Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shadowrun and bitcoin's roots

Satoshi's bitcoin paper, mailing list and forum discussions list bitcoin's ancestors as ecash, hashcash, b-money and the cypherpunk movement.  I'd argue that it has its roots in staple science fiction as well.

Recently, strolling through my stacks of scifi books, some Shadowrun novels circa 1990 leapt out at me.  Pulp science fiction of average quality, but some of the text particularly resonated with bitcoin today.  Quoting liberally from Never Deal With A Dragon,

p121, Like many clubs, Rumplestiltskin's employed a Troll to handle the lines of hopefuls. ... They were still ten meters from the front of the line when Roe suddenly appeared.  "This will never do," she said.  Taking each one by the arm, she led them directly up to the doorman.  She twirled a shiny credstick in her right hand.  The four dark bands on the end of the cylinder marked it as certified for at least one hundred nuyen.  She tossed it to the man.  "My friends here are late for their table."

 p161, She held out her personal comp to him.  He smiled in assurance that he had regained the upper hand as he slotted his credstick and made the funds transfer.  To demonstrate her trust, Hart ran a confrmation of the transfer as soon as he returned the comp.
"Your money's good."
"Good as gold, Ms. Hart."
"Better," she said hefting her comp before slipping it back into her bag.  "Gold's too heavy."

p235, She stopped at a public telecom, slotted a credstick, and punched a number.  She waited while the connections were made and a voice on the other end repeated the last four digits of the telecom code.

p217, These files must be heavily protected.  The files turned out to be just that.  It was hours before they determined that Drake had certified several credsticks through Transbank.  It seemed hardly worth the effort and new headache to achieve such a dead end.  A certified credstick was the electronic equivalent of cash.  The money could still be traced once it reentered the financial network, but there would be no record of who had received the credstick.
"Twas a small hope that he would be so careless."
"Maybe if we can find some other transactions of the same monetary value as were assigned to Drake's certified sticks, we can pick up the trail by following it from whereever Transbank sends the funds.  Sure, some of the matches will just be coincidence, but some might actually be the recipients of Drake's generosity.  If we're lucky, some of the names attached to those transactions might mean something."
After two more days of data slogging, they had eliminated likely coincidences.  That left three names.  Each one connected to at least three transactions whose amounts equalled one of Drake's credsticks.
The first, Nadia Mirin, was no surprise.  In her case, the amounts were the smallest, suitable as gifts to one's paramour.  The second name was totally unfamiliar, but the pattern of intervening transactions was interesting.  Each amount went through a series of transfers, all for the exact value of Drake's credstick.  Each thread led to a sealed account in a Denver data haven.

Bitcoin has successfully achieved that which was science fiction prior to 2009.  The electronic equivalent of cash.  The US Dollar may be the world's largest digital currency, but only bitcoin (and other crypto-currencies) may claim to be the electronic equivalent of cash.

Now... where are those credsticks we were promised?  Bitcoin Wallet on a smartphone? Trezor, perhaps?


  1. No, the exact equivalent of a credstick is a Firmcoin (

    As credsticks, Firmcoins a given to the payee off-line, and return to te "financial network" when someone extracts the private key form a Firmcoin.

    I'm not surprised to find a Firmcoin in Sci-fi books, since that's how people think about the future of physical money.

  2. I forgot to say I liked to post very much Jeff!

  3. Very's like Chaumian cash (c. 1985-1997).

  4. Jeff - see @Fuzo and our Overlay SIM play

    also - DSTO Code Stick is a type of CRED STICK