MIT Groups Insist That Bitcoin Is the Way of the Future

To prove it, they're organizing a day-long symposium featuring a panel of experts.

Even though Massachusetts officials recently warned residents about the possible risks when buying and using crypto-currencies, and told them to stick to traditional methods of payment like cash and credit cards, two MIT-based groups, with the help of a national student organization, are poised to host one of the “most exciting” events promoting the benefits of digital money during a day-long hackathon at the school.

On May 3, HackMIT, the MIT Bitcoin Club, and the College Cryptocurrency Network will welcome a panel of experts during “MIT’s Premier Bitcoin Expo,” a seven-hour workshop and meet-up that will focus on all-things crypto-currency.  “We’ll hear perspectives from leading academics and professionals, illuminating why Bitcoin and cypto-currencies represent one of most exciting developments in decades across the fields of cryptography, distributed computing, graph theory, finance, and economics,” according to event details. “Finally, we’ll switch into workshop mode, where expert practitioners will introduce us to tools for interacting with the code that lies at the heart of Bitcoin.”

Featured speakers during the May event include Gavin Andresen, chief scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation, an organization that aims to boost the appeal of the digital currency; Sean Neville, cofounder and CTO of Circle Internet Financial, a Boston-based business trying to strengthen the ties between Bitcoin buyers and places that accept it, and associates from Armory Technologies, Inc., which builds the Armory Bitcoin Wallet, an open source management platform for the Bitcoin network.

The event comes just months after the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations told residents to steer clear of the volatile online currency. The warning was in response to the alleged theft of millions of dollars of Bitcoin at Mt. Gox, one of the world’s largest suppliers of the digital currency.

Dan Elitzer, president of the MIT Bitcoin Club, a group that formed this semester, said this symposium is a chance for students to learn more about Bitcoin besides what’s reported by the media. “Students are more aware of Bitcoin than the general population, but it’s still not widely understood, so it’s a chance to educate students in the community more broadly,” he said. “We wanted to not just give them info, but give them tools for interacting with the code and Bitcoin protocol itself.”

Elitzer said there’s no better place to do that than MIT. “[We’ve] got the incredibly strong academic backgrounds in topics like finance, technology, and economics. It’s kind of the perfect mix of disciplines here.”

Even though Bitcoin-based startups have hit some roadblocks, and state and federal officials continue to consider options to regulate the paperless form of payment, businesses built around the Bitcoin platform have continued to move forward and expand their brand. Since February, a company called LibertyTeller has opened up two of the first Bitcoin ATM machines in the country—one in Harvard Square and another at South Station. Circle Internet Financial has also made a push forward in a time when Bitcoin’s future remains uncertain. Jeremy Allaire, the company’s CEO, recently balked at headlines claiming the digital currency could possibly descend into oblivion.

Similarly, Elitzer remains confident that Bitcoin will continue to prevail and even evolve, and thinks the conference in May is a good starting point to open up the dialogue about exactly how. He compared the event to a midpoint between a conference and a hackathon. “We want to allow students to start playing with this new technology to see what they can create with it. We want to focus more on this as a technology and protocol, rather than as a currency or commodity that we think only about the short-term price fluctuations,” he said. “It’s something you see in the news a lot, and one of our goals is to not have people focus on the price, but focus on the underlying technology and what that enables.”