Bitcoin, What is it?

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Bitcoin is a payment system invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published the invention in 2008 and released it as an open-source software back in 2009, in total there will be 21 million bitcoins available but that wont happen for over another 100 years. In the midst of the recent bitcoin hysteria, I’ve heard bitcoin described as virtual money, an investment, a commodity, a protocol, and a decentralized cryptocurrency.

All these terms describe facets of bitcoin, but all are incomplete descriptions.

At its core, bitcoin is a platform.

When the internet first emerged, its first killer application was email – it was the driving force behind its initial popularity and eventual mass adoption. However, email constitutes just a fraction of what we use the internet for today.

Bitcoin as a currency is the initial killer app for bitcoin as a platform. Within a few years it’s likely we’ll know Bitcoin to exist as much more than a currency.

Bitcoin’s most impactful implications lie in creating a framework for decentralizing systems on a global level. 

One of the short-term implications of disseminating Bitcoin as a platform is that billions of people in developing countries – many who currently have no access to banking – won’t have to rely on banks in order to save, store, or transfer value. A possibility for long-term bitcoin platform adoption is that both civic and corporate voting can be made tamper-proof and assuredly equitable.

That last example is made possible by the genius foundation behind Bitcoin’s design – the blockchain. The blockchain is a shared public record that is replicated onto every single node on the bitcoin network. This multiplicity creates a stopgap against tampering by allowing data to be viewed publicly and verified against nearly infinite duplicates.

With bitcoin as currency, the blockchain acts as a ledger that records all transactions. In the world of cryptocurrency – digital cash – the books are open and everything is written in pen.

With a bitcoin-style decentralized platform for voting, what would it mean for global democracy if the “books” were open?

With the volatility, investment craze, and payment implementation currently behind bitcoin as a currency, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking of it as solely a financial tool. However, Bitcoin protocol as a means to empower individuals, particularly in the developing world, is truly where the Bitcoin revolution begins.

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