[tt] NYT: Hal Finney, Cryptographer and Bitcoin Pioneer, Dies at 58
eugen at leitl.org
Mon Sep 1 02:55:52 PDT 2014
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Date: Mon, 1 Sep 2014 00:35:43 +0000 (GMT)
From: Frank Forman <checker at panix.com>
To: Transhuman Tech <tt at postbiota.org>
Subject: [tt] NYT: Hal Finney, Cryptographer and Bitcoin Pioneer, Dies at 58
Message-ID: <Pine.NEB.4.64.1409010035310.8967 at panix2.panix.com>
Hal Finney, Cryptographer and Bitcoin Pioneer, Dies at 58
By NATHANIEL POPPER
Hal Finney, a cryptographer and one of the earliest users and
developers of the virtual currency Bitcoin, died on Thursday in
Phoenix. He was 58.
Mr. Finney had been paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or
A.L.S., and was taken off life support at Paradise Valley Hospital,
his wife, Fran Finney, said. She said his body was immediately
prepared for cryonic preservation by the Alcor Life Extension
Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., according to his wishes.
A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, Mr. Finney was
a longtime futurist who put his programming skills to work in the
service of his ideals, particularly his desire to see the privacy of
In 1991, he began doing volunteer work for a new software project
known as Pretty Good Privacy, or P.G.P., and immediately became one
of the central players in developing the program. P.G.P. aimed to
make it possible for people everywhere to encrypt electronic
communication in a way that could not be read by anyone other than
the intended recipient. The program used relatively new innovations
in encryption that are still thought to be invulnerable to code
Mr. Finney wrote in 1992 that cryptographic technology appealed to
him because he worried about the ability of corporations and
governments to snoop on citizens.
"The work we are doing here, broadly speaking, is dedicated to this
goal of making Big Brother obsolete," he wrote to an online group of
fellow privacy activists.
The original author of P.G.P., Philip R. Zimmermann, quickly became
the target of federal prosecutors, who believed that the software
broke United States laws against exporting military-grade encryption
While the investigation went on and became a major cause for civil
libertarians, Mr. Finney played a more quiet role in P.G.P. to avoid
becoming a target himself. Mr. Zimmermann said in an interview that
this decision meant Mr. Finney did not get proper credit for some of
the important innovations he had made in the development of P.G.P.
When the investigation concluded in 1996 without any charges being
filed, P.G.P. became a company, and Mr. Zimmermann set out to hire
Mr. Finney as his first employee.
Mr. Zimmermann, in an interview before Mr. Finney died, said Mr.
Finney was unusual in the field because he had none of the asocial
tendencies and physical awkwardness that are commonly associated
with people in the programming world. Rather, he said, Mr. Finney
was a gregarious man who loved skiing and long-distance running.
"Sometimes people pay some price for being extremely smart--they
are deficient in some emotional quality," Mr. Zimmermann said. "Hal
was not like that."
While working on P.G.P., Mr. Finney was a regular participant in a
number of futurist mailing lists, the most famous of which gave
birth to the Cypherpunk movement, dedicated to privacy-enhancing
Following these lists, Mr. Finney became fascinated by the concept
of digital currencies that could not be tracked by governments and
He was involved in many experiments aimed at creating an anonymous
form of digital money, including his own invention, in 2004, of
reusable proofs of work. Though that system never took off, he
quickly saw the promise of the Bitcoin project when it was announced
on an obscure email list in 2008 by a creator with the pseudonym
Bitcoin used some of the same cryptographic tools harnessed by
P.G.P. and held out the promise that participants could choose to be
anonymous when spending money online.
When the project drew criticism from other cryptographers, Mr.
Finney was among the first people to defend it. He downloaded the
Bitcoin software the day it was released. The day after that, he
took part in the first transaction on the network when Satoshi
Nakamoto sent him 10 Bitcoins.
His early work on Bitcoin and his programming background led to
frequent speculation in the Bitcoin community that Mr. Finney was
Satoshi Nakamoto, a claim he always denied.
Soon after getting started with Bitcoin, Mr. Finney learned in 2009
that he had A.L.S., and he withdrew, for a time, from active
participation in the project.
Harold Thomas Finney II was born on May 4, 1956, in Coalinga,
Calif., to Virginia and Harold Thomas Finney. His father was a
After graduating from Caltech in 1979 with a degree in engineering,
he worked for a company that developed video games like Astroblast
and Space Attack.
As a young man, Mr. Finney developed an interest in preserving life
through cryonic freezing until better, life-enhancing technologies
were invented, said a college roommate, Yin Shih. In 1992, Mr.
Finney visited the Alcor facility with his wife to determine whether
he wanted to sign up his family to be preserved in Alcor's
"In my personal opinion, anyone born today has a better than 50-50
chance of living effectively forever," he wrote at the time.
Mr. Finney remained an employee of the P.G.P. Corporation until his
retirement in 2011, working from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In the last few years, Mr. Finney was able to move only his facial
muscles, but he communicated and wrote Bitcoin-related software
using a computer that tracked his eye movement.
"I'm pretty lucky overall," Mr. Finney wrote on a Bitcoin website in
2013. "Even with the A.L.S., my life is very satisfying."
As the price of Bitcoins rose, his family, to pay for his medical
care, was able to sell some of the coins he secured in the early
Besides his son, Jason, and his wife, he is survived by a daughter,
Erin Finney; two sisters, Kathleen Finney and Patricia Wolf; and a
brother, Michael. His wife, a physical therapist whom he met at
Caltech, spent most of her days caring for him in his final years.
After Mr. Finney's death, the freezing of his remains was announced
by another futurist, Max More. "Hal," he wrote in a statement
online. "I know I speak for many when I say that I look forward to
speaking to you again sometime in the future and to throwing a party
in honor of your revival."
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