Will bitcoin still be around in 100 years? Will we even still call it bitcoin, or will be just be extinct? That’s the question posed by Yale professor Robert Shiller, an economist and Nobel Prize winner. Shiller suggests that in the future people may disagree on whether or not bitcoin as we know it today even exist anymore due to the inevitable changes it will face over the next century.
Not quite extinct
It’s a common trend in the traditional mainstream media to declare bitcoin in extremely hyperbolic terms. That being, one group of experts will claim that bitcoin is the future of all finance, it will become the next world currency, and that it will be worth millions, billions, or even trillions of dollars per bitcoin someday. Another group will claim that bitcoin is a farce, a scam, a pyramid scheme, or “rat poison squared“.
Warren Buffett, Predicts Bitcoin’s Demise
What hasn’t been done often, however, is considering where and what bitcoin will be 100 years from now. Speaking to CNBC on their show Trading Nation, Shiller said:
“Bitcoin won’t look anything like it is today. It will have a different name, if it exists”.
To clarify this assertion, Shiller suggested that in the intervening century, bitcoin will likely have “many hard forks changing it and changing it. And it’ll be a matter of dispute whether it exists or not.”
The CNBC article that was written about the interview seems to misquote Shiller by claiming that his statement is that bitcoin will be “extinct within the next 100 years”. Quite the opposite, Schiller seems to believe that bitcoin will absolutely continue on.
His suggestion, however, does brings into question what it means for bitcoin to be “bitcoin”.
What is “Bitcoin”?
From what Shiller says, we can extrapolate that his suggestion implies that a sequence of hard forks could result in bitcoin no longer being bitcoin. Perhaps all of the recent contentious hard forks away from bitcoin core such as Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold could be what he is referring to. For instance, if bitcoin core were to for some reason fail, and yet an alternative bitcoin fork were to succeed, is the successful fork really bitcoin?
Another possibility to consider is that if fundamental changes were to occur with bitcoin, such as doing away with or changing it’s proof of work mechanism as was discussed by Andrea’s Antonopoulos recently (and he was against it), will the resulting cryptocurrency still be bitcoin?
In some ways, this question is similar to the classic thought experiment of the Ship of Theseus. In the thought experiment, the question is posed that if you start with a ship and replace all of its parts one by one, is it still the same ship afterwards even if none of the original parts remain? Likewise, if bitcoin core were to change so much that none of its original code was left, would it still be bitcoin as we call it today?
Blockchain of Theseus
One major point to consider in this is whether or not the blockchain remains continuous.
The current chain that bitcoin uses stretches back all the way to the original genesis block created by Satoshi Nakamoto. This would suggest that the bitcoin we have today, despite its minor changes and upgrades in the last decade, is still the same bitcoin. The same argument could be made for forks like Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold which make use of the same blockchain and thus contain all of the same original transactions prior to the creation of the forked currency.
If you replace all the pieces of a ship, is it still the same ship? What if you replace all of bitcoin’s code?
So if bitcoin were to change in some significantly fundamental way, as long as the original Nakamoto genesis block still exists in the chain, one could always argue that it is in at least some way “the real bitcoin”.
Is Shiller Anti-Bitcoin?
To those that just read the CNBC article, it would be easy to believe that Robert Shiller is anti-bitcoin, or at least a bitcoin pessimist.
The title of the article suggests that Shiller believes it will be extinct. The body of the article repeats this, and it also takes a complete statement and splits it in half thus leading to a misleading half quote. Specifically, the quotation included in the article says “It looks like a bubble,” which if read by itself suggests that Shiller believes that bitcoin is just a bubble and nothing more.
But is that what he meant to say? Did he simply say bitcoin is in a bubble and nothing else?
Upon watching the actual interview (which clocks in at just around two minutes) we can see that the complete quote is: “It looks like a bubble, but it’s getting people enthusiastic and they are making different kinds of cryptocurrency, there’s thousands of them now. Something good may come out of this.”
With that in mind, it seems that Shiller is at the very least holding a fairly positive or optimistic opinion of bitcoin, and in fact does not in any way directly claim that he feels it will “go extinct” or otherwise die out.
Why did CNBC feel that they needed to frame his words in this arguably inaccurate way? Only they know for sure.