January 12th 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the first ever transaction made with the use of Bitcoin. The sender of the then brand-new cryptocurrency was its illusive creator - Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity is unknown to this day. But for today’s article, we would like to focus on the recipient of that historical transaction - Hal Finney.
It was not a coincidence that Hal Finney was the first Bitcoin user after its very creator. Where Satoshi Nakamoto is the father of Bitcoin, Finney can be considered its godfather. Born in 1956 as Harold Thomas Finney II, he obtained a bachelor's degree in engineering from California Institute of Technology in 1979. At the beginning of his career, he was involved in the video-game industry. Later on, he started working for a company called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy).
As a cryptology enthusiast, a Cypherpunk activist, as well as a developer working for a cyber-security company, Finney was concerned about the loss of privacy caused by the advancements in computerisation.
When Satoshi Nakamoto published his ideas regarding cryptocurrency in 2008, Finney quickly became involved in the project, considering it to be one of the potential solutions for the centralisation of private data. Seeing that he himself had developed the first reusable proof of work (RPOW) system back in 2004, his technical expertise was certainly invaluable. In fact, he was one of the people who helped debug the early Bitcoin crash logs.
His participation in the project didn’t end after he had become the first Bitcoin recipient. He continued to help with Bitcoin’s development and was a fierce propagator of cryptocurrencies, working to popularise the concept - and Bitcoin itself.
Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts theorise that Finney could have been the real person behind the “Satoshi Nakamoto” pseudonym. There are both arguments for and against this hypothesis.
It is true that Finney was the very first user of Bitcoin after Nakamoto and was involved in the project from the very beginning. If he was Nakamoto, he could have sent the first transaction to himself (using a different e-mail address) to test if it worked before involving others.
On the other hand, Nakamoto and Finney e-mailed each other on a regular basis, and their writing style was different from one another. It is not impossible to emulate a different writing style - but why would Finney e-mail himself in the first place?
When asked about it, Finney fiercely denied that he was Satoshi Nakamoto. Whether he was telling the truth, and whether he know the real identity of the person (or persons) behind that name continues to be a mystery that might never be solved.
Hal Finney was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2009. He retired from work in 2011, but continued to code - working on software that would strengthen the security of Bitcoin wallets - even as the illness rendered him essentially paralysed. He continued to have a positive outlook on life, which can be seen throughout his autobiography - “Bitcoin and Me” - written in 2013.
Unfortunately, during his last year of life, he and his family became victims of blackmail, with the extortionists demanding a payment of 1000 BTC. The Finneys were also harassed in other manner, such as swatting (causing a large police force to appear at their door after a hoax emergency report).
Hal Finney died on August 28th 2014. However, it is possible that this is not the end of his story. In keeping with his futuristic outlook and enthusiasm for technological advancement, he requested his body to be cryopreserved by Alcor Life Extension Foundation after his death. Perhaps developments in the medical sciences will allow him to be restored to life and health in the future?