A video from last weekend’s Bitcoin Expo 2014 in Toronto surfaced on Wednesday of Andreas Antonopoulos’ talk, “The Future of Cryptocurrency.” 

In his talk, Antonopoulos tried to shake up the existing paradigm of currencies, at least as most people understand them today, by using examples of analogous technological developments. 

This led him to a big question: Is there room in the digital economy for multiple altcoins, or will they cannibalize each other’s value? 

Here are some highlights from his talk: 

Currency No Longer a Zero-Sum Game 

“I think fundamentally, it’s a question that invokes the old paradigm of currencies,” he said of whether multiple altcoins can exist side by side. “We’ve all grown up in a world where currencies are forced upon us in a monopolistic fashion, where currencies are defined strictly by the geographies in which they occur, and where the choice of currency is not yours. It’s an accident of birth.” 

“Currency as we understand it is an artifact of the nation-state, and it imposes upon the central constraints. We don’t choose the currency. It chooses us.” 

“Now, we live in a slightly different world. But a lot of the old paradigm still persists in our thinking.” 

That old paradigm, he said, required that currencies engage in a zero-sum game, and that they serve as a means of expressing the economic value of a nation state in a global struggle for domination among nations. 

Technology has empowered the individual to the point that such games can be made irrelevant, he argued. 

“Now, we live in a new world, a world in which currency is a choice.” 

How Many Altcoins Can There Be? 

Antonopoulos argued that this question comes from the above old paradigm and is the wrong way to think of currency in general. 

“To ask the question, ‘How many currencies will exist?’ is to ask, ‘How many bloggers will there be on the Internet?’” 

Instead, he argued that a currency has merely become a language or a means of individual expression. Dogecoin is a good example of this. Thus, there can be as many currencies as there are needs for individual expression. 

“We’re going to have millions of altcoins,” he concluded. 

Establishing Value For Each Altcoin Value, then, is simply a matter of adoption, he argued. 

“There used to be a time that, if you wanted to read an authoritative opinion, you bought a piece of paper from an organization that had a printing press that was three stories high and four football fields long. … Through that ownership of this enormous manufacturing facility, they had the weight of authority.” 

“We used that authority to decide which opinion mattered.” 

“The Internet destroyed all of that because suddenly anyone could print and anyone could publish.” 

“A funny thing happened: We shifted from a world in which authority of opinion came from the issuers, from the authority of the publishers by proxy, into a world in which we had to look at opinion on its own merits, on the content of that opinion."   

“We arrived at a world where Judith Miller of the NYT prints bullshit that sends an entire nation into war, and an Egyptian blogger on the front lines of a revolution prints the truth, and nobody wants to hear … Authority is no longer the person who owns the printing press, but it is now the person who has the content that matters.” 

“And we just did this to currency. Because now the authority is not arrived from the sovereignty of the issuer. Now, we can choose currency, and a 5-year-old can create currency.”

“We need to get used to a world where we have to judge currency not by who issued it, but by who uses it, or rather by how many people use it and what they use it for.” 

What matters, he said, is whether a currency has purchasing power. Digital currencies have real intrinsic value, whereas a currency such as the Canadian dollar must rely on a symbol a of power, an image of Queen Elizabeth, to give it value. 

Currencies as Apps 

That begs the question of how we would use millions of currencies. Antonopoulos argued it would be the same way we use apps on our phones and computers today. 

“On the Internet, email was the granddaddy [app] of them all. Or the grandma of them all. And email, like Bitcoin, was the killer app that allowed us all to see the power of decentralized communications and adopt this new platform. And it was enough to create utility to spread this network all around the world. But it was only the first app.” 

Instant messaging, forums, Facebook, etc. all followed off email’s popularity and proliferation. 

“Do you worry that Twitter will destroy email?” he asked. 

Instead, each app serves its own purpose, and the key now is to build a united interface that lets us move fluidly from one app/currency to the next. 

“We’re going to start treating currency as an application, and in order to do that we’re going to need interfaces that allow us a unified currency experience that allow us to have a single wallet with perhaps 150 different currencies in it.” 

You can see the full video here.