DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects branch of the U.S. Military, submitted a formal request to study distributed consensus protocol. They recognize the potential for and importance of understanding the protocol for military intel.
On November 19, DARPA submitted a formal Request for Information (RFI). An RFI is a standard form in the military for permission to pursue intelligence. This recent request was entitled “Applications and Barriers to Consensus Protocols”. The application states how DARPA is shows specific interest in permissionless consensus, explaining that the military already has fairly sufficient information about permissioned systems. The form mentions the possibility of a future DARPA program involving the technology.
The paper specifically mentions Bitcoin (BTC) and the proof-of-work protocol
DARPA explains that they’re more interested in moneyless incentives: “Of note, all means of rewarding participants (e.g., giving them access to computing resources) also constitute a transfer of value”.
Overall, the proposal is fairly broad and generic, but indicates that it is likely only a first step into a thorough study. Basically, approval from the RFI would open the door for DARPA to conduct research and submit white papers to apply for more specific research projects in the future. The RFI is due to respond by December 20 and if they approve, DARPA will likely hold a panel in February to discuss next steps.
While DARPA works under the Department of Defense, their research could help blockchain at large if ever made public
They are also accepting expert submissions that will be unclassified. For one thing, the proposal speaks to the concept of an Internet of Value. Ripple is perhaps the most popular protocol to put forth this concept. And indeed they did eliminate mining as an incentive. But of course, users are still rewarded in this system with Ripple (XRP) tokens and the hope of their increased value.
Therefore, this particular DARPA research can help shed light on scalability issues. Blockchain technology has already evolved significantly since 2009, and developers have already resolved many scalability concerns. But as crypto and blockchain are still fairly young, exploration and research can still lead to very important innovations.
Finally, DARPA seems interested in the true levels of decentralization or centralization of distributed consensus
They point out that protocols that advertise themselves as decentralized “may nonetheless have centralized aspects” which could possibly compromise security. To return to Ripple (XRP) once more, Ripple Labs has raised such concerns for controlling the circulation of coins.
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