Cryptocurrencies are the most exciting money stories of our time. They’re also far more difficult than anyone expected. Cryptocurrencies that gain a solid user base and become accepted as an alternative form of payment will change the way we think about money, and in fact about everything. It’s only when you look at them through this lens that you realize there are serious challenges to be overcome first.
In my view, these five challenges are the most important ones facing cryptocurrencies today, but they aren’t the only ones. While these problems need to be solved in order for cryptocurrencies to become mainstream, there are many more issues involved than just building an easy-to-use wallet and spending your bitcoins at Starbucks.
I’m not going to try to explain each one here in detail, but maybe you can tell me what you think of them in the comments.
Cryptocurrencies are a new form of money and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of their potential.
Cryptocurrencies are being used as a new way to transfer value, but they also have a lot of other potential uses, such as granting access to information, proving ownership of property, and conducting financial transactions anonymously. However, cryptocurrencies have so far been slow to catch on and there are many challenges in getting them adopted more widely.
One of the biggest challenges is that cryptocurrencies are still mostly used by those who already have an interest in them – either for speculative investment or for reasons such as privacy – and not by the wider population. There is a gap between what cryptocurrency enthusiasts believe about them and what mainstream users think about them…
There is a tendency to think of cryptocurrencies as technology, just like computers and the Internet. But they are not at all like computers.
Computers are expensive, fast and reliable. Cryptocurrencies have none of these qualities–yet. They are expensive and slow, they have big bugs and they are not reliable. If you use them, you run the risk that they will crash at any time or simply stop working.
Cryptocurrencies do have one thing in common with computers: anyone can write their own cryptocurrency software by writing code based on their own ideas, and then put it online for anyone to use. The only thing you can’t do is put it online for anyone else to use; that would be monopoly-like behavior, and it’s illegal in most countries.
The simple answer is that cryptocurrencies are a tiny part of the story of money. Bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency, is only a part of a much larger set of virtual currencies.
The most important thing we can say about cryptocurrencies is that they are as misunderstood as everything else in this book is misunderstood. It’s not just that the media gets it wrong; it’s that most people in the financial industry get it wrong too. If you want to understand what’s going on with cryptocurrencies, you have to ignore the popular press and pay attention instead to what people like me are writing.
Cryptocurrencies started in 2009 as a way for private people to transfer money between bank accounts without using banks or using banks’ rules. The idea was inspired by Bitcoin, which was designed as an alternative payment system for anonymous web transactions. That was why it started out at less than one cent per transaction; later on it reached a maximum price of $20,000 per transaction. As Bitcoin got more popular and more secure, however, its value rose—but not so fast that ordinary people could understand what was happening.
Bitcoin did get more popular, but not because ordinary people understood it better than they had before. Instead they had been fooled into thinking they understood it better than they did
In the beginning of the internet, there was a lot of hype around digital currencies. The idea was that a worldwide network of computers could create money just like companies can create stocks and bonds. Currency, it was thought, would be far more stable than the fluctuating value of existing national or international currencies.
The first promising currency was called e-gold. In 1996 the founders of e-gold were jailed in the US for violating anti-money laundering laws. The founders were released in 2002, but e-gold was shut down by court order in 2007. And then nobody heard anything about digital currencies for three years until Bitcoin came along in 2009.
Over that period there had been various attempts at creating more stable currencies. In 1998 John Gilmore founded an online bank called DigiCash, which accepted only cash deposits and issued its own electronic money, which it called cashback dollars (1), and also issued carbon credits (2), which we now call carbon credits. But after a brief flurry of publicity DigiCash never really caught on. The reason was that people didn’t trust it to hold any money worth holding; they thought the transfer fees would be too high.
Bitcoin was introduced in 2009 by someone who calls himself Satoshi Nakamoto. He is probably a pseudonym; it is hard to say. His original purpose was not to create a money system but to develop a new way for people to send each other messages without paying for email services or relying on any central organization, such as a government or a bank.
His idea was that if you knew something, you could publish your opinion of it and make it widely known on the Internet. You would be able to prove that you were right and everyone else was wrong.
Bitcoins are created by software running on computers all around the world. They are the product of work done by volunteers in their spare time, much like Linux is produced by volunteers in their spare time. The software is freely available and there is no central body with power over it: no government agency, no bank, no corporation, no lobby group with influence. Anyone can download the code and run it on her own computer. If she wishes, she can become a miner and help keep the system honest by running the software to confirm transactions and prevent fraud.
In 2008 this was seen as an exciting development: if people have computers they can use to work together without anyone telling them what to do or giving them orders or
There is a great battle going on, one that will shape all of us in the coming years and decades. It is not between right and wrong, not between good and evil, but between power and powerlessness.
This battle is being fought in the shadows, unseen by most people. But if you are interested in the future of money, it is worth your attention.
What you will learn from this essay:1) The essentials of ethereum2) How to persuade people who don’t understand cryptocurrency3) What Google’s artificial intelligence can do for you4) How malware authors use bitcoin as a payment system5) How bitcoin could be used to fight back against hackers6) And other things that make sense to me