The hardest technical solutions are right in front of your face.

Nassim Taleb had this old anecdote of the sheer absurdity that while the suitcase and other bags had existed for lifetimes, it was only in the 1990’s that people had the idea to put wheels on the things so they didn’t have to haul them around airports all day with their strength.

It reminds you of the fact that while children in the Incan Empire did indeed have some toys with wheels, apparently no one thought to use the wheel to make a simple cart or wagon to use in town or on the Inca’s extensive imperial roadways.

The proper response to hearing this should be the deserved angst that right now, there are make “obvious” technological improvements we could make to improve our lives significantly. Even worse, in lieu of these simple and obvious solutions which have lain hidden in plain site for centuries, we have no doubt developed a lot of inefficient technology to fill in the gap.

Since I was recently doing tutorials on Hugo, a static site generator, it’s funny to think that through the 90’s, no one really thought to invent a computationally simple static-site generator as they exist now. People moved pretty much directly from manually edditing HTML files manually into massive proprietary WYSIWYG editors and web “frameworks” that regenerate web pages on every single visit.

This lack of vision and inability to see the simpler solution has largely produced the slow-loading, content-minimal web of today and the bizarre culture of modern “webdevs” whose diets consist in anti-patterns.

The shame of Bitcoin

Recently there was an interview released of me at Monerotopia with the Crypto Vigilate team. Unfortunately, the video cut off and doesn’t have perhaps the best part which I now remember: our discussion on the possibility of “obvious solutions” that could conceivably replace proof-of-work in cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin, ultimately is a self-reinforcing behavioral Nash Equilibrium that uses the logic of proof-of-work mining to establish consensus while still remaining decentralized. The thing is, anyone who is not a delusional fanboy has to look at proof-of-work as some kind of incredible weird and inefficient abomination.

To establish decentralized consensus, we have to have an increasing farm of the world’s computers performing computations that do essentially nothing outside of “secure the network.”

There is no magic force in the universe that has ordained that the only possible way to establish decentralized consensus is Proof-of-Work. Proof-of-stake is obviously an alternative to it, but one whose long-term game theoretic nature is still an issue of significant controversy.

Regardless, an alien civilization observing us might view the issue of decentralized consensus similar to how we view the Inca who never thought to use wheels to make carts. It will be pretty absurd if most of the world’s computing power will soon be dedicated to proof-of-work mining only for some bratty kid or jaded cryptographer to come up with an “obvious” other way to establish a self-reinforcing system that can verify decentralized consensus that doesn’t require the waste.

Take-aways

  1. Technological opportunities are not just everywhere, they are right in front of your face.
  2. The fact that a solution is obvious and simple is not reason for ruling it out because “Someone must have thought of that and tried it before.”
  3. Never be happy with technology that is inelegant just because there is no obvious alternative now.
See related:
Technology · Software · Crypto