John Oliver tries to explains cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin has been much in the news recently, along with new words like ‘cryptocurrency’ and ‘blockchains’. When bitcoin first appeared some years ago, I was intrigued by the idea of a currency that was not issued by any government and tried to learn what it was about and even downloaded the software that supposedly enabled people to ‘mine’ the currency. I soon lost interest and gave up because I lacked the motivation. I am not really driven by the desire for money and the process seemed to be so complicated and boring that it did not have any intellectual appeal for me either

John Oliver tries to explain what all these things are and how they are related. It is not easy and I think he is only partially successful but it was a good effort nonetheless.


  1. Mano Singham says

    I am puzzled. I thought YouTube videos were available globally. Is that not the case?

  2. says

    People can put geoblocks on their YouTube content, and sometimes YouTube blocks content regionally at the request of a third party. I’ve run across music on YouTube that was blocked from playing in North America at the request of the copyright holder, European TV clips the broadcaster won’t let be viewed outside their intended market, and videos where the audio has been removed because of a song used.

  3. Jean says

    One thing that is starting to get more coverage is the amount of energy that mining uses. What is not explained much is that this is completely artificial and could be reduced significantly by changing some arbitrary rules since they add no value (other than attracting more miners). But it is also possible that there are things I’m not seeing because I’m not completely up to speed with the whole process (far from it actually).

    We have cheap electricity and cold weather here in Quebec and the number of crytocurrency mining projects that the Hydro-Quebec (public monopoly) have received could use a quarter of what is currently being produced in the province if they were all accepted. That’s a huge amount of energy for very little actual benefit.

  4. blf says

    I wouldn’t go near bitcoin for multiple reasons, with this latest one being perhaps the killer, Child abuse imagery found within bitcoin’s blockchain (Grauniad edits in {curly braces}):

    Researchers discover illegal content within the distributed ledger, making possession of it potentially unlawful in many countries

    German researchers have discovered unknown persons are using bitcoin’s blockchain to store and link to child abuse imagery […].

    The blockchain is the open-source, distributed ledger that records every bitcoin transaction, but can also store small bits of non-financial data. This data is typically notes about the trade of bitcoin, recording what it was for or other metadata. But it can also be used to store links and files.

    Researchers from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany found that around 1,600 files were currently stored in bitcoin’s blockchain. Of the files least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content, 142 of which link to dark web services.

    “Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal,” the researchers wrote. “Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as {child abuse imagery} can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users.”


    “Since all blockchain data is downloaded and persistently stored by users, they are liable for any objectionable content added to the blockchain by others. Consequently, it would be illegal to participate in a blockchain-based systems as soon as it contains illegal content,” the researchers wrote.


    “We anticipate a high potential for illegal blockchain content to jeopardise blockchain-based systems such as bitcoin in the future,” the researchers wrote.

    […] Interpol sent out an alert in 2015 saying that “the design of the blockchain means there is the possibility of malware being injected and permanently hosted with no methods currently available to wipe this data”.

    The agency warned that the technology could be used in the “sharing of child sexual abuse images where the blockchain could become a safe haven for hosting such data”.

    But this is the first time such content has been shown to actually exist […].

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    You don’t really have to know or understand anything about blockchain technology to recognize that cryptocurrencies are a bubble. The value is rising dramatically with no obvious basis in reality, the prices are fluctuating wildly, and most people are buying not because they have a need, but for speculative reasons: they see the value rising and assume it will continue to rise.
    Some background reading on historical bubbles like the Mississippi bubble or the Dutch tulip bubble would be instructive.
    I hope that after the crash they look up those people they interviewed and find out if they got out in time or if they got caught holding the bag. Because in a bubble, someone always gets caught holding the bag.

  6. Mano Singham says

    John @#13,

    Thanks so much for the illuminating article. I have been intrigued by the story of the tulip bubble and what that article says seems more plausible than the wild stories that have been circulating.

    I recently saw a film Tulip Fever that had the more popular version of this story as the backdrop for a romantic-comedy-drama. Although it had a good cast (Alicia Vikander, Judy Dench, Christoph Waltz, Tom Hollander, Zach Galifianakis) the film itself was somewhat mediocre. The scenes of people wildly buying and selling tulip bulbs in taverns and how the records of sales were kept were fun to watch, though.

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