I'm working on creating a holistic blockchain heuristics course and I keep going back to this talk by Jill Carlson that we saw when we were at the "Bitcoin is_" conference in 2019, hosted by Russell Okung (yes the NFL football player) because it really hits the nail on the head on the question of:
For almost everything, I'm a big believer that the context, the journey, the how we get to our destination matters just as much, if not more, than the end result. Integrity. Satoshi Nakamoto, whoever or whatever you are, thank you for your contribution to humanity.
Had my assistant help us transcribe Jill's talk, so for anyone that has any accessibility issues with hearing, hopefully that helps. The talk was so good. Actually, that whole conference was just amazing and well produced (Thanks to George M., and Russel O., - go #Seattle!).
Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto by Jill Carlson
Conference: "Bitcoin is ___"
Speaker: Jennifer Carlson
Title: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
TRANSCRIPTION of above video below here.
I'm really, really excited to introduce you to our next presenter who is going to cover one of the most important topics of Bitcoin. In the eToro Lounge, you will see the white paper, the Satoshi white paper that is now a part of the legend of Satoshi. So, it's in there, you can read it if you haven't. I'd recommend reading it multiple times, but with that, I would like to introduce you to Jill Carlson to talk about the legend of Satoshi Nakamoto.
Thanks. It's awesome to be here. So I'm going to be talking about one of my favorite topics within Bitcoin. And it's one of my favorite topics because it sounds like a book. It sounds like a movie. It sounds like something out of the Da Vinci Code to me. And the most important thing to understand about this is that it's real. Everything I'm about to tell you is true to life how this played out, what the origin story of Bitcoin was.
I'm going to talk about Satoshi Nakamoto and the origin story of Bitcoin. Now, as Alex Gladstein, Jimmy Song, and the guys who were last up mentioned a few times, Bitcoin has no controller. Bitcoin has no one who is a central authority who's making the decisions around how it should be developed, how it should proceed. It is fundamentally, truly decentralized and that dates back to the very beginning of it. And it's very important to understand how it came about, how this could possibly be.
And so, in order to understand this, we need to go back in time to the Fall of 2008. October 31, 2008, it was Halloween, eleven years ago. Take yourself back there. Now, on October 31, 2008, there was a paper that got published that we've mentioned already - the Bitcoin white paper. And in that white paper, there was presented for the first time, a solution to a problem that had existed for a while. That problem was how might we create a peer-to-peer electronic cash system.
Now, we might be sitting here and saying, "Well, okay. But I kind of already have electronic cash. I have my Bank of America app on my phone, I have Venmo, I have PayPal. Why is this different?"
This is different because what we talk about when we talk about Venmo for example - there's nothing wrong with Venmo, I use Venmo everyday - but, with Venmo, I'm relying on a third party to make that payment which is very fundamentally different from cash. If I send you $20 on Venmo, that transaction has to be routed to Venmo, back to my bank, back to your bank. There are all of these different parties and players involved. Whereas if I pull $20 out of my pocket and hand it to you, who else is involved in that transaction? No one, right? And that becomes very important when we think about the distinction between cash and just money.
And so, here for the first time, in this paper, we had electronic cash invented. Now this paper was published and it wasn't published by a research university, it wasn't published by a government agency, but rather, it was released to an email mailing list called the cypherpunk mailing list. And so here we actually have the original email that Satoshi sent presenting Bitcoin P2P e-cash in this paper or the Bitcoin white paper. And again, it's important to note here, the way that he chose to release it was to this pretty niche mailing list on a random corner of the Internet that had maybe gotten a lot of traction back in the 90s and we'll go over in a second sort of who the folks on this mailing list were and why he might have chosen to release it in this format to these people.
But he did. That was an intentional choice that he made to release it on the cypherpunk mailing list. And so then, we move on and we ask okay, well so who is this 'he' that I keep talking about? Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Who is this author of this white paper that solved the problem that, again, had been around for a long time, that many great mathematical minds, that many great cryptographers etc had set out to try to explore.
And the answer to that question is where, again, I think this starts to sound like a mystery book because we don't know. To this day, we don't know who it was who managed to solve this problem. That is wild if you think about it because if you think about other folks who publish under pseudonyms, for example. Authors. Artists. Very often we have some idea of who they are or they were just using the pseudonym as just kind of this is my professional life and then I'm keeping my personal life separate.
But with Satoshi, there is not a trace. There is his online persona, he published this paper, again, to this mailing list. No one on the mailing list had ever interacted with this Satoshi before, with Satoshi Nakamoto. And in fact, the first people who started responding to him didn't even think twice. They didn't question who you are or where you came from. It wasn't until weeks, even months down the line that he started fielding those questions and he was always sort of very cagey and shy and didn't reveal very much at all. And then only later did it come out that actually no one exists. Satoshi Nakamoto does not exist in the form, at least, that he was presenting to the world.
And then finally - so he publishes this white paper to this mailing list and very quickly on the order of weeks and then months he followed it up with working code and he performed the first Bitcoin transaction. And there are a few things that are important to think about there because that tells us something actually, about who Satoshi was. He's someone who could program. He wasn't just sort of an armchair philosopher coming up with these ideas and presenting them out to the world. He was actually programming and creating the source code that would enable this vision that he had for the future to become possible.
And so he performed the first Bitcoin transaction on January 3rd, 2009, a few months after he had first released the white paper. Pretty quick turnaround time, actually. He performed the first Bitcoin transaction and he timestamped that transaction by publishing within the transaction the headline of that day's London Times. And here you can see it over on the right - The Times 03/Jan/2009.
Now, let's take a step back and think for a moment here because what I've just presented to you is pretty wild. Again, it sounds like something that is borderline hard to believe that this is actually how it played out. That this isn't just some origin myth narrative that we've come up with to sort of kick up some interest in this product and in this space. It's all true, though, but what I would suggest, what I would propose here is that it actually was very intentionally done for a whole number of reasons. That none of this was an accident from the timing to the format in which he released it, to the distribution strategy around it, who he was, who he presented himself as, and then finally, the kind of branding that he created around this new currency, this new technology, this new product.
And I wanna again, take a step back here and think about the fact that we spent so much time in the Bitcoin space thinking about the technology, the technology that goes into Bitcoin. As we should because there are major breakthroughs that have occurred based on what Satoshi was able to put together for the first time. Again, he solved this unsolved problem.
But if we look at this timeline up here, we can see that actually, a lot of what went into Bitcoin, those components massively pre-dated Bitcoin going all the way back to the 1980s. There were all of these developments that happened along the way in terms of the technologies that were needed to be able to create Bitcoin. And really, what Satoshi did on the technology front, among other things of course, was he assembled these technologies for the first time in such a way that he created something new and he created this peer-to-peer digital cash. But should we spend so much time in this world, talking about, thinking about the technology aspect? But what I would propose is that we spend not nearly enough time talking about basically the marketing strategy, actually, that Satoshi created around it because Satoshi's brilliance was not just in creating the technology, but it was also in how he presented it to the world and how he sparked people's imagination with it.
And so with that, I want to briefly dive into a few of these areas. So I mentioned he created it on October 31, 2008. That's not quite right, though, right? He didn't create it then. That was when he chose to release it to the world. He chose that date. Now why would he choose October 31, 2008? There was a lot going on in the world at that time. Philadelphia had just won the World Series, Barack Obama was on the verge of being elected President, but you may also recall we were in the midst of a global financial crisis.
So who here remembers where they were in 2008 when Lehman filed for bankruptcy? Who feels like they were affected by it in some way? This affected everyone in the United States, everyone in the world. And suddenly, for the first time, people took a step back and started scratching their heads at the financial system. If big investment banks could go under - and here we have a picture. This is the Lehman Brothers sign being brought into auction at Christie's to be auctioned off in order to raise capital, actually for the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers.
If we can have banks going under, if we can have governments bailing out those banks and creating, really, a moral hazard around the bankers who made poor decisions around risk that set off this chain of events, this cascade that impacted every single one of us in this room, people were starting to ask these questions for the first time. And they were mad about it.
Occupy Wall Street. I was actually working on Wall Street at the time the occupy movement started happening and I would walk past everyday the protests occurring because people were mad as hell that the banks were able to be so irresponsible and governments were able to come in and bail out those banks while Mom and Pop had to lose their jobs, lose their pension funds.
And so what I would challenge you to think about here is October 31, 2008 Satoshi releases the Bitcoin white paper. Why? Not because that was the date where he finally felt like he cracked the code of the technology, but because he knew that the timing was finally right to release this to the world, that people were asking the right questions that would enable them to understand this. So there we have the timing, the question of timing.
The next thing I wanna talk about here is the question of who he released it to, why, and in what format most particularly. So I mentioned this word, "white paper". Everyone in Bitcoin loves to talk about the Bitcoin white paper. The Bitcoin white paper this, the Bitcoin white paper that. I had never heard the word "white paper" before I got into the Bitcoin world. Not actually a normal thing to be talking about, it's not actually a normal tactic and marketing etc. Now why did he choose this format to release it in? Well, actually the origin of "white paper" actually dates back to the early 1900s in the UK (United Kingdom) when white papers were used as policy proposals and they sat in this kind of interesting middle ground where they were policy proposals. They were intended to be used as tools somewhat of democracy to solicit feedback from people on the policy proposed there. And so there was this very all encompassing, democratic, high value placed on an individual freedom's format to be able to have a discussion.
Interestingly - of course, this format has been picked up by universities and academic research and some other technologies in the meantime, but nonetheless, I think that it's really worth thinking about why did he choose this format - the white paper - and does it have something to do with the fact that he was soliciting feedback. He wanted this to be an inclusive process, an inclusive conversation and I would say yes, that is probably exactly what he was thinking.
And so, we have the Bitcoin white paper, but as I mentioned before, we also have code. Satoshi didn't just put the idea out there and say, "Alright. No you guys take this and run with it or go and try and solve it." He said, "Okay, I'm also going to sit down and implement this. I'm going to pull some other people in and we're gonna try and build this damn thing and do some transactions."
And that's exactly what he did. And there, he's tapping into a slightly different ethos from what he did with the white paper. He's tapping into an ethos of create, ship the code. And I want to come back to the importance of that because we might think about oh you know well this just kind of make sense for him to put the idea out there and then tinker around and try and build it, but even the fact that there was lag time between when he released the white paper and when he build the first version of the code. That's important because that made it such that he could get feedback from the community that he was presenting it to before shipping and releasing the first version of it.
And now we want to talk about, of course, who he released it too. And this is where I think it gets very interesting again because I mentioned already the cypherpunk's mailing list and I want to talk about who the cypherpunks were. They were an activism community that really gained traction in the 1990s, really focused on privacy, individual rights, individual rights online, freedoms, all of these themes that we see crop up in the Bitcoin white paper. And cypherpunks had actually been working on this problem of how to create digital cash for years and so, you can think about the different ways that Satoshi might have gone about trying to present to the world this new idea. He could have gone and filed a patent. He could have approached a government agency and said, "Hey, I think I'm really on to something here." But instead, he took it to this community that he trusted to be the stewards of this - the cypherpunks - whose values he had some degree of certainty around in terms of the privacy and the individual rights aspect.
And then finally, the last thing that we need to talk about is of course, the branding around it and so we've covered the timing, the creator, his distribution strategy, the format that he released it in, but what I would say was actually the masterstroke of this whole thing was his ability to see how he could plant, basically, an Easter egg in the middle of this. So, I talked a little bit earlier about how he embedded in that first transaction that he did, a headline from the London Times from that day. He did that for two reasons. He did that to timestamp it, but also, what that headline was, was no accident.
That headline read, "Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks." And that was indeed the headline on January 3rd of 2009, but that was also a political message. That was a political message saying look at the money that you have today. Look at where it's got us. It's gotten us into crisis. It's gotten us into a situation where we have banks and institutions who can use that money in ways that hurt us. It's gotten us into a situation where governments can bail out banks and what if we imagined a world in which that were not possible? What if we imagined a different type of money? And that's what Satoshi was presenting to us.
And so, I wanted to share this story with all of you today because I think that it's really important to consider not just the technology behind Bitcoin, not just to consider the technological breakthroughs that Satoshi made in order to make all of these possible, but to also think about all the other decisions that went into it - as he was releasing it, as he was developing it - that got us, really, the magic of Bitcoin that we have today.