I understand that making predictions about these things is quite risky, but it’s good to take a stance about the things that matter, instead of playing it safe, like many tech “experts” out there do. Of course it’s easier to parrot the widely accepted views on every hot topic, gathering “likes” and positive comments, but no-one ever offered anything useful to the whole by being all lukewarm.
First of all, I’m not making a case against cryptocurrencies as a possibility. In fact, I find them immensely useful in potential, especially in a country where the conventional currency is plagued by inflation and by all the idiotic people managing the economy around it. Cryptocurrencies can be a viable alternative to the official currency, should they be used instead of a problematic fiat currency. The reality of cryptocurrencies, however, is very distant from this idealistic scenario. In fact, I’ve yet to encounter one cryptocurrency that is actually used as a currency of sorts. Most of them are some form of speculative investment, like a stock, but without any inherent value. Let that sink in for a bit; cryptocurrencies themselves have no value whatsoever.
Someone may argue that conventional currencies have no inherent value either, and that’s a valid point. However, conventional currencies’ value doesn’t fluctuate wildly over time, since there are mechanisms to keep it somewhat stable. Naturally, there are exceptions, but even an unstable currency is generally more stable than the average cryptocurrency out there. The reason is simple: people who handle cryptocurrencies do so with one particular aim: to make money off them. They don’t care if they disappear tomorrow, as long as they cash them in first. It doesn’t take a financial genius to understand that this sort of ecosystem is not sustainable. The other reason is a bit more subtle than that, yet equally important. Most cryptocurrencies require someone to constantly work for them (a process known as mining), or provide some sort of infrastructure that’s not cheap to maintain. The translates into a running cost, which may not seem much individually, but collectively it is a lot, enough to make the whole system unsustainable. This is particularly true in cases like bitcoin, where the computational problems needed to be solved to maintain the blockchain behind the cryptocurrency get progressively more challenging, and therefore more expensive. Once enough people realize that, the fascination of these cryptocurrencies may wane, especially if some regulating mechanism comes into place.
Artificial Intelligence on the other hand is a completely different animal. Even the most basic applications of it add value to whoever invests in them, be it someone tackling big data problems, or someone who just wants to optimize their technical infrastructure. Through a vast variety of ways, A.I. manages to add value to the people using it, particularly if they have developed it sufficiently, thereby automating certain expensive processes. That’s why people are amazed by it and spend hours speculating how it can help bring about numerous benefits to the world. Even if there are some inevitable pitfalls in this technology, if it is handled maturely, it can be of great benefit for the whole. Besides, as a scientific field it existed and it flourished on its own, long before the futurists used it for promoting their ideology, or before it became mainstream.
Hopefully it won’t be long before the cryptocurrency craze subsides and people who waste their time and energy on it focus their efforts into something more sustainable, something that adds value to its environment rather than drain resources and time. Perhaps this could be A.I., or some other similar technology. Whatever the case, the cryptocurrencies that are around today have an expiration date, whether people are willing to accept that or not...
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.