Ethereum Q&A: Hard forks & the cultural mulligan


Keywords/phrases: Predictable outcomes. Ethereum's debate on the spirit vs. the letter of the law. If/ when Bitcoin decides to do a soft- or hard-fork, would you stand by predictable outcomes and immutability? In the Bitcoin culture, the idea of hard-forking to recover funds was maybe discussed by a few people but immediately shot down by the majority of the community. Ethereum got a mulligan (i.e. a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder); maybe it will not set precedent and the culture hardens. The problem with saying "code is law" is that law has centuries of refinement, iteration, and hardening to reach the point where it is today. Every word in law carries two or three centuries of precedent-setting decisions that have defined all of the exceptions and parameters. If you make "smart" / strong contracts, because they offer hard promises, then those are not going to be perfect. If you put them into production and run them at scale against agents both benevolent and malicious, with money at stake, you have effectively created a honeypot that will get hacked and iterated and hacked again. Eventually they won't get hacked because they will be robust. Just as law has advanced through iteration, code advances through iteration. That means you don't put $150 million in a contract on a brand new platform that's never been tested in real terms. "Investor beware" applies in these environments, where we have the opportunity to test systems which have never been tested before at scale with real actors and real money. Along the way, bad things will happen but you don't get to the moon without a few blown-up rockets. When you remove the possibility of failure, you remove the possibility of success. This is part of a talk which took place on September 20th 2016 at the San Francisco Bitcoin Social in San Francisco, California: