitigate the misery a little).

What can we as a community do to encourage Bitcoin-based businesses to contribute more resources to supporting the network?

How do you encourage businesses to do anything? Do business with businesses that reflect your values, and avoid ones that don’t….

How would you recommend that someone like myself – who understands the Blockchain and Bitcoin but has zero programming ability – become involved?

I guess my advice would be to act like an entrepreneur– try lots of things, expect most of them to fail, but keep your eyes open for opportunities.

Have you been in contact with the CIA at all since your famous meeting?

No, I haven’t talked with the CIA or InQTel since my infamous talk.

Will Bitcoin include anytime soon any new feature to protect user’s privacy?

Do you mean the Bitcoin-Qt wallet? Core development is moving away from adding things to the Bitcoin-Qt wallet, because there are lots of great wallet options (including privacy-focused wallets like the DarkWallet project).

What do you think about possible bugs in Bitcoin?

Bugs in “Bitcoin” ? “Bitcoin” isn’t software, it is a protocol, so that’s like asking “what do you think about bugs in HTTP?” If there are serious problems with Bitcoin-the-protocol, then we’ll fix them. I’m pretty confident there are not any really serious, you-might-lose-your-bitcoins bugs in the protocol. There will always be bugs in Bitcoin implementations. The best way to mitigate those bugs is with multisignature transactions secured by two different “software stacks.”

What are you currently most excited about w/ regards to bitcoin development? And, conversely, what are you currently most worried about?

I’m most excited about all of the non-currency uses of the blockchain’s ledger-ordering ability. I have no idea which ones will turn out to be successful, but I’m glad all of that experimenting is happening. I’m most worried about scalability.

What is in your opinion the biggest obstacle for Bitcoin at this moment? What do you think would be the most important factor in bringing Bitcoin to the masses?

Obstacle / factor: getting to where people are earning Bitcoin directly, instead of having to jump through some hoop to trade the currency that they earn for BTC.

What can the average noobie do to help spread adoption of this fantastic technology?

Use it. Don’t be too pushy about talking about it, but do let people know that you’re enthusiastic about it. Think about who you’re talking to, and tailor your message to what you know they care about (low fees? put bankers out of business? take control of your own finances?)

If a country were to “ban” Bitcoin, how could that be enforced? Is it possible for Bitcoin internet traffic be blocked at the ISP level (or any other)?

It would be enforced the same way banning any activity a government doesn’t like is enforced, with fines and jail sentences for anybody found doing the thing they don’t like. They would probably start by making it very difficult to exchange Bitcoin for the national currency via banks. Unencrypted Bitcoin traffic would be pretty easy to block at the ISP level, but it is also pretty easy to tunnel it through Tor, which is harder to block. But talk to the Tor folks about that, they know a whole lot more about blocking internet protocols than I do.

What are your thoughts on alt-coins role in the digital currency world?

I tend to agree with Daniel Krawisz: https://nakamotoinstitute.org/mempool/the-problem-with-altcoins/. We might be wrong; I scratch my head at all sorts of stuff that people value (what’s the deal with Hummel figurines????)

Do you think the Bitcoin Foundation should employ a cryptographic expert? I’m deeply concerned that Bitcoin is securing billions of pounds, yet key security concerns are not being addressed as proactively as they really should be.

I don’t think cryptography is the weak link right now, so I don’t think a cryptographic expert is the right place to spend money. Bitcoin’s failures haven’t been cryptographic, they’ve been either old-fashioned fraud or plain old computer security failures.

Are you worried about a powerful entity coming it to destroy bitcoin, by running a 51% attack? Someone (a rouge state, terrorists) with billions to just destroy it.

Kind of, but not really. I’m mostly worried in the same way I’m worried about the stuff described in Phil Plaith’s “Death from the Skies!” book. I think we could do more to make 51% attacks even less likely, but don’t have any concrete proposals right now.

How do you see the process of deciding on changes to the core protocol evolving as the ecosystem grows?

I think it will get more formal over time, evolving towards something like the IETF model for RFCs.

What is your perception of the tree-chains / side-chains proposals?

Side-chains seem like they are much better thought out. I’ll confess I still don’t understand how treechains would work.

Do we really need to hard fork the chain to achieve scalability? When do you plan on making the fork?

Yes, I think we do. There is still at least a month or two of work before I’d be willing to write a patch to increase the maximum block size, and then probably a month or two more of arguing. So early next year at the earliest before even starting the hard-fork process (which must roll out to miners– they will control when the fork actually happens).

Do you agree with Andreas that development on the Bitcoin protocol will eventually slow to a halt as more and more people begin to use it which makes it hard to actually change…similar to ipv4 vs ipv6? Does this concern you?

That’s a great question for somebody who has studied how other Internet protocols evolve (or not) over time. My guess is that protocol change will speed up again when some of the startups grow up a bit and have the time and resources to participate in a more formal standards-making, protocol-evolving process. And then a few years later it will slow down again.


What do you think? Comment below!

Images from Gavin Andresen and Shutterstock.

Giulio Prisco @giulioprisco

Science writer, software developer, Bitcoin/crypto enthusiast.