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Chances are you hear the phrase “bitcoin mining” and your mind begins to wander to the Western fantasy of pickaxes, dirt and striking it rich. As it turns out, that analogy isn’t too far off.
Far less glamorous but equally uncertain, bitcoin mining is performed by high-powered computers that solve complex computational math problems (that is, so complex that they cannot be solved by hand, and indeed complicated enough to tax even incredibly powerful computers). The luck and work required by a computer to solve one of these problems is the equivalent of a miner striking gold in the ground — while digging in a sandbox. At the time of writing, the chance of a computer solving one of these problems is about 1 in 13 trillion, but more on that later.
The result of “bitcoin mining” is twofold. First, when computers solve these complex math problems on the Bitcoin network, they produce new bitcoin (when referring to the individual coins themselves, “bitcoin” typically appears without capitalization), not unlike when a mining operation extracts gold from the ground. And second, by solving computational math problems, bitcoin miners make the Bitcoin payment network trustworthy and secure, by verifying its transaction information.
There’s a good chance all of that only made so much sense. In order to explain how bitcoin mining works in greater detail, let’s begin with a process that’s a little bit closer to home: the regulation of printed currency.
The world’s most popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin is always compared with either fiat or gold.
Bitcoin is often compared with gold, and one of the chief factors of similarity it the way they’re both obtained. Similarly to gold, new Bitcoins are created via the process called “mining.”
In fact, Bitcoin mining has a two-fold purpose: it allows for the creation of new coins and facilitates the processing of transactions in the network.
Another parallel with the precious metal is that there’s a limited amount of Bitcoins that can ever be mined: no more than 21 mln coins. As of 2017, nearly 17 mln Bitcoins have already been mined.
Mining can be quite a competitive task as new Bitcoins are created at a predictable and fixed rate. Those rates have been defined by Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, in the white paper published in 2008.