Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 12: Bitcoin's Unself Revealed

Image Source: Mark Harrison via The Economist.

Craig Steven Wright has revealed himself on his blog today, and in an exclusive scoop to the BBC, The Economist and GQ, that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, creator (with undisclosed other(s)) of Bitcoin. Wright claims he has the private key to Satoshi's digital signature for the first generated Bitcoin. Wright told the BBC that he was forced to come forward because rumours that he is Satoshi are affecting people in his personal life. He stated he is appearing before a camera once, and after today, he never, ever, ever wants to talk to the media again. But his weird choice to include GQ in the scoop equates the invention of Bitcoin with a male-centric fashion statement.

The borrowed finery of self-effacement? In his blog post, Wright commented on Sartre's 1964 refusal to accept the Nobel Prize. Image Source: NYT via Open Culture.

Maybe Wright is gunning for the Nobel Prize in Economics. Oh wait. I see what he did there. Wright opened his blog post by quoting philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and revealing a digital key to unlock Satoshi's signature:
"'If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner' – Jean-Paul Sartre, 1964

I remember reading that quote many years ago, and I have carried it with me uncomfortably ever since. However, after many years, and having experienced the ebb and flow of life those years have brought, I think I am finally at peace with what he meant. If I sign Craig Wright, it is not the same as if I sign Craig Wright, Satoshi.

I think this is true, but in my heart I wish it wasn’t.
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In the remainder of this post, I will explain the process of verifying a set of cryptographic keys.

To ensure that we can successfully sign and validate messages using the correct elliptic curve parameters in OpenSSL, it is necessary to ensure that the secp256k1 curve is loaded. This is not the default on Centos Linux. I will not detail this process here. I do point out that RPMForge maintains binaries that have already been patched. My recommendation would be to download both the source files from the OpenSSL website and the patch, if, like me you’re running Centos.

I will also point the reader to the following websites for some preliminary reading:

Ethereum founder jokes about Wright's revelation.

The cryptocurrency world has a complex, unresolved relationship with the political meaning of anonymity. Perhaps this is a technological and a generational phenomenon. Wright is an Australian Gen Xer born in October 1970, and his revelation is symptomatic of post-Boomer quandaries over identity. It is not just that Generation X follows the me-centric Baby Boomers, playing an unseen Echo to the Boomers' Narcissus. It is that Generation X exactly straddles two ages: pre-tech revolution and tech revolution, pre-turn-of-the-Millennium and post-turn-of-the-Millennium. It is the only generation with one foot squarely in the 'before' and one foot squarely in the 'after.' Part of that before and after relates to how mass media transformed the body politic, and how the information revolution is changing the state, via the private and public realms. These are central tensions in the nascent technocracy.

Accomplishment used to be indicated by making one's name and becoming a public figure; renown was the measure of those who changed history. Today, social media promote millions of virtual mini-mes. You will recognize these small, self-promoting celebrities, who see Facebook as their personal world's stage, not as one of the Internet's Kafkaesque lower courts of judgement. They mistake technological momentum around their names with true accomplishment. They confuse social media traction with their entry into the canon.

This is Wright's challenge. For some Gen Xers, personal integrity is gauged by the rejection of Boomer-styled egotism, which has given rise to a question of how to assert an alternate generational identity: To Be or Not To Be? Not all members of their cohort think this way, but for those who do, selling out means self-promoting in the way Boomers would. To hear Wright talk, he just wants to gun for his Nobel Prize in Economics, but not really, and then be left in peace with his private contracts. It is worse because he is a computer scientist. Mass technologists are obsessed with privacy, cryptography and the erasure of ego in anonymity.

Online egotism and anti-egotism are two sides of the same coin. Technologically-enabled inflated, changeable or anonymous identities are sources of great power. But no one knows quite how to handle these loaded guns, nor where to aim them. The mere malleability of identity (be it based in technologygendernationethnicity, or religion) and the eradication of egotism are becoming semi-sacred sources of techno-spirituality, in movements which invest online interactions with neo-religious significance. One of the reasons George R. R. Martin's adapted story, Game of Thrones, is so popular is because his fantasy depicts contemporary moral and political uncertainties. For example, the character Arya Stark embodies the Millennial debate on anonymity. She is a princess who embarks on a vendetta against those who have betrayed and murdered her family. But in that quest, she is initiated into a shadowy guild of Faceless Men to become 'no one,' to lose all identity and thereby gain far greater power. To be no one means you could be anyone and do anything. The guild presides over a Hall of Faces, a storage house of living masks they can assume at will, so that they can take on anyone's identity. They are identity metamorphs.

Arya's first glimpse of the Hall of Faces (18 May 2015). Video Source: HBO via Youtube.

For good or ill, history honours prominent identities and personhood, not anonymity, although the authenticity of that promotion is continually debated. While Wright's revelation is not confirmed inside the Bitcoin community, members of the general public will understand Bitcoin better if they can associate its invention with an individual person. The BBC's focus on Wright brings the historical significance of cryptocurrencies into sharper focus. When Satoshi stays anonymous, it as though we had been talking about the invention of the printing press, but did not know who Johannes Gutenberg was. The Battle of Waterloo is just not the same without Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. You cannot have World War II without the gigantic personalities of Hitler, Churchill and Stalin. Satoshi Nakamoto, an anonymous pseudonym, is not an eligible 2016 nominee for the Nobel Prize in Economics. But if Satoshi Nakamoto is a real person with a real public identity, or real persons with real identities, then he or they could win this year's Nobel Prize.

Thus, the BBC World Service today called Wright a "Modern day Midas. The man who conjured new money out of thin air." And Jon Matonis of The Economist remarked: "Bitcoin is the separation of money and state." He compared the significance of Bitcoin's invention with that of the printing press and the separation of church and state - combined. All the more reason, then, for care to be taken, especially by the mainstream media, in determining the identity of the inventor or inventors of this technology. Satoshi's identity lies at the heart of a power play over the comparative value of anonymous politics and identity politics. Divisions in the Bitcoin scene show themselves in pieces for and against Wright's claim. Satoshi's original Bitcoin white paper, posted in October 2008, is here.

ADDENDUM: Wright backed out of providing conclusive proof that he is Satoshi on 5 May 2016.

ADDENDUM: Economist piece on Wright's claim, 7 May 2016.

ADDENDUM (18 July 2018): In a piece from 19 June 2018Fortune updates us on Wright's activities, since he has taken to buying up blockchain patents:
"[O]ne of the top players [in blockchain patent applications] is a company called ETIC (also known as Enchain), which is a holding company for Australian inventor Craig Wright. He is a controversial figure in the blockchain world, in part because of his widely-disputed claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous inventor of Bitcoin. But Wright’s motives for obtaining patents have also drawn scrutiny.

'His tactics and activities have all the marks of being a patent assertion entity or what’s pejoratively known as a troll. I’m not aware of his companies having any products,' said Kaufman."

See all my posts on Cryptocurrencies.
See all my posts on Generation X.

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