On May 13th 2018, HBO has aired the eight and final episode of Silicon Valley’s fifth season. At the time, it seemed like a funny crypto story about 51% attacks and corporate interests. But in the context of the Bitcoin Cash fork, it’s easy to observe a striking resemblance between the two scenarios.
First of all, let’s talk about the rather obvious and well-known situation of BCH. The most significant and resourceful Bitcoin fork has reached a point of turmoil, where even the block size increase and mining-led governance meet resistance and skepticism. When it first diverged and separated, Bitcoin Cash was a mixture of Keynesian economics and mining corporatism. But when a reckless and eccentric patent troll has acquired too much power and stopped agreeing with the others, we became witnesses to an open hashrate war.
On the other hand, we have on of the wittiest contemporary satires of the tech world. “Silicon Valley” is the first television show to present a cryptocurrency-oriented plot, and the depiction involves a battle for majoritarian hash power. In a nutshell, a bunch of start-up nerds decide to escape from the toxic world of VC funding through an ICO.
Up to this point, the resemblance isn’t really clear. But if you take a look at S5E8, it all comes together: a Chinese hardware manufacturer teams up with an American entrepreneur to start a hashrate war and gain majority? The plan is to do a 51% attack and double-spend the transactions on the blockchain? A billionaire who’s eligible to play a James Bond villain acquires an interest in the network and uses his wealth and infrastructure to run an attack of his own? Wait, what?
Strangely enough, the resemblance between Silicon Valley’s characters and the BCH protagonists is striking
There are many technical details that the TV show gets wrong when it comes to the way in which 51% attacks work. For the sake of dramatization, it’s implied that previously-validated transactions can be deleted and the entire network consensus protocol can be rewritten according to the majority’s convenience.
But when it comes to describing the sides involved, the resemblance is strikingly accurate. The arrogant Gavin Belson, who likes to block innovation with his patents, enjoys dirty fights which he sustains by virtue of his wealth, and has built a reputation through controversy, is a lot like Craig “Satoshi” Wright. The former gets access to the Pied Piper infrastructure and runs a hashrate attack of his own, the latter discovers Bitcoin and tries to take control over it by political means. Both men see power as a greater end than money and spend their wealth to boost their reputation and influence. And when it comes to opportunities, they both appear to be just as greedy and reckless: one wants to overtake a blockchain for the sake of destroying competition, while the other might be doing the same if his Blockstream spy status gets confirmed.
Then there’s the unholy alliance between a self-centered American entrepreneur slash corporate CEO Laurie Bream and the Chinese director of a hardware manufacturing operation, Yao. It’s a match made in Heaven, as they both seek to increase their wealth and extend their influence on a globalized market whose labor and capital factors enable profitable trades. And if you haven’t figured out the metaphor by now, this is about Roger Ver and Jihan Wu. They may not be best friends, but they find common goals and pursue them accordingly. And in both the real-world and fictional example, their biggest enemy is given by the grassroots developers who innovate to the extent that their monopolistic business model becomes less profitable.
Roger Ver could have stuck with the original Bitcoin project, but it wouldn’t have been as profitable. Listening to the opinions of the economically-illiterate computer programmers didn’t seem like a rational idea from his financial standpoint, so he sought to create a similar project which more closely represents his interests. Sure, ideologies can be used to justify any decision ever, but at the end of the day it’s all about the money.
Similarly, Laurie Bream is the greedy CEO of a fictional company of the scale of Google. She has a profit-centered vision which prevents true innovation from happening and preserves a safe approach to business. Her decisions often disappoint and irritate those who see the potential of new and disruptive technologies, and ultimately the Pied Piper folks do an ICO just to get away from her and maintain their truthful ethos. In the case of Bitcoin, the situation was the other way around, but let’s keep on track and talk about the Cash version.
Both Yao and Jihan Wu are morally-grey and simply follow the more profitable path. They don’t mind producing devices for all the actors who wage war against each other, but simultaneously keep an agenda according to their best interest. As heads of hardware manufacturing operations, they know that everyone needs them and never refuse the extra money. But as individuals with aspirations of greatness, they take whichever side brings them more power and money. What is worth mentioning is that they both kept their word and remained honest when pledging their allegiance – which makes all this parallel even weirder.
“Silicon Valley” predicted the BCH hash war
Let’s say that the Pied Piper folks are very much like Linux or Bitcoin developers: pure in their intentions, enthusiastic about the latest technologies, and mostly careless about the financial aspects. If BTC was run like a company, we’d have 128 MB blocks by now and the mass mentality would discourage participating the validation process by running a node. Thankfully, we have Bitcoin Cash to take that route and show us the consequences of corporate blockchain governance.
As previously established, the season five finale is all about an ongoing hash war in which every side tries to take control of the Pied Piper blockchain. The Bitcoin Cash story, which is still unfolding in front of our eyes, features two greedy factions which seek absolute control of the protocol. Ultimately, a split between BCH ABC and BCH SV (Satoshi’s Vision, that is) is bound to happen. But just like we’ve seen in the HBO show, there’s an ongoing struggle to secure the most hashrate and attain protocol domination. Our own Gavin Belson wants to go to war at any cost for rather vengeful and destructive reasons, while the real-life Laurie Bream and Yao want to consolidate their hegemonic position. There is no Pied Piper team to issue a patch which phases them away, and it’s going to be interesting to see the outcome.
By the end of this nasty hash war, we might see at least some attempts to double-spend Bitcoin Cash and plenty of dramatic exchanges on Twitter. Even after the fork, we will be witnessing an ideological division and an ongoing feud of Keynesianism and the supposed intentions of the real Satoshi Nakamoto.
The way BCH’s split plays out is an interesting phenomenon to which the entire community pays close attention, as every small event can be a precious lesson for Bitcoinists. Maintaining the purity and the good intentions of the original blockchain is a hard process, and in order to prevent ugly political disputes between influential members, a symbiosis between the business side and the developers must be maintained at all times.
But how about we forget about all these deep metaphors and watch the drama unfold with pixelated 8-bit Star Wars graphics on hashwars.cash?