On December 15, legendary crypto anarchist Timothy C. May – author and co-founder of the Cypherpunks mailing list – passed away due to natural causes. The technological expert left behind a formidable legacy, and will go down in history as one of blockchain’s founding fathers.
With his understanding of the technology’s potential to transform regulations and payment networks, the crypto anarchist showed the world what cryptography could achieve. Tim May also authored the Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, an influential document that was well before its time. Many of his predictions regarding the system have since come true.
The crypto world mourns the death of Tim May
Tim May was my chief cypherpunk inspiration. His vision is of a cyberspace free from government oppression. I was further blessed to be able to hang out with him and kvetch about our crazy world. Will miss you greatly Tim! https://t.co/cLx5dpiUEF
— Nick Szabo 🔑 (@NickSzabo4) December 15, 2018
Aside from his work conceptualizing private information networks, Tim May was also an accomplished engineer. However, from the early 1990s, he turned his eye to establishing the now-famous Cypherpunks mailing list.
One of May’s biggest achievements actually came long before he became a crypto anarchist. Way back in 1978, May discovered that Intel’s ceramic packaging was slightly radioactive. Thanks to his discovery, the company adopted plastic packaging and avoided a potential health disaster. May also won the IEEE W.R.G. Baker Award in 1981 for his article “Alpha-Particle-Induced Soft Errors in Dynamic Memories.”
A crypto advocate long before Bitcoin
As one of the founders of Cypherpunks, Tim May advocated for decentralized and private networks, free from government control. In 1988, he wrote the Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, which was published in 1992 on the Cypherpunks mailing list. It was a major moment for Cypherpunks, which was active during the 1990s and 2000s. In fact, the group supported the use of cryptography as a channel for information exchange long before cryptocurrencies arrived. Cypherpunks attracted plenty of attention, recruiting famous tech people, including Julian Assange.
Tim May ran the group alongside Eric Hughes and John Gilmore. The trio’s first big success was opposing the U.S. government’s anti-cryptography policies in 1992. With its constant presence, Cypherpunks successfully pushed for the abandonment of U.S. export regulations regarding cryptographic products, including open-source software.
The legacy of the original crypto anarchist
Perhaps Tim May’s strongest legacy revolves around the encryption and decryption of all communications within a decentralized network of computers. Now, May’s ideas regarding private networks have begun to influence payment systems as well.
In 2008, the concept of private transactions was born thanks to the first-ever blockchain network: Bitcoin. Many other blockchains have since followed suit. This type of digital money even pays tribute to May’s ide of cryptography with its name: cryptocurrency.
As an advocate of free speech and privacy, Tim May stated in his manifesto that the crypto anarchist movement would disrupt government regulations.
These [computer technology] 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.
Moreover, the crypto anarchist predicted how future digital transactions might work. He even foresaw many of the features of current-day blockchain technology.
The methods are based on public-key encryption, zero-knowledge interactive proof systems, and various software protocols for interaction, authentication, and verification.
Current privacy issues
Although admitting that “various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet,” May believed the new transaction system would continue to operate and grow. Fast-forward to October 2018, and May said that, although many of his predictions came true, he still sees issues with growing KYC/AML policies.
I can’t speak for what Satoshi intended, but I sure don’t think it involved bitcoin exchanges that have draconian rules about KYC, AML, passports, freezes on accounts and laws about reporting “suspicious activity” to the local secret police.
There’s no doubt that Tim May was a mind before his time. The crypto anarchist, together with his Cypherpunk colleagues, laid the foundations for crypto and blockchain as we know it today. Whether his vision of a completely private network will come true remains to be seen.