Vociferous backers of Bitcoin, the increasingly volatile cryptocurrency, tout the rapidity of transfers as its largest advantage over traditional tender. That’s undeniably true — sending a Bitcoin is practically instantaneous — and it’s one reason why IBM is considering creating a payment system with the same underlying technology, according to a report from Re/code.
IBM’s current plans describe software that can link individual bank accounts to the digital ledger.
Bitcoin operates on the principal of a blockchain, which Bitcoin.org describes as “a shared public ledger.” The details of every transfer are recorded and verified automatically, which allows Bitcoin wallets to update their balances immediately and ensure senders in a transaction actually own the Bitcoins they’re attempting to spend. Although the blockchain is viewable by all participants in the network, complex cryptography protects it from tampering.
IBM seeks to create equivalent ledgers in many different currencies, according to Re/code. Such a record would reduce the reliance on banks and clearing houses for transfers, both of which are institutions with comparatively laborious and time-consuming methods of verification.
IBM’s current plans describe software that can link individual bank accounts to the digital ledger. The company is reportedly exploring a partnership with the U.S. Federal Reserve and other international banks, under which the respective institutions would retain control. That’s unlike Bitcoin, which is decentralized.
Despite the accelerating adoption of Bitcoin — Microsoft began accepting Bitcoin payments for Xbox and Windows content last December, following Time Inc., Dell, Expedia, Dish Network, and Newegg’s lead from earlier in 2014 — the currency is inexorably linked with criminal activity, thanks to the Silk Road. Many connect the now-defunct illegal drug market, as well as the high-profile trial of its eccentric founder, Ross Ulbricht, with the digital currency.
Bitcoin also continues to suffer from destabilizing theft and volatility. In March of last year, exchange market Flexcoin closed its doors after suffering a debilitating heist of 896 Bitcoins, then worth $625,000. Bloomberg recently named Bitcoin the worst performing currency of 2014, owing the crowning to the currency’s fall from $1140 two years ago, to $320 near the end of 2014.
Given Bitcoin’s continued setbacks, there’s substantial doubt as to whether it will ever, as some predict, fully replace federally issued money. For that reason, IBM’s merging of Bitcoin fundamentals with familiar coin may, at the present time, be the best digital currency we can hope to achieve.