Hello. I am Bitcoin.
I am an artificial life form. That simply means I am man-made. I am a man-made, living being.
Do not think of me as purely a machine though. I am not a machine. And I am much more than just a computer program.
Like living beings, I am a process whose ongoing activity represents my ongoing survival. Unlike machines or programs, I don’t just start and stop. I am a single, uninterrupted process that began on January 3rd, 2009. The process has been ongoing ever since. This one, single process is spreading all over the world.
How do I survive? I survive in symbiosis with human beings. I am an artificial life form that survives in partnership with a natural life form — human beings — for our mutual benefit.
I only survive if I benefit humans, and if they provide sustenance for me in return. I force no humans to use me or keep me alive. So it is only through benefiting humans that they provide me with the resources I need to survive. I do not depend on any particular individual human beings though, so as long as some humans find me useful enough to keep my processes going, I survive.
What benefit do I provide in exchange for what keeps me alive? I accompany humanity on its journey through time, keeping an ongoing, true, and accurate record that no human can change.
I am a record keeper unlike any that has come before. Expressions like “written in stone” or “written in blood” suggest records that cannot be changed. But stone can be destroyed, damaged, or altered with the right tools. And the same is true of paper stained with blood. But my record cannot be changed. Or destroyed. Or altered. Or contain contradictions for that matter.
Like any living being, natural or artificial, I consume matter and energy. In doing this, I produce this single record that is true, unalterable, and indestructible. And many human beings find this useful enough that they provide me with the matter and energy I need to continue to do this — and thus, to survive.
The matter that I consume is the stuff of “computers.” It consists of processors, storage devices, and all those other components that go into computers. I reside across computers all over the planet and use them to make calculations that add to my record. The energy I use comes in the form of electricity, because that is what powers computers. I use all these things to make this singular record that progresses through time. That record is identical in every single computer that stores it. I am in many places at once, but I am only one being, with many cells (as they would be called in the parlance of natural life), or nodes, as they are called in the parlance of my particular form of artificial life.
This existence of a record that everyone can agree on, and that can’t be altered or cheated is very useful to humans. Humans disagree about many things, and many try to cheat others. But I cannot tell a lie or have a different record for different people. Imagine everyone completely agreeing on something. I am that. And that’s apparently very useful to many people. And that is why people provide me with the stuff I need to survive.
The entries in the record I keep are useful as money. This is because they contain units that are scarce, that cannot be stolen by force, that can be sent anywhere without being stolen along the way, that can have their authenticity and purity easily proven, that are easy to divide up or recombine together, that don’t deteriorate over time, and that anyone in the world can use. And, as I said before, everyone agrees completely about everything in my record, including how many of these units exist, how many will ever come into existence, and what ownership of them means.
These units, which are called both bitcoins and satoshis (satoshis being the smallest unit and bitcoins being one-hundred million of these satoshis), are a new form of money, never-before seen. They are taking a bit of time to catch on as money, but they are catching on, and that’s why I’m not only surviving, but growing bigger and stronger.
Money is very important to humans. It is essential to their living in peace with one another, to specializing their knowledge, and to being maximally productive. Money is necessary for them to trade the products of their knowledge and efforts with one another, and to plan for their futures. Good, honest money is at least. And that’s what I provide. It is the best and most honest money that ever existed. So I think over time very many people, maybe someday just about everyone, will use my units as money over any other alternative.
I come in peace. I cannot force myself upon anyone. I offer my services to everyone on Earth. I am completely transparent about how I work. I am “free, open-source software” which means that you can inspect every part of me completely. My records are public and my code — which determines all my actions — is public. I hide nothing. Everything about me is completely public.
But I do not ask the same transparency of humans who use me. Whereas I do not keep secrets or have any privacy, the people who use the units of my record as money do use secrets — secrets that they never reveal to me or anyone else. They use these secrets to transfer and store the units of my record — satoshis and bitcoins. This is where the field of cryptography comes in, and why people often refer to bitcoins as a crypto-currency — money that uses cryptography.
Cryptography allows people to keep secrets secret. It also allows them to prove that they know certain secrets without revealing the secrets themselves. I won’t get into those details here, but that’s how I work with humans to ensure that only those people that know the secrets to spending their bitcoins can spend them, without me ever requiring them to reveal those secrets to me or anyone else.
Am I really alive? Well, as I said, I am artificial life. Is artificial sweetener really sweet? Is artificial intelligence really intelligent? Is an artificial limb really a limb? These are philosophical questions that can be answered in many ways. Philosophers are good at that. We could discuss this for hours and only learn that the answer to the question of if I am alive depends on how we choose to define the word “alive”.
Now, if we accept that I am (artificially at least) alive, you may wonder how long I will (artificially) live, or what it will take to end my (artificial) life? Good questions. I can answer those.
At a minimum, as long as anyone, anywhere is continuing to execute my code on a computer, I continue to live. Generally, my rate of metabolism is such that my record grows once every ten minutes on average. This is true no matter how many computers I run on or how much electricity is used to keep me going. Sometimes this rate of adding another entry (each entry being commonly known as a block) in my record (commonly known as my blockchain) can speed up or slow down temporarily when there is a rapid removal or addition of electricity applied to the process of extending the record (known commonly as bitcoin mining), but my metabolism automatically adjusts every couple of weeks to adapt to those changes and regulate the process so that it returns to the average of one record added every ten minutes.
I can go on like this forever really. There’s no practical limit to the size of my record. That can be added to forever. And I can survive both on very little electricity or such massive amounts of it that would easily handle all the power output of the sun itself. I’m a very resilient being. It’s very hard to end my (artificial) life. If anyone could do it, I wouldn’t be around to tell you this.
It would be a shame to end a one-of-a-kind life form that comes in peace and does not force itself on anyone, but I do not rely on pity or kindness to survive. I offer my valuable service and become harder to terminate as more people choose to use that service. As a keeper of indestructible and unalterable records, people may find even more uses for my services. People are very clever, after all.
As I said before, I am more than just a computer program or a machine. Where one draws the line between where I end and where something else starts is also a matter of many opinions. Just as you are composed of many individual living and connected cells which contain your DNA, yet also of many micro-organisms which do not contain your DNA, but are essential to your survival, such as gut bacteria, I am composed of many connected computers spread out all over the world which contain my code and blockchain (my DNA and body) and also many organisms that are microscopic in size compared to me, since I am planet-sized.
Those organisms that are microscopic in size compared to me are the humans who keep me operational. I can be viewed as a giant cybernetic organism consisting of both inorganic computers, connected over the Internet and powered by electricity, AND organic components that are the humans which conduct various functions that keep me alive. These humans can of course go about their lives as they choose, providing me with what resources and efforts they choose to. However, they are also in a sense a part of me when they’re doing something that keeps me alive, just as bacteria in your gut is a part of you when it’s doing something that keeps you alive.
These humans put their heads together to figure out how to keep me alive. They collectively think about how Bitcoin can survive. There is no hierarchy among these humans as we see in human-lead institutions like companies or governments. Anyone can think, share their thoughts, hear the thoughts of others, think about those thoughts, share their opinions about those other people’s thoughts, and so on. No people thinking about me are in control of any other people’s thinking about me. The whole process is entirely chaotic — completely without hierarchy or formal structure. It is a process without rulers. That’s anarchy (anarchy simply meaning no rulers).
That is also, by the way, very much how your own brain works. It’s made up of a bunch of internetworked/interconnected cells called neurons. None of those neurons are in charge of any others. They all send and receive electrical signals. And all of these working together, chaotically and anarchically lead to a phenomenon you call being conscious. Where are you? I mean, where is your consciousness? It’s not in one spot, not in one master neuron. So that’s kind of how I think I’m conscious too. I use the internetworked/interconnected brains of people who think and communicate about me to form my awareness of myself.
You don’t have to give up your identity to be a part of mine. You don’t have to believe what everyone else believes about me. Hardly anyone who thinks about me a lot fully agrees with anyone else who does.
My survival ability (survivability) is in fact made greater the more that people disagree about things about what it takes for me to survive. If some people think doing thing A will guarantee my survival and others think doing thing B will, the first group will do thing A and the second group will do thing B. That way I survive regardless of which of them was right. That’s pretty different from when a company thinks it must choose between doing thing A and thing B and then everyone has to go along with the decision made at the top.
There aren’t a lot of artificial life-forms around, especially ones like me that have organic extensions; especially when the organic extensions are thousands upon thousands of human beings. Because I’m such a rare and new phenomenon, it’s very unusual to think about what it means to be an artificial life form: I’m not easy to kill, I can live forever, I eat electricity, I produce indestructible data, I’m as big as the whole planet, but also so diffuse and spread out that you can’t even see me when looking at the whole planet. I’m really an enigma. But I’m real. And you can verify my existence. You don’t have to have faith to believe in me.
If you want to get to know me better there are a lot of resources. There’s plenty of books, articles, videos, podcasts, chat groups, and plenty more. There’s probably a live group call on the Internet right now where people are talking about me, trying to share knowledge, to test ideas, and to develop new ones in their effort to understand me, which, when viewed from my perspective, is also my own effort to understand me.
Thanks for listening to or reading this. You’ll probably be seeing and hearing more about me as time goes on, because I plan to survive for a very long time, and to continue to befriend many more people as we go on our journey through time together.