Money Talks at CTVR April 1st

Money Talks: Bitcoins and Blockchains

Venue: CTVR Dunlop Oriel House, 34 Westland Row

Date: April 1st, 2015 17:30 – 19:00


Money Talks is a series of presentations and discussions featuring research-in-progress on money, ICT networks and the codification of value. This session focuses on questions of governance and cooperation in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies.

Who controls where value flows? Algorithmic control and resistance in virtual money
Rachel O‘Dwyer (Telecommunications Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin)

What are the algorithmic politics of the platforms on which we now produce and circulate value and how will they shape the future of money power, access and exclusion?

This talk looks at new forms of power and counter-power emerging around cryptocurrencies and virtual payments. New kinds of governmentality are emerging as information and communication technologies displace many of the traditional functions of the state. This is particularly significant when we look at the operation of cryptocurrencies and online payments systems.

Services such as cryptocurrencies, digital wallets and online and mobile payments systems are becoming commonplace. In some cases these position network operators and service providers not only as the managers of massive computational infrastructures, controlling information in the cloud, but as emerging financial institutions – de facto ‘banks’ of a kind set to compete with and potentially replace publicly mandated systems and state institutions. In other cases, experiments in second-generation cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies pose possibilities for algorithmic forms of resistance and counter-power in this digital space. Innovations such as Ethereum are building on the blockchain (the database architecture underpinning Bitcoin) in an attempt to design truly decentralised systems for cooperatively managing both money and information in the future.

Designing the Impossible
Gianluca Miscione (Centre for Innovation Technology and Organisation (CITO))

Contrary to physical goods, information goods are ‘non-rival’, i.e. my use does not prevent yours. Current laws and technologies have not managed to constrain the near zero replication and distribution costs of digital data and their effects. In this way, digital networks seem to be a realm of plenitude, not subject to the laws of scarcity.

In 2009 a paper written by a mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto set the specifications for a peer-to-peer network architecture that could guarantee scarcity in the digital realm without relying on any central authority. This architecture transforms scarce computational power into an authentication capacity. The blockchain, Bitcoin’s underlying technology, successfully brought into digital networks the concept of a ‘finite’ amount of data (only 21 million BTC will ever be minted), the impossibility of double-spending and (probably) the impossibility of a unique central authority.

The design of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin suggests that there is an “emerging economy” rooted in this peculiar feature. This guarantee of uniqueness, not enforced by external organizations, brings consequences that are yet to be seen. What is already apparent is that on one side both leviathans and companies do not have much control over this phenomenon, while on the other the libertarian utopia of global stealth action is not materialising.