The much-anticipated MIT Bitcoin Project launched last week, giving students one week to register as participants. Students who signed up and completed a survey by midnight last Sunday will receive $100 in bitcoin over the next month as the distribution phase of the project begins, though bitcoin has been distributed to some students already.
Part research endeavor, part attempt to bring innovation in digital currency to MIT, the MIT Bitcoin Project aims to create an “ecosystem” for bitcoin at MIT and to study how students use the bitcoin they receive.
The project has been approved by the Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects, and neither Dan Elitzer nor Jeremy Rubin, the project’s creators, were allowed to comment on the research during the data-collection phase. However, members of the MIT Bitcoin Club speculated that researchers might gather data from the Blockchain — the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions.
“I would want to know where most of the money ends up,” said Jonathan Harvey Buschel ’18, member of the MIT Bitcoin Club. “And to see how much stays in MIT.”
Researchers may also get additional data from the digital wallets who partnered with them on the project, which include Circle and Coinbase. For students who signed up with these wallets and chose to make their wallet addresses public, it may be possible to see how bitcoin moves around.
The total number of undergraduates who signed up is confidential, but the unofficial tally is “a lot,” said Jinglan Wang, a Wellesley student and member of the MIT Bitcoin Club. And while some of these students may be experienced with bitcoin, others will also be first-time users.
For these students who are less familiar with the digital currency, the best way to get comfortable with it is to “explore by doing,” said Chelsea Barabas, graduate student and MIT Bitcoin Club member. “Get your feet wet,” she advised. “Get a wallet, transfer some bitcoin, and see how fast and easy it is.”
“People are aware on a very vague level that bitcoin exists,” said Buschel. “The goal is to get people educated about it.”
And for those students who do have experience using and developing for Bitcoin, the project hopes to see innovative new applications spring up now that their peers will have access to bitcoin as well.
“Throw a cool concept at a bunch of smart people — something cool is bound to happen,” said Buschel.