In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Satoshi Nakamoto published a revolutionary white paper that described a simple peer-to-peer electronic cash system that would later become Bitcoin. In the decade since the launch of the digital currency, the nascent blockchain technology behind Bitcoin has been heralded as having the same radical potential as the printing press or the Internet, in particular presenting extraordinary challenges to traditional banking. Yet the paper contains no reference to existing political ideas, monetary or economic knowledge. Why?
James Bridle’s introduction situates Bitcoin within an obscure historical movement of decentralisation, powered by the ideologies of encryption, showing how blockchain is part of a wider project to redraw the maps of political possibility. The White Paper returns to Nakamoto’s canonical text as a Rosetta Stone that reveals the far-reaching implications of decentralisation, with crypto-economist Jaya Klara Brekke’s guide demonstrating how it can serve as the compass for a rapidly shifting terrain of contemporary techno-politics.
Satoshi Nakamoto is the identity used by the unknown person or people who developed Bitcoin, authored the Bitcoin white paper, and created and deployed the first Bitcoin implementation. As part of the implementation, they also devised the first blockchain database. Satoshi Nakamoto ceased public involvement with Bitcoin at the end of 2010; their last public post was made in 2014 as a rebuttal to claims on the ‘true’ nature of Satoshi’s identity. During Bitcoin’s peak in December 2017, the Satoshi Nakamoto identity could lay claim to a fortune worth over $19 billion, making Nakamoto possibly the 44th richest person in the world at that time. To this day both the public identity and Bitcoin wallet attached to the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto remain inactive.
James Bridle is an artist and writer working across technologies and disciplines. His artworks have been commissioned by galleries and institutions and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. His writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in magazines and newspapers including Wired, Domus, Cabinet, the Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Observer and many others, in print and online. He lectures regularly at conferences, universities, and other events. New Dark Age, his book about technology, knowledge, and the end of the future, was published by Verso (UK & US) in 2018. His work can be found at http://jamesbridle.com.
Ben Vickers is a curator, writer, explorer, publisher, technologist and luddite. He is CTO at the Serpentine Galleries in London, co-founder of Ignota Books and an initiator of the open-source monastic order unMonastery.