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A vision for decentralized computing
November 16, 2017
Technical breakthroughs happen slowly and then suddenly. People were actively working on mobile computing a decade before the iPhone. We underestimate how long it takes for a breakthrough technology to fully develop and get adoption, but we also underestimate the scale of disruption.

I believe that decentralized computing will mark a transition away from cloud computing and is the next major wave of computing. Some core tech components have been developed for 8 years now.
What would decentralized computing look like?

When I imagine the future of decentralized computing I think about:

  • Physical keys for a digital life: In the real world, we have physical keys that limit access to our belongings. A key for your house. One for your car, your bank locker. We'll see physical hardware based access control for almost everything in the digital world. A physical key that has the authentication credentials for your email, bank account, digital tokens etc.
  • Security as a first-class concern: In the early days of computing, it was enough for software to just (barely) work. Early adopters would put up with almost anything to get the functionality. As the user-base grew in the 2000s, it became important for things to be "convenient". Mainstream users like convenience. Things should "just work" and the cloud model is great for that. I think that "is this secure?" will become a top concern for users as we move beyond cloud computing; the hacks will not stop.
  • Best of both worlds: The early internet and desktops gave us IRC and the cloud gave us Slack. There are pros and cons of decentralized and centralized versions of apps and chat is just one example. I believe that decentralized computing can give us the best of both worlds: the convenience and reliability of apps like Slack and the openness and freedom of protocols like IRC.
  • Standardization of technical architecture. In the early days of any major tech breakthrough there are competing architectures. For example, the infamous Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) vs. Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) debates of the 80s. RISC won and many young engineers today don't even know that such debates happened. We're seeing many experiments and approaches for blockchains and decentralized computing. Experimentation is the right approach here and in a decade standards can emerge. We, at Blockstack, believe in a simple lower-layer that keeps complexity outside of the blockchain layer.
  • Breaking down artificial boundaries. Today, if you want to innovate on top of say Facebook data you need to be an engineer at Facebook or have a close business relationship with Facebook. I believe that with decentralized computing such artificial boundaries will start disappearing. A global work force might be able to contribute to, and benefit from, a decentralized common infrastructure, protocols, and apps. Imagine bounties that are "request for features" or even "request for startups".
  • Closed-source considered harmful. Open-source software goes hand in hand with decentralized computing. Users in a decentralized computing world cannot trust any remote server and unverified software. It's completely possible that we'll look back at the "crazy days" when we used to run closed-source code on our personal devices. How can you trust code that can't be audited? In decentralized computing, closed-source code might be this "untrusted thing" that gets the same treatment as malware.

These are forward-looking statements and, as with all technology predictions, there is a significant chance that things don't turn out this way.

What I'm most excited about?
I'm incredibly excited about the future of decentralized computing in general but one thing stands out. When I started working on distributed systems in early 2000s it felt as if important problems in computer science were already solved. We just read about the glory days of early internet architecture, UNIX operating system, virtualization etc in research papers.

For the first time in my life, when I wake up and go to work, I truly feel that we're working on something potentially revolutionary ourselves. These might be the technologies that others will read about.

Today people from all over the world are participating in the launch of a decentralized computing platform: Blockstack. We've been working on the core components of Blockstack for 4+ years. Allocations for the Blockstack genesis block opened today. Any capital raised through the token sale is not the important thing. What matters is the passionate community members who are becoming a part of the genesis block.
Disclaimer: The Blockstack Tokens are a crypto asset that is currently being developed by Blockstack Token LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, whose website can be found at This post does not constitute an offer or sale of Blockstack Tokens ("the Tokens") or any other mechanism for purchasing the Tokens (such as, without limitation, a fund holding the Tokens or a simple agreement for future tokens related to the Tokens). Any offer or sale of the Tokens or any related instrument will occur only based on definitive offering documents for the Tokens or the applicable instrument.
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Muneeb Ali
Dr. Muneeb Ali is the co-founder of Stacks, bringing apps and smart contracts to Bitcoin. He serves as the CEO of Hiro that is building developer tools for Stacks. He received a PhD in distributed systems from Princeton. → Learn more