What Actually Is Bitcoin?: Princeton’s Free Online Course “Bitcoin and Currency Technologies” Provides Much-Needed Answers

“Don’t Under­stand Bit­coin?” asked the head­line of a recent video from Click­hole, the Onion’s viral-media par­o­dy site. “This Man Will Mum­ble an Expla­na­tion at You.” The inex­plic­a­ble hilar­i­ty of the mum­bling man and his 72-sec­ond expla­na­tion of Bit­coin con­tains, like all good humor, a sol­id truth: most of us don’t under­stand Bit­coin, and the sim­plis­tic infor­ma­tion we seek out, for all we grasp of it, might as well be deliv­ered unin­tel­li­gi­bly. A few years ago we fea­tured a much clear­er three-minute expla­na­tion of that best-known form of cryp­tocur­ren­cy here on Open Cul­ture, but how to gain a deep­er under­stand­ing of this tech­nol­o­gy that, in one form or anoth­er, so many of us will even­tu­al­ly use?

Con­sid­er join­ing “Bit­coin and Cur­ren­cy Tech­nolo­gies,” a free course from Cours­era taught by sev­er­al pro­fes­sors from Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, includ­ing com­put­er sci­en­tist Arvind Narayanan, whose Prince­ton Bit­coin Text­book we fea­tured last year.

The eleven-week online course (class­room ver­sions of whose lec­tures you can check out here) just began, but you can still eas­i­ly join and learn the answers to ques­tions like the fol­low­ing: “How does Bit­coin work? What makes Bit­coin dif­fer­ent? How secure are your Bit­coins? How anony­mous are Bit­coin users? What deter­mines the price of Bit­coins? Can cryp­tocur­ren­cies be reg­u­lat­ed? What might the future hold?” All of those, you’ll notice, have been raised more and more often in the media late­ly, but sel­dom sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly addressed.

“Real under­stand­ing of the eco­nom­ic issues under­ly­ing the cryp­tocur­ren­cy is almost nonex­is­tent,” writes Nobel-win­ning econ­o­mist Robert J. Shiller in a recent New York Times piece on Bit­coin. “It is not just that very few peo­ple real­ly com­pre­hend the tech­nol­o­gy behind Bit­coin. It is that no one can attach objec­tive prob­a­bil­i­ties to the var­i­ous pos­si­ble out­comes of the cur­rent Bit­coin enthu­si­asm.” Take Prince­ton’s course, then, and you’ll pull way ahead of many oth­ers inter­est­ed in Bit­coin, even allow­ing for all the still-unknow­able unknowns that have caused such thrilling and shock­ing fluc­tu­a­tions in the dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy’s eight years of exis­tence so far. All of it has cul­mi­nat­ed in the cur­rent craze Shiller calls “a mar­velous case study in ambi­gu­i­ty and ani­mal spir­its,” and where ambi­gu­i­ty and ani­mal spir­its rule, a lit­tle intel­lec­tu­al under­stand­ing cer­tain­ly nev­er hurts.

Enroll free in “Bit­coin and Cur­ren­cy Tech­nolo­gies” here. Find oth­er relat­ed cours­es on cyrp­tocur­ren­cy and blockchain here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bit­coin, the New Decen­tral­ized Dig­i­tal Cur­ren­cy, Demys­ti­fied in a Three Minute Video

The Prince­ton Bit­coin Text­book Is Now Free Online

Cryp­tocur­ren­cy and Blockchain: An Intro­duc­tion to Dig­i­tal Currencies–A Free Online Cours­es from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia

Free Online Economics/Finance Cours­es

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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