BY MARC ANDREESSEN
A mysterious new technology emerges, seemingly out of nowhere, but actually the result of two decades of intense research and development by nearly anonymous researchers.
Political idealists project visions of liberation and revolution onto it; establishment elites heap contempt and scorn on it.
On the other hand, technologists – nerds – are transfixed by it. They see within it enormous potential and spend their nights and weekends tinkering with it.
Eventually mainstream products, companies and industries emerge to commercialize it; its effects become profound; and later, many people wonder why its powerful promise wasn’t more obvious from the start.
What technology am I talking about? Personal computers in 1975, the Internet in 1993, and – I believe – Bitcoin in 2014. MORE
Some people assume that all Bitcoin advocates are motivated by a libertarian political agenda. That is certainly not my agenda. I’m a lifelong Democrat who supported Obama in the last two elections. I think the Federal Reserve plays an important function, and I don’t agree with people who think inflation should be our nation’s primary economic concern.
It is true that many early Bitcoin proponents were libertarians. But it is also true that almost every significant computing movement had early proponents who were ideologically motivated.
One of the interesting things about bitcoin is the contrast between how it is portrayed in the press and how it is understood by technologists. The press tends to portray bitcoin as either a speculative bubble or a scheme for supporting criminal activity. In Silicon Valley, by contrast, bitcoin is generally viewed as a profound technological breakthrough.
The Internet is based on a set of core protocols that specify how information such as text, photos, and code should be transmitted. The designers of the Web built placeholders for a system that moved money, but never successfully completed it. Bitcoin is the first plausible proposal for an economic protocol for the Internet.
A neon sign sits on the floor of Coinbase’s loft-style office in San Francisco. The curving orange and white tubes depict the distinctive B-symbol for the digital currency bitcoin, with the words “Accepted Here” beneath it. The joke, of course, is that the sign is reminiscent of something that could be a regular part of the landscape, as commonplace as any “Bud” sign. And bitcoin at present is anything but commonplace.