Bitcoin and the End of History

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The final installment in a four-part documentary series “Cypherpunks Write Code.”
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“The fall of the Berlin Wall was important to me,” said Zooko Wilcox, who was 15 in 1989. It seemed like “the end of history”—a reference to the political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s influential 1989 essay—and a time when “national borders would cease being the walls of prisons,” he recalled. When Wilcox discovered the internet a few years later, he saw it as “part of this pattern where borders and distance stop being barriers to people.”

Wilcox, who today is the founder and CEO of a company that oversees the development of the cryptocurrency Zcash, was an early participant in the “cypherpunks email list.” The list, which launched in 1992, became a gathering place for a global community interested in using cryptography to allow individuals to communicate and transact on the internet privately and without interference from a central authority. The cypherpunk movement more broadly would go on to influence WikiLeaks (Julian Assange was a participant on the email list), BitTorrent, Tor, and bitcoin, among other freedom-oriented technologies and initiatives.

Wilcox dropped out of college to work at David Chaum’s startup DigiCash, an attempt to build a privacy-preserving payment network on the internet based on a series of groundbreaking papers that the legendary cryptography had published in the 1980s.

“Because of the cypherpunks and because of the science papers of David Chaum,” Wilcox told Reason, “economic freedom” seemed inevitable. Humans will “no longer [be] constrained by national borders and distance from cooperating and sharing resources and helping each other.”

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Written, shot, edited, narrated, and graphics by Jim Epstein; opening and closing graphics and peer-to-peer computer graphics by Lex Villena; audio production by Ian Keyser; archival research by Regan Taylor; feature image by Lex Villena

Music: “Daemones” by Kai Engel used under Creative Commons

Photos: playing with Amiga 1000 by Blake Patterson, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic; people climbing the Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate, imageBROKER/Jürgen Schwarz/Newscom; people from East and West Berlin climbing on the wall, imageBROKER/Norbert Michalke/Newscom; demonstrator pounds away at the Berlin Wall, STR/REUTERS/Newscom; Regan and Gorbachev, Steve Gottlieb Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom; people climbing the Berlin Wall, imageBROKER/Jürgen Schwarz/Newscom; Berlin Wall, Getty Archives; David Chaum, Associated Press; East German border guards seen through a gap, AP Images; Francis Fukuyama, John Troha BlackStar Photos/Newscom; Prague 1989, Abaca/Newscom / CreditAbaca/Newscom; Buckminster Fuller and the geodesic dome, C. Y. Yu/SCMP/Newscom; IRS agent, David Royal/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; chiselling pieces off the wall, imageBROKER/Norbert Michalke/Newscom; Mark Zuckerberg, THIEL CHRISTIAN/SIPA/Newscom; Brin, Page, and Schmidt, Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Jeff Bezos, Lisa Qui ones BlackStar Photos/Newscom; Snowden protests, BONESS/IPON/SIPA CreditBONESS/IPON/SIPA/Newscom and David Von Blohn CreditDavid Von Blohn/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Mark Zuckerberg, CHRISTIAN/SIPA CreditTHIEL CHRISTIAN/SIPA/Newscom; George W. Bush, Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Newscom; End the Fed 1, Mehdi Taamallah/Newscom; End the Fed, hardtopeel, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic; End the Fed!!!, Martha Heinemann Bixby, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic; End the Fed, Mehdi Taamallah/Newscom; Bitcoin conferences, Aleksandr Zykov, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic; Institute of Cryptoanarchy, Michal Dolezal/ZUMA Press/Newscom; John Gilmore at Burning Man 2005, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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