Bitcoin's Path from Amulets Rebels to Big Tech Tools


Block chain technology is designed to hinder large organizations. Now Facebook and Twitter likes are choosing it.

At the FIRST TIME, YOU didn't need a joke. The earliest seekers of the California gold rush ventured to the foothills of the Sierra when travelers traveled alone, scanning streams to search for nuggets that were knocked out by the flow. That, at least, is the prevailing image: Individual rebels heading west to attack it are rich with their own initiative. But soon, too many people searched and too little gold easily. The task becomes more resource intensive, requiring water to blow away the hills. That means the size and scale, to build the pipes and sewers out of reach of all but a few.

I was thinking about that history while reporting, earlier this month, about an alleged pyramid scheme related to the digital gold rush of the 2010s, in which people sold with ideas. that mining bitcoin is a way to make money on its own. Earlier in the decade, I owned the foresight, I could have set up my home computer as a bitcoin miner and reaped healthy rewards. The key is openness. Bitcoin was not worth it, but anyone can do it. The underlying technology, blockchain, seems to ensure that, by eliminating the need for intermediaries. The foundation will maintain our independence, our decentralized state.

After that, bitcoin went the golden way. Why? Because it started to make people rich.

With many competing miners, mining becomes more expensive. Higher demand for power means you need more efficient servers to be profitable and, soon, economies of scale. Corporation was interested. Today mining farms are a large, government-subsidized business. Bitcoin, in turn, became a financial instrument. Investment banks, along with retirement funds. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission declared it a commodity, like gold. How do you get bitcoin these days? When I bought a very small portion of a bitcoin another day, after years of stubborn resistance, I did that through a popular investment application that sold my data to hedge funds using it. to better inform their betting. The government can track bitcoin transactions easily, so you can even use it for criminals or political dissent.

But still the myth endures. The message is that bitcoin, thanks to its technical foundation, is something out of our world, a tool for people who leave the system. That, at least, is the pinnacle of pyramid scheme scammers, hunters of vulnerable people with the message that a stake in a fraudulent bitcoin mining operation will save them when the system Traditional financial systems cannot. Many have been fulfilled by that promise.

So Bitcoin has strayed a bit from its cypherpunk origins. But not blockchain, right? The underlying platform provides a form of Platonic decentralization, ensuring cryptography does not trust anyone, giving up central power. It looks like the perfect antidote for centralized internet, weapons of war against Big Tech.

This year, Big Tech has moved to blockchain, which may eventually look like a hostile takeover. It's convenient, just like our national conversation moves, intimidates, antitrust and privacy. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that (probably) is Google's decentralization with (maybe) blockchain, although it has long ignored the cries of those who asked it to do it (with technology without available, not available on blockchain). Critics note that more private tweets will help it avoid content censorship concerns. Facebook has developed a cryptocurrency, Libra, claiming that it has no control, but this will certainly capitalize on its power. That move helped spark China's acceleration in digital currency, becoming a handy surveillance tool. It is not clear what blockchain will play in that effort, but in any case, Xi Jinping is exaggerating public investment in technology for other purposes.

The co-selection of blockchain, its inevitable centralization should not be surprising. It's a lesson we've learned many times: We bestow our social values ​​on technology, not in another way. We have been through this before. Going online First is the promise that it will unlock our knowledge and make us completely free until a dictator cuts the line and companies track and manipulate our behavior. For blockchain, using words like online decentralization, and Google's autonomy, dont, simply make it that way. That works: protecting privacy and safety, ensuring that networks work as intended. Like the internet, that does not mean that the original hope and promises are not true; Initially, we were only blind, to alternate explanations for the manipulations of certain ideals.

I can emphasize the impact of blockchain, the subtlety of at least that technology might be better for users, a reminder of what the internet soon promises. For most blockchain applications at the moment, online decentralization can be best understood as a partnership between untrusted business partners. That is not, I imagine, Satoshi intends what. But perhaps technology will allow Twitter and Facebook and Goldman Sachs to capture at least some ideas of openness, trust in the power of each user. How that unfolds will be the story to see in the 2020s.