Before the Bitcoin protocol was invented, most computer scientists thought a system like Bitcoin was impossible because of a famous problem in computer science called the Byzantine Generals Problem .
The problem, in a nutshell, is how to coordinate among distributed nodes to come up with a consensus that is resistant to attackers who are trying to undermine that consensus. A significant component of the solution is the proof-of-work algorithm, which is the main purpose of so-called Bitcoin miners.
The mainstream press has completely ignored the importance of this computer science breakthrough. When the NYTimes writes about mining, it either ridicules it:
Bitcoin is digitally “mined” by computers running an algorithm. (If you just rolled your eyes, you’re not alone.)
Or calls it wasteful :
One thing I haven’t seen emphasized, however, is the extent to which the whole concept of having to “mine” Bitcoins by expending real resources amounts to a drastic retrogression - a retrogression that Adam Smith would have scorned.
How much does the existing banking/payment infrastructure cost? One reasonable measure are the fees charged. Standard online payment fees are 2.5%, not including the added costs fraud (chargebacks plus transactions blocked out of fear of fraud). Bitcoin payment fees are close to zero and fraud is impossible since Bitcoin is a bearer instrument.
The NYTimes has now written hundreds of articles about Bitcoin, but the phrase “Byzantine General’s problem” (or any discussion of Bitcoin’s scientific significance) has yet to occur in any of the articles.