This is a copy of the AMA held by Gavin Andresen on the 21st October, 2014 and provided for your reading in a format that is easier to do so.
- Q: What can we as a community do to encourage Bitcoin-based businesses to contribute more resources to supporting the network? For example, by running more nodes or allocating developer time to contribute to the development of the protocol.
A: Jeff Garzik has a nice post about that: http://garzikrants.blogspot.com/2014/02/how-to-support-bitcoin-core-development.html
- Q: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about bitcoin within the pro-bitcoin camp? (e.g. "bitcoin is completely anonymous!") What are the more far-out, world-changing things you could see happening through bitcoin/blockchain-tech, that only few people seem talk about right now (if any)? When are you going to do a TED talk?
A: Biggest misconception: 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). Far-out things only a few people seem to talk about: nothing comes to mind. Lots of people like talking about the far-out things. TED talk: I actively try not to be the Celebrity Spokesmodel for the Bitcoin Project. Somebody else can do the TED talk.
- Q: Have you had time to look at proof of stake algorithms and what is your take on them? (Obviously I know that using proof of stake within Bitcoin is not going to happen any time soon)
A: See https://download.wpsoftware.net/bitcoin/pos.pdf
- Q: Is it possible to express the irreversibility of a bitcoin transaction not in blocks but in elapsed time since the transaction? For example, with the current bitcoin hash rate, is waiting half a minute after the detection of a transaction more than enough?
A: No, see http://bitcoin.stackexchange.com/questions/4942/what-is-a-finney-attack
- Q: Is it becoming increasingly difficult to say "Bitcoin is an experiment" knowing the massive amounts of Venture Capital and start-ups centered around Bitcoin? Are you considering enabling dynamically sized blocks versus a static limit based on actual end-user activity (like how difficulty changes based on hashrate, for example). Some companies have a phrase they leave in their EULA, that they remove when given a gag-order to comply with some government mandated activity – do we have something like this for Bitcoin?
A: I think in a year or so after the current influx of investment starts producing results it will be safe to stop saying "Bitcoin is an experiment." Block sizes are already dynamic– miners decide how large to make the blocks. If you mean maximum block size: I haven't heard a dynamic proposal that fixes the problem that people are worried about. No, there is no canary clause for Bitcoin.
- Q: You've long been a proponent of the "Bitcoin is an experiment" line of thinking. While that is technically true, so is "Gravity is just a theory". What needs to happen for you to switch from "Bitcoin is an experiment" to "Bitcoin is established"?
A: We need regulatory clarity, ease of use, and no-single-point-of-failure security. I think we're very close on all of those things.
- Q: Have you been in contact with the CIA at all since your famous meeting? Do you think Satoshi will ever make contact with you or the general public again? How do you feel about Andreas, specifically his recent talk with the Candian Senate?
A: No, I haven't talked with the CIA or InQTel since my infamous talk. I don't know if Satoshi will ever reappear. Andreas did a fantastic job at the Canadian Senate! He should do the TED talk….
- Q: A common reoccuring theme within anything related to computers seems to be: "Anything can be hacked". Recent incidents like the heartbleed-bug and bash-bug amplify the relevancy. What do you think about possible bugs in Bitcoin?
A: 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."
- Q: What are you currently most excited about w/ regards to bitcoin development? And, conversely, what are you currently most worried about?
A: 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.
- Q: Does the foundation have plans to hire any more core developers like Pieter Wuille?
A: No, not right now.
- Q: Will Bitcoin include anytime soon any new feature to protect user's privacy?
A: 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).
- Q: How would you recommend that someone like myself – who understands the Blockchain and Bitcoin but has zero programming ability – become involved? I have a marketing-communications and journalism background, and I’ve applied to some of the larger companies without success. I know that I’d like to structure my career around Bitcoin but am at a loss for how to proceed.
A: 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. I don't have specific advice for what to try, maybe other people can chime in with what has or hasn't worked for them.
- Q: 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)? [PS: Thank you for all you do for the Bitcoin movement!]
A: 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.
- Q: What are some of the most exciting code implementations/projects/companies that you've been keeping an eye on?
A: I'm excited about the Trezor (and hope the Mycelium people get their hardware wallet working soon). And watching the spread of Bitcoin ATMs, because getting BTC is still a bottleneck for ordinary people.
- Q: Do you think the Bitcoin Foundation should employ a cryptographic expert? For comparison, Ethereum has lured Merkle and Koblitz, two of the best cryptographers alive. 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.
A: 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.
- Q: 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? Where do you see Bitcoin is five years?
A: 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. Bitcoin in five years: uhhh…. 2019…. I left my crystal ball in my other coat pocket. I think it'll either disappear and become an under-the-covers ledger system that Joe-ordinary-consumer never sees. Or it will be the de-facto currency of the Internet (prices still quoted in your local currency, but payment in Bitcoin always accepted).
- Q: What can the average noobie do to help spread adoption of this fantastic technology?
A: 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?)
- Q: What are your thoughts about /r/ethereum and is there any crossover with what you do and what they do?
A: Pieces of ethereum are interesting. I wrote about this on my tech blog a while ago: http://gavintech.blogspot.com/2014/06/bit-thereum.html
- Q: 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.
A: 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.
- Q: How do you see the process of deciding on changes to the core protocol evolving as the ecosystem grows. I am thinking about the relationship between core devs larger companies in the space and large miners.
A: I think it will get more formal over time, evolving towards something like the IETF model for RFCs.
- Q: Hi Gavin. What controls are in place right now for enhancements/changes to the bitcoin protocol? I.E. when you decide to make a change (such as increasing the block size limit) who else has to approve it before work begins? Also, can I have your autograph? :P
A: "Rough consensus" — I've got to convince Wladimir and Pieter and Jeff and Greg that the change is good, and convince enough other developers who are watching so they don't raise a huge stink. I don't always succeed; see "relay first double spend" https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/issues/4550 for a good example.
- Q: For how long will you stay on as chief scientist?
A: I dunno. I'm starting to get tired of the title, maybe it should become "Head Cheese (Technology)"
- Q: Hi Gavin! Thanks for everything you have done for bitcoin! Do you see any way we could speed up block times? For example halving difficulty as well as block rewards?
A: Why do you care about block times? What problem are you REALLY trying to solve?
- RE: scalability Q: I'm surprised to hear this, with your recent proposals concerning invertible bloom filters. Is your concern that the proposals won't work, or won't get implemented?
A: My concern is that a solution won't get consensus before we bump into the 1MB block size. That won't be a disaster, but I think it could hurt Bitcoin's reputation as a low-transaction-fee way to transfer value around the world. RE: contributing: more code review and testing is always welcome!
- Q: What are your thoughts on non-financial transactions or uses of the bitcoin blockchain? (e.g counterparty, colored coins, proof of existence, etc.)
A: I'm excited about the possibilities. I think a lot of projects unnecessarily mix up the various services the blockchain provides, and try to make it do things it is not good at doing (like storing data). I think the best projects understand that they don't need to invent a new currency. They don't need to use the blockchain as their long-term data storage solution. And they don't need to use the p2p network as their communication mechanism. They should use the blockchain as the world's most secure distributed ledger.
- Q: For someone who is interested in doing development work for Bitcoin or Altcoins, how do you suggest they learn? I'm a senior double majoring in Electrical and Computer engineering and have been wanting for a few years now to graduate and be able to work a job related to Bitcoin. How should I set myself up to work in the Bitcoin field?
A: A good place to start for Bitcoin Core: fork it on github and make sure you can compile/debug/etc. Learn how the RPC interface works. Then dive in and pick a RPC call and write some regression tests for it in Python (see https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/tree/master/qa/rpc-tests ). Contribute to highly visible open source projects! I've heard that startups go down the list of contributors on github projects to look for people to recruit…..
- Q: When will side-chains become available?
A: Dunno, I'm not working on side-chains.
- Q: Do we really need to hard fork the chain to achieve scalability? When do you plan on making the fork?
A: 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).
- Q: Do you think GHash.io's voluntary decline in percentage of network hashrate is evidence that the current incentive structure for securing the blockchain is "good enough?"
A: Yes, "good enough for now." Suggestions on making it better are welcome, but I haven't seen any suggestions get traction and consensus.
- Q: 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?
A: 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.
- Q: How does one "get over the wall" so to speak when it comes to contributing to something like Bitcoin? By wall I mean the feeling of your inability to contribute/understand the subtleties of the system. And how long would you suspect that takes?
A: Start at the edge, and work your way in. Play with the RPC interface, write some code that plays with stuff in -regtest or -testnet mode. (and see my answer here about writing regression tests to start contributing).
- Q: Have you actually used a Trezor? Or do you own one?
A: To be honest, I can't remember if I ordered one or not! I don't own one. I tend to wait for the 2.0 version of gadgets before getting them.
- Q: What are your thoughts on alternative "software stacks", ie, implementations other than "Bitcoin Core"? What are the chances of the Bitcoin Foundation supporting such projects?
A: See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC-E9LVjzJo for my thoughts on alternative implementations. The Foundation has already indirectly supported those projects– I (and others) spent a lot of time last year creating testing infrastructure that is re-used across implementations. Supporting more directly is a question of financial resources and priorities; right now, the Foundation doesn't have the financial resources to do more.
- Q: What's your opinion of Darkwallet's code? How confident are you that Bitcoin will take the free-market approach to settings transaction fee's and getting rid of block-size limits altogether? And is there a serious risk to more centralization if the block-size limit is eliminated?
A: I haven't looked at Darkwallet's code. I'm 95% confident that everything would be OK and nicely decentralized even with an infinite maximum block size. But that's not good enough, so I'm not proposing that.
- Q: Do you worry about people or corporations with a lot of money influencing the bitcoin network in a bad way or in their favor?
A: I worry about that a little bit. I think the key is to make sure we keep 'permissionless innovation.' I think lots of people confuse natural concentrations of power or wealth that come from either being smarter or more savvy or luckier or starting with more power or wealth or reputation with systems that prevent newcomers from competing with entrenched interests.
- Q: What is your perception of the tree-chains / side-chains proposals? Are these necessary supplements to Bitcoin, or distractions from more important development work?
A: Side-chains seem like they are much better thought out. I'll confess I still don't understand how treechains would work.
- Q: Gavin, what is your take on the counterparty/overstock cryptosecurities project. I truly believe this might be the grand project that truly challenges wall street. Thoughts?
A: Really really interesting. A lot will depend on how the SEC (or similar regulatory agencies overseas) reacts, I think.
- Q: Gavin, how do you feel about the available funding for core developers. Is it sufficient? If the community came up with a way to pay you (and others) directly, instead of through the Bitcoin Foundation (perhaps through Lighthouse), would you prefer this?
A: RE: paying me directly: there is a well-worn path for getting a paycheck that is easy to explain to the IRS. If I got a bunch of money from random people on the Internet, I'm not sure how I'd explain that income to the IRS. I am sure I don't want to think about it, so I prefer getting paid in the mostly-traditional way.
- Q: You mention your concern of not having a 'single-point-of-failure'. What are we to do if we lost you as the core developer? I almost see your potential loss as a single point of failure. In what way is Bitcoin set up to continue if we were to lose you tomorrow? Do you feel that the proposed Lighthouse ventures could fill in the void? In other words, how can we best decentralize your efforts?
A: Wladimir and Jeff and Pieter and Greg have everything they need to carry on without me. I'm really not a single point of failure.
- Q: What did the CIA discuss with you at the infamous meeting?
A: It was a lecture, from me to them, not a discussion.
- Q: Did Satoshi Nakamoto leave you with any advice when he handed over the project to you and disappeared?
- Q: Do you use Bitcoin for daily errands and purchases you make during the day? How has Bitcoin made your life better? If you could change 3 aspects of Bitcoin today, what would they be?
A: I use Bitcoin for big purchases whenever I can, and charitable donations. Day-to-day little transactions I still use credit cards and cash. I expect that will change when the big point-of-sale-systems start supporting Bitcoin. Change 3 aspects of Bitcoin… 1. Have transactions refer to previous outputs by a hash that omits the scriptSig. 2. Use Schnorr signatures instead of ECDSA. 3. Go back in time and have the Bitcoin-Qt wallet use hierarchical deterministic keys.
- Q: Why did you change your last name from Bell to Andresen?
A: My wife REALLY didn't want to be "Michele Bell"
- Q: What do you think of the concept/idea of having regularly scheduled hardforks [planned months in advance], to tackle items on the hardfork wishlist, and practice (as a community) all aspects of dealing with hardforks, taking advantage of Bitcoin's still relatively small size?
A: I kind of like that idea. I might be the only one, though….
- Q: Are you familiar with Bitcoin projects from Conformal Systems like btcd? What's your opinion about them?
A: The more the merrier. Diversity is good. I wish I had more time, it'd be fun to learn Go.
- Q: What are your thoughts on alt-coins role in the digital currency world? As a strong supporter of both Bitcoin and Litecoin, I find it hard to believe that Bitcoin will be the only prevailing Digital Currency in the future if it continues to grow and succeed.
A: I tend to agree with Daniel Krawisz: http://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????)
- Q: Shouldn't we consider the "bitcoin experiment" over only after mining revenue has successfully transitioned from block reward to transaction fees?
A: Good question! Maybe… but after another halving or three I think we'll get a pretty good sense of what will happen.
- Q: Do you think that there will SO much load on the bitcoin network, that we'll start seeing the ball in the miner's court's? where they demand extra fees, or alternative payment structures like monthly subscriptions for the vendors who use them.
A: That would be a great problem to have!
- Q: What's the most interesting thing about local politics to you?
A: I think a close look at local politics shows how hypocritical people are; what Robin Hanson calls "near versus far thinking."
- Q: The eight decimal spaces of Bitcoin stand in the way of the "ease of use" imho. What do you think? Thanks for your time!!! (sorry for bad english)
A: I think everybody should switch to talking in "bits" (millionths of a bitcoin)
- Q: Do you plan to add anticensor capabilities to bitcoin protocol at network level to prevent easy censorship in Russia, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia? thanks
A: Me, personally? No. But "patches welcome." Although any network-facing code is really, really sensitive….
- Q: What would you say about storing digests in OP_RETURN (as long as they don't exceed the 40bytes max size) ?
A: That is what OP_RETURN is for, go for it!
- Q: Do you believe that a single jurisdiction will take the lions-share of the Bitcoin industry (in the short term) or do you think it'll continue to grow in pockets around the globe? Also what was the first physical thing you paid for with Bitcoin?
A: I think it will grow in pockets. First physical thing… uhh, it was either Alpaca Socks (the alpaca farmer is ten miles away across the river from me here) or Red Sox tickets purchased from a friend.
- Q: Can you please describe bitcoin in 2 sentences to someone who has never heard of bitcoin before?
A: Bitcoin is a new way of doing money: think of it as "cash for the Internet."
- Q: What are your thoughts on mining centralization and do you have any possible solutions. I feel that economies of scale will produce ever larger mining operations that will eventually be easy regulation targets. Do you ever see Bitcoin implemented a hybrid proof of stake model to combat this?
A: I think once the mining sprint-to-11-nanometer race is over mining will be a commodity. And I don't think it will be economies of scale that take over, I think it'll get more distributed. After all, there should be economies of scale for CPU power, too, shouldn't there? Why do we all run our own computers instead of just connecting to CPUs in some big data center somewhere?
- Q: What would happen and what would Bitcoin do if next year transactions would skyrocket unrxpectedly past the 400 million mark? Reading your comments past few months suggests Bitcoin cannot scale that quickly.
A: Too many transactions to fit into 1MB blocks and you'll see transactions never confirming and transaction fees required to go into blocks rise.
- Q: Do you think bitcoin can be a good solution to micropayments without significant changes to the protocol? A) Under $5 B) Under $1
A: More than $1 : sure, the network should be able to eventually scale up to handle every more-than-$1-transaction on the planet. Less than that: I'm not so sure, we'll probably need a solution built on top of Bitcoin (e.g. micropayment channels established in advance of a bunch of tiny transactions — Mike Hearn and Matt Corallo have that working already).
- Q: On a scale from one to ten, how important is it to implement better privacy safeguards into Bitcoin, and what technologies do you consider as having the greatest potential to enhance user privacy so far? Thanks for taking the time to participate regularly in this community.
A: How important for me, or how important to everybody-on-average? Or how important will privacy be as a factor contributing to Bitcoin's success? Me: 7 Everybody: I dunno– 3? (I'm cynical about most people's willingness to tolerate a little extra cost or inconvenience for privacy) Success: 4
- Q: In a recent interview Mike Hearn said "Some people think Bitcoin is indestructible, when it is not. In fact, it is very fragile.". Do you agree with that statement?
A: I think at the micro level it is fragile. A bug or vulnerability in the reference implementation could bring down the network for a little while. At the macro level I think it is very robust; bugs get fixed. And it is getting more robust all the time as there are more people able to fix the bugs, more implementations, etc….
- Q: Both you and Andreas mention "regulatory clarity"; specifically what regulation could governments instate that would drive bitcoin adoption and innovation.
A: Andreas gave a good answer in his Canadian Senate testimony: distinguish between uses of Bitcoin where somebody is putting their trust ('signing authority') in somebody else, and uses where there is no extension of trust or possibility of fraud. And give innovators some room to fail; it is nice to think that we could just pass a bunch of laws and keep Everybody Safe Forever From Everything. But that is not the way the world works.
- Q: Where do you think bitcoin and general billing will go? I see BitPay's newest announcement of partnering with Paydici's billing platform.
A: I don't know nuthin about billing systems.
- Q: Why did VRML never take off? I remember reading books on it.
A: In hindsight, it was too early to standardize on a 3D graphics format. All the big 3D content creation systems had their own way of doing things, and too much would get lost in translation if VRML was used as a universal interchange format. I haven't been paying attention to the 3D graphics world, I don't know if that is still true or not.