Cryptocurrencies arise when a group of computer experts gathers around the cypherpunk manifesto written by Eric Hughes, first understanding the importance that privacy would have in the future and the role that cryptography would play in protecting it; it was the end of the 80s and substantially many make this date correspond to the birth of cryptocurrencies even if, as we will see later on, if we wanted we could go even further backwards, until the early 1970s.
The movement, which was born primarily from a Berkeley IT professor and cryptography expert (David Chaum), first met in San Francisco in 1992 and among many of those who attended that meeting there was already the idea of a currency built thanks to cryptography; among them, in all probability, there was also a young Nick Szabo (the author and inventor of the definition of smart contract) who a few years later (in 1998, ten years before bitcoin) created BitGold which is, in a sense, BTC's grandfather since we are talking about a private digital currency built thanks to cryptography.
However, Szabo still lacked a ring to close the chain, without the consent protocols and the blockchain, the BitGold project fails within a short time.
Immediately after the Szabo project, but still before bitcoin, in 2004 it was the turn of Ryan Fugger (a young Vancouver web developer), who laid the foundations for the creation of a currency that still exists today; it was Fugger, in fact, who bought the RipplePay.com site in 2005, from which XRP, the currency we all know, will be born.
Even before these projects, already between the 1960s and the 1970s, cryptography had begun to grow as a discipline, forming those bases that, decades later, would have allowed Satoshi to invent Bitcoin; the birth of public key cryptography dates back to those years, without which cryptocurrencies as we know them today would never have existed.
Right from the start, already in the early 1970s, cryptography stands as a tool at the service of people to counteract the authoritarian drifts of governments and, among the various applications that are tested, great attention is paid to the creation of a communication system that allow US activists (those were years of great political passions) to communicate securely without risking being intercepted by the authorities.
Another thing that appeared clear since then, I repeat that we talk about the 70s (practically 50 years ago), was that one of the most interesting applications and of the greatest potential of cryptography was precisely the monetary sphere; in fact, it was very clear to cryptographic experts even then that without privacy on financial transactions, it was basically as if there was no privacy. Wishing, therefore, we could say that cryptocurrencies are born in the early 1970s, setting the birth of public key cryptography as a reference date.
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