You've probably heard of Bitcoin once or twice by this point, even if you're not entirely clear on how it works. Until now you've needed to be familiar with the entire process of producing, storing, and spending Bitcoins for the currency to make any difference in your life, but a startup called 21 wants to change that. 21 is pushing Bitcoin mining as a built-in device function. This won't make you rich, but it might change how content and services are managed.
21's product is an embeddable mining chip called BitShare. A chipset maker could integrate this single-core chip into an SoC, DSP, or some other chip. Then BitShare crunches numbers in the background to generate Bitcoins, but only tiny fractions of them. Bitcoin mining is how new coins are generated, but it's also the method by which the Blockchain (a master transaction record) is maintained and checked. These calculations get more difficult over time until all Bitcoins are created (capped at 21 million).
If you tie together the tiny amount of work done by your phone with a legion of other phones, this massively parallel system could generate a good number of coins. So how does that help you? The company has a few suggestions in a post on Medium. This digital currency could be used as a form of micropayment for services you use, thus saving you from providing payment details to yet another company. The mining operations of the BitShare chip might also be useful for device authentication and coordination with a larger network.
21 also speculates that BitShare chips could be used to generate some amount of revenue for device makers, retailers, and carriers. This approach to monetizing the silicon in a phone might be the toughest sell for 21. Would you be comfortable knowing your handset maker was getting a little stream of revenue from Bitcoin mined in the background on your device? Maybe that would benefit you by lowering the cost of hardware or maybe they'd just pocket the difference. However, this might be enough to make low-cost devices more affordable in low-income regions.
The company has raised over $100 million (in real money) to get BitShare into devices. So, maybe there's a chance some future device will spit out Bitcoins while you check Facebook.