Bitcoin gets slower, smaller and more like Ethereum

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Editor’s Note: Our writer Galen Moore (who previously wrote an analysis of STOs) attended the MIT Bitcoin Expo this weekend. These are his field notes on his interviews with a bunch of the leading thinkers in the Bitcoin community, along with links to the full audio if you want to go deeper. ~ Danny Crichton

The MIT Bitcoin Expo is not really about Bitcoin, per se. Many other cryptocurrencies are discussed. Sometimes, warring factions find themselves in the same room.

On the Friday night before the main event, a Boston Ethereum developers group hosted a Bitcoin maximalist VC and the CEO of a private-key custody company for “a conversation on Lightning and the future of Bitcoin.”

It was a frank conversation in front of a room full of people who may have been skeptical about the future of Bitcoin. Castle Island Ventures general partner Nic Carter allowed that Bitcoin’s fixed money supply might become a liability. Jeremy Welch, CEO of Casa, acknowledged that Lightning is not going to solve all of Bitcoin’s problems.

For example, Lightning makes sending and receiving bitcoin faster, cheaper and a little more private, but questions remain as to how such Bitcoin payments will be useful.

Developing (and not developing) the future of Bitcoin

James Prestwich of Summa. Photo by Galen Moore

Carter and Welch’s conversation turned to ossification, a proposed drawdown of developer activity on Bitcoin to guard against future attacks. One Ethereum developer leaned back to ask me what ossification means. “Turning into bone,” I said. He looked a little mystified. Misunderstandings remain between followers of the two largest cryptocurrencies. Ethereum developers remain in a kind of “move fast and break things” mindset, while Bitcoin developers treat their codebase like it was software for air traffic control.

There are some who are trying to bridge the gap. James Prestwich’s consulting firm, Summa, helps Ethereum developers that want to use Bitcoin. Beyond reaching a bigger market, this has technical advantages, Prestwich said. We were drinking pineapple-strawberry Lacroix before his presentation about a better way to handle cross-chain transactions.

“Most Ethereum developers work on contracts and not consensus layer,” he said. “Contracts are not as abstracted from consensus as we like to think they are. It’s a very messy, leaky layer. The advantages here are more on the consensus layer, but that’s going to affect how your smart contract works.” The full audio of my interview with Prestwich is here and a recording of all the presentations at MIT Bitcoin Expo 2019 can be found here.

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