Anyone looking to buy bitcoins need not meet clandestinely in coffee shops, Evans says; one can go to an online outlet like CoinBase. "Bitcoin sells for $820 at the moment for a whole unit," Evans says.

Bitcoin has gained more traction than prior electronic currencies because, Evans explains, there is "basically a huge spreadsheet out there that's transparent called the blockchain [online at blockchain.info]. Everybody has access to every transaction that happens. This is what keeps it honest, and this is what keeps its power: its transparency, and it is secured with military-grade encryption."

Also, because there is a finite number of bitcoins, their value goes up as demand puts pressure on supply. "It's scarce because there are only so many," Evans says. Ever since the U.S. went off the gold standard, the U.S. Treasury manages the number of dollars in circulation by printing more money or taking it out of circulation. But with bitcoins, "there's a fixed quantity."

"This is not make-believe."
"This is not make-believe."

"The best way to think of this metaphorically — 'What is this?' — is to imagine I had a box full of poker chips, and you and I were convinced that you cannot counterfeit the poker chips, and it turns out I can spend these things from my smartphone from anywhere around the world. And the transaction record is available for everybody to see, so I can't cook the books," he says. "And this industry is creating new jobs."

He's not surprised that sunglass-clad men are meeting up to deal bitcoins because "where there's money, there are colorful characters." Even when transactions are sold under the table, he explains, when the electronic transfer occurs, the blockchain notes that coin is being moved from one virtual wallet to another, even if the users' real names are anonymous. The government has ways to track bitcoin users, he says — that's how Silk Road got busted.

"It's not as secretive as people think."

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