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A friend presented me the concept of antifragile and asked me if Bitcoin is antifragile. I couldn't answer properly, so I'm asking the experts:

Can bitcoin be categorized as antifragile?

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the word 'atomic' means the same as 'antifragile' ?! –  vi.su. Jun 28 '13 at 4:44
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

With my only knowledge of the concept of "antifragile" being the slideshow I just read, my initial assessment is yes, Bitcoin is antifragile.

Antifragile benefits from randomness and gains from disorder.

Randomness in Bitcoin appears in the random generation of keys and in the whims of its users' spending habits. No one person controls the system, and a transaction may or may not get processed based on connectivity and fees. There is an incentive to connect to as many nodes as possible in order to broadcast a transaction.

In Bitcoin, anyone is allowed to participate, because no one is prohibited. Participation may be cost-prohibitive now, but as time goes on, it won't be.

There are stressors on the Bitcoin ecosystem: block chain dust, nodes disappearing, nodes flooding transactions, etc. None are as close of a match as sudden jumps in hashrate and the subsequent adjustment to difficulty. Too much of a jump, and the "body" breaks: someone gets a 51% attack going. But, enough of a push and the difficulty increases, making it harder to break that 51%. Also, if the body hasn't been used enough - there hasn't been a high enough hash rate to produce the expected number of blocks - the difficulty lowers in order to allow more blocks to be found.

Thus, the Bitcoin system adjusts to its environment. Moreover, it does so in a chaotic way: there are rules set in the protocol, but those rules can be change if a majority of participants in the system agree to change the rules and agree on a new set of rules. In the absence of Internet, Bitcoin transactions can propagate through sneakernet or through even basic text format printable on paper.

Moreover, given the randomness of human economic behavior and the external environment which Bitcoin uses to propagate, various edges and remote notes of the network graph may have sudden activity that the rest of the network doesn't see. The rest of the network has to deal with that activity or risk invalidating itself.

Slide 40 is one where Bitcoin really is antifragile:

Complex systems resist top-down design, and oftentimes even top-down interference. This is because these systems are simply too complex to be controlled from the outside.

Bitcoin is resistant to top-down design now because of the number of people using it and processing its transactions. Gavin Andresen could not suddenly make a change, because 51% of the network hashrate would have to agree with his change. No one can interfere, only vote to support or not support a given transaction by directing their miners to include or not to include a certain kind of transaction in the blocks they produce. Moreover, Bitcoin cannot be controlled by anyone except participants in its ecosystem (not matter what governments might think or try to do!).

All participants in Bitcoin have a skin in the game. By processing transactions, they in turn process their own transactions as well as the transactions of their peers. If they can get 51% of the miners to act a certain way, then that's the way the economy goes.

So, yes, I believe that, based on this slideshow, Bitcoin is antifragile.

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Thanks for your answer and for the detailed analysis! –  That Brazilian Guy Jun 28 '13 at 13:06
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Nassim Taleb, who coined the word Antifragile, has commented directly on Bitcoin in a recent AskMeAnything on Reddit:

"Bitcoin is the beginning of something great: a currency without a government, something necessary and imperative.

But I am not familiar with the specific product to assert whether it is the best potential setup. And we need a long time to establish confidence. I only talk from skin-in-the-game. If I had money in bitcoin, I would have reported it. But I don’t yet. I am waiting to understand it better, not with my brain, but with my experience…"


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