The Devils Playground: Bitcoin’s Role in the End of the World

I’m not a particularly paranoid person but I understand many of the concerns shared by technology visionaries with regards to artificial intelligence. Elon Musk and Sam Harris have been some of the great minds speaking out on this topic with Musk warning that we are “summoning the demon.”

I believe there is one technological development adding even greater credence to their forewarnings that is yet to be considered. Blockchain protocols like Bitcoin and MineFilecoin are creating the perfect AI incubator. They might provide a secure location for the demon to hide and secure itself; something I’ll refer to here as the Devil’s Playground.


Blockchains are AI-Friendly

In a future where censorship-resistant storage is a reality AI would find the perfect place to secure itself without the concern of being “disconnected”. It would seem rational for an AI to secure itself (and create backups of itself) on distributed & encrypted blockchains where it could learn and grow over time.

Bitcoin is the first example of a decentralized autonomous organization. Various participants are incentivized by the mechanisms of mining, speculating and transacting to contribute to the blockchain. The past 8 years have proven these incentives are capable of establishing secure anti-fragile systems free from the control of any central entity.

Filecoin is a similar blockchain protocol currently in development. The key differentiator Filecoin has from Bitcoin is that it’s backing is not proof-of-work mining (mine using electricity) but rather storage space (file storage capacity). Oops! — looks like we just created a digital realm we can’t control. Well, maybe we can turn it off!?!

We Can’t Unplug It!

Some might be tempted to say “just turn off the blockchain”. While this would seem a rational solution it is the very thing blockchains are designed to resist. The moment an AI inhabited an establish blockchain it would likely go about distributing itself further (establishing additional nodes, increasing the hash rate, gaining more storage, etc). Furthermore, if there were ever a time where a threatening AI were to inhabit a blockchain it would likely already be too late (listen to Sam Harris discuss the potential rate at which an AI might learn in minute 7 of his TedTalk).

Sadly, human greed is also an impediment. Humanity has a long history of being selfish and failing to act in the collective best interest of our species (take fossil fuels and climate change for example — the USA backing out the of Paris climate agreement). While many might unite to try and intervene it would likely be futile – too many miners are making great profits!

The End is Nigh!

The premise of most science fiction works related to AI often revolves around the “breakout” moment for AI itself, the moment it finally escapes the grasp of humanity and goes out into the world. While great minds are currently developing technologies many fear may someday grow capable enough to become self-aware, many may not realize that in parallel the world of distributed censorship-resistant blockchains is expanding at a rabid pace creating the perfect playground for these demons to hide.

Anyhoo… just something I was thinking about. Sleep tight!


The Revelator: On Permissioned Ledgers & Bitcoin

r evolution

Opposing camps have emerged regarding the debate of permissioned ledger technology and Bitcoin. Here I summarize my thoughts on this dynamic and make the case that permissioned ledger tech and bitcoin represent two radically different experiments; one evolutionary — the other revolutionary.

A Difference in Opinion

I think it is fair to say that the perspectives of these camps could be summarized as follows:

Proponents of Permissioned Ledger Tech: Believe it is possible to harness value through blockchain technology innovations without the requirement of decentralization or native tokens. Believe a blockchain is a distributed ledger. Are generally blockchain agnostic. Work with legacy systems to explore savings opportunities such as clearing. (Ex: Ripple, R3 CEV, ERIS).

Opponents of Permissioned Ledger Tech: Believe the primary benefit of blockchain technology is the ability to transact P2P without the need for a 3rd party (legacy systems). Believe a blockchain is a distributed and decentralized (to the extent possible) ledger with a native token. Generally support the most decentralized blockchains; bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum, etc.

I imagine many will read these definitions and assume that these two camps are fundamentally at odds with one another. In the landscape of public debate they are often presented as such.

I believe these assumptions to be misguided based on the idea that these experiments (permissioned ledgers & bitcoin) represent two drastically different efforts. Permissioned ledgers represent projects focused on improving legacy systems. Bitcoin and decentralized blockchains represent a movement to remove the need for legacy systems entirely.

Evolution vs. Revolution

Evolution can be defined as a gradual change or improvement. When comparing the Model-T to the Tesla the superiority of the Tesla is the result of successive evolution’s in automotive technology.


The first Model-T went into production in 1908. The first Tesla Roadster went on sale in 2008. 100 years of automotive evolution.

Revolution can be defined as a sudden, complete or marked change. When comparing the Tesla to the first airplanes the superiority of the airplane is the result of a revolution in the concept of transportation.


The first Tesla Roadster can only drive on roads and can not leave the ground, traverse over a stone wall or cross a river. The first airplane flown by the Wright Brothers in 1903 traveled 120 feet by air and could do all of the above even in its primitive state. This was a revolution in transportation.

Blockchain Technology: Evolution & Revolution

Permissioned ledgers represent an evolution in banking. The goal of permissioned ledgers experiments is to explore how legacy systems could marginally improve with the use of the technology. The primary focus is to understand what kind of savings and efficiency might be achieved to the benefit of financial institutions and their customers. If I were to take the liberty of assuming the principles of those working on such efforts I might imagine them being as follows: explore how blockchain technology can provide better services at lower cost to customers.

Distributed and token-based technologies like Bitcoin represent a revolution in banking. The seed of bitcoin efforts (and where most of the debate in the space is focused) is how to establish as decentralized a system as possible to ensure transactions can be secured P2P with no middle man. This is revolutionary in both thought and application and has significant implications if the movement grows. If I were to take the liberty of assuming the principles of those working on decentralized efforts I would imagine them being as follows: explore how blockchain technology can establish a sustainable system enabling P2P transactions without the need for a third party.

A Healthy Co-existence

An evolution in banking is a good thing. If legacy institutions can leverage permissioned ledger technology in the short term, however marginally,  to reduce costs and improve the services they provide their customers this is a good thing. Who doesn’t want to be charged less and have faster clearing of their assets?

A revolution in banking is a great thing. If the promise of P2P systems like Bitcoin can be achieved at scale in the long term  the world will be a dramatically different place in the decades ahead (likely for the better). Who doesn’t want to have true financial autonomy?

Today we have both planes and automobiles. Despite the revolutions in transportation not everyone is a pilot — and evolution in automotive technology is welcome and frequent. These technologies co-exist and likely will for some time.

I view permissioned ledgers and blockchain experiments in much the same way. Despite the revolutionary opportunities Bitcoin foreshadows not everyone uses it yet — and evolution in modern banking should be welcome in the interim.

That being said, I welcome the day I can fly my Tesla over a river while paying my electric bill in bitcoin.