Blockchain Q & A

Blockchain

Bockchain is one of the world’s top technology trends in 2020.Here is some important Blockchain Q&A.

In your opinion what do you think is responsible for Bitcoin’s dominance?

The network effects i.e., the number of people globally using bitcoin, the number of exchanges accepting bitcoin, the ease of use, the stability of traffic, the stability of the network, the number of nodes supporting bitcoin, and the predictability of supply, the predictability of demand and standardized mining support

Effect of COVID on cryptocurrency

If at all covid19 has bought about 1 understanding  – it is that bitcoin is a store of value. If you observe the stock market before and after the March 2019 crash – BTC’s value has recovered most of its value.  The price of Bitcoin over the past 1 year – has relatively been stable – despite the market crash.  Compare this with the NASDAQ, DJI, and S&P500 i.e., refer the 1 year horizon plot from Yahoo! Finance, and you can see the difference. Bitcoin has – over the last 1 year remained mostly at the same price. In fact – during the crash Bitcoin price crashed as well, but has increased significantly more.

what is better? Proof of Work Vs. Proof of Stake

Proof of stake is ASIC resistant, and ensures more or less equitable participation by users. There are many variants of proof of stake such as Distributed proof of stake, Delegated Proof of Stake, True proof of stake, etc. Each of these have their own advantages and disadvantages compared to Proof of work. However, on the overall the True Proof of Stake algorithm that is being added to Ethereum as well already live on production in the Algorand cryptocurrency provides an equitable, decentralized mechanism to prove consensus.

In what ways do you think the crypto space will evolve this year?

We will see a huge increase in applications in decentralized finance. The innovations in decentralized finance using smart contracts are proceeding at a tremendous pace. Already, we see that firms such Celsius.network , compound finance, DAI and Maker protocols are creating such a financial environment where they are able to unlock a lot of value using cryptocurrencies. This year will be the year of decentralized finance, in my opinion wherein newer modes of creating borrowing and lending at a much more equitable position is going to be possible.

What’s your take on Central Bank Digital Currencies?

Central bank digital currencies will possibly make the mint irrelevant in the future. It is also possible for governments to track currency flows ,usage and such much more easily with central bank digital currencies. However, these digital currencies are going to take time for the society to adopt. They obviously are much more secure than regular currencies. It can eliminate a lot of black money hoarded in currency notes

In your opinion will other decentralized ledger technologies (DLT) replace blockchain technology?

DLT and blockchain are synonymous in many – ways. However, you can have DLT without consensus or without byzantine fault tolerance. For example, distributed cloud based noSQL databases could be considered as DLT. However, blockchains are specific more technically adept form of DLT and have their own uses.

Do you think governments all over the world are going to accept cryptocurrencies? If so why? if not why not?

At the current moment, many governments are worried about capital flow. I have written extensively about this on my blog. Here:

As a result many governments heavily regulate this asset.

what is the single factor that is preventing the adoption of cryptocurrencies?

There is are many factors e.g., usability of the system, trust in the system, etc…. we have found about 21 different factors that affect adoption and have documented these in our paper. https://aisel.aisnet.org/cais/vol45/iss1/27/

Refer to table 3

If you had three wishes for the crypto space and a Genie who could make them come true, what would the wishes be?

1. Mass adoption 2. Legalization of ETFs and 3. High transaction speeds.

Bitcoin Halvening – will it see a surge in price

Bitcoin Halvening is about 9 days away – and its interesting to see how markets will react in both the short and far term to this event.

The laws of economics state that the higher the demand, the higher will be the price. Similarly, the lower the supply, the higher the price of an asset. In technical terms, price and demand are linearly correlated, but price and supply are inversely correlated. However, what happens when there is high demand and a sudden reduction in supply. The price ought to increase in such circumstances.

How could it affect BTC price?

Bitcoin’s average mining time is 1 block ( 12 Bitcoin) in approximately 10 minutes, or 6 blocks (6*12.5 = 75  BTC) in 1 hour and approximately 54000 new blocks and 675000 BTC  are created every month and released into the market (mostly to miners who are rewarded for their work of mining the coin). The average trading volume of Bitcoin globally, according to coinmarketcap.com ranges between 2 and 4 million BTC which is approximately 10%-20% of the total supply of Bitcoin (currently at 17.7 million BTC). The people most likely to trade Bitcoin are the vast majority of speculators and miners – who will have instantaneous need for cash in order to sustain operations.

Now, with the Bitcoin halvening happening, the supply of new bitcoin into the market dropped by 50% from about 54000 new blocks mined or 675000 BTC earned as mining rewards –  to – approximately 337500 new Bitcoin every month for the same number of blocks . Considering that miners will usually sell their BTC to pay for operating costs, these BTC mined are usually available in the market for trade or exchange instantaneously, and are usually. This reduction in supply, is a small fraction of the total supply but consists of approximately 0.1% of the daily trade volume of Bitcoin.

Changes in the Supply of BTC

Below, I have plotted the old trend of the monthly supply for Bitcoin, and the new trend for the monthly supply for Bitcoin in one continuing line. The small kink seen in the middle is where the old trend changes into the new trend. Visually from this figure, we see that this effect is really a very small drop in the supply of bitcoin (amounting to approximately 337500 new BTC to not be traded per month). At scale this means that 11250 new BTC will not be available for trade every day. This 11250 BTC is a very small fraction of the 2-4 million BTC traded per day globally on exchanges (as per coinmarketcap.com). As a result, I do not expect that this change in supply (or supply shock) is large enough to provide a sudden boost to BTC prices. Nevertheless, the prices of BTC can possibly increase due to other factors such as global volatility in prices of other assets, etc.

Changes in the supply of Bitcoin due to the fork

Storage Markets and the rise of the Interplanetary file system (IPFS)

Data storage has evolved from the state of being hyper-local (on computers, disks, storage server, etc.) to the cloud. However, each of these storage mechanisms have a few points of failure (e.g., data being accidentally deleted, removed or disk failure), Similarly on the cloud issues of data privacy, who has access, etc. pervade. The interplanetary file system (IPFS) is a protocol that attempts to solve this problem. It supports all kinds of data storage and enables people to store and delete data from the network. The white paper for this protocol currently in a version can be obtained here.

IPFS System

The IPFS system, while decentralizing storage (i.e., providing similar functionality) as cloud storage nevertheless is responsible for several web-3 applications such as in social networking (akasha.world), balance3 (accounting software), etc. a full list of IPFS adopters given here. That being said, IPFS which is currently still at its infancy needs incentives to keep the network running and to prevent users from deleting/taking storage offline. While deep incentive protocols such as Filecoin are being developed , it is important to note that while secure data storage – while technically feasible in terms of cryptography and access control, needs network behaviors to alter i.e., service providers who are incentivized should also be penalized if they take services offline or disconnect from the network willingly. However, there could be many more conditions like power failures, network failures, etc. all of which are not decentralized.

Challenges abound for such a storage Market

  • Will supply and demand be ever balanced in this new ecosystem?
  • More challenging is the fact to determine how much of an incentive will keep these networks for storage active and running. What will happen if a storage service provider has recouped his operating costs with a huge profit margin, and decides to stop this business?
  • How will data be migrated especially when there are large single providers who provide for most of the storage?
  • What will happen to networks when large investors with the financial capability to invest in storage and provide services onboard onto these networks?

How will such networks be incentivized to remain neutral and decentralized?

Most important of all – for IPFS and decentralized storage to become a reality, this four things need to happen-

  1. Cost of the service should be significantly lower (atleast by 90%) for a switch to happen from cloud based services.
  2. Reliability of service – i.e., such a service needs to at least be as reliable as today’s cloud service and
  3. Security of data should be significantly proven safe against all types of attacks.
  4. Speed – the speed of access, retrieval, replication and backup should be proven to compete with existing cloud based services.

Off these four things , significant development has been made with respect to security – by means of cryptographic hashing of data and provision of access through keys managed only by the owner. The other three services are market driven and will take time to develop.

On the overall, IPFS is a promising alternative to existing centralized storage systems and can solve a lot of today’s monopolistic market problems. However, it remains to be seen if markets adopt it at a pace that makes it financially viable for the retail consumer.

The effects of Stimulus money on Cryptocurrency value

Most governments have been giving their citizens, institutions and others large amounts of stimulus money. For example, the USA provided a large stimulus package. This money comes by two means 1) New amounts of money issued by the Federal reserve and printed by the Mint, and, 2) money borrowed from investors from around the world who purchase US Treasury bonds which have been rated as AAA due to their ability to guarantee returns to users. With both (1) and (2) there is a sudden influx of money – about 2 trillion dollars from treasury bonds and about 600 billion dollars in newly printed money in circulation. This provides liquidity to institutions who need it, citizens who are in dire need, etc and comes as a succor. Such such large amounts of money suddenly gets into the economy – in the short term causes much needed relief to individuals needing them. The following link shows where this money comes from.

Based on this -logic – what would happen to the value of cryptocurrencies, that are in such short supply (rather constant supply)?

For example, Bitcoin before the global pandemic was trading at around 8000$. Now suddenly the true value of the fiat currency has dropped by some percentage points – owing to the sudden stimulus package by means of printing and borrowing money.

For the sake of ease of understanding I define 2 terms. Pre-stimulus dollar value (PDV) and post-stimulus dollar value(ODV). The pre-stimulus dollar value can be thought of as the amount of goods 1$ can buy you, before the stimulus package was rolled out into the economy. The post-stimulus dollar value can be thought off as the amount of goods 1$ can buy you, after the stimulus package money is rolled out into the economy. This event of rolling out the stimulus package into the economy in terms of grants, money transfers, aids to essential businesses, and institutions will take anywhere between 3 and 6 months time. The idea here is that the ratio of pre-stimulus dollar value to post-stimulus dollar value is greater than 1, because suddenly we have money created through printing, and borrowing and not actual economic activity as in production of goods and services. I call this ratio the

Stimulus dollar value ratio (SDVR) = Pre-stimulus dollar value(PDV)/Post-stimulus dollar value(ODV)

During normal inflation adjusted times, this ratio is usually 1.05 for a normal inflation adjusted dollar when inflation is 5% over a 1 year time horizon. However, now the stimulus money could increase this ratios from about 1.05 to anywhere between 1.1 and 2.0. In the below figure using a graph that calculates varying SDVRs, I calculate the true value of the BTC in terms of the post-stimulus dollar value. I assume a constant BTC price of 8000$ prior to the stimulus package being rolled out. This combined with BTC halving and India’s opening up of the crypto-economy allowing citizens to convert fiat to Crypto should potentially increase demand for cryptocurrency overall, as a digital store of value. It is yet to be seen when value will rise in markets to reflect the SDVR’s true impact on price. It is important to note that prior to BTC dropping from 20000$ to 6000$ India allowed cryptocurrency trading and 11% of the world’s cryptocurrencies were owned by Indian cryptocurrency holders according to some estimates.

Pre- stimulus value of btc vs true value

The Effect of a Black Swan event(CoronaVirus) on MakerDao Defi

The black swan event of a positive diffusion of the coronavirus, reminds me of the very first Ph.D. seminar in Information Systems. As young doctoral students, we read about analogues of how different types of diffusion models that were applied to diseases were equally applied to new technology adoption in society. The past couple of weeks if it has been anything is the reaffirmation of this model. An S- like curve forming – We are still some time before it stablizes. The goal right now is to reduce the market share (or number of exposures) to the coronavirus – since the virus itself has a short time to survive (upto 14 within a body before the body’s immune system beats it and much lower when living without the body).

Black Swan event graph

Even as this disruption is affecting markets, the decentralized finance marketplace is undergoing a shift. This week I comment about the Maker Market and the DAI/MCDAI token which is pegged to a dollar.

Marker graph
Drop in Maker token price over this past week.

As can be seen from above, the Maker token has taken a huge hit, and is considering removing caps, since maker contract margins of 1/3rd is no longer sufficient to with hold the token from sliding. This means that one can withdraw approximately 1 ETH worth of DAI for 1.5 ETH held as a collateral in the contract. However, subsequently if ETH price in USD fell below 2/3rd of its value, the contract would liquidate automatically since the collateral to debt ratio was not met. When such automatic liquidation events happen the maker platform fee is not recovered leaving the platform’s take in such a lending lost. This happened over the past week leading to a huge debt of about 5 Million USD then raising the concern that DAI/MCDAI holders assets could immediately be converted to the underlying asset i.e., ETH based on a vote from the MAKER Community members. This coupled with the Ethereum network’s slowing down of transaction backlogs on account of large number of users selling cryptocurrencies from markets has caused the shift to the underlying token virtually impossible.

Even this event didn’t play out leaving the platform in debt. So what we see her is a huge erosion in the Maker platform’s value. Either ways , a black swan is a black swan event, and for now. The Defi lender MakerDAO is considering an emergency shutdown wherein they will no longer lend or accept new requests for lending contracts or issuance of DAI.

https://www.coindesk.com/defi-leader-makerdao-weighs-emergency-shutdown-following-eth-price-drop

Unlike traditional lending platforms, decentralized lending platforms such as @MakerDAO automatically liquidate loans that fall below a minimum collateralization ratio of 1.5 ETH (or other eligible tokens) to $DAI.

Why Delegated Proof of Stake is Not Proof of Stake?

Why Delegated Proof of Stake is Not Proof of Stake Text with back ground computer.

What is DPOS?

Delegated Proof of Stake Mining was one of the earliest mechanisms of validating and confirming transactions and generating blocks. In this process, a fixed set of Witnesses who are voted by the stakeholders are given the authority to confirm transactions and create blocks for the blockchain in exchange for a small reward. In the case of the Steemit platform 30 witnesses, who were voted on by the Steemit community i.e., all those Steemit users who had Steem Power in their wallets. These 20 witnesses were the all-in-all decision makers for the platform, and it was assumed that these 30 witnesses could theoretically decide on which transactions were valid, which protocol enhancement features could be implemented and rolled out in the blockchain, etc. As per the original design there was a likelihood that at anytime any of the users could vote up or vote down a Witness.   This delegated proof of stake is similar to today’s democratic systems of governance adopted worldwide where the population of citizens vote up their representatives; and if any individual manages to wratch up enough support to control the votes they would then control the entire ecosystem and government.

 Here’s a quote from a steemit post on the importance of witnesses.

Witnesses are responsible for finding blocks, seeding the blockchain and setting pricing feeds and interest rates. They are for the most part silent and you never really hear much about them. But they represent a major investment in the steem economy in terms of money and manpower. With steem, the witnesses take turns finding blocks. But your priority as a witness is determined by how many votes as witness you get and the relative stake power behind those votes.You as an end user can vote for up to 30 witnesses and you can change your witness vote at any time for any reason.
Voting for a witness is a way of saying “I support your work. I like what you’re doing and I want you to continue doing it.”
Conversely, removing your vote from a witness is a good way to let them know that you no longer agree with them or their policies.”

Hijacking the Steemit  Blockchain –

The past week saw a tremendous new kind of attack in which wallet addresses of large centralized exchanges such as Huobi, Poloniex and Binance were used in an attack by Justin Sun’s Tron foundation to in one stroke replace the entire set of 30 witnesses with their own proxies. The sad part of this is that these exchange based accounts that were used for voting were all owned by exchanges which accepted deposits from 1000’s of users around the world. So if one were to keep their private keys in the hands of exchanges this would likely be the case. The Exchanges could take control and could be co-erced or bribed to do actions such as this to take control of the entire blockchain. 

Here is a larger Youtube Video post of the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=8oh6Uw_ZH2A&feature=emb_logo

Everyone is waiting to see how this plan plays out and it is interesting to see how and when these changes would echo in other systems that are Proof of Stake based.

The Staking Business

money, finance, business

Traditional Financial Models

While we have written quite a few articles about Defi, the risks they pose, the challenges it poses, and such – we have never really written about Defi in terms of deep linking with the blockchain protocol. Traditional financial institutions use forms of money to loan out, and in the process earns interest. However, this is not necessarily because the lender is truely earning value for the money – through an investment that returns a positive outcome. Very often the borrower can be taking a loss on the borrowed investment, and might inturn be returning the interest because of the contract involved. There is often no ascertainable way in traditional financial modes of earning interest to be sure that the borrower is making positive returns on the borrowed capital.

The Staking Financial Model

Staking is a financial model wherein a participant (who operates as a lender) can make a deterministically positive return on his investment. For example, a staker on a network can earn a positive interest determined by the network protocol. Stakers on the blockchain network are assured of deterministic returns when they submit their deposits to intermediary platforms or directly participate in staking pools for the sake of confirming and mining blockchains. On the overall, staking is a low risk positive return and cash flow business, where one can deterministically determine the returns on ones own investments. Staking for proof-of-stake derived algorithms is a positive step since it reduces the carbon footprint on networks, and enables a steady supply or limits supply to the means.

Staking platform support

While staking is slowly becoming a competitive business, with smart contracts written by many wallet-based platforms such as Coinbase, there are entire businesses such as staked.us that are dedicated to staking one’s crypto holdings for mining. As time goes by and as staking becomes increasingly profitable, more and more crpto-exchanges and wallets will support it. Very often on platforms such as staked.us, users can earn anywhere between 10% and 4% for just staking their cryptotokens. This is a low risk/medium return business dependent entirely on the price of the cryptocurrency so involved.v st.

Decentralized Finance hacks and the problem of non-regulation of exchanges.

Computer image with dots and Decentralized finance hacks text

As much as decentralized finance (deFi) is seemingly an attractive “alternative” but a highly “risky” mode of investment, deFi has its pitfalls. Most recently this was discovered in an extremely complex single transaction smart contract.

Several experts agree that a combination of oracles for price feeds (that are seemingly blindly trusted), an admin key with a coordinator, a pooled group of accounts and trusted keys – handling real-world fiat currencies are subject to 24/7 forms of attacks. Combine this with a significant lack of regulation of exchanges, smart contract API expositing exchanges or deFiservices, these become a nightmare.

One of the most recent such “attacks” happened on the bZx market using leveraged borrowing. A detail of this attack is given in the following link. The attacker borrowed close to a million dollars – in ether, – converted it to a stablecoin on a Defi exchange, within a flash second he sold it on another exchange, causing prices to drop across markets. Then the same individual uses the capital to repurchase at the new lower price, and then he repaid the loan and took the profits.

Algorand’s solution to the blockchain trilemma

Triangle image with text blockchain trilemma

The Blockchain Trilemma

Most blockchains suffer from a trilemma when decentralization, scalability and security cannot be ensured on the blockchain at the same time.

Firstly, decentralization is defined as that property of the blockchain where all stake holders have access to the same amount of resources.
Secondly, scalability where the blockchain is able to process an ever increasing number of transactions within the smallest acceptable “deterministic” time.
Thirdly, any security transaction wherein the blockchain network is able to process the transaction without the possibility of any form of attack.
Most blockchains in today’s world suffers from one if not two of these issues. For example, bitcoin’s blockchain mining is highly concentrated. It is well known that scaling is also a significant problem with bitcoin’s blockchain – since the maximum number of transactions per second processable by the network has been limited by the block-size, and mining algorithm combined.

Algorand – a Blockchain that supports transactions of all types, including smart contracts, promises to be a solution for all three, through a unique and clever “true proof of stake” algorithm. Silvio Micali, the ACM Turing award winner and MIT Computer Science professor and his students are behind this phenomenal idea that accomplishes all three together.

Algorand accomplishes a proof of stake through a three stage process – which  doesn’t depend only on how much stake a miner has on the network. The protocol that Algorand uses is called the Byzantine Agreement protocol. BA not only satisfies some additional properties, but is very fast. Roughly said, its binary-input consists of 3 steps in which one of the participants sends a message ot all other players. The network is complete and synchronous,  where only those who are online at any given instant of time can participate.

In the paper the describes Algorand, Chen and Micali describe a unique mechanism for describing how blocks are generated.  More on this in a future post.

Smart Contracts and Web Assembly

Recent developments in the Ethereum development community have contributed to a multitude of competing programming languages to write smart contracts that run on the Ethereum virtual machine. What if the Virtual Machine itself were to be changed? and the programming language  used to write smart contracts were to change from solidity to other commonly used languages such as C/C++ or even the most secure programming language of Rust, which One of the arguments for supporting this change is the need to support different kinds of hardware (from small devices that run on micro-controllers, to the largest quantum computer), software operating systems and browsers.  WebAssembly (abbreviated Wasm), is a binary instruction format for a stack-based Virtual Machine that runs within the javascript virtual machine supported by most of today’s browsers. Wasm is significantly developed and has a seemingly large list of tools that will enable users to build all kinds of apps. A detailed documentation of wasm and all tools supported is provided at this link. https://github.com/mbasso/awesome-wasm

EWasm ArchitectureFigure 2. Depicts the Ethereum Web Assembly and Ethereum Virtual Machine interface and how they inter-operate.

While Wasm apps are slowly gaining ground for different device based applications, the Ethereum foundation is promoting the development of Ethereum Wasm (https://ewasm.readthedocs.io/en/mkdocs/). E-Wasm is a full stack virtual machine layer on top the Ethereum Virtual Machine, that brings all the benefits of WASM i.e., security, portability, speed, and low memory footprint. This layer supports writing of smart contracts in other programming languages such as C/C++/Rust thereby . E-Wasm is designed as a portable target for compilation of high-level languages like C/C++/Rust, enabling deployment on the web for client and server applications in the most commonly used programming languages. The design and specification of EWasm will make development and deployment of Smart contracts atop Ethereum secure and accessible to the common masses without needing the complex syntax of the Solidity programming language.