Bitcoin is very much in the news. In fact, recent headlines — that the Bitcoin system has experienced a fair number of “heists” lately, combined with the Chinese government’s decision to ban banks from trading in the ephemeral digital currency — combine to make this the topic of the day.

Cyber utopians raise Bitcoin as an example of how secret transactions can still take place, even in an increasingly transparent world. The most zealous proclaim it as the harbinger of libertarian apotheosis.

What-is-bitcoinWhat is Bitcoin? Aw heck, even after a life spent interacting with fellow scientists and cypher-punk types and writing books about the social implications of the info-age… I admit to having little more than a Wikipedia-level understanding of how these purely digital experimental currencies (there are others: see below) work. They operate through exchange of public key encryption schemes, in which the bit coin seller (person A) who…

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