Written by Jamie Redman.
Last year Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life for being the creator of the Silk Road, an online drug marketplace on the deep web. This market place offered a new way of purchasing narcotics. Based on reputation and quality the market was very similar to the pirate utopias described by past cypherpunks. Due to arbitrary laws of governments, this marketplace was shut down, its funds were stolen, its creator considered a martyr by his supporters.
Back in the late 80s on the brink of a new decade, cypherpunks appeared in the new online landscape. Most notably the likes of Timothy May, Snt. Jude, and Eric Hughes. These groups of people drew the first sketches of Crypto-Anarchy. Writing code and challenging new programs. Publishing written material on online freedom, privacy, and anonymity. Going beyond the approval of everyone and just creating.
“Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of the software we write. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.”—Eric Hughes, A Cypherpunks Manifesto
Eric Hughes and Timothy May were some of the most prolific writers of this period. Describing how the computer age was, and will subliminally drop the seeds of anarchy, into the eyes of society. May describes: “Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner. Two persons may exchange messages, conduct business, and negotiate electronic contracts without ever knowing the True Name, or legal identity, of the other. Interactions over networks will be untraceable, via extensive re- routing of encrypted packets and tamper-proof boxes which implement cryptographic protocols with nearly perfect assurance against any tampering. Reputations will be of central importance, far more important in dealings than even the credit ratings of today. These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation, the ability to tax and control economic interactions, the ability to keep information secret, and will even alter the nature of trust and reputation.” Just hearing these words in retrospect to today gives me goosebumps.
“A specter is haunting the modern world, the specter of crypto anarchy.”—Timothy May, The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto
Right now these ideas are coming to life. The Silk Road is the first example of these markets forming. Bitcoin is the first sign of this electronic currency. There are new ways to house data on clouds and encrypt this information. Freedom of speech can still flourish. Freedom of code can encourage these words to come to life. These ideas which cannot be destroyed are altering the very nature of government. They have no other choice but to adapt or be destroyed quicker. The authorities cannot contain this spontaneous action. Although they try with the recent sentencing of Ulbricht to scare us. This only makes us grow stronger. The corruption gets us amped up and ready to create new marketplaces and help decentralized app thrive.
Recent studies report the Silk Road blueprint showed signs of deterring violence in the activity of drug transactions. A law professor and a professor of criminal science in a paper released online prove this reality. Of course, this was made possible. You don’t have to meet possibly unstable people. That is a righteous positive in the world of narcotic trafficking. A specialist in law and science isn’t needed to prove this obviousness. But it helps. The Silk Road also employed people for quality control. Sellers were based on a reputation system of products sold. All of which were described a decade ago by the cypherpunks, cyber activists who knew the implementations of the web. Even in its early inception.
“Hacking is the clever circumvention of imposed limits, whether imposed by your government, your IP server, your own personality, or the laws of physics.” — St. Jude
When you cut one head of the Hydra, many more heads will grow. This is happening with the idea of the Silk Road. Online marketplaces offering chemical calisthenics are appearing left and right. They cannot be stopped. OpenBazaar has been funded with one million dollars to continue its decentralized market development. It’s only a matter of time before these blueprints of beautiful markets and digital currencies are just as popular as the BitTorrent of today. Napster was killed and what followed? A peer to peer system with no point of failure. Add proxy and IP anonymizers like TOR or I2P then Bam! What you have is a network of people producing private transactions. The Silk Road was a great feat. Ross Ulbricht or DPR should be congratulated. I personally hope he knows he helped create more individual freedom than many will in a lifetime. He gave life to the words of the Crypto Anarchist manifestos.
The time is now. The revolution will not be televised, nor a central point. It will be so blurry that only spontaneous human actions will show its face to society. No group or individual will claim this revolution. It’s been happening for the past two decades and is not your typical sprocket or cog. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen.
“Privacy in an open society also requires cryptography. If I say something, I want it heard only by those for whom I intend it. If the content of my speech is available to the world, I have no privacy. To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy. Furthermore, to reveal one’s identity with assurance when the default is anonymity requires the cryptographic signature.”
—Eric Hughes, A Cypherpunks Manifesto