What makes cryptocurrencies different ?

What makes cryptocurrencies different ?


The advent of permissionless blockchains has introduced a groundbreaking paradigm shift in the world of finance and technology. These decentralized networks, exemplified by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, have demonstrated the ability to facilitate value transfers without the need for central trusted intermediaries. While the individual components of permissionless blockchains may not be novel, their combined synergy gives rise to a revolutionary system that operates beyond the sum of its parts. In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the core components of permissionless blockchains, focusing on Bitcoin as a prime example.

Payments and Trust

Traditional payment systems are characterized by a small number of central economic agents responsible for ensuring the validity of transactions. This necessitates a certain level of trust in these intermediaries, often reinforced by legal frameworks and regulations. However, even in such systems, the specter of misbehavior by these trusted parties cannot be completely eliminated.

Cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, introduce a novel approach to trust, one that circumvents reliance on legal structures and regulations. This trust model relies on two fundamental pillars: open access and a system of incentives to encourage virtuous behavior. Let’s explore each of these elements in more detail

Open Access or Permission Lessness

Permissionless blockchains offer unrestricted access to their payment systems. Anyone can participate in any of the roles crucial for the network’s operation. This open access is pivotal in eliminating the possibility of gatekeepers who could misuse their power to control essential functions.

Consider the critical role of forming new blocks in a blockchain network. In the case of Bitcoin, miners perform this role, validating transactions and adding new blocks containing valid transactions to the blockchain. Importantly, due to open access, anyone can become a miner, resulting in a diverse and decentralized group of participants. Validation is a pivotal function in any payment system, as validators must be trusted not to authorize invalid transactions or exclude valid ones to their advantage.

Transparency is another key feature of permissionless blockchains. The ledger is accessible to everyone, allowing anyone proposing a new block to verify the feasibility of the proposed transactions. This transparency also aids in detecting any attempts to tamper with the ledger.

Moreover, a decentralized governance structure is essential to reduce vulnerabilities in the system. Bitcoin, for instance, lacks a single owner and welcomes open governance through Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs). Nevertheless, the implementation of core code changes remains the prerogative of a select group of developers. This arrangement necessitates the acceptance of proposed changes by miners and other network nodes, ensuring a distributed decision-making process.

A Set of Incentives for Good Behaviour

In addition to open access, permissionless blockchains rely on economic incentives to encourage participants to act in ways that benefit the network. These incentives revolve around the issuance and utilization of a base-layer token, such as Bitcoin itself.

Miners, who play a pivotal role in adding new blocks to the blockchain, are incentivized through rewards. Successful miners receive a combination of newly issued bitcoins and fees from transaction senders. These rewards motivate miners to perform their duties honestly, as their profits are tied to the acceptance of their blocks by the network.

An Alternative Model of Trust

While open access and economic incentives are crucial individually, their interaction is paramount in establishing a novel trust model. This synergy is particularly evident when examining Bitcoin miners.

To minimize the need for trust in a single or a small group of miners, Bitcoin employs a consensus algorithm that distributes block creation. Potential miners compete to solve a mathematical problem approximately every ten minutes. This problem can only be solved through trial and error, but once a solution is found, anyone can verify its correctness. The probability of being the first to find the solution is proportional to the computational power at the miner’s disposal.

To illustrate the significance of distributed validation, imagine a scenario where a corrupt referee could influence the outcome of a sports match. To mitigate this risk, a large group of potential referees is continuously rotated into the game, with their officiating reviewed by the broader referee pool. If the majority of referees agree with the officiating, the game proceeds; otherwise, it reverts to the previous state. In such a setup, any single referee’s impact on the game is minimal, reducing their incentive to misbehave.

To Sum Up

The revolutionary aspect of permissionless blockchains like Bitcoin does not stem from a specific technology or cryptographic innovation. These underlying technologies were well-established before the advent of cryptocurrencies. Instead, it is the harmonious integration of open access and economic incentives that creates a trust model distinct from traditional centralized systems.

This new paradigm raises critical questions for permissioned distributed systems, which rely on trusted third parties. To justify their existence, such systems must offer unique benefits beyond the innovations seen in permissionless blockchains. While proponents have touted advantages such as programmability and continuous operation, practical evidence supporting these claims remains scarce.

In conclusion, permissionless blockchains, epitomized by Bitcoin, have redefined trust in the digital age by combining open access and incentives to foster decentralized and secure value transfer systems. Their impact on the financial landscape continues to evolve, challenging the status quo and inspiring ongoing exploration into their potential applications.


What is a permissionless blockchain, and how does it differ from a permissioned one?

A permissionless blockchain, like Bitcoin, allows anyone to participate in its network without requiring approval or permission. It operates in a decentralized manner. In contrast, a permissioned blockchain restricts access to certain participants and often relies on trusted entities for validation.

How do cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin achieve trust without central intermediaries?

Cryptocurrencies achieve trust through open access, which means anyone can participate and validate transactions, and economic incentives that motivate participants to act honestly. These incentives are typically in the form of rewards for miners in the network.

What role do miners play in a permissionless blockchain like Bitcoin?

Miners are crucial participants in a permissionless blockchain. They validate transactions, add new blocks to the blockchain, and secure the network. Miners are incentivized through rewards in the form of newly issued cryptocurrency tokens (like bitcoins) and transaction fees.

How does the transparency of a permissionless blockchain contribute to its security?

Transparency in permissionless blockchains means that the ledger is accessible to everyone, allowing anyone to verify the validity of transactions and detect any attempts to tamper with the data. This transparency enhances security by making it difficult for malicious actors to manipulate the system without being noticed.

What distinguishes the trust model of permissionless blockchains from traditional centralized systems?

Permissionless blockchains create a trust model that relies on open access and economic incentives, eliminating the need for central trusted intermediaries. Traditional centralized systems depend on centralized authorities and legal frameworks for trust. The decentralized nature of permissionless blockchains offers a new way to facilitate secure and transparent value transfers.

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About Victor Dsouza

Victor Dsouza is Crypto Journalist. He is keen to write about crypto tokens, crypto presale, you can follow him on twitter and LinkedIn.

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