Bitcoin: Origins And Cultural Significance


Bitcoin’s introduction signaled a major revolution in the financial world, with philosophical, technological, and economic consequences that are still being explored.

Summary

Bitcoin has evolved from a tiny group of computer scientists, cryptographers, and hackers into a mainstream sensation. It has begun to compel a rethinking of the global financial system, with philosophical, technological, and economic implications that continue to grow. The historical and cultural relevance of Bitcoin is discussed in this article.

Check out our other articles on Bitcoin, such as Bitcoin: Fundamental Technical Structure and Bitcoin: Network Security, if you want to learn more about other facets of the currency.

Contents

Bitcoin’s Predecessors 

Bitcoin is the world’s first cryptocurrency, as well as the first blockchain, as we currently know both names.

Bitcoin (capital “B”) refers to the peer-to-peer Bitcoin network, which maintains a decentralized public ledger known as the “blockchain” that records ownership of all bitcoin (lowercase “b”), the Bitcoin network’s native digital asset token. Bitcoin has ushered in a drive to decentralize existing, centralized financial systems in addition to establishing trustless, digital money. However, Bitcoin was not the first attempt to create a digital currency.

It was constructed on the shoulders of giants who came before it, and it’s difficult to think how successful it would have been if not for the lessons gained and ideas given in previous attempts.

Nick Szabo notably imagined the concept of scarcity in relation to digital money when he presented Bit Gold in 1998, which he later wrote about on his blog. Szabo is a computer scientist and one of the founding members of the Cypherpunks, a group of scientists committed to protecting privacy through encryption and electronic money.

The Cypherpunks were founded in the 1980s and interacted on a regular basis via the Cypherpunks mailing list about cryptography, economics, and censorship. In 1993, Eric Hughes, a mathematician who co-founded the Cypherpunk movement with Timothy C. May and John Gilmore, produced A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, which encapsulates the organization’s attitude.

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“Precious metals and collectibles have an unforgeable scarcity due to the costliness of their creation,” Szabo observed in the late 1990s. As a result, he set out to develop a protocol that would allow “unforgeable expensive bits to be created online with minimal reliance on trusted third parties.” Then there’s Bit Gold.

A computer (Alice) would have to spend resources solving a proof of work (PoW) puzzle that would generate a PoW chain — the more resources spent, the longer the chain — the longer the chain, the larger the potential worth of Alice’s newly generated property. This was a computerized representation of the labor (i.e., energy) involved in gold mining in the real world.

Alice’s non-fungible chain would be added to the distributed public registry and she would be paid Bit Gold in exchange if her PoW chain was confirmed and accepted by the majority of the computers on the network (i.e., nodes) — a process known as attaining consensus.

Because any node could readily check cryptographically what Bit Gold Alice had on the registry, the registry eliminated the double-spending problem — the possibility that a user may spend the same Bit Gold twice. However, the Bit Gold consensus process failed because a bad actor could easily construct a large number of nodes (known as “sybills”) and tamper with the property register (known as a “Sybil assault”).

The network would become increasingly centralized and the approved nodes would have an excessive amount of power if Bit Gold tried to protect itself by limiting the number of nodes that may participate in managing the property registry.

B-Money, which originated around the same time as Bit Gold, was another forerunner of Bitcoin.

Wei Dai, a computer engineer, cryptographer, and Cypherpunk, proposed it, and it is mentioned in the Bitcoin whitepaper. B-Money envisioned a “distributed, anonymous electronic monetary system.” While it was never developed beyond the whitepaper stage, it included a number of concepts that eventually made their way into Bitcoin and the multitude of other cryptocurrencies that Bitcoin has subsequently inspired, such as a distributed ledger, digital signing of transactions, and the creation of money via PoW (like Bit Gold).

Cynthia Dwork and Moni Naor proposed the idea of incorporating cost (or digital scarcity) into a system utilizing proof of work in 1993 as a strategy to safeguard Internet services from spam.

Dr. Adam Back, an English Cypherpunk, put this notion into Hashcash, a service targeted at minimizing spam and denial-of-service assaults, in 1997. It was (and still is) cheap to send out mass emails to unwitting recipients.

As a result, Dr. Back set out to increase the cost of sending an email, making it de minimis for honest users but prohibitive for abusive users. Hashcash requires a sender to solve a PoW puzzle in order to generate a Hashcash token. This token (which looks like a postage stamp) is attached to an email sent to the intended recipient. The email will be delivered if the token is valid; if it is invalid, the email will bounce.

The cost of generating a Hashcash token for a regular user would be low, but manufacturing Hashcash tokens in quantity would be prohibitively expensive for a spammer.

Hashcash revealed how digital scarcity might be produced in the face of abundance, and in doing so, at least two Cypherpunks were enlightened. Soon after, Szabo and Dai would use the concept of digital scarcity to create money via Bit Gold and B-money, respectively. A PoW puzzle represents energy, which, if used to mint coins, would transfer the energy value of those efforts to the coins themselves.

Hal Finney, a fellow Cypherpunk, attempted to improve on Bit Gold in 2004 by developing a reusable proof of work cryptocurrency system (RPoW). Finney’s RPoW system simplified the Bit Gold idea and used Hashcash’s PoW to generate new tokens in a similar way.

The system, however, sacrificed decentralization for simplicity by depending on a single server to prevent double-spending. It take another five years for Bitcoin to bring all of Szabo’s, Dai’s, Back’s, and Finney’s ideas together into a workable, trustless, and fully decentralized digital currency.

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Enter Bitcoin

The Bitcoin white paper was released in 2008, and the network became live in January 2009 after the Genesis Block — the first block of the Bitcoin blockchain — was mined. Bitcoin has succeeded in creating a fully decentralized, trustless digital currency that allows users to send monetary value to one another via the Internet without the use of trusted financial middlemen.

This was made feasible by a key innovation in the consensus method, which employed Hashcash PoW to overcome the concerns that Bit Gold couldn’t fully address.

The Bitcoin mining method, in particular, eliminates the need to pre-determine the number of nodes and encourages miners to follow the regulations. It works like this: Instead of depending on a majority of nodes (also known as “miners”) to establish consensus, Bitcoin relies on a majority of hashrate (the network’s computing power) to do so. Obtaining a majority of the network’s hashrate is costly, making tampering with the ledger costly for a miner.

Furthermore, a dishonest miner would forego the lucrative bounties of newly minted bitcoin (known as the “block reward”) that are granted every 10 minutes to the “winning” miner who solves the PoW problem correctly. As a result, it is anticipated that a reasonable, economically motivated miner will devote her processing power to ensuring the blockchain’s integrity rather than attempting to manipulate it and defraud the system.

As a result, Hashcash’s PoW principle is crucial for both minting new bitcoin (digital scarcity) and safeguarding the Bitcoin network (expensive to attack, block reward opportunity cost). This simple yet elegant incentive structure has elevated digital money from a niche movement dominated by computer scientists and cryptographers to a popular phenomenon.

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The Mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto

The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, is one of the most intriguing mysteries of the last decade. Since the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper, there has been much conjecture and study about Nakamoto’s genuine identity. Some even think that Nakamoto is a group of people acting as a collective rather than a person.

Each of the aforementioned early digital currency pioneers has been accused of being Nakamoto at various times, although they all categorically deny this.

Satoshi went to tremendous lengths to maintain his anonymity, most likely fearing the retaliation of governments, at least in the beginning. Nakamoto’s postings on cryptography forums, blogs, and development platforms offered no hints as to who he, she, or they are, and his contributions to the Bitcoin Network development ceased about mid-2010. Satoshi disappeared from the Internet and was never heard from again in 2011, sending a mystery message reading, “[I’ve] moved on to other things.”

To date, no solid evidence has appeared to adequately identify the person or persons behind Satoshi Nakamoto’s pseudonym or “nym” in Cypherpunk jargon. As of the time of publishing, Nakamoto remains at large.

While Satoshi’s identity and location have received a lot of attention, Bitcoin supporters (also known as “Bitcoiners”) believe that not knowing Satoshi’s genuine identity is one of Bitcoin’s greatest benefits. There is no Founder or Leader, and there is no single point of failure; only numbers and lines of code speak for themselves. This is perfectly in line with the spirit of a decentralized, trustless currency.

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Bitcoin’s Cultural Significance

Bitcoin was created against the backdrop of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, which was caused by banks’ reckless risk-taking and lending practices. Many banks obtained government bailouts despite their hazardous activity, resulting in massive protests and a general lack of trust in the global financial system.

Bitcoin arose as a response to the “inherent flaws of the trust-based model.” It’s no coincidence that Nakamoto wrote the following message in the Genesis Block of Bitcoin: The Times, 03/01/2009 Chancellor on the Verge of a Second Bank Bailout This message is usually recognized as a call to arms as well as a timestamp.

Bitcoin enables decentralization, which means that its center of gravity is individual empowerment. Its fundamental nature transfers power from a few to a large number of people. Bitcoin’s blueprint and ethos will reshape the Internet, the financial system, and money in a way that promotes greater independence, choice, and opportunity for everybody within the next decade. Before it, the printing press, the personal computer, and the early Internet were all invented. And that’s significant.