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12 Future Bitcoin Scenarios: From Bullish to Bearish

Just over three years ago, at the start of the last bull cycle, I spoke with experts in the space to write “The Future of Bitcoin: 12 Scenarios From Bullish to Bearish.”

Much has changed since then. The price of bitcoin was around $25,000 when I began my reporting, which then seemed astronomically high. No one had heard of SBF, Bitcoin Ordinals or ChatGPT. No one owned a Bitcoin ETF.

So as Bitcoin enters its fourth halving this April, it’s time to refresh and revamp these scenarios, once again ranging from bullish to bearish. And once again we vaguely defined the “future” as ten years from now – far enough so there’s room for play and close enough so there’s a link to reality.

This feature is part of CoinDesk’s “Future of Bitcoin” package published to coincide with the fourth Bitcoin “halving” in April 2024.

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed in our methodology: A humble acknowledgement that we’re all flying blind, and no one really knows what will happen with bitcoin. That’s part of the appeal. “Most of the biggest use cases 10 years from now will be things that would sound insane to us today,” Elizabeth Stark told me in 2021. “Kind of like how an encyclopedia that anyone can edit would have sounded crazy to people in the pre-Wikipedia era.”

Welcome to the future(s) of bitcoin, ranging from regulatory hell to telepathic DeFi.

1. Bitcoin to “buy a cup of coffee”

Cory Klippsten, CEO of Swan, imagines that in 10 years bitcoin can finally, truly, be used in a mainstream way to pay for things like coffee and beer and donuts. “By 2035, you’ll be able to buy most goods and services around the world in sats,” predicts Klippsten.

This doesn’t mean he thinks bitcoin will fully replace the dollar. He envisions that most goods will have “two price tags” — one in fiat, one in bitcoin. “It won’t have replaced all fiat currency,” says Klippsten. “We’re going to live in a multi-currency world, as we always have.”

2. Bitcoin-Powered Games

There are over 3 billion gamers on the planet. Des Dickerson, CEO of THNDR Games, envisions a future where these billions of gamers are getting rewarded in bitcoin, thanks to the speed of the Lightning Network. “Bitcoin should be the native currency of the internet,” says Dickerson. “So it goes without saying that bitcoin should inherently exist in games.”

This is all, of course, still very much just theoretical. THNDR already has 1.5 million users, says Dickerson, but acknowledges that “we won’t see massive adoption until there’s a viral game that has bitcoin in it.”

3. TradFi Tames Bitcoin

In the very first line of his white paper, Satoshi Nakamoto describes bitcoin as peer-to-peer electronic cash that would “allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”

These words have been discussed and parsed for over 15 years. For many in the space, they’re more iconic and inspirational than “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” And the key clause, for many, is “without going through a financial institution.”

Which is why bitcoin’s biggest story of 2024 — the emergence of ETFs — is something of an awkward dynamic. Isaiah Jackson, author of “Bitcoin and Black America,” sees the ETFs as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, yes, the ETFs have unleashed a pipeline of new capital, which Jackson believes will “pump the price sky high.” (So far the charts agree.) But then again, the ETF-injected capital gives more power to the Blackrocks and Fidelities of the world. “If you have enough bitcoin you can buy lobbyists,” says Jackson. “And you can convince them [politicians] of things like, ‘Hey, we need to control bitcoin mining.’”

The concern is shared by Wendy O, host of The O Show (and former CoinDesker). She acknowledges the very real benefits of “ethically grifting” on the tailwinds of bitcoin’s ETF-driven price surge, but also envisions a scenario where “TradFi steps in and governs bitcoin for us.”

4. ABI: Artificial Bitcoin Intelligence

As AI continues to advance, we’ll soon see the rise of “smart agents” that can do things like book our flights, pay our bills and order us Thai food.

“No one is giving AIs a bank account, but bitcoin is perfect as a natively-digital means for AI to transact,” says David Johnston, lead contributor to the Morpheus project, which is building a decentralized platform for AI agents to transact and spend crypto. (Morpheus is technically “chain agnostic,” but the potential for bitcoin seems clear.)

The role of bitcoin and AI doesn’t stop at spending sats. “If you have a smart agent that can send transactions or access DeFi, you have a whole new set of tools accessible to you,” says Johnston. Just as ChatGPT made it easier for non-coders to program using plain English, in the future, says Johnston, you can easily use advanced DeFi tools without any technical knowledge, and without using a bank.

Johnston gives a quick example. “Let’s say I wanted to earn native bitcoin yield, with no wrapping, no bridges, and no third parties.” This is tough for a layperson. (Not that a layperson would ever say the words “native bitcoin yield,” but you get the picture.) With AI-empowered bitcoin, says Johnston, you could just say something like, “I want my bitcoin to earn some yield in a safe and decentralized manner,” and it would do the research to find solid, reputable, non-custodial solutions, and “not some crap that a YouTube influence is shilling.”

5. Choked by taxation and regulation

Of all the bitcoin crystal balls, this is perhaps the foggiest. “We have no idea what’s going to happen with regulation,” says Wendy O. She’s encouraged by the pro-bitcoin policies in El Salvador, but worries that in the United States there’s “so much red tape, so many public servants in so many different sectors, and nobody knows what they’ll classify it as.” She sees an outright ban of bitcoin as unlikely, but fears the government could “make it hard to participate in the ecosystem.”

Or perhaps, as Jackson suspects, the government creates “some sort of bottleneck” for converting bitcoin to fiat, such as forcing you to first convert it into a CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency). The way Jackson sees it, if the value of 1 bitcoin soars to $1 million in ten years — and if they have to use the government’s digital currency as an offramp —- then that will “trap a lot of people into getting the CBDC, and I think that’s what they want for surveillance and control.”

Klippsten acknowledges the risk of regulation, but suspects that the politics will eventually play to bitcoin’s favor. “Rules change according to the will of the population,” says Klippsten. “At some point, there will be a lot of people that own mostly bitcoin…and they’ll make things extremely difficult for politicians who get in their way.”

6. Shadow Bitcoins

This scenario flows directly from the last. If the government somehow succeeds in choking or over-regulating bitcoin, says Jackson, then there will naturally be a desire for “black market bitcoin” — bitcoin that’s off the government’s grid. People who earn bitcoin from home mining, for example, or own bitcoin that’s tougher (if not impossible) to track with tools like Chainanalysis.

These concerns aren’t new. The FBI has been tracking bitcoin for over a decade, which some view as solid law enforcement and others see as a surveillance nightmare. So if the tracking and regulation escalates, we could live in a world of “two bitcoins,” or “shadow bitcoins,” where perhaps people pay one price for Tracked Bitcoin and a premium for Shadow Bitcoin.

Then again, while Jackson acknowledges the concern, he also views this as pragmatically difficult for the government to execute. When we reach mainstream adoption, says Jackson, there will literally be billions of bitcoin wallets, so “good luck trying to stop all of it.”

7. Bitcoin thrives as a store of value

This one’s dead-simple, but sometimes the simplest scenarios are the most likely. Don’t sleep on common sense. “Bitcoin’s core value proposition is a global, digital store of value,” says Anthony Pompliano, aka “Pomp” of Pomp Investments. “There are other potential use cases which may come to fruition, but the core proposition is the one that’s most likely to last for decades.”

Pomp even sees a generational shift. He says that bitcoin now serves as “the benchmark for many young investors,” similar to how the S&P 500 is a benchmark for stock-pickers. “If they can’t beat bitcoin’s performance,” says Pomp, “they simply ’buy the index.’”

8. Machines Send Bitcoin

Back in early 2021, well before the explosion of AI-hype, Elizabeth Stark told me that she envisions a future where “Machines will pay machines, natively, instantly,” and that “Teslas will pay for charging with Lightning” over the bitcoin network.

Three years later, her prediction looks even more likely. It seems probable that machines and even robots, at some point, will need to spend money. And “robot” doesn’t have to mean the Terminator. It could be as simple as The Internet of Things. And what are the odds that these robots or machines will be spending U.S. dollars from their accounts at Wells Fargo?

“Bitcoin, stablecoins, and digital currencies are going to be the currency of choice for many automation use cases,” says Pomp, who argues that machines seeking instantaneous settlement “will be unable to use electronic money because of the multi-day settlement times. This is where bitcoin or stablecoins could really shine.”

9. Bitcoin ordinals blow up

This might seem like a well-trodden or even boring topic for those who follow the crypto space closely, but you’ll get a weird look if you ask a random person in the grocery store, “What do you think of bitcoin ordinals?” (Also, please don’t do this.) Ordinals are not yet anywhere close to mainstream. But in 10 years they could be, and that could transform everything about the world of digital collectibles, making 2021’s NFT Summer look quaint by comparison.

“Once we start to get closer to mass adoption, I think that people will begin to use ordinals, because they are more secure than NFTs,” says Wendy, who also suspects this is “still a long ways away.”

10. The status quo continues

“I know this is not super exciting,” says Cas Piancey, cohost of the Crypto Critics’ Corner podcast, “But what I suspect is going to happen is that bitcoin will largely be used for the exact same things it’s used for now.”

Piancey is a self-described crypto cynic, but this doesn’t mean he loves to dunk on bitcoin. He can see the nuance. “When people argue that there isn’t a use case for bitcoin, I generally disagree with that,” he says. And he imagines that in 10 years, bitcoin will still be used on the margins for remittances; it will still be used sporadically as a tool for dissidents; and still held by many as a store of value.

He’s not a doomsdayer. So he imagines that in 10 years bitcoin will still be chugging, but cautions that, “People who say it’s going to be the next world currency are out of their minds.”

11. Bitcoin’s Death by Black Swan

Maybe bitcoin is hacked by quantum computing. Maybe there’s a 51% attack. Maybe bitcoin is gutted by ChatGPT7.

So this is something of a “catch-all doomsday scenario” to acknowledge, with humility, that we don’t know what we don’t know. (I explored the doomsday risks in more detail in the original piece.) Many in the space say that bitcoin’s dominance is “inevitable,” but very little in life is truly inevitable — just ask Thanos.

Isaiah Jackson is as bullish on bitcoin as you’ll find, but even he acknowledges that a hack by quantum computing, for example, is still theoretically possible. He considers the risk to be low — and suspects that evil quantum-hackers would focus first on juicier targets, like sovereign nations — but concedes that it’s “always a risk.”

12. Telepathic Bitcoin

In the original Future of Bitcoin piece, Jackson provided what was easily the most fun scenario: That at some point bitcoin will be spent on Mars.

Now he’s back to outdo himself.

Jackson has been thinking about Noland Arbaughf, who is paralyzed below the shoulders. Then Arbaughf became the first patient to get a Neuralink chip implanted in his brain, and now he can play chess and even send Tweets just by thinking. “It was like using the force,” Arbaughf said after he “thought” a tweet into existence.

So Jackson realized something. If we can send Tweets just by thinking in 2024, it’s only a matter of time before we can telepathically send bitcoin. “The dude just thought a tweet, and it came out,” says Jackson. Someday we’ll think, “Here’s the code for a private bitcoin wallet.”

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