A video believed to be recorded during the Santa Barbara’s Crypto ’98 conference on August 26, 1998 recently resurfaced where Finney can be seen fervently discussing the concept of zero-knowledge proofs.
Hal Finney, an early pioneer in the world of Bitcoin, unveiled his visionary ideas surrounding zero-knowledge (ZK) proofs over a quarter of a century ago — a full decade before the launch of BTC.
This discourse foreshadowed the profound impact this cryptographic technology would wield in the decades that followed, ultimately captivating the attention of the global community.
In the clip, Finney describes a hypothetical scenario where one could execute a zero-knowledge proof on a SHA-1 hash. It’s like securely transmitting a cryptographically encrypted message while safeguarding the confidentiality of the information inside it.
“I want to prove to you that I know a message that hashes to a given hash value using the SHA-1 hash. I don’t want to reveal anything about the message to you. It’s a zero-knowledge proof, and I’ve written a program to do this that I’ll tell you about.”
In cryptography, a zero-knowledge proof or protocol is a way for one party (the prover) to convince another party (the verifier) that a specific statement is true, all without revealing any extra information to the verifier except for the statement’s truth itself.
While the idea of zero-knowledge proofs was initially formulated in 1985, during Finney’s speech, these proofs were still in a theoretical phase. This was because back then the hardware available was not capable enough, and as Finney himself expressed, using them was seen as either “inefficient or impractical.”
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Interestingly, decades after this presentation, people in the industry are now talking about the most effective ways to apply zero-knowledge proofs. It is important to note that this concept has primarily gained popularity for its capability to scale the Ethereum network.
About Hal Finney
Hal Finney is a renowned figure in the bitcoin industry, celebrated for his pioneering contributions. In 2009, he became the very first individual to receive bitcoin, a generous 10 BTC transfer from Bitcoin’s anonymous founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. This historical footnote underscores Finney’s close work with Nakamoto during the earliest days of Bitcoin’s development.
Finney is known for playing a pivotal role in advancing privacy-enhancing technology, crafting the first fully anonymous remailer — a tool designed to protect user identities during email transmissions, and developing the very first reusable proof-of-work system.