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Researchers Find Problems With Rules of Bitcoin 301

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the ruining-everything-with-math dept.
holy_calamity (872269) writes "Using game theory to analyze the rules of cryptocurrency Bitcoin suggests some changes are needed to make the currency sustainable in the long term, reports MIT Technology Review. Studies from Princeton and Cornell found that current rules governing the mining of bitcoins leave room for cheats or encourage behavior that could destabilize the currency. Such changes could be difficult to implement, given the fact Bitcoin — by design — lacks any central authority." The main problem discovered is that transaction fees do not provide enough incentive to continue operating as "miner" after there are no more bitcoins left to be mined.
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Researchers Find Problems With Rules of Bitcoin

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  • by Kremmy (793693) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:13PM (#46570637)
    After all of the bitcoins are mined, there is no longer an incentive to treat it in this goldrush-like manner. The only people who will have reason to run a miner are the people who use bitcoins as a currency, to be a node in their decentralized economy. Most of the problems people describe seem to be directly related to its use as a pump and dump, actually. I must wonder what's going to happen once we reach that point.
    • by teambpsi (307527)

      The transactions are BY DESIGN to subsume the block reward and will handily make mining worth the price of admission.

      • by iluvcapra (782887) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @04:07AM (#46571927)
        The problem with transaction fees is there's no way to properly market them-- theoretically the higher a transaction fee you pay will give you a higher quality of service, but in practice the terms under which your transaction is processed are completely voluntary. It might happen, it might not, and it's definitely in the interests of large mining guilds to run up the price, and the large guilds are very effective at locking out upstarts. A cartel of two of them would easily control a majority of the blocks that get signed onto the chain, and thus set the price of transaction processing.
        • The problem with transaction fees is there's no way to properly market them

          It's called escrow. A trusted 3rd party that holds the money until transaction is confirmed and/or refunds transactions on bad deals. Essentially transaction insurance. Are you saying that credit cards aren't marketable?

        • by Bengie (1121981)
          All it takes is one machine to process a transaction. If these guilds run up the prices to the point that it becomes profitable for lowly home-users to make a profit, then you'll see more people start "mining" again. The only real way these guilds could lock out the little guy is if they controlled more than 50% of the overall processing power, but then they could do much worse things.
    • Most of the problems people describe seem to be directly related to its use as a pump and dump, actually.

      No. **maybe** we'll see a viable "crypto-currency" but we have not yet.

      BTC's main issue is that **whoever** controls a BTC exchange and mining operation can manipulate the currency at will, especially at the pinch points like when BTC values decrease by half at intervals. It's not just that someone could game the system, its that there is absolutely nothing preventing them, systemically and externally.

      BT

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by JaredOfEuropa (526365)

        everyone just needs to accept this: BITCOIN IS A SCAM

        We all "just" need to take your word for it, or did you have anything to substantiate this claim?

        Bitcoin is just a mechanism to transfer tokens ("coins") securely from one wallet to another, and gradually add tokens to the available pool by letting anyone who wants to mine them. There's no scam in the design; the scammy part is in the way we attached value to those tokens, and the way exchanges manipulate that value (or just take off with our coins). Calling Bitcoin a scam is a bit like calling tulip b

        • We all "just" need to take your word for it, or did you have anything to substantiate this claim?

          Seriously, it *might* be that bitcoin is legit but frankly it is absurdly easy to paint the picture that bitcoin is a Pump-and-Dump [wikipedia.org] scheme. If I were to describe a hypothetical pump and dump scheme using a hypothetical digital currency, it would sound an awful lot like bitcoin. Doesn't necessarily mean that bitcoin is such a scheme but anyone who uses it without strongly considering the possibility is a fool.

          Bitcoin is just a mechanism to transfer tokens ("coins") securely from one wallet to another, and gradually add tokens to the available pool by letting anyone who wants to mine them.

          No it is NOT just what you describe any more than dollars are just printed pieces of paper we can

          • by tmosley (996283)
            Pump and dump schemes exist within markets. Markets themselves aren't pump and dump schemes. Just because there is a Highway to Hell doesn't mean we shouldn't use roads.
    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      The problem is what is the economic incentive? Do you want to use a currency where there is a real cost to using the currency? One of the premises of bitcoin was that we would no longer have to pay the middle man in a transaction, however now we need to pay the electricity company just to be involved in the process?

      This kind of removes the incentive to mine. In the analogy of a real mine it's like you're operating the mine in your backyard despite making a loss on doing so all so you can keep using the doll

      • In the analogy of a real mine it's like you're operating the mine in your backyard despite making a loss on doing so all so you can keep using the dollar. You wouldn't do it. Unless the mining process can break even or at least remain cheaper than paying interest or transaction fees at financial institutions then there's no point in being involved.

        Aside from the cost issue, there's also the convenience/nuisance factor to consider. I think most people would have serious objections to having to purchase, maintain and run a miner just to be able to make payments compared to paying an intermediary like a bank fees to take care of transaction costs for them.

      • by swb (14022)

        What currency doesn't involve real costs? The cost for printing and coining production of US currency is over $4 billion dollars. None of that covers the actual costs of the overhead of accounting, distribution and management of currency at the manufacturing and initial delivery level nor does it include the distributed costs of currency management by end user businesses (cash accounting, armored cars, bank fees for currency management, etc).

        It's not like any of this is free to anyone, even the consumer,

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          That's a false comparison because the reserve is not going to give up on the US Dollar simply because people are using bitcoin.

          Your alternative world involves paying for mining AND upkeeping the current cost of the US monetary system. The only break you are getting away from is banking transactions and even then only if bitcoin exchanges don't charge a conversion fee because you're a US company and as such report in USD.

      • One of the premises of bitcoin was that we would no longer have to pay the middle man in a transaction

        Which is largely a false premise. Virtually all bitcoin transactions will require exchanging bitcoins for other currency. This means you have to find a middle man to exchange the money and that is never free. Furthermore by taking out the bank from the transaction you have instead incurred a lot of additional risk (exchange rate risk, counterparty risk, volatility, opportunity cost, market risk, etc) which under any sane accounting carries a cost. You have essentially taken on the costs that would norma

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          You raise a good point. However you must also understand that the middle man is, on average, making a handsome profit, or he wouldn't be there. So, on average, you will pay more going through the bank than you would taking on the risks yourself. In any transaction where you can't afford to bear the costs if things go sour you're probably better off using a bank - like any other form of insurance you're paying a fixed cost up front to avoid risks you're unwilling to take. But most of the time you'll be b

    • After all the bitcoins are mined, you can't mine them, right? Because they're all mined.

      There aren't any left to mine.

      So you can't mine them.

      I don't see how this is a problem that incentives can solve, and I don't see how it is a problem period.

      • MIners in Bitcoinworld have two roles. One is to "dig for Bitcoins", that is, solve cryptographic problems that result in the creation of new bitcoins. As you say, this role has, effectively, an expiration date (which means Bitcoin is unsustainable, FWIW, if you're vaguely left wing read Keynes for an explanation. If you're right wing, Milton Friedman's over there and he'll explain it to you too. This isn't rocket science. But that's another story.)

        The other role is to facilitate transactions. Bitcoin tr

        • by crtreece (59298)

          using some algorithm I'm currently unfamiliar with so will not bother to explain in detail but the point is it exists, take a share of the transaction they facilitated as a "transaction fee"

          The sender in the transaction specifies the transaction fee. The wiki [bitcoin.it] has more info.

          "the person attempting to make a transaction can include any fee or none at all in the transaction. On the other hand, nobody mining new bitcoins necessarily needs to accept the transactions and include them in the new block being created. The transaction fee is therefore an incentive on the part of the bitcoin user to make sure that a particular transaction will get included into the next block which is generated. It

    • The only people who will have reason to run a miner are the people who use bitcoins as a currency

      You forgot those trying to do a "51% attack" for the purposes of killing or controlling bitcoin.

      If mining rewards drop signinficantly and consequently lots of miners quit then said attacks will get easier both because they will require less hashing power and because there is likely to be a lot of uses mining hardware turning up on ebay at knockdown prices.

    • After all of the bitcoins are mined, there is no longer an incentive to treat it in this goldrush-like manner.

      That's the problem, actually. The gold rush provided a massive incentive for people to mine bitcoins, thus decentralizing everything, which is an important function of the economy, NOT because it mints new currency, but rather for its lesser-known purpose: to provide decentralized synchronization of blockchains and verification of the transactions made against them. This is a system that is inherently built on distrust, so ensuring that the synchronization and verification can occur in as decentralized a fa

  • The selfish mining paper makes sense in mathematically simplified game theory model but does not take into account real-world issues of latency. Anyway simple work-arounds exist eg for pooled miners, the winning miner can broadcast their winning solution to random nodes in the network, which prevents selfish mining (selfish mining depends on keeping the transaction secret temporarily delaying broadcast). Hosted mining is a problem, but people should stop overpaying for hosting mining contracts, and demand
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      and what do we know now about the bitcoin transaction fees & economic picture 20 years out).

      That it will be a footnote in history ... just like Internet time by Swatch. Thats what we know about bitcoin 20 years out.

      • With my pebble watch and a custom watch face I can tell you that the current swatch time is @150.

  • Firstly, there already is a "tax" of the sort they say is needed. Currently the bitcoin relays don't accept transactions containing a tip of less than 0.6cents per kilobyte.

    Secondly, there is nothing to force a miner to pick up a transaction, now. Right now, if a transaction doesn't contain a fee there is no incentive for the miner to include it in the block they are working on. Regardless of whether the miner includes transactions or not, they still get the mining reward.

    Transaction fees are like an auction. The customer puts in a bid at the lowest price he thinks the miners will accept, each miner decides whether that fee makes it worth his while to include the block. If the customer wants the transaction processed quickly he will put a comparatively high fee on it so every miner will be interested. If not, they put a low fee on it.

    This is called a market. It is how bitcoin is supposed to work.

    • Visa and Mastercard tried this transaction fee model, and we all know they went out of bussiness. Case proven.

    • by jythie (914043)
      And that is kinda the problem. The people who are pushing BTC are using economic models and thinking that were dropped decades ago. That is what makes the movement around it kinda surreal, it is a bit like people trying to bring back crystal spheres or the ether.
      • by ultranova (717540)

        The people who are pushing BTC are using economic models and thinking that were dropped decades ago.

        Were they thrown out because they were proven incorrect or because economists, working for the banks and other large financial institutions, did their master's bidding? Because I can't help but notice that current economics neither prevented nor seem to be facilitating recovery from Great Depression 2.0. They have, however, done a fine job of justifying letting the infrastructure crumble to dust from lack of

        • The policies that were put in place to "recover" from the Great Recession were ad-hoc, and mostly centered around austerity, having much in common with Bitcoin's "price of everything, value of nothing" mentality. Only the monetary easing appears to have had any positive effects, but given it can't be targeted, it ended up disproportionately helping those who already had money and weren't actually having problems.

          In the meantime, people using Keynesian models were very successful in predicting how all the

        • by jythie (914043)
          If we are going to use that as a measuring stick, considering people are calling the current downturn 'Great Depression 2.0' shows just how well newer economic theory has done. We are so spoiled by prosperity we actually consider the current situation to be earth shattering.
  • by retep (108840) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:18PM (#46570671)

    Ignoring game theory, it's easy to see how the model of mining being only paid by transaction fees doesn't make sense. After all, mining security is something that benefits all holders of Bitcoin, regardless of whether or not they perform transactions, so surely all Bitcoin holders should be contributing to that security.

    How do you do that? Make everyone pay equally. Currently that is how Bitcoin works due to the inflation subsidy. (about ~10% per year right now, leading to a per transaction cost of about $50) Just keeping that subsidy indefinitely at some sane level, say 1%, is perfectly reasonable. There's other options too, but fundamentally people like a free lunch.

    -Peter Todd, Bitcoin developer

    • by Laxori666 (748529)
      The security of people who don't spend isn't at stake. Their coins can't be stolen even if there's a 51% attack. Plus the security of people who make transactions isn't at stake - their transaction can't be altered even with a 51% attack. What's at stake is people who perform a 51% attack doing some double-spending. Even so, I don't see why people wouldn't just increase transaction fees up to the point where that is infeasible.

      OTOH it doesn't seem like the worst thing if there was a low level of constant
  • You can't win unless you cheat. That is what the system in general rewards. Liars win elections, thieves win on Wall Street, bullies become sheriff. Cheats and bullies are top dogs in today's society. They are the gangsters who write the rules. Bitcoin is just another chapter. If there was no way to cheat, it would never have gotten this far.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:22PM (#46570697) Homepage

    Such changes could be difficult to implement, given the fact Bitcoin - by design - lacks any central authority." The main problem discovered is that transaction fees do not provide enough incentive to continue operating as "miner" after there are no more bitcoins left to be mined.

    I'm not sure that is an accurate reflection of the research, but if it is, it is not very good research. Transaction fees can change, and have changed. The minimum transaction fee changed from 0.0005 BTC to 0.0001 BTC during the runup to $1100, to keep transaction fees low enough for small transactions. There is a central organization, The Bitcoin Foundation [bitcoinfoundation.org], whose authority is explicitly derived from consent of the governed; the miners and users choose to update their software to match recommendations by The Bitcoin Foundation.

    If that summary is an accurate reflection of the research, it sounds like they don't really know much about how Bitcoin works. I mean, I know that much, and I've only spent a few hours reading about it.

    • by compro01 (777531) on Monday March 24, 2014 @11:24PM (#46571093)

      The minimum fee set by default on the client the Bitcoin Foundation maintains (Now called "Bitcoin-core") was changed.

      Any other clients or anyone who feels like doing their own compiling can set the minimum fee to anything they like, including 0, but there's no guarantee their transaction will ever get included in a block if they set it very small.

      • by Animats (122034)

        The minimum fee set by default on the client the Bitcoin Foundation maintains (Now called "Bitcoin-core") was changed.

        Any other clients or anyone who feels like doing their own compiling can set the minimum fee to anything they like, including 0, but there's no guarantee their transaction will ever get included in a block if they set it very small.

        Right The big mining pools get to decide what the transaction fee should be. Only miners can validate transactions. The default value in the wallet is only meaningful if the big mining pools are willing to accept it.

        Also, remember that the block chain limits Bitcoin transactions to about 7 per second. That limit was hit a few times back in the day (last fall, when Bitcoin was booming) and no and low-fee transactions didn't get through for days, if at all.

  • Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Laxori666 (748529) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:23PM (#46570703) Homepage
    The difficulty of mining scales with the amount of miners. If the amount of miners drops, the difficulty will drop, such that you still get a block every ten minutes or so. Then the only danger is that it is easier to mount a 51% attack, since there's less total mining power. Everyone who transacts in bitcoins will have an incentive to keep the difficulty high enough such that this is unfeasible. Plus, all the transaction fees are optional - you can put out a zero-fee transaction, or a 5 BTC-fee transaction, if you like. If the recommended fees that Bitcoin Core suggests are not sufficient then everybody can just offer more fees.
    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      Really, what is the difficulty of mining when all coins are mined? You still need the miners, but if transaction fees don't actually make enough of an incentive then you end up with fewer and fewer miners. I'd say RTFA but you're a 'coiner reading and comprehending a counter argument isn't in you, and highlights the main flaw.
      • by Laxori666 (748529)
        It's like you didn't even read what I wrote at all!

        Really, what is the difficulty of mining when all coins are mined?

        "The difficulty [bitcoin.it] is adjusted every 2016 blocks based on the time it took to find the previous 2016 blocks." So if it takes 14 days (2016 * 10 minutes) to mine 2016 blocks, the difficulty is exactly the same. If it takes more than 14 days, the difficulty is lowered. If it takes less than 14 days, the difficulty is raised. The difficulty has nothing to do with how many new coins are being generated.

        Thus, if there are fewer miners, it will take longer to mine

        • by medv4380 (1604309)
          The point of the difficulty is to control the creating of bitcoins. The part your complaining about specifically is about what happens when there are no more coins to mine. They're saying that the fee wont be enough to keep people in. Really, but bother to read their counter argument before you spout off about it.
          • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Informative)

            by Laxori666 (748529) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:29AM (#46571355) Homepage

            They're saying that the fee wont be enough to keep people in. Really, but bother to read their counter argument before you spout off about it.

            I RTFA. I countered this point in each of my replies. Here it is again. I'll even bold the important parts:

            As miners pull out, it will get easier to mine blocks. There will never be a shortage of computation power to run the network, because if half the miners pull out, it'll get twice as easy to mine blocks. If 75% of the miners pull out, it'll be 4x easier to mine blocks. If 90% of the miners pull out, it'll become 10x easier to mine blocks.

            Get it? Whatever the number of miners, transactions will continue to be verified at exactly the same rate. Look at the hashrate chart [bitcoinwisdom.com]. The network was chugging along just fine in July when there were < 1,000 terahashes/second. Now there are over 40,000 terahashes/second. So if 97.5% of the miners drop out, the network will run just as well as it did in July, that is, perfectly fine.

            So when you reply, tell me again why it is a problem if some miners decide to pull out? Please don't just repeat once again that the article says that the fees will be too low and thus the miners will pull out. I get that that's what the article says. Why is this an issue, given the above?

            • by Eskarel (565631)

              Except there is a hard cap on the number of Bitcoins, by design. At that point, there will be no more coins to mine, period, at any difficulty.

              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Except there is a hard cap on the number of Bitcoins, by design. At that point, there will be no more coins to mine, period, at any difficulty.

                You are confusing blocks with bitcoins. When the cap on the number of bitcoins is reached, you can still mine blocks, but the incentive for doing so is the transaction fees instead of the new bitcoins created by the new blocks.

          • by ysth (1368415)

            No, the point of the difficulty is to make attacks, err, difficult. Nothing to do with creating of bitcoins. If you are misunderstanding things this grievously, sit back and let other people talk for a while.

  • by teambpsi (307527) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:25PM (#46570715) Homepage

    Bitcoin for all its technical sophistication is more of a threat to "stock exchanges" or "equity allocation" than it ever will be to "currencies"

    It is not suitable to a "drive-thru" transactions due to the number of "confirms" required to have veracity in the exchange.

    However, it is VERY WELL SUITED to the exchange of equity -- and is, given the current settlement times, much more of a threat to public ledgers like TORRENS (property exchange logs) -- or stock/ownership exchanges.

  • by Salsaman (141471) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:31PM (#46570773) Homepage

    Well, fortunately we won't have to worry about that until 2140. By which time I am sure transaction fees will be more than enough to compensate.

  • Unfortunately.

    It is a fantastic way for, say, drug or arms dealers to move money around more or less "off-grid". C'mon, say it with me . . . L - A - U - N - D - R - Y.

    As I've pointed out before, it's currency, but it isn't what I'd call money. Money, you see, is that (often colorful, often artistic) representational marker created by a sovereign government for use as legal tender. It's tracked, monitored, regulated . . . all of the things that I for one expect my money to be. Currency on the other han

  • Cue all the Bitcoin boobs about how this guy is wrong, and Bitcoin is justsowonderful and nobody who isn't slobbing the Bitcoin knob knows anything.

    Bitcoin has basically shown that we've now supassed Barnum's Law. Suckers are now continuously spawning at a rate approximating the Planck Instant.

  • Of course, when we apply game theory to the current fiat dollar system, there's absolutely no way anyone can cheat.
  • Can somebody explain to me WHY it matters if there is a fixed amount of coins when you can split a coin to something like 8 decimal places, price and buy things in fractions of a coin.

    The dollar practically speaking can only be split into pennies. I can understand why you would need more money made. Bitcoin will probably ALWAYS have enough atomic satori to go around.

  • ANOTHER bitcoin article by someone talking out their ass with no idea what they're talking about. Yay!
    "The main problem discovered is that transaction fees do not provide enough incentive to continue operating as "miner" after there are no more bitcoins left to be mined."
    That's 96 or so years from now. By then, they're hoping the volume of transactions makes the fees worth more than the block itself. Plus, the block will be cut in half many times prior to then so it will be even earlier that the reward
  • Issues such as this might encourage use of alternate coins that don't rely on mining in the long term (e.g. peercoin).

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