School of Computer Science Lecture

  • Gates&Hillman Centers
  • Rashid Auditorium 4401
  • Distinguished Career Professor
  • School of Computer Science
  • Carnegie Mellon University
Special Events

What’s a Bitcoin? – A Non-Technical Introduction

Bitcoin is a form of digital money not controlled by any country or organization. Transactions are managed and verified by open source software running on thousands computers worldwide. It is now sold (and sometimes accepted) in stores and even issued by vending machines. But Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked, resulting in millions of dollars in losses. For these reasons, Bitcoin has captured the imagination of futurists but raised concern among governments over its possible use in crime and terrorist financing and loss of control over money supplies.

Bitcoin cannot be ignored, with over $6 billion worth now in “circulation.” The value of one Bitcoin rose from $4 in 2011 to about $1200 in 2013 – a factor of 300 in two years. Its value now hovers around $500. This talk explains in non-technical terms how Bitcoin works and what its risks and benefits are, and what it means to “mine” a Bitcoin. We will discuss the possible future of Bitcoin and its rivals.


Dr. Michael Shamos is a faculty member in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and director of its graduate program in eBusiness Technology. He is also an intellectual property attorney who teaches Law of Computer Technology at Carnegie Mellon and frequently serves as an expert witness in computer litigation. Since 2001 he has taught Electronic Payment Systems at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Hong Kong.

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