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Cypherpunk trends & visions
At today's Silly Valley cypherpunks meeting (Tim May, John
Gilmore, Eric Hughes, Sandy Sandfort, Whit Diffie,
Romana "Cypherella" Machado, etc. etc.) there was a lot of
hand-wringing about the cypherpunks movement "stalling". Ever the
pessimist, Tim May drew a chart showing cypherpunks starting out
with a bang (publicizing PGP, starting up anon remailers, etc.)
and seeming to stall out (even as we've gotten major publicity
in Mondo, Wired, Village Voice, etc.).
Much of the rancor and pessimism may reflect the fact that
cypherpunks are more distributed now. For example, the stuff
on this list is very disconnected from the Bay Area meetings. Do any
non-Californians know or care about Digital Silk Road, electronic
credit unions, Twain, etc? How hip are Bay Area cypherpunks to the
various projects re: user-friendly PGP, CryptoStacker,
securely private BBS's, secure phones, etc? (The main motivation
for me typing in this message is to try to open up the lines
of communication more, let people know what Bay Area cypherpunks
are doing, and encourage replies from folks in other regions
who are holding meetings & doing projects).
Besides, we haven't stalled; we're just on a more mature part
of the learning curve. Much of the "low hanging fruit" has
been picked (as Tim May pointed out: PGP was already here,
remailers were ripe, etc. when cypherpunks crystallized).
We seem to have played a major role in delaying Clipper just with
our big mouths (and fat fingers :-). More concretely, just today Romana
and Geoff Dale unveiled a slick steganography tool for the Mac that,
if distributed widely and ported to the PC, would make it practically
impossible to outlaw strong crypto.
We also have a variety of goals. We all share
a commitment to spreading crypto beyond the elites, but for
a wide variety of reasons. Some of us (Tim May, myself, etc.)
are libertarians who want government out of our
lives, others are liberals fighting the NSA, others
find it great fun to ding people in power with cool hacks,
and still others are in it for the variety of opportunities
crypto-anarchy opens up for making "filthy lucre".
I don't think it's productive to do too much breastbeating over this,
to try to define "cypherpunk correct" politics, or insist that everybody
work towards the same goals. The only stuff we really need to agree on is
the practical stuff: the general "web of trust" model of
cryptography, and the development of common tools and standards on that
basis. Beyond that I hope there's room for a wide variety of
opinions and projects.
My own vision of cypherpunks evolution runs along the following
lines. Some of these may be commercial opportunities, but
so far cypherpunks have been most effective with freeware like
anon remailers, PGP add-ons, etc.:
* Digital coupons: S&H greenstamps for online services
(netcom/Well/Compuserve net connection services, AMIX,
NEXIS/LEXIS, Dow Jones, commercial MUDs, metered e-mail, anon
services, network and computing resources, reputation ratings,
etc.) Greenstamps are like frequent-flyer miles, you accumulate
them with heavy patronage of some service. But greenstamps
can be used to purchase a wide variety of services, not just
more of the same service. Service providers and
coupon vendor(s) work out arrangements for awarding and honoring
greenstamps. Implemented with Chaum-style protocol to prevent
forgery and assure privacy.
* Digital cash: accumulating credits/debits for use of on-line
services (including travel services, concert tickets, etc.
purchased on-line), eventually paid for by some "real" currency:
FRNs, yen, etc. Implemented with Chaum-style protocol to prevent
forgery and assure privacy.
* On-line markets: Internet video poker, election outcome
markets, satellite track betting, etc. Investments can be
made & paid out by greenstamps, natch. On-line advertising.
* Securely private BBS's
 Hey, if Clinton can call government spending "investment"
I can do the same for wagers on his reelection!
Nick Szabo [email protected]