At least in Silicon Valley, not everyone is enthusiastic about the hard fork. At the last Silicon Valley Ethereum meetup in a show of hands only about half were in favor. Prominent dissenters now include Nick Szabo, Fred Ehrsam of Coinbase, and Peter Todd.

Curiously, all of the Ethereum develeopers were for the fork, whereas all of the economists, historians and CEO types were generally against. Why? As economics and moderator Steve Waldman pointed out, it sets a terrible precedent. Among other things, this may effectively insatiate an incentive structure that instead of penalizing loud and dumb actors, effectively incentivizes them to be even louder and dumber (c.f. “Swarm Intelligence” author Eric Bonabeau’s work on this subject).

This was a significant reversal from a week prior, when at another meetup on the legal implications of the DAO, a question was raised in a pitched voice by one of the organizers, “So who is in this room is against the hard fork?”[1] No one raised their hand.

To fork or not to fork, that is the question

One reason I didn’t raise my hand is that I have gradually come over to the opinion that a hard fork may be the least bad solution to this DAO drama. To state explicitly:

  1. The stated intent of the smart contract diverged from the implementation of the same
  2. A great many people will otherwise loose significant financial value as a result of this divergence
  3. This divergence can be remedied with the appropriate measures deployed via a hard fork
  4. Otherwise lots of people will be angry

This is fairly straight forward and if that is all the logic you use you will probably be content with Colony founder Jack de Rose’s post on the topic.

To take up pitchforks against a sea of troubles

Why I don’t think this is nearly as straight forward is the following questions:

  1. Does Ethereum need adoption of solutions that will be extralegal in some regulatory jurisdictions to reach a significant market size? If so, will the extralegal solutions prompt a response by regulators?
  2. When these reach any sort of scale will parties with a significant interest (e.g. regulators) attempt to use Ethereum founders (or “curators”) as a leverage point to get their will carried out? How robust is this network of individuals? Will they change their recommendations depending on the leverage? Also, are they shiftable depending on various financial incentives?
  3. Will well-crafted social media and marketing efforts be deployed to direct the crowd to an aim that the crowd would otherwise not have had?
  4. Will savvy marketeers even cultivate crises and use “us vs. them” dynamics in order to amplify their own marketing efforts?
  5. Will the voices of reddit be taken as canonical and will this be used as the primary communication channel for resolving any sort of dispute? If so, how will this play out for those who are not particularly active on this channel?
  6. To what extent will people continue to build high risk ventures on Ethereum and develop the ecosystem if they know that the community can rally against them and effectively vote them out of existence?
  7. To what extent will a hard fork allow that deeper issues (i.e. problems with Solidity, smart contract security, ) remain unfixed and future pitfalls?
  8. How can one accurately assess the opinion of the crowd without privileging special interests? Are current voting mechanisms adequate? For example, Nick Szabo commented that anonymous voting mechanisms are vastly preferable to things like carbonvote, which have several historically documented problems.
  9. Is there any way to differentiate the voting interests of people who have a long term vested interest in the ecosystem as whole as opposed to short-term speculators on a particular asset class?
  10. How often and under what circumstances will hard forks be used to resolve problems? Are we opening up the floodgates to a possible sea of forks?

Sea of forks? Coming soon to Ethereum?

And, by forking, end them?

The key problem about Ethereum govenrance is that none of these questions — which are probably the most important ones — are discussed in the context of “TheDAO” slack (which has a bad habit of censoring and banning people) or reddit threads.

Instead, we’ve had the eerie repetition of past history out there that suggests that when people don’t know what to do they like to find a common enemy. Aha, “There’s a witch, let’s burn her!” or “Kill the beast!”

Nick Szabo said it best at the end of our meetup, “Perhaps we should take the time to learn from the past before repeating its mistakes.” Now would be a good time to do that.

[1] I helped found the Ethereum Silicon Valley meetup but no longer actively organize it. Most of my time now goes to the Decentralized Autonomous Society and Virtual Reality Art meetups.