Cryptocurrency is ‘Honestly Useless’: Harvard Cryptographer

Bruce Schneier

Cryptocurrency is useless to anyone other than nefarious groups or individuals trying to move money without being noticed by the government. This is apparently the cutting-edge opinion of Harvard University cryptographer and technology researcher Bruce Schneier.

Citing a series of regularly discredited and debunked talking points, Schneier believes that the aims of Bitcoin according to its original whitepaper have been defeated by the reality of its deployment, which means that in addition to being operationally difficult and risky, it also fails to deliver on its basic premise, which essentially renders it useless.

Cryptocurrency: Can You Trust a Trustless System?

Writing in Wired, Schneier cites the trust issue as the biggest example of cryptocurrency’s basic failure. According to him, while it was created to provide a basis for electronic transactions without relying on trust, a critical look at the architecture of blockchain technology will show that it cannot function without trust — which defeats the whole purpose of having an uncontrolled system in the first place.

Crypto users have to trust that miners are following the right sequences to mine bitcoins then trust that the system won’t crash resulting in monetary loss. In actual fact, he says, all bitcoin has done is take trust away from humans and place it in technology whose security is also not guaranteed.

Expanding further on this point he says:

“If your bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If your bitcoin wallet gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If you forget your login credentials, you lose all of your money. If there’s a bug in the code of your smart contract, you lose all of your money. If someone successfully hacks the blockchain security, you lose all of your money. In many ways, trusting technology is harder than trusting people. Would you rather trust a human legal system or the details of some computer code you don’t have the expertise to audit?”

Environmental Concerns and Assorted Red Herrings

bitcoin mining crypto

While the other criticisms may have had some measure of technical accuracy, Schneier also cites the hackneyed “crypto-mining-uses-vast-amount-of-energy” argument to back up his belief that cryptocurrency is pointless. According to him – you’ve certainly never heard this before – it constitutes a large environmental hazard due to the amount of energy it consumes.

Schneier argues that bitcoin transaction charges such as processing fees are hidden, unlike bank charges which can be easily calculated. Where he gets the impression that crypto transaction fees are hidden is anyone’s guess at this point, but it certainly makes a good – if inaccurate – talking point.

He also says that automated systems cannot be fully trusted and human input will always be better, adding that blockchain technology is only theoretically trustless. Practically, he says, crypto users still have to trust cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets when they trade or otherwise make transactions. Unsurprisingly, no mention is made of decentralised exchanges, which apparently are not good talking points for the purpose of Schneier’s polemic.

Rounding up his attack on cryptocurrencies, Schneier states that blockchain immutability is a problem because in the event of a mistake, “all of your life savings could be gone.” In his view, cryptocurrency is inherently useless and not needed.

In short, here’s another one for the Bitcoin Obituaries pile.

Featured Image from Rama/Wikimedia Commons

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