Forking Allows Blockchain Adaptation

There’s a lot of arguing and disagreement about forking in the blockchain world.

In Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s Hash Power, Episode 3, though, you hear a more positive take on forking blockchains.

Patrick introduces the idea of forking as an adaptive process at the start of the episode:

We hinted at how innovation in blockchain may happen faster than elsewhere. This is because of two phenomenon: funding and forking.

Forking is when a network splits into two paths. Like the recent schism of Bitcoin into Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Forking allows a sub-community to alter a protocol and continue forward in a different direction, with new rules or features.

Think of forks like genetic mutations in the evolutionary chain, experiments which will be tested in the real world and will thrive and survive or die.

Later on, he talks with Fred Ehrsam, who is an investor and a co-founder of Coinbase, about seeing forking through this adaptive lens.

It’s such an intriguigng concept, particularly as it relates to markets and behaviors that I’ve quoted Fred at length (starts at 43 min, 15 sec):

You might describe a fork as sort of a parallel universe, or an alternate reality perhaps, where at one point in time they were the same thing, and now they’re two or even more different things.

Basically, if you think about blockchains as metaphorically similar to organisms, orgamisms evolved over time by having some DNA, and then some changes, some random mutations, are slowly introduced to that DNA over time, and as a result you try a bunch of different sub-types of that organism over time, some work really well, they live on, they continue to evolve, some die.

So you get this constantly adaptive behavior and these things become stronger and stronger. They obviously co-evolve with their environment too so it’s not just in isolation.

And that’s what’s really exciting about these blockchain based protocols is not only can anyone create them or access them, but they evolve just like organisms in the same way where anyone can fork them, you know, analogous to sort of the mutation in the DNA, and as a result you get to try all these different sub-types of one general idea quite quickly.

And it turns out that since blockchains are software they tend to operate more at the speed of software than the millions and millions of years than we’ve needed for the evolution of organic orgamisms.

One maybe practical way to think about this is, I think that through blockchains we will be able to try hundreds if not thousands of times more types of economic and governance systems, then we have in the last hundred years [my emphasis in bold] of the quote unquote real world.

There’s a guy Brad Burnham, who confounded Union Square Ventures, who said something to me once that has really stuck with me, which is basically that market structure is the highest point of leverage that he can think of. In other words, the way in which a market is constructed really determines all of the behavior that emerges out of it.

In addition to forking, other ingredients in blockchains may lend themselves to adaptability through things like ways of selecting leaders, voting, compensating “players,” and governance.

For example, Olaf Carlson-Wee of Polychain Capital talks about how blockchain decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) could be a more blockchain-native way to connect talent and resources to achieve common goals in the future.

If you haven’t listened to all three episodes of Hash Power, you’re missing out. So many great questions and insights from Ari Paul (BlockTower Capital), Juan Benet (Filecoin), Naval Ravikant (MetaStable Capital), in addition to Fred Ehrsam and Olaf Carlson-Wee, and many others.

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