The MIT researcher who helps senators understand digital currencies

By Ashley Belanger

Last summer, a special subcommittee of the US Senate met remotely to weigh the benefits of launching a central-bank digital currency, or CBDC—something that could, if optimally designed, transform the US financial system, making it more accessible to more citizens. For senators staring intently at their laptops, this was basically the first day of digital-currency school. And to introduce them to this highly technical world, the first witness that Senator Elizabeth Warren called was MIT Digital Currency Initiative director Neha Narula. 

Narula had only five minutes to explain what could be gained by reimagining US currency—and what could go wrong. She’d never provided Senate testimony before. “I went into it a little bit blind,” she says.

But there was a reason Narula had been chosen to start the session. In the years since her 2016 TED talk on the future of money, which has reached 2.5 million viewers, she’s gained a reputation globally for remarkably clear communication about incredibly complex and politically charged ideas in digital currency. She’s emerged as a neutral, trusted source of knowledge about financial technologies that very few people genuinely understand. 

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