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Ray Kurzweil on bitcoin: 'I wouldn't put my money into it'

Bob Pisani of CNBC (L) speaks to Ray Kurzweil, who beamed in from San Francisco. (Singularity University)
Bob Pisani of CNBC (L) speaks to Ray Kurzweil, who beamed in from San Francisco. (Singularity University)

On Friday, futurist Ray Kurzweil spoke at the Exponential Finance Summit, a New York City technology conference put on by Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank.

Kurzweil, an author and inventor, is often called the “father of the singularity,” in reference to his own concept of the time when artificial intelligence will surpass human beings. He’s also written and lectured on transhumanism, nanotechnology, computer avatars, and how technology has changed and will change the global economy.

So Yahoo Finance asked him for his thoughts on bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that is soaring in value right now, up 200% in 2017 to nearly $3,000 per coin.

Bitcoin price in 2017 so far
Bitcoin price in 2017 so far

It sounds like Kurzweil is intrigued by the concept of non-fiat currency, and the possibilities of cryptocurrencies. But he is not bullish on bitcoin.

“There’s no reason why currency should be associated with particular national economies and governments,” he said. “However, currencies like the dollar have provided reasonable stability. Bitcoin has not. And it’s not clear to me that the whole mining paradigm can provide that type of stability… We’ve seen tremendous instability with bitcoin, so I wouldn’t put my money into it. I certainly do think there could be alternatives to national currencies emerging in the future. Algorithmic ones are a possibility, I just don’t think we’ve arrived at the right algorithm yet.”

Kurzweil is oversimplifying slightly when he says that bitcoin has not been stable. Its price often goes through major swings up or down on a day or in a week, but over longer periods of time it has consistently gained: up 60% in the past month, 260% in the past six months, and 1,100% in the past five years.

With his current thinking, Kurzweil joins some other prominent names in the bitcoin skeptics club: Warren Buffett (who called it “a mirage“), Mark Cuban (he says bitcoin’s recent price hike is a bubble), and Jamie Dimon (he’s called bitcoin “doomed”), to name a few.

What about blockchain, the decentralized ledger technology that underlies bitcoin, and now has Wall Street and financial institutions excited about blockchains for banking? Kurzweil is more optimistic about blockchain.

“I think the theory is sound,” he said. “People don’t yet have confidence in it; they’ve seen too many examples of supposedly secure systems being compromised in one way or another. I think once we can demonstrate confidence, then yes, a blockchain currency makes sense, and being able to document transactions securely, but there’s a lot to work out.”

Along with bitcoin’s price rise, two other cryptocurrencies, litecoin and ether (token of the Ethereum network), are up 526% and 1,700%, respectively, in the last year.

Disclosure: The author owns less than 1 bitcoin, purchased in 2015 for reporting purposes.

Daniel Roberts covers bitcoin and blockchain at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

Bitcoin is becoming the new gold

Why Ethereum is the hottest new thing in digital currency

‘Bitcoin is dead’ says prominent fintech exec

Expect more blockchain hype in 2017