Over the course of the last few years, the surge in news related to cryptocurrencies has been hard to miss, especially during and in the aftermath of Bitcoin’s explosive increase in value in 2017. The market might have restabilized now, but that means nothing if one doesn’t know much about cryptocurrencies in the first place.
For the unfamiliar, here’s a primer on the subject from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. I feel he explores the topic in a way that can be appreciated by those with little or no previous knowledge of it. If video isn’t your thing, here are some highlights.
- encrypted-ownership currency
There are six criteria a system must meet in order to be considered a cryptocurrency, at least according to Jan Lansky. Let’s examine the three above, though, as I feel they give us insight into what cryptocurrency really is and why it’s important to know about before we dive into the use of cryptocurrency in the EMPATHY series universe.
When we say that cryptocurrencies are digital, we mean there exists no physical currency in the real world that one must physically possess in order to demonstrate or maintain ownership.
At a first glance, that doesn’t feel especially different from the cash one might have in their bank account. How much of what’s in your account is actually sitting in a safe somewhere? Far less than you’d expect.
In fact, financial institutions in the US only have to meet the government’s reserve requirement, which means that, for example, if you have one hundred dollars in your account, the bank has to only actually have maybe ten dollars physically available to you at any time.
This is an extremely simplified example: you shouldn’t be worried about being able to withdraw a hundred bucks if that’s what you’ve got in your account; the reserve requirement applies to banks as a whole as opposed to individual accounts. All the same, this example ought to provide a sense of what’s meant by this reserve requirement.
When we say that cryptocurrencies are decentralized, what we mean is that there’s no central bank overseeing the currency as the United States Federal Reserve regulates United States Dollars, for example.
Instead of using a centralized model, cryptocurrencies take advantage of what’s called distributed ledger technology, whereby the record of transactions is maintained across a number of platforms as opposed to stored in a single place.
The advantage of this is that the failure of a single database doesn’t lead to the collapse of the digital currency as a whole. Contrast this with how physical currency’s value can rise or fall based on confidence in a country’s economy, and one can see how a fully decentralized system is better insulated against the failure of a single, centralized body in control of transaction ledgers and the production of the currency itself.
Encryption also sets cryptocurrency apart from fiat currency. As a result of cryptocurrency’s encryption, payer-receiver identities can be kept private, and one can only access one’s own cryptocurrency through personal decryption codes.
This encryption also oversees the verification of transactions and regulates the creation of cryptocurrency itself.
So how does this figure into the EMPATHY series, or at least its first installment, Imminent Dawn? Though a few different cryptocurrencies are hinted at in Imminent Dawn, only one is mentioned by name: the rather uninspired-sounding “cryptocoin.”
Between its name and its tag line (“if it ain’t crypto, it ain’t hip, yo”), the journalist character, Meredith, is deeply suspicious of cryptocoin when asked to transfer funds to a possible source’s account.
This source, who goes by the alias “The Queen of Spades,” continues to be a tech-savvy enigma throughout the novel, feeding Meredith as much information as it can manage given the circumstances under which it must operate.
But how valuable does the information this Queen of Spades prove to be? Will it bring her closer to the truth about EMPATHY and the research being conducted on the Human/Etech compound?
To find out, you’ll have to wait until January 2019 for Imminent Dawn‘s release. Until then, though, you can keep an eye on this blog or subscribe to the EMPATHY series newsletter. Of course there’s also the author’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram page, too!