The room at 1871 was designed for maybe 35 people, but by the time the Chicago Bitcoin Meetup started, more than 75 people were packed in. They came to hear long-time bitcoin expert and public speaker, Andreas Antonopoulos, author of the bitcoin development guide Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies, published by O’Reilly.
Introduced by Matthew Roszak, founding partner at Tally Capital, Chicago, and producer of the documentary “The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin” Antonopoulos gives some of the clearest and easiest to understand explanations of bitcoin to a general audience that I have heard.
To a trader in the audience who knows of bitcoin and does not understand it, Antonopoulos explained bitcoin as “cash you can email.” It’s person-to-person, with no intermediaries when sent. “You can securely email cash any time, instantaneously. It’s money for the internet or the internet of money.”
Matthew Roszak, founding partner at Tally Capital, Chicago, introduces Andreas Antonopoulos.
Many people know about bitcoin through reports of its demise, with its magnificent swings in price volatility. General media reports, however, focus on the currency (BTC) as opposed to the underlying technologies. “Bitcoin has died a lot and is going for the record for the technology that died but didn’t,” he joked.
Antonopoulos also makes the critical and not well understood distinction between bitcoin the currency and bitcoin the cryptocurrency technology. “The price of bitcoin the currency is not tracking bitcoin the technology,” Antonopoulos said. Bitcoin price does not track with the technology.”
The currency’s volatility also has a lot to do with speculators in the market, which can be manipulated as a result of its miniscule trading volumes in relation to other currencies. “The volatility is reflecting the fact that it represents a very small pool of liquidity,” Antonopoulos said.
Bitcoin the technology is as strong as ever, tracking some $500 million in investments last year, Antonopoulos said. The New York-based venture research firm CB Insights tracked the figure at $400 million by November 2014. To me, 2014 is the year that marks the legitimation of bitcoin.
Tally Capital’s Roszak told the audience that his sole investment focus is bitcoin firms, an interest he came to in a round-about sort of way. The venture firm he co-founded with legendary Chicago VC Andrew ‘Flip’ Filipowski happened to be called SilkRoad, after the trading route between Constantinople and China. When an underground website selling illegal drugs and illicit merchandise of every kind started up, using bitcoin as its primary currency, the connection between the venture firm and bitcoin becomes easy to follow.
Andreas Antonopoulos discusses the rise of bitcoin in 2014.
Antonopoulos noted several significant enhancements to the bitcoin technology in 2014 and mentioned that the SanFrancisco bitcoin developers meetup went from two members to 600 over the course of the last 14 months. “People leaving Google and Amazon and coming into the bitcoin space,” Roszak noted.
Antonopoulos encouraged the audience to invest in the technology, not the currency. In particular, he urged developers to find creative uses for the technology and write code.
“Look at how email started. People didn’t know what to do with it at first and wondered why we didn’t just use postal mail,” he said. “But we found that we could build a whole lot of stuff on top of it.
Blockchain technology is so promising because it enables a peer-to-peer network and community to publicly verify all transactions through “mathematical proofs that cannot be faked,” he said.
The implications could be profound. “This is the century of emerging consensus networks replacing hierarchical institutions,” Antonopoulos said.
In the meantime, however, the grand vision can wait. “I support the grand vision, but we have to write some code first,” he said.
The event was presented by the new Chicago Bitcoin Center at 1871, located in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, and managed by John Kinsella. The Chicago Bitcoin Center intends to serve at the center of gravity of bitcoin in Chicago. The Antonopoulos served as its “soft launch,” with a formal launch to follow in a month of so.