As early as 1981, inventors were attempting to solve the Internet’s problems of privacy, security, and inclusion with cryptography. No matter how they reengineered the process, there were always leaks because third parties were involved. Paying with credit cards over the Internet was insecure because users had to divulge too much personal data, and the transaction fees were too high for small payments. In 1998, Nick Szabo wrote a short paper entitled “The God Protocol.” Szabo mused about the creation of a be-all end-all technology protocol, one that designated God the trusted third party in the middle of all transactions. His point was powerful: Doing business on the Internet requires a leap of faith.
A decade later in 2008, the global financial industry crashed. Perhaps propitiously, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto–who may or may not be an Australian entrepreneur named Craig Wright–outlined a new protocol for a peer-to-peer electronic cash system using a cryptocurrency, or digital currency, called Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies are different from traditional fiat currencies because they are not created or controlled by countries. This protocol established a set of rules—in the form of distributed computations—that ensured the integrity of the data exchanged among these billions of devices without going through a trusted third party. This seemingly subtle act set off a spark that has excited, terrified, or otherwise captured the imagination of the computing world and has spread like wildfire everywhere.
“They’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is it. This is the big breakthrough,’” said Marc Andreessen, the co-creator of the first commercial Web browser, Netscape, and a big investor in technology ventures. “This is the distributed trust network that the Internet always needed and never had.”
Today thoughtful people everywhere are trying to understand the implications of a protocol that enables mere mortals to manufacture trust through clever code. This has never happened before—trusted transactions directly between two or more parties, authenticated by mass collaboration and powered by collective self-interests, rather than by large corporations motivated by profit.
It may not be the Almighty, but a trustworthy global platform for our transactions is something very big. We’re calling it the Trust Protocol.
This protocol is the foundation of a growing number of global distributed ledgers called blockchains—of which the Bitcoin blockchain is the largest. While the technology is complicated, the main idea is simple. Blockchains enable us to send money directly and safely from me to you, without going through a bank, a credit card company, or PayPal.
Rather than the Internet of Information, it’s the Internet of Value or of Money. It’s also a platform for everyone to know what is true—at least with regard to structured recorded information. At its most basic, it is an open source code: anyone can download it for free, run it, and use it to develop new tools for managing transactions online. As such, it holds the potential for unleashing countless new applications and as yet unrealized capabilities that have the potential to transform many things.