Speed Reads


John Oliver explains bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, tries to make shunning them equally exciting

"It is dangerous to make predictions about where tech is going," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, citing the deflated excitement over Google Glass. That was his caveat in discussing cryptocurrencies, or "everything you don't understand about money combined with everything you don't understand about computers." Even though bitcoin's value has plummeted by nearly half from its astronomical valuation at the end of 2017, "there is still a cryptocurrency fervor going on," he said.

"So with all this excitement and curiosity, we thought we'd try and explain a few things tonight," Oliver said: "Bitcoin, blockchain — the technology that allows it to exist — and cryptocurrencies in general." Like any currency, bitcoin has value because people believe it has value, but there are still some kinks to work out. For example, he said, "a bitcoin conference stopped taking bitcoin, which is a red flag, since that's the one place you'd think it would be accepted. It's like when I tried to pay for access to the Republican National Convention using Ronald Reagan's dusty skeleton bones — everyone there agreed they had value, there just wasn't an adequate network in place for the completion of our transaction."

The blockchain — or a decentralized ledger of every bitcoin's transaction history — has several theoretical advantages, Oliver said, explaining them with chicken nuggets (apologetically). But the open-source coin-minting software has led to an explosion of cryptocurrencies, he added, listing off some of them and lamenting that he "tried to come up with a dumber name than 'Deep Onion' and it just can't be done." And some of these cryptocurrencies are pretty dodgy. "The point is, if you choose to invest in the cryptocurrency space, just know that you're not investing, you're gambling," Oliver said, "and prices do go down. ... Caution is a tough sell," he conceded, so he brought out Keegan-Michael Key to make it sound exciting — #CraefulGang. There is NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber