Hal Finney: Proof of Work Pioneer, Satoshi's First Bitcoin Payment Receiver

The name Hal Finney has become synonyms with Bitcoin. Of course, he’s also been known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Regardless of what name you prefer, Finney was the recipient of the first-ever Bitcoin transaction and has helped bring cryptography payment to the mainstream. He believed in it even when everyone around him was skeptical.

Together with founder Phil Zimmermann, Finney helped develop Pretty Good Privacy, an encryption program focused on privacy for data communication. His faith in Bitcoin drove him to keep developing Bitcoin software. He was also open-minded, believing in human rights as much as he believed in the power of technology. In fact, many in the cryptographic community view him as a kind of prophet.

Early Days

Finney was born on May 4, 1956, in Coalinga, California. His parents, Virginia and Harold Finney, gave him the name Harold Thomas Finney II. He grew up with two sisters and a brother and eventually attended high school in Arcadia after the family moved. After high school, Finney earned a degree in engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

For Privacy Sake

After graduating from CalTech, Finney pursued a career in computer gaming. He helped to develop games like Adventures of Tron, Space Attack, Armor Ambush, and Astroblast. At the same time, he ran a cryptographically-based anonymous remailer, the first of its kind.

In the early 1990s, Finney joined Zimmermann at Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). He was the company’s first employee and a key part of the developing email encryption software. To this date, the software has been used in encrypting and decrypting emails while also proving impervious to hackers.

During his time at PGP, Finney participated in futurist mail lists that would eventually lead to the Cypherpunk Movement, a movement focused on privacy-enhancing cryptography. He was involved in several efforts to create an anonymous form of digital currency. Much of his work reflected his belief in privacy and the things he accomplished before retiring from PGP in 2011 effect countless people on a daily basis.

Getting Involved In Bitcoin

While he was still at PGP in 2008, Finney saw Satoshi Nakamoto’s report on Bitcoin. Many in the cryptography community remained skeptical. But Finney couldn’t get his hands on the coins fast enough. Before long, he received the first Bitcoin transaction from Nakamoto, working with him to develop Bitcoin.

With Bitcoin’s promise to allow users the option of spending money anonymously, Finney was sold. When others began to criticize Bitcoin, Finney was quick to defend it, even though he would ultimately pull out as an active participant in the Bitcoin project.

Satoshi Nakamoto

Due to his background in cryptography and heavy involvement in Bitcoin, many began to speculate that Finney was, in fact, Satoshi Nakamoto. Few people knew for sure who Nakamoto was, and so rumors circulated that perhaps Finney and Nakamoto were the same person. In fact, as Bitcoin began to grow in popularity, it was Finney who was seen as being Nakamoto and the founder of Bitcoin, even though Finney would always deny these claims.

These rumors were helped along by Finney and his family living near a man named Dorian Nakamoto, who was sometimes believed to be Satoshi Nakamoto. However, this Nakamoto has always denied any connection to Bitcoin. Things persisted to the point of Finney’s wife having her Twitter account hacked and being on the receiving end of threatening phone calls. However, there has never been any concrete evidence of Finney being Nakamoto despite the two having plenty of interaction with one another.

Personal Life

Finney and his wife, Fran, have two children, a daughter named Erin and a son named Jason. Naturally, both kids are tech-savvy. Fran is a physical therapist who met Hal when they were both at CalTech.

In addition to cryptography, Finney had always held a fascination with life preservation and cryonic freezing, even dating back to his younger days. In 1992, Hal and Fran even visited the Alcor Life Extension Foundation to pursue the possibility of having the family preserved in the company’s containment vessels. At that time, Finney believed that anyone alive at that moment had at least a 50% chance of being able to live forever through cryonic freezing.

Living With ALS

However, Finney would not live forever. While he was still working with PGP in 2009, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As his hands and legs began to weaken and his speech began to slur, he was forced to retire in 2011. Sadly, the disease continued to progress, as Finney would eventually become paralyzed. He could only breathe and eat through tubes and used an eye tracker system connected to a computer to speak.

However, his illness never stopped him from trying to program or being proud of all that he had accomplished with Bitcoin. He was also happy knowing that his family was financially set because of all the Bitcoins he had amassed. He passed away on August 28, 2014, and according to his wishes, was cryopreserved by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

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