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How Long Before We Really Mine the Last Bitcoin?

There is a finite amount of Bitcoin, which is part of its value, but it’s going to run out. The prediction is 2140, but you’ll discover why that’s wrong.

Bitcoin miner knelt down in front of his mining rig with a laptop open.
Image courtesy of Canva

I dislike misinformation (stop laughing). So, I want to take the time to clear up a misconception about Bitcoin. Type in a Google search, “How long before we mine the last Bitcoin?” and you’ll get 2140. You can enter the question in different ways, but you’ll get the same answer. The answer comes from calculating Bitcoin’s halving period — a method used to ensure price increase. Also, it’s widely believed halving occurs every four years. Even Satoshi Nakamoto estimated the last Bitcoin mined around 2140.

However, we will mine the last Bitcoin sometime in 2078. As ASIC miners become more advanced, miners find blocks faster. Coupled with halving occurring every three years and ten months, not four years, puts the last coin mined around 2078. To see the math for the calculation, watch the video below.

Moocharoo’s video on the last Bitcoin

Of course, the above answer assumes no network changes happen or some significant overhaul of the blockchain. But, given the impact that could have on price, it might be Bitcoin’s blockchain is untouchable. Hence, the creation of the Lightning Network as an off-chain transaction layer. But that’s what it is, a layer. So, is there anything that could change the prediction of 2078?

I figure three things could change it:

  1. Network changes
  2. Code changes to raise the max limit of coins
  3. Technology advances

Let’s get it.

Network changes

The Lightning Network is the most promising project to breathe life into Bitcoin’s embattled blockchain. Transaction fees and speed are the two culprits that developers must apprehend to push Bitcoin forward to a more profitable and widely accepted state.

The basic idea of the Lightning Network (LN) is fast transactions between two parties on a layer separate from the Bitcoin main blockchain. For example, you and Syler decide to buy each other coffee every day for a month. If you did this without LN, it would take time, and you’d be beaten to death by transaction fees. So instead, you both agree that you’ll settle up at the end of the month, which is when you’ll submit your bundled transaction to the main Bitcoin chain for processing.

LN claims to support millions of transactions per second to solve the speed problem, but not entirely. It’s more like batching blocks than truly speeding up the BTC blockchain. After all, the main chain still must process the transactions. So, the primary benefit is sending bundled transaction chunks to the network from the Lightning layer instead of individual ones.

The problem lies in that changing the Bitcoin blockchain code disturbs the system and jeopardizes the price. What if Bitcoin moved to a new network and miners found blocks 100 times as fast or slow? What would that mean for the market? Developers must take careful steps when searching for answers to Bitcoin’s problems. However, if they were to find one, it could drastically change the time to mine the last BTC.

Code Changes

Bitcoin’s network code won’t allow miners to find more than 21 million coins. And according to Moocharoo, developers cannot alter the code. That’s because Bitcoin is distributed across all existing nodes. A developer can submit a BIP (Bitcoin Improvement Proposal). In Alex Galea’s article, “Bitcoin development: who can change the core protocol?,” a BIP must meet certain conditions:

  • Follows the correct format as specified by BIP-1
  • Includes code implementations of the proposed changes to the protocol
  • Has 95% support from the last 2,016 miners (~14 days worth of mining with 10 min blocks)

The above conditions ensure that no bad actor can make changes to Bitcoin and mess up the system. However, a miner could submit a BIP to change BTC’s limit from 21 million to 22 million, as an example. No one will do that, though, because it would devalue Bitcoin. And no one who owns it would willingly do something like that. The only case might be if, for some reason, the network’s existence depended on a limit increase, but that is highly unlikely to happen.

Bitcoin’s safety mechanisms of community consensus on system changes keep it from suffering malicious changes. And that same system will keep miners or developers from raising the coin limit. Therefore, code changes that would dictate the last coin mined, although technically possible, would take a rare circumstance to implement.

Technology Advances

ASIC miners get better every few years, which means faster hash rates. However, Bitcoin does have a measure to combat their speed: difficulty. The system routinely adjusts the difficulty to mine the next block as block creation speed changes. However, the system isn’t so agile that it’s minutely precise. For example, the last halving of Bitcoin was, at first, projected to happen on May 20th, 2020. However, that date turned out to be wrong, and due to block creation speed, it was May 11th.

With Lightmatter’s photonic application-specific computer and quantum computing becoming more common before Bitcoin’s final days of mining, there could be a great disturbance in the calculation of block-creation. Of course, the photonic computer systems available aren’t designed to hash crypto, but who says that can’t become possible? And they are likely to see a retail application in the next few years.

Quantum computers are a while off before they can become a force in the computing space, but when they do, they could change the face of computations in ways that might blow hashing out of the water. Although it’s safe to say that the Bitcoin blockchain could increase difficulty, the community must maintain a certain balance of difficulty, block creation speed, and rewards to make Bitcoin work smoothly. The community would need to deploy great methods to contend with that potential monster.

Any increase in technology will affect block creation speed and thus alter any projected end time for the final Bitcoin, but whether we’ll see that change is still in the hands of the developers and miners. Even if new tech hits the field, the community decides the fate of the coin. The one concern will be if the technological breakthrough surpasses any BIPS ability to counter it.

Wrapping it up

When will we mine the last Bitcoin? Probably not in 2140. It might not be 2078 either, but the current math with all things as they are says about 2078. Of course, several factors can change that date, such as network changes, code changes, or technology advances. However, no one can make a change to BTC’s network or code without community consent. And with some BTC holders in the millions of dollars even, you can bet changes don’t come easy.

Since it’s going to be a while before the last Bitcoin, it’s safe to say that investing will be lucrative given the current projected trend for Bitcoin. So, I wouldn’t be concerned that you’ll experience the impact of even getting close to the last coin event in any meaningful time.

By the way, if you haven’t invested in Bitcoin yet, check out my articles:

HODL on!

Oh, one more thing, if you’d like to support my writing directly, you can do so by signing up to Medium through my link. When you do, part of your subscription goes to me.

In addition, please visit my publication AltStable where I write about topics spanning digital asset education.

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T.C. Gunter

T.C. Gunter

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T.C. wants you to read his words. Hoping that the words transform you. Not in some grand way like spiritual rebirth. But more like a act of kindness or a smile.