Coin Center's Peter Van Valkenburg on Preserving the Freedom to Innovate with Public Blockchains

In the age of financial surveillance, cryptocurrencies have created a headache for regulators. The ability to move value, across the world without any intermediary has many benefits to society but can sidestep state-level regulations. Further, the ICO boom has created new forms of capital creation and regulators have been watching the space closely.

Coin Center recognises the benefit of preserving the freedom to innovate with these permissionless public blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, and they support this by:

  • Producing and publishing policy research from respected academics and experts

  • Educating policymakers and the media about blockchain technology

  • Engaging in advocacy for sound public policy

In this interview, I talk with Coin Center’s Research Director, Peter Van Valkenburgh about the complexities of state v federal legislation and how they work with policymakers to support public blockchain innovation.

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Jesse Powell is Building a Culture of Crypto Values at Kraken

Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Tuesday 13th Nov, 2018
Company: Kraken
Role: CEO

Volatility in crypto is reflected in the businesses which have been built upon it. Only recently have we seen this volatility with Bitmain, where during the bull run of 2017 the business was generated $billions in revenue and profit, but as the market has corrected, both revenue and profit has seen a sharp fall.

The same can be said for exchanges, in 2017 most could not recruit support staff and engineers fast enough, but recruitment in crypto comes with risk. Exchanges are a honeypot for thieves and hackers with wallets containing vast amounts of crypto wealth. Not only must exchanges protect themselves from outside hackers but they too must be prepared for staff compromising data and wallets.

Under the leadership of Jesse Powell, Kraken has grown to a global team of over 800 people. To ensure smooth operations, Kraken must recruit the right people and develop robust processes to protect the security of the company, while ensuring that they maintain a healthy culture.

As an old-school, early days crypto enthusiast, Jesse has led by example, rebelling against the BitLicense and donating $2m to Coin Center to ensure regulations do not swamp the industry.

In this interview, I talk to Jesse about the journey he has been on growing Kraken, the challenges of building an exchange and broader industry issues from regulation to mainstream journalism.

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Adam Back on a Decade of Bitcoin

Interview location: London
Interview date: Friday 9th Nov, 2018
Company: Blockstream
Role: CEO

The Bitcoin whitepaper has eight references for eight projects and technologies which enabled and inspired Satoshi Nakamoto to create Bitcoin. One of those references is for Adam Back’s Hashcash, a proof-of-work email anti-spam tool.

Adam’s credentials as an early Bitcoiner are second to none. Not only is he cited in the whitepaper but his contributions to the early discussions around the development of the protocol are documented at the Nakamoto Institute.

Adam is now CEO of Blockstream, a leading developer of Bitcoin technologies. From sidechains to Lightning to their satellite network, Blockstream building out the commercial infrastructure to take Bitcoin to every corner of the earth.

In this interview, Adam reflects on a decade of Bitcoin with me, comparing and contrasting the early days of with now and explains to me why the whitepaper was different from previous attempts at digital cash. We also discuss the launch of liquid, how sidechains work and what is coming up for Blockstream.

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Francis Pouliot on the Network Effect of Money and Why Tokens Are Scams

Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Wednesday 7th Nov, 2018
Company: Satoshi Portal & Bylls.com
Role: CEO

Crypto tokens have come under increasing scrutiny over a range of issues:

  • Are they unregistered securities?

  • Do they hold any intrinsic value?

  • Can they be a medium of exchange when prices are volatile?

  • Are they scams?

Francis Pouliet, CEO of Satoshi Portal, recently entered into a Twitter debate with Brave CEO and President, Brendan Eich over the BAT token. Francis questioned both the legality of the ICO and the added friction for users of the Brave browser when using BAT.

In this interview, I discuss the value of tokens with Francis, whether Brave should consider using Bitcoin, the network effect of money and why the value of all tokens will eventually go to zero.

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Brave's Brendan Eich on Fixing Online Advertising

The online advertising model is broken all parties are hurting:

  • Users encounter a degraded experience as web pages take longer to load - leading to an increase in mobile data charges

  • Publishers are losing revenue to fraud, and ad blockers are reducing the reach of campaigns

  • Advertisers lack good information on who they are advertising to, and their ads are appearing on fake websites

Brave is attempting to fix this, but not without controversy. Brave is growing as users are increasingly demanding greater online privacy and the tools which Brave uses to block scripts and ads is improving the experience for users, but this, in turn, is causing problems for advertisers and publishers.

Brave is attempting to change the model by changing the relationship between the three parties, ensuring that only ads that real people see on real sites are paid for, and providing a better distribution of income. The controversy comes with the Basic Attention Token, which Bitcoin maximalists have regularly criticised, both for the ICO issuance process and whether the token has any value for users.

Brave faces an uphill task in convincing people to use the token which arguably adds friction for all parties. In this interview, I talk with CEO and President of Brave, Brendan Eich about his rich history in tech, why he built the Brave browser and some of the controversies around the token.

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Debunking Economics and Why Bitcoin Will Fail With Steve Keen

Steve Keen is challenging modern economic theory which led us into the 2008 crisis. With his two books: Debunking Economics and Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis, Steve outlines the inherent flaws in the capitalist system which are required to make them work.

Bitcoin is often praised by proponents of Austrian Economics, but Steve believes that Bitcoin will fail due to flaws in the protocol design. In this interview I talk to Steve about why the 2008 financial crisis happens, the flaws in the current capitalist model and what Steve like and dislikes about cryptocurrencies.

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Dan Held on Bitcoin's Immaculate Conception

Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Thursday 25th October
Company: Picks & Shovels
Role: Co-founder and Director of BD

It is 10 years since Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoin whitepaper, and in that time the protocol has survived so much: state-level bans, the Mt. Gox collapse, the closing of the Silk Road and civil war to name a few. Bitcoin has survived and is a +$100bn network, changing the rules and nature of money.

In this bonus release, I talk with Dan Held from Picks and Shovels about Bitcoin’s immaculate conception.

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Casa's Jeremy Welch and Alena Vranova on Crypto Custody

Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Saturday 27th October
Company: Casa
Role: Founder (Jeremy Welch), Strategy (Alena Vranova)

As the value of Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies increase, custody has become an increasingly important and sophisticated part of self-sovereignty. The freedom and ease at which cryptocurrencies can be transferred also makes them a honeypot for hackers, coupled with immutable records, there is little recourse should your funds be stolen.

People hold their cryptocurrencies in a variety of wallets, from paper to hardware but these still expose vulnerabilities. From lost seed phrases to personal attacks, there is a demand in the market for more sophisticated custody solutions, and Casa is leading the way in developing the space.

With their central three-of-five management solution, Casa has targeted those with significant portfolios, but with the release of their Bitcoin full node and lightning node they are opening up options to more customers.

In this interview, I talk with Casa founder, Jeremy Welch and strategy lead, Alena Vranova (previously Trezor) about how the Casa solution works, the challenges of managing custody and why design is central to everything they do.

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Reviewing the Bitmain IPO with Samson Mow and Katherine Wu

Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Thursday 18th October
Company: Blockstream (Samson Mow), Messari (Katherine Wu)
Role: Chief Strategy Office (Samson Mow), Director of Business Development (Katherine Wu)

The Bitmain IPO was to be the largest in history. Riding the 2017 bull run, Bitmain delivered staggering growth numbers with $billions in revenue and profit, but the bear market crash of 2018 has exposed fragilities in the business and raised many concerns with operations and strategy.

Coindesk reported this week that investors received false information around the most recent funding round, this alongside the significant questions surrounding the balance sheet, faltering innovation and the decision to support and prop up the price of Bitcoin Cash is casting a shadow over the IPO.

In this interview, I discuss the IPO and the state of Bitmain with Blockstream’s Samson Mow and Messari’s Katherine Wu.

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Personal Privacy and Safety in the Surveillance Age with Jameson Lopp

In his book, 1984, published in Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell predicted a dystopian future with the population subjected to mass government surveillance. That day is here, but the surveillance isn’t just that operated by the NSA, but by the Silicon Valley behemoths, hungry for data to provide their clients with more innovate advertising solutions.

These advertising solutions range from the innocent use of location data to show us restaurants nearby to the more sinister use of data to influence elections, as seen with the Cambridge Analytics scandal.

There is a small but growing group of people who are rejecting this form of surveillance and business is responding. Privacy tools have gone from niche to standard. Opera includes a built-in VPN, Brave blocks ads and allows for Tor tabs for anonymous browsing and DuckDuckGo has placed personal privacy at the centre of search.

A lack of privacy protection can lead to a multitude of problems:

  • Hacking

  • Personal attacks

  • Extortion

  • Unwanted attention

  • Damaged careers

Despite the risks of not taking control of your privacy, there is still a general lazy attitude towards it, hence why companies such as Brave and DuckDuckGo are growing. They are making privacy easy. In this interview

I welcome back Jameson Lopp to talk about his approach to privacy, and his recent Medium post on the subject: A Modest Privacy Protection Proposal - How to reclaim your privacy in the surveillance age as well as Jameson updating me on progress at Casa.

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The B Foundation and Nouriel Roubini's Testimony to Congress with Giacomo Zucco

Giacomo Zucco is a proud Bitcoin Maximalist, and his presentation on the subject at the Honey Badger conference in Riga led to mixed reactions. Some called out the stupidity of Bitcoin Maximalism specifically concerning his slide: The Four Universal Truths of Bitcoin Maximalism:

  1. Everything which is not Bitcoin is a scam!

  2. Every attempt at changing Bitcoin is a scam!

  3. Every attempt at pushing people to spend Bitcoin is a scam!

  4. We shouldn’t be nice to scammers!

While the slide was part tongue in cheek, and I suspect point 3 was trolling Bitcoin Cash supporters, many took this as a strict doctrine of Bitcoin Maximalism and attacked Giacomo for it. Bitcoin Cash is indeed under threat, the Bitmain IPO has identified how much Bitmain accepting and buying BCH is supporting the price, and outside of Bitcoin, very few projects have managed to demonstrate use case or adoption.

Even with Bitcoin, there are no coiners who attack the entire crypto space, chief amongst the naysayers is Nouriel Roubini, who last week declared war on crypto with his testimony to Congress. The disappointing thing about Nouriel’s presentation was that he made many good points, but became lost amongst exaggerations and falsities.

In this interview, I discuss Nouriel’s testimony with Giacomo Zucco, the disservice he did himself with how he presented his arguments and what Giacomo and I agreed and disagreed with. We also discuss:

  • The B Foundation

  • Brexit

  • Monero

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Questioning the Obsession with Blockchains and On-Chain Governance with Nic Carter

Union Square Ventures posted a blog post this week titled The Myth of the Infrastructure Phase, shining a light on the imbalance between infrastructure work in crypto and DApp usage. There is an abundance of blockchain scaling projects, alternative currencies and governance protocols but a distinct lack of users. Why is this? Are people solving problems which do not exist? Is this a speculative land grab? How will this all play out?

In this interview, I talk to Nic Carter, a partner at Castle Island Ventures, who invest in equity deals for companies building on public blockchains, specifically Bitcoin.

We question a number of crypto related topics including::

  • Token models

  • The obsession with blockchains

  • What is the point of on-chain governance

  • Whether the web 3.0 stack is a thing

  • Mining centralisation

  • Bitcoin privacy

  • Realised cap as an economic model for Bitcoin

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Jimmy Song on the Game Theory of Bitcoin Attacks and why Proof of Work Needs to be Expensive

The recent Bitcoin protocol bug, CVE-2018-1744, received considerable amounts of alarmist press, “For less than $80,000, you could have brought down the entire network,” “The most catastrophic bug in recent years, and certainly one of the most catastrophic bugs in Bitcoin ever.” Despite these claims, few looked into the detail of the bug and the game theory behind executing an attack.

Code has bugs; code has always had bugs, rather than focus on criticising developers it is important to assess how it happened, why it happened and how to avoid similar problems in the future. Alongside process, it is also important to not just analyse the potential damage a bug can cause but also the game theory behind an attack.

While the founder of the bug, Awemany, used his discovery of the bug to launch a scathing and personal attack on Bitcoin, Jimmy Song analysed the bug, how it could be exploited and the game theory behind such an attack.

This week I caught up with Jimmy to discuss his findings, and also:

  • State level attacks

  • Mining centralisation

  • 51% attack game theory

  • Why proof of work needs to be expensive

  • How non-techies can support Bitcoin

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The Threat of Fractional Reserve Bitcoin from Wall Street with Saifedean Ammous & Caitlin Long

Bitcoin is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy with regulators and Wall Street coming to the table.

Following the 2008 market crash, analysts are highlighting new risks for the global economy with rising government debt presenting a risk of a bond crash. The last 12 months have also seen a fall in the value of the local currency in countries such as Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Data from Local Bitcoin’s highlights that in failing economies, Bitcoin is often seen as a safe haven.

In this episode, I talk with the author of The Bitcoin Standard, Saifedean Ammous and Wall Street veteran, Caitlin Long. We discuss:

  • The state of the global economy

  • Keynesian economics

  • Negative interest rates

  • Deregulation of the banking industry KYC/AML

  • The Bank Secrecy Act

  • Privacy and is it dangerous for Bitcoin

  • Rehypothecation

  • Fractional reserve Bitcoin

  • Implications of Wall Street adoption of Bitcoin

  • How the Bitcoin revolution will happen

  • Cross-border payments with Bitcoin

  • Liverpool winning the Premier League

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