A look at Jason Lowery's SoftWar Thesis - Bitfinex blog
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A look at Jason Lowery’s SoftWar Thesis

One of the most interesting new ways of looking at Bitcoin is Jason Lowery’s SoftWar thesis. Jason puts forth the idea that Bitcoin is absolutely critical for the US military’s national security, and projection of power to defend and secure the non-physical realm of cyberspace. Let’s take a look!

Human Nature, First Principles, and Physical Force in Warfare

To understand the SoftWar Thesis, Jason Lowery begins with some basic facts about physical security, and how resources are secured by military forces during conflict. It basically comes down to the simple reality of how if I have a valuable resource, like food, there is also value for an adversary to attack me for my valuable resource, and take my food.

The way I would be able to ward off an attack or defend from an attack from this adversary would be to impose a cost of attack, which may outweigh the benefit for an attacker to attempt to mount an assault. So, in the case of my food, I could guard it with armed guards who could repel an attack, or store it in a fortified and well defended location. 

By imposing a heavy cost to the attacker, it makes the benefit of attack much less attractive. They may not try to take my food if they will suffer physical harm, loss of life, or be taken as a captive. To secure any resource you must figure out how to impose physical cost on attack, and this is true in nature as well. 

Everything in nature provides physical security by optimising to decrease the benefit of attack by imposing physical cost to the attacker. A scorpion therefore stings an attacker, a wolf bites an attacker, etc. The physical projection of power is what determines security.

Nature’s permissionless, zero trust nature, is derived from physical power projection. 

Now, let’s say there is a new non-physical realm like cyberspace. In a non-physical environment, how can one preserve egalitarian, permissionless, and trustless access to cyberspace? How can you defend valuable resources in cyberspace like sensitive personal data, financial records, or similar?

How do we protect ourselves from exploits and attacks in cyberspace? In every other domain it is physically prohibitive force, or projection of power. Lowery’s SoftWar thesis speculates that it’s only a matter of time before people learn to impose physical costs and project power through cyberspace. 

Lowery suggests that Bitcoin represents the disruptive new technology that can allow people to secure data or cyberspace, and this simply just has not been recognised yet.

Modern Computing, Information as Data, and How to Safeguard that Data

In a speech Lowery gave at the MIT Bitcoin expo earlier this year, Lowery gave a rudimentary explanation of how modern computing works to apply Boolean logic to represent data or information in the digital form of Bits. If these Bits contained highly valuable data how could they be protected or secured?

For the last 80 years or so, in the field of computing, engineers have been optimising for efficiency. The name of the game has been to be able to transfer Bits of information in the cheapest and most efficient way possible from an energy consumption perspective. 

Lowery suggests that if we wish to defend or project power in a digital realm like cyberspace we need to rethink the design of computing from energy efficient to energy expensive. The reason for this is that we need to harness energy expensive computing to impose costs on attack or exploitation to defend data and create security. 

Physical expense is the central focal point. Physically prohibitive cost to disincentivise an attack is how you create security, in any realm. To defend info or data in the form of bits, one needs to impose a physically prohibitive cost on the transfer of bits or the control of bits.

In any domain, the only way of providing security is by imposing physical constraints and imposing physically prohibitive costs. In order to defend cyberspace, Lowery believes we need a physically expensive computational system to impose these physical costs which decrease the benefit of attacking or exploiting the valuable data held in the form of bits.

Lowery believes the key element that’s missing from cybersecurity is the ability to physically constrain others, other computers, information, and control over information in cyberspace. There needs to be a way for society to impose severe physical costs on bad actors attempting to attack or exploit data in cyberspace.

Bitcoin and SoftWar

In Lowery’s thesis, the benefit of warfare in human civilization is that it’s a global physical power contest which has the impact of decentralising the physical control of resources on the planet Earth. Different countries have claimed and defended their territories and exercise control over the resources within them. 

No single centralised power has ever been able to exercise control over all the physical resources on earth because no single power has ever been able to control all the territory on Earth. There has never been a single one world government. Decentralisation is a natural byproduct of global power conflict. 

This decentralisation in access and control, is central to any domain, be it land, air, sea, space or cyberspace. Lowery posits that these same power dynamics apply to access and control of our data, information, and cyberspace. 

If this physical competition and decentralisation can be imposed effectively over cyberspace, it has created a global power contest without mass. Basically, a non-physical, non-kinetic form of warfare, and this is where the thesis’ SoftWar name comes from. If we can engage in a non-lethal form of warfare where nobody dies and which decentralises control, access and power over our data and information in cyberspace, it’s a net benefit for mankind.

Bitcoin provides us with a way to have this non-lethal warfare dynamic through its Proof of Work (PoW) consensus mechanism, which allows people to compete for control and access over their own data. Bitcoin turns the world’s power grid into a global state machine or computer which converts physical energy into bits.

Lowery argues that bits can contain any kind of information, including financial info as in Bitcoin, but that any kind of information could feasibly be secured in much the same way. PoW provides a way to secure data in a physically prohibitive way that overcomes the shortcomings of logic-based security currently employed in our computers. 

Lowery describes Bitcoin’s financial network as its first and primary use case, but envisions Bitcoin and its PoW as a mechanism which can be used to project physical power in the non-physical realm of cyberspace. The SoftWar thesis envisions that Bitcoin could be a new energy expensive and secure base layer of the internet built for the purpose of security. 

Through PoW we are able to convert massive amounts of real world power from the energy grid into bits and impose a physically prohibitive cost of attack on them. This allows us to project power through cyberspace. This creates very secure information or data. 

Lowery theorises that if Bitcoin is a new way of achieving secure computing that’s global and that even nation states are now adopting, then it is a very big deal. He argues that it could transform the very fabric of human civilization and modern warfare. 

He urges that the US military start taking Bitcoin seriously as a societally shifting new technology which could allow the US to exercise projection of power in cyberspace. He believes that the financial use case of Bitcoin is simply the first of many varied use cases. In the SoftWar thesis, Bitcoin could transform national security, cybersecurity and become a power projection protocol used worldwide.