November 24, 2022
  • November 24, 2022

Cypherpunks: Anarchists and Utopians Behind Cryptocurrencies

By on November 27, 2021 0

In September 2021, El Salvador became the first state in the world to recognize Bitcoin as legal tender. The oldest and most well-known cryptocurrency still has a long way to go. It was in fact born out of a strong distrust of the state and of surveillance. It is therefore only too fair that to this day it is not known who was behind the pseudonym of its inventor Satoshi Nakamoto – and may never be revealed. But we know the environment in which the technology has drawn.

Ursula O’Kuinghttons is Public Relations Manager at Parity Technologies. His career began as a reporter at the Reuters news agency, before moving to the Spanish newspaper El País, then entering the tech industry for New York-based blockchain startup Civil Media Company.

In the early 90s, people gathered who were passionate about the Internet and cryptography. How to save privacy in the face of big business and state control in a network that may soon connect everything is one of the questions she is concerned about. It also includes how to pay digitally without leaving data traces everywhere.

Led by Tim May, John Gilmore and Eric Hughes, some of them, including libertarians and anarchists, came together in 1992 in what would become the Cypherpunks. The movement is now seen as the inspiration for well-known online platforms like WikiLeaks – and burgeoning cryptocurrencies. One of the topics covered in their mailing lists was digital money, which can be redeemed on networked computers, is easy to verify, but cannot be counterfeited or copied, and leaves no user information behind. or the app.

Im “Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” Tim May wrote in 1988: “Just as printing technology restricted the power of medieval guilds and altered social power structures, cryptological methods will fundamentally change the nature of business and intervention. of the state in economic processes. “

However, the monitoring of our lives, especially our consumption behavior, began as early as the 1970s with the introduction of electronic money. The issue of digital payments that leave no trace preoccupied young cryptographer David Chaum at UC Berkeley. In 1979, as a doctoral student, Chaum published his first publication on the topic of data protection and met with great echo. “I realized how fundamental privacy would be in a world where technology is part of our lives.”

Chaums’ thesis “Computer systems established, maintained, and approved by mutually suspicious groups” from 1982 is considered the first draft of a blockchain protocol. Over the years, he invented various cryptographic protocols and the eCash digital currency system, which, among other things, was based on those developed by Blindsignaturen puts. This software should encrypt transactions and prevent banks, government, or other third parties from tracking electronic payments.

David Chaum knows Europe well. In 1989 he founded his company DigiCash in the Netherlands, which was supposed to turn the eCash concept into a business. Sitting in his Los Angeles home, Chaum explains to me in a video interview: “My goal has always been to make the world a better place by removing people’s fear of being spied on by the government or others. At the dawn of the digital age, this goal was compromised and I decided to launch DigiCash. “

Shortly after Chaum and his team founded their digital currency company, several banks became interested in the project. DigiCash originally only worked with US bank Mark Twain, which was later acquired by the Missouri Mercantile Bank. A little later, Deutsche Bank followed as the second financial institution to test Chaum’s technology. The real big deal for DigiCash would have been a deal with Microsoft which offered $ 100 million for the integration of its eCash technology into the Windows 95 operating system. The deal fell through, Chaum and Bill Gates, then CEO of Microsoft, did not come to an agreement. Digicash went bankrupt at the end of the 90s.

Chaum saw the importance of electronic commerce very early on. Even before the advent of the Internet, he was convinced that this new technology would have a huge impact on our lives. He sums it up this way: “We were basically trading one type of stable coin against the national currencies of several countries. We were ahead of our time at the time. I think stablecoins will be the key to the global application of cryptocurrencies.

Chaum does not hide his joy that the Cypherpunks take his writings as references and try to implement some of his ideas. “It was awesome. Some of the key figures in the cypherpunk movement have been my good friends for decades, like cryptographer Nick Szabo, and I have sometimes helped them on a personal level.

By the early 2000s, the flowering of the Cypherpunks movement was over. But their ideas still live on today. For example, young people like Anglo-Iranian hacktivist Amir Taaki, who rose to prominence as one of the early developers of the Bitcoin project and promoter of open source initiatives, refer to it.

When the 33-year-old coder speaks, he sounds like a philosopher despite his young age. Taaki’s life is characterized by experiences on real and virtual battlefields. He fought for two years against the Islamic State alongside the Rojava movement in northern Syria, and returned to Europe in 2017. And in the virtual world, where Taaki works with several militant groups, he is passionate about using cryptocurrency technology as an emancipatory force.

It was the promise of being “open and free from all control” that drew Taaki under the spell of crypto. He has tried to achieve this with projects such as the anomysing wallet software Darkwallet and a decentralized online marketplace prototype, from which the OpenBazaar platform was derived in 2016. He does not believe in the development projects of digital currencies under the control of central banks. . But it also has little to gain from the current cryptocurrency scene.

“Were you at the Bitcoin conference in Miami? Taaki asks me. “It’s maddening. I saw a presentation by Michael Saylor and thought this guy had no idea what he was talking about. He talks about Venezuela and how he’s going to make Bitcoin available to the development mafia. People consume absolute waste, like in superhero movies. “

Instead of young dreamers who want to change the world, dominates a group of wealthy institutional investors like Michael Saylor, who “take advantage of the economic consensus behind it all,” says Taaki. Saylor and the software company Microstrategy, which he founded, have been buying Bitcoin on a large scale since last summer and holding it – according to the latest quarterly figures, there are now 114,000 Bitcoin.

One aspect that Taaki loves about cryptocurrencies is the tokenization of values. It creates the possibility of an economic system in which people can participate as partners in certain projects. In his short lecture, he conveys his ideas and looks like a passionate economist who talks about the theory of money. “The Western school of economics, which is part of this almost liberal ideology, only works in a hegemonic system, because the markets reflect what you think – almost as if they can feel it. People tend to adopt the behavior of those around them to imitate and acquire, for example their language and gestures. “

Taaki even fears that there may be distribution battles over cryptocurrencies. “Bitcoin is a scarce resource and this scarcity creates conflict. I think there is going to be a huge conflict between people who have bitcoin and those who don’t. A lot of people don’t even have the right tools to enter this Bitcoin property. In some countries, they don’t even have the right smartphones, ”he says. As with many Bitcoiners, Taaki’s mind is haunted by the possibility of escalating inflation. And yet, despite a lack of empirical evidence, Taaki believes that Bitcoin may become a “safe haven”.

Judging or even understanding the “bitcoinization” of El Salvador is difficult for Taaki. Since this is not a model political or utopian project, the approach of the developing country in Central America has several weaknesses, he believes. In the Central American country, for example, there is a lack of local education and infrastructure. It remains to be seen how well President Nayib Bukele’s government will respect the privacy of its citizens in financial transactions. Especially in a country where remittances from abroad accounted for 20% of GDP.

Strengthening society is even more important to Taaki than the economic opportunities offered by cryptocurrency technology. This is where he sees the greatest potential. For him, separating technology from ideology is impossible. Every innovation has a purpose. And the purpose of blockchain is to put the power over technology in the hands of the people. In the past, computers were used by businesses and the military – and by hackers “who tried to rebuild technology so that the power of computing could be placed in the hands of the people,” he says.


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