Matt Ward

@mattwardio

Better Blockchains Built by Nature

Source: TuringFinance

Bitcoins, Bees and the power of Emmergent Trustless Behavior

Web3.0 is upon us. The world as we know it is changing, or at least that is what everyone says. People get pumped up about blockchain this, Bitcoin that, decentralized, tokenized everything…

But in-between all the excitement, an important question arises.

What is a blockchain?

You cannot be everything for everyone — the wants and desires are to diverse to co-exist (as we have seen recently with the Bitcoin Core vs Bitcoin Cash debate).

But even these seemingly divided sides had two very similar visions of the Bitcoin blockchain, both very financially focused.

What happens when you separate the economics from the underlying functionality though? Peeling back our all-important question, what is blockchain, makes the situation more (not less) confusing. Everyone has their own views. Few if any completely agree.

But there are themes: trustless, transparent, decentralized, censorship-resistant and programmable are the most common adjectives I have heard used. I think these give clues to the nature of blockchains, but are also all subject to personal views — each weighing these different attributes differently.

Today there are many types of tokens. These can be loosely categorized into one of the following: cryptocurrencies, protocols, identity coins, privacy coins, stable coins, app/utility tokens and of course securities (which no one in the industry wishes to discuss).

While every category and coin has its own specific use cases, they boil down to one core tenet:

trustless trust

Blockchains create trust in an inherently untrustworthy world, allowing for exchange, governance, access and more without need for centralized overseers.

The beauty of chaos

I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for nearly a year. The city is raw chaos.

As of Jan 2016, there were 7.4M motorbikes in the city of just 7.98M people. That is close to 93%. And Ho Chi Minh’s streets have no rules. The only rule is survival and to look out for yourself first and foremost.

And while most drive on the right side of the road most of the time, during rush hour, at traffic lights and while experiencing torrential downpour, all bets are off.

Despite the craziness though, something magical happens. It all just works. Likes bees in a beehive, those two driving principles: “I am the most important person here” and “I must not die” are enough to make traffic flow in a pretty smooth manner. People fly along the sidewalks, the wrong sides of the street and in-between oncoming traffic but by following those base rules (which every other driver on the road is also focused on), leads to a relatively streamlined transit system (especially considering the poverty).

Bees and Bitcoins

Researchers have been studying swarms for years, working to understand how beehives and ant colonies achieve such high levels of efficiency and the answer is in the goals.

By simply optimizing for a specific goal, like not dying on a motorbike or helping the colony survive, large masses of seemingly unconnected creates can create something bigger than the sum of their parts.

This is the vision for blockchain. By aligning incentives across a wide range of humanity, networks evolve and adapt in unpredictable yet incredibly efficient manners.

I personally have seen very little exploring the concept of swarm-mechanics applied to blockchain based protocols/economies, but would be very interested to get researchers to study emergent behaviors crypto protocols and incentive structures which evolve organically.

Distributed Autonomous Organizations

DAOs are playing (and will play) an increasingly important role in development and furthering blockchain technologies. And although we are off to a rocky start where the DAO is concerned, open-source projects often outperform their centralized counterparts.

Look at Wikipedia. No one organization could ever have compiled such an exhaustive database of information on seemingly everything. It came down to community motivation and organization to create the “information archive” of the world.

The most successful/interesting example of a DAO-like structure would be an ant colony. There are few (if any) more resourceful, organized and efficient creatures than ants.

How else could a group of 5–15mm (up to 30mm) creatures build colonies 38.5x taller/larger than the Eygptian pyramids (by proportional body size)?

And this species of Argentine ant (2–3mm) built an empire spanning 6000km (actual kilometers!!!) from Northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of span — all without internet, and moving at ~0.1 mph.

How do they do it?

The answer is, it is complicated.

But I know what you are thinking, how could ant colonies be a DAO if there is a queen?

It is a common misconception that ants have a “ruler” or leader. The queen is only the reproductive engine, not responsible or in charge of anything else.

For a detailed understanding of ant colony dynamics, see this post.

The gist is, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, ants can communicate (via chemicals) and also change roles as situations demand and the entire organization is fault tolerant — meaning anyone can die without interuption to the system — there is no trust, there is no reliance, everything is self-propagating.

Can we get to this point with DAOs?

Ant swarm behavior — Simple explanation:

Simple modeled demonstration:

Detailed TED Talk:

Driving force

To achieve optimum results, we need to understand intrinsic motivations and build our systems to both align with and take advantage of these. Blockchain projects that succeed here will ultimately survive, thrive and “reproduce.”

I realize this is related to crypto-economics however belief the behavioral aspects of biological systems could provide interesting frameworks for someone like the Ethereum Foundation to get behind.

Closing thoughts

This article is incredibly incomplete, I need YOUR help to flush out the finer workings of the system.

While experienced with growth hacking, network effects and tangentially with token incentive structures, understanding the underlying systems from a biological perspective is beyond me.

The goal of this article is to spark a discussion. Please invite any: swarm/herd researchers, AI neural net folks, economists and behavioral psychologists you know to participate in the comments below.

Evolution is the process of millions of years of testing. If nature can share secrets to decentralized governance and blockchain basics, it would be foolish to turn a blind eye.

Thanks guys. Hope this can create a conversation that can contribute to the bigger picture.

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