At MIT Bitcoin Expo, a Digital Currency Economy Takes Shape

Stan Higgins
May 5, 2014 at 17:35 UTC
Updated May 6, 2014 at 13:09 UTC

Amid the frenzied construction and polished towers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more than 300 students, faculty and community members gathered to hear about what many at the MIT Bitcoin Expo called the world’s first bitcoin economy.

The Expo was organized by Jeremy Rubin and Dan Elitzer, who raised more than $500,000 in bitcoin to distribute $100 in bitcoin to each student at the beginning of the 2014 fall semester. HackMIT, the College Cryptocurrency Network and the MIT Society of Women Engineers also contributed and will play a role in the broader bitcoin project beginning this fall.

The 3rd May event was intended, in part, to immerse attendees in the tools and know-how needed to contribute to what Bitcoin Foundation chief scientist Gavin Andresen referred to repeatedly as an “experiment” during his address.

As Elitzer told CoinDesk:

“We were aiming to make students aware of the tools and resources available to them so they can start working on projects related to bitcoin, whether that is building some sort of new product or service, contributing to an open source project, or joining up with an existing venture.”

Establishing bitcoin’s fundamentals

The first half of the day was comprised of panels focusing on a wide range of topics surrounding bitcoin. This includes the digital currency’s technical aspects, the current legal environment, and the nature of the bitcoin marketplace as it relates to consumers and investors. Following each panel, the floor was opened to questions that ranged from open enthusiasm to pointed criticism.

Alan Reiner, founder and CEO of Armory Technologies, Inc., started the day with a talk on the fundamentals of digital currency, the functions of the decentralised network and the steps of transaction authorization. Later, representatives from Armory passed out paper wallets containing $2 of free bitcoin for attendees.

Circle Internet Financial co-founder and chief technology officer Sean Neville laid out the process by which digital currency can become more mainstream with businesses and consumers. He used the early days of the Internet to draw his analogy during the panel.

Part of Neville’s talk focused on existing global payments infrastructure outside of bitcoin. The goal, he said, is to contextualize the place of bitcoin in the wider financial ecosystem.

Getting started in the bitcoin ecosystem

Many of the panels explored topics relevant to those thinking of contributing to bitcoin projects or, at more advanced stages, starting their own digital currency businesses.

Marco Santori, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation’s regulatory affairs committee, walked the group through the legal complexities of bitcoin, including what defines a money transmitting business and the broader regulatory environment regarding digital currencies.

Other discussions explored the elements of coding for bitcoin projects and provided insights into some of the platforms and tools available.

Andy Ofiesh, senior software developer for Armory Technologies, and Bitpay software engineer Ryan X. Charles were among those who gave talks on the more granular, technical aspects of bitcoin.

Coding and more technological involvement

Gavin Andresen’s panel centered on major open-source bitcoin projects. At its opening, he expressed hope that some in the audience would one day get involved and later suggested that a good way for students to get involved is to help the developers review code.

His discussion contained a few interesting anecdotes as well as technical information, such as the fact that, by his estimates, just 30% of bitcoin software creator Satoshi Nakamoto’s existing code still exists in its original form.

Andresen later fielded a number questions that covered a wide-range of topics including alternative proofing systems such as proof-of-stake and the challenges facing new implementations of the Bitcoin protocol. He was also asked about past outages in the network and how the core development team has evolved since that time.

At the end of the question-and-answer segment, Andresen touched upon the idea of experimentation and how it relates to the MIT bitcoin distribution and digital currency as a whole. Said Andresen:

“If an experiment fails, it was an experiment, right? I think as long as you’re clear about expectations, it’s okay to take risks.”

A full recording of the MIT Bitcoin Expo can be found here.

MIT image via Shutterstock