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Digital Trends

Battle of the Bitcoin A fragile truce reigns in the fabled land of Bitcoinia. Last week Bitcoin threatened to rupture once again due to a predictable conflict between the miners who derive value from Bitcoin and the developers who maintain the code. At issue was the size of the Block, the snippet of code that users are required to maintain on their systems in order to clear transactions and maintain the blockchain. It has been clear to all parties for some time that the current structure was struggling to accommodate the massive traffic the system now sustains. The two proposed solutions were either to increase the size of the Block to provide more bandwidth or to package the transactions more efficiently and maintain the current Block size. An eventual compromise was reached when the community elected to make changes to increase efficiency now and then to increase the size of the Block in three months. Why does this matter? Bitcoin has never been just a cryptocurrency. It means different things to different people, but all beliefs are passionately maintained. That is why a arcane, technical matter like this one causes people to nearly come to blows. Libertarians celebrate Bitcoin as an escape from the (false) tyranny of fiat currencies. Technologists celebrate it as an engineering marvel. Bankers hold Bitcoin to prove their technology bona fides. Drug dealers and users celebrate Bitcoin as a way to meet a need without pesky government interference. Meanwhile, Bitcoin competitor Ethereum does not appear to motivate the same passions. Ethereum is justifiably considered the “more corporate” of the cryptocurrencies, even as it arguably improves on Bitcoin from a technology perspective. The danger is that the passions that continually threaten to rupture the Bitcoin community will frighten off investors, which will lead to “the flippening” – that moment when the value of ether surpasses that of Bitcoin. If I were an investor, I would consider this a false choice. Bitcoin, with all its attendant passions, will be the more volatile investment, bigger gains and bigger losses. While Ethereum will float along at a more stable pace, pulled up and down by the gravitational power of Bitcoin on the cryptocurrency markets. If I were investing in cryptocurrencies, I would buy and hold Ethereum now. But I would wait three months before buying Bitcoin because in three months Bitcoin will be looking to double the size of the Block and the price will go down out of fear of a split. I personally doubt a split will happen because it’s in everyone’s interest to keep Bitcoin healthy and unified. (Please note: Anyone investing based on my theories is insane and should immediately start doubling up on therapy sessions. Seriously, this is raw conjecture and not intended as investment advice.) In a nutshell: The community cares a little too much about Bitcoin. Read More Cable Companies insist everything’s great! A trade lobbying organization for the nation’s cable companies has good news for you – competition for broadband service in this great land is alive and well. You have LOADS of choices when it comes to broadband. It’s just your imagination that you’re locked into intentionally bad service from an unsympathetic monopoly that throttles your usage below advertised rates. According to these lobbyists, 88% of Americans have at least two choices when it comes to broadband. One small quibble: they base that statistic on an out-dated definition of broadband, one that the government and the industry stopped using in 2015. Meaning that the “competition” they talk about is your phone. Why does this matter? According to Trump appointee Ajit Pai, the new chair of the FCC, this indicates that everything is great and there’s no need to break up the monopolies. Funny thing, Pai’s old job was as the lawyer for the cable companies. But I’m sure that doesn’t affect his judgement one way or another. Still, I wonder if this internet thing might be somehow important for our nation’s future. And if it’s, you know, somehow important, maybe we shouldn’t be providing third world level broadband to homes, businesses and schools. I guess we’ll all just have to assume that the president understands what he calls “the cyber” and he’s got a plan to make it great again. In a nutshell: I really, really hate my cable provider. Read More Musk/Zuckerberg Pissing Match Mark Zuckerberg thinks artificial intelligence is just fine. In a live stream last Sunday from his backyard, Zuckerberg took issue with AI “naysayers” who promote “doomsday scenarios” that he considers negative and irresponsible. It didn’t take the technology community long to jump to the conclusion that he was talking about Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who is on record as being extremely alarmed by the unregulated development of AI. In fact, Musk famously suggested that it was practically a mathematical certainty that our reality is actually just a simulation run by a planetary level AI operating at some point in the future. Musk took to Twitter to deliver his rejoinder: “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.” Sick. Burn. Why does this matter? I think it is important to acknowledge one’s biases. So, to be clear, I have read both Bostrom and Kurzweil on AI and found them both unpersuasive. Both of these intellectual justifications for AI alarmism seem to be raised on an unstable tower of “if’s” – If we are capable of creating an AI equal to or greater than human intelligence and if it somehow develops free will and if free will necessarily leads to the desire for dominance, then we are all in a lot of problems. Each of those ifs are based on both reductionism and anthropomorphization. Meaning, that the facts have been bent to fit the argument. I have no doubt that Elon Musk is a very smart man. But I think his “understanding of the subject” is entirely derived from an echo chamber of people who agree with him. Take his simulation theory. If it were true, then I believe it revives Lucas’ argument that strong AI is impossible based on the work of Kurt Godel. But perhaps my understanding of the subject is limited too. In a nutshell: Technologists may enjoy Musk’s “sick burn” but I believe Zuckerberg is ultimately correct here. Read More

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