Michael Casey, Bitcoin Reporter, Is Heading To The MIT Media Lab


Michael Casey, the co-author of The Age Of Cryptocurrency is leaving a senior columnist position at the Wall Street Journal to work at MIT Media Lab as Senior Advisor at the Digital Currency Initiative. Why? “This was just too exciting an opportunity to pass up,” he said. “I sincerely believe that this is one of those moments in which a new technological platform has the potential to facilitate explosive change. I saw a role for me in helping explain it and tell the story around it.”

Casey will lead the illustrious Media Lab in facilitating the growth of the Lab’s cryptocurrency research and bringing new clients and students to help study the burgeoning technology. We sat down with him to talk about his move.

michaelTC: How is the book doing? Tell us a little about what happened after publication?

Michael Casey: The book has done well. It’s not a bestseller but it has sold admirably. There’s a paperback edition in the works — with the requisite afterword to catch up with the countless things that have happened in cryptocurrency-land since publication — so that’s a good sign.
But I would say the most important impact the book has had has been to start a conversation around bitcoin and digital currencies in the general public. Lots of people in the know told us they were giving our book to people who knew nothing of the topic as a way to help them not only understand the concept but to come to terms with why it matters.
I was also struck by the breadth of interest from different sectors of society. That showed up in the interviews — from Leonard Lopate to the (UFO-obsessed) Coast-to-Coast radio show, from CNBC to the hip-hop All Out Show on SiriusXM — and in the many, many speaking requests we received from a wide range of institutions.

TC: You moved from the WSJ to academia. Why? How will your role change?

MC: This was just too exciting an opportunity to pass up. I sincerely believe that this is one of those moments in which a new technological platform has the potential to facilitate explosive change. I saw a role for me in helping explain it and tell the story around it. It was very hard to depart a profession that I’ve poured 23 years of my life into and wonderful news organization to which i’ve dedicated 18 of those. But this was a unique chance. It was, as one friend said to me when I asked his advice on whether I should jump, a YOLO moment.

This isn’t exactly an academic job. It’s more of a facilitating role. Much of what I will do will involve communicating, both to get the broader message out and to act as a liaison between the future consumers of this technology and those who are developing it, such as the grad students at MIT. As a journalist, I’m trained in communicating. So in that sense it’s a continuation. But clearly, this is a big change: I’ve moved into more of an advocacy position.

TC: Why is MIT interested in cryptocurrency?

MC: ​The MIT Media Lab is interested in cryptocurrency for the reasons many people and institutions with a technology-bent are interested in cryptocurrency. The blockchain technology that underlies cryptocurrency offers an open, extensible platform on which to build all ​sorts of potentially powerful applications that could disrupt the economy in profound ways. In my mind, cryptocurrency technology is a new form of governance; that opens up a wealth of possibilities — from making money and payments more efficient to creating powerful new forms of record-keeping, from enabling service-sharing services such as car rides to facilitating smart contracts between online appliances in the forthcoming Internet of Things. For MIT, those possibilities mean there are vast opportunities for grad students and staff to develop new ideas and come up viable products.

TC: What will you do at MIT? What are your plans?

MC: ​My role is twofold.

I’ll be closely involved in helping the Digital Currency Initiative achieve its social impact mandate. The idea is to incubate projects and products that could have a positive impact on the world. Because of my background living in and covering emerging markets, I’m especially interested in applications for the developing world. In particular, I’m keen to develop blockchain-based property title solutions. This is the idea that people in such countries who until now have been held back by shoddy record-keeping and a lack of executable title to their property could, with a system like this, create legal collateral against which they could borrow, take out insurance and generally access the financial system that we all take for granted. I’m also interested in ways to use the blockchain to create irrefutable, self-sovereign markers of identity, which will also help give these “unbanked” people access to the financial system. I’m not a coder; that work will be done by others. But I’ll be helping coordinate the projects, bringing the relevant people and institutions together, and managing the communication around them.

I’m also there to help build public awareness around the technology generally and the Digital Currency Initiative specifically. ​I expect to be writing blogs, helping produce videos, speaking publicly, etc., all with an eye to spreading the word.

TC: What’s the future of cryptocurrency, based on your research? Will bitcoin survive?​

MC: ​I think its future is bright. We don’t know what shape it will take — just as no one could predict in the early 90s that TCP/IP would lead to the myriad, ubiquitous applications that dominate our lives. Although the general public is still ill-informed (and often misinformed) about cryptocurrency technology, there’s rapidly growing interest at the enterprise level in its disruptive potential. Every major bank has a blockchain task force, the big consulting firms are all diving in to develop applications for their clients, and there’s increasing interest from governments and regulators in how these technology could actually help them achieve key social goals rather than threaten them.
I do think bitcoin will survive. It has made it this far, after all. And it clearly has a big first-mover advantage. But I’m agnostic as to whether it needs to be the dominant platform on which these applications are built. I think we will see all sorts of blockchain models arise, some decentralized, others less so. I do think the sidechains initiative and others aimed at expanding bitcoin’s potential will be important in giving it a place in this future. ​

TC: How many bitcoin do you own?

MC: ​A tiny amount, used only for transactions in an experimental way when I was a reporter. ​Dogecoin? ​None. ​MITcoin?​ One day…

More TechCrunch

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses