What College Kids Are Saying About Cryptocurrency

On Friday, February 9, I had the opportunity to attend a cryptocurrency talk hosted by my school’s computer science club. This event was just one of a plethora of talks that have been taking place at colleges and universities throughout the world.

My college can best be described as a private, liberal arts college in the US with a student body of just under 1,500. The Computer Science department is made up of only four professors and a few dozen CS majors. While the school certainly doesn’t resemble Berkeley or New York University, it is worthwhile to recognize the growth of cryptocurrency taking place everywhere in between the two institutions.

Around 15 students congregated in a basement computer lab for the first event regarding cryptocurrency to take place on campus. Groups of friends shuffled in, enthusiastic (despite traversing heavy snowfall to arrive at the lab), sharing funny stories like the one about the guy who got caught selling Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens as fake Bitcoins, as well as the usual drama surrounding Roger Ver.

The talk was open to the entire campus and followed a slideshow, created and presented by the CS club executive board. As this was the first meeting, the content primarily focused on introductory aspects of cryptocurrency such as what Bitcoin is and what it means to be decentralized and an immutable ledger. Afterwards, a video was shared, describing the mining process, how it relates to network propagation, and the philosophy behind Proof-of-Work.

The fundamentals behind Bitcoin were further explained through chalkboard diagrams. Hashing and encryption were detailed, and a visual representation of the network participants and Bitcoin blockchain was displayed. A student asked, “How are new blocks created?” It was explained that competing miners race to solve the puzzle of arbitrary algorithms, and that the successful miner displays as many unconfirmed transactions as possible within the 1 MB block they have mined, with unconfirmed transactions usually confirmed in order of the highest transaction fee per byte.

At this point, the discussion opened up to prominent altcoins: Ethereum, Litecoin, and Zcash. One of the presenters admitted, “I don’t really understand Ethereum much, to be honest.” The other one stepped in, explaining Ethereum’s emergence as a “second generation” cryptocurrency, and its use of smart contracts, explained as programs run directly on the network, to create applications such as trust-less, peer-to-peer gambling software.

The conversation expanded to the potential of cryptocurrency applications. A lot of time was spent explaining a potential role in supply chain management – specifically, using cryptocurrency to track products and prevent the use of counterfeit goods. Without mentioning any names, the speakers were very optimistic about projects like VeChain and WaBI. Overall, it was highly suggested that blockchain technology would see more and more adoption across businesses and industries in the future.

The presentation concluded with the oft-shared quote by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman:

I think that the Internet is going to be one of the major forces for reducing the role of government. The one thing that’s missing, but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash – a method whereby on the Internet you can transfer funds from A to B without A knowing B or B knowing A.

While this session only represented a surface-level introduction to cryptocurrency, the idea that these sentiments are being explored at small liberal arts schools suggests that students worldwide are very interested in cryptocurrency and what the future has in store.