Perhaps the biggest casualty of this week’s Satoshi Nakamoto/Craig Wright fiasco has been Gavin Andresen. But has the Bitcoin community been fair to one of its hardest workers?
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Once one of the bitcoin community’s most respected heroes, Andresen’s confirmation that he was “convinced beyond a reasonable doubt” that Wright was indeed Satoshi has resulted in a stream of mockery and often personal attacks.
For the public not familiar with cryptography or the technical details of how it should be used to show irrefutable proof, it was Andresen’s words (even more than those of former Bitcoin Foundation Executive Director Jon Matonis) that convinced them Wright was telling the truth.
Andresen had, after all, worked almost alone with Satoshi since 2010, and it was Andresen who Satoshi personally chose to replace him as Bitcoin’s Lead Developer when he left the project abruptly in early 2011.
He later admitted he had been possibly “bamboozled” by Wright’s claims and may have made a mistake in publishing his blog post before Wright’s, though he still seemed unsure either way:
It should be noted that Andresen has not formally retracted his statements and that Wright seemed able to reveal personal details about Andresen unknown to few other than Satoshi, eg: signing the message “Gavin’s favorite number is eleven. CSW.”
Andresen’s support for Wright’s claims were met with such skepticism that it led to his losing commit access to Bitcoin Core on GitHub (ie: the ability to alter programming code of Bitcoin’s primary software protocol) under the pretext that his online accounts may have been hacked.
Is This Really Fair?
Some within the Bitcoin community have defended Andresen, including ShapeShift’s Erik Voorhees:
Bitcoin expert, Andreas Antonopoulos, also expressed his empathy, tweeting:
Avoid schadenfreude. Con artists can fool even the smartest people. What happened to Gavin and Jon could happen to anyone.#empathytime
— AndreasMAntonopoulos (@aantonop) May 5, 2016
The first question that needs to be asked now is: whatever your opinion on Wright’s role in early development or Andresen’s personal judgment, did it affect Bitcoin at all?
There was a ton of mainstream media attention. Some of it portrayed Bitcoin as a strange universe, but it has always done that. If anything, it served to remind the public that Bitcoin is still here, still growing, piquing further curiosity.
The bitcoin price barely shifted either on Wright’s initial “proof” or his ambiguous apology. Bitcoin companies continue building its infrastructure.
The second question is: Is Gavin Andresen somehow less of an expert on Bitcoin as a result? He has worked on the project in some way or other since 2010 and is still one of its best-known figures.
He voluntarily stepped down as Bitcoin Core’s Lead Developer over two years ago, passing on the reins to Wladimir van der Laan. The identity of Satoshi, and whoever Gavin thinks that may be, do not affect how the technology works at all.
Nobody can deny the amount of time and effort Andresen has put into building Bitcoin from an almost-unknown experiment in 2010 to the multi-billion-dollar industry it has become.
Andresen has also arguably been one of Bitcoin’s best spokespeople, putting an amiable and charming face on a technology revolution the mainstream media loves to portray as dark, underground and risky.
The Gavin Andresen Story
It was Andresen who in October 2011 first floated the idea of a Bitcoin Foundation to lobby for cryptocurrency and promote the idea of a decentralized transaction network to a world that had never heard of such a concept.
Whatever became of the Bitcoin Foundation that eventuated from that proposal, it’s important to remember the response at the time was generally positive.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Andresen emigrated to the USA at age five and grew up in Seattle, Anchorage, and California’s Santa Ynez Valley.
He gave away over 10,000 BTC (current value $4.6 million) via the Bitcoin Faucet. He has created nine BIPs (proposed bitcoin protocol improvements), added 62,000 lines of code to Bitcoin Core, and removed 76,000 lines.
Andresen’s influence as Satoshi’s anointed Lead Developer has occasionally seen him involved in controversy even before this week’s events.
He stated on a podcast in 2012 that he had agreed to a CIA request to present on Bitcoin technology to its employees, which may have prompted Satoshi to disappear.
It has been Andresen’s support for rival protocol Bitcoin Classic, however, and its stated intention to hard-fork Bitcoin to allow ever-larger transaction block sizes, that perhaps left him vulnerable to more criticism after the past week.
Bitcoin has divided firmly into warring camps on the issue, amid claims larger blocks will lead to bandwidth problems, centralization, and leave it open to control by big business and other domineering entities.
Cutting the Tall Poppies
People seem to have an innate desire to see their heroes toppled, especially once individual opinions are put aside and mob mentality takes over. As Andresen himself wrote:
We love to create heroes – but also seem to love hating them if they don’t live up to some unattainable ideal.
Although he was talking about Satoshi, Andresen unintentionally described his own position in the Bitcoin community. He didn’t invent Bitcoin, or ask to become its public face. He’s a talented but ultimately ordinary man, an enthusiast, and geek who recognized Bitcoin’s potential before few others had and caught the hot potato when Satoshi tossed it.
Technology is ultimately made of people, people are inherently fallible, and few who have participated in the tech revolution have done so without a few slips along the way. To be a tech visionary is to invite controversy and criticism, as the world argues over what it should be and where it will lead us.
Was the Bitcoin community too harsh in its criticism of Gavin Andresen? Does it make any difference to the project? Share your thoughts below!
Images courtesy of www.huffingtonpost.com.