Interviews

Charles Miller

Craig Wright: Bitcoin is not a cryptocurrency

In a wide-ranging interview for the CoinGeek Conversations podcast, nChain Chief Scientist Dr. Craig Wright takes the chance to correct a few myths about Bitcoin’s origins and purpose. Wright has proven beyond a doubt to ownership of CoinGeek that he was the main architect of Bitcoin, and that it was him who conceived and used the pseudonymous name of Satoshi Nakamoto.

First, he says that Bitcoin is not a cryptocurrency: “cryptography is secret writing. Bitcoin is the exact opposite of that. Bitcoin is basically a public ledger”. Wright makes a distinction between Bitcoin and ecash systems which use technology to “cryptographically hide something”. Instead, Bitcoin is a “chain of evidence” that is “pretty much everything that those other systems that aim for anonymous transfer are not”.

What’s more, Wright doesn’t even accept that Bitcoin is a currency since that implies a level of official acceptance – “something that’s used by the state”. In time, Bitcoin will be currency, he says. But first, he predicts the release of “tokenized fiat” by states, which will “use the capabilities of Bitcoin to print their own money on top of it”.

Thirdly, Bitcoin is not about “democratizing finance”. You can’t do that with Bitcoin, he says. The only kind of decentralizing that works will be achieved by sticking to a stable protocol: “you pull the developers from ever making a change”. In that sense, it’s about taking away the power of developers. Developers “are the cancer in Bitcoin”.

Two more corrections to conventional wisdom: Wright is sceptical about the potential future threat to crypto systems from quantum computing. “to create something that could attack Bitcoin in the mythical quantum computer world” would require an unrealistic area of quantum computer space: “it’s fud, it’s snake oil …none of it will ever affect Bitcoin.”

Finally, on the widespread criticism of mining as a profligate user of electricity, Wright says Google uses “thousands of times more”, as do Visa and Mastercard. “People who want to attack the system make things up”.

Alongside Bitcoin as money is the use of the blockchain to store non-financial data. Wright is developing the blockchain-based Metanet, which he says that has the potential to threaten the ubiquity of the Internet and the dominance of the tech giants: “it changes everything in giving people control of their own lives. Rather than having people like Twitter or Facebook owning everything you’re doing, it now allows you to start creating your own space”. The bargain that users currently make with the tech giants, to sell their data in return for the services offered, is one in which users don’t really have a choice, Wright says: with the Internet so important in our lives, to decide not to use the big tech services would be “like saying ‘don’t use electricity’…You have to use it for work etc.”

But there is an opportunity for the Metanet because “the [online] model for advertisements is incredibly inefficient”. It leads to clickfraud, which the tech companies have to spend money fighting. He believes users would be prepared to make micropayments for search results rather than being stuck with the ad model in which they are selling their data. In time, he says you might only have to pay a thousandth of a cent for a set of search results.

He is currently writing openly about being Satoshi because, he says, “unfortunately I’ve got a whole lot of greedy con men who all want money”. As for the choice of Satoshi as a name, he says that it’s “a bit silly” but it’s the Japanese for ash. The idea, which he originally saw in The Economist magazine, is that new money will rise from the ashes. As for Nakamoto, that’s the name of a Japanese 18th Century philosopher. He doesn’t see any value in the figure of Nakamoto remaining enigmatically anonymous: “the myth that’s been created around [the idea of Satoshi] by these idiots is disgusting”.

The money that his work has brought Wright is very real: he has talked about being a billionaire and says he “did go through a few months of just blowing money for the sake of it because I hadn’t had it before really at this level”. Today he has a Lamborghini which sits out in the rain and snow and says – despite criticism from his wife, he jokes – that “money gets boring”.

Having money hasn’t blunted his creative ambitions: “my aim is to have more patents than any human in history has ever created”. The record now, is around 5,500. His current work “will take me to around that quantity. And by the time I finish, I want to hit 10,000”. He says he plans to work for the next 30 years (which would require almost three a week to hit his target).

Wright is also working on two PhDs at the moment: one of which, in applied maths, is based in Paris, and “only partly” in French. He’s also studying Mandarin, has an exercise regime, and does weekly boxing sessions – not to mention his job at nChain. He says he doesn’t need much sleep and chooses his busy schedule because he wants to develop his talents, rather than watching TV: “people sit there and they waste their life and call it entertainment”. But he does admit to sometimes watching The Walking Dead.

You can watch the whole interview with Craig Wright on YouTube, or listen on this week’s CoinGeek Conversations podcast:

Please subscribe to CoinGeek Conversations – this is episode 13 of a weekly podcast series. Just search for “CoinGeek Conversations” wherever you get your podcasts, subscribe on iTunes, listen on Spotify or visit the CoinGeek Conversations website.

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