Considering PoW vs PoS in a Nuclear War

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We stand at the precipice of devastation beyond human reckoning. We can feel it in our collective soul, our existence teetering on the edge of oblivion. All it takes is one mistake, one terrible mistake, for a brutal tyrant to escalate his petty war into a nuclear conflagration the likes of which the world has never seen. The abyss is calling.

…so naturally, it’s important to consider what this means for Proof-of-Stake vs Proof-of-Work.

In the first hour of untold suffering, tens of millions of people will die, lost in radioactive flames hotter than the surface of the sun. This will undoubtedly cause some disruption to power grids, data centers, and other infrastructure necessary to maintain the networks underpinning our magic internet coins and ape pictures.

Much as the light of consciousness will irreparably, fatally dim, so too will overall power generation and connectivity. It’s possible that PoW mining operations without on-premise power will be knocked offline, while their operators are reduced to ash and shadow — perhaps while on their way to watch their children play soccer or baseball on an otherwise banal Sunday afternoon. In the case of some protocols this could mean a rather long period of instability while the difficulty algorithm adjusts. But eventually, without intervention, they should find some new equilibrium — perhaps after a year or two, another block will be mined.

In that intervening period, hundreds of millions more lives will be lost; whether through internecine violence, complications from radiation sickness, famine, cascading infrastructure failures, or rapid climate changes from an unimaginable nuclear winter. We can only speculate what might happen to existing mining facilities, but suffice to say that they won’t be receiving new Bitmain ASICs anytime soon. More than likely the miners’ raw materials or power generators will be scavenged or captured by rival warlords in an apocalyptic twilight that would give Cormac McCarthy pause.

Tick tock, next block.

Now don’t claim a victory lap quite yet, PoS enthusiasts. Yes, in the face of a nuclear armageddon beyond our comprehension, PoW coins do appear vulnerable to some degree of disruption…but it’s likely that PoS would fare just as badly.

For one thing, the first barrages of star-furnace-hellfire that seals humanity’s extinction would likely target some data centers…where centralized exchanges and other large holders run their validators and store key material. In the ensuing chaos, it’s quite likely that a significant amount of stake would be lost, either due to slashing or inactivity leakage (depending on the design in question).

Those that lose their stake have a high probability of simply being dead — as much as they’d prefer to be “live players,” the MIRV payloads that disintegrated the world’s metropolitan centers had other ideas. But it would be impossible to know for sure. Some particularly paranoid whales may emerge from bunkers days or weeks later, and have other, delayed means of attesting their stake, which could cause havoc on the general social consensus.

…of course, the general social consensus may be impractical to ascertain, since every centralized medium of discussion will have been absolutely obliterated; when everyone’s friends and family are dead, I suspect that the dev ops team keeping Discord up and running is out to lunch. And forgive my sweeping generalization, but I find it unlikely that PoS adherents will take to Ham Radio to discuss hard-forking the chain. If such a thing were attempted, the other higher-priority uses of Ham Radio (survivor groups planning food raids on peaceful settlements, etc.) would likely crowd it out. Congestion happens outside of blockchains too!

Oh, does your PoS algorithm have some clever workaround involving a weak subjectivity checkpoint enforced by validating some state in a PoW coin? Congrats, you now are doubly hosed, since the barren wasteland left behind by the apotheosis of our hubris is unlikely to support consistent operation of PoW coins, let alone any technology invented after the Bronze Age. Or food, for that matter.

The prospects might seem bleak, but look on the bright side: while it’s quite likely that you, your family, your friends, and everyone you know would find themselves suddenly extinct, so would Litecoin.