A new MIT masters degree thesis has caused a stir in the wake of its publication last month. The 400-page tome, “Softwar: Bitcoin as a Weapon of the 21st Century,” argues that Bitcoin could be a new form of cyber warfare.
“Bitcoin represents a national strategic imperative that the US should support and adopt as quickly as possible, else it risks losing its lead as a global superpower in the 21st century,” writes the author Jason Lowery.
The thesis has risen to the top spot on Amazon.com’s list of technology books since it was published in December.
The Pentagon has shown no sign of adopting the idea, but the thesis is the latest hint that the Pentagon is thinking about how to use crypto networks as useful tools in a future conflict. \
Some members see crypto as gimmicks, but others are starting to think about how they might be used. The last time the DfD mentioned Bitcoin was in November when a PhD student in the economics department at MIT, Lowery, published a paper arguing that central banks and other important American institutions could use the digital asset.
His thinking was a bit more modest, but he was still thinking about ways to use Bitcoin.
By comparison, Lowery argued that swarms of killer robots, a messy avenue for future power competition, would be more like a nuclear war than a softwar.
The cover image, which shows two stags fighting over territory with their antlers, is a metaphor for a proof-of-work guessing game. In a real-world fight, the winner is the one who causes the most fatal damage.
In the case of a computer network, the victor is whoever solves the next block of computer guesses first. The ability to solve the block is rewarded with network tokens, which can be traded for physical space and energy sources.
Lowery envisions a role for the Olympics in the form of chess matches between competing countries.
The stakes would be high, as the winner of the competitions gains power and abstract property rights.
A related proposal is to use Bitcoin to thwart attacks on the computer network by requiring attackers to spend a certain amount of energy to attack the network, thereby requiring them to spend more energy than they would if they were attacking a normal computer.
The attacker would need to spend enough energy that it would be prohibitively expensive for them to continue attacking the network.
The idea was first proposed by computer scientist Adam Back in 2012, but it has not yet been implemented.
The problem is that spammers already have a moderate amount of computer power at their disposal, and thousands of people are willing to send email senders an easier form of payment.
The idea of using Bitcoin mining to fend off certain kinds of denial of service attacks has also been proposed.
Bitcoin is designed to be resistant to denial-of-service attacks, because the software systems that run the network are designed to ignore incoming requests for large transactions.
The programs running on the network do not respond to external signals that would indicate that an attack is underway.
There is no reason to believe that the U.S. would have any special influence over the Bitcoin network, or that it would be able to gain a share of control over the network that would give it a special influence on its adversaries.
The military imperative to control the vector of economic exchange and the freedom of navigation of maritime trade routes is a military imperative.
The thesis is full of imaginative metaphors, including comparing the technology to the 2nd Amendment protections of the right to bear arms, and the theory that a domestic Bitcoin network could be used as a weapon in a war. The proposal is not without precedent, however, in the military.
Lowery is currently an Air Force Fellow at St. Patrick Space Force Base in Florida. He is also the executive director of the System Design and Management program, part of the Graduate Studies in Management program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.