A Unique (and Hard to Believe) Origin Story
Episode #1 of the course The basics of Bitcoin by John Saddington
Welcome to the course!
My name is John, an award-winning software engineer, technologist, and entrepreneur who loves giving away all that he knows to as many people as possible!
Over the next ten days, you’ll learn the basics and fundamentals of bitcoin, what it is, how to purchase it, and perhaps most importantly, the question of why it matters to our culture and society as a whole.
Today, I’ll give you a quick primer and overview of the history of bitcoin and how it all got started, which is actually more important than most people know. The origin story is both unique and an absolute requirement for learning about Bitcoin, so you can philosophically understand how it continues to grow, expand, and capture the attention of the world.
Who Created Bitcoin?
No one actually knows.
Well, that’s not entirely true, as someone must know, but if they do (and if they are still alive), then it’s one of the best-kept digital secrets of our time.
The point is that no one actually knows who originally created bitcoin, but we do have a name: “Satoshi Nakamoto.” This person (or collection of persons) (co)authored a whitepaper titled, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, on October 31, 2008, a few months after the top-level domain name, “bitcoin.org,” was registered on August 18, 2008.
This whitepaper started the proverbial wheels of fortune, as it was posted to a cryptography mailing list and sent out to a handful of folks to read, ponder, and comment on.
What could this mean? What could this new technology do?
On January 3, 2009, the bitcoin network was deployed with the first open-source application (i.e. software client), as well as the first issuance of 50 bitcoins. The alias continued to be visibly present and public until April 2011, when the alias left the development of the technology to a growing group of passionate volunteers.
But It Must Have Come from Someplace, Right?
Yes, bitcoin did have a bit of a prehistory, as there were a number of technologies and digital protocols utilized in the creation of bitcoin and consequently, a number of individuals and creators behind those inventions.
Specifically, here are a few technology inventions that “Satoshi Nakamoto” uses, mentions, and gives credit via his whitepaper:
1. a digital cash technology and protocol called ecash by David Chaum and Stefan Brands
2. a “proof of work” system called hashcash by Adam Back for spam monitoring and control, which was eventually built upon by Hal Finney, who created a reusable proof-of-work protocol
3. a distributed scarcity system built upon “b-money” created by Wei Dai
4. a technology called “bitgold” by Nick Szabo that proposed a mechanism for market inflation control
Again, it’s important to note that all these folks have denied being Satoshi Nakamoto or being part of the collective that may be canonically understood as “Satoshi Nakamoto.”
Why Does This Matter?
The key takeaway here is that the original author(s) is completely unknown, and although you may occasionally hear of someone who suddenly claims ownership of the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, it’s generally and culturally accepted that we may never know the original creator’s identity.
And that’s a good thing.
You see, there are many important reasons, but here are two to get you started: Firstly, it’s important that no one knows (and will ever know) who they are because what makes bitcoin so exciting is that it is simultaneously open source (people like you and me can download, use, and profit from the original software anywhere and anytime we like), and secondly, it’s “decentralized,” meaning that no single person or entity or organization “owns” or ultimately controls bitcoin’s utility and value.
Bitcoin and the underlying technologies and protocols were created and designed to be freely given to the world to usher us into a new way of thinking, engaging, and transacting with others. In many ways, you have just as much claim (and right) to say that you are Satoshi Nakamoto as anyone else does.
Tomorrow, we’ll jump right in and learn more about what exactly bitcoin is and the principles and properties that govern this exciting new technology!
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto
Advances in Cryptology Proceedings (ecash) by David Chaum
Reusable proof of work by Hal Finney
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