Matthew Roberts

I am a cryptobiologist specializing in the study of digital life forms like blockchains and certain kinds of unbounded smart contracts. “We must not let our politics harm these beautiful creatures.” – Myself.

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Blockchain uses for eSIM: P2P mobile carriers and more!

If you’ve ever used a SIM card before then, you already know you need one to place calls. But what you might not know is a SIM card is actually a fully functional computer, complete with its own RAM, “disk space”, and operating system [uuic-hw-spec][uuic-sw-spec].

The latest SIMs are called “USIMs” and they are universal integrated circuit cards (UICC) programmed to store subscriber details. A UICC has about 16 KB of RAM– that means with four of these you have as much memory as an original Commodore 64 and it would all fit in your wallet [u/sim-mem]!

If you find that crazy wait until you learn that these cards can be powered through the air using magnetic fields. Bank cards operate using the same chips – they use UICC too – which means you can turn an average SIM into a swipe card if you wanted [nfc]. But I won’t go into that today. I want to talk more about eSIM cards, they’re even...

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Decentralized virus scanner

A game of war for decentralized threat detection:

  • One side plays the attacker
  • The other side plays defence
  • The field is a virtual machine
  • The ombudsman is software that monitors the VMs health
  • The ombudsman is concerned with what has happened to the VM
  • Are key system files damaged?
  • Have files been locked / crypted by malware?
  • Are certain network resources hijacked?
  • Attackers submit vectors to disrupt the VM
  • Defenders submit vectors to protect the VM
  • False positive and negative problem: design the ombudsman to accept random nonce values that impact the tests, i.e. measure performance at date stamp X rather than at a fixed date each time.
  • Statistically validity becomes more apparent over time.
  • Reward function is yet unknown: but it could be a dividend system based on stopping or evading vectors – I find the potential here fascinating
  • I should note because the ombudsman can observe the...

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Some thoughts on blockchain scalability and future research

After reading many papers on blockchain scalability over the years, I am starting to see the painful truth that none of these systems can be scaled. For years I thought that some genius researcher would find a way to do it, and we would get blockchains with on-chain Visa scalability with the same security properties as Bitcoin… but that just hasn’t happened.

Here’s why that is currently impossible and maybe a path forwards…

The consensus basket

If you make a list of all the properties that make up a good consensus system you might end up with a basket with the following things inside it:

  • Decentralization
  • Censorship resistance
  • Byzantine fault tolerance
  • Open, equal participation
  • Privacy / pseudo-anonymity

Unfortunately, you cannot have everything and keep scalablity.

If you want to have more scalable p2p networks just reduce the number of nodes, and lose decentralization. If you...

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Permissioned resource coins

The problem with resource coins

Resource coins like Storj and Filecoin are systems that let anyone contribute their spare computational resources in exchange for payment. By using Storj, a person can lease out their extra hard drive space to other people and receive Storjcoins in return (a kind of special “utility token” in quotes…) The idea is very cool, but functionally it has problems.

The most significant problem, in my opinion, is the way in which these systems are designed to let anyone sell resources on an open market. At first impression, this might sound like an excellent property to have for a decentralized network, but in this particular context, it means that anyone can sell resources even if there is little demand for it.

In a cryptoeconomic system, this property is highly undesirable as an unregulated supply of storage space will cause wild fluctuations in the price of...

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Survivability of an organism refers to its ability to survive in a worst case scenario. Any animal that has been caged or raised in captivity has had its survivability reduced. A caged animal cannot survive in the wild as well as a non-caged animal because its survival instincts have been altered (and often even its ability to reproduce has been adversely affected.)

An ICO-token is like a caged animal, removed from any cryptoeconomic context. In the cryptoeconomic wilderness, these tokens would be considered mistakes of nature, with no means to survive by themselves. They survive only in the context of an economic zoo, which has been artificially engineered for their sustained existence. If the company providing this zoo ceases to exist, then the shitcoin organism will not survive.

Centralization in the design of shitcoins reduces their innate survivability. We must not allow people to...

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My Ethereum misconceptions

I’ve been working on smart contracts for a while now. I’ve spent countless hours focusing on things like how to securely move funds between legacy systems, where I’ve gained a deep and terrible understanding of how truly bad cross-blockchain compatibility really is.

You would think that a guy who has been working on smart contracts for this long would have seen more of the benefits behind something like Ethereum, but that isn’t the case for reasons I’ll reveal in this post… If anything my experience has only made it easier for me to dismiss it.

Here are some of my biggest misconceptions about Ethereum so far (but these misconceptions are by no means unique.)

Mistake 1: Dismissing how useful general-purpose blockchains are

For those who know the history of Ethereum you will know it was mostly created as a response to how limited blockchains were at the time. If you had of tried to...

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Self-improving programs

Imagine for a moment that you wanted to pay someone to improve the speed of your software. How would you do it? If you’re like most software companies then you’ll mostly likely hire someone to do the job.

This means spending time to find the right person you want, interviewing them, interviewing someone else if they’re not right… until hopefully you find the right person… well maybe. There’s still no guarantee that paying them will lead to any improvements to software speed.

But lets assume that you do find the right person for the job. At last, you’ve gone through the hiring process and found a solid addition to the team. Unfortunately, your company has a lot of software in the works and the demand for this role rises and falls accordingly.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could magically pay someone for improvements as they were needed and not have to manage anything? Sounds like science...

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Blockchains are the first digital life forms - all 7 signs of life

I consider blockchains to be of independent interest to biologists as the first example of a single-celled digital life form that embodies all 7 characteristics necessary to establish life.

1. Living things are composed of cells.

The blockchain consists of a number of cells called “blocks” that contain everything the organism needs for its survival. Survival is ensured by issuing incentives to humans for energy (necessary for metabolism), therefore blockchains are symbiotic digital organisms that are helpful to humans.

2. Living things have different levels of organisation.

Blocks allow the organism to adapt simple, reusable components to produce more complex behaviour. We are still learning the full role of these components and how they relate to the environment but progress appears promising. This is the subject of cryptobiology.

3. Living things use energy.

The cells or blocks...

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The ICO crapcoin checklist

  1. Does the coin reward users for contributing resources towards the creation of a shared service that will benefit all users?
  2. Can the resources contributed by users be verified by anyone?
  3. Does the service always fall within an expected range of operation?
  4. Is the coin new and no other coin offers the same service?
  5. Is it impossible to substitute the use of the coin for another?
  6. Does the business model for the coin make sense?
  7. Does the team behind the coin have the required experience?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions you may have discovered for yourself a bonafide crapcoin!

A crapcoin is the term for any coin whose main purpose is to make the founders richer. Typically such coins will use misleading technical-sounding jargon to try dupe investors into thinking they are investing in the next Bitcoin when really they are being sold worthless tokens.

Quite often these...

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Archiving old coins on Ethereum - some thoughts

Update 7/12/2017: There is an elegant approach to the fee problem raised bellow by designing the virtual transaction overlay so that anyone can submit them by paying the Eth fees themselves in order to claim a fraction of the simulated currencies (perhaps as part of the virtual mining process.) The fee idea was raised by someone else, but its possible to adapt it and use it here to make the whole system work as intended.

Recently someone over at /r/ethereum posted a very interesting topic - the idea of building Bitcoin on top of Ethereum.

It’s an interesting thought experiment for many reasons - how would you actually do it? How would you optimize data storage? Are new changes possible? And so on. But more than that it seems to offer potential - by bringing them to Ethereum they become interoperable!

So first of all let me say that I really like this idea, but I also think that we...

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