For more than two decades now, Marc Andreessen has been in the business of figuring out the future of technology before most of us understand it. He proved that he had a knack for that when he co-invented the graphical web browser and co-founded Netscape; these days, he runs one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture-capital firms and is, at 42, one of the industry’s wise old grizzled veterans.
He’s also a talented writer. Over at the New York Times’ Dealbook blog, he’s contributed a long, wonderfully coherent post about why everybody — not just venture capitalists, futurists and geeks — should care about the virtual currency known as Bitcoin.
For example, with Bitcoin, the huge hack that recently stole 70 million consumers’ credit card information from the Target department store chain would not have been possible. Here’s how that would work:
You fill your cart and go to the checkout station like you do now. But instead of handing over your credit card to pay, you pull out your smartphone and take a snapshot of a QR code displayed by the cash register. The QR code contains all the information required for you to send Bitcoin to Target, including the amount. You click “Confirm” on your phone and the transaction is done (including converting dollars from your account into Bitcoin, if you did not own any Bitcoin).
Target is happy because it has the money in the form of Bitcoin, which it can immediately turn into dollars if it wants, and it paid no or very low payment processing fees; you are happy because there is no way for hackers to steal any of your personal information; and organized crime is unhappy. (Well, maybe criminals are still happy: They can try to steal money directly from poorly-secured merchant computer systems. But even if they succeed, consumers bear no risk of loss, fraud or identity theft.)
Andreessen covers an array of ways in which Bitcoin holds the power to make the world a better place, including some unexpected ones. (Requiring minuscule payments via Bitcoin for bulk e-mail delivery might be an effective anti-spam measure.) You might finish his piece and still come away a Bitcoin skeptic, but I can’t imagine reading it and not understanding the case for the technology potentially being an enormous, epoch-shifting deal.
Why Bitcoin Matters [NYTimes.com]