In a recent development, a Bitcoin enthusiast has unveiled a white paper detailing a novel approach to enhance Bitcoin’s smart contract capabilities. The white paper, titled “BitVM: Compute Anything on Bitcoin”, is the brainchild of ZeroSync project lead, Robin Linus. This innovative solution promises to bring Ethereum-like contract functionalities to Bitcoin without necessitating any changes to Bitcoin’s core consensus rules.
BitVM: A Turing-Complete System for Bitcoin
A Turing-complete system, by definition, can theoretically solve any computational problem. BitVM aims to harness this capability for Bitcoin contracts. The primary distinction of BitVM is that while the contract’s logic would be executed off-chain, its verification would take place on the Bitcoin blockchain. This mechanism mirrors the functionality of Ethereum’s optimistic rollups.
The architecture of BitVM is grounded in the principles of fraud proofs and a challenge-response model. In this model, a “prover” makes claims, and a “verifier” can execute a fraud proof to penalize the prover if they make false assertions.
Expanding Bitcoin’s Operational Horizon:
Robin Linus elucidated that the current version of Bitcoin is restricted to rudimentary operations such as signatures, timelocks, and hashlocks. However, with BitVM, this scope can be significantly expanded. Linus envisions BitVM powering a plethora of intriguing applications. He highlighted potential applications like games (Chess, Go, Poker) and emphasized the verification of validity proofs in Bitcoin contracts. Linus further speculated on the possibility of bridging BTC to other blockchain networks, establishing prediction markets, and emulating new opcodes.
However, Linus also pointed out certain limitations. The model primarily operates in a two-party setting involving a prover and a verifier. This necessitates a substantial amount of off-chain computation and communication to execute programs. As a future direction, Linus aims to fully develop BitVM and introduce Tree++, a sophisticated programming language tailored for crafting and debugging Bitcoin contracts.
From the paper by Robin Linus:
“The protocol is simple: Firstly, prover and verifier compile the program into a huge binary circuit. The prover commits to that circuit in a Taproot address which has a leaf script for every logic gate in the circuit. Additionally, they pre-sign a sequence of transactions, enabling a challenge-response game between the prover and the verifier. Now they have exchanged all of the required data, so they can make their on-chain deposits to the resulting Taproot address. This activates the contract and they can start exchanging off-chain data to trigger state changes in the circuit. If the prover makes any incorrect claim, the verifier can take their deposit. This guarantees attackers always lose their deposits.”
The Community’s Reaction:
The BitVM white paper has garnered attention from prominent figures in the Bitcoin community. Eric Wall, a notable Bitcoiner, expressed his preliminary approval of the concepts presented in the white paper, mentioning his cautious optimism about the potential real-world applications that might emerge from it. On the other hand, Bitcoin Core contributor Adam Back advised caution, likening it to Greg Maxwell’s 2016 ZKP contingent payments.
Another noteworthy mention came from a blockchain developer named “dotta,” who pointed out the existence of a proof-of-concept on GitHub. Sam Parker, a user on the platform, sought to address concerns among Bitcoin maximalists, emphasizing that BitVM won’t compel Bitcoin to be “locked” into these contracts. He stated,
“If you don’t trust your coins being locked to some Turing complete contract then don’t lock them to a Turing complete smart contract.”
In conclusion, the introduction of BitVM is a significant milestone in the evolution of Bitcoin’s smart contract capabilities. While it’s still early days, the potential applications and implications of this technology are vast and could shape the future trajectory of Bitcoin and the broader blockchain ecosystem.
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