I previously wrote about some of the reasons I remain skeptical of cryptocurrencies, namely that I’m not sure the blockchain truly has advantages over traditional banking systems with respect to either traceability or decentralization. I won’t claim that any of that skepticism was thoroughly researched; my primary goal in documenting it–and this will remain true for the immediate future, probably at least the next couple of weeks–was to capture what I think now, knowing that much of it is probably misguided or just plain wrong. As I’ve already stated, I think it will be interesting a year from now to look back on the things I wrote at this early stage, to see just how far off I was (assuming I can even tell a year from now).

In that spirit, I also want to capture something that’s bugged me about the notion of mining since I first heard of Bitcoin, years ago. I heard the basic premise, that you mined coins by running expensive but otherwise pointless computations, and wondered why the mining process couldn’t be based on something more useful. Today, knowing that there are massive mining centers operating in China, in addition to all of the ad hoc mining that individuals are doing with homemade rigs across the globe (not to mention all the shady stuff going on with apps and websites attempting to hijack users’ phones and browsers to form distributed virtual mining clusters), that question has only grown louder in my mind.

Why does mining need to be something pointless? Imagine if those centers in China were sequencing DNA, or analyzing satellite photos, or heck, I don’t know, computing more digits of Pi? Is there any reason the work needs to serve no purpose outside of unearthing coins? It saddens me to think that CPUs all over the world are just hashing random numbers 24/7, their little cooling fans spinning like crazy, when I know there are researchers who would love to have access to all that computing power.

Maybe there is a reason why it has to be this way. That is one of the questions I would like to investigate shortly. Next up I’ll try to compile a list of other questions I plan on exploring. Maybe I’ll even prioritize them.