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《Blockchain is the future》


The word order doesn't make any sense, but what makes it valuable is that it was made for one person by a software program called MetaMask.

Expressed in cryptography terms, it's a seed phrase. It may sound incoherent, but it can be turned into a key, a digital bank account, or online authentication. And it's only a few steps away.

The computer tells me on the screen to keep my mnemonic safe: write it down or put it in a safe place on the computer. I jotted down 12 words on a sticky note, clicked a button, and there were 64 seemingly random characters:


This is called a "key" in cryptography: it's a form of authentication, but it's very different from how you unlock a key in real life. My mnemonic can produce an exact alphabetical order every time, but how to reverse engineer the initial phrase of the key is still unknown, which is why it is important to put the seed word in a safe place.

The key's letters are changed twice to create a new string of characters:


That string of characters is the address of my Ethereum blockchain.


The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has increased in value by more than 1,000% over the past year, and Ethereum is in the same class of currencies as Bitcoin.

Ethereum has its own currency, notably ether, but the platform has more than just money. You can think of ethereum's address as something like a bank account, email address, or a Social security number.

At the moment, it's a string of meaningless characters on my computer, but whenever I want to make a transaction, such as participate in a crowdfunding campaign or conduct an online referendum, the address is sent to a temporary computer network to verify the transaction. The results of the verification would then be transmitted to a wider network, more machines would enter a state of competition, perform complex mathematical calculations, and the winner would record the transaction individually, as has been the norm for every transaction in Ethereum's history.

Because these transactions are registered through an ordered "block" of data, the record is known as a blockchain.

The whole deal will only take a few minutes to complete. From my point of view, the experience is not that different from normal online life.

But technically, it's pretty amazing, and there are some things that would have been almost unthinkable 10 years ago. I successfully completed a security transaction without relying on traditional institutions to build trust. There are no middlemen; There is no social media network to collect the data of my transaction so as to better carry out the precise advertising push; There are no credit agencies tracking this activity in order to construct economic credibility.

Is it the platform that makes all of this possible?

But no one owns the platform. No venture capitalist invested in Ethereum because there was no company.

As a form of organisation, Ethereum is more democratic than any private company. There is no roar of autocratic leadership. By joining the community and doing some work, you are helping to sail the ship ethereum.

Like the tescocurrency and most blockchain platforms, Ethereum is more like a hive than a formal entity. Its boundaries are blurred, it is a flat hierarchy.

There is another side: in this hive, there are people who have accumulated billions of dollars in book value through their labor. On January 1, 2017, the value of etheric currency was only $8, and a year later, it was worth $843.

For this kind of change, you may be a kind of contempt attitude, feel not worth mentioning. After all, the runaway rise in the value of Bitcoin and Ether is a classic case of irrational exuberance. Why should we care about this mysterious technological breakthrough when it doesn't look so different from logging into a website to pay off a credit card?

But such contempt is short-sighted.

From the history of the Development of the Internet, we have learned one thing, this software architecture may seem mysterious, but the development of this technology into a broader computing, will release far-reaching forces, affecting the world.

If email standards had been adopted in the 1970s, with public and secret keys as a default setting, everyone from SONY to John Podesta would no longer be subject to mass email hacking, and millions of ordinary users would no longer be subject to identity theft.

If Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, had adopted the location-based social identity protocol in the original standard, we might not have Facebook today.

Strong believers behind blockchains such as Ethereum argue that distributed trust networks are a step forward in software architecture, and history will surely prove its greatness. This expectation has further boosted the value of cryptocurrencies.

But the bitcoin bubble is likely to turn out to be a true carnival of the blockchain. Many enthusiasts believe that the hope for this new technology is not to replace our currency, but to replace our current conception of the Internet, and to pull the online world back to a decentralized, egalitarian system.

If you believe what the enthusiasts are saying, blockchain is the future. But it's also a way of getting back to what the Internet is all about.


Inspired by the utopian dream of limitless resources and global connectivity, the Internet seems to have become a scapegoat in the past few years: the root of all the social problems we face.

Russian hackers used fake news on Facebook to disrupt democracy; Hate speech is rampant on Twitter and Reddit; The wealth of the geek elite has exacerbated income inequality.

For many of us who started using the Internet in its early days, the last few years have left us with a sense of decadence.

The Internet promised to be a new medium, with lots of tabloids, blogs and self-built encyclopedias. The information giants that dominated mass culture in the 20th century should have given way to a more decentralised system, a co-operative network rather than a hierarchical transmission channel, reflecting the Internet's own peer-to-peer architecture.

Today, however, the web is no longer utopian, full of financial bubbles, spam, and countless other problems. But progress is always supposed to lie behind the fall

Last year, such a fluke finally collapsed. On the Internet, doubt is nothing new. The difference is that critics are more likely to come from people who used to be big fans of the Internet.

"We want to tinker with the Internet," says Walter Isaacson. He is the author of a biography of Steve Jobs. He made the comment in an article he wrote weeks after Donald Trump was elected.

"After 40 years of development, the Internet has become corrupt, not only the Internet but also us." James Williams, a former Google strategist, told the guardian: "the dynamism of the attention economy is structurally undermining human will."

Brad Burnham, managing partner of Union Square Ventures, one of New York's top venture capital firms, complained on his blog about the added harm of quasi-monopolies in the digital age:

"In the flow of the content of the Facebook without differentiation, press finds itself into a commodity content providers. Google search algorithm is a small changes can lead to the websites wealth loss. When amazon decided to directly purchase goods in China and reorganize his goods demand, manufacturers can only helplessly looking at sales." (Burnham's company invested in the company I founded in 2006; When the company was sold in 2011, we had no financial relationship.)

Even the web's creator, Berners-Lee, wrote a blog post expressing his concern that advertising-based social media and search engines have created an environment in which "false information, shocking or designed to attract prejudice, spreads like wildfire across the web."

For most of the critics, the way is to solve the problem of the huge structural, or advice about the risk of these tools is put forward, such as our smart phones, let the children away from social media, or only with the help of the strong regulatory and antitrust wrist: tech giants and the other is very important to the public interest of industry (e.g., earlier rail or telephone network) have come under scrutiny.

Both ideas are commendable: we should probably develop a new set of habits to govern how we interact with social media. It seems entirely sensible that powerful companies such as Google and Facebook should face the same regulatory scrutiny as TV Network One.

But these interventions are unlikely to solve the core problems facing the online world.

After all, it wasn't just the Justice Department's antitrust division that questioned Microsoft's monopoly power in the 1990s. It was also the emergence of new software and hardware, such as the Web, open-source software and Apple products, that undermined Microsoft's dominance.

The blockchain evangelist behind platforms such as Ethereum sees a suite of advanced technologies in software, cryptography and distributed systems as capable of solving today's digital problems. For example, the corrosive incentives of online advertising; Facebook, Google and amazon's quasi-monopoly; Russia's false alarm campaign.

If they succeed, their invention could challenge the hegemony of the tech giants more effectively than any antitrust rule. They even claim to offer an alternative to the winner-takes-all model of capitalism, without pushing wealth inequality to levels not seen since the days of the robber barons.

This remedy is not yet visible in any product known to the average technology consumer. So far, the only blockchain project that has entered mainstream recognition is Bitcoin, but it is in the midst of a speculative bubble.

The bubble made even the dotcom IPO boom of the 1990s look like a garage sale to the neighbours. There is a cognitive conflict that has plagued all who try to understand blockchain: the potential power of this likely revolution is being actively undermined by the people it attracts -- the veracious liars, false prophets and mercenaries.

This is not the first time technologists pursuing open and decentralized networks have found themselves surrounded by opportunists who want to get rich overnight.

The question is whether the real promise of blockchain will last after the bubble bursts.


For some students of the history of modern technology, the decline of the Internet is an inevitable historical script.

Like Tim Wu's "master switch" in his 2010 book, all the major 20th-century information technologies have a similar pattern. It began as a toy for hobbyists and curiosity and community, and ended as a multinational corporation's constant focus on shareholder value maximization. Wu calls this pattern a cycle, and on the surface at least, the Internet conforms to it with convincing accuracy.

The Internet began as a hodgepodge of government-funded academic research projects and hobbies. But two decades after the world wide web first entered the popular imagination, it was born in Google, Facebook, and -- indirectly -- amazon, among the most powerful and valuable companies in the history of capitalism.

Proponents of blockchain do not accept the inevitability of this cycle.

In fact, they argue, the Internet's fundamentals are more radically open and decentralized than those of previous information technologies, and it could have stayed that way if we had succeeded in sticking to them. The online world will not be dominated by a handful of information-age giants; Our news platforms are less vulnerable to manipulation and fraud; Identity theft will be far less common; Advertising revenue will also be spread across a wider range of media.

To understand why, think of the Internet as two completely different systems stacked on top of each other, like one geological layer in an archaeological dig.

One layer is made up of software protocols developed in the 1970s and 1980s and reached critical mass in the 1990s, at least in terms of audience. A protocol is a software version of a common language that is a way for multiple computers to agree to communicate with each other. Some protocols control the flow of raw data over the Internet, some control the sending of E-mail messages, and some define web addresses.)

And then, on top of them, there was another layer of web-based services -- Facebook, Google, amazon, Twitter -- that essentially dominated the Internet world for the next decade.

The first layer -- we call InternetOne -- is built on open protocols, which in turn are defined and maintained by academic researchers and international standards organizations that are not affiliated with anyone.

In fact, the original openness still exists around us, in ways we may not be aware of. E-mail is still based on open protocols POP, SMTP, and IMAP; The site still USES open protocol HTTP services; Bits still travel over the Internet's original open protocol, TCP/IP.

You don't need to understand how these software protocols work technically to enjoy the benefits they bring. The key feature they share is that anyone can use it for free.

If you want to build a web page, you don't have to pay a licensing fee to a company that owns the HTTP protocol. If you want to send E-mail using SMTP, you don't have to sell some of your identity to advertisers. Like Wikipedia, the Open protocol of the Internet is the most impressive crowd-based product in human history.

To understand how enormous and imperceptible the benefits of these protocols are, imagine if one of the key standards had not been developed.

For example, the open standard GPS we use to define geographic location.

The global Positioning System (GPS) was originally developed by the US military and was first used for civilian use during the Reagan administration. For about a decade, it was used mainly by the aviation industry, until individual consumers began using it in car navigation systems.

Now that we have smartphones that can pick up signals from GPS satellites overhead, we use this extraordinary power to do everything from finding nearby restaurants and playing Pokemon Go to coordinating disaster relief.

But what if the military had kept GPS out of the public domain?

At some point in the 1990s, then, presumably, a market signal indicating consumers' interest in establishing precise geographic coordinates might flow to innovators in Silicon Valley and other technology hubs, so that these locations can be projected on digital maps.

There will certainly be years of intense competition between competitors, all of whom will put their own dedicated satellites into orbit and push their own unique protocols. However, considering the efficiency of location verification from a common method, the final market will choose a dominant model.

Let's call that imaginary company GeoBook.

Initially, embracing GeoBook in its entirety would be a leap forward for consumers and other companies trying to build a sense of place in hardware and software. But slowly, a darker story will emerge:

A single private company that can track billions of people around the world will create an advertising giant based on our mobile location. Any startup that tries to build geology-aware applications is vulnerable to the power of Geobooks. The proper angry polemical will be written to denounce the public threat of Big Brother in the sky.

But none of this has happened, for a simple reason.

Geolocation, like the location of web pages and E-mail addresses and domain names, is a problem we solved with open protocols. Because this is a problem we don't have, we rarely think about how well GPS does its job and how many different applications are built on top of it.

Open, decentralized networks are very active and work well on the InternetOne layer. But since we settled down on the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s, we've rarely adopted new open standards protocols.

After 1995, the biggest problems solved by technical experts - many of which revolved around identity, community and payment mechanisms - were left to the private sector. This led to a powerful layer of Internet services in the early 2000s, which we could call InternetTwo.

For all their ingenuity, the inventors of the Open Internet Protocol did not put a few key elements into it. These elements turned out to be crucial to the future of online culture. Perhaps most important, they did not establish a secure, open standard for determining human identity on the web.

The units of information can be defined -- pages, links, messages -- but people have no protocols of their own: there is no way to define and share your real name, your location, your interests, or (perhaps most importantly) your relationship with other Internet users.

This turns out to be a major oversight, since identity is a problem that would benefit from a recognized solution.

It is what Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin describes as a "base layer" of infrastructure: platforms such as language, roads and postal services, commerce and competition take place that are actually supported at the bottom of the public domain.

Offline, we don't have an open market to buy physical passports or social security Numbers; We have famous authorities, mostly backed by state power, that use these authorities to prove to others that we are who we claim to be.

But online, the private sector has suddenly stepped in to fill the vacuum. Because identity is characterized by universal problems, the market is strongly incentivized to define yourself and the people you know by a common denominator.

Self-reinforcing feedback loops that economists call "incremental returns" or "network effects" kick in, and after a period of experimentation involving social media start-ups such as Myspace and Friendster, the market determines what is essentially a proprietary standard that defines you and the people you know.

That standard is Facebook.

With more than 2 billion users, Facebook is far bigger than the entire Internet at the height of the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s. Just 14 years old, user growth has made it the sixth most valuable company in the world.

Facebook is the ultimate manifestation of the divide that divides the InternetOne and InternetTwo economies. No private company has protocols to define E-mail, GPS or open networks, but one has the data to define the social identity of today's 2 billion people-and one man, Mark Zuckerberg, holds most of the voting rights.

If you think that the rise of the centralized network is an inevitable cycle, and that the early idealism of open protocols is a misguided sense of youth, then we have little reason to worry about how we abandoned the vision of the InternetOne era. After all, we are now living in a fallen country, there is no way to return to the Garden of Eden, or the Garden itself is a will be destroyed by the illusion of centralized power.

In either case, there is no point in trying to restore InternetOne's architecture; Our only hope is to use the power of the state to control these corporate giants through regulation and antitrust action.

This is a variation on the old Audre Lorde maxim: "The owner's tools will never tear down the owner's house." You can't solve the problems technology creates for us by providing more technical solutions. You need to find a rival outside of software and servers to break up a monopoly.

But in this analogy, the owner's house is a two-story house. It is true that the superstructure cannot be dismantled with the tools to build it, but the open agreement below still has the potential to build something better.


One of the most persuasive advocates of the revival of open protocols is Juan Benet, a Mexican-born programmer.

He now lives in a three-bedroom rental in an alley outside Palo Alto, Calif., with his girlfriend, another programmer and an ever-changing list of guests, some of whom belong to Benet's organization, Protocol Labs.

On a warm September day, Benet greets me at the door in a black protocol Lab hoodie. The interior of the space is reminiscent of HBO's "Silicon Valley" incubator/fraternity house. Its living room is dominated by a row of black computer monitors.

In the foyer, "Welcome to Rivendell" was scrawled on a whiteboard, a nod to Elven City, the Lord of the Rings. "We call this house Rivendell," Bennett said shyly, "but it's not a very good Rivendell. There aren't enough books, waterfalls or elves."

Mr. Benet, 29, sees himself as a child of the first P2P revolution that briefly flourished in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fueled in large part by networks like BitTorrent that distribute media files, often illegally.

That initial boom was in many ways a logical extension of the Internet's decentralized roots in open protocols. The Internet has shown that you can reliably publish documents on a crowd-based network. Services such as BitTorrent or Skype take this logic to the next level, allowing ordinary users to add a new feature to the Internet: the creation of a distributed (and largely pirated) media library, just as with BitTorrent. Or helping people make phone calls over the Internet, like Skype.

Benet, sitting in his living room/office at Rivendell, told me that he thought that with the rise of Skype and BitTorrent, the early 2000s was like "the summer of P2P" -- its golden age.

"But then P2P hit a wall because people started liking centralized architecture." "Partly because the P2P business model is driven by piracy," he said.

Benet, a Computer science graduate from Stanford university, speaks in a way that evoks of Elon Musk: as he speaks, his eyes wander over a patch of air above you, as if he were looking at an invisible teleprinter to find a word.

He is enthusiastic about the technology being developed at Protocol LABS, but is also keen to put it in the wider context. For Benet, the shift from a distributed system to a more centralized approach was hardly anticipated.

"The rules of the game, the rules governing all these technologies, are very important." "The structure we're building now is going to paint a very different picture five or 10 years from now," he said.

"I knew P2P was something special," he continued. "But I didn't know how risky it was. I didn't realize I had to pick up the baton and now it's my turn to protect it."

Protocol Lab is Benet's attempt to pick up the baton, and its first project is a radical overhaul of the Internet file system, which includes the basic scheme we use to locate web pages on the web.

Benet called his System IPFS, which was short for "InterPlanetary File System".

The current protocol, HTTP, downloads web pages from one location to another, and there is no built-in mechanism for archiving online pages. IPFS, on the other hand, allows users to download a page from multiple locations at the same time, and includes what programmers call "historical versioning," so that past iterations do not disappear from history.

To support the protocol, Benet also created a system called Filecoin, which will allow users to effectively rent out unused hard disk space. (Think of it as an Airbnb for data.)

"Right now, there are so many standby or idle hard drives on the planet that their owners are just losing money," Benet says. "So you can bring a lot of supply online, which will reduce storage costs."

But as its name suggests, protocol LABS is far more ambitious than these projects, and Benet's larger mission is to support many new open source protocols in the coming years.

Why did the Internet go from open to closed?

Part of the explanation lies in the sin of inaction: as a new generation of programmers begins to tackle InternetOne's unresolved problems, there is an almost limitless source of money to invest as long as programmers keep the system closed.

The secret to the success of InternetOne's open protocols is that they developed at a time when most people didn't care about networks, so they were able to quietly reach critical mass without having to deal with wealthy conglomerates and venture capitalists.

But by the mid-2000s, promising new companies like Facebook could attract millions of dollars in financing, even before they became household names. Moreover, private money ensures that the company's critical software remains closed in order to extract as much value as possible for shareholders.

However, as venture capitalist Chris Dixon points out, there is another factor that is more technical in nature than finance.

"Let's say you want to build an open Twitter," explained Dixon, sitting in a conference room at Andreessen Horowitz's New York office, where he is a general partner. "I'm @cdixon on Twitter, so how do you store this information? You need a database."

A closed architecture like Facebook or Twitter puts all the information about a user -- their operations, their thumb up and photos, their relationship map to other people on the web -- into a private database maintained by the company. Whenever you view your Facebook news feeds, you can access a very small section of the database and see only the information relevant to you.

Running Facebook's database is an incredibly complex operation that relies on thousands of servers around the world, overseen by some of the planet's most brilliant engineers. From Facebook's point of view, they provide humanity with a valuable service: creating a common social graph for almost everyone on the planet.

They have to sell advertising to pay for the cost of providing the service -- and the sheer size of their networks gives them the staggering power to influence the minds of two billion people around the world -- is a bad but inevitable price to pay for sharing the social graph.

This trade-off does make sense in the mid-21st century; Creating a database that tracks the interactions of hundreds of millions of people -- let alone 2 billion -- is a problem that only one organization can solve.

But as Benet and his fellow blockchain evangelists are eager to demonstrate, that rationale may no longer exist.

So how do you get meaningful adoption of new infrastructure agreements in an era when big tech companies have attracted billions of users and hundreds of billions of dollars in cash?

If you happen to believe that the Internet in its current incarnation is causing significant and growing harm to society, then this seemingly esoteric question -- the difficulty of getting people to adopt new open source technology standards -- will ultimately have important consequences.

If we can't figure out a way to introduce a new infrastructure that can compete with the existing one, we'll be stuck on the Internet forever.

The best we can hope for is a government intervention to reduce the influence of Facebook or Google, or some kind of consumer revolt that encourages the market to shift to less hegemonical online services, which is equivalent to abandoning digital versions of large agricultural facilities for local farmers' market share.

Neither approach will overturn the fundamental thrust of InternetTwo.