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In the years that followed, bitcoin caught on. Some merchants started accepting it, and it became possible to buy and sell bitcoin for dollars through businesses called exchanges. On a wind-swept plain in Iceland, these warehouses are closely guarded at all times. We were asked not to disclose their exact location. This is one of the places where the records, the "blockchains," of crytocurrencies are now kept. In industry lingo, this is called a "mine.
Marco Streng: So there's tens of thousands of processing units in here. And if you add all the computing power of all the processing units together, you have more than the world's number one supercomputer. Back in New York, by Charlie Shrem had finally moved his company's computers out of his parents' basement. He was spending a lot of time travelling to industry conferences and talking up bitcoin.
In a new book, "Bitcoin Billionaires," Ben Mezrich describes how BitInstant's biggest investors, the Winklevoss twins, grew concerned that their young CEO was spending too much time travelling and partying and not paying enough attention to the details of running his company. For example: Charlie knew the U. His company was required to monitor its customers and report any suspicious activity. Banks have whole departments that are supposed to do this. The person at BitInstant who Charlie put in charge of it, was Charlie.
Anderson Cooper: So you were in charge-- of making sure that you complied with-- with rules and regulations for financial transaction In , Charlie had other problems too. A documentary called "The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin," showed what happened when the price of bitcoin rapidly rose and fell. Charlie's company and an exchange it did business with couldn't keep up with customer's orders.
Charlie Shrem in "The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin": People can't buy and sell, and they can't withdraw, and they can't deposit, the whole thing is just a fritz. BitInstant went out of business in July , a victim of bitcoin's volatile landscape and Charlie's many mistakes.
Charlie Shrem: I look back at myself and I say, "I don't even know if I would do business with myself. Six months later, in January , he was returning from a trip abroad when he got stopped at passport control in Kennedy Airport.
Charlie Shrem: Yeah, like all mixtry of D. Federal agents had evidence that Charlie knew one of his customers was buying bitcoin and then re-selling it on a website where it was used to buy illegal drugs. Let's make a deal. One of bitcoin's first millionaires was now one of its first felons. Remember: a bitcoin was worth less than a penny when Laszlo Hanyecz first traded bitcoin for pizza nine years ago.
We calculated that if Hanyecz had held onto all the bitcoin he used back then to get various items, much of it pizza, by the time of our interview those bitcoins would have been worth Anderson Cooper: So-- okay. There's a long list of financial leaders who think bitcoin's not good for anyone. Lael Brainard, one of the governors of the Federal Reserve, agreed to speak with us because she wanted to make sure ordinary investors understand the risks of cryptocurrency.
Anderson Cooper: There are people who say that cryptocurrency-- it's better than real currency because it's not controlled by any government and it means it's not subject to manipulation by central bankers like you, no offense. Lael Brainard: The U. The federal reserve and ultimately the U. And when you hold your dollars in a bank account, you have deposit insurance. Charlie Shrem spent a year in prison. But like bitcoin, Charlie Shrem bounced back. Three years after getting out of prison, he's living very comfortably in Florida.
He told us he's made money blogging, consulting, and investing in cryptocurrency and is now captain of his own destiny. He's even got a boat he named "Satoshi," after bitcoin's mysterious creator. After watching this, you may be wondering why the world needs cryptocurrencies. Neha Narula of MIT's digital currency initiative argues they can make a difference. Neha Narula: The thing that excites me about cryptocurrencies is that we can experiment with the transfer of value.
We can put new features into money. We can change the way money works. She says cryptocurrency has already helped people in countries like Venezuela where the monetary system is in crisis. And in the future it may be able to do things like speed up and lower the cost of worldwide money transfers. Neha Narula: People used to say, "Why do we need email? I can just call someone on the phone. And now, we can't live without it.
Anderson Cooper: So this is one of those conversations that 20 years from now, someone could replay, and have a good laugh because I'm asking such moronic questions that will be so obvious to everybody? Neha Narula: Or they'll be laughing at me because I said cryptocurrencies were gonna be a thing and they totally flamed out and died.
Neha Narula: It could really go either way. It's-- that's what makes it so exciting and interesting. His exceptional reporting on big news events has earned Cooper a reputation as one of television's pre-eminent newsmen. Anderson Cooper: You crashed hard? Charlie Shrem: Crashed really hard. Charlie Shrem Charlie Shrem was once described as the last kid who'd be picked for a game of dodgeball, but he always felt comfortable around computers.
These blocks are unable to be modified or changed and can be traced all the way back to January when the network was first switched on. A technician inspects bitcoin mining machines at a mining facility in inner Mongolia. Credit: Bloomberg. There are even cryptos made entirely as jokes albeit that have value such as dogecoin, based on an internet meme about a sheepish-looking Japanese dog.
Credit: Getty Images. The reasons for running the network in this fashion are numerous. For example, if one computer processing transaction crashes, millions of others can step in and pick up the slack. Similarly, if someone was to try to dupe the system with a fraudulent transaction, every other node could reference it with its own copy of the blockchain, see it was invalid and refuse to verify it. But, as with all things, money is the true incentive.
The process of verifying and recording the estimated , bitcoin transactions that occur every day requires incredible computing power, and individuals can hardly be expected to keep them running on pure altruism. Every 10 minutes, the first computer or group of computers to announce to the rest of the network that it has successfully verified all the transactions in a block is rewarded with 6.
Mining was once a relatively simple process and could be done on any old laptop. These days, bitcoin mining is a business in itself. Massive companies operate out of places such as China, Russia and Amsterdam, tasked with overseeing warehouses full of computers dedicated entirely to mining bitcoin.
As you can imagine, doing this is a power-hungry process. The electricity consumed in making one bitcoin transaction could power an average US household for over 23 days. Well, yes. As with gold, bitcoin is scarce. It is programmed in such a way that there can only ever be 21 million coins in existence, which means it will become harder and harder to mine as time goes on. There are about This scarcity has become increasingly attractive for investors over the past 12 months as central banks around the world pumped stimulus into the economy and printed money at a rapid clip in response to COVID, sending interest rates to record lows.
Holding money in cash is generating measly returns, meaning investors are looking further afield for assets that may appreciate faster. Elon Musk will let customers use Bitcoin to buy his cars. Musk has long been an advocate for cryptocurrency and many prospective Tesla owners are often young and male, intersecting well with the core demographic of bitcoin investors. A manager checks equipment in a bitcoin mine in Sichuan, China. Today, exchanges are still largely unregulated — but have become far easier to access, requiring only a brief sign-up process and a quick identity check.
Apps such as Coinbase are also popular for buying small amounts of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. But be warned: buying crypto is not for the faint of heart. These wallets can store any number of currencies and are a key part of trading crypto, much like a trading account with a broker.
Only you can access your wallet. If your purchases start to stretch into the tens of thousands, it might be time to buy your own personal crypto wallet. For small amounts of money, keeping your money locked up on an exchange is generally pretty safe. But if your purchases start to stretch into the tens of thousands, it might be time to buy your own personal crypto wallet. When setting up a personal wallet for the first time, you are presented with two crucial pieces of information.
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