The world of cryptocurrency is a bespoke financial wonderland where timing is everything and nothing is certain. The moment you think you’ve got a handle on the market, a billionaire tweets out a meme and you’re thrust toward one margin or another.
Fans of rollercoasters and thrill-rides may enjoy the experience, but investors genuinely looking for a way out from underneath the oppression of centralized currency and banking might wish for a less volatile future.
Unfortunately, the path forward isn’t simple. On paper, decentralized digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum make perfect sense.
If I own a dollar’s worth of Bitcoin, and the US government decides to denounce me and declare my citizenship void, I still own a dollar’s worth of Bitcoin. But every penny of fiat currency I have in US markets, banks, 401Ks, and other investments would be completely lost.
Theoretically speaking, no single government or other cryptocurrency-holder should be able to revoke your holdings in a truly decentralized financial paradigm.
But, often, the only thing stopping government agencies from seizing cryptocurrency is technology. What happens if that changes?
Today, we’re promised our crypto holdings are secured against intrusion, theft, and withholding by literal cryptography. Just like the government can’t technically access our WhatsApp conversations because they’re encrypted, it shouldn’t be able to touch our cryptocurrency holdings.
And, with Bitcoin and similar giant cryptocurrencies built on decentralized (but well-managed) blockchain platforms, there’s little concern a government could gain sufficient technological advantage so as to seize assets. If, for example, China or the US invents a quantum computer capable of breaking binary cryptography, the Bitcoin platform is big enough to solicit community support for technology to mitigate these attacks.
But 99.9 of the market is smaller than Bitcoin and Ethereum. And without cryptography to protect what’s in your digital wallet, there’s no difference between a total scam and a legitimate cryptocurrency.
If a given cryptocurrency isn’t in a position to fend off quantum computing attacks from the IRS, FBI, DoD, China’s military ministry, and any other given entity capable of financing and building a quantum computer, it’s possible the future of cryptocurrency is a morose one.
Only a handful of Bitcoin-sized walled-gardens would prevail in such a tech paradigm.
It doesn’t feel like much of a gamble to speculate that useful quantum cryptography systems could be fully-functioning before 2050.
If governments are able to seize cryptocurrency with even greater relative-ease than physically confiscating people’s cash or court-ordering their fiat accounts frozen, that’s going to be a problem for people who only want to hold crypto because it’s decentralized.
The problem is that, theoretically, when only a handful of cryptocurrencies are available, whales gain even greater advantage by essentially becoming “the house.”
Elon Musk, for example, can shift entire cryptomarkets with a single tweet right now through the strength of his position and his popularity with crytpocurrency aficionados.
But at least there’s some equilibrium in today’s market. For every DogeCoin riding the wave of Elon’s emotions, there’s hundreds of equally-as-legitimate cryptocurrencies hoping to pump their way into the next whale’s heart and social media feed.
That might sound flippant, but if you’re one of the countless individuals who’ve turned their pocket change into Lambo money with nothing but a couple hundred bucks, a crytpo trading app, and a Reddit account, you probably don’t care.
The point is: the current crypto marketplace offers the illusion of choice to such a degree that, so long as all you care about is short-term financial gain, there’s plenty of money to be made by all investors whether they’re guppies or whales.
But the impending addition of quantum computers to government agencies could change everything. Cryptocurrency holdings currently make up over 90% of the total funds seized by the IRS in 2020 and the agency expects that number to increase in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
We can logically assume that countries such as India, where an outright ban on public cryptocurrencies is currently on the table, and China, where all cryptocurrency activities are currently banned, would be as likely to seize crypto-assets where applicable and whenever possible.
A future where only the largest cryptocurrencies in the world can stand up to government seizure and corporate manipulation is one where even decentralized coins are artificially-centralized in a marginalized market.
When Einstein coined the term “spooky action at a distance,” he was talking about the strange machinations of quantum physics. But the sentiment is just as applicable to cryptocurrency.
It’s difficult to imagine what the next five minutes look like for most coins. Trying to look 30 years into the future of the field is an impossible task.
All we can be certain of is that actors currently holding a whale position in the fiat market (such as the US government and Elon Musk) are unlikely to give up that position. Whether that means they corner the cryptomarket or splinter it depends on their motivations.
In the meantime, people who support a decentralized future for cyptocurrency should urge the communities and development teams behind legitimate coins to start future-proofing now.
If you’re waiting on IBM or Google to start selling quantum computers on Amazon before you start preparing for the impending encryption nightmare, you’re betting that the next 30 years of technology breakthroughs will be less eventful than the last.
And, considering Bitcoin hadn’t been invented 30 years ago, that seems like a huge gamble.