There are numerous intense controversies attending the emergence of Bitcoin, but (surely) the most consequential concerns the temptation of mainstreaming. Max Chafkin captures its contour well:
… a loose collective of crypto-anarchist hackers — which at one time included [Vitalik] Buterin — plans to release bitcoin software called Dark Wallet that’s designed to guarantee total anonymity, thus circumventing all attempts at regulation. (Buterin has since moved on to Ethereum, a cutting-edge platform based on units of “ether” that’s intended to decentralize control of all transactions on the Internet.) Dark Wallet’s cofounder Cody Wilson, 26, previously made headlines for starting Defense Distributed, which has posted digital files that anyone can use to 3-D-print essential parts of an AR-15 assault rifle. Wilson, a University of Texas law-school student turned global anarchist hero, readily concedes that Dark Wallet, like burner cell phones and encrypted e-mail, will likely appeal to criminal elements. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Islamic State adopted Dark Wallet for laundering money and financing bombings. “It’d be the highest compliment you can get,” Wilson says, “if the greatest terrorist organization in the world is using your software.”
Can a currency fit for terrorists also be, as the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has called bitcoin, an “opportunity to imagine how the financial system can and should work in the Internet era”? Probably not for long. Many big bitcoin investors are betting on technological platforms, not the currency itself. Like Napster, bitcoin may usher in revolutionary change but not survive to see its effects.
(This overview by Daniel Krawisz is a good complement to the Chafkin story.)