Bitcoin is a currency much like any other, albeit digital. It can be saved, spent, invested, and even stolen. The rise of Bitcoin, the most widely circulated cryptocurrency, began in 2009 by someone (or someones) using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. It came to prominence earlier this year when its value suddenly jumped 10-fold from $2 to $266 between February and April, with a peak market valuation of more than $2 billion.
Still, even supporters acknowledge that that glorious future is going to use a lot of electricity. It’s true that many of the more alarming claims—for example, that by 2020, bitcoin mining will consume “as much electricity as the entire world does today,” as the environmental website Grist recently suggested—are ridiculous: Even if the current bitcoin load grew a hundredfold, it would still represent less than 2 percent of total global power consumption. (And for comparison, even the high-end estimates of bitcoin’s total current power consumption are still less than 6 percent of the power consumed by the world’s banking sector.) But the fact remains that bitcoin takes an astonishing amount of power. By one estimate, the power now needed to mine a single coin would run the average household for 10 days.
The decentralized and transparent nature is what makes blockchain highly secure and almost impossible to hack, because a hack to one ledger would cause a discrepancy in the entire network that will be ignored. Functionally, to hack the ledger one would have to hack all the computers on a network at the exact same time in order to change the “average”. For a currency like bitcoin, this would mean millions of computers. So the larger the network, the more stable the currency.
Conversely, if one were to take the super-long view and, say, bought a few shares in 2012 at a sub-$100 price point, even with Bitcoin dropping half its peak value, that investor would still theoretically make over a 600 percent return on his investment just by waiting. Granted, the sub $100 days are likely now over, what with the currency's new-found stardom so we'll have to wait and see how the market plays out.
At this point, the actual mining begins. In essence, each miner now tries to demonstrate to the rest of the network that his or her block of verified payments is the one true block, which will serve as the permanent record of those 2,000 or so transactions. Miners do this by, essentially, trying to be the first to guess their block’s numerical password. It’s analogous to trying to randomly guess someone’s computer password, except on a vastly larger scale. Carlson’s first mining computer, or “rig,” which he ran out of his basement north of Seattle, could make 12 billion “guesses” every second; today’s servers are more than a thousand times faster.
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