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Bitcoin Core Dev Jeff Garzik Sounds Off On Block Size Challenges, Offers His Insight

Jeff Garzik, a bitcoin code veteran, offered some insight into his purpose for launching Bloq a code-for-hire service to develop features for blockchain software and provide access to blockchain support. In a podcast interview on Bitcoin Uncensored co-hosted by Chris DeRose, a self-described bitcoin evangelist, Garzik offered his views on the current block size debate and bitcoin’s future.

Jeff Garzik

Jeff Garzik

During the interview, Garzik voiced support for an inclusive approach to resolving the block size and scaling issues, but this inclusiveness has left the dialogue open to misunderstandings about bitcoin and its potential.

Interviewed from China, Garzik talked the state of bitcoin development.

Update On Bloq

Asked what he is doing at Bloq, Garzik said he is building a product, hiring a team, looking to go beyond the beta and have the product released in the next month or two.

There are two key aspects to Bloq, he noted. One is BloqThink, a strategic advisory service for adding blockchain. The other, BloqEnterprise, is a package like Red Hat Inc. that offers contractual support maintenance. Red Hat helped businesses develop and deploy Linux and other open-source software. The BloqEnterprise router tracks upstream bitcoin core and adds in some alternate consensus rules.

“We give our customers the choice of a whether you like the Bitcoin Core rules, Bitcoin Classic rules. It defaults to what’s currently on the network, which is the Bitcoin Core rules,” Garzik said.

He also announced a partnership with Bitpay to include Bitcore, the Javascript library, in the offering.

“We’re looking to add support for other languages very soon.”

Garzik said he will also add something that used to be called “moxie box” now called “Bloq ora.” It is a generic validator that can validate certain smart contracts. You can pick your favorite programming language and compile a smart contract from that language into a “simulated CPU” environment that is deterministic. That lets you perform sidechain validations; “you can do speculation, prediction, markets, peer-to-peer conditional contracts, stocks, bonds, etc.”

What Bloq Ora Brings

Garzik envisions multiple organizations and multiple geographies will run one of the block ora instances. The user will contact Bloq, Bitpay, Coinbase or Blockstream. Each publishes a public key that allows users to pick a provider and perform a multi-sig P2SH that locks a smart contract very securely.

“We really see China moving faster than even the U.S. in terms of blockchain and digital currency,” Garzik said. “It’s an exciting time both at Bloq and just to be alive and playing in the digital currency universe.”

Asked how many blockchain experts exist, Garzik said it’s a very small number. There is a high demand but very few who really understand the technology. He said there are under 100 that know the full ramifications of rolling out something in a decentralized fashion, and under 25 top level experts.

Asked if he is doing blockchains besides bitcoin, Garzik said he is. “We do bitcoins and blockchains and we’ve got a default bitcoin philosophy because we feel that bitcoin is the strongest, most secure chain, the most battle-tested, the most likely not to run into distributed validation cost issues.”

Challenge: Inferior Blockchains

Asked if it would bother him if someone asked him to provide an inferior blockchain, Garzik said he has been asking the same question. Given the current questions surrounding the block size and other issues, “Some people are turning to technically inferior systems, whether it’s permissioned or other decentralized systems. Because it’s technically inferior, they don’t seek a really good road map ahead; that’s actually being executed. As a bitcoin fan, that’s what frustrates me the most that people are turning to that direction.”

Asked to name those companies, Garzik said he doesn’t name names.

In 2015, in August, the block size issue reached a crescendo and people tried to defuse the block size situation with Bitcoin XT. He noted there was a “scaling bitcoin” set of conferences. “The governance issues just piled on top of that.”

Is 2 MB Block The Solution?

Asked if he supports the 2 MB block as a solution, he said he supports increasing beyond 1 MB. “In my view, bitcoin dies if it becomes marginalized and used by less than a million people, if the core block size is not increased.”

Asked what solution he would advocate, Garzik said it’s not about a specific size. It’s about being able to upgrade. He supports Segwit (Segregated Witness). He would like to see Setwit introduce a hard fork. “The hard forks are the type of upgrades where users have to opt into that. They have to say ‘yes I agree that these (are) rule changes that I want.’”

While there is a lot of distracting chatter about the block size, one theme that Garzik emphasized is the need for an inclusive solution. He called Reddit is a “sewer of astro turfing on both sides of the debate.”

The Need For Inclusion

Garzik said it’s a mistake to “ennoble a high priesthood of bitcoin and say just these hallowed few will make decisions for everyone.” It’s also a mistake to assume that technical experts are also economic experts.

The core block size is a limited economic resource. “You’re asking technical guys to limit an economic resource. That’s not the bitcoin we all bought into in 2010.”

Solutions do need to be introduced in an organized fashion, however. In December, a hard fork was proposed with no dates. A hard fork needs many months of preparation. The story of bitcoin has been “program predictability.”

The bitcoin halving is a well known and predictable event that’s been priced into the market. If you have a lumpy, voluntary upgrade to capacity, which is what Garzik said Segwit offers, you have a lumpy, unpredictable set of economic changes that come when various wallets choose to upgrade.

There isn’t a market for a long predicted change, Garzik noted. “It’s more of a chaotic mess.”

What About Relays?

Bit 202, which Garzik supports, is an advocacy for a 2 MB block size. Does it concern Garzik that relays would be lost? Would there not be other metrics to account for in the algorithm?

Garzik said relays is a theme that not enough people pick up on. “You absolutely have to push the envelope. You can’t risk averse yourself into what current nodes can handle today. You have to push the envelope and let the system dynamically adjust.” There will not be a die off of 90% for the relays.

“Rhetorically, some of the comparisons get a little bit excessive.”

Compensating Miners

The topic of compensating miners emerged throughout the interview.

In Ethereum, nodes that perform validation are not compensated directly, he noted.

There is an indirect value of receiving a trustless version of the bitcoin timeline. “That has huge value for anyone operating on the network, but you’re not directly compensated.”

“Having an all-volunteer network is something that is actually not necessarily something that is super healthy for the system,” Garzik said. He wants to see a method of compensating for the work.

“Nodes provide a check and balance for miners.”

When you have a soft fork, you end up trusting miners more because nodes are validating less. “There’s a lot of facets to the node relay upgrade validation story.”

He agrees that validation cost and cost of attack are the two key metrics involved in bitcoin today. There are also higher level principles like censorship resistance. “I argue that censorship resistance is the key service of bitcoin today.”

What About Segwit?

If 2 MB is acceptable, what are his issues with Segwit? Garzik said Segwit is a voluntary upgrade. “Businesses cannot perform capacity planning. If they cannot perform capacity planning, then they’re not going to simply greenlight projects built on top of bitcoin.”

“We have to increase the core block size above one MB, but, at the same time, you have to build Layer 2 systems like Lightening to have instant, secure egalitarian payments. Bitcoin does not deliver instant, secure egalitarian payments.” Right now, Segwit doesn’t deliver a predictable capacity increase.

Asked what the optimal transaction fee is, Garzik said the question is wrong. “If you focus only on ‘internalities’…then you’re setting yourself up to ignore many potentials for miner income that are externalities.” A miner can, for example, be compensated for validating sidechains that are tied to bitcoin’s hash power. Miners can be validated with bulk payment processing contracts.

“Transaction fees are literally economic noise.”

The Future Can’t Be Predicted

We don’t know what will occur 10-plus years in the future, he emphasized.
“I’m advocating, don’t predict that we know what transaction fees should be… We should let the free market decide that.”

“We should make sure that there is capacity for the free market pick whatever option it needs to pick and not assume we need high fees for the system to survive 10 years from now.”

Concerning the establishment of fees, Garzik said, “You don’t want developers picking what the fee market should be. You want the free market to pick what the fees and ultimately what the block size needs to be.”.

“It’s a mistake to bet bitcoin’s future on a specific Layer 2 technology.”

A sidechain might be a better solution than the Lightning Network scaling solution. “I like Lightning, but there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.”

“You just can’t assume bitcoin’s future rests on one specific technology” that hasn’t been rolled out yet, he said.

Also read: The Lightning Network could solve the bitcoin block size limit

What About Sidechains?

Asked about sidechains, Garzik said sidechain is an “immature technology.”

How do you roll out production upgrades with decentralized systems? That’s a key question for Garzik.

Asked about his relationship with a Bruce Springsteen agent, Garzik said the agent has a business devoted to programmers. He helps programmers get gigs.

Brian Armstrong at Coinbase thinks bitcoin is akin to a web browser that you can launch and interoperate with, but this is not the nature of consensus.

Asked about the merits of Armstrong’s advocacy of separate browsers interoperating, Garzik said he will not defend someone else’s positions He said at Bloq he is delivering a fork that allows a customer to pick the consensus algorithm they are going to support. Just getting stuck in accepting what the high priesthood hands down is unhealthy for bitcoin.

Images from Shutterstock and Facebook.

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