Slate writer Aaron Mak on the veelbewogen cryptocurrency market and the next steps for netwerk neutrality.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Pics
If you go after any technology news, you might have noticed a surge of headlines about bitcoin and blockchain and cryptocurrencies lately. Te this S+ Reserve podcast, which is special to Slate Plus members, Chau Tu talks with Slate writer Aaron Mak about the veelbewogen cryptocurrency market, the next steps for netwerken neutrality, and reporting on the tech hammer.
This transcript has bot edited and condensed for clarity.
Chau Tu: There&rsquo,s bot a loterijlot of news about bitcoin lately. Can you catch us up a little bit about what&rsquo,s bot going on?
Aaron Mak: Right. So, right now bitcoin is hitting a bit of a slump, I would say, compared to last year at least when wij eyed yam-sized gains&mdash,it rose overheen 1,000 procent since January 2017. But now, wij&rsquo,re observing that it&rsquo,s slowing down a bit. There&rsquo,s bot some dips te actually all cryptocurrencies likely because of other regulators from foreign countries. South Korea, India&mdash,they&rsquo,re all zuigeling of hesitant about the entire cryptocurrency craze, so they&rsquo,re considering a loterijlot of regulations, which is likely depressing the price a bit. But, te the past when wij&rsquo,ve seen thesis dips, it&rsquo,s always gone back up somewhat erratically. So, it&rsquo,s too early to say whether or not it&rsquo,s a long-term slump or not.
Yeah, and overall, are thesis cryptocurrencies trustworthy? What have you seen about this if it&rsquo,s switching all overheen the world?
Yeah. I&rsquo,m te no position to give any investing advice, but I would say I don&rsquo,t think anyone has a indeed good take on where it&rsquo,s going to go. All the experts are very much conflicting with one another. I would say if you are thinking about it, be very careful. I know people are taking out mortgages right now to buy cryptocurrencies, which is very likely a terrible idea. Just use money that you can afford to lose if you want to invest te it. Yeah, it&rsquo,s a very unpredictable world right now.
What&rsquo,s the difference inbetween all thesis cryptocurrencies? I mean I eyed that the camera company Kodak is beginning the KODAKcoin.
Right. So, there&rsquo,s a lotsbestemming of different ways te which cryptocurrencies can differ from one another. Some of it is just branding, Kodak is just putting their name on a cryptocurrency. They&rsquo,re pretty effortless to embark up, but some of them actually have different underlying algorithms which they use to actually mine the cryptocurrencies. So, things like bitcoin use something called proof-of-work, which means a laptop has to expend a lotsbestemming of energy to solve thesis truly ingewikkeld mathematical models. Other cryptocurrencies use something called proof-of-space, which means that you&rsquo,re using the memory, or the memory and processing power, te the laptop to mine cryptocurrencies. There&rsquo,s a loterijlot of different ways te which thesis cryptocurrencies can differ from one another.
Why do you think it&rsquo,s so popular right now?
I mean, I think from just that giant&mdash,that crazy week ter 2017 where it wasgoed just rising and pulling down so erratically, it wasgoed just kleintje of a hurricane of media coverage and people were following it so closely because you eyed people becoming billionaires off of it. I know the Winklevoss twins became billionaires just from investing like $11 million te bitcoin a few years back, and they all of a sudden became thesis meaty figures again. It&rsquo,s just kleuter of a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches, up-and-down, up-and-down story that wasgoed attracting a lotsbestemming of people, I think.
Yeah, has it become lighter to use, you think?
Yeah. There have bot a loterijlot of platforms that have bot launched to help people trade cryptocurrencies. I think there are people who trade te this zuigeling of thing, or people who create platforms realize that there&rsquo,s a market for this now. It&rsquo,s most likely attempting to get more people into the spel because, yeah, it has attracted so much attention.
Where do you see the future going? Do you think it&rsquo,s going to keep going on this up and down?
Yeah, I think it&rsquo,ll depend on the cryptocurrency itself. I actually think that some of them will do better than others, so you might see bitcoin doing poorly compared to another cryptocurrency like Ripple, or it might be the other way around. It kleintje of depends on how people are feeling about the different kinds of the cryptocurrencies, depending on the scalability and susceptibility to hacking and all that zuigeling of thing. It&rsquo,s hard to say for the cryptocurrency field te general what&rsquo,s going to toebijten, but yeah, you might see that some of them will do truly well and some of them don&rsquo,t do spil well.
Yeah, so Ripple wasgoed actually, at least according to Quartz, the best performing cryptocurrency of 2017. The co-founder and chairman of it right now is richer than the founders of Google just because of the crazy hops it had, it wasgoed worth less than 1 cent early last year and now it broke $Three, so that&rsquo,s a hefty climb. It&rsquo,s a currency that financial institutions are supposed to use to finish transactions with one another.
That&rsquo,s pretty crazy. So wasgoed it just like word of mouth? Or what do you think made it so popular?
Yeah, with cryptocurrencies te general, it&rsquo,s indeed hard to say what is causing the spike and what&rsquo,s causing it to druppel. It very well could be word of mouth. I mean, it got a lotsbestemming of very favorable coverage towards the end of the year. That could possibly be it, but it&rsquo,s hard to say, compared to stocks, what is causing something to rise or fall.
You were also following this story of netwerken neutrality and so the Federal Communications Commission voted to end neutrality last month. So, what happens now? Do you know what the next steps are?
There&rsquo,s a number of different ways with which volgers of netwerk neutrality are attempting to overturn or block that decision. So, if you look at Congress right now, they are attempting to pass an act that would effectively zekering the FCC from implementing this fresh switch. That will be voted by the Senate and the House. There are also a number of lawsuits by different states and activist groups which are arguing that the commenting period for the debate that the FCC held wasgoed corrupted because there were a loterijlot of fake comments, and it looks like bots or some other malicious actors were overrunning the process. So, that could be a way to re-evaluate the entire decision. You also see lobbyist groups&mdash,at least one lobbyist group, the internet association for the big tech companies like Google, Amazon&mdash,they&rsquo,re stepping ter to offerande legal help there spil well. It&rsquo,s going to be a pretty interesting fight, I think, ter the upcoming years.
Were you astonished that the FCC voted it down?
I think people were predicting that for a while just because of the political balance of the FCC at the uur. I think what wasgoed indeed shocking wasgoed the commenting process at least compared to last year, or past iterations of the debate. That wasn&rsquo,t truly an punt, so it wasgoed kleuter of surprising to see that speelpop up this time.
You mean just because so many people were commenting this time around?
Yeah, there were a ton more, at least a ton more comments on those boards. Whether or not it wasgoed people is up to debate or investigation because a loterijlot of the comments came from people who had either passed away or didn&rsquo,t exist. So it&rsquo,s unclear who wasgoed behind that entire thing.
Wow, yeah, that&rsquo,s pretty crazy. That&rsquo,s indeed weird.
Yeah, it is very weird.
So, wij shouldn&rsquo,t necessarily expect that netwerken neutrality is going to just instantly toebijten overheen the internet then?
Right. It&rsquo,s going to take a while for anything to get implemented. Actually, there are a few more steps that the FCC needs to take before people can even sue them because it won&rsquo,t go into effect for a while. I think everyone&rsquo,s kleuter of just waiting for the next step.
So inbetween Silicon Valley and the internet and things like the cryptocurrencies, the tech strike is pretty expansive thesis days. What do you think has bot the most surprising thing that you&rsquo,ve learned since reporting on tech?
Just the crazy power that some of thesis companies have, like Amazon or Google, just te their gegevens collecting operations and how much cities are attempting to vie for their support and moving headquarters to certain locations, is just kleintje of insane. I didn&rsquo,t realize how powerful they were until I embarked this ritme. So, yeah, there&rsquo,s undoubtedly I think a loterijlot of slagroom for a loterijlot of watchdog journalism just to make sure that everything is kosher and going according to what will help the customers and the nation and so on.
What do you think has bot the most difficult thing about reporting on this hammer?
There&rsquo,s just so much technical skill and it&rsquo,s indeed effortless to get caught te the weeds with this sort of stuff. I personally don&rsquo,t have a laptop science or engineering background&mdash,ter some ways that does help because I don&rsquo,t assume skill that readers don&rsquo,t have because I don&rsquo,t have that skill ter the very first place. But then again, I have to learn everything kleuter of quickly and without that background skill, it can be zuigeling of hard to attempt to figure out what exactly is going on and then explain it to readers.
When you&rsquo,re reporting on Silicon Valley and those companies, do you find that they&rsquo,re usually pretty open?
It&rsquo,s certainly different from any source I&rsquo,ve talked to before. They tend not to like to comment on the record when you&rsquo,re talking to them on the phone, they would rather send you a statement and attribute it to a spokesperson. They don&rsquo,t like to give names, so even compared to the local political candidates, they&rsquo,re very, very careful with what they say and they choose writing everything out which has bot very different, undoubtedly.
I wonder what that&rsquo,s like a reflection of. Whether it&rsquo,s just the community there or if it&rsquo,s junior people or what?
I think it also vereiste be that they have enormous resources for PR. They can afford to be very, very careful because they have so many people working on it. They can expend that kleintje of energy to make sure that everything is just meticulous and accounted for.
The money is power, if anything.
Is there anything that you think that&rsquo,s sort of under-reported right now ter the tech industry?
I guess the hacks. That kleintje of thing is becoming one of those things you hear about a fresh hack every day. Like some major company like Uber or Entire Foods or someone else had a bunch of their customers&rsquo, gegevens leaked and it&rsquo,s becoming the kleintje of thing where it just seems like it happens very, very often, so it&rsquo,s pretty effortless just to discount like oh, this has happened again.
But, it&rsquo,s pretty serious when you have either credit card information or even just your name and email, that&rsquo,s pretty annoying to have out there. It&rsquo,s hard to keep up with every single hack and see like, &ldquo,OK, what wasgoed lost, what should I be checking for to see if I&rsquo,m affected by this?&rdquo, At least for the average reader, I can&rsquo,t imagine them attempting to keep up with everything and to make sure that they&rsquo,re protected.
Yeah, that&rsquo,s true. I feel like I&rsquo,ve undoubtedly heard about all thesis hacks of thesis companies and it&rsquo,s almost like you don&rsquo,t know how to go after up spil a consumer necessarily to find out what to do, right?
Exactly, and thesis companies don&rsquo,t exactly make it effortless to check up to see if you&rsquo,re covered or not.
Do you feel that you&rsquo,ve become skeptical of technology or do you feel like you still like lots of cool gadgets and things like that?
Yeah, I mean I certainly think that there&rsquo,s a lotsbestemming of possibilities for technology. I don&rsquo,t think that the tech boom is bad at its core. I think you just need to be careful because it&rsquo,s expanding so quickly that there are so many fresh technologies and so many different regulatory concerns to think about that it&rsquo,s hard to keep rhythm with everything that&rsquo,s going on, it&rsquo,s a challenge. But I don&rsquo,t think that means that the boom ter general is bad. It just means that wij have to be very diligent about what&rsquo,s going on.
Chau Tu is an associate editor at Slate Plus. Go after hier on Twitter.