Satoshi Nakamoto’s original bitcoin white paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published 10 years ago this month. To celebrate its anniversary, BREAKER spoke to prominent blockchain figures about the first time they came across bitcoin and where they think it’s headed next. First up: the libertarians and cypherpunks.
What excited you most about the white paper the first time you read it?
Jeffrey Tucker, editorial director, American Institute for Economic Research: “The first time I read it, I couldn’t understand it. It challenged me. I had to learn. Now it reads as good as Brahms sounds.”
Elizabeth McCauley, Bitcoin Foundation board, 2013-2018: “When I first learned about bitcoin and read Satoshi’s white paper, I was excited about the fact that bitcoin is inflation proof, and with that, far superior to any fiat currency. I was also amazed by the potential to literally send bitcoin anywhere across the globe.”
Erik Voorhees CEO, ShapeShift.io: “When I read it, bitcoin had already moved past being a white paper and was production software running all over the world. So I was most excited that this was more than an idea or plan. It was actually implemented and usable already.”
Jameson Lopp, cypherpunk, op-sec champion: “The most exciting thing to me was the simplicity. Unlike most white papers, I found it to be an easy read. The thought that the entire monetary system could be redesigned and explained at a high level in eight pages was amazing.”
What’s one promise bitcoin has fulfilled?
Voorhees: “This was never a specific promise, but bitcoin has never been hacked. The security model of miners and incentives has worked.”
Lopp: “Bitcoin has fulfilled the promise of operating a financial system that is controlled by no one, yet is still robust enough to withstand determined attackers.”
"The biggest challenge of the next ten years will be when governments realize crypto is actually an existential threat to fiat."
McCauley: “Bitcoin has fulfilled many promises, but one is the concept of irreversible transactions.”
Tucker: “Bitcoin demonstrated that privately issued money is possible—a sound money!”
What’s one way bitcoin has failed so far?
Voorhees: “Bitcoin’s default privacy is really poor. To achieve privacy, different coins or chains must be used as alternatives.”
Lopp: “Bitcoin has failed fairly significantly on the privacy front. The white paper mentions that privacy can be achieved by keeping public keys anonymous, but in reality we’ve seen a variety of other privacy threat-vectors emerge that make it nearly impossible to achieve a high level of privacy while using bitcoin. Thankfully there are a variety of privacy improvements on the horizon now.”
McCauley: “I wouldn’t say that bitcoin has failed in any way. Bitcoin could benefit from a greater level of dialogue, as opposed to character assassination and ego boosting, in the scaling debate. It is possible to come up with a compromise around scaling, but it will be hard to find it through hostility.“
Tucker: “The biggest failure of bitcoin was that it flopped at scaling right when it needed to scale the most.”
What’s the biggest challenge of the next 10 years?
Voorhees: “The biggest challenge of the next ten years will be when governments realize crypto is actually an existential threat to fiat. They haven’t realized that yet, but when they do, there will be an epic war for the hearts and minds of humanity. Government will vilify crypto and crypto users. We will see if the community is strong enough to endure and prevail. It will be a human and social question, not one of cryptography and engineering.”
Lopp: “The greatest challenge will be not just solving issues of privacy, security, and scalability, but doing so in a way that the complexities created by those solutions are hidden from the average user. We need those technical solutions in order to support mainstream adoption, but we’ll never achieve mainstream adoption without a user friendly experience.
McCauley: “There is a pressing need to build credible Bitcoin exchanges in each country across the globe, and also increase the number of merchants accepting payment in Bitcoin. Bitcoin is an extraordinary innovation, but also needs solid on- and off-ramps for usage. There are certainly roadblocks on the regulatory front to establishing and growing credible exchanges, so working through those in a way that does NOT hinder innovation is ideal.”
Tucker: “The biggest challenge over the next 10 years will be to deal with known problems: confusing interfaces, scary moments of moving money, stickiness in the on and off ramps, centralization of mining, and the inexorable march of exchanges taking over the role of banks.”
Tucker photo courtesy of the Libertarian National Committee.