Although other alternative currencies have tried to gain traction as Bitcoin struggles with internal divisions, none have succeeded in doing so — until now. A rival virtual currency, Ethereum, has gained the interest of a wide range of finance and technology behemoths, including JPMorgan, Chase, Microsoft and IBM. As a result, its value has shot up 1,000 percent over the last three months. Built on a blockchain in which every transaction is publicly recorded as is Bitcoin, Ethereum promises to do more.
According to The New York Times, Ethereum’s success thus far has been aided in part by struggles within the Bitcoin community over its basic software. Similar to Bitcoin, Ethereum “allows the exchange of money and assets more quickly and more cheaply than relying on a long chain of middlemen.” Unlike Bitcoin, however, Ethereum promises to offer a “way to create online markets and programmable transactions known as smart contracts.”
One application under development, says NYT, would “let farmers put their produce up for sale directly to consumers and take payment directly from consumers.” Other applications built on Ethereum would enable all kinds of activities from paying electric bills to sports bets.
Because it is new, Ethereum has not yet been subjected to the kind of technical and legal problems as Bitcoin. Some Bitcoin supporters, pointing to Ethereum’s very complex software, say it will “face more security problems than Bitcoin.”
Ethereum’s newness also means it hasn’t had the same level of testing and attacks as Bitcoin. It may also run into trouble because its “novel design” allows Ponzi schemes and other “potentially fraudulent contracts” to be written directly into its system.
But corporate America is interested in Ethereum’s sophisticated capabilities. IBM is already experimenting with it as a way to control real world objects in the Internet of Things, and Microsoft is working on projects using Ethereum on its computing cloud, while major banks are interested in seeing how Ethereum can be used “to make trading and money transfer faster and more efficient.”
Bank executives are meeting for a conference on blockchain Tuesday of this week, and JPMorgan will go into detail about Masala, its tool that allows “some of its internal databases to interact with an Ethereum blockchain.”