Digital Cash




Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency

In Digital Cash, Finn Brunton reveals how technological utopians and political radicals created experimental money to bring about their visions of the future: protecting privacy or bringing down governments, preparing for apocalypse or launching a civilization of innovation and abundance that would make its creators immortal.


Digital Cash tells the largely untold story of digital cash and the people who sought to build it— some to bring down states and nations and create a utopia of ciphers, some to be rewarded by the collapse of global order, and some to spur the genesis of a machine by which they could live forever. It explains how crypto-currencies came to be: the preconditions, the technologies and subcultures, and the ideas, fantasies, fictions, and models of the future behind Bitcoin’s first announcement.

The project of this book can be summed up in a single phrase. Passing current is a term in the world of currency for money that is generally accepted for exchange, passing from person to per-son. The idea of the cash in your wallet being “current money,” though, holds true only because it is anticipatory money: the next person offered will take it, and it can ultimately be accepted in taxes or otherwise redeemed. Its present- time “currency,” the fact that it passes, is a product of its futurity.

“Passing current” also appears in physics and electrical engineering, including the development of the transistors and computational hardware used in creating digital cash: this book is partially a story about the work of moving electrons down wires. Finally, and metaphori-cally, the “passing current” evokes the elapsing of present time— the passing of this current moment between the documented and narrated past and the predicted, desired, and feared future. The story of digital cash lies at the intersection of those three passing currents: the social puzzles of money, the technological history of computing, and our sense of our historical and future condition.

This book therefore has two goals. When you finish it, you will have a portrait of the components, concepts, and ideas of digital cash from experiments in the 1980s to the creation of Bitcoin. In this, you will see how data was cashed in, so to speak, and the trade- offs and struggles that process involved (particularly the surveillance of payments and transactions). You will also have a history of several near futures told through experimental money, and the different ways prospective and anticipated events were applied in the present. This goes beyond the history of uto-pian currencies to the prototypes, images, narratives, functional systems, and speculative designs that worked as techniques of fu-turity. I hope to enrich what you know about currency (digital and otherwise) and computation, and to show you how power-ful fantasies of the future were— and are— told using money, machines, and stories together.


  • Speculating with Money
  • Secure Paper
  • Recognizable without Being Known
  • Blinding Factor
  • Collapse of Governments
  • Permanent Frontiers
  • Nanosecond Suitcase
  • Hayek in Biostasis
  • Future Desires
  • Emergency Money
  • Escape Geographies
  • Desolate Earth
  • Conclusion: Sometime in the Future

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