Note: The original recording had some issues with the sound – the audio file below has a cleaner and leveled sound for a better listening experience.
Today I am speaking to someone whose books and online educational resources were what helped me a lot at the early stage of my fall down the rabbit hole. Andreas Antonopoulos is one of the most respected people in the industry and it was an honor to have this unscripted conversation with him.
In case you prefer to read below is the transcript of our convo.
What is the motivation behind everything you do? It probably started from Bitcoin, right?
Yeah, I read about Bitcoin and I remember reading about it pretty early on sometime in 2011 and then completely dismissing it because it was related to a gambling science and I wasn’t interested and I didn’t understand what it was. So very skeptical dismissed it at first, I think a lot of people have that experience.
And then in 2012, I read about it again. And this time was an article that had a link to the white paper, and I clicked on the link, read the white paper, and derailed my life just completely off the rails so far down the rabbit hole, I spent the next four months doing nothing, but reading, writing, coding and discussing Bitcoin 16 hours a day or more and it just became an obsession.
I’m a geek. I’ve been a geek since I first got my computer when I was 10 years old. And I’ve always had a fascination with technology. It excites me and my enthusiasm sometimes turns into obsessions and I’ve learned over the years when I get these obsessive moments to pay attention to this intuition, to see I, when I felt obsessed about, things like the internet or the web – turns out my obsession was correct and much sooner than others. So I learned to pay attention to it. So when I got the same feeling this time, I decided to pay strong attention to it.
I’m a coder. I do write code and I’ve been programming since I was 10 years old, but it’s never been my job. I don’t want it to be my job. It’s my hobby and I’ve worked in information security. I’ve done a lot of consulting and things like that and I discovered early on that one of the things I could do is explain things in simple terms and teach and I loved it. So when I entered Bitcoin, I looked around and I saw, you know, I mean, this space even back then some of the most incredibly skilled cryptographers, mathematicians and programmers in the world and, you know, it was not an area that I have a lot of things to add with that level of skill, but there wasn’t anyone teaching. And there wasn’t one explaining in simple terms. So I decided to focus on what I do best and that’s what I started and decided to write a book, which at the time was just ridiculously audacious. I’d never written a book before I shut my sights very high and it was incredibly vulnerable and terrifying to have to deliver on that promise.
Giving guts pitches and, and, and also educating about Bitcoin. There weren’t many people who were interested or knew about it.
There wasn’t this initial sort of, you know, attention that everyone gets at the moment. And it was very different. What kept you motivated, uh, to, to carry on and to actually, you know, not get discouraged and, and believing the whole thing.
Well, my enthusiasm came from within. As a geek, I was fascinated by this technology and I wanted to share that, because you see, I couldn’t stop talking about it and thinking about it and trying to explain that enthusiasm to other people around me and I’ve had. As I said, I’ve had that experience before and I trusted my instinct. I trusted that this was a very important historical moment in the development of money in distributed systems and computer technology and in the internet. And so I just ran with it.
It didn’t matter if there were one person listening or 10 or five and you’ll see, some of my early videos are very poor video production, very bad sound but a hundred percent enthusiasm from me because it didn’t matter how many people were in the room, or if anyone was in the room, that enthusiasm was still there and it wasn’t about persuading other people.
I didn’t feel the need to persuade other people. What I wanted was for them to feel the enthusiasm that I felt because enthusiasm like that is contagious. Right? To see what I was seeing and not because I wanted them to buy any or anything like that.
I never talk about the price. I never talk about investments. I talk about technology and that is simple and pure enthusiasm for technology is one of the things that has defined my life and my personality and I will always want to share that.
I totally agree with you, which kind of leads me to the question about all these crypto influencers who are actually doing all these things that you’re not doing in principle. I know that, um, they do actually have audiences that get influenced and impacted by what they say.
And most of them are probably not so responsible about how they treat this audience and what they do on their social accounts. How do you feel about them?
Well, there’s always that that’s just human nature. And it’s much easier to persuade people with a promise of instantaneous riches and things like that than it is to get people excited in an obscure technology and kind of the social-political implications that technology has and to discuss things that may take years or decades to evolve and develop and to have that clarity of vision.
I don’t think it makes any difference to the industry as a whole. I don’t go looking to find what my audience wants to listen to and then save that so that I can appeal to a specific audience. I do the exact opposite. I say what I want to say and trust that in the era of the internet, the audience will find my voice and I think that’s one of the wonderful things that the internet has done. And no matter how obscure or narrow or specific your interest or your niche if you speak with conviction, with passion, with authenticity, people who really want to hear just that will find it.
And when they find it, they will pay attention to it. And that’s how I built my audience. And then I don’t care if some influencer has an audience that is 10 times mine. I don’t, what I care about is how do I feel about the work that I’m doing. Does it give me satisfaction? Does it align with my principles, with my interests, with the things that make me happy and excited to get up every morning?
You know there’s a saying that there is no person who is as poor as only having money. That is a poverty of spirit. And if all you have is money you are poor in every aspect of life and I’ve been really fortunate to find a rich experience, a community, a connection, and a passion for the things that I enjoy doing.
And that matters much more than whether I have a big audience or whether I’m promising people monetary riches just doesn’t interest me.
And it doesn’t surprise me that as a result, you get way more passionate and dedicated and loyal community behind you.
Which parts of blockchain technology are you absolutely excited about?
So th the same things that I saw in the early internet, which was the ability to change the way society works and to give more opportunities for people to have power over their own destiny, over their own future and not because of money per se but because I see this as a mechanism for expression, for engagement, for the community, for building society.
The problem with centralized systems, whether it’s centralized media, centralized communication, centralized governments, et cetera, is that they basically leave out billions of people who seem not important enough to pay attention to. And so I see technology as a mechanism for advancing civilization.
I have a progressive perspective I think that to me, there is no glorious past where things were idyllic, wonderful. I see the progress into the future by improving the human condition and technology plays a huge role in that. So when I see a technology that enables us to create a world where everyone can participate in the economy, where people can get the opportunity that’s really, really important to me.
I’ve been driven my whole life from a perspective of understanding that the world is not a just fair place, that there is no guiding power per se, and we need as, as people to recognize that a lot of what happens in our lives happens purely by chance.
I’m almost haunted by the idea that somewhere else in some other continent or some other country, a kid just like me was born who was just as motivated and hardworking or whatever as me and died from an infectious disease at age three that could have easily been prevented or ended up working in a, in a mine, um, on their conditions of slavery, you know, that ideas of that.
But for a moment of chance and being born into an educated middle-class family at the time that I was born everything else is not me and that drives me. The idea that there is so much wasted human potential because our societies are structured in the way they are and how can we improve that.
It’s a political perspective. It’s about justice. It’s about the opportunity. It’s not just about the economics of this thing.
Bitcoin maximalist, Ethereum, maximalist – sometimes things get really heated and they argue with each other. Is this the right way to look at it? Like, are we talking about different blockchains separately, or we’re talking about the technology that brings all these possibilities to them?
No one’s surprised that I’m not a maximalist in any way but that doesn’t mean that I won’t passionately advocate for the principles that I believe in.
And so for me, the question is not one brand versus another, or even one community versus another. It is which system best allows us to achieve the goals and principles. No system is perfect. No technology is perfect and no technology is static in time. These things change all the time and innovation feeds many different angles.
And what I think is best necessarily what somebody else thinks is best. I don’t have the same needs, problems to solve as people may happen in another country, right? You know the use of blockchain in Kansas is very different from the use of blockschain in Caracas and we need to recognize that we don’t have all of the answers from my perspective.
I have a simple acronym that I use to remember what are the principles that made me excited about Bitcoin in the first place. And that’s the acronym ripcord – just like the thing you pull in your parachutes if you’re going to jump out of a plane, make sure your ripcord works.
So what does ripcord mean?
It’s a series of questions I asked to see if something has value and if it promotes principles I care about that is revolutionary.
Is it immutable? Is it public? Is it collaborative? Is it open? Is it resistant to censorship? And is it decentralized?
And those are not just criteria. They are the reasons why Bitcoin is special.
Not because it’s Bitcoin, but because it has these principles if it didn’t have these principles anymore, then it wouldn’t be special anymore.
And so if you ask me, why is Bitcoin special?
It’s because of these principles and, and you can decide for yourself.
And these are the questions you should ask. Is this other blockchain interesting to me?
Well, is it revolutionary immutable, public collaborative, open resistant, and decentralized? And the answer is not yes or no. It’s some aspects. Yes. Some, no, some more, some less it’s a multidimensional problem. Um, So that’s what I care about.
And in that perspective, it’s important to debate those principles. It’s important to understand why we care about those principles. But I think there’s a fine line between debating those principles in good faith and kind of tribal response, which isn’t part of human nature, right? Where people see my team, your team as opponents for me, the real struggle here is between technologies that enable.
Societies to develop decentralized governance and empower individuals and allow for more self-determination, more expression, more freedom, and technologies or systems that don’t, that are centralized on the authoritarian. Ultimately the banking system, the government systems, we have the regulatory systems leave six and a half billion people out – outside of the world economy. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve and so bickering between the differences in, if you really believe that you can’s solve that with some of the blockchain, then don’t use it but there’s no point in bashing something that you don’t want to use.
Really pay attention to what is JP Morgan Chase doing, what is Goldman Sachs doing, what is HSBC doing, what is Barclays doing. What are the governments and the authoritarian systems doing? What are the regulators doing? What they’re doing is mass surveillance, authoritarians, aneurysm, control, and inequality.
That’s the problem we’re trying to solve. The rest is a distraction.
I don’t know if it’s true and you’re the one who’s going to confirm or deny this. I heard that you managed to shape your life in a way that you’re completely out of the system and you’re living with all your earning and spendings being in cryptocurrency only in your daily life. Is that true?
That’s not the case. No. I use cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin, although occasionally others too. I use them in my businesses and in my own personal life, I use it as my savings. I use it as my investments. But I also use it to pay my payroll for contractors that live all around the world and employees that live all around the world.
So I pay my company expenses. I earn it through my work but it’s it’s probably 50% sometimes more, sometimes less of my financial activity and the other 50% is, dollars and euros and other FIAT currencies. And I have bank accounts and credit cards and I’m not going to go out.
And honestly, in some cases, I would be reluctant to go buy a plane ticket or a hotel room or something like that with Bitcoin. I would rather spend the dollars faster and the euros that I earned, because from a financial perspective, they make for very poor store value and long-term investment.
And I would rather save an investment. My cryptocurrency. So yeah I believe in diversification. I’m not going to go and out of an ideological principle make it impossible for me to function in a world that has not yet transitioned fully and that’s, that’s okay. FIATs will co-exist with cryptocurrency for many, many years to come and that’s the world we live in.
I’m very pragmatic about it.
You started to get discovered and got obsessed with blockchain back in 2013, you said, and since then loads of things have developed. Fortunately, there have been lots of progress, both in terms of awareness and interests from people’s side and also in terms of the technology itself has developed. So which developments have been the ones that you were very happy about, like which parts of the blockchain and development during those years brought the most excitement for you?
I think you can see that by the types of books that I write. I’m currently writing my sixth book, which is mastering the lightning network. And after mastering Bitcoin, I wrote mastering Ethereum. So in order of developments I am still very, very focused on Bitcoin.It is still the most important system. It is the one I spend the vast majority of my time on but I’m also interested in and worked on and did my research on Ethereum. And I think it became a very important technology platform. Again, I’m not talking about investments, I’m talking about technology.
And now I’m working on the lightning network, which I think together with other layers to networks allows us to have robust store value and very, very fast micro-transactions and fast payments. So I really appreciate those technologies.
The other area that I’ve done, a lot of work in that I’m fascinated by is the developments in privacy – specifically the development of an entire area of research called zero-knowledge proofs and the things that it has enabled. I think we currently live in the second golden age of cryptography. The first golden age of cryptography was the seventies and eighties with the development of public key cryptography and the battles to keep that technology free and open.
And because of Bitcoin and the development of cryptocurrency and the funding we now live in, the second golden age of cryptography. So the research, the science is moving so fast and has such immediate application in these networks that we’re seeing some incredible developments for privacy. And I’m very excited about that.
The two hot topics at the moment in this sphere are the DeFi and NFTs. You didn’t mention them. What’s your opinion about those?
That’s why I was interested in Ethereum. It’s because as a platform, it allows us to develop things like DeFi and NFTs, and it allows us to create composable applications where you take components from different smart contracts and mash them up in new and interesting combinations that create new things.
So DeFi and NFTs are not two different spaces and if these are DeFi and DeFi can be built with NFTs and NFTs can be built on DeFi platforms. And that’s because the basic concept behind the theorem events of a virtual machine running in a blockchain and executing smart contracts, basically executing small financial programs in a trusted and decentralized manner enables us to do these things and that’s why I was excited in it.
So I see these as natural evolutions of that technological platform.
I think it’s, it’s got to notice that in many of these things, The vision of where we can go with these technologies and the things that we’re currently doing can diverge quite a lot.
You can have a technology that is going to completely revolutionize startup financing in the form of ICO’s and then watch it be completely abused by opportunists promoting garbage. Those two are not mutually exclusive. Both of those things are true. The long-term vision is revolutionary.
The same thing for DeFi, the same thing for NFTs. So if you focus on the technology and you focus on the long-term and you look at where this stuff is going and how it’s evolving, you can see that this is going to have an enormous impact, on how we do things in the future. Even if at the moment the majority of activity is very frothy, very bubbly, very speculative, but that’s necessary to evolve these technologies.
You have to have that period of disruption occurring. And of course, you have to be extremely careful if you’re looking at this from an investment perspective. So when I talk about NFTs and DeFi, a lot of people get really upset because, you’re promoting these things as a means for making money. And I’m not. that’s not my interest in these things. I’ve never discussed them from that perspective. No.
Yeah. I totally agree with you. It’s still early. Stages it’s bubbling as you’re sad. And you know, there is, there is a, a period where, you know, experiments will be made, new discoveries will be made and things will develop even further.
There is nothing new to this. I mean, this is how technology has always developed. It has always included a very, very speculative and frothy period of time, which includes massive failures of these experiments, where the vast majority of them fail.
The few that survived, show us how it’s going to be developed in the future. You can see that with railroads for example. The development of railroads in Britain, and then following that in the United States created many of the modern stock market applications you saw, and many of the regulations, because the amount of speculation that happened in the bubbles that happen in railroads and exploration of the West in the colonial companies.
The East India company, you know, dot chased India and the British East India company is the development of electricity.
All of the speculation and crazy crap that came out from opportunists, trying to sell you electrical shocks for health treatments or whatever the hell they were doing back then and all of the speculation and failed investments, the automobile, every single modern technology we have seen goes through this process and that’s okay.
And we saw it again in the internet era. As long as you understand that the vast majority are going to fail, but what that does is it shows us how not to do things so we can figure out how to do them, paves the path for the right direction, the technology to develop. So if you ignore the technology because you see its current applications feeling you’re missing, how this thing develops.
How much do you think is the human factor? I have a feeling that it’s not so much about technology, but just human behavior, human psychology, et cetera…
Absolutely. I mean, it’s all human behavior. The technology here is simply an expression of human behavior. All of this technology is hairless apes, trying to figure out how to organize societies that have scaled beyond a tribal level – and they’re using tools and making tools.
That’s what we are. We’re hairless apes that make tools and the technology itself,is influenced primarily by our human behavior and all of the bugs that we carry. In our biological nature we have all of these cognitive biases. We have all of these blind spots and they’re inescapable.
We cannot work around them because they’re the tool we use to work around them as the one that has the bugs. That’s okay. I think it’s important when examining technology to understand human nature. And I think one of the reasons that I can explain things in a simple way for my audience is because I’m so fascinated by human nature.
By psychology by sociology, by anthropology, really – and try to reason understands human nature because you can’t explain something unless you can really understand how the audience perceives what you’re trying to communicate. All of this is human nature, and that human nature is chaotic and surprising.
And there’s very little rational behavior going on. So anytime someone says, well, you know, the market should behave this way. The market doesn’t exist. What exists is hundreds of thousands of apes acting based on instinct and then ex post facto rationalizing that instinct in order to persuade themselves that they’re being logical. And if you understand that the market’s become much more clear.
Following the progress so far and seeing seeing all the failures and experiments and the boiling process, et cetera, what are your predictions for the future? What do you see happening at a higher level of course, what are you waiting for from this industry?
I’m honestly very optimistic and I’m optimistic because I cannot even predict what’s going to happen over the next year. Let alone years and decades into the future. Every time I think I finally have an understanding of this, something new pops up that was completely unexpected.
The comes completely out of this perspective or expectations of anyone and that surprises us. And that’s what keeps this interesting and amazing. The fact that we are watching history.
History is not what happened in the past. History is what is currently happening and we all get to be a part of it and watch it unfolds, not knowing where it’s going, whether it’s in the technology space, where you’re watching one thing after another, these surprising innovations that come out of nowhere and completely change the way things are developing.
But also human behavior, as we mentioned before, completely surprises us. The reason I’m ultimately optimistic is because the pace of development is accelerating, because I have enormous faith in humanity and the human spirit, finally, because this isn’t about what we’ve done, this is about what this technology has shown is possible.
If a person perceives something as possible it changes the way they behave forever because now they can start thinking about how the things they can build on that possibility. If you don’t know that something is possible, you can never think beyond that what Bitcoin did and what everything since then has done is it’s demonstrated in practice that something that we didn’t know was possible is possible. It is possible to create private money out of software in a world in a way that touches the entire world. It is possible to restructure governance and trust and society and communication and expression with these recipes in software that is not tangible.
And once someone understands that possibility you can’t undo, you can’t stop that. You can’t take it back. Even if Bitcoin collapsed tomorrow or catastrophically failed as a technology, we now know it’s possible, so it will just get done again and better and again, and again and again, and further into the future.
So to me, the wonderful thing about technology is that it shows us new possibilities that we hadn’t imagined before. And once that enters your brain, there’s no going back.
Yeah, absolutely. Exactly what happened in 2009 and the worlds will not be the same because of it. And so I’m just excited, like everybody else to see what happens next.
I would like to thank you for all the work that you’re doing, because I think what’s very important.
I think that fundamental approach of what to look at and which questions to ask and how to learn things and what to think about…When you’re coming up with all these new and unexpected things around the topic is, is very, very important.
And I think you empower people to basically get more knowledge and to be able to learn by themselves later on, and dig deeper wherever it’s needed.
So thank you very much for the great work you’re doing for all of us to make this whole journey more comprehensive. and, and, and smoother.
That’s very kind of you have to say. It warms my heart.
I don’t need any thanks because, trust me, I am having a ton of fun doing this. I love doing this work and it’s been a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with you.
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