Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bitcoin and Science: DNA is the Original Decentralized System

What is the role (if any) of Bitcoin and blockchain technology with regard to the natural world and traditional science? One obvious link is using the blockchain as a means of improving distributed community computing projects with tracking and remuneration. BOINC, whose software runs SETI@home, has introduced Gridcoin, and [Protein]Folding@home has introduced Foldingcoin. In addition, these distributed community computing models could be extended using blockchain technology as a way to coordinate and offer supercomputing time to DIYscientists; opening up access to a scarce resource which was previously only available to professional researchers (Zennet). Other projects are investigating a way to harness otherwise wasted crypto-mining cycles (where the computing problem (computing a nonce) must be deliberately intensive, wasteful, and one-way), like Primecoin’s system (, of requiring miners to find long chains of prime numbers instead of otherwise unusable hashes.

Sense-making Models: Religion, Science, Political-Economy, Information
There is a more fundamental link between the blockchain and science in the grand scope of our human models for making sense of the world: religion, science, political-economy, and now information. Information is an interesting paradigm by which we are starting to see the structure of the world and make sense of it, both in physical and digital reality. The blockchain is an information technology, and the Internet and the blockchain provide a heightened information climate; a means of improving and modulating the resolution of information through faster more-expedient transfer, discovery, deployment, and use.

Information as a Sense-making Paradigm Reconfigures Science
The reach of information as a sense-making paradigm can be seen in how this idea is reconfiguring approaches to science. One way is in the growth and pervasiveness of big data and data-intensive science. Nearly every field of traditional study now has a computational complement (computational biology, computational astronomy, computational philosophy, computational law, etc.). The scientific method is transformed from a narrow hypothesis-experimentation loop to dynamic hypothesis formation per large-data results, vastly scaling the degree of experimental activity.

DNA: The Original Decentralized System
Even more profoundly, information is changing how we think about problems in science. For example, the old thinking was that chemistry and molecular biology are the conditions for life, and this is true in the sense that they are the substrate, the hardware for life. But now life is being seen as an information problem. Biology is a software system that runs on the substrate of chemistry and molecular biology. Wetware biology is the language of information, a software system to signal, transcribe, transmit information, encode and decode information, and send secure messages; a lot like a blockchain system. Biology is perhaps the original decentralized system; every cell has the full instruction set, the organism’s entire DNA, like Bitcoind nodes have the full ledger of every transaction.

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