Why does immutability matter?

Why does immutability matter?

Decentralized immutable value persistence is the primary function of the Blockchain. It's essential that all blockchains are evaluated in their ability to provide ...


What's up, party people? Chris DeRose here, Community Director of the Counterparty Foundation, and today, we've got a really interesting question for you, one that I've been thinking about a lot about lately, which is "Why is immutability important?" So this doesn't necessarily look at first like it's a Bitcoin question, and it probably wasn't for many, many years. Let's get into the start of this and let's discuss what it is to be immutable. In computer science, we have this notion of variables that can be changed and variables that can't be changed. Variables that can be changed exist everywhere. A very easy, quintessential example is pi. Pi can't be changed.

It's a constant. It is an immutable value. So you may design a program where you have to work with the value of pi for computing the area of a circle or something. And when you do that, you would set up an immutable variable, also known as a constant. So that would be an immutable variable, and that would be compared to an mutable variable, which would be things like position or help or something like that in a video game, say, where that's a constantly changing value. Now, where does that get into Bitcoin? Well, it ends up being extremely important in bitcoin, and it becomes extremely important in the context of what a blockchain is and what a blockchain does.

Immutability is the essence of what a blockchain achieves. We never had the ability in computer science to ever define a value that was immutable by way of a external enforcement, by way of a global system. Immutability was something that you declared in your program that was either enforced by the processor in the computer itself because it wanted to because it was in the interest of the processor to do so, or immutability was something that was enforced by a third party, a clearinghouse, or a software as a service or something like that. But it wasn't something that could exist independent of the law of the universe or nature or any of these things. And when Satoshi brought us the blockchain, what he brought us was immutable values in a distributed system. So once we had that, incidentally, we were able to do things like create payment systems.

We were able to take values that became immutable for all intents and purposes thereafter. I could say, "Here is a value that I'm transferring from Alice to Bob." That message existed for all of time from then on end, and that was an immutable attestation. It was an immutable value. We never had that before, and it is important to think about why we have that exactly. And the reason why we have that in blockchain, how it is brought to us is by way of mining.

Miners do this by burning energy to assert the state. That is what anchors it to the external world. By burning something of value, by taking usable energy and rendering it useless, they have created an arms race amongst themselves that contributes to the security of keeping these values immutable. That is the function they're providing. They are literally providing immutability to our network. So I think this gets into the larger context nowadays as people start to ask like, "Well, can we do blockchains without the Bitcoin? Could you blockchains without the reward?" And the answer is, "No, not at all.

" Because in those systems, they are either not decentralized — which is fine, but that's another discussion — or if they are purporting to be decentralized, there is nothing bounding the immutability of your transactions to the natural world. It is by the grace of the participants. It is not useful in removing counterparty risk, and it is not persisting in the sense that a blockchain persists, which is by way of a natural law that keeps things immutable. A lot of [inaudible 00:03:41] issues in there. I don't think there's anything actually wrong with centralized databases. I think they're wonderful.

I always question whether or not making things a centralized blockchain makes any sense whatsoever considering all of the hurdles and all the problems associated with blockchains, the speed issues, and on and on and on. What a blockchain does is it adds immutability to our messages. And incidentally, the things that is most valuable for doing that is payment systems, at least right now. Maybe that will change. There are some cases when these sensitive messages politically or something like that maybe would crop up that we need that to be persisted immutably. But without a reward of any kind, it's kind of hard to imagine how that would work.

We'll see. There's all kinds of exciting developments in Bitcoins, so who knows when we get our next advanced innovation in that respect. But what we do know is immutability requires stake in energy in order to assert it. That's what blockchains do. If you like this question and you want to have your own question answered, feel free to ask me — I'm @derosetech on Twitter — or leave a comment below. And if you like this video and you want to see some more like it, subscribe to the channel.

I'd love to have you around. Later, party people.