The shy college student who helped build Bitcoin into a global phenomenon

theverge.com / Nathaniel Popper on June 10, 2015 09:52 am

This is an excerpt from From Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper.

These days the technology known as Bitcoin is a hot topic among the digerati of Silicon Valley and barons of Wall Street. But years before Bitcoin was a global phenomenon and the subject of financial speculation, it was a piece of open-source software that was struggling to attract more than a handful of users.

In the spring of 2009, the Bitcoin software had been up and running for a few months since being launched by a shadowy creator named Satoshi Nakamoto. The software gave out free bitcoins to anyone who downloaded and ran the software, to encourage new participants, but almost no one seemed interested — after all, what would someone do with the free bitcoins?

Satoshi Nakamoto stuck around cryptography forums and an incipient Bitcoin message board, responding with excitement to anyone who expressed interest — but almost no one was there. It was, at this point, that the technology got its savior from an unlikely place: a small dorm room in Helsinki.

When Martti Malmi found Bitcoin in the spring of 2009, he was in his second year at the Helsinki University of Technology. Lanky, with birdlike features, Martti shied away from social contact. He was happiest in his room with his computer, writing code, which he had learned to do at age 12, or hammering away at enemies in online games, while listening to heavy metal music on headphones.

Martti’s reclusive, computer-centric life led him to the ideas behind Bitcoin, and ultimately to Bitcoin itself. The internet had allowed a teenage Martti to discover and explore political ideas that were far from the Finnish social democratic consensus. He began following the ideas of the libertarian economists, which encouraged people to create their own destiny, aligned with Martti’s lone-wolf approach to life. Who needs the state when you have talent and ideas?

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