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商业 - 科技

比特币即将颠覆金融业

David Z. Morris 2014年01月23日

到明年,比特币就会开始大变身,从一种少人问津的货币变成一种完全开源、去中心化的兑换手段,并将进入从期货合约到汽车租赁的一切领域,消除佣金等一切交易中间费用,蚕食银行等金融机构现在赖以生存的根基。

    2013年,比特币不仅价值一飞冲天,基础设施、配套服务、用户接受程度也同样突飞猛进。而最近随着主流电商Overstock.com和美职篮(NBA)的萨克拉门托国王队(Sacramento Kings)公开宣布将接受数字货币作为支付方式,比特币热潮更是达到了顶点。

    有些人还在质疑比特币的有用性和耐用性,但2014年这些抱怀疑态度的人可能会进一步跟不上形势的发展——开发者和企业家们已开始在比特币协议的基础上努力开发各种功能。它们将使各种金融服务实现分散操作,从货币对冲到贷款,从股票发行到租赁及购买合同,都会如此。这些新服务都要靠同一个分布式安全和记录的工作量证明(proof-of-work)模型来实现,正是这个模型让比特币的总值超过100亿美元后仍能保持安全。长期来看,点对点融资将会弱化银行和其他金融机构,对它们的生存造成威胁,正如当年点对点文件传输让音乐产业如临大敌一样——而这个金融纳普斯特(Napster,当年著名的点对点MP3下载分享软件——译注)的一些建构师似乎很乐于看到这种前景变成现实。

    比特币协议(它与比特币根本不同,是比特币建立的基础)是为了支持更复杂的交易和金融关系而从头至尾一点点构建起来的,简单的转账不是它服务的对象(比如什么“转五个比特币给斯蒂夫”这类业务)。比特币支持的几种交易方式中有一种所谓“N的M”(M of N)交易。它要求一群人中的特定子群之间签有协议,并能用于第三方支付、仲裁或财务管理共享;锁时交易,即比特币按照严格的时间进程分发,用于信托或遗嘱;甚至还包括基于数据的交易,即脚本利用谷歌(Google)的定期搜索信息这类数据监控现实中可能会自动触发支付或其他交易行为的各种事件。更依赖基础设施开发的是可能出现的“智能财产”(smart property),即通过和比特币数据区块链(blockchain,数据区块记录了整个比特币网络上的交易记录数据,并且这些数据是被所有比特币节点共享的。通过数据区块,可以查询到每一笔比特币交易的历史——译注)相互作用的数码锁执行的合同来管理现实世界的合同、抵押贷款和采购合同。

    这些交易的所有环节都是经过编程并自动完成的,交易可靠性由比特币数据区块链来保障。这个数据区块会经常接受大批“矿工”的审核,而他们主要靠维护连串比特币的工作而获酬。实际上,拿纳普斯特来打比方并不十分确切,因为纳普斯特是用中央服务器来追踪音乐分享的,而比特币交易则是完全分散的。这就意味着,贷款不需要通过银行,签合同无需律师帮忙,炒股也不用假手经纪人。所有这些交易都通过分散在全球各地的成千上万台服务器来完成并记录在案。

    咨询师安德里亚斯•M. 安托诺坡罗斯回应软件开发者J.R.威利特所写的一份2012年白皮书时称,比特币协议对于分散式金融正像当年的互联网协议对于分布式信息的意义一样:“数据区块链就是IP地址。控制好这个就能打造一个完全不同的系统。”正如IP和组成互联网的网络节点基础设施现在支持从电子邮件到流媒体视频这些功能一样,比特币协议及其矿工也能为众多金融功能提供支持。不过,安托诺坡罗斯建议应把“比特币数据区块链”看成“拥有一种API(应用程序接口)”。它能让其数据为第三方所用,就像Buffer公司或Hootsuite公司这类第二层服务供应商使用Twitter的API用稍作调整或重新组织的形式呈现Twitter数据或与之互动一样。

    In 2013, bitcoin's valuation didn't just skyrocket, but its infrastructure, services, and adoption exploded as well, culminating in recent announcements that major online retailer Overstock.com and NBA team the Sacramento Kings would accept the digital currency as payment.

    Some still doubt bitcoin's usefulness and durability, but 2014 may leave skeptics even further behind -- developers and entrepreneurs are already hard at work building features on top of the Bitcoin protocol that will allow for the decentralized execution of financial services, from currency hedging to loans to stock issuance to rental and purchase contracts. These new services rely on the same innovative proof-of-work model of distributed security and record-keeping that has kept the bitcoin currency secure as its value ballooned well past $10 billion. In the long term, peer-to-peer finance threatens to weaken banks and other financial agents just as peer-to-peer file sharing did the music industry -- and some of the architects of this financial Napster seem gleeful about the possibility.

    The Bitcoin protocol (crucially distinct from bitcoin, the currency it underlies) was built from the ground up to support far more complex transactions and relationships than simple value transfers. (Example: "Send five bitcoins to Steve.") Some of the kinds of transactions that Bitcoin can support include so-called M of N transactions, which require agreement between a certain subset of a group, and can be used for escrow, mediation, or shared financial management; time-locked transactions, in which bitcoins are distributed on a strict schedule, useful for trusts or wills; and even data-conditional transactions, in which a script uses a data input such as a regular Google search to monitor real-world events that would automatically trigger disbursements or other actions. More conditional on infrastructure development is the possibility of "smart property," with contracts enforced by digital locks interacting with the Bitcoin blockchain to manage real-world leases, mortgages, and purchase contracts.

    All aspects of these transactions would be programmed and automatic, with their transactional integrity guaranteed by the Bitcoin blockchain, constantly vetted by the vast network of "miners" rewarded for their maintenance work with a stream of bitcoin. In fact, the comparison to Napster is somewhat inaccurate, since Napster used centralized servers to track music sharing, while Bitcoin is entirely distributed. That means loans without banks, contracts without lawyers, and stocks without brokers, executed and recorded across hundreds of servers at all corners of the earth.

    Consultant Andreas M. Antonopoulos, echoing a 2012 white paper by software developer J.R. Willett, says that the Bitcoin protocol is to distributed finance what Internet Protocol has been to distributed information. "The blockchain is IP. And through manipulation of that we can build a whole other system." In the same way that IP and the infrastructure of network nodes that make up the Internet now support functions from e-mail to video streaming, the Bitcoin protocol and its miners can support a variety of financial functions. Alternately, Antonopoulos suggests thinking of the "Bitcoin blockchain as having an API" (application programming interface) that makes its data usable by third parties, in the same way that second-layer services like Buffer or Hootsuite use the Twitter API to present and interact with Twitter data in slightly modified or reorganized forms.

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