HC441H - Is Bitcoin Dead Yet?

Professor: Micah Warren

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12463: Tuesday & Thursday, 8:30-9:50am @ GSH 132

Proponents of Bitcoin have hailed cryptocurrency as tool for resisting authoritarian governments, disrupting economic hegemony, defying censorship, banking the unbanked, disintermediating corrupt or self-dealing actors, and enabling powerful and useful technologies to bring third-world nations out of poverty and into prosperity. One of the goals of this class is to assess the feasibility of these claims, considering what is happening in the real world, and at the same time considering the underlying game theory. Bitcoin began 15 years ago after a whitepaper appeared describing the innovative combination of Proof of Work, cryptography and game theory. We will explain Proof of Work and how it enables Bitcoin to function. Proponents of Bitcoin suggest that Proof of Work motivates the miners, who maintain the ledger, to be honest at all times. We will examine this more closely, looking at various aspect of this protocol, including stability (or lack thereof) against censorship, manipulation and fraudulent ”double spend” or other attacks. We will discuss the suggested positive use cases for cryptocurrency as well as the not-so-positive use cases.

Motivating question: In their book ”Resistance money” philosophers Bailey, Rettler and Warmke propose a “veil of ignorance” test as to whether Bitcoin is a good thing for humanity. There are many possible benefits brought by Bitcoin, but one has to wonder, to what degree has Bitcoin fulfilled these, and how possible is it to fulfill these promises in the future? Is Bitcoin anti-authoritarian or a convenient tool for authoritarians?