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In Search of The First Transaction

At the height of an eventful week – Cloud and IoT developments, Open Source Think Tank,  Linux Foundation Summit – I learned about the fate of my fellow alumnus, an upperclassman as it were, the brilliant open source developer and crypto genius known for the first transaction on Bitcoin.

Hal Finney is a Caltech graduate who went on to become one of the most dedicated, altruistic and strong contributors to open source cryptography. We are a small school in size, so one would think it’s easy to keep in touch; we try but do poorly, mostly a very friendly and open bunch, but easy to loose ourselves into the deep work at hand and sometimes miss what’s hiding in plain sight.

He was among the first to work with Phil Zimmermann on PGP, created the first reusable proof-of-work (POW) system years before Bitcoin, had just the right amount of disdain for noobs in my opinion, and years later, one of the first open source developers with Satoshi Nakamoto on Bitcoin, in fact the first transaction ever. There is a great story about Hal in Forbes this week, “My hunt for Bitcoin’s creator led to a paralyzed crypto genius, thank you, Hal Finney for going through with it, and Andy Greenberg for writing it. Sometimes it is very painful, shocking to see how things turn out, I think this is one of those moments when we realize how much this is going to mean to all of us, the brilliant minds of programmers like Hal Finney, who never sought the limelight, but did so much for us without asking for anything in return, who leave behind a long lasting contributions to privacy and security in our society, he is in fact a co-creator of the Bitcoin project. Do you realize that every bitminer successfully providing the required POW, should in fact reach the very same conclusion at the end of every new transaction… forever? You’d better accurately represent who was the very first. What a legacy to remember!

I often go to Santa Barbara to see a very, very close and dear person there, my daughter. But now, there is another reason to stop by and pay tribute to one of the finest there. We will all be in search of the first transaction, eventually.

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Back to the Future: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

As information consumers that depend so much on the Network or Cloud, we sometimes indulge in thinking what will happen when we really begin to feel the effects of Moore’s Law and Nielsen’s Law combined, at the edges: the amount of data and our ability to consume it (let alone stream it to the edge), is simply too much for our mind to process. We have already begun to experience this today: how much information can you consume on a daily basis from the collective of your so-called “smart” devices, your social networks or other networked services, and how much more data is left behind. Same for machines to machine: a jet engine produces terabytes of data about its performance in just a few minutes, it would be impossible to send this data to some remote computer or network and act on the engine locally.  We already know Big Data is not just growing, it is exploding!

The conclusion is simple: one day we will no longer be able to cope, unless the information is consumed differently, locally. Our brain may no longer be enough, we hope to get help, Artificial Intelligence comes to the rescue, M2M takes off, but the new system must be highly decentralized in order to stay robust, or else it will crash like some kind of dystopian event from H2G2. Is it any wonder that even today, a large portion if not the majority of the world Internet traffic is in fact already P2P and the majority of the world software downloaded is Open Source P2P? Just think of BitCoin and how it captures the imagination of the best or bravest developers and investors (and how ridiculous one of those categories could be, not realizing its potential current flaw, to the supreme delight of its developers, who will undoubtedly develop the fix — but that’s the subject of another blog).

Consequently, centralized high bandwidth style compute will break down at the bleeding edge, the cloud as we know it won’t scale and a new form of computing emerges: fog computing as a direct consequence of Moore’s and Nielsen’s Laws combined. Fighting this trend equates to fighting the laws of physics, I don’t think I can say it simpler than that.

Thus the compute model has already begun to shift: we will want our Big Data, analyzed, visualized, private, secure, ready when we are, and finally we begin to realize how vital it has become: can you live without your network, data, connection, friends or social network for more than a few minutes? Hours? Days? And when you rejoin it, how does it feel? And if you can’t, are you convinced that one day you must be in control of your own persona, your personal data, or else? Granted, while we shouldn’t worry too much about a Blade Runner dystopia or the H2G2 Krikkit story in Life, the Universe of Everything, there are some interesting things one could be doing, and more than just asking, as Philip K Dick once did, do androids dream of electric sheep?

To enable this new beginning, we started in Open Source, looking to incubate a project or two, first one in Eclipse M2M, among a dozen-or-so dots we’d like to connect in the days and months to come, we call it krikkit. The possibilities afforded by this new compute model are endless. One of those could be the ability to put us back in control of our own local and personal data, not some central place, service or bot currently sold as a matter of convenience, fashion or scale. I hope with the release of these new projects, we will begin to solve that together. What better way to collaborate, than open? Perhaps this is what the Internet of Everything and data in motion should be about.

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