The people behind Bitcoin

A personal story

Three years ago I was introduced to Bitcoin by a friend, and I was immediately fascinated by the protocol design. But since I’m a computer scientist and I was passionate for cryptography and security, the first thing I did was try to break Bitcoin. But the quality of source code was quite good in terms of security, and I took me a long time to find my first vulnerability that allowed me to disrupt the network. At that time I thought about Bitcoin more like a hacking contest with a huge prize rather than a serious world-changing technology, so I was tempted to profit from the vulnerability by taking the network down. But at that time there was no way to short bitcoins. So I went the responsible disclosure way. It turned out that I caught the attention of the core developers quickly and I was heard without having to show any credentials. The problem was quickly solved. The core developers seemed to be good and honest people. So I became a supporter of Bitcoin. Not because of the technology, because of the people. Then I worked a lot of time researching on other possible security problems, even if I had no time left at all (I have two kids). During this period, I came to understand how the protocol works in depth, and that allowed me to research for two years on almost every possible path to improvements, which I periodically posted.

A month ago I was invited by Professor Arvind Narayanan from Princeton University to take part of a one-day research session with some of the greatest professors and students working on Bitcoin in the academic world, and the core developers Gavin, Gregory and Peter. So I accepted the invitation with great honor. I’d never been asked by a university to give a talk about Bitcoin in my own country. So I went to Princeton and I heard the talks of some of the brightest people I know. Late in the evening is was my turn to explain in ten minutes to them what were the research topics that I had been working on, which was a quite impossible task. I’ve been posting a hundred ideas in bitcointalk for two years, and in my blog for another year, plus four papers. So I had to choose. I assume I don’t have the strong knowledge academics do, nor am I the kind of hard working programmer which builds entire products in no time. I’m more like an inventor kind of person. So I came with the idea of talking about the most practical (and possible simplest) improvement that Bitcoin could make use of, which is the reduction of the block rate by pushing only the block header before the transactions and allowing mining on top of a block header even if the parent block still has not been fully validated. It turned to be one of the subjects Gavin was most interested, since he will soon have to deal with the limit on the block size and how to create the market for non-hardcoded transaction fees. This is the kind of research that both academics and core developers are most interested on (another example is threshold signatures in ECDSA). The following day, Gavin gave his warm conference about people (no equations, no code) , and mentioned the most imminent problems he had identified, citing my latest research as a possible path to solve them. So this was gratefully shocked again, not by technology, but by people. That day I meet Luis Parker, who had contacted me before by e-mail. This guy left everything to follow his passion for Bitcoin, which is quite admirable. Later that day some friends of Luis came to me and told me about how grateful they were of my latest post and encouraged me to keep writing. I must confess I that in the plane back home I was deeply moved. I never though people would thank me for that. I think it was probably not only because of the posts, but because they read my passion for Bitcoin in my posts. So again, I think it’s all about people.

In this trip I also had the opportunity to meet again Timo Hanke who I had briefly meet in San Jose Conference, but who treated me as his oldest friend.

So once again, I must thank Aravind, Gavin, Timo, Luis and all other great people for being behind Bitcoin, which means no other thing that transmitting the passion for it to other people.

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