For more on what Bitcoin is and how it works, see our story "What Is Bitcoin?"
Gavin Andresen is chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation. I first talked with him about Bitcoin, the virtual currency, back in 2011. I checked back in with him this week, because so much has been going on with Bitcoin lately.
Silk Road, an underground drug marketplace, was shut down last month by the FBI. Court documents in the case allege that bitcoins were used to try to take out contracts on people's lives. I asked Andresen about the case. He said:
"That's really disturbing. That really bothers me. For me as a tech geek, my first thought is, all right, how can we stop this? How can we fix it? This is a case where maybe it can't be fixed with technology."
Despite the criminal case, Bitcoin seems to be gaining legitimacy in the eyes of federal officials. There were not one but two congressional hearings on Bitcoin this week. And an official from the Justice Department said that "virtual currencies in and of themselves are not illegal; we've all recognized that innovation is important." Andresen seemed pleased with the attention:
"In the Congressional Record, you know, we have 'bitcoin' and 'Satoshi Nakamoto,' which is pretty exciting! This little baby — what my wife used to call my 'pretend money project' — is really going mainstream ... She doesn't call it 'my pretend money project' anymore. She just calls it Bitcoin."
Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin. No one knows what his real name is. Gavin said he used to email with Satoshi about Bitcoin business, but that's fallen off lately.
"No one seems to have heard from Satoshi in quite a while ... he seems to have been very successful in keeping his identity a mystery."