The scientific discovery of polarization isn't attributed to a single individual. The Vikings likely used Icelandic Spar to craft sunstones, which helped them navigate on cloudy days by determining the position of the sun through an entoptic phenomenon called Haidinger's brush.
The term polarization may have been coined by Augustin-Jean Fresnel, a French engineer and physicist, around 1817, when working out the mathematical models showing light waves resist longitudinal vibration as they propegate through the ether. His work in this area was built upon and credited to Thomas Young, a polymath from London. Young used his wide range of skills to make a number of original and insightful innovations in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, including ones that helped crack the mystery of the Rosetta Stone.
Fresnel went mostly unnoticed during his lifetime and was only credited for his work after his death, most famously by James Clerk Maxwell when assembling his seminal theory encompassing electricity, magnetism, and light. Maxwell's Equations were inspired, in part, by Michael Faraday's experimental observations in the areas of electromagnitism and electrochemistry.
According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, Faraday may be the most influential scientist of all time. In addition to a slew of other discoveries, which included the invention of the first electric motor, he was singlehandedly responsible for discovering electricity can directly interact with light; a behavior we now call the Faraday effect. Faraday figured out certain materials, dielectrics, can polarize light when an electric current is run through them. If you want to learn about the history of this invention, you should watch Cosmos: The Electric Boy. It's superb.
Just to twist your noodle a bit, the Faraday effect allows us to build what is known as a optical isolator, essentially a diode for light, allowing it to travel in one direction but not the other. We plan on using these devices, conceived by Faraday in the 1800s, to build the next generation of computers. In theory, optical computers will be more thermally efficient than electric computers, which means they may run cooler and much faster.
Cooling hot computers has gotten more challenging over time. Interestingly enough, the materials we use to increase cooling are themselves dielectrics. These non-electrically conductive materials include thermal paste and mineral oil, a common coolant used for direct immersion techniques. Here's a guy who stuck his entire cryptocurrency mining rig in mineral oil to keep it cool:
Last year I heated my house using a slew of graphics cards mining Dogecoin. I stopped mining back in the Spring given the price of Bitcoin took a hit. Today, I'd be lucky to make 1/3 of the direct cost of electricity for the mining rigs from the coins I mined. The people who are still mining Dogecoin are able to do so because they presumably have access to cheap power or very deep wallets.
After noting the continued retracement of Bitcoin's price, my friend Lew Moorman emailed me with a subject line saying "I'm feeling good about my original insights on Bitcoin". Feeling a bit snarky, I replied with a link to my recent post on unproductive paranoia. Truth be told, over the last few years Lew and I have had some lively discussions on the value of cryptocurrencies for compute-based technologies such as those used to build cloud technologies. That's interesting for a variety of reasons, including the fact he's the one that got me thinking about trust to begin with.
I shared this post with him before publishing it. He reiterated that he was bullish on the blockchain technology itself, but bearish on the value of using Bitcoin for stores of value. I argued back that anything worth storing in a blockchain has value, and by extension, the blockchain itself becomes more valuable. Just like a startup!
Regardless, that original post on trust was the beginning of me starting work on utter.io, a decentralized cloud framework based on the Bitcoin blockchain. It also marked the beginning of my struggle with the polarized views around cryptocurrencies.
Trust is Polarizing
Trust is a challenge for any technology based on crypto. The Germans trusted Enigma could secure conversations about war strategy. Cryptographers trusted SSL could secure our logins to websites. Turns out they were both wrong.
Cryptocurrencies are difficult for humans to trust because their ability to understand the implementation of the systems themselves varies from individual to individual. In order to trust Bitcoin, for example, one must either fully understand how it works from a technical standpoint, or implicitly trust it based on information provided by others who fully understand the technology themselves.
When I tell you that you can trust a technology and you do so in good faith, we use my credibility and knowledge with the technology to establish your own trust in the technology. Credibility, or karma, can be thought of as 'stored work' I do while learning and understanding something to establish trust in it. If the topic deals with a subject that provides no gains in advantage over another, credibility can be an easy way for someone else to trust something implicitly. When dealing with matters that represent advantage over another, such as a crypto finance, cognitive biases frequently replace credibile statements. There will always be those who deceive for personal gain.
This becomes the essence of my thesis: Individuals become polarized on the topic of Bitcoin because they sense people with credibility trust it, which implies they will eventually have to use it to buy things. Given they have no way to fully understand the technology and implementation behind it and they are healthy skeptical of trusting financial matters via implicit trust, they end up being put into a dilemma that causes cognitive dissonance as a result of their inability to resolve the issue externally.
In short, human sentiment about Bitcoin flops between two discrete states: they love it or they are angered by it. That becomes self evident when you look at Bitcoin news stories.
Building Trust through Education and Discovery
Implementing global trust for cryptocurrencies is difficult because understanding how they work requires skills that go well beyond a typical layman's abilities. Note I'm not talking about trusting the price of Bitcoin here, but simply trusting that the technology can do what it says it can do: transfer stored value from one person to another in a reliable and trustworthy way.
A key contributor to these challenges involves understanding how the various layers of a coin work together to provide security. Simplifying things considerably, you can think of cryptocurrencies as a conglomeration of technologies that A) secure a public ledger of accounts through cryptographic hashes (what causes all that heat in miners), B) providing access to individual ledger entries through cryptographic key pairs, and C) occasionally providing access to those key pairs through traditional SSL based technologies. From what we know about the math behind all of it, we suspect that A is VERY secure, B is quite frequently secure if you are careful, and C is a crap shoot, depending on who you trust to do it for you. I would mention C is also optional, but opting out of it is difficult for most people to do effectively, given managing private keys is hard.
The fact that B and C continue to show themselves as problems with Bitcoin becomes a driving factor for mis-trust in the technology. Repairing this trust is difficult, requires additional work, and takes time.
The answer to our dilemma, perhaps, is education. Like those innovators that came before us, if those of us who trust cryptocurrency technologies build on the effort to educate others about the technologies we are building, maybe, just maybe, we can swing the tide of trust in a positive direction.
Like Fresnel, I struggle with the challenges in teaching others my field of interest. As he best put it, "that sensibility, or that vanity, which people call love of glory" became blunted when faced with the fact that "of all the compliments I have received, none ever gave me so much pleasure as the discovery of a theoretic truth".
Thanks to the like of Fresnel and Faraday, we now have a new tool of immense power we can bring to bear on the problem of bringing theorietic truths about cryptocurrencies to others: The Internet.