The White Paper
First appearing ten years ago, The White Paper was a short but strikingly graceful outline of how an electronic cash system called Bitcoin might function without reliance on a central authority such as a bank or government, and was attributed only to a mysterious individual or group called Satoshi Nakamoto. At first glance, Ignota’s decision to follow up last year’s excellent Spells: 21st-Century Occult Poetry with a seemingly tangential examination of the birth of Bitcoin and blockchain technology might raise a few eyebrows. However, the reasons for this decision are made very clear in editor Ben Vickers’ preface; The White Paper constitutes the origin myth not only of cryptocurrency but potentially of a system of knowledge capable of reorganising all human social and political relations. A decade on from Bitcoin’s implementation and particularly in the wake of Nakamoto’s long silence, The White Paper might be considered a magical text, a sacred doctrine that appeared from nowhere and contained the power to alter reality.
The White Paper itself occupies only nine pages of this volume, and while it remains a revolutionary text in its own right, what really shines here is Jaya Klara Brekke’s highly accessible guide that accompanies it. Brekke unpacks many of the paper’s key ideas—from obscure aspects of cryptography and computation to privacy, transparency, and trust—and illuminates them next to the political concerns of post-crash 2009 as well as those emerging in the years since. For those of us who struggle to maintain a slim grasp of the real-world implications of blockchain technology, or those of us with an interest in contemporary myth-making, this is crucial reading.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto published a revolutionary white paper that described a simple peer-to-peer electronic cash system that would later become Bitcoin, laying the foundations for the technical innovation known as the blockchain. In the decade since its publication, the nascent technology behind cryptocurrency has become recognised holding the same transformative potential of the printing press or the internet, set to impact our sense of identity and provenance as much as finance. It has disrupted traditional financial markets with a spectacular explosion in value, paved the way for thousands of similar digital currenciesand laid the groundwork for a decentralised future of the web. But what does it mean for everyday life? The White Paper returns to the document that started it all, taking Nakamoto’s text as a Rosetta Stone to decode the meaning of blockchain for contemporary society. This guide to the innovative technology shows how it holds up a mirror to our understanding of the world, both timeless and mutating: from the archetypal origin story, to concepts of trust and value, and the changing shapes of power and privacy. In an acute and definitive Introduction, James Bridle, leading technologist, artist and author of New Dark Age, charts the rise of blockchain from its roots in clandestine online cultures. Delving into the first conversations between initial members of the Bitcoin community – a disparate group of cyber ideologues ranging from right-wing Libertarians to radical Web 2.0 utopian, Bridle shows how they shed light on the cryptographic imagination that points towards the future of the Bitcoin dream. Through the lens ofencryption as philosophy and practice, Bridle examines the continuing debates around the meaning of money, democratic values and security in an era ofsurveillance capitalism. Fully annotated with key secondary texts, The White Paper presents new perspectives on the radical paper.
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