January 2018 — A one-bedroom penthouse condo with bay views in Miami was listed on Redfin in early December. What makes this listing newsworthy is that the seller is only accepting Bitcoin as payment.

Most of us recognize Bitcoin as the first and most well-known cryptocurrency. Since its inception seven years ago, it has been making waves — tidal waves, some might say. Its value surged 1500 percent against the dollar in 2017 as it gained popularity among both Wall Street and real estate investors. Still, there are many skeptics who warn that Bitcoin is entirely speculative and that where there is a steep rise, there must also be a steep fall.

Whatever your feelings about this “money of the future,” 2017 was the year Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies joined the global financial system. It looks like they’re here to stay — and no longer just as the de facto currency of cybercrime.

As Miami gears up to host the North American Bitcoin Conference, hailed as the “most important blockchain conference of the year,” on January 18-19, 2018, Invest: Miami decided to take a closer look at what this buzzworthy yet nebulous concept of cryptocurrency is exactly.

In the simplest terms, cryptocurrency is “virtual” money created from code whose economy is monitored by blockchain technology — basically, entry into a public ledger through a process called mining — rather than by a central server. Think of a database whose entries are limited, must be verified and can’t be changed unless specific conditions are met.

Money, after all, is all about verified entry into some kind of database of accounts, balances and transactions. Just look at your bank account.

With a limited and controlled supply, cryptocurrencies are not changeable by governments, banks or any other centralized institution, so they’re secure from political influence. They’re not subject to inflation; rather, their value is preserved and often even increases over time. Proponents laud cryptocurrency for its security, stability and deflationary quality even as critics denounce it for these very same things.

While it is unlikely that cryptocurrencies will replace cash anytime soon (unless you’re looking to buy that Miami penthouse, of course), Bitcoin has been steadily gaining investor approval. Today, this “digital gold” has a total value of $9 billion, but it also has a precarious relationship with volatility. Only time will tell whether there is a cryptocurrency bubble — and whether that bubble will burst.