Bitcoin cannot be mentioned without Hal Finney. One of the earliest Bitcoin pioneers, he was the first person to receive the world’s first Bitcoin transaction and he has often times been identified as Satoshi Nakamoto. In the world of cryptography, Finney is a key figure and a grandmaster. He always had a keen interest in cryptography payment schemes, and when Satoshi Nakamoto brought Bitcoin to the limelight, he felt positive and convinced, while many cryptographers were sceptical about the cryptocurrency. Hal Finney and Phil Zimmermann worked together at PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Corporation which Zimmermann started.
All through his cryptography years, Finney had unmovable faith in Bitcoin and was among the people who worked on the Bitcoin software and improved it tremendously. He was a developer on several video games like Adventures of Tron, Ambush, and Astroblast. Finney was known as very open-minded and never hid anything about himself; he was pretty accessible to the public. He was also a very optimistic person and believed in the ideals of human rights and also believed that in the future, technology would have advanced to the extent that it would be possible for humans to live forever through a technological medium. He is seen by many as a cryptographic evangelist and prophet.
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Early Life and Education
Hal Finney was born Harold Thomas Finney II on May 4, 1956, in Coalinga, California to Virginia and Harold Thomas Finney. His father was a Petroleum Engineer. He had other siblings, two girls, Kathleen and Patricia, and a brother, Michael. The entire family moved to Arcadia, where Finney finished high school. He later went on to study Engineering at California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) earning a BS in Engineering in 1979.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)
Shortly after Finney left CALTECH, he began working for a computer gaming field, in the computer gaming sector which developed video games like Armor Ambush, Adventures of Tron, Space Attack, and Astroblast. He also ran the first cryptographically based anonymous remailer.
When Phil Zimmermann started the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) Corporation in the early 1990s, Finney joined the corporation, becoming its first employee and was a central developer for the PGP program. PGP, the most widely used email encryption software in the world, is an encryption program used to encrypt and decrypt emails over the internet directories, and whole disk partitions, as well as authenticate messages with digital signatures and encrypted stored files. The innovative encryption used in the program has been invulnerable to hackers till date.
While at PGP, Finney was a regular participant in a couple of futurist mail lists which birthed the Cypherpunk Movement, solely dedicated to privacy-enhancing cryptography. He was also involved in several experiments which aimed at creating an anonymous form of digital money, including the invention of reusable proof of work in 2004, which never saw the light of day. Finney was a strong proponent of individual privacy and most of his works reflected that. His involvement and efforts in the PGP encryption are felt by millions of people on a daily basis.
Finney remained in PGP Corporation until he retired in 2011, working from his home in Santa Barbara, California.
While Finney was working at PGP, he saw Satoshi Nakamoto’s cryptography mail on Bitcoin in 2008. Many cryptographers didn’t receive the new with open hands and a round of applause, as they were very skeptical. This was because there had been many grand schemes that ended up moot. Finney, on the other hand, became interested and wasted no time getting hold of the coins.
Finney was the first person ever to receive a Bitcoin transaction from the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. Over time, he would hold conversations with Satoshi and the two worked together to develop bitcoin. Bitcoin used some of the same cryptographic tools as PGP and made a promise that participants had the option of being anonymous when spending money online.
Later on, when Bitcoin began to receive criticism from different quarters, Finney was quick to defend the project. He downloaded the Bitcoin software and was quick to take part in its first transaction when Satoshi Nakamoto sent him 10 Bitcoins. Finney later withdrew from active participation on the project.
Finney as Satoshi Nakamoto
When Finney was heavily involved in the Bitcoin project, speculations arose. Due to his programming background, involvement in and defense of Bitcoin, many people believed that Finney was Satoshi Nakamoto. Ever since Bitcoin was created, there have been many speculations as to who the real Satoshi Nakamoto was. Different people have in the past, been identified and identified themselves as the Bitcoin creator.
As Bitcoin grew, Finney was seen as the real Satoshi, a claim he vehemently denied. People believed that his chat with Satoshi was a ploy to remove himself from the spotlight. The Finneys lived close to a man named Dorian Nakamoto, who people thought was the Satoshi Nakamoto, who has also denied being the Bitcoin creator and has said that he has nothing to do with the company.
These speculations, however, weren’t good for the Finneys, as his wife, Fran, later in 2017, was being threatened along with her Twitter account being hacked. The rumours have also created unwanted attention for the family, with an extortionist trying to swat the family and was making threatening phone calls, demanding for 1,000 in 2014. This went on until Finney’s demise in August 2014.
With all the rumours making rounds, there has been no concrete evidence of Finney being Satoshi Nakamoto. Even though he had interactions with Satoshi and was a firm believer and advocate of Bitcoin, and worked with Satoshi to fix bugs, none of these makes him the mysterious Bitcoin creator come to life.
Finney was married to Fran Finney and they have two children, a daughter, Erin Finney, and a son, Jason Finney, both of whom are tech-savvy. Finney met his wife, Fran, at the California Institute of Technology and she is a physical therapist. She was with Finney until his last day. When Finney was younger, he developed an interest in life preservation through cryonic freezing until life-enhancing technologies were created. Finney and Fran visited the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 1992 to determine if he wanted to sign up his family to be preserved in Alcor’s containment vessels. At the time, he believed that anyone one born today has more than 50-50 chance of living forever.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Finney was a runner, who ran several half marathons and was training for a full marathon when his dream came to an end. In 2009, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that attacks the brain cells which control a lot of a person’s muscle movement. It weakens the diaphragm and those with advanced ALS have trouble breathing. It is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after a famous American Baseball player who had the disease.
Initially, Finney had slurred speech, weak hands, and legs that were slow to recover. He was able to continue working, but as the disease progressed, he was forced to retire in 2011. Since then until his death in 2014, the disease continued its inexorable progression. Later on, he would become paralyzed, fed through a tube, and breathed through the assistance of another tube. He was operating his computer using a commercial eye tracker system which had a speech synthesizer.
Despite all of these, Finney never gave up and always saw himself as a lucky person overall. He adjusted to his new life and still went ahead to do programming because it gave him purpose. He believed that he came across Bitcoin through sheer luck and he was able to live through the Bitcoin crash in 2011, despite his condition. He felt very satisfied with his accomplishment and was at peace knowing that his family was safe enough with the Bitcoins he had amassed over the years.
Through it all, until his demise on August 28, 2014, Finney felt nothing but contentment and pride in the legacy he had built. He was cryopreserved by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation according to his wish.