As I previously mentioned, aside from our Nature’s Little Recyclers “urban vermiculture” biz, there was not a lot of “green tech” sort of things in evidence down at Techweek … thereby limiting the scope of what made sense to cover for this blog. Frankly, on the day we had our table up, we had numerous folks (who were in the “green” niche) stop by and ask how we managed to be there. We explained that Techweek was open to having green tech businesses there, but it took a lot to get past the “apps and servers” vibe that predominates, so most “green” groups never really considered applying. I’m guessing that this might change a bit come the 2014 show!
This is somewhat to preface the choice of today’s interview, Tody Gallippi of BitPay.com, one of the leaders in the push to global acceptance of “bitcoin” for transactions. While there is nothing inherently “green” about the bitcoin movement (unless, of course, one takes the post title here seriously, with it being one way to decrease random paper and metal – in the form of real-world currency!), it’s an alternative to the BAU (“business as usual”, to borrow a term from Jeffrey Phillips’ Relentless Innovation) and the monopoly exercised by the banks, so has, I think, a certain appeal for those of us looking for a new norm in the world.
I recorded the introductory parts of Mr. Gallippi’s talk, and then tracked him down for a follow-up interview (sorry for the lighting – the interview area outside the Speakers Lounge was evidently designed with cameras equipped with lights in mind). This will at least give you the broad strokes about what bitcoin (and BitPay) is about:
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency where the creation and transfer of bitcoins is based on an open source cryptographic protocol that is independent of any central authority. Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without an intermediate financial institution. The concept was introduced in a 2008 paper by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, who called it a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system.
The processing of Bitcoin transactions is secured by servers called bitcoin miners. These servers communicate over an internet-based network and confirm transactions by adding them to a ledger which is updated and archived periodically using peer-to-peer filesharing technology. In addition to archiving transactions, each new ledger update creates some newly minted bitcoins. The number of new bitcoins created in each update is halved every 4 years until the year 2140 when this number will round down to zero. At that time no more bitcoins will be added into circulation and the total number of bitcoins will have reached a maximum of 21 million bitcoins. To accommodate this limit, each bitcoin is subdivided down to eight decimal places; forming 100 million smaller units called satoshis per bitcoin.
One point that’s not clear in the above is the “currency units” available … obvious 21 million does not go very far, but by subdividing down to eight decimal places the actual number of units ends up (according to the Bitcoin.org official site) with 21×10^14, which is a very, very large number … certainly capable of supporting a world economy if things head in that direction!
Obviously, BitPay is one of those intermediate services that facilitates the use of bitcoin in web transactions. One of the points they push is the near total anonymity of the exchanges, making it extremely secure against identity theft (but unpopular with governments seeking to track trade in illicit items). They have turnkey systems in place that allow near instant set-up for businesses and individuals who want to start accepting bitcoin payments.
I’m still a bit unclear on how purchasers get set up with using bitcoin, but it involved digital wallets, public and private “keys”, and several other elements. One thing that I found interesting is the idea of the “address” – you can have different addresses (millions per user) for each transaction or type of transaction – and that address works like its own account, and doesn’t “bleed over” into your other data or money. That sounds like it would be very handy!
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Filed under: Green Tech Organizations