Donald Morrison: Oh, brave new Bitcoin world | Local News

My wife and I talked it over, and when I die, she’s going to have me turned into a nonfungible token.

Not entirely sure what that is, but do I know that an NFT, as it is called, was sold at a Christie’s auction in March for $69 million.

OK, I looked it up: A nonfungible token is an asset recorded on a cryptocurrency blockchain. Got that?

Pretty much anything can be turned into an NFT, from sneakers (Nike’s CryptoKicks) to music albums (“When You See Yourself” by Kings of Leon) to corpses. It’s easy. Just upload a digital file of your asset to an NFT website, and Bob’s your undertaker.

The $69 million digital file sold at Christie’s was a work created by an artist who goes by the name Beeble. As with all NFTs, the blockchain wrinkle guarantees that the item will remain irresistibly unique and nonfungible, i.e., not transferrable except under certain conditions. So, when my body is NFT-mated, my wife will be a rich woman.

Our NFT madness is evidence that this whole cryptocurrency thing is getting out of hand. You’ve heard of Bitcoin, the first and, by far, biggest of the breed. It is a kind of digital wampum you can send to somebody electronically, without the need of intermediaries, like banks. Transactions are verified through encrypted computer code and recorded, anonymously, in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain.

That latter feature, which provides an open, decentralized record of every exchange, is being adopted by such industries as banking and supply-chain management. But, its biggest use so far is keeping track of Bitcoin and its many imitators.

As of now, almost $700 billion worth of Bitcoin is in circulation. In fact, the currency doesn’t circulate much, except for speculation. But, enough people believe in Bitcoin to give it apparent value.

Belief, in fact, is the bedrock of a modern currency, which — like the U.S. dollar — has no intrinsic worth. In other words, it’s not backed by something real, such as gold or silver, but by the credibility of the issuing authority.

That’s one reason Bitcoin was created. In 2009, an unknown person or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto conjured up a digital currency that couldn’t be controlled by governments. In fact, it isn’t really controlled by anybody, except a bunch of computer algorithms and volunteer geeks.

Partly because it lacks a central bank, Bitcoin wobbles wildly against the dollar. It started life worth a few cents, hit an all-time high of $64,000 in April and has since fallen by nearly half. Digital currencies are risky, but people have made fortunes buying low and selling high.

Or just holding on. Because the supply is limited by its algorithms, Bitcoin has a scarcity value vaguely similar to that of gold. Thus, many holders see it more as long-term investment than an unstable currency.

Bitcoin fans value its rebellious, libertarian origins. Also its almost perfect anonymity, which renders it suitable for money laundering, tax evasion, thwarting international sanctions (Iran and Russia) and, of course, making ransom payments — as in the recent hacking attacks on Colonial Pipeline and the meatpacker JBS.

Governments dislike digital currency. It cannot easily be regulated, it plays havoc with monetary policy and it’s a criminal’s dream come true.

Another problem: Creating — or “mining” — new Bitcoin, which, in theory, anyone can do, requires enormous amounts of computing power, and thus, electricity. The process currently consumes more terawatts than Norway does. The environmental cost is staggering.

Lately, though, some countries are warming to the crypto idea. El Salvador just became the first country where Bitcoin will be legal tender. China is developing a digital renminbi. Our own Federal Reserve is looking into a possible crypto dollar.

The expectation is that digital currencies will eventually be convenient for ordinary purchases, once the proper machinery is in place. Sure enough, a whole industry has sprung up to provide the necessary retail platforms and digital wallets.

Meanwhile, one thing you can buy with digital currency, legally and relatively easily, is a nonfungible token. (Google can tell you how.)

When I described my nonfungible estate plan to my wife, her eyes lit up. I explained that my posthumous NFT value should endure, given the undeniable scarcity of me. So, I can leave this Earth without having to worry about her financial well-being.

In fact, she’s standing over me right now — presumably to show her gratitude and to make sure I get every word of this paean to humankind’s bright new crypto-future just right.

Or perhaps something else. I see she’s holding a knife.