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The Birth of Time in Cyberspace

Cyberspace is still growing at impressive speed. The growth of wired and wireless networks and the growth of the number of devices that can be connected by the ip protocol is keeping its pace. In many cases countries that gained their own oil and/or independence of the US can step over innefficient means to connect and go for fiber or mesh networks right away. Most western homes now have more computers, ipads, phones, cameras. All this proliferation was driven by the need to sell oil, and it has not stopped yet.

But there are problems with the net, especially when it concerns privacy, (apart from the biggest one that is that humans are being automated by the internet, while it should be machines!) or, the real issue commercialized data. Privacy can be protected by encryption, but authorities don’t like private encryption intiatives. The US clamped down (mean stopped/broke up) several private encryption initiatives recently. Leading developers are going in hiding or sell their business to avoid being arrested under the new terrorism laws (that basically turned the US in a random dictatorship). Of course encryption can be and is used by criminals to plan and direct their actions in privacy, and for now (because of the lack of local autonomy in the developed world) central government is the better option.

Enter cryptocurrencies. They present as their core functionality peer to peer serially encryption of transaction data and democratic verification of the produced ‘block chain’. What the clients in these networks do is weave data into the block chain, and select the chain to start their weaving with based on verification from other peers. That way, if the peers remain connected, there is only one valid chain, only one valid ledger of accounts. Only one reality.

The cryptocurrency block chain has a brother in cyberspace, one that has been around for a number of years already, called Twitter. Twitter is almost the polar opposite of a block chain cryptocurrency in that it is 100% public and affords no privacy whatsoever. Twitter doesn’t let you send a token, almost a real bit of information (you either send it or you dont) to any anonymous reciever, it aims/allows to compress as much information as possible in 140 characters, and send it to EVERYONE at the same time, with little anonimity.

Both cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Twitter however do one inportant rather new thing : They produce Time. Twitter does it based on it’s hardware infrastructure, its databases have timestamps, up to the second, and for each tweet the time is recorded. The integrity of time is key for Twitter to function. Twitter also creates time because of the impact of tweets and the connections between twitterers. If all the tweets where mixed up you could still build temporal progression based on the retweets (also because the records state the event of one person tweeting to another) and the use of the meme. Handed a dataset of tweets without a timestamp, time could be constructed, it is not implicit.

Looking at other cyber data systems time is mostly abcent. A database has records with timestamps, we, humans order them. We can change the timestamps to fool other people. The databases don’t care, don’t know and have no intrinsic mechanism to treat data that was entered later differently from data that was entered before. Time in computers comes about because of the clock (duh!), but time in the clock comes about because of a physical change between at least two states. Not abstract states, but real electrons going back and forth, in resonance with a piezo electric crystal being charged and discharged, a usually icehockey ring shaped metal component on the board, close to the CPU. Without those little components made of calcium no cyberspace. Time to CPUs is a engimatic as it is to humans. It can not observe it on its own, but it could not observe at all if it didn’t exist.

Time is not a dimension (this is this authors finding). It is a result of the interaction between particles. These interactions happen because energies are not distributed so as to avoid them (a photon travels, an electron flows, an molecule vibrates) and the always result in less complexity, or entropy in the system as a whole. Time means an increase in entropy. Entropy and it’s increase is juse another way to say time and it’s progression. Entropy can not decrease, and time can not reverse. For the real abstract thinkers there’s this riddle : If time moved backwards, how would we know? Like the CPU we can’t truely observe time, we can’t step out of our reality, and like a CPU we would not know if it run forward or backward. But we digress…

Twitter introduces time to cyberspace, but not as fundamentally as cryptocurrencies do, even if we don’t recognize it yet. Cryptocurrencies are, as the name suggest, cryptographically driven currencies. And cryptography is the art of hiding information in chaos. It is the art of creating a extremely selective high entropy for the reciever, and zero entropy for everyone else. The link between entropy and information is a very old one (in computer science terms). Information theory, the theory of data transmission, should be about bits and bytes. But data transmission does not occur in a vacuum, it occurs in copper wires, glass fiber, through the ether in between and through all kinds of real world. The question fundamental to information theory is how to separate the real world from the data. How do I know what I listen to is a signal, or noise. Where does the noise come from? From any process. Noise in information theory is similar to heat in thermodynamic theory.

Encryption is a process whereby information is changed in (at least) two components : Something that looks like noise and a key. The key instructs an algorithm that reconstructs the information out of the noise (that isn’t really noise, but looks like it). Because it is a lot of work to reconstruct the information without the key, entropy will increase siginficantly when people try it. As a result the encrypted data represents an increase in entropy, except for the people with the key. What cryptocurrencies do is create a reality that constantly increases entropy to the people outside it. Say you have 10 litecoins in your account. That information is encrypted. Now only the people with the key can access that information. Nobody without a key can, or only at a very high cost. With the key you see the data, without it you see noise. The people with the key carry their data from block to block, so that even in their own network data is sealed within increasing layers of entropic ‘protection’. One has to calculate to verify the data, to retrace the encryption steps, imagine the work without the keys…

The block chain thus introduces time for the ledger data and for the users of cryptocurrencies, time independent of the databases or computers or the network the data exists in. Time as a result of the cryptographic specific increase of entropy, only allowing one peer to peer reality. Twitter doesn’t have this type of time at it’s core, call it virtual time. It could have. The implications are that internet and data can now start  behaving in new ways, because even to itself there is now only one reality, one with a real immutable progression of time.

Soon we will see that companies that want to record time, that need it in some real sense, will submit data to a block chain, cryptocurrency like mechanism, the data will be weaved in the block chain and it will become extremely hard to fake it, to deny it. It wil be verifiable but not falsifiable. Better than a notary or database or stone tablets. In terms of work it would be like writing it on a piece of paper, locked in a pyramid the size of mars. Block chain encryption is here to stay, and it will change cyberspace. How? Time will tell. (can also be read at cryptoportfolio.nl)

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