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Let's suppose the bitcoin network grew to be 10x the size it currently is in terms of the amount of energy spent. No other changes to the protocol were made.

What benefits would this have versus where the network stands today from an end-user perspective? If blocktimes are fixed at 10 minutes and blocksizes stay consistent, then what type of improvements would we see?

Improvements

  • More Secure from 51% attacks
  • ?

It seems confirmations could be sped up, but the initial confirmation still takes 10 minutes by design. I haven't heard of people complain about confirmation times, and from what I have seen on computing power performing a 51% attack on the bitcoin network as it stands today is not close to being practical. I am interested though what else I am missing.

I am not suggesting the use of POS or something else.

  • I changed this question from benefits of 10x the nodes to 10x the energy – Douglas Drouillard Sep 19 '17 at 18:15
  • Bitcoin has already gone through a 10x increase in energy, a few times. Just look at recent history to see what's changed. – Greg Hewgill Sep 20 '17 at 2:13
  • Thanks, Greg. Not seeing much. Happy to look into anything specific you have noticed. Fees? bitinfocharts.com/comparison/bitcoin-transactionfees.html Confirmation times? blockchain.info/charts/avg-confirmation-time?timespan=all I am guessing those increases have to do with increases of other sorts. Hence the theoretical. It seems like not much – Douglas Drouillard Sep 20 '17 at 2:54
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    I guess what I was pointing out was that there's nothing dramatic that has changed due to 10x the amount of energy (the amount of energy can be estimated by the increase in difficulty). The Bitcoin network is designed to scale, and to scale a lot. 10x is not a very big increase in this case. – Greg Hewgill Sep 20 '17 at 2:57
  • That makes sense. Appreciate the clarification! – Douglas Drouillard Sep 20 '17 at 13:37
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Note first of all that "10x the nodes" and "10x the mining energy" are different things. A "node" is just a computer that participates in the Bitcoin network by receiving and relaying transactions. Most nodes don't do any mining, but conversely a single node may support an unlimited amount of mining power. So there is no real relationship between the number of nodes and the amount of mining power on the network.

Having 10x as many nodes would make it slightly easier for a user to connect to a node to send and receive transactions, and would make the network somewhat more robust against a network split (where not all nodes are able to communicate with each other). However, it might also make it take slightly longer for a transaction to get to a miner, since more hops would be needed. There wouldn't be any major positive or negative effects that I know of.

If the network had 10x more mining power, the main benefit would be security against 51% attacks, since an attacker would now need 10x more mining power of his own to mount such an attack. (Of course, if mining hardware became more efficient in the meantime, this might not actually increase the costs of such an attack versus today - but they would still be 10x higher than without the mining power increase.)

There wouldn't be any long-term improvement in confirmation speed, since as you say the difficulty would adjust to keep the block time at 10 minutes. (If all the mining power came online at the same time, there would be a temporary increase in confirmation speed for the first few days, since the difficulty adjustment happens only at specified intervals and the maximum adjustment at each such interval is by a factor of 4.)

I am not sure what you mean by "censorship resistant". A mining power increase wouldn't do anything to help prevent a government from trying to block Bitcoin traffic from the Internet.

There wouldn't be any other major end-user effects that I can think of. Resistance against 51% attacks is the main one.

  • Thanks, Nate. I should have worded my question more consistently. I will focus on energy. Let me revise. – Douglas Drouillard Sep 19 '17 at 14:24
  • Nate Eldredge - I edited the question. My apologies for inconsistency. Is it correct to say that if 10x the energy was being spent then confirmations after the first confirmation would theoretically happen faster? Meaning confirmation 2, 3, 4, etc. – Douglas Drouillard Sep 19 '17 at 14:28
  • Also, I will accept this after a few days. This answer matches what I have seen. But I called something along the lines of 'unbelievably stupid' on twitter (shock) for asking this question, so I want to see if there is something I am missing just in case. – Douglas Drouillard Sep 19 '17 at 14:35
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    No. "Spreading the confirmation" would have to do with how quickly the mined blocks B1, B2, B3, ... can be sent over the network after being mined. This has to do with the bandwidth and latency of the miners' internet connections, and those of the network's relay nodes, but has nothing to do with their mining power. – Nate Eldredge Sep 19 '17 at 15:09
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    @DouglasDrouillard: Yep, I agree with you that cheaper energy doesn't help significantly with anything except 51% attack resilience. It doesn't even help much with that, since presumably the same cheap energy is available to honest miners and attackers alike. (Unless you assume the attackers already have access to cheaper energy which the honest miners don't.) – Nate Eldredge Sep 19 '17 at 15:50
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Apart from Nate Eldredge direct consequence of increase in cost for 51% attacks, I would like to point out some indirect consequences.

10x mining power can be supported only by 10x rise in Bitcoin price. Think of bitcoin transaction being backed by 12.5*confirmation blocks(BTC) in USD$(cost for an attacker). It can interpreted as 100 confirmations in the previous system is equivalent to 10 confirmations in the new(10x) system. In other words, I would feel safer with 6 confirmations in the new system than I would with 6 confirmations in the old system.

Confirmations don't speed up, but your confidence in number of confirmations does.

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