Introduction to Bitcoin (Sept 2016)
Speech by Andreas Antonopoulos
(Transcribed by Ray B. | Twitter: @nioctiB)
…And his newest book just came out 8 days ago called “The Internet of Money,” which is a
masterpiece to read. Please help me welcome, Andreas Antonopoulos.
(Andreas walks on stage)
Good morning everyone. Let’s start with a quick poll here. How many of you have used a digital
currency like bitcoin at least once.
(Audience hands raise)
And how many of you own bitcoin at this moment or any other digital currency?
(Audience hands raise)
Okay. We can fix that!
If you’d like later on today, come find me. I would be delighted to demonstrate to you how to set
up a bitcoin wallet on your smartphone, and I will give you your first fraction of a bitcoin, not a
whole bitcoin, and show you how a transaction works. Because bitcoin, and the digital currency
revolution it has started, is best demonstrated and experienced than explained. It’s actually very
difficult to explain bitcoin, I’ve spent the last 5 years learning how to explain bitcoin. That is my
full time job. Unfortunately, the developers keep making new stuff which I then have to explain
all over again. For a moment, forget everything you think you know about bitcoin. Forget
everything you’ve heard about blockchain and let’s start from basics.
In 2011, I heard about bitcoin for the first time and my reaction was exactly the same as the
reaction of everybody else who heard about bitcoin the first time, including it’s founder, and that
reaction was ‘ha’ nerd money. That’s probably just for gambling. 6 months later, I heard about
bitcoin again and this time I read the white paper that launch this system. My background in
computer science and distributed systems allowed me to see behind the illusion of what I
thought bitcoin was and it blew my mind. In my life I have now had six occasions in which I have
become absolutely obsessed with a system of technology to the point of forgetting to eat,
forgetting to sleep and consuming as much knowledge as I possibly can. My first computer
when I was 10 years old, my first programming language experience, my first modem, my first
access to the web, the first time I used the web browser, the first time I downloaded and
installed the linux operation system and then bitcoin.
When I discovered it, I spent four months consuming as much as I could except food. I lost 26
pounds on the highly inadvisable diet of obsession. I have not emerged from that because I
keep finding new layers of depth to understand this and the reason it’s so fascinating is because
it isn’t what it appears to be at first glance. Bitcoin isn’t money. The blockchain isn’t a system of
currency. It is a platform of trust. It’s not a company, it’s not a product, it’s not a service you sign
up for. It’s not a currency. Currency is just the first application. It is the concept of
decentralization applied to the human communication of value. [Because] What is money?
[inaudible] told us it’s an illusion. It’s imaginary. The reason we don’t grasp that is because it’s so
deeply embedded in our civilization. Money is one of the oldest technologies that humanity has.
It proceeds writing. How do we know that? The very first samples of writing we have are
They are tallies and ledgers of debts owed and money preexisted that writing. You might even
speculate that money had an oral tradition until it needed to invent and written tradition so
writing was created for it. In the history of money that now spans tens of thousands of years,
there have been maybe five major changes. From pure barter exchange, to the introduction of
the first abstraction of value. Shells, feathers, beads, nuts, stones and then precious metals,
and then paper money, and then plastic money and now network money. Bitcoin introduces a
platform on which you can run currency as an application on a network without any central
points of control. A system completely decentralized like the internet itself. It is not money for the
internet, but the internet of money. What is money? Money is a language. Money is a linguistic
extraction. Money is a language that we use to communicate value to each other. Money simply
allows us to express value and that value may have economic consequences, but it also has
other consequences. We use money to express and create social bonds, and relationships, and
associations and to create organization. Bitcoin is the first system of money that is not controlled
by any entity, that is completely decentralized. And what that does is introduces the very same
things that the internet brought to communication. If money is speech, if money is a language
and you disconnect it from all other media, and you make it pure speech, pure content, an
internet content-type, a protocol designation. Money over IP. It completely separates it from all
of these previous notions of nations, sovereign issuers, institutions that control, and so we go
from institution-based money to network-based money. And of course, everyone will welcome
this with open arms. Not a chance!
What do you think they said the first time someone was presented with a gold depository
certificate instead of a gold coin? They said, “Ha, that’s not money. Go away!”
What do you think in happened 1950 the first time someone showed up at a motel and
presented their Diner’s Club membership card and said, “I’ll pay with this piece of paper.”
“That’s not money. Go away!” And now we’re on the verge of a new transformation of money.
We’re on the verge of creating the first completely global, completely borderless, completely
decentralized and completely open form of money. One where you can build applications
because this money is programable, and you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to launch
an application anymore than you need to ask permission to launch an application on the
internet, and the only requirement to have a successful application on the internet of money is
two interested participants. That is your market segment and you have an application, and a
million applications will flourish.
When you push innovation to the edges of the network, when you remove the requirement for
permission, what happens? Exponential explosion in innovation. The applications that could not
be built on the old systems of money because they required permission, because they required
a significantly large market segment, because they require adoption by many in order to be
available at all. Now, none of those requirements exist. Anyone in the world can download an
application, or use even a feature phone with text messaging, and immediately acquire the
same powers that institutions of banking have today. And when I say anyone, that’s only
scratching the surface. Because Ironically enough not only does bitcoin and blockchain currency
not recognize borders, it also does not recognize people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person or a
refrigerator or a self-driving car. Throughout the history of money ownership of currency
required personhood. Either as an individual or as an association of individuals in a corporation.
Bitcoin can be owned by machines. Bitcoin can be owned by software agents. Machines can
pay each other. And that is not just about economic activity. It’s the basis for market-base
security systems. It’s the bases for creative bonds of authentication between devices. It’s the
bases of new applications that have never been done before. Bitcoin and blockchain technology
unifies the systems of money.
Today we have systems of money for small payments, systems of money for large payments.
We have systems of money for payments between individuals, we have systems of money for
payments between companies, we have systems of money for payments between
governments. Does that remind you of something? That’s how the communication use to be
before the internet. We had systems of communication for pictures, systems of communication
for letters, systems of communication for short distance and long distance, and the internet
came and unified all of those. What the internet of money does, is it creates a single network
which can do a micro transaction to a giga transaction, in seconds anywhere in the world for any
participant without permission. But if you just look at the application of money, you’re missing
Because you can take the language, the building blocks of this platform and use them to
construct other languages that communicate value. Tokens. Reward points. Brand loyalty coins.
Today there are over 1,000 digital currencies using the design pattern, the recipe of bitcoin.
Most of them are junk, some of them are not and over the next decade we are going to see tens
of thousands and then hundreds of thousands of coins. Some will have economic use, some will
simply be expressions of loyalty, affiliation, they will represent items in the physical world. The
title for a house. The controlling key for a car that can be transferred from one owner to another,
and five seconds later that owner can step into the car and drive away, because the car can
validate the new standard of ownership. We cannot yet imagine what applications we’re going to
build around this.
But one of the interesting things we’re beginning to observe is that money arises out of the
social construct of homo sapiens spontaneously. It even arises in primates. You can teach
monkeys money. You can teach dolphins money. You can teach grays, parrots, money and they
will learn to exchange abstract tokens for food and then use them to build social relationships.
They’ll also invent strong-arm robbery.
Beat up the other monkey, take away it’s pebbles, eat the bananas. And we see that same thing
happen in children. Toddlers invent money in kindergarten. Blocks and rubber-bands and
pokeman cards and other little tokens. Abstractions of value that they exchange to straighten
social bonds to express loyalty and friendship. To learn about sharing. Children will be building
currencies. Only this time these currencies will be global, unforgeable and scalable on day one.
A few years from now, Maria will be launching Maria Coin in her kindergarten, to compete
against Joey Coin and it won’t really matter to anyone, until of course Justin Bieber launches the
Justin Bieber Coin and it happens to surpass the market capitalization of 30 nations on this
planet and we are all writing horrified opinion editorials about how the world is coming to hell.
What’s happening with this technology is astonishingly deep and for certainly some of the
companies in this room, it’s a bit scary. Banking has never been the most innovative sector in
the world. Because there is a very careful balance between innovation and the conservative
fiduciary duty that exist in banking, that must exist, when you control other people’s money, and
yet with bitcoin, you don’t control other people’s money. In bitcoin, I control my money. I have
complete and total authority over my bitcoin. It cannot be ceased, it cannot be frozen, it cannot
be censored, my transactions cannot be intercepted and they cannot be stopped. And I can do
so with almost complete anonymity and so can anyone 5 minutes after they download an
application and money has changed forever, and banking has changed forever.
The idea that you can proceed in the industry of money, in the industries of commerce, and
maintain the same conservative attitude that has existed now for centuries, ever since
merchants in Venice and Amsterdam started issuing depository certificates and providing
banking services. That is gone. You cannot operate closed systems that have borders and
require permission to join at a rate of innovation that is controlled by the most conservative
tendencies within your organization because now you are competing with a technology that
enables exponential growth, exponential innovation at the edges without permission by anyone
in the world and it’s not about anyone in this room. Why? We represent the privilege elite. I can
go onto a brokerage account, open it up online and be trading on the Tokyo stock market within
12 hours in Yen. That is the privilege that I have. 1.5 billion people have that privilege. 6 billion
people can operate mainly in one currency and perhaps have some basic banking services, 4
billion people are significantly under banked and an astonishing 2.5 billion people are
completely unbank. They will leap-frog. They will never have a relationship with a bank. Every
single child born today will never have a bank account. They will have a bank app. A bank app
that doesn’t give them account, a bank app that makes them a banker. An international banker
in an app. They will not be permitted to open bank account until they’re 16 years old. By that
time I hope they will have at least 6 or more years of experience with digital currencies and I
would like to watch them walk into a bank branch to have someone explain to them what 3 to 5
business days means.
It is highly likely that children born today will never get a driving license because they’ll have
self-driving cars, but they will also never use paper money. Because by the time they get to an
age where they really start using money there is no paper money. It will seem as anachronistic
as a fax machine or horse and buggy seems to us. Exponential innovation on a global basis
giving access to the other 6 billion. They have enormous need and this system offers them a
solution. It’s not ready yet. It’s nascent. It’s complex. It’s impossible to use for most people. In
1989, I sent my first email. In order to do so I had to compile a vision of the Unix mail program,
using a C compiler and Unix command line skills. I had to set it up on the command line, type
out my email, and that email was transmitted across the great internet in an astonishing 3 days.
Exactly 20 years later, my mother replicated that experience with a swipe [of her finger]. Bitcoin
today, and all the currencies that are built on that recipe are just at the same level that the
internet was in 1991. Only now, we have the internet and so the rate of exponential growth has
already started. The innovation is growing at an astonishing rate. I spend every single day, full
time, trying to keep up with bitcoin. Just one currency, and it’s almost impossible.
Do not underestimate this. Do not listen to the people who tell you that bitcoin is just for
pornographers, terrorist, drug dealers and gamblers. Remember that they said the exact same
thing about the internet. And when you give it to 2 or 3 billion people they’re not interested in
those things, they’re interested in sharing cat videos.
And now we have an internet of a billion cat videos. When you take digital currency mainstream
and give it to the 4 billion people who have been isolated from international finance and
commerce, and you give them the opportunity to control their money against despotic
governments and corrupt banks that are stealing from them. You give them the opportunity to
control their future. You give them the opportunity to transact with everyone in the world. To own
title on their own property in a fully transferable digital token that is recognized everywhere.
Control over finance that cannot be seized, frozen or censored. They will buy food, healthcare,
sanitation, education, shelter because that’s what we do, and they will to be denied this
technology. Do not underestimate where this is going. The internet of money was launched on
January 3rd, 2009. It’s coming. It’s coming faster than you can imagine. It’s deeper than you can
fathom. It’s more sophisticated than you can immediately understand. It takes years of study
just to see all of the implications, and it is a gift to the entire world, a technology that represents
the 6th greatest innovation in the technology of money, the most ancient technology of our
civilization. Thank you.
Shall we do some questions? We’ve got plenty of time for questions.
[Kristian] (Audience question #1)
What determines the buying power of the currency? How does it stabilize and what required to
stabilize it? So, if I would buy some bitcoins who could manipulate the value of that?
Ah, everyone. The buying power of bitcoin is determined in exactly the same way that the
buying power of the Euro, the British Sterling, the Japanese Yen, or the US Dollar is determined,
through market forces of supply and demand, in international liquid markets that operate around
the clock. One of the fundamental differences is that bitcoin trading never ceases. [Bitcoin] has
been going continuously for 7 years. The network never stops. Every 10 minutes, bitcoin’s heart
beats and transactions are processed. The exchanges never close, there is no closing price for
bitcoin. It is a rolling average and in that trading, a market capitalization of approximate 12
billion dollars is now traded internationally. What is 12 billions dollars for a global currency? It’s a
guppy, swimming in shark infested waters and every trader, every whale goes in there and just
kicks that price around. So right now, the experience of living on bitcoin, which I have been
doing full time for more than 3 years, is a rollercoaster. It’s an absolute rollercoaster. I’ve seen
shifts of 20 or 30 percent in a day, and yet, if you look at the longterm trend, volume goes up,
transactions for up, and volatility keeps dropping, and the beauty of it is, I can’t sell that to an
American. I can’t sell that to a Brit. I don’t need to sell it to an Argentinean. I don’t need to sell it
to an Brazilian. I don’t need to sell it to a Venezuelan.
I want to a conference and an Argentinean told me, “I’m not worried about volatility. Our
currency has volatility like this. [Andreas’ finger-points downward incrementally]
Bitcoin has volatility like this. [Andreas’ finger-points upward incrementally]
I’d rather be going in that direction.”
And you don’t need to tell them why. Their government threw people out of airplanes, not more
than 35 years ago, for disagreeing. They already know why the separation of state and money
is a good idea. And so, volatility is relative.
(Audience question #2)
Great speech. Obviously, it sounded a little bit like one side of the coin. So, we also read [about]
all these big hacks and Bitfinex, I think they stole [from Bitfinex] 40% of the money. I think also
this autonomous organization have been hacked and all these things. Can you just reflect a little
bit on the dark side of those aspects that might not win our full trust into this evolution.
The steering wheel was not invented until 30 years after the automobile was introduced. Why?
Because the first automobiles had two leather straps that you pulled left or right, to move [turn]
the car, to steer the car. They used horse reins to steer cars. That’s called skeuomorphic design.
It means keeping a shadow of the former past in your new system, failing to see the new
dimension and replicating the past.
Here is a currency that is not centralized, where your money is your money. Your keys, your
money. Not your keys, not your money. So, what is the first thing we do with this new system?
We build centralized institutional of custodial control. That take other people’s money and hold it
for them. Well guess what? The entire history of banking, the entire system of regulation and
oversight is based on the simple centuries old understanding that when somebody else holds
your money, chances are, they’re going to run away with it. And the entire system of regulation
is designed to prevent that, and yet it still happens all the time. In hedge funds, in banks, in
national currencies all the time. And so of course, if you replicate the custodial accounts,
exchanges that take other people’s bitcoin and concentrates it, it happens again. Even worst,
because there are no oversights and regulations in most of these spaces. The answer is really
simple. Stop centralizing the decentralize currency. Stop trying to replicate the banking past, in
the future of money. The important thing to realize is that security in bitcoin is an emergent
property that exist because of the decentralization of control and power. If I want to hack a
million customer’s bitcoin and their [each] holding their keys, I have to hack a million customers.
If they all give their keys to one person or one organization, then we’ve got a honey pot. A honey
pot that attracts the attention of every hacker on the planet, and notice what’s happened. Over 7
years and with a market capitalization of 12 billion dollars, bitcoin is the largest cryptographic
deployment in the world. The largest public-key infrastructure in the world. The largest security
honey pot in the world, and it is not secure because it doesn’t get attacked. It is secure, because
it generates amenity by being attacked all the time. 24 hours a day, by the most sophisticated
attackers this planet has. And if you in that environment set up a centralized custodial exchange
using PHP and MySQL, and you park a 150 million dollar honey pot in there, you’re inviting the
Bitcoin banks get hacked. Bitcoin exchanges get hacked. Bitcoin has not been hacked, and
cannot be hacked because there is no point of control that you can apply pressure on. It’s
Alright, maybe one more question?
(Audience question #3)
Where the does [the] supply of bitcoin come from and how do you [assure] the market doesn’t
The supply of bitcoin is determined algorithmically based on a geometrically declining supply
function, meaning that, in the beginning, every 10 minutes, 50 new bitcoin are created. So
every block, the heart beats 10 minutes [Andreas snapping his fingers, incrementally] created
50 new bitcoin. This bitcoin is used as a reward in a game theory-based security model that
insures that every transaction is independently validated by completely anonymous actors who
have to stake electricity as an guarantee of the security work they’ve done and if they succeed
in doing the security work of validation transactions correctly, they earn as a reward, based on a
probabilistic return – that reward, 50 bitcoin every 10 minutes. That’s how currency is introduced
into the economy.
Every 4 years, it gets cut in half. 50 to 25 in November of 2012. And in this year  in July,
this pass July, we had our second halving event, which was celebrated with birthday parties all
over the world, and bitcoin’s reward went from 25 to 12.5 bitcoin. As a system, it’s design to
have a monetary policy that is purposefully deflationary and simulates the issuance of precious
metals. It gets harder and harder and harder to mind gold at greater and greater and greater
cost, and bitcoin is the same. The idea being that less and less is issued over time. If you follow
that geometric curve, at some point you reach the end. In the year 2141, bitcoin is no longer
issued. 21 million [bitcoin] coins is the asymptotic cap. It will never reach 21 million coins. That
is part of the protocol, it is an unchangeable part of the protocol and it is a rule enforced by
every system that participates in the bitcoin network. It is meant to be sound money, but it’s not
the only monetary policy that exist. There are several other [digital] currencies that implement
different monetary policies. The idea is really for bitcoin to serve as a very, very solid reserve
currency, for many other things.
(Audience question #4 and final)
What advice do you have to give to companies here who are from non-financial institutions
about how they should take tactical steps to think about experimenting with the blockchain, in
terms of storing value.
I think, understanding that it’s [blockchain] not just currency. Understand it’s a platform for trust.
Understanding that it can be used as a historical record of truth that can register information.
That it can be used to create all kinds of tokens that can be exchanged between your
customers, your suppliers, your manufacturers. That it can also be used simply as a currency
for any cross-boarder transactions, import-export activities, remittences-based flows, paying
associates and affiliates. All of the things that today are expensive, slow and difficult, become
cheap, fast and easy when you use one of these digital currencies, but it’s still early. For now,
learning about it.
Here is the one important thing you must understand. You will hear a lot about Blockchain. And
most of what you hear about blockchain is not the internet of money. It is the intranet of money.
The intranet is where you run Frontpage and Outlook and antiquated software in a closed little
enclave of your corporate backwaters with stale content and boring apps, and in the end, it’s full
of viruses anyway because you can’t keep it secure. Blockchain that is not open, that is not
public, that is not borderless, that is not open for innovation, is not what we’re talking about here
and that’s a really important distinction. It may be useful if you want to run a clearinghouse
between 3 banks, maybe, but it’s not the internet of money.
Thank you. By the way.
Everybody who asked a question gets a free copy of my book [The Internet of Money]. Come
and see me in the back there.
Thank you so much.
(Andreas walks off stage)
(TRANSCRIBED BY RAY B. | TWITTER: @NIOCTIB)