Bitcoin is just one of many cryptocurrencies that blur the line between financial transactions and computer programming. Experts believe that the blockchain technology that underpins bitcoin will eventually revolutionize the banking industry, and others too.
Since the currency was launched in 2009, it’s estimated that millions of people own or trade the currency. Bitcoin experts have promoted it, invested in it, and funded companies that use it.
This resource offers a guide to some of the best-known bitcoin experts, along with their reasons for becoming early adopters in cryptocurrencies.
The Late, Great Hal Finney
Hal Finney is widely regarded as one of the most important contributors to bitcoin in the early days of its development. He was the first ever tester for Satoshi Nakamoto’s code, and received the first ever bitcoin transaction in 2009, which he said he forgot to return. Prior to this, Finney was heavily involved in the cypherpunk movement, and is noted for his work in Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption. In the 1980s, he also designed an Atari game, Armor Ambush.
Finney passed away in August 2014 after a 5-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was still coding in 2013, even though he was “essentially paralyzed” by his illness. His family sold some of his bitcoins to pay for his medical care in 2013, when they were valued at around $100 each.
Finney is widely recognized as a pioneer in his field, and the full extent of his influence is arguably yet to be recognized. His wife Fran runs her own personal blog, where she has documented Finney’s achievements, and his illness.
Andreas Antonopoulos is an author, entrepreneur, and cryptocurrency expert. He has been involved with numerous bitcoin initiatives and organizations, including the Bitcoin Foundation and Blockchain.info. He authored the first book on bitcoin, and is one of the world’s most respected speakers on bitcoin and blockchain technology.
Antonopoulos, like many early bitcoin advocates, believes that bitcoin’s strength is in its open architecture. This sets him apart from some blockchain enthusiasts who see the technology as a potentially private tool. He was also fiercely critical of the ill-fated Mt.Gox exchange, referring to it as a “business run by the clueless.”
Antonopolous is one of the regular hosts on the Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast.
Brian Armstrong is the CEO of Coinbase, one of the world’s most popular bitcoin exchanges. Armstrong knows more than a little about disruptive technology, having previously worked as a software engineer at Airbnb. His salary is paid entirely in bitcoin.
Armstrong is known for being outspoken about topics around bitcoin, both in terms of the technology and the culture that surrounds it. He has claimed that the currency will replace the US dollar by 2030, and has been critical of some of the core developers involved in maintaining its core code. He is also a vocal supporter of Bitcoin Classic, a controversial upgrade to the block size which he says would help the platform to scale.
Despite being a supporter of regulation, Armstrong has stated that he is also strongly in favor of privacy. In early 2017, he stated that Coinbase would contest an IRS subpoena demanding 3 years of historical data on Coinbase’s US customers.
Victoria van Eyk
Victoria van Eyk is a self-confessed bitcoin obsessive, and describes bitcoin as a “way of life.” She is a partner at Bitcoin Strategy Group, a consultancy that aims to promote the benefits of bitcoin to small businesses. She has contributed to both CoinDesk, CoinTelegraph, and Bitcoin Magazine.
As community development VP at ChangeTip, van Eyk was responsible for promoting the benefits of bitcoin micropayments. ChangeTip closed when its workforce was absorbed into Airbnb. She continues to work with bitcoin companies, with particular focus on banking and mobile.
Blythe Masters is one of the best-known proponents of blockchain as a tool for commercial banking systems. But Masters, who was a prodigy at JP Morgan, is a controversial figure in the community. While many bitcoin experts want to see blockchain used to liberate society from financial strictures, Masters seeks the opposite, “We’re seeking to make [the current financial system] stronger, better, and safer.” While she is not alone in having this vision, she is perhaps one of the best-known advocates for it.
Masters’ company, Digital Asset Holdings, promotes the blockchain as a way of streamlining financial transactions. By taking the intermediary out of the process, banks could theoretically reduce costs and resources with their own distributed ledger systems, in the same way that bitcoin uses a shared ledger instead of a central bank record. Her version of the shared ledger adds hashing to ensure transactions are processed privately, which is key to ensuring transactions are hidden from public view.
While Blythe Masters is more active in blockchain discussions than bitcoin, she is arguably one of the experts most likely to edge the technology toward the mainstream. Regardless, bitcoin evangelists will likely give her a wide berth as she tries to commercialize the system.
Elizabeth Ploshay McCauley
Elizabeth Ploshay McCauley is currently an account manager at BitPay, having previously been communications director at Bitcoin Magazine. Ploshay McCauley is also on the board of the Bitcoin Foundation and is known as an evangelist for cryptocurrency.
At BitPay, she aims to get more charities, political organizations, and non-profits involved with bitcoin. She also serves as an advisor at the BitGive Foundation, and is an advocate for more diversity in the community: “One area to dramatically increase the adoption of Bitcoin in the US and other countries will be to get more women involved. Right now approximately 90% of women control household finances in the US.”
Catheryne Nicholson is CEO of BlockCypher, a company that gives developers the technology required to secure blockchain applications. She refers to it as an Amazon Web Services for blockchain. The company runs multiple blockchains related to a range of different industries.
Nicholson believes that bitcoin is for the public good, because it is decentralised, and allows loans and financial support to be accessed by people who do not have any access to traditional banking systems. In the same interview, she called bitcoin “the euro for the world.”
After the collapse of Mt.Gox, many bitcoin enthusiasts preferred hardware bitcoin wallets to online equivalents. Trezor allows offline storage on a device slightly larger than a key fob. It was the first device of its kind.
As a founder of the Bitcoin Foundation, Charlie Shrem understood the technology behind bitcoin from the earliest days of its release. But he was frustrated with the slow speed of currency exchange to and from bitcoin, and founded BitInstant in 2011 to make transactions faster.
Unfortunately, Shrem’s need for speed would eventually be his downfall. He was convicted of violating anti-money laundering laws after selling bitcoin to Robert Faiella, who was involved with the Silk Road marketplace.
Shrem plead guilty to unlicensed money transmitting in 2014, and called himself “bitcoin’s first felon.” But he continued to work with bitcoin. He wrote about the potential of using bitcoin in prison, pointing out that its ledger could be updated with Morse code if necessary. After his release, he founded Intellisys Capital, a company that uses the ethereum blockchain for share trading.
Nick Szabo is one of many cypherpunks that have been “outed” as the creator of bitcoin. Stylometric analysis suggests that the language used by Szabo in his various papers is very close to Nakamoto’s writing style. But Szabo has always denied that he is the inventor of bitcoin.
Despite this denial, Szabo was involved in the early development of the cryptocurrency. His pre-bitcoin project, bit gold, is regarded as a direct predecessor to bitcoin, because it used a shared ledger, rather than a central authority, to prevent fraud by duplicate transactions.
Szabo now works on blockchain-based smart contracts, a concept he was developing before bitcoin was originally released.
Having made his first million by the age of 25, Roger Ver went on to make far more through bitcoin in the following decade. He is perhaps best known for giving up his US citizenship in 2014, purchasing a passport in St Kitts and Nevis. Now resident in Japan, Ver started PassportsForBitcoin.com, a company that arranged citizenship in St Kitts and Nevis in exchange for bitcoin. St Kitts and Nevis disavowed the website in 2014, and it subsequently vanished.
Roger Ver says that bitcoin is “the most important invention in the history of the world since the internet,” and remains a vocal supporter. It’s believed that he purchased thousands of bitcoins in 2011, when they cost around $1 each, and was known for giving them away, a practice that earned him the nickname “bitcoin Jesus.” Ver went on to invest in well-known bitcoin companies like BitInstant, Blockchain.info, and Kraken, donated a large sum to the Bitcoin Foundation, and even invested in national radio ads promoting bitcoin. He also donated to the legal fund for Ross Ulbricht, the former owner of the Silk Road website.
So far, these bitcoin experts — and others like them — have been responsible for promoting bitcoin as a viable currency, and blockchain technology as a revolutionary force in finance. Not all of these people see eye to eye, but each offers a unique and valuable viewpoint on the future of bitcoin.