Thursday, 26 November 2015

Digital Gold

A while a go I bought the book Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper. It turned out to be a pretty good read overall.

Cover of the Digital Gold bookThis is not a technology book in the sense of explaining Bitcoin or cryptography. Instead it is driven by the 'story' of Bitcoin. My interest is primarily in the technology but I also understand that to varying degrees people are also interested in the economics and politics of it.

The book reads a lot like the history of the Internet or the development of the Linux OS. By that I mean it starts off with some 'out of the box' thinking and gradually gathers interest to the point at which it draws in a wide range of characters.

So if you go back to 1995 you will find a number of people telling you why the Internet would fail.  I mention this because reading the book was a bit like reading about email in the 1980s, the Internet before web pages existed, Linux in the early 1990s.

So as well as being told the Internet would not catch on, no-one would ever want to shop online and no-one would need email because the fax machine worked just fine I have had it with predicting the doom of different technology people now regard as mainstream. In fact Bitcoin has already been declared dead - several times. You can read them all at the Bitcoin obituary website.

So the book kicks off with the late Hal Finney. He was a respected programmer in the cryptography area. He starts communicating with Satoshi Nakamoto, the author of the initial paper on Bitcoin. Over 400+ pages a range of characters 'discover' Bitcoin and begin to like the idea. Some people are attracted by the lack of government control. Some like the idea of the economic change. Some just want to make money. There are criminals, hackers, drug selling and venture capitalists. The story is global.

You quickly realise it's random, there is no plan but there is a community of global proportions.

No one should 'invest' in Bitcoin. In 5 years it could be worth $1 million per coin or nothing. It really is that risky. The book is very readable and if you want to know more about what it's all about and where it comes from with just the possibility you might quite like some of the characters it is worth a read.

The interesting aspect for me is the idea that it seems to be more than coincidence that Bitcoin arrived off the back of the 2008 financial crisis. It solved some really big longstanding cryptography problems just at the moment. Suddenly IT geeks were trying to find a way for technology to solve the problem of a world deep in debt, bankrupt zombie banks and ordinary people being made financially powerless by the billionaire class. Turning money both digital and personal is, in the Internet age, something people can understand. Being able to send money with the ease of sending email is an idea that should be attractive to a generation who carries their data with them daily on a mobile device.

The book doesn't set out to make the case for digital decentralised money on a global scale but as you read it seems rather obvious.

If you want to know more about Bitcoin please visit Bitcoin.com.


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