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Sunday 22 October 2017
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An Exclusive Q&A with Sidechains’ Austin Hill

Crypto Biz Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Soshi sits down with Sidechains-backer Austin Hill to talk all things cryptocurrency

Within the Bitcoin community, there are few names better known than Austin Hill. The Montreal-based entrepreneur has quickly become a leading authority on all things Bitcoin through his backing of Sidechains and collaboration with Hashcash developer Adam Back.

Earlier this year Hill sent waves through the Bitcoin community because of his critique of Bitcoin’s block chain — which one could call the machine at the heart of the cryptocurrency itself. As he told CoinDesk “There is a practical reason why some of those things can’t operate on the block chain, and that’s because at peak, they’re doing more transactions than Bitcoin can support right now.” As an alternative, Hill proposed and became a prominent backer of Sidechains. An explainer of what Sidechains are can be read here.

Recently we got the chance to sit down with Hill to pick his mind about Sidechains, the future of the Bitcoin protocol, and all things concurrency. Below is our interview.

Soshi:  We were happy to see you enjoyed the “Sidechains Explained” article by Jacob Payne that was published on our web-site this month. It seemed to have struck a chord with a lot of readers. What in particular did you enjoy the most?

Hill:  Jacob took the time to study the concept and did some interested analogies that our team found very interesting.   It’s lovely to see the concept take hold.

Soshi: What do you think will happen to existing alt coins if Sidechains are implemented as an extension to the Bitcoin protocol?

Hill: I think it’s premature to predict. This is a fast moving storm, but they often say that even in a tornado that pigs can fly. Some of the alt coins, are pigs flying – supported by pump and dumpers willing to be the cowboys of the crypto currency space flouting laws. Some say that it’s easier to be a pirate then an admiral in the navy, but the danger to users who are unsuspecting victims in their artificial ponzi schemes will draw regulators and force things that are bad for the ecosystem.

Hopefully there will be a maturing. The algorithms that empower sidechains allow for that maturing to happen in a healthier way we believe, where scarcity races and innovation balance out.  A friend, Alan Kay once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.   But invention is a collaborative process.  Satoshi collaborated with the cypherpunks and Adam Back to improve as derivative software artistry.  Like all art, borrowing and using open, free ideas are a key part of innovation.   Hopefully the future will show that there doesn’t need to be a Faustian bargain between a single scarcity with Bitcoin and innovation.

Soshi: Have you been in contact with any existing altcoin developers, and have those developers expressed any interest in moving their alt-coin onto a Sidechain?

Hill: We have discussions within discussions.   When we convened the blockstream project we brought together the scientists and researchers who had invented and maintained the tech. It was our version of the Manhattan Project that gave birth to atomic energy and entire industries.   I wanted to make sure we started with the digital cash versions of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman and Fermi or Teller.  If you look at the history of the Manhattan Project it had multiple sites, multiple collaborations between material science, math, algorithm automation and new project financing.   @theBlockStream project is similar. It is a hybrid company that has adopted “Can’t do Evil” at its core because we all feel the awesome responsibility for the power for new economic systems and we need to ensure we are responsible members of the community.

Soshi: We read that the Bitcoin development team have given a tentative nod to Adam Back  for sidechains implementation. What time line do you see for it being added as an extension to Bitcoin?

Hill:   When the time is right.  There is already test code being looked at on the test net for bitcoin.  There are timelines for the easy stuff and we are readying sidechain tests nets for people to test implementations before it would be adopted to the main Bitcoin core.  Responsible deployments with secure code development and multi-party web of trust are still needed and that takes time.

Soshi: What can’t be done with a Sidechain that can be done with an Altcoin? How much security risk — if any —  is imposed on Bitcoin’s existing block if making the necessary changes to  permit Sidechains?

Hill:  We’ve gotten some new math from Stanford that allows ZNARKS and use of well pairing constructs to allow for levels of security that solve the 51% attack issues as well as create a new platform for programmable trust and ethical mining.   We obviously believe that using the existing investment and power usage of the SHA-256 POW system makes the most sense as the timewarp attacks and Sybil attacks that altcoins are vulnerable too need to stop (they encourage thieves, con men and pump and dumpers to game the victims of cryptocurrencies).  So leverage the open hash rate of the planet for everyone’s benefit and the increased use of Bitcoin for trust economics is critical.

The scaling, decentralized model of trust and security concerns have been addressed by the @theblockstream scientists but we owe it to the community to publish the math and those findings before we start marketing one coin to rule them all type master of the coin messages.   We think that those who have marketed vaporware or slideware to project fund using alt coin economics are hurting the ecosystem so we won’t play that game.

Soshi: Thanks for your time.

  • At last, some common sense… notice how evenly balanced Austin’s answers and thoughts are, between technical/science related and moral/ethical related. But he’s also not pulling any punches too, and rightly so. There is so much disingenuous nonsense being perpetrated in this crypto space at the moment, in the name of ‘openness’, ‘sociopolitical change’ and ‘decentralization’, by people who had no such interests before the ‘money protocol’ arrived.

  • Gene @ Tradle.io

    Question to Austin, what is the proper way for us to start experimenting with running oracles on a sidechain?