Remembering Cypherpunk Tim May and His Pioneering “Crypto Anarchist Manifesto”

Cypherpunk Tim May has reportedly died at his home in California. May was a co-founder of the Cypherpunk mailing list and author of The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto. His influence lay the groundwork for bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and a new movement of privacy advocates.

Word of his death was announced by fellow cypherpunk Lucky Green: 

“My dear friend, co-conspirator in many things and for many years, fellow Freedom Fighter Tim May passed away earlier this week at his home in Corralitos, California… Tim May co-founded the Cypherpunks, perhaps the single most effective pro-cryptography grassroots organization in history.”

Founded in 1992, Tim May’s Cypherpunk mailing list was home to some of the most groundbreaking ideas in cryptographic and cryptocurrency history. Wei Dei shared his vision for a digital currency called b-money on the mailing list, many years before bitcoin was envisioned. Nick Szabo shared his concept for “smart contracts,” a decade before Ethereum came along to popularize the technology. And Adam Back outlined an early version of “proof of work,” which became the algorithm behind bitcoin.

The Cypherpunk mailing list was a melting pot of concepts and ideas that eventually came to the mainstream via Satoshi Nakamoto’s famous bitcoin whitepaper.

Without Tim May and the cypherpunk movement, there would be no bitcoin.

The Eerily Accurate Predictions of The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto

May’s lasting contribution to the world, however, is The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto. A short, passionate piece of writing published in 1988 that predicted the future with eerie accuracy. 

May outlined how computer technology would provide “the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner.”

However, he explained how governments would react negatively to the movement. 

“The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration.”

May even predicted how the technology would lead to an internet black market: 

“[Cryptography] will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion.”

The prediction is not a million miles away from the infamous Silk Road marketplace which harnessed bitcoin as a payment method.

But May was right in predicting that these events would not bring down the wider movement:

“This will not halt the spread of crypto anarchy.”

“Satoshi would barf”

As bitcoin infiltrated the mainstream, May became somewhat disillusioned with the trajectory. In his last published interview with CoinDesk, he lamented the direction of cryptocurrency:

“I can’t speak for what Satoshi intended, but I sure don’t think it involved bitcoin exchanges that have draconian rules about KYC, AML, passports, freezes on accounts and laws about reporting “suspicious activity” to the local secret police… I think Satoshi would barf.”

The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, in Full

For those that are interested in Bitcoin and its history, take some time to read through The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto in full. This is how cryptocurrency took shape. It’s how the early pioneers envisioned the technology and what it could do. RIP, Tim May. 

The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto – Timothy C. May

A specter is haunting the modern world, the specter of crypto anarchy.

Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner. Two persons may exchange messages, conduct business, and negotiate electronic contracts without ever knowing the True Name, or legal identity, of the other. Interactions over networks will be untraceable, via extensive re- routing of encrypted packets and tamper-proof boxes which implement cryptographic protocols with nearly perfect assurance against any tampering. Reputations will be of central importance, far more important in dealings than even the credit ratings of today. These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation, the ability to tax and control economic interactions, the ability to keep information secret, and will even alter the nature of trust and reputation.

The technology for this revolution–and it surely will be both a social and economic revolution–has existed in theory for the past decade. The methods are based upon public-key encryption, zero-knowledge interactive proof systems, and various software protocols for interaction, authentication, and verification. The focus has until now been on academic conferences in Europe and the U.S., conferences monitored closely by the National Security Agency. But only recently have computer networks and personal computers attained sufficient speed to make the ideas practically realizable. And the next ten years will bring enough additional speed to make the ideas economically feasible and essentially unstoppable. High-speed networks, ISDN, tamper-proof boxes, smart cards, satellites, Ku-band transmitters, multi-MIPS personal computers, and encryption chips now under development will be some of the enabling technologies.

The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be trade freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of crypto anarchy.

Just as the technology of printing altered and reduced the power of medieval guilds and the social power structure, so too will cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions. Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures. And just as a seemingly minor invention like barbed wire made possible the fencing-off of vast ranches and farms, thus altering forever the concepts of land and property rights in the frontier West, so too will the seemingly minor discovery out of an arcane branch of mathematics come to be the wire clippers which dismantle the barbed wire around intellectual property.

Arise, you have nothing to lose but your barbed wire fences!

Ben Brown

Editor, Block Explorer News. Reach me at benjamin-brown.uk

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