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Happy Birthday, dear Bitcoin: the first white paper from Cryptomeda turns 12

Posted on 3. November 2020 in Bitcoin

An evaluation of Satoshi Nakamoto’s article of 31 October 2008 that „triggered a revolution in finance.

Only twelve years have passed since 31 October 2008, when Satoshi Nakamoto published a modest nine page article describing a new online payment system called „Bitcoin? Depending on when you read this article, its authors pseudonyms remain unidentified – but they have fomented a revolution in finance or, as some believe, „the biggest blow in history“.

To mark the anniversary of the publication of the paper „Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer ATM system“, the Cointelegraph invited people to comment on whether Satoshi Nakamoto would be pleased with how Bitcoin technology and blockchain have developed and evolved over the past 12 years?

James Angel, associate professor at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, told the Cointelegraph: „This has sparked a revolution in finance with the emergence of DeFi applications, smart contracts and currency offerings, and a revolution in payments that is leading to central bank digital currencies. „Gina Pieters, assistant professor of education at the University of Chicago’s economics department, told the Cointelegraph: „He would be pleased to see the evolution and new applications of his vision.

The influence of Bitcoin’s (BTC) white paper goes beyond finance, Garrick Hileman, head of research at Blockchain.com, told the Cointelegraph: „Its impact is worth considering along with other major technical innovations such as the personal computer and the Internet.

Would Satoshi be disappointed?

Satoshi’s vision pointed to a P2P, or decentralized digital money system – as mentioned in the white paper’s title. The problem with established digital commerce was that it depended exclusively on „financial institutions that acted as trusted third parties to process electronic payments,“ wrote Satoshi. This had inherent weaknesses. Transactions could be reversed, banks had to mediate disputes, and transaction costs were high. Satoshi’s solution was presented in the second paragraph of the white paper’s introduction:

„What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic evidence rather than trust, allowing any two interested parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trustworthy third party“.

In the 12 years since the paper was published, the need for P2P transactions – without third party interference – has become a kind of article of faith between Bitcoin Victory. But, come to think of it, has this aspect of Satoshi’s vision been fulfilled? David Yermack, professor of finance at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, told the Cointelegraph:

„I think the biggest source of disappointment for Nakamoto would be the increasing centralization of blockchain governance in entities like mining pools and even central banks, which are about to launch their own cryptomaps. Nakamoto’s mission was to challenge the hegemony of central banks and, ironically, the largest issuers of digital coins appear to be the central banks themselves. ”

Angel went further: „Satoshi would be horrified by the policy of concentrated mining pools that currently dominate the Bitcoin protocol. While Pieters added that Satoshi would be disappointed with the „primary Bitcoin transactions not taking place through point-to-point trade, but rather intermediated by exchanges or centralized companies.

Frustrating Fraud

The issue of digital transaction fraud has always loomed large, and in the Bitcoin white paper, Satoshi proposed a way to solve the classic „double spending“ problem – where scoundrels spend the same coin twice, something not difficult to do with electronic coins. He did this using a „point-to-point distributed time stamp server capable of generating computational proof of the chronological order of transactions“. Thus, Satoshi explained, „transactions that are computationally impossible to reverse protect vendors from fraud.

Solving the problem of double spending today is considered one of Satoshi’s greatest achievements. Bitcoin’s blockchain has never been hacked (although the same cannot be said for the many crypto exchanges that trade BTC). Even so, digital payment fraud has not been eliminated from the system. Would that have discouraged the founder of Bitcoin?

Angel said that Satoshi „would have been disappointed that Bitcoin did not become a means of daily payment, but rather a store of value for fearful fat people and tax evaders.“ Moreover, Satoshi „would have been saddened by the increased inequality that the history of Bitcoin has created, with some early adopters becoming whales and the other 99.99999% of the population not doing so. Still, it is assumed that the creator of Bitcoin – whether male, female or group – would have been amazed at the extent of BTC adoption, as Yermack described:

„Nakamoto would be surprised at the growth of blockchain projects and the many thousands of coins and digital tokens that have been created in the image of Bitcoin. One suggestive evidence is that Nakamoto fixed the size of the blocks in the Bitcoin blockchain at 1 MB in 2010 and mysteriously commented that ‚we can always increase that later, when we need it. ”

He had no idea that the blockchain would be overburdened in the next five or six years, Yermack continued, „and that a contentious debate, still unresolved today, would result in different views on how best to further expand the blockchain’s capacity. ”

Over the past 12 years, most of Satoshi’s original software code has been changed or replaced, Hileman added, but even so, Bitcoin has retained its fundamental qualities, including “its fixed supply of 21 million coins, open access and tamper resistance/censorship. I believe Satoshi would be happy with the ongoing software optimizations and enhancements for these fundamental basic features that continue today. ”

Was Satoshi an environmentalist?

Although the white paper says a lot about transaction fees, CPU power, network nodes, proof chains and even the problem of player ruin, it doesn’t say much about the surrounding world, including the environment. Angel says Satoshi would be shocked at the environmental damage caused by the Bitcoin mining arms race, adding: „With current hash rates and mining efficiency, Bitcoin mining alone consumes about seven gigawatts of electricity, which is equivalent to seven Chernobyl plants.

And while little is known about Satoshi’s policy, its creation, in the form of the first crypto blockchain, would also be disturbed by the central bank’s idea of digital coins, and in some cases, „these coins are designed for repressive governments to engage in even more surveillance and control over their populations,“ Angel added.

Focusing on the white paper itself, Franklin Noll, a monetary historian and president of Noll Historical Consulting, told the Cointelegraph: „His concern was for fast, anonymous, low-cost, unmediated and non-reversible transactions. So far, Bitcoin’s transactions – and many other blockchain transactions – have not been considered so fast, anonymous or low-cost. „He added:

„I believe Satoshi would like to see more use of non-custodial portfolios to store and trade Bitcoin,“ added Hileman, who explained that custodian companies that manage private cryptographic keys on behalf of Bitcoins owners „resemble traditional banks. Meanwhile, he believes that „Satoshi was not a fan of trusted third-party financial intermediaries.

What is Satoshi’s legacy?

After just over a decade, what is the significance of Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper? In the financial sphere, „He encouraged financial firms and central banks to prioritize the evaluation of their technology, considering both increased digitization and digital platforms,“ Pieters said, continuing: „In some cases, such as the renewal of CBDC exams, this has led to the exploration of new systems, even if not directly the adoption of blockchain technology. ”

„Bitcoin and blockchain have fundamentally changed the monetary world,“ Noll added. „Terms like proof of work, distributed accounting technology, decentralised finance, programmable money and smart contracts are now part of anyone’s serious lexicon about the future of money and finance. Hileman added:

„We are also just beginning to understand the potential impact of blockchain technology on areas outside finance, such as digital identity, addressing the problem of false news and tampering with public elections.

„The publication of Nakamoto’s 2008 article was a major turning point in financial record keeping,“ said Yermack of NYU. „We are just beginning to understand the ramifications, but they seem to be vast.“

A surprisingly modest document

You will not find the word „revolution“ in Satoshi’s article. There is nothing about reversing the economic order or reducing the gap between rich and poor. It is an unpretentious treatise on electronic payments – how they can work effectively.

On his own terms, Satoshi has had great success. He promised a viable P2P digital payment system and delivered on it. Bitcoin’s market value is $251 billion 12 years after the idea was revealed.

Whether Bitcoin is also harming the environment, encouraging money laundering or sustaining political regimes goes beyond the scope of his article. What can be said is that economic decentralization continues to present governance challenges. How „point by point“ does society really want? The global community will have to decide.

Twelve years after the publication of „Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,“ it is worth remembering that „it is a saying of history that revolutions do not always happen as their founders planned,“ Noll told the Cointelegraph.