Everything you wanted to know: Big Data and Cryptocurrency

news image

Let your mind wander back in time to recall the cartoons of a generation ago. A popular depiction of cutting-edge science consisted of a scrawny genius, his persona dominated by a dome of a head, one large ear planted on each side of the face and crowned by unruly wisps of white hair, with knotted eyebrows frozen in the concentration of impending discovery. 

Hunched over an array of vats, dishes, and test tubes, the maniacal gleam was matched in intensity only by the forest of glass perpetually boiling and spewing their multicoloured venom into the atmosphere of a laboratory that lesser mortals entered at their peril.

Pause for a moment in the restless present, and replicate the scene in context. Now, instead of the “mad professor,” one is confronted by the image of a young whippersnapper, perhaps just out of college but probably not, un-groomed, tousle-headed, clad in t-shirt and shorts, feet on the table, laptop balanced precariously on one knee, the remnants of a forgotten meal of burger, fries, and soda pop contributing to the mayhem of the tabletop, a juvenile conductor who, with the occasional tap of the keyboard, controls the clack and hum of the unending rows of servers behind him, squat canyons of impersonal machinery churning and processing and crunching an endless stream of what we nonchalantly refer to as “data.”

Welcome to the “busyness” of today. The collection, aggregation, sifting, and processing of information about the ways and means of one’s fellow human beings is now unprecedented in volume and boggles the mind with the scope of its application. 

The information of the world is now in the possession or control of a handful of organizations, and the logical corollary to this mega-aggregation is data mining. Therefore, if one has the wherewithal, install a server to sift and analyze and electronically ponder on certain identified accounts, record the caprice and trends of human behaviour in all its permutations and combinations and more, and archive the outcome in anticipation of the next sellable idea.

Human impatience decreed that the monopoly needed to be taken to the next level, because the longer this data remained tranquil and undisturbed by even the slightest wind to ripple its surface, the less valuable it became. It would only be a matter of time before human endeavour and innovation churned the ocean with the motive of revenue and profit. But let us examine the process before arriving at the ultimate objective.

In the beginning, a digital ledger is created. This is the short-form reference to something known as distributed ledger technology, a digital system for recording the transaction of assets in which transaction and computation and archiving is happening on different computers and the transactions and their details are recorded in several places at the same time. 

Unlike traditional databases, these ledgers are not maintained in one central location. The digital ledger works on the concept of blockchain technology as applied to data both enormous and complex.

The data is computed in various servers all over the world, moving from one blockchain to another, and remains in those specific servers in machine-readable (encrypted) form. Mimicking the behaviour of Mercury, the capricious and restless character of Greek mythology, the online file jumps from one computer to the next laptop to the other server until it is reined in and given commercial form by the tap of a secured key.

We are describing an undertaking on a colossal and transnational level. The “system,” for want of a better expression, has to be “on” and “up” at all times. There cannot be even a millisecond of “downtime” because of the ceaseless auto-computing taking place at some unknown point of the electronic chain.

And it is at this point when a creature generically referred to as cryptocurrency appears surreptitiously on the horizon. So stealthily, in fact, that few people are even aware of its decade-old existence. But it is only in recent months that this notion has begun to flex its digital muscles and advertise its existence. And it is the miracle of marketing that has people across the globe taking their first tentative steps to open their minds and explore the latest manifestation of commercial innovation. 

But how does it work? Let us also explore.

The given fact is that every server is constantly mining data, the foundation on which the commercial proposition is constructed. Companies that have floated and endorsed online currencies, or “coins,” attach a certain value of the coin to the data controlled and processed by the company they have tied up with. 

As an outcome of this enterprise-level contract, one “opens” an account with the owner of the coin. Depending upon the amount of data being mined, a certain value of a coin is attached to this activity. The value of the coin is infractions and is recorded in the cryptocurrency wallet of choice. For a certain amount of time and volume provided for data mining, the coin company shall allocate a value. 

Of course, the value will be inversely proportional to the reputation and currency of the coin. The availability of the coin, therefore, shall always be dependent upon the amount of data that is available for mining to the public.

The digital wallet is anonymous and encrypted and known only to the parties involved in the particular transaction. The level of anonymity is such that one party is not even aware of the identity of the other.

Have we permitted the force of this new enterprise to pull us into the maelstrom of a world that we barely recognize? No, most probably not. Because as owners of the latest handheld technology, each of us is, willingly or unwillingly, a participant in the global undertaking and exercise of metadata, a veritable tsunami that we could not anticipate but are now submerged by.

Digital currency is probably the way of the future. But for its success, there needs to be mass participation. The dynamics and nature of an enormous subcontinent overflowing with potential human capital requires that political goodwill is built and accumulated on a corresponding scale. 

Accordingly, experience demonstrates that it is the instrumentality of the mass-based welfare scheme that has proved to be the most potent and efficacious method of recording the performance of an administration. What better way to kick-start a nascent parallel economy than by putting in place a digital wallet for every woman of the household and encouraging her to place a designated amount into the digital crypto economy?

We have for several years now been passive participants and contributors to a new model of doing business in which the personal returns are few if any at all. It is up to us to take the initiative and create our destiny, invisible as it may be, and play a more meaningful role in an economy that has transformed life and commerce at unimaginable levels.

Dear reader, let us continue to unravel the secrets of this invisible behemoth. It cannot be as cryptic as it is made out to be.