An Open Source History: from Linux to Bitcoin’s Blockchain | Rusty Russell | TEDxAdelaide


Translator: Viviane P.
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I work on the infrastructure,
the low-level computer code, that other code uses to do useful things. I give away all of the code that I write, and I’ve been paid to do that
for almost 20 years now. It started back at university. A friend and I downloaded
this new operating system called Linux onto a pile of floppy disks. (Laughter) Sorry, I see some young person
in the audience looks confused. (Laughter) A floppy disk is like a – Imagine a crappy USB key put into a case that’s shaped
like a 3D-printed “save” icon. (Laughter) Now, Linux was open source, a community-produced program
that was supposed to be like the program that ran the big computers
at the university. Only, this ran on a home PC,
and it was free. On my PC, at least, it sucked. It was very slow. So clearly, clearly, a community of volunteers, amateurs, can’t be expected to produce something that can compete
with well-paid professionals at multi-billion-dollar companies. And even if they did produce
something interesting, without sales and marketing budget – the real world just doesn’t
work that way, does it? So five years later, in 1997,
I’m running Linux on my laptop, sure, but none of my clients run Linux. And I go to this international
computing conference, and at that conference
are all the key Linux developers, and I heard them talk
about their community tackling some really, really
difficult technical challenges, and that’s what I wanted to do. And as a group, they were, and still are, the brightest bunch
of programmers I have ever met. So when I got home, I started working on a new part
of Linux in my spare time. That same year, it got accepted
into Linux, and I kept updating it, collaborating with a growing community
of programmers from around the world. The next year, I found
a company to sponsor me so that I could write
the next version full-time, paid to release all my code for free. Now, this was the height
of the dot-com boom. If you could write a web page,
you could get venture capital funding. If you could put an e in front
and a .com at the end, you could get twice that. (Laughter) A lot of these companies used Linux, so Linux was hot. I joined a Linux startup. My friends in another Linux startup
had their initial public offering in 1999, with the stock ticker LNUX, and they offered stock
at the initial price of $30 to members of the community, and I was one. On the very first day,
their stock jumped from $30 to $320, the largest first-day increase
in the history of the NASDAQ. But don’t worry, I am not going to let
my spectacular new wealth change me. (Laughter) If you look up
“dot-com boom” on Wikipedia, it redirects you to “dot-com bubble,” and pop it did. Those Linux companies evaporated,
my company laid everyone off, that stock was worth
less than I paid for it, and the newspaper articles
changed from “Linux is the future” to, basically, “Linux is dead.” See, in 1998, people started asking, “When is Linux going to compete
with Microsoft Windows? Will 1999 be the year
of the Linux desktop?” 2000? 2001? 2016? Anyway, in 2001, I got another job
working on Linux. There was still so much
technical challenge, so much to do. But the spotlight had moved on. The rockstar days were over. I’m going to pause my Linux story
at this point, 15 years in the past, to talk about a second technology: in 1977, the invention
of the digital signature. Now, what this is is you make a 40-digit, secret number, and you take this number
and a document and – math, math – produce another huge number
that no one else could have known. And I can take that huge number
you produced and a document and – math, math – prove that the only
person that could have made that document is someone holding your secret, i.e., you. That huge, unforgeable number
is called a digital signature. Now, the first thing to do
when you invent something like that is try to make money. No, no, I mean literally
try to make electronic cash. Right? So, the bank has a secret number, and it signs this document saying
“This is worth 10 bucks,” and I can take the bank’s signature
and the document and email it to you, and you can check that, yep,
it’s worth 10 bucks, the bank said so. Of course, I can also email it to you, and this is called
the double-spend problem. It’s also the triple-
or the million-spend problem. See, signed documents are great, but I can just copy the whole thing,
including the signature. Now, we can fix this if every time
you send me money, I ask the bank, “Has she sent this to anyone else?” And it signs and says that no,
it’s now transferred, it’s now yours. But that’s not really digital cash,
that’s a digital bank account. In the 90s, a company came along
with something of an innovation. Their digital bank would, yes, check and sign that no,
it had not been spent twice, but, using math, math, math, math, the bank didn’t know exactly
which note it was signing. This gave you back your privacy,
this blinded signature. People started to get excited
about the possibility of electronic cash. In 1998, that company folded. Without their server to check
whether something had been spent twice, the money was useless. It was 14 years before somebody
calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto published a nine-page paper
which described a computer network which could check for double spends
without a central authority. As long as at least
half the network was honest, nobody could spend twice. Of course, the question remained: Would anyone trust currency backed by nothing more than math
and a network of computers? By the end of 2013,
the answer was a definitive yes, with the world’s largest bitcoin exchange,
the Japanese Mt. Gox, valuing each bitcoin at over $1100 USD, up from $30 two years before. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let my sudden
and superb wealth change me. (Laughter) In February 2014, Mt. Gox
suspended bitcoin withdrawals. Then they suspended trading;
then they filed for bankruptcy. Incompetence, theft, hacks, fraud,
insider trading, or all of the above. The bitcoin price plummeted;
bitcoin was dead. Clearly, clearly, no bunch of volunteers
can produce something which can compete with professionals
at multi-billion-dollar companies, and even if they did produce something,
without a marketing and sales budget, well, the real – Let me pause that there and go back to my Linux story. Because an interesting thing
has happened in the last 15 years. When you take out your phone
and pull up a web page, the machine that sent you that web page
is probably running Linux. Of the 500 fastest supercomputers
in the world, 497 of them run Linux. And Linux is in over one billion phones,
at the heart of Android. Instead of winning on the desktop,
we won everywhere else. And that’s why last year I left my comfortable,
big-company job working on Linux, where I’d been for 12 years, and I started working full-time
in the bitcoin community. And so people ask me, “Rusty, is bitcoin
going to replace Visa and MasterCard? Is it going to replace the US dollar
as the world’s reserve currency?” Well, I can stand here with 20 years
of experience in disruptive communities, and I can give you an ironclad guarantee that I do not know. (Laughter) But yesterday I took my phone with Linux at its heart, the software that I have written
over the last 20 years in it, and I walked into a news agency
here in Adelaide, and in a couple of minutes,
I bought some bitcoin with it. So I think I can promise you
that the next two decades are going to be at least as much
of an exciting adventure as the last two. Thank you. (Applause)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *