Jimmy Song talks about everything

In a world full of altcoins and thousands of ICOs, we sometimes forget where it all begun from. Jimmy Song, the veteran Bitcoin Core developer, is considered a Bitcoin-pro and had contributed a lot to Bitcoin’s success and adoption.

Recently we had a great video interview by him. Of course, he was wearing his famous Cowboy hat (“We are in a Wild West!”, according to him). Jimmy talks with us about his new role at Blockchain Capital VC, about his major contribution to Bitcoin Core, Altcoins, Bitcoin Cash, Lightning and more. At the end, he answers the most interesting question – where are we going to be 15 years from now. Hit play and enjoy:  

First of all, congratulations on Blockchain Capital. Can you tell us maybe a little bit about that?

I’m a venture partner at Blockchain Capital. I’m there to sort of be a bridge to the core community and sort of help develop the infrastructure. We don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but you know, we’re going to work together to find out, we’re going to do a lot of listening to sort of the people in the space, that are working on a lot of this stuff and and come up with good ideas and implement them and and hopefully make Bitcoin even better.

When were you first exposed to Bitcoin?

So  I was reading this sort of geeky website called Slash dot org, their tagline was “news for nerds important stuff”, and I saw a story around January 2011 of that said Bitcoin has broken one Dollar! And I was like Wow! What is this Bitcoin thing? And sort of having it gone through with the financial crisis. I think I was pretty primed to sort of look at the banking sector a little more skeptically, so when I read about it and I saw it, and I heard about it, you know how it worked – I was just kind of blown away! I tried to get money into it, but I it was pretty complicated at the time… you couldn’t buy with PayPal, you have to like transfer it to Dwolla and then to MT Gox and then get it off, so I didn’t bother one of the biggest regrets in my life. but yeah, that was what happened. 


What were some exciting aspects that brought you to the crypto world?

The most exciting aspect was I the fact that there was a million coin limits. so when I first heard that, I think I have the same reaction that a lot of people have which is that – Oh my Gosh there’s only  million I better get guess right like I need to get something in there… and so yeah that was definitely one of the most interesting. I didn’t really discover the rest of the exciting parts of Bitcoin until a couple years later when I started actually developing and that was the personal security aspect.

It’s a bear instrument you can just keep it and you can hold it, and up until then I actually had all my coins on without MT Gox so it was it was very fortuitous that I came upon that I’m still thankful to a friend of mine for telling me “something’s fishy with MT Gox, go get your own wallet”, and I removed my coins from there and that was really good but that that was obviously the  million limit, the technology behind it, the fact that it’s decentralized that there’s no single point of failure, no central government Just I think between those two years I had read a lot more on sort

of Austrian economics and Libertarian thinking so I was a lot more primed for that and certainly, that’s become a larger part of my belief system today, and it’s exciting because it’s a way to become self-sovereign and that’s an important aspect of, I think what we need to do to, you know, make civilization work better.

What was your involvement in a Bitcoin Core?

So my contribution to Bitcoin Core in particular, actually didn’t start till last year, and it was just sort of playing around with some stuff and I started writing some functional tests within Python to test some RPC calls that hadn’t been done yet and it was mostly just to learn how to do it and I did some of that. I reflected a few of the tasks, I reviewed a bunch of code that John Newbery had written and I think he had the most commits for the release because that he’s really into it now, but he interestingly didn’t get into Bitcoin until like a couple years ago, so he’s a relatively new developer, but he’s obviously doing a lot of contributions. But yeah, a lot of testing stuff I’m not quite bold enough to go into, like more of the main stuff I do, have Bit , you know utilizing Bits instead of bitcoins, so there’s  million Bits in a Bitcoin and sort of removing unit buys for people and also allowing people to make less mathematical errors on orders of magnitude. that’s fine as well, but yeah, most of my involvement before that came in open source projects like PiCoin and BTCD and colored coins and things like that, and Armory, of course. I worked there for a while, so yeah…

How much does Bitcoin Core development affect Bitcoin?

So Bitcoin Core certainly has some influence over Bitcoin development, but influence is really interesting because in a sense, you know anyone can hard work at any time, any going to kick off work at any time, and you can just sort of do whatever you want. It’s a decentralized system so influenced in the sense that you can make everybody do something kind of like an authoritarian government there nobody can really do that you can’t make anybody do anything. You can’t force people to upgrade, you can’t force them to follow the forth that you want, you can’t force miners to mine within your blocks, so it’s really a voluntary system that’s like influence in the sense of getting the community to follow. I would say they have a tremendous amount of influence and that’s well earned. It’s a meritocracy, it’s something that they deserve because they have sort of been good stewards of the Bitcoin code already, so in that sense I’d say they have a lot of influence. But you know, it doesn’t have to last forever. If they, if Bitcoin core decided to lift the million limit for example, I think there would be a lot of people that would go with another implementation or refuse that hard for so, it’s kind of interesting because Bitcoin really is a meritocracy and you’re only as good as what the community takes of you at the moment say it really is – a social experiment in everybody in many ways. I see Bitcoin Core almost like the gamekeepers and that because it’s decentralized. There’s no central focus, there’s no government but there are still people who keep everything somewhat in order, at least try to. It’s sort of like this amorphous beast and anyone can propose anything at any time and you have to back it up with justifications and code, and you need to convince people and obviously some people are better than others and they’re a lot of them are very esoteric technical questions that are very hard to decide on, or to learn but this, it’s kind of cool that you could come in and be a huge influencer after sort of earning your stripes.

How does Bitcoin’s blockchain differ from other blockchains?

Well, the technical aspect isn’t all that different from  altcoin or something like that because they copied most quickly, so it’s  tweak a little a few of the parameters and it’s like “okay, well we have the same blockchain”. The real difference in my mind is is the decentralized nature right. A lot of altcoins have a single point of failure and it’s usually just the Creator gets to decide where that projects gonna go, and what they’re going to do, and you know how they’re going to be. Classic example is Ethereum. right like Vitalik Buterin gets to decide if he wants to bail out the DAO, he gets to bail out the house if he wants to go to proof-of-stake, they get to go to proof-of stake, and I mean I don’t begrudge than that but part of what makes Bitcoin special is that Satoshi Nakamoto left. That is a very underrated gift to the Bitcoin community that he left and sort of left it decentralized and that has been all sorts of good for the entire. There’s currently a lot of talk about private and centralized blockchains.

What do you think is the future of these blockchains, and how will they be used?

So I think the minute you centralize the blockchain it’s not really anything other than a database with maybe permission ledgers or something like that. I don’t find that terribly interesting and I’m not sure where the innovation is other than maybe the permission part, but you can already do that with a lot of systems. The only interesting thing comes when you can sort of distribute that in database and and like not give anyone the privilege of being the central one. That’s when it becomes interesting, but that’s not easy – okay like making that with, I mean, people talk about stuff like “oh, we can put healthcare data on the blockchain”, and then like any doctor can go look it up. This is not an easy thing to set up. I mean, we’re talking about  byte transactions in Bitcoin and that’s hard enough to sync. You’re talking about like two gigabyte MRIs on the blockchain and you’re gonna encrypt that, and have it accessible to everybody. I don’t think a lot of people know what they’re talking about, or know what they’re getting into when they’re talking about blockchain. It happens to be a buzzword a lot of people like but we’ll see. I’m sure there are applications, its just people don’t really understand it yet, so they think it can do anything. Kind of reminds me of the early days of the internet. “oh, the internet will let me fly!” or something… People just don’t know and it takes time and once they do it will – then is the real innovation can happen.

What are your feelings about the Bitcoin forks that recently happened back in August?

So there’s been a lot of Bitcoin forks but the biggest one was the first one, that’s the Bitcoin Cash hard fork and that proved to me, I think that bitcoins antifragility. I think a lot of developers, including myself, before that we were sort of living in fear of the hard fork. So thinking that it would dilute the brand, that nobody would use it, and that it would absolutely crush Bitcoin. The opposite seems to happen. More or less it proved that Bitcoin is anti-fragile like whenever there’s a disordering event things get better, not worse, and in particular with Bitcoin Cash we saw sort of the entire ecosystem having to react to the hard fork itself right, like there are a lot of exchanges that were down for a while, they had to figure out how to do Replay protection and split their coins, and have their databases upgrade. The entire ecosystem upgraded and for me that was a big value add in a way I think we have to thank Bitcoin Cash back window for making Bitcoin stronger because their disordering events sort of forced everybody to upgrade it and make their software better. I mean, I think the price is pretty indicative of what happened. Bitcoin was before, the combination of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold and all those other ones by the end of the year was like , or something like that, so I see that as a really good thing and I actually kind of hoped for more hard forks as a way to sort of steel ourselves against different types of attacks that can happen on the network.

Speaking of Bitcoin Cash, do you feel that it’s a worthy competitor to Bitcoin? and if not, or if you do, what may other competitors be? For example Litecoin is as a competitor to Bitcoin?

I don’t see Bitcoin cash as a competitor necessarily, nor do I consider most altcoins competitors in the sense that none of them are decentralized. They all have a single development team and somebody that just sort of, more or less, calls the shots. Bitcoin Cash in particular has one developer that seems to be calling all the shots from that Network, Amarice O’Shea. he did a hard work of Bitcoin Cash already. He’s planning different hard forks like every six months or something like that. If you can hard fork that sort of shows that you are centralized because you’re forcing everyone to upgrade. Now I mean, are they competitors in terms of like mindshare and things like that?  Of course they are people that are thinking about investing in Bitcoin that end up buying Litecoin because it’s cheaper or something like that. And that is sort of stupid in my mind, but we can’t protect people from their own stupidity… that’s just I think that where lies madness just sort of show bitcoins value proposition. And I think centralization will ultimately be the downfall of a lot of these other coins. But who knows, I could be wrong, it’s possible that something else comes along and isn’t an order of magnitude better than Bitcoin. Maybe there is some innovation that we haven’t thought of at all, that comes in and becomes the killer app? But at least, at this point my feeling is that none of these seem to be orders of magnitude better so I stick with Bitcoin.

Do you think that altcoins have some sort of purpose? Do you think that there is a need for altcoins?

Certainly they, so altcoins definitely have some innovation behind them so Monero, for example, has utilize confidential transactions and range proofs to sort of hide who you’re sending to, and how much you’re sending to them. So that much is pretty interesting in the sense that altcoins can be like an innovation lab for Bitcoin and you can try out things where people actually are risking money. But as far as you know, usefulness to Bitcoin. Other than that, I don’t really see it might be useful for some other purpose. If they find another niche or something like that, but I mean until those are proven I don’t really see them as anything special.

What do you think about Z-Snarks technology? And will we see it on Bitcoin’s network in the future?

So I’m a fan of Zero Knowledge in general and Z-Snarks technology in particular is very interesting. I’m not so certain that it’s not viable at least right now, just because of the CPU cycles it takes up to do the actual signing. It’s like to seconds, something like that, in the same way that I’m a little bit hesitant about Monero confidential transactions because they’re UTXO just continues to grow and it’s sort of infinitely expanding. My best privacy one that I think might make it into Bitcoin is Nimble. Nimble is a side chain that has a lot of the privacy aspects of ZCASH and Monero but just in a different way so I don’t know the future, but they’re all interesting technologies and I hope to see more privacy and Bitcoin transactions going forward.

Are we close to reaching a state where we’ll have accessibility to Lighting technology?

Yeah, so a lot of people think smart contracts are the unique domain of Ethereum and it’s not. Bitcoin has its own smart contract language – it’s called Script and the funny thing is Ethereum’s major    innovation is ICOs, but it’s not actually an innovation it’s something that you could do in Bitcoin back in with colored coins. There wasn’t a market for it and Vitalic and the Ethereum team, god bless them, and they’ve done great with their marketing but they made ICOs much bigger thing on the Ethereum because the big difference between Solidity and Script is that Solidity is turned complete but nobody actually wants to use the turn completeness, because it’s  way more dangerous and there’s a larger attack surface and things like that, and you can see it with the DAO they had turing complete contracts and somebody exploited, and drained it out of all its money in the end. Ended up needing to do a bailout, but as far as smart contract concerned I think you know simplicity is something that Bitcoin is looking into, and that may be where we’re going. I don’t see like Ethereum is having a soul domain over so the smart contracts at all and even like something like Woodstock they’re trying to do it as a Bitcoin sidechain. I don’t know if there’s necessarily that big of a market for turning complete smart contracts, but as it stands it’s already kind of air, and people make it out to be “ohh, Ethereum, the smart contract platform… It’s not if you’re just using it for the basic stuff that Bitcoin can already do. So I don’t know, I don’t get the big deal. Do you think that there is room for the altcoins, or do you think that Bitcoin is more than enough? I don’t know. There’s always innovation that you can’t see right like futurists are notoriously bad at predicting the future right. You ask a hundred years ago like what people thought the future was, and they thought like people would fly or something and nobody thought of the cell phone, which is like ubiquitous today. So it’s really hard to tell, maybe there is some coin that figures out a formula that works for them. I don’t know but, yeah, my suspicion is that Bitcoin is going to be the top end of the pareto distribution so % of the value will be in Bitcoin and everything else will have % and we’ll be fighting very hard for it. The thing about altcoins is that they’re really hard to kill. Like it’s not like a company where you have payroll and things like that where you know companies will go bankrupt because they run out of money Altcoins can more or less subsist on a single miner mining and even if that miner stops mining, you can sort of like raise them back from the dead, by mining some more. So a lot of coins live this zombie like existence where they kill them and then they come back to life, and whatever so, there is room in the ecosystem for them I guess. Is it are they gonna really add anything? I don’t know, I have some doubts, but it’s I’m not so I’m gonna think that I know all possible altcoins that can possibly exist.

The million Dollar question – are we in a crypto bubble?

I think we are in a bubble in the sense that you know like short term. You know it’s probably going up and down probably more than you’d expect but that’s to be expected. It’s a volatile asset, a lot of people don’t know what it is, a lot of people are coming in it’s not really a unit of account yet. But like I say to a lot of newbies that are asking me – “Hey, should I should I invest in Bitcoin?”, my answer is always – “Well if you’re going to keep it long-term like – years, then it’s buy worthwhile because over a long period of time I think Bitcoin shown that it can it increases in value because there’s a fixed supply, increasing demand. What happens to price it bids pretty obvious, but short term it goes up and down because there are people that are trading it than ever, there are people that thrive on the volatility so, you know, are we in a bubble? Probably most likely I don’t know but I don’t worry too much about that because that’s more an economics question than a technical one, and I’m a technical back.

15 years from now, how do you think that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will be integrated into the future? Do you think that they’ll still be around? Do you think that people will be using it more frequently? What’s your opinion about the state of crypto in the next years?

That’s a really good question and I wish I knew the answer but I I can’t in good conscience be able to like predict the future that well I will say that I think the price will go up because there’s a constant in it, there’s an increasing demand and a constant supply. But I suspect that Bitcoin in particular, and just society in general, will see a lot more liquidity of assets just anything in general like if you can trade something really quickly for money that will sort of give people a lot more freedom and flexibility. So I see sort of society heading in a more freedomish direction, partly enabled by Bitcoin and that’s a good thing. I want people to have more freedom, I want people to be able to innovate more, I want people to build civilization instead of sort of rent-seeking behavior that we see everywhere. It is kind of sad to me that rent-seeking is sort of like the dream that people have “I want to have a job at a corporation”, and did do nothing and like draw a paycheck or a job big paycheck doing nothing like. That doesn’t add anything. I want people to want to add something and I see that in Bitcoin I don’t really see that in other parts especially like government or a big business or something like, that you have tons of red seeking behavior there, and this is part of what makes me so excited about Bitcoin and why I wear the cowboy hat. it’s, you know, a sort of the Wild West and there’s a lot of room for innovation, a lot of room for new businesses and entrepreneurs to get in and provide value and build civilization and think long-term and and make everything better and that’s why I’m as passionate about Bitcoin as I am.

So thank you so much! This was an amazing interview! Could you maybe tell our audience where they can find you, what to look forward to in your future?

I’m on Twitter so I tweet every once in a while I also on Medium . I write a bunch of articles I’m on. YouTube – my show is called Off Chain and I try to put out videos fairly frequently I also have Github at Jimmy Song. Well, I guess Jimmy Song’s my username there… and I have a bunch of code there if you want to take a look and I’m working on a book programming Bitcoin it’s for O’Reilly and that should be released later this year.

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