Satoshi Files: Gavin Andresen
Crypto Basics

Satoshi Files: Gavin Andresen

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Gavin Andresen is an American software developer best known for managing Bitcoin’s development after Satoshi Nakamoto disappeared.

Satoshi Files: Gavin Andresen

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Gavin Andresen is an American software developer best known for creating the Bitcoin faucet, and being handed the title of Bitcoin's developer-in-chief after Satoshi Nakamoto left.

Source: USA Today

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Early Life

Andresen displayed a keen aptitude for computers and programming from a young age. As such, he’s spent most of his career working in the computer science field. Today, he claims that he’s in the top 10% of all programmers – and on par with Satoshi’s.


After Andresen finished high school, he attended Princeton University to study computer science. He graduated in 1988 and took a job developing 3D graphics software for a Silicon Valley-based company — Silicon Graphics. During this period, he co-authored a new file formatting system for representing 3D graphics online called VRML, or Virtual Reality Modelling Language.

He left Silicon Graphics to work as the CTO of a VoIP startup, and then co-founded a company which developed multiplayer games that blind people can play against sighted people.

Creating the Bitcoin Faucet

Andresen discovered Bitcoin in May 2010, about eighteen months after Satoshi published the whitepaper. After chatting with Satoshi about Bitcoin and its potential, Andresen realised that what it needed most was a way for people to get coins without having to mine them themselves. The solution he came up with was called the Bitcoin faucet.


The Bitcoin faucet worked just like a regular faucet, except that instead of dispensing water, it gave away free Bitcoin. That’s right: in exchange for completing a captcha challenge, anyone could go online and claim five BTC (over $140K at the time of writing) for themselves. For free. Understandably, the faucet was a huge success. In fact, many have said that it was one of the most important contributions toward Bitcoin’s early success.
Before long Satoshi trusted Andresen enough to write and commit code to Bitcoin. “Over time he (Satoshi) trusted my judgement on the code I wrote,” he said. Andresen was also in charge of enlisting other developers to help nurture and grow Bitcoin and expand its user base. As 2010 drew to a close, Satoshi was pushing more and more responsibility onto Andresen’s shoulders – responsibility he wasn’t that happy about accepting.
Andresen said:
“Eventually, he pulled a fast one on me because he asked me if it’d be OK if he put my email address on the Bitcoin homepage, and I said yes, not realizing that when he put my email address there, he’d take his away. I was the person everyone would email when they wanted to know about Bitcoin.”

Bitcoin’s Developer-in-Chief

Andresen officially took the reins in December 2010 and posted a message to the Bitcoin forums letting the developers know. Explaining how developers could suggest changes and submit code going forward, he also wrote:
“With Satoshi's blessing, and with great reluctance, I'm going to start doing more active project management for Bitcoin."
Over the following four months, Satoshi stepped further and further away from Bitcoin, until finally, on April 26, 2011, he decided to leave Bitcoin forever. He told Mike Hearn, another early Bitcoin developer:
“I've moved on to other things. It's in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”
A few days later, Andresen emailed Satoshi and told him that he’d accepted an invitation to speak with the CIA about Bitcoin, which he hoped would help clean up Bitcoin’s shady image.
"I hope that by talking directly to them and, more importantly, listening to their questions/concerns, they will think of Bitcoin the way I do - as a just-plain-better, more efficient, less-subject-to-political-whims money," he said. "Not as an all-powerful black-market tool that will be used by anarchists to overthrow the System."

Satoshi never replied to this message, and was never heard from again. We can only assume he didn’t share Andresen’s optimism about how the US intelligence agencies would treat Bitcoin.

Despite his reluctance at taking on the job, Andresen still believed he was the developer best suited to it. “I sure was the best,” he said when asked about the matter. He was also well paid for his efforts: in 2014, Andresen said he was paid $209,648 per year, which he received in Bitcoin. He exchanged most of the Bitcoin for dollars because “it just doesn’t make sense to have all your eggs in one basket,” but he kept enough that by the decade’s end, he had enough to comfortably retire.

A few years after he took over Bitcoin, Andresen set up the Bitcoin Foundation, a non-profit which sought to restore Bitcoin’s reputation after consecutive scandals brought its reputation into disrepute. These scandals included arms and drug dealers accepting Bitcoin in exchange for their illicit products on the Silk Road; and hackers minting 184 billion new BTC in seconds, which massively devalued all the other Bitcoin in circulation.

While the Silk Road eventually shut down and the Bitcoin hack was reversed, Bitcoin’s reputation was in dire straits in 2012. So Andresen urgently needed to get the Bitcoin Association off the ground, while also managing Bitcoin’s continuing development.

What did Andresen actually do in his role as Bitcoin developer-in-chief? For the most part, it seems, he arbitrated between Bitcoin developers who couldn’t agree on which direction the project should go in.

Bitcoin’s Civil War

The problem all boiled down to Bitcoin’s block size, or its lack thereof. You see, the Bitcoin blockchain can only process seven transactions per second, which isn’t nearly enough for it to compete with the likes of Visa or Mastercard. Satoshi put this transaction cap in place in order to prevent miners being overwhelmed by data and the network crashing, although he said that it should be raised over time.
Unfortunately, he disappeared before this temporary measure was rectified, which created a huge and lasting bottleneck of transactions, and sent transaction costs through the roof. This was pretty much the exact opposite of what Bitcoin’s developers had hoped for, and it raised an important question: if Bitcoin can’t compete with the big banks and payment processors like Visa, then, what’s the point of Bitcoin?

Up to this point, Bitcoin’s developers had desperately wanted new users. But when they got their wish, and Bitcoin’s blockchain started filling with transactions, the problem of how to process all these new transactions came to the foreground. Because if Bitcoin was ever going to reach its potential, it would have to process a lot more than seven transactions per second.

The question was how the developers should achieve this. At the time there were basically two schools of thought.

Increase Block Size

One group, led by Andresen and Mike Hearn, believed the blocks should get bigger, in accordance with Satoshi’s vision. This would have changed Bitcoin into a low-cost, fast payment network like PayPal. But, it could have led to a situation where ordinary computers couldn’t process Bitcoin’s blocks because the blockchain itself had become unmanageably massive, and eventually the whole network could have fallen into the hands of the only people who could afford systems large enough to run the code: huge corporations.

Andresen himself suggested the block size should increase from 1MB to 8MB, and increase by 40% every two years until 2036. Mike Hearn agreed that the block size should be increased in accordance with Satoshi’s plans. Some other core developers also wanted Bitcoin blocks to grow but in smaller chunks: between 17% and 100%.

Layer-2 Solutions

The naysayers pointed out that raising the block size would merely kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with: developers would have to keep raising the block size to account for increased traffic over time. What they recommended instead was separate off-chain networks that would process smaller transactions away from the Bitcoin blockchain itself, otherwise known as “layer-2” solutions. One such layer-2 network (which was developed years after this debate kicked off) is called the Lightning Network: it uses micropayment channels to let people send small sums of Bitcoin more efficiently, and for less money.

The warring factions became openly hostile to one another, each accusing the other side of either deliberately — or through sheer stupidity — of sabotaging Bitcoin. And Gavin Andresen, as Bitcoin’s chief, was caught in the middle.

When Andresen took over Bitcoin, he had probably hoped to spend most of his time writing and editing code. But he actually spent most of his time mediating between these two warring factions within the Bitcoin community. As lead developer, he was put in the awkward position of having to make the final call on all the big decisions whenever there wasn’t a consensus. This, he says, made him a kind of “benevolent dictator,” wherein what other people thought didn’t matter nearly as much as his own opinion. Understandably, this only escalated Bitcoin’s civil war.

Andresen exacerbated things further when he told an audience in London that “people” were actually calling for him to be more of a dictator. Mike Hearn, who sat next to Andresen, pointed at himself. But after a few audience members suggested that Andresen should be less of a dictator and more like a traffic cop, he said:
"That may be what has to happen with the block size, frankly. I may just have to throw my weight around and say, 'This is the way it's going to be. And if you don't like it, find another project.’”
Over the months that followed, some of the other Bitcoin developers discovered that Andresen had contacted exchanges directly, trying to sell them on the idea of big blocks rather than layer-2 solutions. This understandably irked the developers, and many saw it as a deliberate attempt to circumvent those who disagreed with Andresen and Hearn’s big block vision. Core developer Bryan Bishop said that Andresen was “misrepresenting himself as having some sort of special privilege in Bitcoin development,” when really “anybody can show up and propose anything."

End of His Tenure as Bitcoin's Chief

A resolution to the dispute was nearly found in Hong Kong, when Andresen, Hearn, and the other lead Bitcoin developers met up to try and find a way out of the trenches. They found some common ground, but it all fell apart before long. By the meeting’s end, Andresen was taking pot shots at those who disagreed with him. “It’s likely that the current developers will get fired, and some other team will replace them because they are not listening to their customers,” he said.

With no resolution in sight and the community up in arms, it wouldn’t have shocked many if Andresen were booted from his job as Bitcoin’s lead developer. But at the time, there wasn’t much appetite to oust him. That was until Craig Wright arrived on scene.

Craig Wright is an Australian businessman and computer scientist who was ‘outed’ as Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s inventor, in December 2015. The evidence looked convincing at first, and plenty of people thought he really might be Satoshi. Unfortunately for Wright, the evidence that he invented Bitcoin disintegrated faster than it first appeared.

His claims are today considered false by most of the crypto space, but one crypto leader who was sucked in by Wright was none other than Gavin Andresen.

In May 2016, the year after Wright was outed as Satoshi, Wright and his associates secretly assembled news crews from the BBC, GQ, and the Economist, in order to provide cryptographic evidence that Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto. Wright called Andresen in to help him substantiate his claims by verifying the proof he was showing the journalists. Andresen agreed.

Andresen and Wright met the journalists to provide and verify the proof in the conference centre of a London hotel. Wright signed a message that Andresen chose (‘Gavin’s favourite number is eleven. CSW,’) using the private key from Bitcoin’s first block – something only Satoshi could possess. Andresen copied that signature onto a clean USB stick he brought with him from the US, and then validated it on a brand-new laptop that Gavin requested to be used. This cryptographic proof, and the conversations he had with Wright, convinced Andresen that Wright was indeed Satoshi Nakamoto.

It wasn’t until Andresen supported Wright publicly, however, that everything started to go wrong for him. While speaking at the Consensus 2016 conference on the day Wright’s proofs were published, Andresen affirmed that he was standing behind Craig Wright’s claim that he was Satoshi Nakamoto. But by this time, a lot of Wright's evidence had been shown to be false or misleading. Consequently, Andresen’s statement was met with utter disbelief. Bitcoin developer Eric Lombrozo said:

"It was a very bizarre moment."

A bizarre moment indeed, and one which led the other Bitcoin developers to revoke Andresen’s commit access to GitHub before the end of the day, which meant he could no longer contribute code to the software. This effectively kicked him off the Bitcoin developer team, ending his reign as Bitcoin’s lead developer.

Bitcoin XT

Source: Bitcoin Wiki

After leaving Bitcoin, Andresen was still determined to see Bitcoin implement bigger blocks. He and his fellow developer Mike Hearn decided that the only fair way to move forward was to give the people a vote on what they wanted: larger blocks, or a layer-2 solution.

They assembled a new version of Bitcoin called Bitcoin XT: a near-identical copy of Bitcoin but with an 8MB block size, rather than 1MB, which would grow every two years. They proposed to the community that the people would decide which version of Bitcoin they wanted to use: Bitcoin core, with small blocks and layer-2 applications; or Bitcoin XT, with large blocks.

Many of the other developers were against not only Andresen and Hearn’s proposal, but the very idea of giving anyone but themselves a vote on Bitcoin’s direction. They argued they alone should decide what happens with Bitcoin’s code, and that trying to put it to a vote amounted to a coup.

Andresen and Hearn pressed on anyway, but their plans were scuppered by a malicious hacker. The hacker installed software that overloaded users’ computers with traffic if they tried to use Bitcoin XT.

This caused a Long Island-based ISP’s services to shut down for several hours across Long Island, and forced Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange, to shut down for nearly a whole day. Thanks to the combined efforts of hackers and small-block supporters, Bitcoin XT never took off.

In fact, it’s fair to say it crashed and burned, and took Gavin Andresen down with it.

Evidence That Gavin Andresen Could Be Satoshi Nakamoto

#1 His Career, Qualifications and Technical Ability

Andresen’s computer science degree from Princeton and his four years as developer-in-chief of Bitcoin proves he has the skills required to have invented Bitcoin.

#2 His Beliefs Align With Satoshi’s

Andresen describes himself as a libertarian who is deeply concerned with centralized government and central banks, who act as single points of failure for the global monetary system. He even keeps a Zimbabwean one trillion dollar note in his wallet to remind himself of the dangers of centralized control.

Satoshi shared Andresen’s libertarian beliefs and concerns about central banks. He included the text “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks” within Bitcoin’s genesis block.

Evidence That Gavin Andresen Likely Isn’t Satoshi Nakamoto

#1 He Says He Isn’t

When he was asked by journalists whether he invented Bitcoin, Andresen denied it and said that he still backed Craig Wright.

#2 It Would Require An Exceptionally Elaborate False Trail

There are volumes of forum and email messages between Satoshi and Andresen. If these were faked, Satoshi must have spent more time writing fake emails to convince the world he wasn’t Gavin Andresen than he did writing code for Bitcoin.

#3 He Backed Someone Else To Be Satoshi

From 2016 onward, Andresen has publicly backed Craig Wright as the inventor of Bitcoin. If he was Satoshi, why would he do this? To throw people off the trail? Possibly, but this seems a little far-fetched.

So, do you think Gavin Andresen invented Bitcoin?

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