Much appreciation to JW Weatherman for arranging the interview, and Tim May for helping to get this all started. I decided to get this in text form, because there are so many things\books\people that May references, I would like to be able to gather.
Pull Requests Welcome
Lightly edited copy of youtube autogenerated transcript. I would greatly appreciate contributions if anyone else feels like working on it.
Alright! Thanks for joining me for another episode of under the microscope with JW weathermen. Today, I’m joined by the the famous and awesome Timothy C May, couldn’t be more excited to have him.
As a quick introduction: by the mid 80s Tim was already famous for solving something called the alpha particle problem when he was working at Intel and then in the early nineties he and a few friends founded the cypherpunk movement, and that’s responsible for a lot of the freedom that we enjoy today.
They really fought and won the crypto Wars in the 90s and for me and a lot of other folks that’s really a turning point in history where we headed from you know what was probably gonna be a fairly dystopian future, to one where I can see a lot of individual liberty on the horizon.
I’ve been looking forward to talking to Tim for more than a few years now and I can’t thank you enough for joining me here
so good to be here
Are you ancap?
Good deal. A lot of my audience will have seen the talk that you gave in hackers congress last year, so I kind of see this as a follow up to that, in that you referenced Ayn Rand and what were the major influences that brought you… would you consider yourself an ancap? [anarcho-capitalist] I think you’ve used that term…
I don’t really call it call myself an ancap or anything like that. I was influenced by Rand, obviously. Even before Rand, I was influenced by Robert Heinlein, things like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Very libertarian oriented, often talked about free zones. Larry Niven also wrote about this too in the late 1960s, but I’d heard of Ayn [pronounded like “Eye”-n] Rand for a long time.
Everybody, I mean, it was very much in the air in the 1960s every college student was reading Atlas Shrugged at that time far cry from today with the V for Vendetta type people. In the summer of 1968 I guess I was 16 years old at the time I found a copy of Atlas Shrugged at the library, and checked it out, and read it in three days. I did skip the 60 pages of John Galt speech, somewhere in there, and ironically… I mean I have a couple of hardback copys someplace, but I’ve been unable to read it since.
yeah so that’s a long long time but I can’t get past page three. I mean it’s just prose…
It’s awful. It’s just the worst. I’ve tried to read that book probably four times and I just can’t get through more than a chapter to the characters are so wooden and unrelatable
yes but to a 16 year old it was very exciting… and I read it straight through, like I said, three days… and that’s all I could think about and when I returned to school the following September. I had a teacher, political science teacher, who was somewhat Republican, libertarian, this is before the name libertarian really took hold… and she patiently listened to my rants.
I would write essays about gold and economic freedom and what not… heavily influenced by Rand, and obviously, then I read The Fountainhead, Capitalism and the Unknown Ideal, bunch of stuff like that… and that was a big influence, but then by the time I was in college a bunch of us lived in a shared suite… eight of us, seven of us, were libertarians, a couple of them became famous mathematicians, professors, that sort of thing.
They’re all about my age of course but we would talk about all these things we would hatch over the the tired old themes of, what if you’re falling from a an apartment building and you need to land on someone’s balcony but you don’t have permission to land on that balcony. Are you obligated to fall to your death, or can you trespass on that property. You know, the lifeboat type things,
exploring the fringes of private property, and where can violate them and not
yeah right right right… and you said something in a couple of your pieces that I was heavily influenced by Murray Rothbard. I may have mentioned Rothbart. For a New Liberty was out at that time, I think I skimmed a few chapters of it and it’s like a lot of things. it’s preaching to the converted I had a Reason subscription I had a Liberty Magazine, defunct now for about one year, but it’s all just preaching to the to the already converted… didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know
same thing with Von Mises and Hayek, certainly important stuff. Karl Popper, you know, the whole circle of these people but at some point it just gets very very repetitive and I became much more interested in practically implementing some of these ideas. we can get to that in a few minutes if you want to…
Yeah I’m very excited to talk about that. I can’t I can’t remember if it was the hackers Congress where you referenced him or not and I that’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to talking to you especially after talking with Jim Bell. I think looking back over history, I assume that it’s a lot more clean and linear and I look back at guys like Murray Rothbard, as being kind of a pivot point where people really picked up on the idea of a private law and private security
The Early ’70s
but you know, looking back I may I may be overestimating it maybe it was a lot more in the air and there were a lot of folks more folks talking about it. I don’t feel like Ayn Rand really covered that very well except for when she was interacting with Murray Rothbard.
Yeah I don’t know the details. I know that in the early 1970s when when we were debating this stuff in our college dorm there was a all sorts of goings-on with Nathaniel Branden,and splits in the Objectivist movement, and I never considered myself an Objectivist. I don’t even accept the logic of “a is a” but that’s an extreme subtlety that I won’t get into, having to do with non-standard logic which has been my interest for about 10 years now. Quantum mechanics and that sort of stuff.
yeah so I worked for Intel for a while, and then I left, and I’ve never worried too much about inflation of the dollar. I know you talk about that a lot. Fundamentally I keep my assets in assets, namely stocks, bonds, that sort of thing and so the dollar dropped in value.. but these assets keep on rising.
People in Weimar Germany, for example, who had their money in real estate art stocks and bonds tended to do okay, but by the late 1940s they had recovered. The real disaster was people on fixed incomes, pensions for example, or who had their money just sitting in a bank account and and the Reichsmark became essentially worthless over time right?
yep yeah if you if you have the time and the expertise to make investment decisions you can navigate it, but there’s a lot of people that are… especially less wealthy people, those are the ones that get hurt the hardest… not to mention that… just the disaster on the economy, of the boom and bust cycle that were constantly going through.. 2008..
or passing this 1.3 trillion dollar omnibus bill with all sorts of bad things in it, that wasn’t even written until the day before it was signed.
I think there’s probably some war spending that’s coming our way too that’s the reality.. so back when you were when you were in college there was a lot of folks talking about this, you went to Intel you you were obviously a very competent technologist and became well known from that… and then in the early 90s you really got interested from reading a bunch of science fiction and other stuff, about trying to implement a libertarian reality in cyberspace and eventually maybe that could bleed into the real world.
How do you feel about Crypto?
How do you feel looking back on it? I mean it’s been a long time. I talk to people now that are they’re either very optimistic or very pessimistic in general, and it seems like the younger they are the more pessimistic they are. They’ve grown up with the revelations of Snowden and the NSA, and they just feel like things are just constantly getting worse. how do you how do you feel about it?
at this point I’m phlegmatic about it. I’m very much a believer in Greek philosophy, stoicism, skepticism etc etc… what will be will be. It just is what it is. Some things are getting better, some things are getting worse.
Do you feel like if you were to predict the next 30 years, do you think that we’re looking at more of a 1984? The argument for that, is that everything is recorded all the time. We’re a turnkey totalitarian state, but the other hand, we have stuff like Bitcoin that looks promising. Do you do you feel like it’s leaning one way or the other, at this point?
you know I don’t get interviewed all that often, but one of the last interviews I did, someone said “you were so precient and seeing things from the 1990s that would come about and many of those things have come about, what do you think will happen in the future?” and I said I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. My crystal ball is dark.
fair enough. that’s a good a good enough answer
Former Confidence in Predicting the Future
no I don’t know what’s going to happen. Things seems so clear in 1988 to 94, thereabouts.. and I mean it was clear where several technological trends would happen. I was very active on the Internet of course I had my first primitive DARPA account in 1973. It was very primitive. My campus was one of the first nodes on the ARPANET, so yeah I had an account. Very primitive, but by the time I left Intel in 86, the seeds of the modern Internet were being born and I got my first commercial account in 1988. I guess it was when the ARPANET was opened up to civilians and ISPs began to form.
At that point you were pretty confident that we were going to have a sort of a libertarian world inside cyberspace within the next 10 20 years. Was that fair to say?
yeah I had a huge amount of spare time on my hand. I would go down to the beach almost every day, sit in my beach chair with a beer and read. Yeah, and I had read James Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace, came out in about 1983 or thereabouts. It was essentially an encyclopedic work on the history of the NSA, and most of us had not even heard of the NSA at that time, we barely heard about it. My father was in the Navy and I talked to him at the time and said dad did you know of a thing called the National Security Agency. He said oh yeah we just couldn’t talk about it “No Such Agency” it was already a huge surveillance operation by then
so Bamford describes, and it’s on the inside cover quotations the blurbs… saying if a Russian general is meeting with his mistress in a car, NSA can hear what they’re talking about. If a broker in Switzerland is phoning London to make a transaction, NSA knows about it. So this got my gears turning. I began to think about… what if, for example, the NSA was running, essentially, a large private hedge fund with intercepted communications? We now know they did. In fact, this is during the Iran-contra thing. Oliver North and company.. Admiral Poindexter and Oliver North were centrally trading drugs to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
so I began to think about the implications of widespread surveillance and it happened that a friend of mine, this is covered in a lot of detail, was putting together a company sort of like an eBay for information the American information exchange. Phil Salon, the late Phil Salon, he died in the early 1990s around 91, was a student of Friedrich Hayek and had met Hayek had framed photos of himself and Hayek… and he was always reading these Austrian economics sorts of things and was he was involved with the George Mason University people… there’s a whole Institute of Individual Liberty, there still is, a lot of leading Austrian economics people.
so Phil was in contact with them, and he invited me to drive over to his place. He and his wife rented a place in Menlo Park or Redwood City… so I went over there and he outlined the idea for the American Information Exchange, the idea would be that someone would request information on say the best type of sailboat to buy to do a certain thing, and said I’ll pay $50 for this. They could have been eBay, essentially. eBay did the same thing except they were selling Pez dispensers and toys and knickknacks.
so Phil’s idea was to buy and sell information, information of a question-and-answer sort. Which has never really taken off. There are a few minor little efforts to do these things but they haven’t really gone too far, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s hard to frame question properly, it’s hard to know the quality of answer one is getting from random people on the Internet, and at that time the internet was crude. I had to dial in after midnight with a 1200 baud modem to get someplace. It was very primitive in those days. It was an idea ahead of its time, and then Autodesk the AutoCAD company funded Amex as well as Xanadu the hypertext company they funded - two of these companies and both failed and dissipated and people scattered to other projects.
but I went over there in December in 1987. I’ve been retired from Intel for a little over a year and a half at that point. Phil outlined his company, this is covered in the Prague conference a year ago… and I immediately began to see flaws in this, namely people would buy and sell the most valuable information there is, which is corporate information
right, secrets, things that are illegal, not […] consumer reports magazine…
and Phil said, then we would ban this from people using it at work. I said well then they’ll go home and use America online or whatever and do it that way. he says, well then we’d require identity. I said well people will pseudonyms … etc etc… and then the sticking point was how do you pay for this? and this was the unsolved problem, squaring the circle is not solved until the solution of the Byzantine generals problem with Bitcoin, Nakamoto consensus.
A Turning Point from 2008-2010
things that I wondered about was things like reputation and all the problems that would prevent buying and selling of information to work, I mean even even simple problems like spam, they really required electronic cash and now that we have a functional electronic cash system… by the way what I was expecting you to say is it got very frustrating because it seemed like things paused from early 2000 maybe late 90s all the way up till 2008… but then there was a breakthrough and how we’re feeling more optimistic, that’s the linchpin.
not to put words in your mouth, but is how much is that sort of your feel? that this really is a key moment that’s gonna unlock the other stuff? or how much of it is just another piece of the puzzle, and we still have a lot of work to do?
I think we have a lot of work to do but I certainly think 2008 to 2010 was a big turning point and obviously there are now a zillion alternate forms of ecash like Z-cash, Monero, etc.. right which of those will win out? I don’t know.
How Connected with fellow Cypherpunks
Have you stayed in touch with, well I guess first I’ll ask how connected were you with David Chaum and Adam Back and Wei Dai and Nick Szabo and all those guys that would kind of associate with the history of electronic cash? Where you guys all friends hanging out regularly or was a little more disconnected than that.
for example in around 1988 when when I was first working on these ideas I spent a lot of time talking with Phil Salon as I told you. We actually arranged a road trip, up to Berkeley, to meet with David Chaum, and this is in 1988.. yeah so I’ve met Chaum at the the crypto conference, and I’d also met him in person up in Berkeley, and then on a panel with him in 95 and Monte Carlo… He lives down in Southern California, he lived in Holland at the time but he now lives in Woodland Hills which is a suburb of LA, yeah he came to a couple of cypherpunks meetings… also David Friedman came to a couple
we were, I’ve covered this before, we were in a grubby rented apartment in Oakland that Eric Hughes was renting unfurnished at the time and Friedman came, and I think he was pretty skeptical of the ideas. He was sort of bemused by the enthusiasm. He came around though, and probably you’ve seen he’s dedicated some of his books to these ideas, and it says Tim stole ideas for me I stole ideas from him, that’s the way it works.
I would say Friedman was a bigger influence on me than Rothbard, for example, as with Jim Bell. The Machinery of Freedom, that’s a more core value than, For a New Liberty, which was just you know preaching to the converted. like a lot of books of that time, Jerome Tuccille wrote a book called It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. There were several of these books that were out at the time. The libertarian party formally started in 1972. I voted for the first libertarian candidate John Hosparus, even before the libertarian party formerly existed.
Cypherpunk - Direct Action to Change the World
That was another kind of a line of questions that I had for you. It seems like one of the things that the cypherpunk movement did, is it really focused on technology and tools. How do you feel, like that is still the best strategy? as compared to politics or general education or economic
yes! yeah yeah, we used to have people periodically in the cypherpunks list who were enthusiastic about setting up card tables at conferences, and I was sort of seen as the great skeptic. I would say knock yourself out, I’m not gonna sit at a card table in San Jose and harangue people. I’d seen that at at Santa Barbara where people would set up card tables and try to persuade people, and they’re never persuaded.
and when you say card tables, are we talking about just general education or like a political campaign?
political campaign. I don’t mean for candidates but I mean sitting at a card table handing out libertarian propaganda, getting into the ame arguments about the limits of personal liberty et cetera. What happened in ‘88 with with meeting with Phil Salon, and as I sketched out the ideas that became the crypto anarchist manifesto, and I was on a roll at this time because I had all the time in the world to sit and think about these things and there were no distractions there was no Twitter no Facebook no Bitcoin conferences every week… none of that, where people are constantly in an in an echo chamber bouncing ideas back and forth bouncing one line reparte back and forth. I had plenty of time to contemplate this, like you did. I read your Bitcoin threats outline, or I skimmed it.
About the Cyphernomicon and Ayn Rand
it’s written in an outline form you probably noticed my cyphernomicon is humongous outline, written in the earliest outline processor called More, which was by the guy who later invented the term blog, and also invented RSS, Dave Winer. I tend to think that way, then I can attach ideas to different themes. It makes for a messy structure but it’s better than just trying to write some fully, well… you know what I’m saying? It was sort of a bullet point structure so that you got a systematic layout of ideas rather than trying to you know put all the verbage around it paragraph form.
what happened is I started developing these ideas and I was meeting with a libertarian acquaintance of mine from college who I had reconnected with in early eighty eight, I guess it was, and we were bemoaning the fact that there had been no good libertarian novel along the lines of Atlas Shrugged. Nothing that incorporated new information. Rand, for example, had the strange idea that you could get a bunch of anarcho-capitalists, who would move to a valley in Colorado, someplace, which had some sort of science fictiony electronic screen over the top that would prevent planes from seeing down what was happening and people would walk around trading gold pieces with each other and you know all the big shots the John Galt sand Hank Rearden’s all all the characters from Rand’s novel would be essentially anarcho-capitalistic trading with each other, and somehow managed it.
clearly they didn’t have problems with private defense and trade embargoes and everything just worked.
but it seemed possible that that it would be feasible to create a kind of Galt’s Gulch in cyberspace… so very much in the air at that time was, for example:
- Neuromancer, William Gibson
- True Names, Vernor Vinge
- Enders Game, Orson Scott Card which was made into a fairly lousy movie a few years ago. It involves characters, students, pseudonymously communicating with each other.
so anyway these ideas were current, so Eric Hughes, very brilliant mathematician… younger than me, was maybe 30 years at the time… I was maybe 36\38 at the time… ah came out to Santa Cruz. He was considering enrolling as a grad student at UC Santa Cruz so we wanted to look over the rental market and see if how feasible it would be.. and he stayed at my place, his brother was with him… but Eric and I ended up spending three days, instead of him looking for a place to rent we talked about all these things.
he had just spent several months working for David Chaum, in Holland. It seemed it was a rite of passage, Nick Szabo did the same thing, Eric Hughes did the same thing and a third guy [he’s probably thinking of Zooko] I forget who it was but he also worked as a intern for Chaum’s company DigiCash.
Eric and I talked about everything… everything about computational feasibility, about np-complete problems, about cryptography, etc… and we both sort of had the same I can’t remember whose idea it was that we should call together some of the smartest people we knew in the Bay Area, and we knew a lot of these people because there were three or four intersecting groups. A science-fiction group, a group connected with mondo 2000, and the early work on The Well which turned into Wired magazine.
and so we knew a lot of these people and the hackers conference we knew some of the people from this so we ended up having a meeting in September, and about 25 people showed up and it was all all-day type of thing. At that time I happened to know more about cryptography than most of the people in the room, because it wasn’t as Au Courant [prevelant\fashionable] as it is today.
so I would describe how hashes worked how remailers worked, the Chaumian Alice to Bob to Charles to David etcetera etc, series of nested envelopes… and we even played a thing called the crypto anarchy game. Which I had already written the manifesto by that time, so I passed that out at the meeting.
Crypto Anarchist Manifesto - Wei Dai - Szabo
The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, I basically dashed off in under an hour before driving down to Santa Barbara for a crypto conference so the ideas were fully fermented and fully developed. a few anachronisms like mention of Ku-band satellites, course that echoes[?] low Earth orbit Iridium satellites that sort of thing.
back in that like 25 guys, how many of the guys that we think of as early cypherpunks that worked on electronic cash, like Wei Dai, were physically there participating? or was it always removed for those folks?
I’ve never met Wei Dai. For a long time we didn’t know whether it was a female, or a male. people would posit theories that Wai could be a female name, but we now believe it’s a he, we believe he was a grad student at University of Washington, Seattle.. Which Nick Szabo also went to, but to Nick’s knowledge they never intercected, never crossed paths with each other.
That’s really interesting I would have thought that these guys were all a lot more tightly connected than that.
no I’ve never met Wei Dai, and he’s been he’s been out of crypto for many years. Last I heard he was working on something completely different. Hal Finney, I knew, through a group I was in called the Extropians group. Which is sort of a Cryonics, live forever, upload you’re brain into a computer… bla bla bla. I was never into that wild stuff but it was an interesting list of very smart people, Robin Hanson, Dean Tribble, Hal Finney, Wei Dai.
I was on that list, and it was run out of Los Angeles, and it was a fairly active group, still exists… but a lot of these people are dreamers about unrealistic things. I was pushing the idea of cryptography as a plausible near-term thing that could actually be done, and Hal Finney got very interested in this. He was working for PGP, at the time Phil Zimmerman’s company, coding it… and he got very involved and we had many many interesting debates about it.
Wei Dai joined in on some of this, Nick Szabo was living in Portland, Oregon at the time… and he later told me he explicitly moved to the Bay Area just so he could be near the cypherpunks meetings. I’ve known Nick since around 93, and I saw as recently as New Year’s Eve at a party, and he lived somewhere in the Bay Area Mountain View, I think. He just got married, but I’ve known Nick since then, and you know I can dispute all the rumors that he’s a law professor at George Washington University and all that nonsense that spreads out. “oh I hear he lives in Australia” blah blah blah. No, Nick lives in the Bay Area.
I know Nick quite well. He was in our math group discussion that met in Mountain View from around 2004, until recently… in fact it’s still happening.. it’s a different group now but it’s a bunch of people who get together on Saturdays and talk about whatever comes up. Self-driving cars, deep-learning, quantum computers, cryptography, etc.. So Nick I’ve known quite well.
Hal Finney, I met a few times. He was, like I said, in Los Angeles and then in Santa Barbara. He’s gone now, yeah whay Diane I never met but I communicated only on the mailing list with him, and Adam Back…
He’s in the Bay Area..
no no he’s in he is in Malta and he spends some time in the Bay Area because a company he works for has offices in San Francisco, Toronto, Geneva, and Malta. I knew Adam when he was a student in England someplace, he was getting his master’s at time, and then he got a PhD in cryptography, and he was very interested in the spam problem.
A lot of these people were working on ways to attach small amounts of digital postage to things, to basically say, “I’ll pay you for your time to read this message,” and formal cryptographers like Ron Rivest were working on that. Cypherpunks were very interested in that, and out of some of this came things like digital gold, Bit Gold, Adam Back’s system [hash cash]. So I would say, of the main 4, Wei Dai, Nick Szabo, Hal Finney, and Adam back… all were active when the cypherpunks list.
Arrest of Jim Bell
Then when the cypherpunks list eventually devolved and essentially after 9/11 a lot of people got cold feet about participating in something that dangerous right. Then the arrests of Jim Bell…
That was one of the things I wanted to ask you about, how Jim Bell was connected. Obviously, I interviewed him not that long ago and it sounded like he through kind of a circuitous route ended up posting his assassination politics. How was that received by everybody on the cypherpunks mailing list, and what did you guys think of it when you saw?
hmm not much I didn’t really participate in that. I mean I’m credited, maybe by one of your works, that I had come up with the idea of assassination markets. I had not. I mentioned in the anarchist manifesto that there could be an odious market for assassinations. I mean it was obvious that if you had untraceable cash you could that would enable certain types of ransoms or assassin or hits on people etc etc but certainly I didn’t come up with the assassination market idea.
In fact, that goes back to some of the Jack London’s work for more than a century ago. dead pools and whatnot. I think Jim acknowledges that.
On Free Markets
I think he sees it as like assassination markets in general existed, but his particular sort of many-to-one crowdsourcing of assassination is his innovation.. and he certainly didn’t try to give you credit, or I didn’t, for coming up with the assassination markets… but I think he said that they were being discussed quite a bit.
what’s your view on how, in a voluntariest society, private security would work? because in my mind, the way that I’ve tried to piece together the history that’s before my time is that there was big sort of posts. there was Mises that did a lot of work on economics and showing that socialism didn’t work. The price mechanism was absolutely necessary and so he would have been sort of like the minarchist pillar, like the Constitution \ limited government pillar.
Then at some point I kind of give Rothbard credit and maybe I’m missing some some dots along the way, for coming up with the idea of privately funded security services and privately funded defense that could probably happen through insurance… so that it would be a very you know normal sort of peaceful market operation.. a little less ugly, and a little more elegant than assassination politics. is that how you think about it, or what are your thoughts?
yeah I think that’s I think that’s basically correct I mean the reason I say I’m not a Rothbardian is I thought okay yeah that certainly makes a lot of sense these things are going to evolve…
so you had already bought into the idea of free markets being able to replace all the functions of government without necessarily needing Rothbard to kind of spell out..
In 92, before before the cypherpunks started I went over to a discussion group. A bunch of people, I won’t go through their names but a bunch of very smart people, we’re sitting around and we were all reading a book by Bruce Benson who’s a very influential thinker who wrote a big book on the economics, I can’t even remember the name but you can google on it, and I actually bought the book and annotated it with a pen and I find that often helps me to develop ideas. to simply write in the margins and underline things, and we had a fascinating discussion and he basically took a lot of Friedman’s work and extended it. T
The core idea is that many systems already run anarchically. There’s a famous system of maritime law called the Law Merchant, which deals with how ships from different countries interact with each other.. navigation wise, etiquette, trading, exchange of fuel, oil, that sort of thing. They work, essentially, anarchically. They work in a free market system and it’s worked for a long long time.
The Hanseatic League for example started a lot of this several centuries ago and obviously probably it’s been happening for ten thousand years since modern civilization started. People interact with trade. Sometimes there’s a king who enforces certain laws, but for the most part people trade freely.
Illegal and Legal Transactions
So Benson explores the idea of how these private enterprises could expand. These collective defense agencies, for example and it certainly made a complete amount of sense. What crypto did was say that people anywhere around the world could interact, and here’s something I constantly am frustrated by nothing not a lot of things frustrate me but I am frustrated by the fact that people talk about legal and illegal transactions in terms of a lens from the US point of view.
Something I constantly talk about is, think of all the things that you could buy and trade on a Silk Road type of market which we think of as perfectly legal that are illegal in say Ireland, namely birth control, information, or any number of things in Saudi Arabia, which would get you beheaded for saying or thinking or expanding upon.
So I get tired of people talking about illegal uses of Bitcoin, when in fact many of these uses, any libertarian, any free thinking person would say: “of course people should be allowed to publish what they want to publish” the printing press Gutenberg all that stuff,the first big Bitcoin revolution and it’s it’s incorrect for us to think parochially in terms of what’s legal or illegal in the United States. That’s why I made, at a couple of conferences, I just dashed off a list of enemies: Mormons, anti-Mormons bootleggers etc etc.. A list of all the people have been enemies of the state in one way or another, and it’s a long long list,
and that’s just the United States. If you made a list of people that have been enemies of any state it would include every single human that’s ever existed because you’ve been an infidel of one side or the other and every point in history.
Yeah that’s a that’s a really good point, so yeah I do kind of feel like an archaeologist a little bit trying to go back in time and figure out who originated these ideas and how they connected. Hayek, for example I’ve read him quite a bit I don’t feel like I’ve ever read him say anything that I didn’t already read in Mises but he’s popularized this stuff so much more, and won the Nobel Prize and connected the dots in ways that appealed to people so much more that it’s interesting trying to see where this all this all came from. but but more importantly are the ideas themselves of course.
right right right right so yeah I am NOT a scholar of any of these guys and basically the more I read of these things they just drone on about the same same old things..
What about wit Diffie how was he connected to the cypherpunk movement obviously you know we owe him a debt of gratitude for for the work that he did on public key cryptography
yeah I’ve seen him twice at parties just in the last three months… his wife died last year so he’s been going to more more social events, I think. Science Fiction parties a group of us who’ve been gathering at parties for 50 years now.
I actually exchanged some email with him maybe four or five months ago when I was first starting to do the podcast and he was really generously respond but I was also kind of disoriented because he didn’t really want to talk about politics much, and not politics in the sense of who we’re voting for but just sort of ideological.. and I thought that’s interesting, that’s maybe some of the genius of the cyphererpunk movement also is that people were able to focus on what they wanted to focus on and where things align for action
yeah, I think to a lot of staid cryptographers like wit we were we were radical, wild-eyed radicals, and he was more the academic type connected with Stanford and RSA the company and whatnot and I never heard him ranting about libertarian ideas at all. If I were to guess what he is, I would assume he’s a Democrat, of some sort..
but at the same time super productive obviously and very much concerned about individual privacy
yeah he’s written a book with Susan Landau on digital privacy. I think that was his focus for a while at Sun when he was a distinguished engineer there… some more conventional privacy points, he’s obviously concerned about the surveillance society we’re building.
Do you keep up with Bitcoin?
Have you kept up on on what’s going on in sort of the Bitcoin world? obviously you know that Monero exists, and Zcash exists, are you still pretty interested in those things?
unfortunately I spend too many hours each day checking the Twitter feeds I’m not on Twitter but you know obviously I read the archives, or… so I read a lot of this Adam back and yeah yeah, Jake Applebaum, and those guys so I’m caught up in the politics of some of the stuff the ongoing battle with the feminista
that’s one of the advantages of being on Twitter is that you can you can you can add some filters. I’m sure you had to put some pretty aggressive filters on old cypherpunk mailing lists back then it’s not not too much different now. although I imagine it’s a little more inane now.
It is, I mean we had the time to actually go off and people would think about ideas and then write long essays, you don’t see this today with this 41 repartee bullshit or 40 character…
I actually got on Twitter after I wrote the Bitcoin threat model to try to get people to look at it, and I mean I gotta say, I feel very very honored that you took the time to even peruse it.. so so somethings’s working to get attention to it but it’s not easy. It definitely takes a marketing effort, now, to get somebody to look at your stuff..
Well yeah and it’s it’s just in in one ear out the other people ask why I don’t do more interviews or why I don’t write more essays I say “hey I wrote a lot of stuff in 92 to 96 and it’s out there” and it’s been collected in places like Vernor Vinge’s True Names. yeah I spent a lot of time I unfortunately ended up filling about 40% of his book, but I wrote True Nyms and Crypto Anarchy. True Nyms, being a play on True Names and he said he liked the result, that I basically polished up a lot of stuff I’d worked on for years..
so yeah that probably represents my best summary of my position on a lot of things, and I can’t say I’ve had any breakthrough since then… maybe I’m getting older maybe the ideas are just out there.
It was tremendously exciting in the first few years when I… the alpha-particle thing… when I realize that I’m one of the few people in the universe who’s thinking along these lines, and it was very exciting.
I was I was going to ask you about the alpha-particle thing so I obviously don’t understand the physics at a deep level but one of the things that struck me as I was thinking about how that must have felt, is well how how important was that? If that problem hadn’t been solved by you at that time do you think it would have taken maybe a couple of years for somebody else to solve it?
I think someone else would have figured it out, also.. I figured it out in February of 77 and we kept it a big secret for fifteen months until I was allowed to give the paper on it at a reliability conference in San Diego yeah and I saw people from our competitors racing to the pay phones out in the lobby because they had all been grappling with what was causing strange random single-bit errors.
fifteen months is kind of a long time if it’s one of those things that’s so critical that it’s actually slowing down progress of something as central as chip manufacturing..
well it wasn’t slowing down manufacturing but the errors were occurring and so obviously Intel put a huge effort into this, and they contacted the glass and ceramic vendors… I won’t go into detail.. but if you imagine a ceramic mug on your desk, a coffee mug that has ceramic, and it may be clay that’s been fired, and maybe some glaze \ glass on the surface.. a lot of these things have low levels of uranium and thorium in them.
In the past sometimes very very high levels. They used to put uranium into paint to make it brighter. There was, back in the 1920s, big scandals about it… I mean it’s not dangerous but it’s not a good thing to do… I was sitting in my hot tub in Sunnyvale and the walls were ceramic it was an inground hot tub and the walls were the kind of this clay type stuff with a lot of little mica flecks in it, and I had a very wide-ranging background, just a bachelor’s degree, but I took geology classes and I’d obviously been reading a lot of this stuff in my spare time and I knew that micah flecks could be dated. How long a piece of pottery… when it was last in a fire… because the fire would amil[?] out any alpha tracks in the mica from surrounding uranium and thorium right so if the pot had been broken and thrown into the bushes by Indians say 400 years ago you could count the fossil tracks..
this in hydrofluoric acid and the fossil alpha tracks of where the alpha particle had gone through the mica and disrupted the local lattice structure could be etched and you could count how many of these things you could say okay I just saw a 30 alpha tracks per square centimeter. We know that we’re getting, so many of the… we expect to see so many of these per year, per square centimeter based on the level. You can count this and say okay we then think that this was last in a fire say in sixteen hundred and fifty.
So I knew a lot about that kind of stuff, and I’m sitting in my hot tub I wasn’t even working on the problem, and in the oral history of Intel.. the later president and chairman of the board of Intel Craig Barrett was the guy who hired me into Intel, as his first engineer in 1974.. and he actually credits me. He says, “Tim a young bright engineer working for me thought outside the box and he solved a problem that a hundred other people at Intel had been unable solve”
yeah so that was a peak moment, I mean this is like looking into a liquid helium dewar, and my professor saying “okay watch where I’m pulling a vacuum on this, watch the bubbling and through glass windows in the dewar flask,” he says, “right about now” and all of a sudden all bubbling stopped… there’s liquid helium it becomes super fluid so that was a peak moment.
Another peak moment was looking into a spark chamber at SLAC at Stanford and seeing that the actual particles two feet below me and through a glass window and then the alpha particle thing was like climbing to the top of a mountain where I realized, Jesus Christ, I now know what’s causing these problems and the problem is a long-term problem… and to date there have been about 10,000 papers written on this topic.
you were aware of the problem and you were just kind of thinking about it and you realize sitting in the hot tub, ah it could be from the radioactive…
so that was Valentine’s Day, I think, February 14th or something so then the very next day I was so excited to go to work and I won’t go into details… but I took a bunch of the parts that were having the big problem and a bunch of the parts that weren’t having the problem and I thought, where do we have a radiation detector? and obviously a Geiger counter is not nearly sensitive enough… very high levels to detect that…
I went over to another building and and a friend of mine was watching me, helping me out, and I put some pieces into this chamber.. closed the big lead chamber door and hit the count button and counted for a minute and the parts that weren’t having a problem showed very little activity. so when I put the parts that we’re having a problem into this chamber and it pegged meter, so I cranked the range up 10x.. and it still pegged the meter. these are very low levels… these are not highly radioactive things, and so I cranked it up and I wrote all this in my lab notebook.
I kept copious notes and I could see that there were essentially something in these parts that was radioactive… and we now of course know it’s uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, all the daughter products of radioactive decay… You hear about this all the time, you know the Granite subways in New York are slightly radioactive…
what’s incredible about that story is that less than 24 hours from having the idea you were able to measure it and see it.. and know that you know it’s problem.. that’s something incredible.
yeah well that actually relates to crypto stuff, I mean I’m an engineer at heart… I mean I guess I’m more a theoretical physicist… but I love the idea of touching things. I solved more than one problem just by wandering out into the production area to see how things were actually working… and I can’t go into details but we had a case where boards were failing in a temperature cycling thing.. and there had been a huge “thrash farce,” that’s what I used to call them, task force… you know when 20 people sitting in a conference room talking about split experiment, “let’s manufacture 10 Tesla cars this way and 10 this way and see which ones crash”
I liked seeing causal connections, actual physical things, so microscopes were always my friend because I could sit there and just peer at things and see what was happening… so I was assigned to this test this is the first big thing I did in 1974. I was assigned to this thrash farce, because they’ve made no progress. In fact they sent some of the managers over to Malaysia to study their production line to see what they could do.. expensive trips all the way to Penang Malaysia… always the managers I was never once sent out of the country because I could usually solve things myself
I don’t want to go off on a tangent but I asked the guy who was leading the memory division, I said, “can I go out and see this thing under action?” and he said, “well why would you want to do that?” well I want to see it, so I went out there and there was a glass window \ door on this big temperature cycling chamber… imagine this is cycling between winter conditions and summer conditions.. below freezing to 125 degrees C, in this chamber to stress the solder connections… that kind of stuff, and I looked in there and I said “well Edie this thing is going from hot conditions to freezing conditions, you get frost on the boards?” he said “well sure”
I said well Edie that means you’re running the boards underwater right at some point, I mean, between ice and high temperatures you go through a liquid phase.. and sure enough that’s what the problem was.. and so I solved it that day.
Wow! Just by looking at it and thinking through at a molecular level, really what’s going on with that?
right causally just looking at it happening, and crypto I mean Eric and I realized that between the onset of the internet and all the tools like Perl, little scripting languages, could run things… we were in this age where Alice and Bob could communicate with each other and actually deploy cryptography, or deploy these Chaumian remailer techniques or deploy possibly some form of digital cash, or deploy steganography.
I invented this thing we take the least significant bit of, say this audio file that you’re recording right now… By least significant bit, I mean if you’re recording for example on your USB stick, or whatever, 8-bit sound the lowest bit on that is essentially operating at the noise level the rustle of wind in the background the noise and the lines… if you replace that with ones and zeros that actually represented an image or a coded message saying “attack at dawn” this would open up new eras… this is called steganography it’s like micro dot technology.
that was one of those things I invented in 88 yeah that’s what’s such a damn shame about the whole Bitcoin thing there are people trying to get patents on things like this Craig Wright guy from Australia filing hundreds and hundreds of patents of stuff that was well trod ground even by 95…
Early use of Stegenography
so this steganography is hiding, instead of encrypting the data where you can’t get to it you’re you’re hiding it, sort of in plain sight. so it could be an image a file or an audio file just in a place that looks innocuous it looks like noise.. so yeah, I wouldn’t want recommend this, but if you wanted to you could put your Bitcoin private key in a photo and send it to your friends
and of course that’s a you know well-covered territory now but in 1988 it seemed kind of novel at the time
yeah yeah absolutely so yeah these Craig Wright, and these characters they obviously take up a lot of our time on Twitter, and a lot of the people that are interested in Bitcoin have been fighting with these clowns for for a while now well what are your thoughts on on these guys? I mean I’ve gone from like these guys are just fraudster weirdos, to man this is just seems like too good of a set up in a way, to not be well thought out.. so I really go back and forth I don’t know whether they’re just regular clowns or whether they’rem part of something that’s a little more professional… what’s your feel, just kind of watching this all play out?
some of the more respectable… there’s a cryptographer from Australia, Ian… Ian not Goldberg but the other Ian, Ian G he goes by…. so he’s a Bitcoin guy yeah and he’s a finance guy and has worked with Craig Wright. I don’t know his take I’ve never met him but he’s pretty respectable. Roger Ver certainly made it shitload of money I first heard of him some years ago with some friends of mine active in the Bitcoin exchange markets like Kraken, companies like that, told me about this guy who’d mortgaged his house in San Jose. Unbeknownst to his wife and invested it all in Bitcoin. So he’s of course known as Bitcoin Jesus wandering the world right and he’s somehow involved in this he’s involved in Bitcoin Cash
he’s certainly been the frontman for Bitcoin cash and with him in particular I know that he has a lot of wealth… but him and Craig.. you know I haven’t really even looked into the the other Australian guy that you’re talking about but yeah Ian Grig..
Tim Stays out of It
I stay out of that stuff.. Nick Szabo’s wife was very active in Ethereum classic.. Ethreum had this big controversial hard fork where they rolled back history to retrieve some money.. yeah so Elaine Ou she writes for Bloomberg and she’s Nick’s wife.. now she got active in Ethereum classic I have nothing to do with any of these things I’ve met Vitalik a couple of times that’s about it..
I wasn’t really actively involved, was doing software security work but not really anything related cryptocurrencies until maybe six months ago.. so I have the benefit of a lot of hindsight.. all of this stuff looked really laughable to me when I showed up, like Ethereum, you know trying to do Turing completes on the blockchain
right right right
if you were going to design something stupid that would be in the top ten list the whole Bitcoin cash thing looked really laughable you know let’s just let’s just let’s just tweak a high security parameter to get a linear increase in throughput that’s going to be totally irrelevant and maybe it’ll break the whole thing… like it’s just it didn’t even seem plausible
Coq - Simplicity
you know yeah that’s an area I’m very interested in although it only is a hobby I mean I don’t to really get involved in this stuff.. you need to be immersed in it all day every day thinking about it in the back of your mind. I’m very interested in ultra high level languages like Haskell and I think called Coq and I think called Agda these are essentially theorem provers and they’re starting to show up in some of the Bitcoin area there’s a guy who was recently hired by a blockstream, Russell O’Connor, who’s written a thing called simplicity which is like 30 lines of Haskell.
it compiles into a smart contract language and it avoids, we think, a lot of these problems where a gazillion lines of C code were written that included reentrant errors that yeah you know this is what caused the theft of several hundred million dollars.. (The Dao) … and they’re been in various of these things in the past..
another guy that was extremely active on the cypherpunks list his name is Zooko, ah you know Bryce Wilcox you may know him as Zooko Journeyman etc.. he’s the Zcash guy.. and he’s based off Colorado someplace and has a company… principle of least information exposure so he’s one of the leading guys today.. essentially I knew him from around 97 to 2001
let me move to the Colorado area right so he’s very active yep and he’s done a lot of things.. Zooko’s triangle for example so he’s an active person…
this might be an overstatement I guess I’ll just get your take on it.. but from what I’ve been able to gather over the last few months just looking at Bitcoin.. every time, it seems like, there’s an altcoin that’s doing something… either it’s just like this laughable security design decision that probably works good for marketing but any any competent technologist would see as buffoonery right off the bat or it falls into this other category where it’s something that probably the really smart guys working on Bitcoin discovered, and worked with a little bit and just decided it wasn’t ready, like confidential transactions on Monero, or you know even the ZK-snark stuff.. z cash you know it doesn’t doesn’t do us any good to have a system that’s secure as long as we trust the people that set it up.. like come on guys we’re not doing that.
right when they had this whole ceremony thing you know to distribute to to make the keys for the ZK snark system.. you may have heard about that, blowing laptops and traveling around so it looks like they’re doing some interesting things of course it’s not just that Zooko did Z cash it also came out of Matthew Green and you know academic cryptographers at Johns Hopkins and whatnot
and I mean obviously that work is interesting but but it does seem surprisingly black and white to me as as somebody that’s gonna be a user or recommend something that looks like it could become electronic cash… there doesn’t… to me it seems like there’s Bitcoin and then some really…
Stormy Daniels and Conspiracy Theories
you know you mention altcoins I mean I think even worse are these icos… you know when Stormy Daniels is going to have her porn star coin.. you know we’re we’ve entered into we’ve gone down the rabbit hole..
I know that you guys had issues on the cypherpunk mailing list with people that were trying to attack what you guys were doing, and they weren’t trying to attack the technology they were trying to do it through politics or just you know subverting sort of the the community right like going in there and just causing trouble, starting different factions…
when I look at something like Bitcoin cash… if I wanted to really disrupt progress in this space… one of the things I would do, is I would go after sort of the ideological core which would be the you know the ancap libertarian guys then I would want to split that into two kind of groups, I would want to go and get the guys that were that are maybe into economics more on one side, and get the technologists out of there…
because you’re not going to be able to really cause any damage with the technologists and then and then take the non-technologists and try to confuse them in some way about the technology to take advantage of them and it seems like that is exactly what’s happened with Bitcoin Cash… where you know they they had the memes of “let the market decide” even though we’re talking about a critical security parameter… or “we don’t need central planners” in Bitcoin was another kind of meme they pushed.. which of course, when you’re talking about architecture you do want somebody to plan it… you just don’t want somebody to plan the economy..
so it almost seems too brilliant in some ways to do you feel like this is maybe a well funded sponsored attack to hurt Bitcoin? or is it just some guys that are trying to make some cash off of some misinformation?
On Proof of Work
I have no idea whatsoever yeah people ask me if I feel regret that I didn’t invest in Bitcoin I said well let’s put it this way… when Bitcoin, when it took a hundred thousand Bitcoin to buy a two pizzas or something… would I put money into that? maybe a hundred bucks.. I mean, I was meeting with Nick Szabo at these weekly meetings I went to about every third or fourth… one in Mountain View and Nick was pushing his idea of proof of work you know which is, and I don’t know if, you’ve probably read a fair amount of his stuff… he’s an excellent writer… but he had this idea that if he could prove that he did a certain amount of work like painting a painting.. and I use the example well Nick if you prove that you you’ve spent two years digging a ditch in your backyard, and then filling it back… in yeah I can believe you did a lot of work but that’s of no value to me and I’m not going to pay you for that proof of work
so Nick never quite squared the circle, as it were.. connected the dots to show that something that people prove they did a lot of work on, could be used could have value and that was obviously the Satoshi Nakamoto consensus right and why that achieved value, I don’t know… the earliest I would have thought about putting some money into Bitcoin would have been when it was trading in the hundred, five hundred dollar range, and it was there for a long long time had some ups and downs you know… so today it’s trading at around six thousand, a third of what it was in January..
Feel bad you didn’t invest in Bitcoin?
So when people say, “don’t you feel bad you didn’t invest in Bitcoin?” well how much money would I have put into it? right a lot of the people who were babbling on reddit which is worse than Twitter in many ways… one doesn’t know whether these are just you know kids spending their allowance money buying Bitcoin.. a scary number of people saying I only have two years to go before I own a Bitcoin. Number one that’s meaningless, you can have fractions of a Bitcoin you don’t have to buy a Bitcoin yeah and number two it tells me that these are not Roger Ver types
Would I put, say, a million dollars in the Bitcoin when it was trading it at $100 a share? no, because it was highly speculative. Would I put it in when it was three thousand? no I have no use case for buying a Bitcoin… I don’t believe it’s an asset one should hold… but I believe if I had a use case for transferring money say to Austria I might buy Bitcoin but I can usually handle things just with bank transfers perfectly fine
so do you think if it worked better than gold and government dollars for money, do you think that money, that’s good enough? then it will get adopted as global money? and if it did certainly it would go up in value of considerably
it could it could this case we’re a Russian plane lost a bunch of gold out of the cargo hold Zooko tweeted this or retweeted this a zillion times saying “the best argument for digital money ever made” you know banks transferring the gold bars and having them land in the snow-covered fields of Siberia yeah there’s something to it I know a lot of major banks and central agencies are thinking about Bitcoin in various forms yeah and
if it was I mean it would be the investment of obviously of a lifetime if not of a millennium if the entire world give up on their current common store value and all went to this thing that only 21 million of them that will ever exist
like a lot of people I’m not convinced that Bitcoin in its current form is the last word… and I don’t mean alt coins, I mean somebody could just redo you know instead of sha-256 someone could go Shaw 512 or something and just you know from the ground up and instead of 21 million coins it could be a billion coins or something
that would make sense if it was if it was better, but since it’s open-source doesn’t it seem like we would end up kind of adopting that technology into Bitcoin?
yeah probably.. and it’s probably some role for Bitcoin 2.0. I doubt that Bitcoin Cash is that role.. yeah certainly I mean we’ve joshed Nick quite a bit about you know the code is the law… that didn’t work out so great with a couple of cases
On Ethereum and the DAO
there’s a current flap work somebody says imagine that an Ethereum contract written in, you know whatever primitive language they were using for smart contracts.. imagine that you have a bank vault that stuff in it and right next to it is a giant red button saying “don’t press this red button or it will lock the vault permanently” guess what? someone pushed that button, and and so far as I know that hundred million dollars in Ethereum is still sitting there frozen.. and there’s much debate about whether it can be retrieved… so much time is now passed that you can’t exactly just roll back history
they have they have done that with the first Dow they did just roll back history they just reset the whole yeah and I think right more and more aetherium as a community is making it really clear that they’re more than happy to to do that and that they have the power to do that I think the thing that makes Bitcoin interesting to me is that I don’t think it could be done on Bitcoin I don’t think anybody has the funding and I think the community is too committed to not overwriting history because that’s where we yeah we aren’t even talking
you mentioned voluntary us yes Roger ver is strong on that I mean to his credit you know he’s he’s always talking about voluntary systems the other thing that was important for Bitcoin is that it’s permissionless right you don’t need to go to a banker or a central bank or anybody you can just send money directly there’s no Vitalik that can erase your balance or decide that you were doing something nefarious yeah and again much of what we think of as nefarious or evil is is through the lens of our current US law when we should be thinking about global systems right yeah you know imagine somebody in and Myanmar being liquidated by the ruling Buddhist government yeah and they want to transfer money to say London but they don’t they can’t go to a bank and do that already have their heads chopped off yep and if we help somebody like we shall thinking them to wonder what his values are
Not Anxious to do Interviews
I think the etherium community is entirely too focused on him and I don’t mean this personally I just mean it’s this cult thing that’s happening and it happens in a lot of areas and that’s one reason I’m not anxious to do interviews I see this guy there’s Bitcoin guru who says if you want to see my next travel schedule click on this site and he’s like in Athens tomorrow Bangkok today after right in Finland the following day and just ranting preaching to the converted it’s just I think it’s a waste of time
I think too many of these Bitcoin conferences too many thought leaders who never attended cypherpunks meetings never wear at hackers conferences very little involved in this they’re now entering as thought leaders meaning sitting on panel discussions a lot of them with banking backgrounds etc who want to who want to provide what they call adult supervision to Bitcoin right yep absolutely nee Bitcoin governance and all those and they want to there’s some talk of replacing the the anarchic Bitcoin structure with with more of these distributed Ledger’s morgan stanley’s like
that yeah sort of approach the goldman sachs right something they can control and guess what we’re back to just another PayPal system yeah yeah it’s just a Julian Assange with the database yeah and so it’s nothing more than a database entry system it’s not even interesting it’s not a Merkel tree type thing by the way Ralph Merkle was very active in all these discussion groups way backs my politics is well known but I mean it’s really creepy I mean yeah like people talk about the singularity and a term I’ve been using for that we’re not going to have a singularity in the VIN Jian sense we’re going to have a creakle arity constant surveillance of everything constant people in each other’s pockets constant instead of people buying and selling things buying products
Facebook is Creepy
for example companies like Facebook want to establish long-standing relationships the sorry
for example occasionally we’ll get an email saying Tim and this is a robot writing this Tim we notice you haven’t logged into our site in a long time yeah and that’s just it’s creepy you know like it’s creepy they want ongoing relations where they can buy and sell your data right yeah well that’s the revenue model yeah it’s a it’s the the dream of any totalitarian state as Facebook it just would give me all of your data all of the time everything all of your thoughts and feelings and put it in a nice index database so that I didn’t yeah we’ve seen what’s happening with this and
we saw Zuckerberg basically what he was still at Harvard said I can’t believe that all these people are giving me their inner secret sending me photos yeah they’re crazy yeah and I saw and just been quoting that paragraph per se yeah yeah yeah it’s Zuckerberg has been watering language attempted yeah attempted to walk back those comments I hate that walk back meaning change history right yeah you know you know I didn’t say these people are morons yeah I did say it but I didn’t mean it well I did mean it but I have changed yeah yeah yeah like self-driving cars there’s a cartel of the lyft and uber and and and Tesla people who want to provide adult supervision in this and they’ve actually proposed that individual civilians like you or me could not use self-driving cars in congested areas like New York or San Francisco they want a cartel basically oh you’re kidding me
Cant wait for Regulators Permission
if things like Skype if they’d gone to the regulators for permission they never would have been allowed to do it plea did it and then by then it was a fact on the ground and it was the genie could not be put back in the bottle right because the regulators that represent the incumbents would never allow for that kind of disruption yeah and they’d want a study yet create a working group on it appoints and Senate committee to look into it etc etc that’s one of the things we did but cypherpunks we knew we didn’t need any approval to do any of this stuff we just did it so I was active in the local Santa Cruz libertarian party and again it was you know I spent half a day sitting in front of a supermarket sign signing people up to register to vote including people who said they were not even citizens I was not allowed to screen them it was basically up to the Registrar of Voters to strike them off the list you know some Russian guy had just arrived from Russia Freddie signs up to vote you know I knew he wasn’t eligible but
anyway we had a speaker come through town a guy named Nolan of the Nolan chart in libertarian circles that’s kind of an XY axis system of economic and personal liberty and people can answer questions about things and surprisingly as surprising number and the interesting number people end up on the libertarian side just by answering these questions right but this is early 1993 in Wired magazine had just come out out with three of us on the cover with hockey masks to represent pseudonyms so no one was there and we were having pizza and beer one night and I was describing all the stuff you know crypto Anarchy and implementing libertarian ideas through actual networks and technology he was bored to tears he was just uninterested and of course now many years later them the people at reason and what not have belatedly discovered that this thing might be important
a long long time the the sort of the dichotomy between political action / education and I feel kind of weird because I’ve found myself in that a little bit more mostly just because there seems to be so much to learn in this space that you know I’m doing podcasts and things like this mostly just to feed my own curiosity but the the brilliance of sort of the cyberpunk movement and the recognition that know if you just put like you could try to explain to somebody the importance of capital investment but if you just build a backhoe and sell it to them they’ll never dig a ditch the same way again you don’t have to make yeah I was
yeah people use a Heidegger not to quote another theoretician but Heidegger talks about readiness to hand like a hammer has the property of ham earnest everybody picks up a hammer and they instinctively know how it works right and that’s called readiness to hand there’s some German word for it so everybody understood how BitTorrent worked it allowed them to copy music and video yeah I was at a Trader Joe’s that’s a local supermarket her supermarket chain right and somebody was setting up a card table a guy and a girl obviously University type students and I started to chat with him and I mentioned oh yeah there’s a guy who did some work on this BitTorrent Bram Cohen yeah and they both lit up like roman candles and the girl says you know Braham and of course you know he was in the cypherpunks movement
I mean the number of people who did interesting things out of cypherpunks is you know a long list and BitTorrent was something people could understand intuitively how it worked they’d set up a Bitcoin client or a BitTorrent client and merrily start transferring files and they didn’t need a centralized database like Napster had a centralized database which was obviously amenable to being shut down by lawyers I never used BitTorrent because obviously once you’ve created a BitTorrent node you can be sued for copyright infringement sort of the optimism that I have around Bitcoin being the thing that we’re not we’re not looking for something to replace it but it’s it really checks all the boxes and it really is functional and there’s a lot of FUD around it but the reality is it works it absolutely works and it’s only growing better
the number two option on that list is so far below that it’s laughable correct and yeah and when Silk Road came out I mean people readily understood what it could be used for it could be used for selling buying and selling dope but not on the internet right now it had flaws I mean we I wrote about this other people wrote about this a physical delivery flaw as soon as you’re getting packages in the mail that’s a point of failure yep yep but but it worked at scale pretty well and it was probably not a good Bitcoin that that ended up causing the problem it was it was probably you know the surveillance state that we have but the good news from my perspective on that is that if Bitcoin is functional and we do move more towards it the progress that’s been made on it in just the last six months I know the price is down but the the progress that’s made made on the technology side isn’t incredible and the amount of right major you know governments that are now talking about it favorably makes me think that maybe it’s hit the tipping point or they’re there they’re willing to go along i working title for the novel that i was working on and i never finished but that turned into the ideas for the cypherpunks was degrees of freedom so degrees of freedom is a physics term or economics term it refers to like how many moving parts a piece of machinery has the cogs moving up and down right and usually as as temperature increases the system has one more degrees of freedom so water turns to steam etc yeah highly entropic lots of degrees of freedom but I thought it was an interesting pun I like puns on on libertarian idea degrees of freedom yeah
Like the Printing Press
I believe that what we are entering into as with printing which is a common touchstone and by the way this goes back to what were the first things people published after Gutenberg the first things were obviously religious tracts Bibles and whatnot right one of the earliest things were how-to manuals how to farm how to plow how to forge metal how to make jewelry little hand books the guilds who were the intellectual property owners of the time often on pain of death hated this they hated the idea that the common man could now learn to read and read a book about how to do something right and it broke the power of the guilds as the 15th century rolled around that’s I think the degrees of freedom we’re seeing with people able to transact business on the Internet people able to buy and sell stuff I i buy most things i buy through amazon for example have for 20 years and today when amazon says you can’t transact with us because we found out that you’re one of these crypto-fascist anarcho-capitalist types like PayPal has been doing PayPal has been crossing people off their list because they’re accused of being alright type people or you know links to Tommy Lehren or somebody like that this is you you linked to these other people that we think are bad people we’re not we’re cancelling your account right yep all the way back to Julian Assange you know and WikiLeaks the embargo there uh-huh he thanks them he thanks PayPal he says thanks did it thanks to me being cut off I started getting contributions in Bitcoin and look look how much they’re worth now yeah yeah they’ve funded more government leaks and good solid reporting than probably anybody else and
you know what Sandra’s on the cypherpunks list yeah yeah yeah absolutely yeah yeah it’s an incredible group of folks that and that that’s why I keep getting you know I have my own projects that I’m working on but I just keep getting sucked back in because this is just in a fascinating point in history they’ll look back on this this point in history as a major turning point maybe ya know the Industrial Revolution yeah could be could be could be yeah we had other people uh there’s a famous science fiction writer very prolific writer named Charles Stross he came to the cypherpunks list for the extra ins list and incorporated a lot of the ideas and it was novels and he writes about one novel per year
so we had a lot of journalists at the time as you probably know Steven Levy and a writer for The Village Voice and that’s how a lot of early publicity happened people wanted to write articles on this I think we’re now drowning in a echo chamber of too many different channels and not enough people in any one place to have sticking power in those days it was an obvious watering hole for a lot of people to come to so we had 800 people in the mailing list at one point yeah I think probably there were about 20 core contributors who wrote at least one article per day or a couple per week that thereabouts yeah and a lot of them were very meaty how Fanny Robin Hanson Nick Szabo right and so it was it was a nice watering hole at the time and people went off and did things they would go off and not be heard of for a while and then the next thing you know Adam back would have some new hashcash or how Finney would have something do you feel like there is that there’s as much energy going into when right now as there was back then or do you just feel like Bitcoin is maybe too narrow because for me it does seem like Benjamin I think there’s more activity now so much so that it’s hard to keep up with it but increasingly I think a lot of people are dropping off of reddit they’ve seen what a cesspool that is with different subreddits devoted to Bitcoin cash or Bitcoin and people being banned from the Bitcoin subreddit because they made a favorable remark about Bitcoin cash right it’s just really sleazy behavior yes huh yeah I mean we had a lot of trolls on the list we had people deliberately trying to spam the list dimitri voulez’s’ when apartment he would write these long rants and whatnot and we never censored these people we didn’t have the power to block these people right yeah we even went to distributed lists there were at one point five of them and gradually they dropped off the radar screen and just after 9/11 about a year later some guy with a an Arabic sounding name riad Wahby from MIT created the cypherpunks at al Qaeda dotnet saying I’m sorry I like in-your-face politics but that’s just inviting too much FBI attention time for me to move on to something different yeah do you think that was a real person or do you think that was somebody that was working for a government agency trying to I think he’s a real person he’s I think he works in the Silicon Valley now I think he ultimately got his PhD and I think he works for Facebook or somebody like that yeah when I heard that story I assumed and I assumed that this was how you thought about it too so this is interesting I assumed you thought that was some FBI agent setting up a honeypot and gonna try to you know expose all these crazy people and men round him up yeah could be could be
in fact going back to Jim Bell one reason I was not ordered to fly to Seattle for the trial of Jim Bell is that I didn’t interact with him an acquaintance of mine a journalist named Declan McCullough interacted with Jim Bell quite a bit about assassination politics dialogue with him and so Declan got subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution at well at Jim Bell’s trial his second trial I think he went to prison for a few months for his first infraction I think pouring some kind of powder down a chimney or something of an IRS building and the second and much more serious one was somehow involving tracking FBI agents acquaintances of mine actually forwarded some stuff he’d gotten from the courts showing that the head of the Seattle office of the FBI wanted to get me you know moi it couldn’t get me on anything because all I all I’d done was speech I hadn’t I had not done anything that was prosecutable and they wanted to get you but it’s gonna be your association with Jim Bell they were not that angry about assassination politics no they were they considered me an anarchist and obviously the term anarchy is much more nuanced than a lot of these people yep so in fact
Perry Metzker a very staid Krypton cryptographer connected with something on the East Coast did not even like the name cypherpunks which I of course did not invent dude Millhone came up with that you know as a joke you guys are just a bunch of cypher punks right Perry wanted to be you know the cryptographic research association something you know button-down tie sort of thing more with Diffie type approach right as opposed to what attracted a lot of free thinkers and radical types and our our camp yeah so it definitely wouldn’t be it you wouldn’t have to have much of a tinfoil hat on to think that if if people were willing you know if government agents were willing to target you back in those days just because you had said things that they didn’t like and they associated it with the phrase anarchy right that you know there’s there’s a division or two or at least a couple couple folks that are spending some time trying to subvert the work that’s being done on a dead queen yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah that’s another reason I haven’t bought Bitcoin
I mean somebody made this excellent point at when when one is not even clear what the laws are on these things then selective prosecution can be applied yep yeah absolutely yeah that’s interesting my my as a couple of people that are that are definitely libertarians I think we’re both probably more more afraid of Bitcoin than the average person might my main concern is I want to own some of it and I want to support the community but I don’t want to own enough of it to where it’s worth kidnapping and killing over and I think it’s a pretty small number I always tell people you know there’s less than $10,000 in cash at the at the local bank so if you somehow scrape together twenty five thousand dollars an untraceable electronic cash and now you’re living in the suburbs with no full-time security you may have you may have pushed it too far because you’re yeah encourage things you know people assuming that I must have Bitcoin or something right yeah yeah and it does no good to say no I just haven’t bothered with it right yeah because nobody knows oh yeah yeah it’s I mean scary scary how stupid people can be and especially kind of people that do that sort of stuff yeah there have already been cases of extortion some German businessman was kidnapped and forced to turn over his keys yep yep yeah what I tell people is I believe that we will have a system of private security and insurance that will take care of these sort of things and make them not profitable attacks on people that might own Bitcoin but we don’t have it yet so we got it be careful about how many times these things yeah if I can give you one piece of advice is is concentrate less on the old Austrian thinkers who obviously said right things but so what it’s just you know free-market capitalism the book I’m thinking of by Bruce Benson is called the enterprise of law no I will definitely read that right and yeah I cannot tell you how fun this has been for me I was excited to talk to you like I was going for a job interview 20 years ago so this has been a blast and I really really appreciate your time turn off JW if you have any more questions feel free to give me a call absolutely
Social ShareTwitter Facebook LinkedIn Reddit