Where Do Cryptocurrencies Come from Anyway? 13 9312

So you’ve gotten your head around the idea of digital money. You know the difference between Bitcoin and the blockchain. And maybe you even have some credit in your virtual wallet. But have you ever found yourself asking the question – where do cryptocurrencies come from anyway? Here’s a little crash course:

Bitcoin came out in 2009, but the technology was around many years before that. As the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin was released as an open source project, right around the time of the financial crisis. The identity of Bitcoin’s creator is still not completely certain, although it’s generally believed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the author of a 2008 white paper describing the cryptocurrency.

Whether or not Nakamoto was the true creator of Bitcoin is somewhat a moot point. For a system to be truly decentralized, with no owners, the creator’s idea was to let the technology evolve and be open to all.

At a time when the financial institutions could no longer be trusted or even accessed, the purpose of cryptocurrency was to bring about a transparent economy. Every individual could manage their own wealth outright. They also had the freedom to make transactions globally, without the intervention or permission of any central authority.

The History of Cryptocurrencies

2009 may have been the year that Bitcoin launched, but the theoretical construct of cryptocurrencies existed long before that. The ideology was the same–that math and computer science could solve problems associated with our traditional fiat currencies.

Few people know this, but it was American cryptographer, David Chaum, who invented the “blinding” algorithm in the 1980s. This is the central algorithm to modern web-based encryption today. It’s thanks to this invention that data can be exchanged between parties securely and without being altered. This paved the way for digital currency exchanges (blinded money).

By the late 1980s, Chaum had mustered a team of supporters for his invention, and founded DigiCash, a for-profit company that mined units of currency based on Chaum’s blinding algorithm. Unlike the decentralized Bitcoin, Chaum had the monopoly on digital cash, making it to all intents and purposes, the same as with financial institutions and fiat currency.

While DigiCash started out dealing direct with individuals, rather than institutions, the Netherland’s Central Bank (where Chaum was now located) banned the idea, forcing DigiCash to sell to licensed banks only.

In what could have been the partnership of the century, Microsoft wanted to team up with DigiCash to allow Windows users in the early days to make digital purchases. The terms were never agreed upon, though, and in the late 1990s, DigiCash went bust.

Cryptocurrencies After DigiCash

There wasn’t a lot of movement in cryptocurrencies after DigiCash. The main focus shifted to electronic financial transactions that were more conventional, but still a breakthrough in convenience and speed. Pioneers, such as PayPal and other similar Alternative Payment Methods (APMs) took up most of the resources and investment.

There were a few DigiCash imitators, such as Russia’s WebMoney, but nothing that really stuck until the late 1990s, when e-gold came out. e-gold wasn’t like DigiCash, in the sense that it was owned by a company that bought gold online. Users sent their old trinkets and jewelry to the e-gold warehouse and received digital currency back. This could be changed for actual gold or US dollars.

e-gold reached millions of active accounts, processing billions of dollars annually. But the company had lax security protocols and was subject to frequent hacking and phishing scams, leaving its users out of pocket. Moreover, the company’s transaction activity fell into the legal spotlight, as its laidback policies made it a tool for money launderers and Ponzi schemes. They finally ceased operations in 2009, by which time, Bitcoin was on the market.

Opening to the public in 2009, supporters quickly began to exchange and mine the currency. By the next year, altcoins began to appear on the market, most notably, Litecoin, and the first public Bitcoin exchanges started to appear as well. By 2012, major merchants began accepting Bitcoin as a legitimate method of payment, including WordPress, Expedia and Microsoft.

Flash forward to 2018, and it’s hard to say if Nakamoto or anyone could have predicted Bitcoin’s meteoric rise. But it would take the powers of Nostradamus to say what place cryptocurrencies will have in our lives in the future.

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Christina is a technology and business communicator who has worked with high profile ICOs and blockchain influencers to break industry news.

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Bitcoin Uses As Much Energy As Austria, Could Add 2°C to Earth’s Atmosphere 2,187 21897

Bitcoin mining, it turns out, damages the earth more than more traditional environmental assaults like actual mineral mining.

According to a paper published Monday in Nature Sustainability, the power-hungry Bitcoin mining process consumes more than triple the amount of energy needed to mine the equivalent amount of gold, more than quadruple what’s needed for copper, and more than double what it takes to mine platinum.

Other coins didn’t fare much better. By their measurements, Ethereum and Litecoin consume 7 megajoules of electricity to produce the equivalent of $1, the same energy expenditure as copper mining but more than that of platinum or gold. Monero eats up 14 megajoules to produce $1.

Naturally, these measurements refer to the notoriously variable dollar valuations of such tokens. “While the market prices of the coins are quite volatile,” write researchers Max J. Krause and Thabet Tolaymat, “the network hashrates for three of the four cryptocurrencies have trended consistently upward, suggesting that energy requirements will continue to increase.”

Bitcoin’s Growing Electricity Bill is Bigger Than Some Countries

We’ve long known that Bitcoin is unsustainable. In a 2015 article for Motherboard, Christopher Malmo pointed out that a single Bitcoin transaction used 5,033 times as much energy as a Visa swipe, and could power 1.5 American homes for a day.

The electricity used to crunch Bitcoin code—and its environmental cost—has been growing with its increasing popularity. Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index shows Bitcoin currently consuming 73.12 terawatt hours (or 263.232 billion megajoules) of electricity annually. To put that in context, it’s comparable to the amount of energy it takes to power Austria for a year.

That means there are 175ish countries on earth using less energy than Bitcoin (to say nothing of crypto on the whole), while 66 countries consume less energy per capita than one Bitcoin transaction (it takes 94 thousand kilowatt hours of electricity to mine a single Bitcoin).

Iceland, a major hub of Bitcoin mining farms, spends nearly as much energy on Bitcoin as it does powering its residential homes. In this case, the damage is mitigated because most of Iceland’s power comes from renewable energy.

Canada’s Bitcoin emissions are also on the lower end due to renewable energy sources. They’re using this to court mining companies from China, where mining emissions are about four times that of Canada’s. Montreal International attracts foreign investment by calling Quebec the land of “green bitcoin”. This has caught the eye of some Chinese mining companies looking to go overseas as the Chinese government has discouraged expansion and shut down some mining operations altogether.

Depending on Bitcoin’s growth, some have projected that it could use as much energy as the entire world by 2020.

Digital Currency Has a Real Carbon Footprint

Krause’s and Tolaymat’s research reminds us of the sobering reality that all this invisible wealth has real world costs.

For the 30 months they measured between January 2016 and June 2018, they estimate their four featured tokens collectively belched out at least 3 million tons of CO2 emissions, possibly as much as 15 million tons.

These findings follow another study, published last month, which determined Bitcoin alone could add two degrees Celcius to global warming within the next three decades. That’s enough to raise ocean acidity by 29 percent.

Solving Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption Crisis

So what is the solution? If the world were to switch to 100 percent renewable energy overnight, the problem would be moot. But we can’t hold our breath for that. There could be ways of incentivizing clean energy so greener mines reap more coins, or of implementing clean energy in other ways.

It’s also possible to adopt less computationally intensive mining algorithms so the mining computers don’t guzzle as much juice. This would disappoint a lot of old school Bitcoiners who have invested in hardware, but their feelings don’t really outweigh that 2 degrees celcius that everyone will have to live with (or die by).

Whatever the best solution turns out to be, something needs to change soon. Bitcoin is growing up, and it’s time for it to mature into something more sustainable.

There’s an Inflatable ‘Bitcoin Rat’ Staring Down the Fed 95 43

Someone has put a giant inflatable rat outside the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

It’s covered in Bitcoin code, printed in rainbow colors, and is apparently a piece of installation art aimed at subverting the federal institution that controls the US dollar. Or is it pale, puffed-up pariah a commentary on Bitcoin bros themselves? Or does it have something to do with Warren Buffett, who earlier this year called Bitcoin “rat poison squared”? According to CoinDesk, who first reported on the inflatable rat, the meaning is intentionally ambiguous.

The artist behind the puzzling prank is Nelson Saiers. He describes his own work as “mystifying” and “singularly original”, notwithstanding the long history of rats being inflated as protests or used as economic and political icons in art and entertainment around the world.

“It’s art, so I hope they’re entertained by it,” he said, apparently implying that art is entertainment. “It’s informative, I hope people will learn [and] I’m hoping it’ll at least help people understand bitcoin better and be kind of faithful to what Satoshi would have wanted,” he added, citing the mysterious pseudonym of Bitcoin’s founder with a touch of reverence.

A $50 Million Artist

Saiers, a phD in theoretical mathematics, was a hedge fund manager who did that thing where you give up all the money to chase your dream of being an artist.

His financial experience includes a stint as managing director at Deutsche Bank’s prop trading desk, before becoming CIO of Saiers Capital, the hedge fund that bears his name. His creative career gives credence to the theory that working as an artist is more and more a privilege of the very wealthy.

CNBC estimated Saiers’s wealth to be around $50 million at the time of he departed from the financial industry to pick up his paintbrushes.

The Rat Joins a Tradition of Sculpture-as-Commentary in FiDi

The Bitcoin rat, which stands on Maiden Lane, isn’t the first pop up sculpture to grace Manhattan’s financial district. Last year, Kristen Visbal’s 50 inch bronze ‘Fearless Girl’ statue made waves by staring down the famous ‘Charging Bull’, to the outrage of ‘Charging Bull’ sculptor Arturo Di Modica. The 3.5 ton ‘Charging Bull’ itself was left on Wall Street in the middle of the night when Di Modica originally created it, obstructing traffic and drawing the curiosity of passers by.

When Saiers placed the Bitcoin rat, he initially set it up on private property and was promptly ushered off by security guards, who he says were good natured about the situation. He expects the sculpture to be more temporary than the aforementioned Wall Street bronzes, and will probably only be around for a few days.

A Critique of the 2008 Bailouts

The placement of the rat on Maiden Lane seems to be no accident, but rather a reference to the Maiden Lane Transactions, more commonly known as that time when the Fed bailed out the big banks after they all caused the 2008 market crash. The Bitcoin crowd’s antipathy towards the Fed and the big banks is palpable in Sairs’s rat sculpture, and while a more specific meaning eludes, perhaps the success of the piece depends upon its ability to start conversations about the state of finance.

We’ll leave it to the viewers to decide who’s the rat—the Federal Reserve, or Bitcoin itself—and what that means for the future of currencies.

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