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October 22, 2020

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Understanding the Upgradeability Predicament from a Blockchain Developer’s POV

Experts believe that the mass adoption of blockchain is impeded by three integral challenges, of which upgradeability is the most fundamental challenge. The other two challenges that need to be resolved are governance and vertical scaling. In order to understand the issue of upgradeability, it is crucial to underscore the dynamic concept of “antifragility”.

Coined by Nassim Taleb, the concept of antifragility refers to the property of systems that progress and improve under stress. In the case of fragile systems, we observe excellent performance however, under stress, they start to crumble and “blow up”.

Antifragility emerges from the hierarchical nature of multilayered systems that are layered with fragile subunits to create a robust and healthy system. When applied to nature or the human race, this process is referred to as evolution, and in computing, these overtime improvements and progress is referred to as “upgrades”.

Experts underscore that the major challenge with modern-day blockchains is the fact that they have not been designed for upgrades, which means: they cannot evolve. Evolution is instrumental to ensure that systems can withstand “black swans”, a term coined to refer to highly stressful and unpredictable circumstances. Antifragile systems are capable of not only withstanding black swans, but also improving and evolving through survival.

Blockchains do not have any separate layers featuring fragile subunits that allow a robust adaptation process, helping the system to recover and improve.

Upgrading & Implementing Blockchain

As opposed to designing an upgrade path to improve a system, hard fork is an opposite concept that involves discarding the old system and replacing it with a new and improved one. It is crucial to understand that before focusing on the technical barriers, blockchain developers must first break through their psychological barriers.

Blockchains are not being designed from first principles in the present-day industry. But in fact, they are being largely iterated from the pre-existing architecture of major blockchains, such as Ethereum and Bitcoin. Truth be told, there are numerous ways to implement a blockchain, but experts tend to make the assumption that the protocols and components implemented in the blockchain have become the “right away” by default.

These protocols have a profound influence on how we examine and observe the challenges, and have encouraged the creation of “mental maps” of the challenges long before we began exploring the blockchain landscape.

Bitcoin and Ethereum were fundamentally the first decentralized computers, and as with any computing invention, the earliest stages were focused on learning the technology’s problem-solving abilities and applications. In the case of blockchain, engineers and developers have constructed everything from scratch as there were no platforms or tools. Each blockchain has been optimized to perform certain applications.

The First-Mover Advantage

The first-mover advantage was instrumental in ensuring the success of the earliest applications; however, this success begins to diminish as developers move towards software development. Software development introduces developers to the features and behaviors that will appeal to the users in order to validate and improve a new technology.

However, maintaining the first-mover advantage is an impossible feat because the application is constructed on a treasure of old code that very few developers can comprehend and upgrade. As the bugs begin to mount, a nightmare ensues for developers attempting to fix and maintain the existing code; improvement and evolution becomes an unsurmountable challenge.

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