In October, I was in a van in Denver with Zooko Wilcox, the CEO of Zcash, a company that was soon to launch a new blockchain-based digital currency of the same name. On the floor next to me was a bunch of recently purchased computer equipment. I knew we were going to a hotel but didn’t know which one. I only knew that I’d be there for the next two days straight and that it would be my job to watch, ask questions, stave off sleep, and document as much as I possibly could.
That day began a cryptographic ceremony of sorts, one that could make or break a new digital currency. Zcash is identical to Bitcoin in many ways. It’s founded on a digital ledger of transactions called a blockchain that exists on an army of computers that can be anywhere in the world. But it differs from Bitcoin in one critical way: It is completely anonymous. Although privacy was a motivating factor for Bitcoin’s flock of early adopters, it didn’t deliver the goods. For those who want to digitally replicate the experience of slipping on a ski mask and handing over an envelope of unmarked