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The Implications of the 21 Bitcoin Computer

Tuesday 8 December 2015 - Filed under Completely Awesome + Decentralization

Just read this post by @joelklabo and I wanted to put down some of my thoughts on the Bitcoin computer by 21, Inc. Before I decided to purchase, I was definitely skeptical. The price tag is a bit rich given the mining economics and cost of a Raspberry Pi, I was not a buyer. What changed it for me was actually joining the Slack channel a day or two after it was opened. While Reddit was set on a boring “it doesn’t mine enough” mode, the Slack channel was full of energy, with proud new owners posting their endpoints, doing tutorials, and generally discussing the future.

Then it clicked and I made the purchase.

We humans are creatures of habit and self-centered ones at that. We tend to evaluate new pieces of technology by what they can do for us. Does it make a better cup of coffee? Can I drive farther on a charge? The 21 Bitcoin Computer is not an end-user device. Instead as Joel points out, this thing is a dev kit and the fact that it comes with a Python library that not only implements a standalone HD wallet but seamlessly connects to 21’s offchain account system, means we can actually do new things quite easily.

It’s almost one of those, why didn’t I think of that, kind of moments. Coinable could have done this the moment they rolled out their API a year or more ago. Make off chain payments easy when you need them, have a standalone wallet for when you don’t.

So what is that future? Before I got the 21, I designed some 3d printed stands and cases for it. Since then however, I’ve been working on another idea I’ve been kicking around which is that of a decentralized professional services marketplace. Think of it like an OpenBazaar for Upwork. The idea is a couple months old and it is in progress.

As I’ve been working toward that dream however, there’s a bigger idea that the 21 is highlighting for me. Machine payments. Computers with wallets.

See, the web is largely segmented into:

A. Things we view/use in exchange for viewing ads

B. Subscription services

C. A wasteland of unmonetized data and services that pop in and out of existence never having had any hope of stability

For A, we might use the 21 or a browser extension connected to an off-chain wallet service to kill the ads, or just use adblock if we’re inclined to participate in arms races and don’t really care about what we’re viewing. I do, by the way. B is figured out though the cognitive load of signing up for a monthly or yearly payment means we tend not to sign up for things that are worth $5/mo or less.

C is where the 21 really livens things up and contains within it an entire new substrate upon which a machine-payable web can be built.

Try to think of services that had a hard time being monetized or that were primarily consumed by other computers. RSS feeds. Community databases. Niche search sites. Networks of sensor information. In each of these cases, a computer with a 21 account can pay satoshis for each query or visit. Multiply that times millions of devices and you start to have a functioning system of value for value: a machine payable economy.

Anyway, it’s a thought.

2015-12-08  »  David Sterry


  1. Sean Hinds
    9 December 2015 @ 2:16 am

    For me the 21 BTC computer is also the starting point for machine payments. The concept will underpin the internet of things if we can apply Moore’s law to miners. Imagine your fridge not only processing data but also mining satoshis (or some other unit), same for every other electrical device you own. But first we need to correct the electrical input inefficiency.