If you’ve been reading the news about cryptocurrencies and bitcoin, you’re probably used to headlines saying we have a problem with the energy consumption for crypto-mining, creating a lot of debate on how long this process can be sustainable.
The magazine Technology Review mapped 18 important changes that we can expect for 2018, one of them being the urgent demand of renewable energy source alternatives for crypto miners, such as solar panels and wind power.
These sources will have the price increasingly reduced, but the mining of bitcoins (along with other cryptocurrencies and tokens) will continue to grow more than 20% a month, unless some great correction in the price occurs. For this reason, it’s believed that by January 2019, crypto-mining could be using about 10 times more energy than it currently does, competing with the consumption of countries the size of Italy. An alternative for that would be if blockchains moved from proof of work to proof of stake.
The amount of energy consumed is not so surprising if we consider that, according to a survey released in 2017 by the British company Power Compare, the volume needed to mine the bitcoins available that year was already equal to the consumption of 159 individual countries including Ireland, Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia and Iceland.
Meaning that these numbers are equivalent to the 16.7 million bitcoins in circulation at that time, and the cryptocurrency, as a rule, can reach the maximum limit of 21 million. According to BBC, as long as the electricity continues to be cheap and a reliable source of energy, and the value of the digital currency is high enough to absorb production costs, bitcoin will continue to generate headlines until it reaches its maximum in circulation.
There’s a company in Netherlands called the Institute of Human Obsolescence (IoHO), that’s already working on transforming body heat into energy for crypto-mining. They’re bringing another alternatives to the energy issue of crypto-mining and the labor problem in the face of technological innovations such as the use of artificial intelligence.
Taking that into account, humans are becoming obsolete, so it’s necessary to rethink our role in society. The solution found by the Dutch team, however, seems like it was inspired by science fiction narratives, for example the movie Matrix (1999), in which humans bodies’ heat and electrical activities are used as an energy source to support the robots that dominated the planet.
Ioho’s proposal is to use the human body as a “battery” for crypto-mining and they also present it as a new way of passively working. That is, if an adult’s body generates about 100
watts under resting, around 80% of that energy is wasted as excess. The idea of the institute is to capture the excess heat from the body and transform it into energy to mine cryptocurrencies.
According to calculations made by the team, about 1,700KW of electricity can be harvested from the body heat of the Dutch population. The heat is harvested using a suit that has thermoelectric generators to collect the temperature differential between the human body and the environment, converting it into usable electricity, which is sent to a computer that’s connected to the costume to produce cryptocurrencies.
Apparently, there is no prerequisite for becoming a “donor,” since the so-called workers just lie around doing nothing.
At the moment, the team has 37 people, who have donated almost 130mW for 212 hours worked, which is equivalent to a cryptocurrency production of almost 17,000, including Dash, Litecoin and Ethereum.
Participants can also join the Data Production Labour, and the idea is to have them scrolling through their social media feed and producing data, while a sensor collects information and a report to be sold to companies.
Now, why does this methodology seem so bizarre when, if we stop to think, our bodies, our routines, the information we consume, and so many other elements that involve our daily lives are already being sold, not by ourselves but by big companies?
Data generated by humans are already extracted by companies like Google and Facebook, which are the most lucrative companies nowadays. So why can’t we make money out of it? If even the unemployed people are generating money by producing data, are they really unemployed?
Another startup, based on blockchain, that understands the value of personal data is Swapy Network. Their goal is to provide universal access to financial credit, taking into account the data generated by their users, giving them the option of joining a data market where people can choose how many tokens they would like to receive in exchange for it.
In this way, companies like IoHO and Swapy Network have a vision fully aligned with trends around the value of data production. If big data is about to become a $200 billion market and we are the ones who feed this industry, it’s through a distributed form of ownership of these data that we can face the exploitation and monetization of these data, which for the moment are under the monopoly of a few companies.
According to the IoHO, they want to change the paradigm of unpaid work and give people a way of start profiting from it. Proposals like these focus on a way of making the Universal Basic Income project become a reality, as already proposed by Elon Musk, which has started being tested in a California city called Stockton, where 100 families will receive monthly
payments for the next 2 year and also in Rheinau, a village in Switzerland, where at least 750 people will receive a universal basic income for the next year.
Initiatives like those from Ioho and Swapy may seem strange at first, but it’s possible that these new solutions, where we pay people who “donate” their body heat and financial data, become less absurd to the common opinion, given the advantages that are not only financial, but also benefit the physical and mental health of people who are facing problems such as unemployment and poverty.