Len Sassaman and Satoshi: a Cypherpunk History

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I’ve moved on to other things and probably won’t be around in the future.

A generation ago, multi-user time-sharing computer systems had a similar problem. Before strong encryption, users had to rely on password protection…

Then strong encryption became available to the masses, and trust was no longer required. … It’s time we had the same thing for money.

Diagram of a Type II Remailer

Remailers represent the “ground floor” of this house of ideas — the ability to exchange messages privately, without revealing our true identities. In this way we can engage in transactions, show credentials, and make deals, without government or corporate databases tracking our every move.

One Cypherpunk vision includes the ability to engage in transactions anonymously, using “digital cash”. … this is another area where anonymous mail is important.

Initially it can be used in proof-of-work applications for services that could almost be free but not quite.

It can already be used for pay-to-send e-mail. The send dialog is resizeable and you can enter as long of a message as you like.

Bram Cohen’s response to this article, suggesting he and Hal Finney could have pseudonymously collaborated

“[Chaum] stands in the thick of a movement that seems unstoppable — the digitization of money … the wild card in the era of digital money is anonymity, and David Chaum thinks we’re in trouble without it”

A lot of people automatically dismiss e-currency as a lost cause because of all the companies that failed since the 1990’s. I hope it’s obvious it was only the centrally controlled nature of those systems that doomed them.

Pynchon Gate and meta-index + bucket pool architecture
Diagram of the Byzantine Fault

“I think he’s an academic, maybe a post-doc, maybe a professor who just doesn’t want the attention”.

Whoever did this had a deep understanding of cryptographyThey’ve read the academic papers, they have a keen intelligence, and they’re combining the concepts in a genuinely new way.

“I came up with beautiful bugs, but every time I went after the code there was a line that addressed the problem. … I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Assuming Satoshi lived a life outside Bitcoin, he did so during the working/academic day when he was largely away from his computer at home … if Satoshi lived in a BST timezone he worked mostly at night, often into the small hours

I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party

Bram and Len in an interview about CodeCon

A unit of Mojo represents a slice of the current capabilities of the system as a whole. If you perform work for me now I give you credits, in the future when the network is larger those credits will represent a slice of a much larger pie and so have increased in value when you spend them.

It has the potential for a positive feedback loop; as users increase, the value goes up, which could attract more users to take advantage of the increasing value.

Bittorent’s design compared to Napster

Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be holding their own.

…the world’s first transparent server, which could facilitate a world of distributed, cooperating RPOW servers.

Screenshot of the Mnet client
“Zooko’s triangle is a trilemma of three properties that are generally considered desirable for names of participants in a network protocol”

I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me … maybe instead make it about the open-source project and give more credit to your dev contributors

In response to this story, Bram stated that Len had a predilection for anonymous releases

The quest for knowledge is a fundamental part of being human. Any kind of prior restraint against that is in my opinion a violation of our freedom of thought and conscious. So, not only am I hopeful that we can avoid overly restrictive knee-jerk legislation. …. I don’t want to see anyone build a framework that could be misapplied for that purpose.

There were very very few people who had any idea just how far things had gone … the one refrain I heard over and over was “we never knew, it seemed like he was doing fine”.

Len presenting at Dartmouth shortly before his death

This is our heritage, this research, these ideas that we have, that is leading to knowledge that no human in history has had the opportunity to have before, this is what we’re going to be handing down to future generations. We need to make sure we are not backed into a corner where we are not able to distribute this research to others, and that this isn’t locked up in IP lawyer vaults.

I became friends with Len and we were coconspirator cypherpunks at a time when that was a wild frontier. We were reimagining our world, riddled with cryptosystems that would mathematically enforce the freedoms that we treasured. Anonymous remailers to preserve speech without fear of retribution; onion routers to ensure nobody could censor the internet; digital cash to enable a radically free economy. We have schemes to decentralize & distribute everything.

We imagine complex and esoteric threats to problems we might someday have — we architect futuristic protocols to insulate against those threats. All this is a highly academic geek utopia exercise. I tend to keep it that way, but Len wanted to get his hands dirty.

Cypherpunks write Code.

…I loved him and I miss him. It doesn’t mean I know everything there was to know.

He used FileVault. I do not know what his password was. No matter how much you want to know whether he was Satoshi, it is impossible for me to access his laptop or any files on it. That door is closed.



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