NOVA’s “Crypto Decoded” Explores the History and Potential of Cryptocurrency
NOVA: Crypto Decoded dives deep into one of the most talked about technologies of the moment – cryptocurrency and the blockchain technology that makes it possible.
Crypto Decoded examines how and why cryptocurrencies came to be, featuring a range of experts who go beyond the hype and skepticism to unravel the social and technological underpinnings of crypto, and explore the possibility that this new tech may change more than just money.
To understand this tech revolution, the film starts with a deceptively simple question – what is money? Currency has existed for longer than written history. The film turns to experts like Ellen Feingold, curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History—home to the world’s largest historical collection of money—to unpack the complex answer.
Feingold explains that anything can be used as money if a community agrees on its value. All money is a necessary fiction—built on shared trust. But banks and credit card companies have largely been trusted to track the flow of payments and keep detailed, centralized records… and many believe this gives financial brokers and the governments who oversee them too much power.
This lack of trust spurred computer programmers and mathematicians to search for an alternative. The film looks at the invention of public key encryption, which is one of the fundamental components of cryptocurrency, and its promotion by creators and believers in cryptocurrency.
Public key encryption is central to the electronic transfer of money. It’s what makes it possible for us to shop online with confidence that our credit card information won’t be stolen with every transaction.
But on Halloween 2008, an anonymous person going by the name of “Satoshi Nakamoto” took this encryption a step further and introduced Bitcoin, “a peer-to-peer electronic cash system” that revolutionized the cryptocurrency industry.
The first of many cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin removed the “go-betweens” and replaced them with a technology known as “blockchain,” an immutable record of transactions, distributed among all users and secured by public key algorithms.
Crypto Decoded highlights factors that lead to Bitcoin’s success, such as incentivizing its users to maintain the blockchain. Those who contribute computing power to the system are rewarded in newly minted bitcoin, which makes it the first self-contained system run entirely by users with no central authority.
The film also delves into innovations inspired by Bitcoin, such as Ethereum and NFTs, as well as EquityCoin, which aims to develop lower-income neighborhoods by replacing banks—which have been reluctant to finance development in these neighborhoods—with a community.
Now, new coins, blockchains, and decentralized apps launch with staggering frequency and with little regulation. In such a volatile environment, it’s hard to know which projects will crash and burn and which will succeed.
Plus, as crypto becomes more popular and as big business gets in on the action, the currency increasingly draws the attention of financial regulators. Will this attention compromise crypto’s original promise of independence?
Crypto Decoded looks at the currency’s technological underpinnings, utopian dreams, practical promise, and potential perils, and attempts to answer the question: Is crypto just hype or will it spark a revolution that goes far beyond money?