• I am not now, nor have I ever* been, Satoshi Nakamoto

    by  • April 27, 2013 • Everything Else • 2 Comments

    * although there was this one time

    A few people have noticed my biographical similarity with Satoshi Nakamoto – British person with American English tendencies and ties to Ireland. There are three reasons why I cannot be Satoshi Nakamoto.

    1. My coding skills are not up to it. I haven’t written C/C++ since the mid-1990s
    2. My personal security skills are not up to it – long-term concealment of an active identity is beyond me
    3. My cryptographic implementation skills are not up to it – a separate issue from language mastery. Implementing cryptographic protocols securely is a specialized skill which I do not have.

    However, I have designed at least one fairly well thought of scheme involving substantial cryptography, the CheapID Genocide-Resistant Biometric ID Card Standard and I do have quite a good understanding (at the “arm waving” level, mostly) of cypherpunk concepts and eventually somebody is going to track down a piece of work I did in the 1990s. Rather than have this all blow up when that work is found, I’m publishing now. I’ve informed some people who ought to know of my intention to do this, so nobody get any funny ideas.

    In the late 1990s I was heavily involved in e-gold and experimented with the now-defunct digigold currency, which was as I recall a Chaumian digicash of the classic type (centralized server required.) I’m not sure I ever completed a single successful digigold transaction.

    At some point back there, a project started, to implement the rest of the common financial instruments on the e-gold platform, starting with Limited Liability Companies with bearer shares. That I got involved in, as the cryptographic applications designer. I figured out an extremely elegant hack, which for the purposes of historic interest, I will now describe.

    1. an INCORPORATION AGENT generates a keypair for the COMPANY. the public key and the right to have documents signed by the private key is sold to an OWNER.
    2. a BILL is posted by the INCORPORATION AGENT to the APPEND-ONLY PUBLIC NOTARY stating the keypair belongs to OWNER. no operation not signed by OWNER and INCORPORATION AGENT is valid.
    3. the APPEND ONLY PUBLIC NOTARY is a pretty simple-minded entity. any incoming message has metadata prepended, is signed including a hash from all previous signings, and pushed out to the community to mirror/archive for their security.
    4. the OWNER pushes a request via the AOPN to the SHARE ISSUER who issues STOCK, in the form of copies of the original request from OWNER, the OWNER’s public key, and with additional data from the SHARE ISSUER, and signed by that issuer 1/100, 2/100 and so on. These documents are posted to the AOPN. They’re just like paper share certificates.
    5. [the bitcoiny bit] STOCK is transferred by the OWNER appending the NEW OWNER’s public key to the bottom of the share certificate, plus a percentage of transfer (5% of this share), and sending the lot to the TRANSFER AGENT who checks the math. If it all adds up to 100%, the TRANSFER AGENT copies the share certificate, individually adds the new fractional ownership to each copy, and sends the lot to the AOPN. These new STOCK certificates include the full history right back to the original incorporation request, of course – they just keep growing in length as they are traded.
    6. a SHAREHOLDER DEMOCRACY AGENT can be hired by the OWNER of a company to hold a ballot of members. Each member’s public key is visible in the AOPN’s records, and notice is posted to the AOPN that a vote is due. The AOPN counts the votes, and if they exceed 50% of stock, the OWNER key can be replaced by an ELECTED DIRECTOR key in the records of the INCORPORATION AGENT. Remember the INCORPORATION AGENT must cosign all transactions for the COMPANY, so once they accept the DIRECTOR key, the original OWNER has no power. This becomes particular relevant because, for example, cryptographic bank accounts may well be used which transfer COMPANY assets on DIRECTOR authority.
    7. STOCK can track an asset (i.e. “a 1 kg e-gold account”) and therefore act like currency.
    8. DIRECTORS and STOCK OWNERS can, of course, remain as anonymous as they like, even though all transactions are matters of public record in the AOPN registry.
    9. The systems are relatively centralized – AOPN etc. were all conceptualized as server clusters rather than as protocol-ized decentralized entities. It was the 1990s!

    I figured out that this was not a safe line of business to be in, deleted my prototypes, and left cryptography for many years. The next cryptographic application I designed was for the Office of the Secretary of Defence (Networks and Information Integration) with technical input and supervision from the National Computer Security Center / National Security Agency.

    I am not pro- or anti-bitcoin. I do, however, believe that the unchecked excesses of unaccountable power occur on both the large and the small scale. The “Power Law Lottery” which places more wealth in the hands of the Wal-Mart heirs than 40% of America’s population is insane, and technologies for extreme financial privacy are not only going to wind up in the hands of daring oppressed people in repressive regimes, but also in the hands of the giants who have subverted our democracies and terrified our elected representatives with the threat of starving them of election campaign donations.

    Neither should I be considered a Statist. I don’t know how to keep Humanity’s finger off the trigger of its own destruction, environmental or more likely through nanotechnology or biotechnology as instruments of war. Without some ability to centralize enough power to regulate dangerous technologies out of play (and that includes coal plants) I don’t know what we’re going to do.

    Once upon a time, when I was young and dangerous, I thought that ultra-low transaction cost financial instruments would revolutionize the lives of the poor. I still think that: today I think they’ll be used to rob them blind.

    I am not old and cynical, but I am beginning to understand the mastery of America’s Founding Fathers in their original “checks and balances.”

    May we all be so wise.

    flattr this!


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    2 Responses to I am not now, nor have I ever* been, Satoshi Nakamoto

    1. anon
      April 27, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      Nice try, Satoshi.

    2. May 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Once again, I think you’re discounting the role of the state in protecting privilege. The state spends a fortune on an army and police, upholding property rights AT ALMOST NO COST to the property owner. Instead paid for out of everyone’s taxes.

      Without this mechanism, the rich would be forced to buy protection of their property at a greater cost to themselves. That, by itself, would have a redistributive effect as private security guards would need to be paid handsomely to ensure they didn’t give in to the temptation to steal from their employer or sell them out.

      The richer and more obnoxious the oligarch, the more costly to protect themselves through private security.

      Middle-class citizens, on the other hand, would pay for their property rights to be defended through some kind of subscription service. Being ordinary folks, more closely embedded in their communities, and with far smaller stakes, it’s likely that the fees to ensure honesty from the private police would be proportionally smaller.

      I have no doubt that the super-rich could retain a lot of power in a stateless world. But I wonder whether they actually can achieve the same level of power in the face of the people, without the state backing them up.

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