IN A recent video Jeremy Sciarappa, a YouTuber, flips the lid off a red box in his living room to reveal a silver machine the size of a shoebox, whining noisily. The contraption is an Antminer S9, sold by Bitmain, a Chinese firm. Its job is to help validate transactions conducted in bitcoin, the world’s best-known crypto-currency. Because bitcoin has no central authority, it relies on its users to keep things humming along. Those who help out are granted bitcoins, in a process called mining. The Antminer s9 is beloved of hobbyist miners worldwide. Nestled inside are 189 application-specific integrated-circuit (ASIC) chips, designed by Bitmain to solve bitcoin’s cryptographic puzzles as quickly as possible. They were made by TSMC, a giant Taiwanese semiconductor firm.
Mr Sciarappa and his fellow enthusiasts are a 21st-century version of the “49ers”, the young men who rushed to California in 1849 to try their luck digging and panning for gold. Few hit it rich, but the businesses that helped them...Continue reading