Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros, they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems. It’s the first example of a growing category of money known as cryptocurrency.
A software developer called Satoshi Nakamoto proposed bitcoin, which was an electronic payment system based on mathematical proof. The idea was to produce a currency independent of any central authority, transferable electronically.
No one. This currency isn’t physically printed in the shadows by a central bank, unaccountable to the population, and making its own rules. Those banks can simply produce more money to cover the national debt, thus devaluing their currency. Instead, bitcoin is created digitally, by a community of people that anyone can join. Bitcoins are ‘mined’, using computing power in a distributed network. This network also processes transactions made with the virtual currency, effectively making bitcoin its own payment network.
That’s right. The bitcoin protocol – the rules that make bitcoin work – say that only 21 million bitcoins can ever be created by miners. However, these coins can be divided into smaller parts (the smallest divisible amount is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin and is called a ‘Satoshi’, after the founder of bitcoin).
Conventional currency has been based on gold or silver. Theoretically, you knew that if you handed over a dollar at the bank, you could get some gold back (although this didn’t actually work in practice). But bitcoin isn’t based on gold; it’s based on mathematics. Around the world, people are using software programs that follow a mathematical formula to produce bitcoins. The mathematical formula is freely available, so that anyone can check it. The software is also open source, meaning that anyone can look at it to make sure that it does what it is supposed to.