A video from a cryptology conference in 1998 shows Hal Finney, one of the early contributors to Bitcoin, talking about the potential of zero-knowledge proofs, a cryptographic technique that is widely used in the crypto industry today.

Who was Hal Finney?

Hal Finney was a computer scientist and a pioneer of privacy-enhancing technologies. He created the first anonymous re-mailer, a tool that protected user identity when sending emails. He also developed the first reusable proof-of-work system, a precursor to Bitcoin’s consensus mechanism.


Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney discussed zero-knowledge proofs 25 years ago
Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney discussed zero-knowledge proofs 25 years ago

Finney was one of the first people to work on Bitcoin with its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. He received the first Bitcoin transaction from Nakamoto in 2009 and helped him debug the software. Some have speculated that Finney could be Nakamoto himself, but he denied the theory.

Finney passed away in 2014 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease that affects the nervous system. He donated his body to cryonics, a process that preserves human remains at low temperatures in hopes of future revival.

What are zero-knowledge proofs?

Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are a cryptographic protocol that allows one party (the prover) to convince another party (the verifier) that a statement is true without revealing any information about the statement itself.

For example, Alice can prove to Bob that she knows the password to a website without telling him what the password is. She can do this by using a mathematical function that transforms the password into a random-looking string (a hash) and then showing Bob that she can produce the same hash with her input.

ZKPs have many applications in cryptography and computer science, such as authentication, encryption, digital signatures, and voting systems. They are also useful for preserving privacy and scalability in blockchain networks, as they can enable transactions and smart contracts without revealing sensitive data or consuming too much computational resources.

How did Finney talk about ZKPs in 1998?

In the video, which was recently shared on Twitter by Trust Machines, a company that works on ZKPs, Finney gives a presentation on how to perform a ZKP on a SHA-1 hash, a widely used hashing algorithm at the time.

He explains how he can prove to an audience that he knows a message that hashes to a given value without revealing anything about the message. He demonstrates this by using a program that he wrote, which generates random bits and performs bitwise operations on them to produce the hash.

Finney acknowledges that his method is not very efficient or practical, as it requires a lot of computation and communication. He also notes that there are other ways to do ZKPs, such as using interactive protocols or elliptic curves. He says that he hopes that his presentation will inspire more research and development on ZKPs in the future.

Why is this video significant?

The video shows that Finney was ahead of his time in exploring the possibilities of ZKPs, a technology that gained popularity decades later with the advent of cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms.

ZKPs are now widely used in various crypto projects, such as Zcash, Monero, Ethereum, and Tezos. They enable users to transact and interact with each other in a secure and private manner, without compromising on speed or scalability.

The video also reveals Finney’s passion and curiosity for cryptography and innovation, which he later applied to Bitcoin and other projects. He was one of the pioneers who laid the foundations for the crypto industry and contributed to its growth and adoption.


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