Bitcoin Is Digital Sport
THE BITCOIN ESSAYS
Originally Published April 2023
10 Minute Read
Few patterns manifest as insistently throughout the human story as games. The deeper and wider anthropologists peer into our history, the more variants of play they discover. Mostly peaceful, some violent. Clever and trivial. Intellectual and physical. One versus one, some versus some, many on many. Games test the wits, might, and finesse of beings against themselves. Modern play schemes trace their origins back hundreds if not thousands of years. My own beloved football, I call “soccer,” traces in the Americas to the Aztecs, and in the East to third century B.C. China. Our games shape us and we in turn hone the rules. Many know dearly the bliss felt when lost in their own strategic mind, planning the next move of their pawn, plotting their attack on the pitch, calculating and accounting for the randomness of a dice roll or an indeterminate outcome of a bouncing ball in a clash of bodies. These creations of the imagination provide an outlet for the enjoyment of player and patron alike. Our games provide a kind of cosmic escape, freeing body and mind to the thrill of being alive; cherishing all its uncertainty with kin, friend, and enemy. These skirmishes take on a life of their own and in time give birth to fervent rivalry. Our sandboxes and playgrounds are uniquely similar, bound up in and constrained by the universal laws of physics. Herein I will argue that Bitcoin too is a game of sorts, a universal sport.
The Creation Game
One friend of mine is a game maker, another a game reviewer. Both incredibly creative and charismatic individuals. There is a certain competitive intellect they share and their craft is a game of games so to say. They hone their skill by iterating as thoughtfully as any elite athlete I’ve observed – testing rigorously, continuing with what sticks, and discarding what doesn’t. In the end they produce a product their players and viewers love.
In essence, this has been the aim of the cryptographers of the last several decades; to create a digital-electronic, internet-native money game. It may sound strange to think of money in this context, but consider for a moment your dollars (or satoshis) as points on a global game board. Every human, intentional or otherwise, due to the inescapability of human action, is playing out a life strategy. There is no ultimate winner, and value itself is subjective, but money is perhaps the closest abstraction we have to something of a point system.
Money games are emergent; their creation as complex as the theories governing their use. These games arise by necessity as the coincidence of wants and the problematic barter economy must yield to the efficient money token. The market process naturally lends itself toward the precious metals yet even these have their limitations – not the least of which is nation-state capture. As civilization progressed, these states have implemented a myriad manifestation of money game protocols. Here now, sitting further up the hill, we may take a privileged examination of how these games panned out. What we find is that each of these games tend to have a play sequence and ultimately collapse into yet another game. Bitcoin appears to be the final iteration, the final game, the perfect money protocol.
The Mining Game
Bitcoin mining is a global sport refereed by the laws of physics. All humans stand to benefit from this game as the lessons we learn from the best players will re-apply to other applications which benefit all of us. Every 10-minutes, on average, there is a shot heard round the world. The miners immediately begin their proof of work, searching the guess-space for a value meeting the target requirements. Eventually, after approximately 10-minutes, a miner wins the race, posts the pending mempool transactions to the blockchain, credits themselves the predetermined block reward, and the game starts anew. In the law of large numbers, the miners will win these games proportionally to the amount of hash rate they contribute to the network. It is this collective hash rate which erects an invisible, but very real, cyber-energy barrier which may only be successfully attacked at an incredible 51% scale.
This mining game incentivizes participants to iterate on their entire process. This includes rapidly evolving the ASIC chips (specifically designed for proof-of-work application), seeking out low cost energy, and implementing harnessing strategies such as emersion cooling, gas flare capping, and even nuclear power generation. Each of these strategies is perpetually tested against the others and the hyper competitive process will ultimately yield the most sophisticated, physics compliant, energy channelling power projection systems the world has ever seen.
The Entropy Game
Every Bitcoin begins with a seed. This kernel of truth is at bedrock of the trustless truth machine. Each participant must successfully generate and maintain this sacred entropy as it is these very bits of information which provide them with control authority over their own slice of the Bitcoin power projection network. 256 bits of entropy (256 coin flips) will do for now, but perhaps in the future the protocol will require more to protect itself against the looming quantum computing threat. Participants will iterate on hardware wallets; some internet connected and hot, some air gapped and cold. Users will implement what they deem to be highest security for the meaningful part of their stack but may take more liberal measures with their walking around money. Over time we will see variants on multi-signature custody solutions and programmable smart contracts with timestamped sunset horizons. Individuals will implement this with most efficiency and organizations will do so more bureaucratically with internal controls. As the years play out, coins will occasionally be phished and stolen. Even these events, as unfortunate as they will be for the victims, will be a tuitional cost and ultimately educational for the entire market. Time tested best practices have and will continue to emerge as gameplay advances.
The Cryptographic Game
Bitcoin was originally conceived by employing the elliptic curve digital signature algorithm “ECDSA” and SHA-256 hashing. These clever mathematical tricks act as something like cosmic wizards, shielding your bits of entropy from prying eyes, while simultaneously granting their wielders with the novel ability to transmit their digital gold entirely peer-to-peer. These cryptographic protocols were state of the art in 2008, but as the decades and centuries roll onward, new mechanisms will be required to protect against the aforementioned quantum threat. Prior to the creation of Bitcoin, these cryptographic protocols tended to emerge in war time, protecting communications among allies. Eventually these techniques found civilian applications with end-to-end encryption enabling the now monstrous e-commerce cyber economy, simultaneously packing our smartphones with ever more ingenious functionalities. Now that Bitcoin exists, this token dangles a tantalizing carrot in front of the open-source developer to maintain its security. Fail, and the money dies. Succeed, and the protocol lives to fight another day. Its difficult to imagine a scenario where these cryptographers fail to keep the protocol ahead of Moore’s Law nipping at the heels, but its not inconceivable. To this end, it is reasonable to project the establishment of decentralized autonomous organizations “DAOs” to fund these noble mathematicians in their clever endeavors.
Global Game Theory
In January 2009, Satoshi unleashed the most consequential flipping of the global game board since the discovery of fire. This technological revolution is perhaps best encapsulated in the description of the Byzantine Generals Problem, which until now had no solution. This riddle is perhaps of cosmic, even eschatological significance, as we continue to realize the world around us is itself digital, software. What Satoshi discovered effectively defines us all as “Generals” and the city we’re sacking is the great adventure of our lives.
The genesis block, akin to the fortunate miner firing off their block solution, immediately rattled the cryptographic world. We’re only just now beginning to see its far reaching geopolitical ramifications. The legacy fiat monetary system is hemorrhaging and ~8 billion of us are caught in its curse. Meanwhile this feeble sounding Bitcoin idea is percolating into the general conscious, increasingly seen for what it is, a thread by which humanity may weave its way out of the fiat labyrinth we find ourselves so entangled.
Tick tock. Bitcoin waits for no one. Bitcoin is agnostic to your wishes, your culture, your preconceived notions. It has no conscious mind to distinguish right and wrong, beauty from ashes. It is a tool, a machine of machines, enforcing itself with each hash, each block, each participant. The Bitcoin thesis and story is only just now beginning. If you are reading this, you have no idea just how early you are. Welcome to a new Earth, a new game, a new sport. Good luck – may the properties of mathematics and the laws of physics be ever in your favor.
This is Jonathan David Kellogg – Writing for
That Bitcoin Blog.
These are The Bitcoin Essays.
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