Every country has its own currency. Estonia and the Eurozone have the Euro, Russia has the Rouble and the USA have US Dollars. We exchange money in banks or specialized foreign exchanges, transfer it worldwide and invest it. In our times of technological innovation it is safe to say that most, if not all money transfers are conducted through the Internet.
Is it then such a great surprise that an online currency such as Bitcoin has emerged? Interest in the currency has grown towards the end of 2013 due to significant spikes in the currency’s value, but let’s start from the beginning. In 2009, an unknown programmer by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto put forward a whitepaper that proposed a creation of new form of digital currency – cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency functions the same way as regular currencies do in that its used as a means of exchange, unit of account and a store of value. Cryptocurrency, just like other resources, has some demand for it, and subsequently a market price. The significant difference is Bitcoin’s intangibility – there is no bank-issued notes or papers – meaning that rather being used in hand-to-hand transactions, Bitcoins are stored and exchanged digitally within a decentralized, peer-to-peer network.
With traditional money, transferring funds from one account to another requires some intermediary authority or middleman. Even with hand-to-hand cash transactions, the issue, value and fiscal policy of money is controlled by a trusted centralized authority (such as a bank, agency or government). Bitcoin operates differently in that no middleman is required in transactions as the trust between actors is derived from computer science and cryptology, rather than trust in a central establishment. It also means that Bitcoin is transferred directly from the sender to the receiver, with absolutely no intermediaries.
A key point to note is that because of this lack of central issuing body, cryptocurrency is created and transferred with the help of a process called “mining”. This process requires an extremely powerful computer to crunch down the billions of calculations required to solve cryptological functions. In reality, the mining process is extremely complex and technical. Despite its complexity, the process is transparent and open for review due to the open-source nature of Bitcoin.