“Running bitcoin”. Hal Finney’s two-word tweet didn’t get much of a reception on January 11, 2009, but ten years later it is being remembered for the seismic shift it represents. Finney was referring to the Bitcoin he had just received from Satoshi Nakamoto, the first ever Bitcoin transfer, and the beginning of a movement that promised financial independence for a world wracked by the actions of big banks. But who was Hal Finney, and what did he have to do with Satoshi Nakamoto?
— halfin (@halfin) January 11, 2009
Hal Finney was a computer engineer and noted cryptographic activist, making up the group of ‘cypherpunks’ that tried in the 1990s to create various iterations of a digital money that would put power “into the hands of individuals rather than governments and corporations”. These failed projects would ultimately be the precursors to Bitcoin. In 2004 Finney created the first reusable Proof-of-Work system years before Bitcoin, one of the reasons why some think Finney is the sole creator of the cryptocurrency.
Holmes or Watson?
At some point after 2004, Finney came together with Nakamoto and began developing the concept for Bitcoin, resulting in the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008 and the mining of the genesis block less than nine weeks later. Many subscribe to the theory that Hal Finney not just worked closely with Satoshi Nakamoto but in fact was the man himself. The evidence for this is slim however, and the fact that Finney had frequent email exchanges with Nakamoto would seem to dispute this, unless he decided that writing back and forth to himself was the ideal cover. Instead, it seems that Nakamoto was the lead developer and Finney was the tester – the Watson to Nakamoto’s Sherlock Holmes. Finney has said of Nakamoto:
Today, Satoshi’s true identity has become a mystery. But at the time, I thought I was dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere. I’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the course of my life, so I recognize the signs.
“I’m Comfortable With My Legacy”
Finney was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in August of 2009, only eight months after Bitcoin launched, but continued to program until his death in 2014. Finney left most of his Bitcoin fortune to his children, but sold some to cryogenically freeze himself in the hopes of being revived in the future. Who knows, by the time he’s walking and talking again he might be asking for that Bitcoin back to go and buy a lambo.