Know Your Cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin and the blockchain laid bare
If Bitcoin was Darth Vader, then the blockchain would be Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. Bitcoin may be in the spotlight, but the blockchain is the one actually calling the shots. And that, I'm afraid, is as far as I can go with that particular pop-culture reference.
There are currently more than 700 cryptocurrencies available for trading online. Some, like Bitcoin, are legit and used worldwide for buying and selling normal shit. Others, like PoonCoin, are only of value to those looking to pay for the sex workers of the future.
But cryptocurrencies are no longer just accepted by shady merchants. (You know the kind: They tend to smell bad and work in head shops off I-35.) Even the Bank of England, arguably the snootiest institution on the planet, has come out of the blockchain closet.
All digital currencies are underpinned by a sort of "digital ledger," commonly known as the blockchain – the subject of many talks and panel discussions on the 2017 SXSW Interactive schedule.
While people are still suspicious of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – mainly because of their association with the illicit online trading of everything from firearms to drugs – the blockchain has become a new poster child for the global financial establishment. Considered by some to be the most secure information storage facility ever invented, blockchain technology is now being used by public and private organizations to store sensitive information like financial records, private medical information, legal documents, and contracts.
"The blockchain is one of the most important inventions of the 21st century," says Peter Kirby, CEO of Austin-based blockchain peddlers, Factom, Inc. "Fundamentally, it lets multiple parties agree on a single version of the truth – and then write it in a way that can't be changed. Blockchains add transparency and accountability to any record-keeping system. And honestly, a bank is just a giant stack of records. A digital currency is just a giant stack of records. A government is just a giant stack of records."
While information storage may not seem like the sexiest of topics, Bitcoin and the blockchain are both surprisingly interesting in terms of what the tech has the potential to offer future generations. Our advice is to get down to the Introduction to Bitcoin and the Blockchain workshop. Once you know your "asymmetric key encryption" from your "Bitcoin mining rate" head to Blockchain: This Changes Everything! (Or Does It?) for the bigger picture.