95 Steps Towards Bitcoin

jcoelho | Oct 31, 2023 min read

Today commemorates the 15th anniversary of Bitcoin’s White Paper [1], a seminal document that seeks to delineate a protocol for the separation of Money and State. Interestingly, this day also coincides with the 506th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his Ninety-Five Theses (“Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”) [2] on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which played a pivotal role in the separation of Church and State. The 31st of October is also the day of Samhain, Halloween, and the start of the 3-day celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico. It’s hard to fathom that such synchronicity is a pure coincidence, since the transition from late October to early November marks the peak of the Taurid meteor stream. This cyclical period must have—since times immemorial—historically coincided with disaster, catastrophe, and death. As such, it’s a fitting day to hope to better tomorrows, seek lasting change and, God-willing, rebirth.

Happy birthday Bitcoin!

95 Steps Towards Bitcoin

  1. Precious Metals as Monies (c. 5000 BC): First evidence of gold and silver being used a store of value and a medium of exchange.
  2. Clay Tablets (c. 3400 BC): Earliest instances of writing and record-keeping techniques. Serving as ledgers, they contained information related to trade, taxation, and other economic activities.
  3. Abacus (c. 2700 BC): One of the earliest counting devices, played a crucial role in mathematical computations.
  4. Water clock (c. 2000 BC): Developed at least by the Old Babylonian period, it was one of the earliest timekeeping devices.
  5. Sundials (c. 1500 BC): Time tracking devices that use the position of the sun’s shadow cast by a gnomon.
  6. Transposition Ciphers (c. 600 BC): Early encryption techniques focused on changing the order of characters in the plaintext, as seen in the Spartan scytale.
  7. Atbash Cipher (c. 550 BC): Ancient Hebrew substitution cipher. It involves replacing each letter of the alphabet with its reverse counterpart, so ‘A’ = ‘Z’, ‘B’ = ‘Y’, etc.
  8. Antikythera Mechanism (c. 200 BC): An ancient Greek analog computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses.
  9. Astrolabe (c. 150 BC): An instrument used for solving problems related to time and the position of celestial objects.
  10. Promissory notes (118 BC): In China, during the Han Dynasty, promissory notes made of leather appeared.
  11. Caesar’s Cipher (58 BC): Julius Caesar’s used substitution ciphers for secure communication.
  12. Christianity (33 AD): Jesus was crucified at the age of 33. There will be exactly 33 halving events. Further evidence of an immaculate conception?
  13. Chinese South-Pointing Chariot (200s): A mechanical device that consistently pointed south, demonstrating an early form of differential gears.
  14. Collapse of Rome (476): As all empires in history, Rome’s collapse is intimately connected to bad economic and monetary policies.
  15. Banknotes (600s): The issuance of paper banknotes by Chinese and Middle Eastern governments marked the introduction of paper money as a form of currency.
  16. Arabic Numerals (700-800s): The Hindu-Arabic numeral system, which uses the ten digits we are familiar with today (0 to 9), made its way to the Islamic world during this period. These numerals eventually spread to Europe and became the standard for mathematics and commerce.
  17. Frequency Analysis (800s): Islamic scholar Al-Kindi introduced the concept of frequency analysis for breaking simple ciphers.
  18. Al-Jazari’s Automata (1206): Al-Jazari, a Muslim inventor, created various mechanical devices that could perform practical tasks, such as automated musical instruments.
  19. Weight Clocks (1200-1300s): Advancements in mechanical clocks revolutionize timekeeping in the Middle Ages.
  20. Notary Public (1400s): Trusted witnesses for document signing and timestamping.
  21. Gutenberg’s Printing Press (1440s): Revolutionized the way information was distributed.
  22. Double-entry Accounting (1494): Luca Pacioli developed double-entry bookkeeping in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita.
  23. Vigenère Cipher (1586): Blaise de Vigenère’s polyalphabetic cipher was a significant advancement in cryptography.
  24. Slide Rule (1620): Developed by William Oughtred, this hand-operated analog computer allowed for multiplication and division.
  25. Pascaline (1642): Invented by Blaise Pascal, it was one of the earliest mechanical calculators capable of addition and subtraction.
  26. Gambler’s Dilemma (1654): Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat’s correspondence on the problem of points laid the foundation for probability theory, addressing questions related to games of chance.
  27. Stepped Reckoner (1673): Designed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, it improved on the Pascaline, performing all four arithmetic operations.
  28. Pocket Watches (1600-1800s): Portable timekeeping devices become widespread and essential tools for personal time management.
  29. Moivre–Laplace Theorem (1733): First postulation of the central limit theorem, a critical link between probability and statistics.
  30. Law of Large Numbers (1733): Jacob Bernoulli’s formulation of the law of large numbers demonstrated the convergence of sample means to population means.
  31. Bayesian Probability (1763): Thomas Bayes’ work on inverse probability laid the foundation for modern probability theory.
  32. Analytical Engine (1837): Charles Babbage’s general-purpose mechanical computer, featuring concepts like loops and conditional branching, laying the foundation for modern computing.
  33. Telegraphy (1838-1844): Revolutionizing time-sensitive communication, it spurred the race between paper (or soft) money, easily moved across space, and hard money (i.e., gold) that endures across time.
  34. Computer Programming (1842): Ada Lovelace writes an algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers with the Cabbage’s Analytical Engine.
  35. George Boole (1854): George Boole’s work in logic laid the foundation for concepts related to tree structures in mathematics and computer science.
  36. Austrian School (1871): Carl Menger publishes Principles of Economics.
  37. One-Time Pads (1882): Frank Miller’s invention of the one-time pad as a secure encryption method is a key milestone in cryptographic history.
  38. Kerckhoffs’ Principle (1883): Suggests that the security of a cryptographic system should not depend on the secrecy of the algorithm but rather on the secrecy of the key, is fundamental to modern cryptography.
  39. Enigma Machine (1918-1923): The German Enigma machine was a notable advancement in mechanical encryption devices, used during World War I.
  40. Executive Order 6102 (1933): President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order on April 5th, 1933, which required citizens to turn in their gold coins, gold bullion, and gold certificates to the government.
  41. Navajo Code Talkers (1940s): The Navajo code talkers’ contributions during World War II underscore the significance of indigenous languages in cryptography.
  42. Lorenz Cipher Machine (1941): The development of the Lorenz cipher machine during World War II and the subsequent efforts to crack it showcase the importance of code-breaking in the major events of world history.
  43. Wiener’s Stochastic Processes (1942): The concept of Brownian motion, had a profound impact on both mathematics and applications in fields like finance.
  44. von Neumann’s Game Theory (1944): John von Neumann’s contributions to game theory provided a significant application of probability theory in economics and decision-making.
  45. Bretton Woods Conference (1944): Led to a new international monetary system in which currencies were pegged to the U.S. dollar, and the U.S. dollar was convertible to gold.
  46. Information Theory (1948): Claude Shannon’s work on information theory, including the concept of entropy, provides a foundation for the study of communication and data transmission.
  47. Hashing (1953): H. P. Luhn originated the concept of hashing in his January 1953 IBM memorandum, which introduced the idea of chaining, marking one of the early applications of linked linear lists.
  48. Feller’s Probability Theory (1957): “An Introduction to Probability Theory and Its Applications” consolidated and advanced the field, influencing many disciplines, including cryptography and financial mathematics.
  49. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966): Robert A. Heinlein’s classic novel explores themes of individual liberty, self-governance, and the consequences of a digital currency in a lunar colony struggle against an oppressive Earth government.
  50. ARPANET (1969): Developed by ARPA it was he first wide-area packet-switching network and it laid the foundation for the internet’s infrastructure.
  51. Email (1971): Ray Tomlinson sent the first networked email using the “@” symbol, which became a fundamental component of email addresses.
  52. End of the Gold Standard (1971): President Nixon’s decision to suspend the U.S. dollar’s convertibility into gold lead to the abandonment of the gold standard and introducing a system of purely fiat currency.
  53. SWIFT Network (1973): The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network standardized and monopolized international financial transactions.
  54. Ethernet (1973): Ethernet, developed by Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC, provided a standard for connecting computers in local area networks (LANs), a crucial element for building the internet.
  55. TCP/IP (1974): Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn developed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) that formed the basis of modern internet communication.
  56. Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange (1976): Introduction of public key cryptography, laying the groundwork for secure communication.
  57. RSA Cryptosystem (1978): Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman introduced “A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems.”
  58. Merkle-Damgård Construction (1979): This construction laid the foundation for many cryptographic hash functions. It allows for the construction of collision-resistant hash functions from simpler compression functions.
  59. Merkle’s Protocols (1980): Richard C. Merkle’s work on “Protocols for Public Key Cryptosystems” presented innovative methods for public key distribution, adding to the foundation of modern cryptographic protocols.
  60. Chaumian eCash (1982): David Chaum’s presentation on “Blind Signatures for Untraceable Payments” laid the theoretical groundwork for digital cash and anonymous transactions.
  61. GNU Project (1983): Stallman’s efforts led to the development of the GNU General Public License (GPL), a widely used open-source license, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting free software.
  62. Neuromancer (1984): This iconic cyberpunk novel by William Gibson introduced readers to a future where virtual currencies, hacking, and decentralized networks played a central role in a high-tech, dystopian world.
  63. ElGamal Cryptosystem (1984): Taher ElGamal developed an alternative public key cryptosystem based on the Diffie-Hellman key exchange.
  64. Merkle Trees (1987): Efficient verification of large data sets.
  65. X.509 Standard (1988): Digital certificates and public key infrastructure.
  66. Internet Relay Chat (1988): Jarkko Oikarinen created IRC as a means of real-time group communication. IRC contributed to the development of P2P principles by enabling distributed chat rooms. It demonstrated the potential for decentralized network communication.
  67. Crypto-Anarchism (1988): Timhoty C. May publishes “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto”.
  68. DigiCash (1989): The founding of DigiCash by David Chaum provided one of the first practical implementations of digital cash, contributing to the advancement of digital currencies.
  69. World Wide Web (1990): Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, introducing the HTTP protocol and the first web browser at CERN, making the internet accessible to a broader audience.
  70. MD5 (1991): Developed by Ronald Rivest, Message Digest Algorithm 5 was one of the early widely-used cryptographic hash functions.
  71. Digital Timestamping (1991): Haber and Stornetta’s introduce secure and decentralized digital document timestamping in the Journal of Cryptology.
  72. Pretty Good Privacy (1991): Phil Zimmermann developed PGP, a widely used encryption program that provides strong email privacy and security through the use of public-key cryptography.
  73. Cypherpunk Movement (1992): The emergence of the cypherpunk movement laid the ideological foundation for private, secure, and decentralized digital currencies.
  74. SHA-1 (1993): Developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), Secure Hash Algorithm 1 was widely used for various security applications at the time.
  75. Bayer, Haber, Stornetta (1993): Improved the efficiency and reliability of digital timestamping.
  76. Jackson-Downey’s “e-gold” (1996): Online payment system backed by precious metals reserves. Since it was not decentralized, all user’s assets were eventually seized by the government.
  77. HMAC (1996): Hash-based message authentication code introduced.
  78. Onion Routing (1996): It involved routing internet traffic through multiple nodes, with each layer of encryption removed at each hop. This design enhanced user anonymity and security. Developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, it served as the basis for Tor.
  79. Adam Back’s Hashcash (1997): A proof-of-work system for combating email spam laid the foundation for the concept of proof of work in cryptocurrencies.
  80. Haber and Stornetta (1997): “Secure names for bit-strings” presented at the 4th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security.
  81. Wei Dai’s “b-money” (1998): An influential proposal that introduced the concept of a decentralized, digital currency system based on cryptographic techniques.
  82. Smart Contracts (1998): Nick Szabo publishes “Securing Property Titles with Owner Authority”.
  83. PayPal (1999): The launch of PayPal provided a digital wallet and online payment platform, making e-commerce transactions more convenient and widespread.
  84. Napster (1999): A peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing service that allowed users to share music files with one another. It failed because it was not decentralized.
  85. Massias, Avila, Quisquater (1999): Design of a minimal trust secure timestamping presented at ITB 20.
  86. Freenet (2000): Developed by Ian Clarke, was one of the earliest P2P networks designed to provide anonymity and censorship resistance, it laid foundation for later systems aiming to protect user privacy.
  87. BitTorrent (2001): Bram Cohen’s creation of the BitTorrent protocol revolutionized file sharing and peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies.
  88. Tor (2002): The Onion Router is a significant contribution to online privacy and anonymity as it allows users to browse the internet while concealing their identity and location.
  89. SHA-256d (2003): Ferguson and Schneier define SHA256(SHA256(x)) in Chapter 6.3.1 Length Extensions of their book Practical Cryptography.
  90. RPOW (2004): Hal Finney’s creation of Reusable Proof of Work offered a novel approach to digital currency, serving as the foundation for cryptographic proof of work.
  91. Nick Szabo’s “bit gold” (2005): A new design for a decentralized digital currency allowing secure transactions and wealth preservation through cryptography.
  92. Liberty Reserve (2006): Digital private currency service that facilitated anonymous online financial transactions, since it was not decentralized the government was able to eventually shut it down.
  93. The Global Financial Crisis (2007-2009): Worldwide economic downturn triggered by the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble and subsequent banking and financial market turmoil, leading to a global recession and extensive government interventions.
  94. Bitcoin Whitepaper (2008): On October 31st, 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto released a groundbreaking whitepaper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, introducing the concept of triple-entry accounting and providing a solution to the Byzantine Generals’ Problem.
  95. Genesis Block (2009): On January 3rd, 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto mined the block 0 of the timechain. This marked the official beginning of the only truly decentralized money and the discovery of digital scarcity. This discovery, by definition, cannot be replicated.

Video credits: bitstein.