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Why Bitcoin Matters (To Computer Scientists)

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Published on Mar 30, 2015

Talk by Arvind Narayanan at the University of Maryland.

Based on a paper-in-progress by Arvind Narayanan and Joseph Bonneau

Abstract: Behind the hype and tumult of the markets, researchers have been quietly producing a series of exciting results about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. In this paper we’ll explain why computer scientists should pay attention to these developments.

First, every machine with a Bitcoin private key effectively serves as a bug bounty that can be redeemed irreversibly and anonymously. These strong monetary incentives for attackers have exposed the inadequacy of current security practices and spurred new designs. These will likely have lasting positive impacts on security overall. Second, predicting the behavior of cryptocurrency participants has exposed limitations of game theory and mechanism design. However, as a real-world system that’s relatively “closed” and tractable, modeling Bitcoin’s stability is an ambitious yet feasible goal. Third, Bitcoin has validated the concepts of secure global logs and globally distributed consensus as primitives, with an array of applications ranging from immediate, such as certificate transparency, to speculative, such as decentralized prediction markets.

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