经济学人官方译文 | 加密货币看起来像是一个还在寻找问题的解决方案,区块链可能会更有趣些

Prospects
前景
Beyond the hype
喧嚣过后
Cryptocurrencies look like a solution in search of a problem. Blockchains could be more interesting
加密货币看起来像是一个还在寻找问题的解决方案。区块链可能会更有趣些

A FAVOURITE comparison drawn by cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiasts is with the early world wide web. These technologies are only a decade old, they say. Trying to predict how they might change the world in the future is next to impossible. Who could have known in 1998 that there would be such a thing as Facebook?
加密货币和区块链的爱好者最喜欢将这些技术和早期的万维网相提并论。它们诞生才十年,他们说。试图预测它们未来将如何改变世界几近不可能。1998年时,谁能想得到会有Facebook这种东西?

The comparison is carefully chosen. The web has been remarkable for the speed with which it has conquered the world. The first web page appeared on the internet in 1991. A decade later Amazon was booking revenues of $3.1bn a year; America Online, an early internet-service provider, had more than 20m customers; and half of Americans had internet access.
这个比照颇费了一番心思。万维网以惊人的速度征服了世界。1991年互联网上出现了第一个网页。十年后,亚马逊的账面收入达每年31亿美元;早期互联网服务供应商美国在线(America Online)的用户超过2000万人;一半美国人可以上网。

By that yardstick, cryptocurrencies have made very modest progress. But then it is highly unusual for a technology to fare as well as the web has done. A rule of thumb for venture capitalists is that nine out of ten projects they back will fail. Not every new thing is the next big thing.
若以此为标尺,那么加密货币的进展非常平平。但话说回来,能取得互联网那般成就的技术极为罕见。风险资本家们的经验法则是,自己支持的十个项目中有九个都会失败。并非每一样新事物都是“下一个大事件”。

Better, then, to evaluate cryptocurrencies and blockchains on their own merits. Start with cryptocurrencies. It is clear that, a decade after they were invented, their use for their ostensible purpose—as a means of exchange—is negligible. A lot of work is being done to fit them better for this task, so that could change. But if their use is to become widespread, they will have to offer something that existing currencies do not. Bitcoin’s original selling- point—freedom from any kind of central control—holds little appeal for ordinary people, says Gary Barnett of GlobalData. Most of them just want a payment system that is safe and easy to use. And given cryptocurrencies’ shortcomings—the lack of consumer protection, dizzying price fluctuations, fiddly software, slow throughput and a voracious appetite for electricity—at the moment they fail that test.
所以,还是就事论事地来说说加密货币和区块链的价值罢。先说加密货币。显然,在它们问世十年后,在用作交换媒介这一表面目的上,它们的作为仍然寥寥。人们正在做很多的努力以求它们能更好地胜任这项任务,所以这种情形有可能改观。但是,如果要被广泛使用,它们就需要提供一些现有货币所不具备的东西。GlobalData公司的加里·巴尼特(Gary Barnett)表示,比特币最初的卖点是不受任何类型的集中控制,而这对普通人来说并没什么吸引力。大多数人只是想要一个安全又方便的支付系统。而鉴于加密货币的缺点——缺乏消费者保护、令人头晕目眩的价格波动、繁琐难用的软件系统、缓慢的交易处理,以及极大的耗电量——目前它们还不过关。

One thing that might help, despite bitcoin’s anti-establishment roots, is more attention from regulators, to combat the epidemic of fraud and sharp practice in the field. Some cryptocurrency firms are focused on exactly that. Chainalysis, for instance, hopes to help firms analyse their clients’ cryptocurrency trading to comply with anti-money-laundering rules.
尽管比特币的起源是反建制诉求,但或许获得监管机构的更多关注会对它们有利。这可以抗击该领域里欺诈和不正当牟利肆虐的现状。一些加密货币公司正专注于此。例如,Chainalysis希望帮助企业分析其客户的加密货币交易以遵守反洗钱法规。

Some think a more radical approach is needed. Despite the absence of a centralised operator, says Angela Walch, a lawyer and member of the Centre for Blockchain Technologies at University College London, the coders whose efforts establish the system in the first place and the miners who maintain a cryptocurrency’s ledgers do hold power. So she thinks there is a case to be made for treating both coders and miners as fiduciaries, imposing a legal requirement on them to act in the interests of the system’s users.
有些人认为需要采取更激进的方法。伦敦大学学院区块链技术中心的成员、律师安杰拉·沃尔克(Angela Walch)表示,尽管缺乏一个中央运营部门,但那些努力创建了初始系统的编程人员以及维持着加密货币分类账的矿工确实拥有权力。因此,她认为有理由将编程人员和矿工都视为受托人,让他们承担维护系统用户利益的法律责任。

Going round in circles
原地转圈

Even a well-regulated cryptocurrency, though, would be subject to the “network effects” that have led to an oligopoly in social media. New users tend to choose the biggest firms because everyone else is already subscribing to them. In the same way, a currency’s utility depends on other people using it. “In order for merchants to start accepting cryptocurrencies, there needs to be demand [from customers],” says Kim Baeur at Chainalysis. “But in order for customers to want to use it, they have to expect to be able to spend it.” Cryptocurrencies would have to offer a compelling advantage over other payment mechanisms to break that logjam. But since speculators love them, they are not likely to disappear either.
然而,即使是受到良好监管的加密货币,仍然会受制于“网络效应”,也就是导致社交媒体领域里的寡头垄断的原理。新用户倾向于选择最大的社交媒体公司,因为其他人都已经订阅了它们。同样地,一种货币的效力取决于其他人是否使用它。“要让商家开始接受加密货币,需要有[来自客户的]需求,”Chainalysis的吉姆·鲍尔(Kim Baeur)说,“但是,要让客户想要使用它,他们得预期能用它来买东西。”要打破这种僵局,加密货币必须能提供较之其他支付机制极具吸引力的优势。不过,由于投机者喜爱它们,它们也不太可能完全消失。

Blockchains could be a different matter. Like cryptocurrencies, they have been oversold. Because of its decentralised nature, a blockchain will always be slower and more cumbersome than a standard database. But blockchain developers are trying to minimise those problems by doing away with features such as proof of work, which is necessary in a public system open to anyone but superfluous in a system designed for private use. As with cryptocurrencies, a sensible attitude to regulation helps. The most credible actors cite their compliance with regulations around finance, personal data and the like as a selling-point.
区块链有可能不同。和加密货币一样,它们被吹捧得过头了。由于它去中心化的特性,区块链总是比标准数据库更慢也更笨拙。但区块链的开发人员正尝试削减一些功能来减轻这些问题,比如放弃“工作证明”——在向所有人开放的系统中它是必要的,但在为私密用途而设计的系统中却是多余的。和加密货币一样,对监管抱持一种明智的态度也会有帮助。那些最受信赖的参与者把自己遵守财务、个人数据等方面的法规作为卖点。

For now, however, almost all blockchain projects remain experimental. Most will fizzle out. The less world-changing a proposed use, the better its chance of success. For example, the cryptographic structures that make data in a blockchain hard to change are fairly easy to introduce. When they add an extra layer of security to things like financial accounts or official documents, they could be useful.
然而,就目前而言,几乎所有的区块链项目都还是实验性质的。其中多数都会灰飞烟灭。一种计划中的应用改变世界的野心越小,其成功的机会就越大。例如,令区块链中的数据难被篡改的加密结构很容易应用。当它们为财务帐户或官方文档等事物添加一层额外的安全保障时,会很有用。

A bigger prize awaits in the back office, reducing the time-consuming administration required for firms to talk to each other by providing a shared database which everyone can use. This may be easiest where existing systems are minimal and there is no incumbent centralised regulator. Two examples commonly cited are trade finance and international money flows.
更大的用处在后台系统。区块链能提供每个人都能使用的共享数据库,从而减少企业花在相互沟通上的大量时间。在既有系统规模非常小且不存在已确立的中央监管机构的情况下,这种改革可能是最易实施的。两个常被提到的例子是贸易金融和国际转账。

Other compelling uses may yet emerge. But it is worth bearing in mind that big IT projects—which is what blockchains amount to—tend to be cumbersome and slow even if they are undertaken by a single company. If they require several companies to work together, they will take even longer. So whatever happens, blockchain’s backers will need patience.
其他令人信服的用途也可能出现。但值得谨记的是,大型IT项目——区块链就是一例——往往都是繁琐而缓慢的,哪怕是一家公司自行实施。如果需要几家公司合力完成,花的时间还会更多。所以,无论会发生什么,区块链的支持者都需要耐心。