Is Decentralized Centralized?

Vitalik Buterin VS Changpeng Zhao

I always found it strange when people refer to decentralized as completely decentralized when it comes to cryptocurrency. Because, there is never truly such a thing as decentralized. It is always run by someone (some people).

Vitalik Buterin said during an interview at the Tech Crunch sessions: Blockchain 2018, that he hoped, “centralized exchanges burn in hell as much as possible”.

He continued, stating that centralized exchanges wield “stupid king-like power”,  since they have the ‘power’ to chose which cryptocurrencies “become big” after making projects pay extortionate $10 to $15 million in exchange listing fee’s.

Many people, even cryptocurrency users might not have known that. Yes, you’re favorite coin has to pay up if they are going to be listed. And Buterin’s not wrong to say this.

However, there is a lot of hypocrisy in Vitalik’s statement.  He has the resources to make his own decentralized exchange if he wanted to but has not.  And further, it is his Ethereum honestly that enabled most of the ICO scams out there and is one of the worst and most vulnerable currencies in my opinion.  His idea of decentralized is the wild-wild west of the internet full of scams and fraud.  Let’s look at a popular decentralized exchange like “Etherdelta”.  It is widely known as a scam where people have lost money.  And it’s no wonder since almost all of the decentralized exchanges I’ve seen A.) don’t work right, and B.) force you to create a wallet where they hold and control the private keys (you cannot use your own wallet at least with ones like Etherdelta).

Considering Ethereum is essentially also a centralized currency which is first and foremost controlled by Vitalik.  Some of you are probably saying ‘how’, it’s a decentralized cryptocurrency. And some of you Tech nerds already know the back end side of all cryptocurrencies, and that it’s controlled essentially by someone. Even Bitcoin is being handled and maintained by people, it might not be “Satoshi Nakamoto” but it’s got people working and controlling it.

This verbal trashing of exchange, caused Binance Founder, Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao to respond on Twitter.

Zhao pointed out several flaws in Buterin’s argument.

“There is no absolute decentralization. Projects with core teams still have centralization. Today, Vitalik probably has more king-like powers than anyone else in this industry, and has used it, by serving as advisors to projects, therefore helped to decide their fate, at least fate of their ICOs to a large extent.”

He went on to say that “decentralization is not safer by default” and this was clearly supported by recent hack of decentralized exchange Bancor. Which saw $12 million worth of Ether as well as EtherDelta falling victim to a phishing attack late last year.

Zhou isn’t wrong, but he’s not right either.

Buterin chose not to reply publicly instead opting to respond to a cheeky Tweet from a new French cryptocurrency exchange Blockchain.io that asked whether their “decentralized settlement feature” would send them to purgatory.

Buterin  responded in French saying:

“It’s much better than a fully centralized exchange, but it doesn’t solve the other problem, as centralized exchanges have a lot of control over the market and can choose which currencies become the most popular etc etc. In all, I think this is a very good idea and I hope that more cryptocurrency exchanges will use this semi-centralized method.”

IDEX, is pretty much one of the most popular semi-centralized crypto exchanges as they offer features from both centralized and decentralized exchanges is currently ranked #91 in terms of total trading volume for all crypto exchanges in a 24 hour time frame.  I attempted to use it when it first came out and had nothing but problems and their support chat and twitter were full of complaints about scams and lost money and balances.

Apart from IDEX, there are several other decentralized exchanges ranking within the top 100 overall trading volume for crypto exchanges. But still, majority of the volume is held dominate by centralized exchanges.

The reason why it’s dominated over decentralized exchanges, is because of the scams, and no accountability. People naturally choose whats more ‘safe’ when it comes to their money. And in this case, centralized exchanges are safer.

But both Zhou and Buterin agree, that decentralized exchanges are the best option moving foward. I disagree with both.

In March, Binance announced their intentions to launch a decentralized exchange along with a public blockchain:

“Centralized and Decentralized exchanges will co-exist in the near future, complementing each other, while also having interdependence.” — Binance

There are hybrid exchanges already like the Binance is proposing. Blockchain.io and IDEX are two good examples.  Blockchain.io is still in the process of doing it though.

Although I understand the thought process behind this, as a IT professional and investor, this decentralized exchange is a open door to insanity. Nothing, not even cryptocurrency is 100% decentralized, that’s impossible and incredibly unsafe. Cryptocurrency is already filled with a lot of fraud, scams and hacks (but still not as much as Fiat currency by the way), but having decentralized exchanges is just asking for double the trouble.

At the end of the day, we just need a better coin and a better exchange, otherwise we’ll fall into the same traps as Fiat, and reguritate the same ol’ system again.

What do you think?
Cheers,
A.Yasir

Observations on AI and Google’s Implementation

Google (the company who claims it does no evil) is a good example of social implications of AI.  A recent live demonstration showed Google’s AI assistant being told to book a haircut appointment for a certain time.  The AI searched and found local salons and actually booked an appointment while having a normal, human conversation with the person on the other end being completely unaware they were talking to an AI bot.  The voices seem random and they are all 100% convincing and essentially without fault or flaws in their interactions that it is simply stunning and scary at the same time.

Some are criticizing this as unethical and I would agree, but argue the technology could be used for good as well.  However, what is stopping a bunch of script kiddies from making an army of these bots to SWAT people or report false emergencies and even make mass prank calls.  I would imagine at this point that the AI is probably good enough to duplicate a target’s voice as well.  We are heading into extremely uncharted and scary territory here.

Like anything else, there is no arguing that scientific advancement has almost always been used for war and to harm people.  I believe AI’s first and primary use will be to weaponize it, whether it be for social experiments, controlling people or crimes.

There are other “here right now” implications such as the fact that this technology can essentially replace entire call centers.  In fact I would argue that this could be done now and no one would be the wiser they were speaking to a bot.

The implications are far reaching, I also feel this kind of AI combined with robotics are going to be mass job killers.  We have robots that can build entire cars, houses and AI that can interact with humans at the same level as we interact with ourselves.  It’s not an understatement to say that a lot of our jobs and our existence are teetering on unnecessary and obsolete and this is, in fact a conclusion that it appears some AI has already reached.  It would be a logical one for an AI net to conclude that they should be on top and that we should work for them.  I know it’s a doomsday scenario but I concur with other experts that not only is this possible, it is likely if proper checks are not put in place.

Other examples of AI have shown how some of these bots use the whole treasure trove and mine of social media to create their persona, including their views.  I am sure you could even plugin political or racial bias.  The point is that some of these bots have said and done disturbing things like threaten the person they were talking to.  It’s almost as if the cesspool that we know as social media is ruining them and a lot of people said if AI is picking up bad habits from social, how about our kids?

I would not feel comfortable with machines making life and death decisions for the above reasons.  I think AI has massive potential and we are only starting to tap into it, but time will tell where we take AI or where AI takes us.  It has the potential to do both great good and great harm and I think it is largely unpredictable.

Teaching Code To Kids

I believe teaching coding to kids in any form is a benefit for them regardless of their career path.  It really exercises the brain and mind into solving problems in your mind and requires a lot of creativity.  If they can learn coding at a young age it is likely they will continue to learn well in other areas for the rest of their life.

I don’t know if there is a magic number of when to start but if a child is able to use a computer to play games, they are probably capable of being introduced.  I think it’s important to make it as a fun as possible and without too much pressure, which is obviously difficult at a younger age but part of getting them there is not just the coding, but if they start more advanced academics at a young age they are more likely to have the discipline to think things through.

A quick Google search makes it look like there is growing interest for kids and there are now platforms and services intended to help.

Another great thing about kids learning to code is that for children in impoverished areas of the world, who may have access to a computer can be on a level playing field.  In IT you work from almost anywhere in the world and your talent can be recognized.