Any groundbreaking technology “stands on the shoulders of giants.” This is true for the capital investment, the risks, the failures, and the successes of those who have gone before. In software development, individuals use the libraries and platforms of others to build their own creations: tools built on top of tools built on tools from tools. It is tools all the way down. Somewhere along the way were the ideators: those who had a vision of “what could be” long before anyone else did. They saw the potential for horizontal integration into a countless number of industries. They built the tools that could usurp centralized behemoths that have existed for an eternity. They set out into the unknown. In this 4 part series, I will be examining the most impactful digital pioneers in the blockchain space.
Long before the Satoshi Nakamotos, the Vitalik Buterins, and the Brian Behlendorfs of the world was a humble professor from Berkeley named David Chaum. Called by some “The Forefather of Cryptocurrencies and the Cyperphunk Movement,” David was the first to set out to research the possibility of designing a computation protocol that could be trusted by mutually distrustful parties. The research of this problem occurred from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.
The backdrop of this research was at the University of California, Berkeley, a long-standing key player in cryptographic research and other computer security-related projects. His research occurred at a time when researchers from Berkeley were arrested for trying to get the newly-created and highly valuable Rivest-Shamir-Adleman algorithm smuggled across the US-Mexico border. The military complex was the backdrop of much of the research at the time — of which many “cyberpunks” at Berkeley were not a fan of.
According to Dr. Chaum, “If you can solve the trust problem, you can solve any information security problem.” The dissertation he completed offered up a potential protocol solution to the trust problem, which included every element of a blockchain that Bitcoin has — except proof-of-work. The fact that proof-of-work was not included in Dr. Chaum’s dissertation makes perfectly good sense. The idea of burning up tons of computing time in the early 1980s in order for consensus to be reached within a blockchain protocol would have been considered entirely unreasonable and unfeasible. In addition, his paper “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups” was not digitized until much later in time:
“It’s a little bit ironic, I guess, that my concern about digital sovereignty and all made me not sign the copyright of my dissertation over to something called ‘dissertation abstracts’ that, like most theses, would be online and you could find them and order copies. So, I kept the copyright of everything. It just basically lived in the library in paper form. There were only three copies in three different parts of the library system, but never digitized.” — David Chaum
Dr. Chaum recounted in an interview with Epicenter Podcast how the three copies were nearly constantly checked out for long periods of time. It was a “best-kept secret” in many ways — something Chaum regretted later as his dissertation did not garner the credit it may have received if he had placed the dissertation into online circulation.
Since his dissertation, Dr. Chaum has been credited as the inventor or contributor to research on secure digital cash, cryptographic blind signatures, digital group signatures, trustworthy voting systems, an anonymous credential system, zero-knowledge arguments, and zero-knowledge proofs. He is quite the accomplished researcher. Dr. Chaum believes the “killer app for consumers” is messaging integrated with payments hosted on a blockchain with privacy fully integrated.
“Privacy is tied intimately to human potential.”
— David Chaum
For Dr. Chaum, his current project is to make this killer app a reality through Elixxer. It aims to be the communications layer of the “xx network,” protecting privacy by combining end-to-end encryption with an accelerated mix network that obscures metadata generated by a user’s daily activities.80 Dr. Chaum is not done as a digital pioneer yet. As he continues to be a leader in the privacy and cryptography space, there is no telling what is around the corner with him.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Building Confidence In Blockchain — Investing in Cryptocurrency and a Decentralized Future. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me here via email email@example.com or connect with me on social: (twitter) https://twitter.com/l_woetzel or (LinkedIn) https://www.linkedin.com/in/carter-woetzel-16936b136/ .
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