7 votes

PoW is efficient

41 comments

  1. [31]
    skybrian
    (edited )
    Link
    Yeah, this is nonsense. They are associating energy usage with progress, so more energy usage is more progress and efficiency doesn’t matter. Demand for electricity does create an incentive to...

    Yeah, this is nonsense. They are associating energy usage with progress, so more energy usage is more progress and efficiency doesn’t matter. Demand for electricity does create an incentive to produce it more efficiently, but this is obfuscating what “efficiency” means.

    The article doesn’t even address the biggest problem with Bitcoin, which is that energy usage is proportional to market price. When the price doubles, energy usage doubles. (Energy usage is capped by miner revenue, and most of that is due to the reward for adding a new block to the blockchain.)

    The mining reward is an arbitrary parameter in Bitcoin’s algorithm. This parameter drops in half every four years or so. The schedule was fixed a long time ago when Bitcoin was designed, and the designers never anticipated the enormous increase in Bitcoin’s market price. There’s no reason for not adjusting the schedule to drop the mining reward sooner, but there’s no consensus for changing the schedule. The Bitcoin community (and specifically miners) like it the way it is. It’s not principled, it’s just that more money is better than less money and they’re not going to agree to reduce their revenue any sooner than they have to.

    A simple comparison: Google’s electricity usage, for all its data centers, in 2020 was 12 terawatt-hours. Bitcoin’s electricity usage in 2021 is expected to be 130 terawatt-hours. Just get to Google’s power usage, the market price of Bitcoin would need to drop by 10x.

    Or they could adjust a parameter to reduce their cut, but they won’t.

    Inventing a cryptocurrency that actually works was quite an important advance, but this is as if people were flying replicas of the Wright brothers’ original flyer and refused to improve it. There is no progress. Put it in a museum, put a plaque on it about its historical importance, but nobody should be flying it.

    33 votes
    1. [30]
      onyxleopard
      Link Parent
      This seems overly reductive to me. Wouldn't no progress mean miners would still be using energy at 2008 rates, using 2008 hardware? That's not the case, though. Do you think that no further...

      There is no progress.

      This seems overly reductive to me. Wouldn't no progress mean miners would still be using energy at 2008 rates, using 2008 hardware? That's not the case, though.

      Do you think that no further progress is possible? You don't think that PoW-based value stores can incentivize further efficiency gains?

      A simple comparison: Google’s electricity usage, for all its data centers, in 2020 was 12 terawatt-hours. Bitcoin’s electricity usage in 2021 is expected to be 130 terawatt-hours. Just get to Google’s power usage, the market price of Bitcoin would need to drop by 10x.

      Why are we comparing BTC mining with Google? I'm not clear on how this comparison is apt or leads to any insight. (I have a similar question about the article's comparison of BTC mining to government work. The only apt comparison in my mind would be entities like Visa, Mastercard, banks, etc.)

      1. [28]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        Well, another way to put it is that there is progress everywhere except for Bitcoin's core algorithm, which ensures that any gains in efficiency don't matter for electricity costs. The amount of...

        Well, another way to put it is that there is progress everywhere except for Bitcoin's core algorithm, which ensures that any gains in efficiency don't matter for electricity costs.

        The amount of revenue available to miners is fixed (as a Bitcoin price) and they compete to see who gets the money. Since the prize they are competing for is the same, if electricity becomes cheaper then they will use more of it.

        Progress elsewhere doesn't excuse stagnation in efficiency improvements to Bitcoin's algorithm, particularly when it would be so easy to do (meaning the software change itself, not the politics).

        You can compare to Ethereum which continues to evolve.

        11 votes
        1. [27]
          onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          I realize this whole topic is colored by the particular details of the BTC implementation. I am on board with the consensus that BTC's particular implementation is not optimal and it's unfortunate...

          I realize this whole topic is colored by the particular details of the BTC implementation. I am on board with the consensus that BTC's particular implementation is not optimal and it's unfortunate that it has fossilized as such.

          Setting the particulars of BTC's implementation aside, though, do you think that PoW—in the abstract, with appropriate parameterization—can be used to incentivize efficiency?

          2 votes
          1. babypuncher
            Link Parent
            The inherent problem with proof-of-work coins is that they reward users for wasting as much energy as they can running the network. If you take out this reward, then people have little to no...

            The inherent problem with proof-of-work coins is that they reward users for wasting as much energy as they can running the network. If you take out this reward, then people have little to no incentive to keep the network running, and it becomes extremely susceptible to 51% attacks. The vast majority of miners are only interested if the payout is greater than the cost of energy they put into it.

            13 votes
          2. [25]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            I don't know what other proof-of-work coins are doing, but I wonder how different they could be with respect to electricity usage. One way to think about this is that it's like running a contest....

            I don't know what other proof-of-work coins are doing, but I wonder how different they could be with respect to electricity usage.

            One way to think about this is that it's like running a contest. Bitcoin is giving away somewhere above $50 million a day in prizes. There are technically interesting parts of the contest that might be changed for a different coin, but if proof-of-work is all about doing computations, after some optimization, the main expense will still be electricity usage.

            A different proof-of-work coin could lower the amount of prize money awarded to be much less damaging and that would be great. But that doesn't necessarily make the contest more interesting. It seems like to get innovation, you need to pick a more interesting challenge? Compare with the $100 million X Prize for the best new technology for carbon removal. It's a very big prize, and yet still less than 2 days of running Bitcoin.

            For the electricity usage itself, there's an argument that cryptocurrency mining could subsidize solar energy. (I've talked about it a bit on Tildes earlier.) When a power plant is built in a remote area and the power line is the bottleneck, there is spare power to be had, and it could be used to mine cryptocurrency, making the power plant more profitable.

            The problem is that there's nothing about it that guarantees green energy will win. I think there's a good chance of it as solar gets cheaper, but there are other ways to do it, such as starting up a natural gas-based power plant in upstate New York. So this is a "growth is good" approach. It's promoting growth in electricity usage in general and hoping that will lead to green energy.

            11 votes
            1. [24]
              onyxleopard
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              Right and the article I linked talks about this too. I feel like everyone is bogged down by the current issue of electricity being something we’d rather not generate a lot of since the process...

              For the electricity usage itself, there's an argument that cryptocurrency mining could subsidize solar energy. (I've talked about it a bit on Tildes earlier.) When a power plant is built in a remote area and the power line is the bottleneck, there is spare power to be had, and it could be used to mine cryptocurrency, making the power plant more profitable.

              Right and the article I linked talks about this too.

              I feel like everyone is bogged down by the current issue of electricity being something we’d rather not generate a lot of since the process producing it is dirty, even if there is a lot of demand for it.

              But, if we can imagine a future where all electricity production is coming from green sources (PVs, hydro, wind, geothermal, etc.)—in this world, is it OK if the vast majority of energy consumption is being used to perform PoW computation? I see this scenario as basically blockchain acting as a sort of economic battery converting electricity directly into a value store. I think that will be tremendously useful given the difficult physics of trying to store energy in portable batteries. That is the efficiency that I believe the author of this article was getting at. Maybe I’m reading more between the lines of article than is actually there, though.

              2 votes
              1. [18]
                jcdl
                Link Parent
                So, we exchange high grade concentrated energy (electricity) into the equivalent amount of low grade heat AND some magic computer beans. Can I efficiently exchange my computer beans for...

                I see this scenario as basically blockchain acting as a sort of economic battery converting electricity directly into a value store. I think that will be tremendously useful given the difficult physics of trying to store energy in portable batteries.

                So, we exchange high grade concentrated energy (electricity) into the equivalent amount of low grade heat AND some magic computer beans. Can I efficiently exchange my computer beans for electricity at a later date? (If you answered yes, you have successfully beaten the laws of thermodynamics. Congratulations on your Nobel prize!)

                Sarcasm aside, the Earth has a real limit to how much heat energy can be radiated away into space. If you exceed that limit, Earth cooks. Ever been in a city on a hot day and notice how much cooler it is in the countryside? Let’s make that worse, sure.

                Consider a body less emissive than Earth, like the ISS. They have thermal radiators right beside their solar panels so they don’t cook themselves alive. They can’t run the latest shitcoin ASIC up there because it would break their heat budget.

                Efficient is the last word I would use to describe Proof of Work. Proof of Waste is what we should call it.

                14 votes
                1. [6]
                  ShroudedMouse
                  Link Parent
                  Provable burning of bitcoins (rendering them unusable) is used by some cryptocurrencies as a form of exchange. That's kind of proof-of-waste. Magic beans, waste, shitcoin - these are all words...

                  Provable burning of bitcoins (rendering them unusable) is used by some cryptocurrencies as a form of exchange. That's kind of proof-of-waste.

                  Magic beans, waste, shitcoin - these are all words used to discount the value/effort/energy required to coordinate trust-less exchanges between people. A fair comparison of the value bitcoin provides would be other trust-less value exchanges - the entire finance industry for example. Except even there, bitcoin provides something that the financial industry doesn't - no (direct) governmental interference.

                  Don't get the wrong idea. I'd like to see less rampant energy usage. I just don't think bitcoin will be responsible if the Earth cooks. That's on us.

                  3 votes
                  1. [5]
                    onyxleopard
                    (edited )
                    Link Parent
                    You can label this comment noise, but I just wanted to say I really appreciated your comment. After reading many other topics and starting this one, I was beginning to feel like nobody else is...

                    You can label this comment noise, but I just wanted to say I really appreciated your comment. After reading many other topics and starting this one, I was beginning to feel like nobody else is even trying to look at blockchain technology objectively.

                    I just don't think bitcoin will be responsible if the Earth cooks.

                    This is my feeling, too. It's just so hard to frame the conversation without resorting to whataboutism and not taking a position that devalues our environment.

                    3 votes
                    1. [4]
                      jcdl
                      Link Parent
                      Trillions and trillions of hashes get thrown out because they don't contain enough zeroes. It is the single hash that mines the block that accomplishes all the work—all the others didn't matter....

                      look at blockchain technology objectively

                      Trillions and trillions of hashes get thrown out because they don't contain enough zeroes. It is the single hash that mines the block that accomplishes all the work—all the others didn't matter. That's the objective take. PoW. Is. Not. Efficient.

                      12 votes
                      1. [3]
                        onyxleopard
                        Link Parent
                        Yes, of course PoW has to involve work—that's tautological. It seems to me you're making a subjective value judgment about how PoW works and passing that off as an objective value judgment. I'm...

                        Yes, of course PoW has to involve work—that's tautological. It seems to me you're making a subjective value judgment about how PoW works and passing that off as an objective value judgment. I'm not sure how to reconcile other than saying that it seems you don't seem to subjectively value the theoretical guarantees that PoW-based cryptocurrencies can provide? That's fine. I think the economic efficiency that the original article I linked is intimating is distinct from the computational efficiency (or inefficiency) you are hung up on.

                        1 vote
                        1. [2]
                          skybrian
                          Link Parent
                          Yes, keeping a global accounting ledger has some value, so it’s an exaggeration to say it’s worthless. However, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard to show that proof-of-work currencies are far...

                          Yes, keeping a global accounting ledger has some value, so it’s an exaggeration to say it’s worthless. However, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard to show that proof-of-work currencies are far less efficient than nearly all other ways of keeping accounting ledgers electronically.

                          Even if you’re a cryptocurrency enthusiast and value the decentralization, you should be hoping that more efficient ways of doing it make proof-of-work obsolete. Saying it’s “efficient” is pessimistic; it assumes this is the best we can do.

                          5 votes
                          1. onyxleopard
                            Link Parent
                            See, I'm not even a cryptocurrency enthusiast! I have no direct stake in any major cryptocurrencies or alt coins. (I have some indirects stake in that I own some stock in TSLA and SQ who do own...

                            See, I'm not even a cryptocurrency enthusiast! I have no direct stake in any major cryptocurrencies or alt coins. (I have some indirects stake in that I own some stock in TSLA and SQ who do own significant amounts of BTC, but I bought those stocks before they acquired their BTC.) I'm just a curious person who has observed incredibly polarized commentary discussing this stuff (and lots of it). I'm trying to understand these poles and the assumptions they're making, because usually when people have such fundamental disagreements about things, there's some interesting truth to be uncovered beneath the rhetoric.

                            Even if you’re a cryptocurrency enthusiast and value the decentralization, you should be hoping that more efficient ways of doing it make proof-of-work obsolete

                            I'm not an enthusiast, but I am keenly looking at what ETH2 is looking at with proof-of-stake. That seems to still not have any real world implementations so far, though.

                            2 votes
                2. [11]
                  onyxleopard
                  Link Parent
                  Can’t your argument be pointed at literally all human activity though? Isn’t all work just entropic decay at some level? At least the cooking that goes into a blockchain block is verifiable in an...

                  Can’t your argument be pointed at literally all human activity though? Isn’t all work just entropic decay at some level? At least the cooking that goes into a blockchain block is verifiable in an information theoretic sense.

                  2 votes
                  1. [10]
                    spctrvl
                    Link Parent
                    What's really at the heart of it, that I think people dance around a little, is that cryptocurrency fills no socially valuable function. It is technically interesting, but inferior to any system...

                    What's really at the heart of it, that I think people dance around a little, is that cryptocurrency fills no socially valuable function. It is technically interesting, but inferior to any system of currency or value stores or transfers it could as yet replace, in terms of convenience, fees, environmental impact, liquidity, legality, you name it, because it's trying to apply a first generation technological solution to a social problem as old as humanity.

                    Providing a framework for peaceful cooperation between strangers is one of the core functions of any society, and as such the solutions currently in use are rather more mature than anything the blockchain has to offer. Not that it shouldn't be an active area of study, but we shouldn't be sinking terawatt hours of juice and megatons of carbon into what are basically socially redundant novelties that, again, serve no real purpose outside of that novelty.

                    Even if all PoW mining could be done using only green energy, it's still tremendously wasteful having all those solar panels and all that silicon tied up in the digital equivalent of rolling coal when they could be doing something useful, like offsetting grid carbon emissions to stop the planet from cooking in twenty years. We ultimately only have so much productive capacity, and we shouldn't be using it to generate tokens proving that we used it.

                    16 votes
                    1. [6]
                      skybrian
                      (edited )
                      Link Parent
                      This is going a little too far, since it’s arguable that graphics cards in use by gamers aren’t doing anything particularly valuable either? I think it’s more a cost-benefit thing. Relative to the...

                      This is going a little too far, since it’s arguable that graphics cards in use by gamers aren’t doing anything particularly valuable either?

                      I think it’s more a cost-benefit thing. Relative to the value they provide, the energy use by cryptocurrency is staggeringly inefficient.

                      You can see that with the comparison to Google. We can debate how important Bitcoin is, it there’s no way it provides 10x the value to its users that Google does.

                      3 votes
                      1. [3]
                        jcdl
                        Link Parent
                        Graphics cards are general purpose computing devices. They are useful for more than just gaming and Ethereum mining.

                        Graphics cards are general purpose computing devices. They are useful for more than just gaming and Ethereum mining.

                        9 votes
                        1. [2]
                          skybrian
                          Link Parent
                          Yes, potentially, but I would guess that most retail buyers of high-end graphics cards aren’t doing anything socially valuable with them.

                          Yes, potentially, but I would guess that most retail buyers of high-end graphics cards aren’t doing anything socially valuable with them.

                          1 vote
                          1. Akir
                            Link Parent
                            As in “contributing to GDP”, maybe not, but there is social value in allowing people to experience leisure activities.

                            As in “contributing to GDP”, maybe not, but there is social value in allowing people to experience leisure activities.

                            15 votes
                      2. [2]
                        spctrvl
                        Link Parent
                        I'm more concerned about the energy than the silicon, but I'd say entertainment is perfectly socially valuable, even neglecting the computational value of the chips, and especially considering...

                        I'm more concerned about the energy than the silicon, but I'd say entertainment is perfectly socially valuable, even neglecting the computational value of the chips, and especially considering that cards used for gaming last longer and consume much less power over their lifespans.

                        But what I more precisely meant is that there is no social function that crypto fills better than alternatives. Obviously it does something, but it's fully replaceable, its replacements are older, more established, more efficient, more convenient, and just generally better in every way.

                        8 votes
                        1. skybrian
                          Link Parent
                          If we follow this line of reasoning a bit further, who is to say that cryptocurrency miners aren’t having just as much fun as gamers? And I actually think there is some truth to that; economic...

                          If we follow this line of reasoning a bit further, who is to say that cryptocurrency miners aren’t having just as much fun as gamers?

                          And I actually think there is some truth to that; economic value is subjective. There’s no underlying truth to the matter than what people decide they like. Collectively, there may be fads and cultures can change. But there are also universals. People may decide to eat differently, but they still need to eat.

                          Would cryptocurrency miners do it if they weren’t paid though? If they were doing it for fun like in the early days, I guess it would just be a weird hobby.

                          But I think what it comes down to is that we can and should figure out how to have more fun for less energy usage. The subjectivity of value makes it hard to say what “efficient” means unless it’s relative to a particular goal. It seems reasonable that cryptocurrency would probably be just as much fun without the mining aspect to it, so the energy usage doesn’t seem to be essential.

                    2. [3]
                      onyxleopard
                      Link Parent
                      The socially valuable function is being able to store value without having to trust anyone. I've made this analogy before, but I'll make it again. It seems really myopic to say that that we should...

                      What's really at the heart of it, that I think people dance around a little, is that cryptocurrency fills no socially valuable function.

                      The socially valuable function is being able to store value without having to trust anyone.

                      because it's trying to apply a first generation technological solution

                      I've made this analogy before, but I'll make it again. It seems really myopic to say that that we should stick with horse-drawn carriages just because you tried a steam tractor and found it lacking.

                      Even if all PoW mining could be done using only green energy, it's still tremendously wasteful having all those solar panels and all that silicon tied up in the digital equivalent of rolling coal when they could be doing something useful, like offsetting grid carbon emissions to stop the planet from cooking in twenty years. We ultimately only have so much productive capacity, and we shouldn't be using it to generate tokens proving that we used it.

                      Imagine a world in which all energy is green. Do you see cryptocurrency as being more viable in that world?

                      1. [2]
                        spctrvl
                        Link Parent
                        Okay, but cryptocurrency doesn't store value. That's the point I'm trying to make. Cryptocurrency generates a log saying that at such and such time I burned electricity to generate this token, or...

                        Okay, but cryptocurrency doesn't store value. That's the point I'm trying to make. Cryptocurrency generates a log saying that at such and such time I burned electricity to generate this token, or transfer this token to this address. The fact that something of value was consumed to generate these tokens does not make them valuable, value is a social phenomenon that's not transferable in that way.

                        I've made this analogy before, but I'll make it again. It seems really myopic to say that that we should stick with horse-drawn carriages just because you tried a steam tractor and found it lacking.

                        That's a dreadful analogy because even a rudimentary steam tractor would have obvious benefits even if it were at the time inferior. Cryptocurrency has no such benefits, as is a technological solution to a social problem that must already be solved for it to exist in the first place, since it relies on incredibly long supply chains and incredibly complicated infrastructure.

                        Imagine a world in which all energy is green. Do you see cryptocurrency as being more viable in that world?

                        No, it's still an economic drag locking up valuable energy and computational resources in attempting to solve a solved problem.

                        12 votes
                        1. onyxleopard
                          Link Parent
                          This honestly seems like a totally apt description of Bitcoin to me.

                          even a rudimentary steam tractor would have obvious benefits even if it were at the time inferior.

                          This honestly seems like a totally apt description of Bitcoin to me.

              2. [5]
                skybrian
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                This “battery” argument is due to a misunderstanding about how finance works, and in particular about how savings works. People can individually save money using the financial system and spend it...

                This “battery” argument is due to a misunderstanding about how finance works, and in particular about how savings works. People can individually save money using the financial system and spend it later on whatever they like, but if they choose to spend it on electricity, it’s mostly going to be generated at the time of use, because electricity storage is very limited. Finance can’t be used to solve an energy problem directly; at best it can provide incentives and fund people to come up with a solution.

                Paying people to use electricity means they can earn money from generating it, but this doesn’t store energy at all. You could think of it as subsidizing electricity generation via increased demand, though. Sometimes that can be useful. Government subsidies for green energy did a lot to get the solar industry started, particularly in Germany.

                Bitcoin miners have incentives to look for and exploit special situations where electricity is particularly cheap, but we’ve seen that electricity can be cheap for either good or bad reasons. Sometimes it’s cheap because someone else is paying for it, as we’ve seen with the attempts to steal other people’s computing power.

                The problem is that the incentives are dumb. If you look at it as a contest to promote green energy, Bitcoin’s algorithm for awarding prizes to miners has no idea what it’s doing. It’s difficult to imagine an algorithm that would be smart enough not to get exploited. If you’re going to run a contest awarding billions of dollars to promote green energy, there need to be trusted humans in charge of awarding the prizes to have a chance of giving them to the right people.

                Of course, people can choose not to follow the incentives. There may be some people looking for creative ways to mine Bitcoin that are socially beneficial, and we can hope they win the contest. But there’s nothing about the contest itself to ensure that they win, and Bitcoin miners seem to be pretty amoral. In China they use hydro in the spring when there’s lots of rain and they use power from coal-burning plants other times of the year.

                Yes, that might change. Having a lot more green energy available will change a lot of things, but we are still very far away from that goal. Only about a third of electricity generation comes from renewables.

                I’m a fan of thinking ahead and science fiction scenarios can be interesting, but we shouldn’t use future scenarios to create confusion about what’s going on now. Maybe someday we will have much more and much cheaper green electricity and maybe we can think about what that world would be like then, but it doesn’t change current or near-future economics.

                The article uses future scenario thinking to try to get us to believe that electricity conservation is bad and electricity consumption is good. This is possible! But today, it’s rare. It’s only true in certain isolated situations, because electricity isn’t a global market. The incentives for mining aren’t targeted enough to only pick the scenarios when subsidizing electricity generation would be good.

                9 votes
                1. [4]
                  onyxleopard
                  Link Parent
                  I understand it doesn't store energy directly. But as I understand it, it does store value. The notion of value being transparently linked to energy expenditure seems like it has utility. This is...

                  Paying people to use electricity means they can earn money from generating it, but this doesn’t store energy at all.

                  I understand it doesn't store energy directly. But as I understand it, it does store value. The notion of value being transparently linked to energy expenditure seems like it has utility. This is the "energy dollar" concept that the article mentions as I understand it. It seems to me the transparent linkage of work to value that cryptocurrency mining offers is more efficient—in an economic sense of efficiency, not the physics sense—than the currently opaque causal chain of oil extraction and refinement which ultimately leads to petrodollars.

                  Maybe my understanding of finance is lacking, as you say, though. Thank you for your detailed replies—I do appreciate your insight.

                  1 vote
                  1. [3]
                    skybrian
                    (edited )
                    Link Parent
                    The physics definition of work being done is mostly unrelated to economic value. A lot of important innovations come from doing less physical work. A good example is replacing travel with...

                    The physics definition of work being done is mostly unrelated to economic value. A lot of important innovations come from doing less physical work. A good example is replacing travel with videoconferencing. Even looking at transport, moving less mass means less work is being done and the weight reduction from, say, replacing steel with aluminum will result in better efficiency.

                    Linking economic value directly to energy usage might sound good at first, until you realize that it makes conserving energy impossible by definition. Energy conservation means trying to get more economic value out of less energy usage, and we don’t want to rule that out by fiat. Energy is a cost to be minimized.

                    Also, we want to distinguish between different kinds of energy based on source, not treat them all the same. A carbon tax would make prices for some kinds of energy usage go up.

                    I have a bad habit of telling people they’re wrong so it’s nice when it turns into a bit of writing that’s appreciated. Thanks for the conversation!

                    7 votes
                    1. [2]
                      onyxleopard
                      Link Parent
                      The first plot in the linked article correlating energy consumption with world GDP is pretty striking (if the sources of the underlying data are reliable). How do you reconcile that correlation...

                      The physics definition of work being done is mostly unrelated to economic value.

                      The first plot in the linked article correlating energy consumption with world GDP is pretty striking (if the sources of the underlying data are reliable). How do you reconcile that correlation with this position? Is the data cherry-picked or otherwise suspect (maybe BP's Statistical Review of World Energy report is not something we should trust)? Is GDP a bad economic value signal? I'd never seen a plot like that that so clearly de-obfuscates the petrodollar construct.

                      Also, I'm willing to entertain the possibility I'm wrong. I'd just prefer to have a justification for my beliefs, whatever they are.

                      1. skybrian
                        Link Parent
                        That graph is misleading because it's for the entire world and it's mixing data from a range of years. You need to break out what's happening in different countries, like with this graph, and do...

                        That graph is misleading because it's for the entire world and it's mixing data from a range of years. You need to break out what's happening in different countries, like with this graph, and do it by year to show changes in efficiency. Energy use has changed since 1965.

                        It's true that for much of history, GDP was tied to energy consumption, and still is for developing countries (particularly China). Increasing use of fossil fuels were what allowed us to do that. Only recently has it started to change, and more so in developed countries. But energy use per capita peaked in 1973 for the US and in 1988 in Europe so there are some signs of improvement. (Not nearly enough, but still.)

                        You can also zoom in on specific uses of energy, and then things look a lot better in some cases. Here's a graph of the cost of lighting in the UK. And for computing, there is Koomey's law showing an exponential increase in computation per watt.

                        Those are best-case scenarios. There are physical limits for efficiency improvements. We aren't going to be seeing significantly more efficient airliners or cars because the easy gains have been made and there are physical limits. But cryptocurrencies are more like computing than cars and we should be able to see spectacular improvements in efficiency.

                        There's no physical reason why so much energy needs to be burned to achieve consensus. Every github repo does consensus when the owners publish a new change to HEAD and people decide to use it instead of forking. Making it distributed is harder, particularly when there's a lot of money riding on the decision, but making it a competition to compute something is just the first thing that worked.

                        3 votes
      2. Octofox
        Link Parent
        The PoW algorithms cancel out efficiency by design. They have a difficulty score and a target block time. If miners start to solve the next block sooner than the target time, the difficulty score...

        The PoW algorithms cancel out efficiency by design. They have a difficulty score and a target block time. If miners start to solve the next block sooner than the target time, the difficulty score goes up.

        So if you invent a mining rig that is 10x more efficient, the PoW difficulty goes up 10x leaving you at square one.

        11 votes
  2. HoolaBoola
    Link
    Citation needed - for both parts of the sentence. I found the entire article to be quite incoherent, jumping from pre-history, to how Bitcoin is actually good for the environment, to fusion...

    Because free markets encourage the lowest priced goods, the energy used in producing any good is minimized.

    Citation needed - for both parts of the sentence.

    I found the entire article to be quite incoherent, jumping from pre-history, to how Bitcoin is actually good for the environment, to fusion reactors and other idealistic nonsense.

    Everything requires energy (first law of thermodynamics). Claiming that one usage of energy is more or less wasteful than another is completely subjective since all users have paid market rate to utilize that electricity.

    Yes, I agree it is entirely subjective whether using energy for essentially nothing except to prove that you have used the energy, is more wasteful than using the same energy for something else.

    There is a big school of thought (the writer seems to belong to this group) who believe Bitcoin miners simply use excess energy that would otherwise not have been used. I find that hard to believe, and have yet to see any proof of surplus energy being in any way significant.

    20 votes
  3. [4]
    babypuncher
    Link
    PoW cryptos currently require 1% of the world's entire energy production to process an infinitesimal fraction of the world's digital financial transactions. There is no conceivable argument that...

    PoW cryptos currently require 1% of the world's entire energy production to process an infinitesimal fraction of the world's digital financial transactions. There is no conceivable argument that this is "efficient". To replace all the world's currency with ethereum would require many times more energy than we currently produce as a species. This is an inherent facet of any system that dumps out "free" currency in exchange for energy. Everyone and their dog will want to put every spare bit of energy they have into it.

    Maybe it will be viable in 40 million years when middle-class teenage girls are getting used Dyson spheres for their sweet 16.

    15 votes
    1. Octofox
      Link Parent
      Also remember that almost all of these transactions are bots trading with each other to exploit price differences. No one is buying anything with these cryptos because it costs you $30 in fees to...

      an infinitesimal fraction of the world's digital financial transactions.

      Also remember that almost all of these transactions are bots trading with each other to exploit price differences. No one is buying anything with these cryptos because it costs you $30 in fees to make a transaction.

      13 votes
    2. [2]
      onyxleopard
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I feel like this isn’t inherently different from the situation where work is compensated with money before the advent of cryptocurrencies. In the limit, I can see PoW-based cryptocurrencies as...

      Everyone and their dog will want to put every spare bit of energy they have into it.

      I feel like this isn’t inherently different from the situation where work is compensated with money before the advent of cryptocurrencies. In the limit, I can see PoW-based cryptocurrencies as essentially economic batteries that store the value (essentially potential energy) until people are ready to spend it. As long as the processes to produce the electricity to run the POW computations are not contributing to climate change (which I realize they definitely do in the present), then I don’t see an inherent problem. And, such a scenario may be much more efficient than physical batteries (depending on what the physical limits of batteries may happen to be).

      1. skyfaller
        Link Parent
        POW will contribute to climate change even if it uses "green" energy, because some emissions are created even when manufacturing e.g. solar panels....

        POW will contribute to climate change even if it uses "green" energy, because some emissions are created even when manufacturing e.g. solar panels. https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/04/how-sustainable-is-pv-solar-power.html If we continue to increase our energy usage, we could spend our entire carbon budget simply building enough solar panels, wind turbines, etc. to meet our growing energy demands.

        To prevent climate apocalypse, we will have to reduce energy usage, as well as switching to green energy sources. There is no way POW will help with this process.

        13 votes
  4. [3]
    Cycloneblaze
    Link
    Emphasis mine. I stopped reading at this point. By no means am I opposed to learning more about crypto but when you make a statement as hyperbolic as this in apparent seriousness, I can't take...

    Bitcoin is a super commodity, minted from energy, the fundamental commodity of the universe. PoW transmutes electricity into digital gold.

    Emphasis mine. I stopped reading at this point. By no means am I opposed to learning more about crypto but when you make a statement as hyperbolic as this in apparent seriousness, I can't take other the things that you say seriously either.

    14 votes
    1. [2]
      onyxleopard
      Link Parent
      What is the fundamental commodity of the universe in your mind?

      What is the fundamental commodity of the universe in your mind?

      1. Cycloneblaze
        Link Parent
        I don't think commodities are fundamental. But if you were going to say energy is the closest thing, then I think saying any one cryptocurrency is the representation of it is pretty egotistic, and...

        I don't think commodities are fundamental. But if you were going to say energy is the closest thing, then I think saying any one cryptocurrency is the representation of it is pretty egotistic, and that cryptocurrencies in general are at best an imperfect one.

        12 votes
  5. anothersimulacrum
    Link
    I'd be willing to accept the author's argument that the calculation of the energy costs of bitcoon that the author is referring to is incorrect - that certain strikes me as a calculation where...

    I'd be willing to accept the author's argument that the calculation of the energy costs of bitcoon that the author is referring to is incorrect - that certain strikes me as a calculation where small inaccuracies quickly balloon, whether introduced purposefully or not. But overall, as others have said, this article is not well based or particularly coherent.

    It also focuses a fair bit on ASICs (Appication Specific Integrated Circuits), and I think that the share or bitcoin or other cryptocurrency mining that uses those is very probably not above or at a simple majority - there is certainly a lot of demand for GPUs for that purpose.

    5 votes
  6. onyxleopard
    Link
    I've seen several popular topics surrounding cryptocurrencies and proof-of-work on Tildes lately (and not so lately). To note a few: Cryptocurrency is an abject disaster Blockchain, the amazing...

    I've seen several popular topics surrounding cryptocurrencies and proof-of-work on Tildes lately (and not so lately).

    To note a few:

    (You can find many more topics by digging through the cryptocurrency tag yourself.)

    In light of that, I wonder what the people of Tildes think of this article that tackles the question of proof-of-work (PoW) efficiency. This is a bit of context that I was very curious about myself, and would appreciate links to any further reading in this vein.

    I speculated myself a bit in the topic about Bitcoin possibly being the creation of a superintelligent AI. The only way I see that as a reasonable possibility is if it was a side-effect or stepping stone toward some alternative goal other than "create as much value as possible for BTC stakeholders". This piece on PoW is interesting to me especially because it introduces a possibility for what such an alternative goal might be that I hadn't considered: elevating our civilization to Type I on the Kardashev scale.

    One of the things that keeps me up at night when I'm feeling extra sensitive to the pangs of existential dread that sometimes wash over my nervous system is anthropogenic climate change. The way I see it is that we have only so much rope left to hang ourselves with in terms of burning the super-efficient hydrocarbon stores we've been gifted before climate change and consequent loss of biodiversity will make the planet uninhabitable for humans. As such, sometimes I think the primary concern of humanity really ought to be to marshall our collective problem-solving capacity to determine the optimal use of that remaining "rope" in order to ween ourself off fossil fuels. Given that it seems impossible to directly get current governments and markets to just stop what they're doing and wait for non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources and technology to scale up to fill demand, I wonder if anyone else is intrigued by the notion of things like PoW being indirect stimulation toward that end?

    If we admit that burning dirty fossil fuels is problematic, then, if we were to eliminate that bad practice and move to fueling the economy based on green alternatives, does PoW become less objectionable, or possibly even transparently valuable? If so, then do not cryptocurrencies then present one of the clearest, most tangible motivations to transform our energy production capacity to be greener? And concordant with that, is that not clearly superior to traditional economic apparatuses that obfuscate the causal chain between work and value?

    2 votes