Making tangible currency digital seems about due in the innovation cycle. But this value proposition ought to motivate hackers, as much as consumers of the currency to opt in. It seems an odd claim to make that a digital currency would be harder to forge that a ‘shiny metal’ design of old.
Perhaps it is hard to crack the code. But once cracked… forgers around the world will share the same tooling, which will quickly become a free service. It would seem like a gift to the black market; a digital currency to call their own.
…Bitcoin is different: It wholly replaces state-backed currencies with a digital version that’s tougher to forge, cuts across international boundaries, can be stored on your hard drive instead of in a bank, and–perhaps most importantly to many of Bitcoin’s users–isn’t subject to the inflationary whim of whatever Federal Reserve chief decides to print more money.
“Bitcoin is designed to bring us back to a decentralized currency of the people,” says Andresen, a 44-year-old software developer and entrepreneur based in Amherst, Mass. “This is like better gold than gold.”
As with shiny-metal-backed currencies, Bitcoins derive their value partly through their scarcity, which is defined not by how much can be dug up with shovels but by a cryptographic lottery. Anyone can get Bitcoins without paying cash for them by downloading and running Bitcoin’s “mining” program. The machines in Bitcoin’s mining network, now in the thousands, compute an encryption function called a “hash” on a set of random numbers, and coins are awarded every ten minutes to whichever miner happens to compute a number below a certain threshold.
That lottery tightly controls how many Bitcoins are created. There are currently close to 6 million in existence. By 2014 there will be about twice that number. Bitcoin’s distributed software is set to slow production over time so that there will never be more than 21 million in circulation. “No banker can control it. No evil dictator tyrant can print zillions and destroy the value,” says Bruce Wagner, organizer of New York’s Bitcoin developer’s meet-up.