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Cryptocurrency Technology and Applications

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(Stanford University - Alvin Wei-Cheng Wong)
 
 

 

- Overview

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency designed to work as a medium of exchange. It uses cryptography to secure and verify transactions as well as to control the creation of new units of a particular cryptocurrency. Essentially, cryptocurrencies are limited entries in a database that no one can change unless specific conditions are fulfilled.

Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized systems based on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its biggest allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.

The first blockchain-based cryptocurrency was Bitcoin, which still remains the most popular and most valuable. Today, there are thousands of alternate cryptocurrencies with various functions or specifications. Some of these are clones of Bitcoin while others are forks, or new cryptocurrencies that split off from an already existing one.

 

- Worldwide Payments and Fast Peer-To-Peer (P2P) Transactions

Bitcoin is a digital asset and a payment system. It is an innovative payment network and a new kind of money. It is designed to enable users to send money over the Internet in a very simple and efficient way. Bitcoin made digital transactions possible without a trusted intermediary. The technology allowed this to happen at scale, globally, with cryptography doing what institutions like commercial banks, financial regulators, and central banks used to do: verify the legitimacy of transactions and safeguard the integrity of the underlying asset.

Like paper money and gold before it, bitcoin is a paperless, bank-less, state-less currency that allows people to exchange value, to pay directly for goods and services. It is a system which allows you to do anonymous currency transactions and no one will come to know about the payment or about all other info related to the payment, including who sent it, who received it, etc. Unlike its predecessors, bitcoin is digital and decentralized. The bitcoin generation algorithm defines, in advance, how currency will be created and at what rate. Any currency that is generated by a malicious user that does not follow the rules will be rejected by the network and thus is worthless. Since the system works without a central repository or single administrator, the U.S. Treasury categorizes bitcoin as a decentralized virtual currency. Bitcoin is often called the first cryptocurrency. 

 

- Understanding Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, which enables all functions such as currency issuance, transaction processing and verification to be carried out collectively by the network. While this decentralization renders bitcoin free from government manipulation or interference, the flipside is that there is no central authority to ensure that things run smoothly or to back the value of a bitcoin. Bitcoins are created digitally through a “mining” process that requires powerful computers to solve complex algorithms and crunch numbers. They are currently (in 2019) created at the rate of 25 bitcoins every 10 minutes and will be capped at 21 million, a level that is expected to be reached in 2140.

 

- The Future Of Cryptocurrency

The success of bitcoin has led to the development of many alternative cryptocurrencies (or altcoins). Most of these altcoins offer their own take on the bitcoin protocol, and are interesting in their own right. Currently, there are hundreds of alcoins out in the wild being traded every single day. But, most altcoins don’t last very long. In addition, just like the unfounded fear of many governments in the world that bitcoin and other virtual currencies are a conduit for money laundering, smuggling, terrorism and tax evasion, they believe that the only means of curbing these harmful elements is through acceptance and regulation.

Cryptocurrency (Crypto) made the leap from being an academic concept to (virtual) reality with the creation of bitcoin in 2009. While bitcoin attracted a growing following in subsequent years, it captured significant investor and media attention in April 2013 when it peaked at a record $266 per bitcoin after surging 10-fold in the preceding two months. Bitcoin sported a market value of over $2 billion at its peak, but a 50% plunge shortly thereafter sparked a raging debate about the future of cryptocurrencies in general and bitcoin in particular. So, will these alternative currencies eventually supplant conventional currencies and become as ubiquitous as dollars and euros someday? Or are cryptocurrencies a passing fad that will flame out before long? The answer lies with bitcoin.

Some economic analysts predict a big change in crypto is forthcoming as institutional money enters the market. Moreover, there is the possibility that crypto will be floated on the Nasdaq, which would further add credibility to blockchain and its uses as an alternative to conventional currencies.4 Some predict that all that crypto needs is a verified exchange traded fund (ETF). An ETF would definitely make it easier for people to invest in bitcoin, but there still needs to be the demand to want to invest in crypto, which might not automatically be generated with a fund.

 

- The Future of Cryptocurrencies

Some of the limitations that cryptocurrencies presently face – such as the fact that one’s digital fortune can be erased by a computer crash, or that a virtual vault may be ransacked by a hacker – may be overcome in time through technological advances. What will be harder to surmount is the basic paradox that bedevils cryptocurrencies – the more popular they become, the more regulation and government scrutiny they are likely to attract, which erodes the fundamental premise for their existence. 

While the number of merchants who accept cryptocurrencies has steadily increased, they are still very much in the minority. For cryptocurrencies to become more widely used, they have to first gain widespread acceptance among consumers. However, their relative complexity compared to conventional currencies will likely deter most people, except for the technologically adept. 

A cryptocurrency that aspires to become part of the mainstream financial system may have to satisfy widely divergent criteria. It would need to be mathematically complex (to avoid fraud and hacker attacks) but easy for consumers to understand; decentralized but with adequate consumer safeguards and protection; and preserve user anonymity without being a conduit for tax evasion, money laundering and other nefarious activities. Since these are formidable criteria to satisfy, is it possible that the most popular cryptocurrency in a few years’ time could have attributes that fall in between heavily-regulated fiat currencies and today’s cryptocurrencies? While that possibility looks remote, there is little doubt that as the leading cryptocurrency at present, Bitcoin’s success (or lack thereof) in dealing with the challenges it faces may determine the fortunes of other cryptocurrencies in the years ahead.

 

- Bitcoin's Golden Future?

Bitcoin, Ethereum and other blockchain assets are a new way for investors to gain exposure to a high-growth industry. Bitcoin and blockchain technology is a disruptive force in financial services and will likely be the foundation of the next-generation Internet also called Web 3.0. The current market price for a bitcoin is always changing due to the supply and demand for it. It goes up and down. Bitcoins are traded at bitcoin exchanges. A historical bitcoin price chart can be found at: https://blockchain.info/charts/market-price. How can we buy some bitcoin? If you are an individual investor and want to buy bitcoin the easiest way is through a digital asset exchange like Coinbase. Coinbase is one of the largest U.S.-based bitcoin companies that facilitates not only buying bitcoin, but also the storage of bitcoin. Open an account with Coinbase, and once you link your bank account you can buy and sell bitcoin. In addition, Coinbase also offers a "vault" that can be used to store your bitcoin. Since bitcoin is a new financial system that can operate without traditional banks, you control your finances. However, this financial freedom means that you are responsible for the safekeeping of bitcoin.

What does the future hold for bitcoin? As outlined previously, it has many advantages and for this reason it will remain relevant as a currency. We see the biggest risk to bitcoin being its substitution and/or parallel use by other cryptocurrencies. One of bitcoin's primary uses is being a store of value and for this reason other cryptocurrencies can always step in and enjoy similar status if aggregate demand requires it. Is bitcoin simply a 21st century version of gold, only without the storage issues? Or is it just a short-lived popular fad that may soon evolve into something quite different? Only time will tell. The only certainty is that its price will remain very volatile in the future.

The emergence of bitcoin has sparked a debate about its future and that of other cryptocurrencies. Despite bitcoin’s recent issues, its success since its 2009 launch has inspired the creation of alternative cryptocurrencies such as Etherium, Litecoin, and Ripple. A cryptocurrency that aspires to become part of the mainstream financial system would have to satisfy very divergent criteria. While that possibility looks remote, there is little doubt that Bitcoin’s success or failure in dealing with the challenges it faces may determine the fortunes of other cryptocurrencies in the years ahead.

  

Click here to get Top 100 Cryptocurrencies by Market Capitalization.

 

 

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