Thursday, January 02, 2014

Cryptnomicon: Wikileaks and BitCoin

One of my favorite novels of all time, Cryptonomicon published in 1999 (and one of my first blog posts back in 2001), by Neal Stephenson, has been on my mind a lot. The premise of the novel (that takes place concurrently during WWII and the dot-com boom of the 90's) is about how cryptography saved the world against Nazi Germany, and how it might save the world again from autocracy. The mechanism Stephenson imagined took 15 years to come to fruition, but basically was what wiki leaks and bitcoin turned out to be.

The idea is that cryptography will allow ways to sidestep the secrecy of autocrats, and create currencies (and economies) independent of governments.

Still, I think the hope is a bit exaggerated. Recent events show that no matter how good the cryptography, government will stil find ways to track and regulate it, whether it is the government take down of the drug site the Silk Road, or the Harvard fake bomb scare that used the same secret internet technology but was quickly caught anyway, or the Great Firewall of China.

For those interested in reading the novel, the novel reads like a Tom Clancy thriller, which is both good and bad. This is not literary fiction by any means. But the ideas are amazing.

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