MIT Digital Currency Initiative

My alma mater is doing some really good work in the area of digital currencies. MIT, via its Media Lab, has built something called the Digital Currency Initiative. The basic idea of the DCI is to bring together researchers and scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines (cryptography, economics, privacy, distributed systems, etc) to collaborate on research and efforts to promote and develop digital currency and distributed ledger technologies. This is a institute wide initiative at MIT though its center of gravity is in the Media Lab.

Earlier this week, MIT’s DCI announced a $900,000 Bitcoin Developer Fund. The Gotham Gal and I were one of the financial backers of this fund which will pay the salaries of developers who work on the open source codebase that is at the core of the Bitcoin protocol. It is important to note that as a financial backer of this fund, we do not have any influence over these developers. That is true for all of the financial backers. In the true sense of “academic freedom” the Bitcoin Developer Fund has a “hands off” approach to the developers it supports. This quote is from the announcement:

The establishment of this fund enables us to offer positions in a neutral academic environment. This allows developers like Wlad, Cory and Gavin to work on code and develop new ideas that may be controversial, but can do so with the assurance that they won’t be fired for diversity of thought.

I would love to see this fund grow in size over time and be able to support a larger group of computer scientists and developers to work on forks of Bitcoin and other digital currencies like Ethereum. Diversity of thought is badly needed in this important new technology sector and we don’t have enough of it right now.

While I’m on the topic of diversity, DCI also announced $100,000 in “diversity scholarships” this week. Here are the details:

The MIT Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) is excited to announce more than $100,000 in scholarships and support for underrepresented minorities and women to attend Consensus 2016: Making Blockchain Real. In collaboration with CoinDesk, a news site specializing in bitcoin and digital currencies, the DCI will be selecting 50 Consensus Scholars to attend the event on May 2–4 in New York City. This will be our second year collaborating on a scholarship effort for the conference–we are excited to continue to foster a more diverse community of attendees at Consensus. Click here to apply!

If you are a woman or a minority with an interest in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other blockchain related technologies, you should apply for one of these 50 scholarships at the link above.

I am pleased by and proud of MIT’s efforts in this area. Entrepreneurs and investors are doing a lot to move the state of the blockchain technology sector forward, but there is a big role to be played by the world of academia. And MIT is certainly doing its part.

#blockchain#crypto#hacking education#hacking finance

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Yesssss!!!I’ve always believed in the diversity required to make the whole of the crypto/blockchain ecosystem better. I was one of the few & early voices that equally supported both Bitcoin and Ethereum via my involvement on the advisory boards of the Ethereum Foundation & Coin Center. (I’m also quite involved with Consensus 2016)Reality is that we still need a lot of Research into the science of applied crypto, and we’re probably only 50% of the way there. Scientists and deep researchers such as Gavin & his team at MIT, Vitalik Buterin & his team at Ethereum are few and precious. We need to continue supporting their efforts. They are at the frontiers of a new transformative technology.

    1. Twain Twain

      Diversity should include AGE diversity. The application process asks, “Are you 18-25?” There are people older than this interested in Bitcoin who can learn a lot and, reciprocally, add a lot of value to Bitcoin movement.

      1. JimHirshfield

        I can relate; I am age-diverse. I’ve been many different ages over the years.

        1. kidmercury

          lol i’m always a fan of the hirshfield witticisms, but that one i especially enjoyed. 🙂

          1. JimHirshfield

            Thankya, thankya very much

        2. Lawrence Brass

          From time to time it is good to remember younger people that we have “been there”.

          1. JimHirshfield


      2. pointsnfigures

        Geographic diversity would be a good idea too. As far as I know, @JimHirschfield can’t transmogrify to different places yet.

        1. Vitalik Buterin

          I would also say diversity of expertise is important; blockchain tech is HIGHLY interdisciplinary, and we need economists, developers and people with experience in various industries working together.

          1. pointsnfigures

            Agree. Hard to get them up to speed though. Bitcoin is too niche for them to pay attention. It reminds me of the grassfed beef movement back in 2004

          2. MTLinville

            Hey Vitalik It’s been great to follow what you’ve been building with Ethereum from afar. Your friends from NT in Norman are rooting for you!

          3. Twain Twain

            I was at Ethereum DevCon in London. More than anything, technical product people are needed so that better commercial use cases can be figured out.The code structures of smart contracts also need more work.

        2. Chimpwithcans

          My avatar appreciates your use of the word ‘transmogrify’

          1. pointsnfigures

            : ) C+H and The Far Side are my favorite comics of all time.

          2. Chimpwithcans

            Yesssss to both of those. I would also add Pogo and Asterix and lately Leunig cartoons to that list 🙂

        3. JimHirshfield

          I’m thru security at Toronto Intl, so technically in Canada and USA, amirite?

    2. JimHirshfield

      You should write a book….or two…about all this.

      1. fredwilson

        funny, as usual

        1. Mario Cantin

          You put your money where your mouth is. #impressed

      2. William Mougayar

        I’m laboring on the first one 😉 literally.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Oh? Having a baby? Twins?

    3. Twain Twain

      If “bees in my brain” weren’t so busy making the honey hives for AI so female X-code gets added to the Y-code of AI that’s been built up since Turing first conceived of “Thinking Machines” in 1950 … I’d be more hands on with Bitcoin.As it is and as can be seen by MS’ hapless Tay chatbot, AI needs diversity even more than Bitcoin since AI already underpins our systems from search to risk management in banking to economic modeling.The tools and frameworks AI has lets it solve narrow problems: beat chess, Go and other games, process and correlate volumes of Big Data at high speeds, do portfolio asset allocation (I know this because my first graduate job was in a hedge fund applying Neural Networks — now rebranded as “Deep Learning”).However, all of AI’s Natural Language frameworks are missing vital female X-code and a diversity culture that would enable the machines to understand our meaning, intent and values.So for intelligent systems that serve us, EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE RE-IMAGINED, RE-RESEARCHED & RE-ENGINEERED.It’s a bigger and harder problem to solve than Bitcoin. Bitcoin will actually be a sub-branch of the new mathematics, code system and unifying framework that spans Computing, Economics, Neuroscience and more.

  2. jason wright

    blockchain is a global phenomenon. as a white male i would be considered a minority in China, the mining capital of bitcoin. should i go there to improve my prospects of breaking through an imaginary ceiling?is there something subjective about blockchain tech that makes it naturally inaccessible to whole classes of people?

    1. kidmercury

      not just minorities but underrepresented minorities. there’s a lot of vagueness going on there, so who knows, maybe white folks are eligible. i kinda doubt it though. seems like they wanted to say “no white men allowed” but didn’t want to be that blunt. apparently institutionalized racism is still cool, provided your adequately subtle about it.but i found it interesting that you can be overtly age-ist. the scholarship application clearly states you need to be between the ages of 18-25. sorry old people, no scholarship for you!

      1. LE

        If packaged correctly, with words, you can get away with a lot of things .

  3. JimHirshfield

    “…with the assurance that they won’t be fired for diversity of thought.”This is key

  4. JLM

    .Centers of learning, like this, are an important innovation. Centers of excellence evolve from centers of learning.Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. jason wright

    bitcoin doesn’t scale. ethereum is just too complicated to appeal to the developer ecosystem. there are other initiatives with better prospects of having direct disruptive impact.

    1. William Mougayar

      jason! you’re not making sense on both counts 🙂

      1. jason wright

        we can review this a year from now 🙂

  6. Tom Labus

    Where are we in the evolutionary cycle of this tech? Post hype, past early adapter?

    1. pointsnfigures

      If you think about it in terms if niche/movement/mainstream, I think Bitcoin is still a niche. But, it has the chance to become a movement given the right tools and apps built on top of the technology.yesterday I was lecturing to an entrepreneurial class at the University of Illinois. I was outlining some trends I see and I wrote Bitcoin/Blockchain on the board. Many chuckled. It’s okay, because we had a great discussion about what it could do outside of payments. Then, they were thinking.

    2. William Mougayar

      early adopter. period.wildly misunderstood still, and under-estimated.

    3. fredwilson

      post hype, pre adopter

  7. dow hardy

    Whenever I see this type of initiative from MIT, it reminds me of (at least my perception of) Project Athena where they made networked computer resources and computer access ubiquitous to all students and just saw the unexpected and amazing results.Similarly, I have heard anecdotes from the MIT Bitcoin Project, but would hope to see more results from that initiative.

    1. fredwilson

      great analogy. i was there during project athena

  8. Mark

    That’s good use of fiat, thank you. :)Fred, I would love to hear your thoughts regarding scaling and bitcoin and ethereum sometime. Bitcoin is executing a very conservative approach atm, and ethereum is working under the assumption that it can be addressed when the need comes.If you look at transactions per day of each network, it looks like bitcoin recently broke an exponential profile as blocks have become full, whereas ethereum is developing one. If Metcalf’s Law is correct, this is going to be a defining difference between the two.

    1. fredwilson

      i have a lot of thoughts on this but i have resisted writing too much about this. i have written a bit on it. i am working more behind the scenes on it. i agree with you.

      1. Mark

        Interesting and understood. Thanks!

  9. sigmaalgebra

    One approach to academics is pure research to discover another E = mc^2. Okay. Nice if can do it. Of course, can’t do it very often.But, then, what else to do? That has been a huge question.Since WWII, an answer has been to pursue technology and labor force training for US national security. Or, supposedly at the end of WWII, Ike was so impressed with the results of The Bomb and the academic research behind it that he said “Never again will US academics be permitted to operate independent of the US military” — right, IIRC.So, the usual suspects, J. B, Conant, Vannevar Bush, etc. set up various funding sources, e.g.. NSF, from the Navy, the Army, etc. so that “there would be no one place to turn off all the funding at once”.The remark at the beginning of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” about mathematician John Nash — “Mathematics won WWII” — was basically correct and, maybe, did happen in the real history and seems to be much of the attitude to military funding of academic research. Correct? Atomic bomb geometry and critical mass calculations; ballistic calculations; code breaking. The turning point of the war in the Pacific was the battle of Midway, and the US won largely because of code breaking by Commander Rochefort and his team. Defeating Rommel in North Africa? The British — with Alan Turing? — broke the relevant German code and, thus, knew when Rommel’s supplies were coming across the Mediterranean and sank them. Also, code breaking gave the British other big advantages against the Germans.Then the US research universities got an offer they couldn’t refuse: Take the research funds or cease to be a competitive research university.They took the money. Then ballpark 60% came off the top for university overhead — tough to turn down. So, really, US national security was funding a large fraction of the US research universities, including the English department, the string quartet series, the art gallery, the glass walled lunch room, the big, new, stone gate at the front entrance, the limo for the president, etc.Then, much of academics got physics envy, wanted their research to yield their own versions of E = mc^2. In particular, the social sciences did. Then business school was seen as applied social science like engineering school was seen as applied physical science. Bad idea. Then practical, vocational, professional, clinical education was pushed out of business schools. Bummer. The business schools would rather have some version of E = mc^2 than anything about how the heck to run a successful business. E.g., for applied math, the B-schools preferred to have work on the astoundingly challenging question of P = NP instead of what actually can be done getting darned good (that is, money saving) solutions to practical, real business cases of the NP-complete problems, e.g., integer linear programming — e.g., lots of problems in scheduling, trucks, airplanes, workers, etc.So, after all this history, good to see high end US research academics, e.g., MIT, pursue work that is a bridge between academics and the real world. So, in part the advantage is open source software. And one of the advantages is that long proven approach to innovation — field crossing.Good for MIT, with some irony, likely long the single largest target of academic research funding for US national security.

  10. creative group

    FRED:Is the Gavin you mentioned (Gavin (BELL) Andresen -@gavinandresen-Chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation) ?

    1. fredwilson


  11. karen_e

    I sit and type today just across the river from MIT. The amazing things going on over there, jeepers. no wonder we always tell visitors the restaurants are better in Cambridge than Boston. Of course real estate values are part of the story. And when you eat at a fine dining spot in Cambridge, you’re guaranteed to be rubbing shoulders with Einstein-looking older folks and brilliant craft-cocktail-making younger types.

  12. Chris Phenner

    Noting that Fred listed ‘Bitcoin, Ethereum and other…’; that NYT piece earlier this week on Ethereum may be making its mark (below)…

  13. Pete Griffiths

    Great idea.

  14. Adocracy

    @fredwilson – any chance of this turning into a bicoastal effort via something like MIT/Stanford VLAB? Or even better, a global initiative in partnership with select learning centers? I note your encouragement of other institutions getting involved, and I realize there’s only so much we can do in any one step, but curious if there are efforts to collaborate on expanding the core developer support? Funding the core development is crucial for getting past some of these political blockades on scaling, BIPs, etc., and having some sort of global voice, rather than US only, greatly benefits the potential adoption of the technology. Global governance mechanisms are also going to be of quickly growing importance (as already seen), and collaboration amongst international developers is an important step to mutual understanding of perspectives. But in any event, the community is thankful for helping on the MIT front!