It is still early in 2017, but this year could be crucial for bitcoin. The scaling debate rages on and the community is divided on which of the two main solutions to adopt.
While the actions of many participants in the ecosystem will shape the future of bitcoin, a few individuals stand out this year. We’ve compiled a list of twelve individuals, given in no particular order, who we think will impact the outcome of bitcoin.
1. Pieter Wuille
Pieter Wuille is the developer behind Segregated Witness (SegWit), one of the two scaling options for the bitcoin network that the community is considering. While he has made many commit changes to the core software since 2011, none have made him as well known in the community as the SegWit proposal.
The solution seeks to make the current block size more efficient by removing transaction signature data, hence creating room for more transactions per block. Close to 30% of nodes have downloaded the version of the core software that adopts SegWit. Once 95% is reached, the network will activate it through a soft fork.
2. Roger Ver
Roger Ver, also known as Bitcoin Jesus, was among the first to invest in bitcoin startups. Brands associated with him include bitcoin.com, a leading news site; blockchain.info, one of the most used mobile wallets; and localbitcoins, a peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace. Aside from investing in startups, Ver also owns one of the largest bitcoin stashes — over 300,000 btc.
In the recent months he has come out as one of the strongest supporters of Bitcoin Unlimited, the scaling option that competes with SegWit. While SegWit reduces the amount of data from each transaction that goes into a block, Bitcoin Unlimited seeks to increase the block size.
3. Elizabeth Stark
As the cofounder and CEO of Lighting Labs, Elizabeth Stark has had a strong influence on the scaling debate. Her company is building the Lightning Network, an off-chain scaling solution that uses peer-to-peer state channels secured by smart contracts.
The Lightning Network is designed to make transactions instant, low cost and interoperable with other blockchains. Stark has said:
“Lightning can work to scale Bitcoin, but it also can work to scale or connect chains. You could have two different assets, and they can be swapped in a decentralized fashion.”
4. Jihan Wu
Jihan Wu is the cofounder of Bitmain, a company that runs Antpool, one of the biggest mining pools. The company also manufactures and sells mining rigs. Wu’s influence in the community has grown since Bitmain declared its support for Bitcoin Unlimited.
On April 5, core developer Gregory Maxwell reported on the bitcoin development mailing list that Bitmain implemented covert AsicBoost techniques to give them an advantage over other miners in the network.
Maxwell claimed Wu and Bitmain’s opposition to SegWit is driven by a fear that SegWit would make use of AsicBoost impossible. Bitmain has denied the allegation. Maxwell wrote:
“An incompatibility would go a long way to explain some of the more inexplicable behavior from some parties in the mining ecosystem so I began looking for supporting evidence. Reverse engineering of a particular mining chip has demonstrated conclusively that ASICBOOST has been implemented in hardware.”
5. John McAfee
John McAfee is renowned for McAfee AntiVirus, which he developed in the late 1980s through McAfee Associates, a company bought by Intel in 2010. He has recently set his sights on bitcoin and blockchain technology. His current company, MGT states:
“As part of its corporate efforts in secure technologies, MGT is growing its capacity in mining Bitcoin. Currently at 5.0 PetaHash, the Company’s facility in Washington state produces about 100 Bitcoins per month, ranking it as one of the largest U.S. based Bitcoin miners.”
He has expressed interest in working with Ver and Wu to support scaling the network through Bitcoin Unlimited.
6. Andreas M. Antonopoulos
An IT security expert, Andreas Antonopoulos has become one of the most visible evangelists of bitcoin.
He has written two books on blockchain technology — Mastering Bitcoin and The Internet of Money. He is also a common figure at conferences around the world and he is often invited to talk at events organized by financial and government institutions. He is a frequent guest on podcasts such as Adam Levine’s Let’s Talk Bitcoin.
Antonopoulos is not a strong supporter of any of the scaling solutions, but he has expressed leaning toward SegWit. In October 2016, he tweeted:
“Upgraded all my bitcoin nodes to 0.13.1, ready for segwit activation.”
7. Emin Gün Sirer
Emin Gün Sirer is a computer science professor at Cornell University. He is popular for his detailed and analytic blog posts that sometime take a prophetic stance on bitcoin and blockchain technical trends.
If you seek to understand the technology beyond its price, adoption and politics, Sirer is the expert who will break down the technology for you.
In December, Sirer — alongside Joshua Lind, Ittay Eyal and Peter Pietzuch — unveiled Teechan, an off-chain scaling solution. They write:
“We have developed a new scalability solution for Bitcoin, called Teechan. It is a new, practical, high throughput, low latency off-chain transaction protocol that can be deployed securely on the Bitcoin network, as it exists today.”
8. Jerry Britto
The chief executive officer of nonprofit organization Coincenter, Jerry Britto, works with policymakers and regulators to create a positive environment for bitcoin and the businesses growing around it.
Coincenter has contributed to the bitcoin legislation process in the US, in the states of California and North Dakota, as well as in the US Congress. The major role of the organization has been teaching legislators about how cryptocurrencies work.
His real-world identity is a mystery, but Theymos is one of the most influential people in the community. He manages Bitcointalk and the bitcoin subreddit (r/bitcoin), two of the most active bitcoin forums online.
He has been accused of censoring content when he disagrees with it. In particular, he has allegedly made it difficult for opponents of SegWit to post on forums he manages. Whether or not this is true, Theymos has played a strong role in directing community discourse.
10. Gregory Maxwell
Core developer Maxwell has worked on many projects including CoinJoin, a service that makes it difficult to track bitcoin transactions.
When he announced he had reverse engineered Bitmain mining hardware and discovered they were covertly using AsicBoost, some in the community, such as developer Rhett Creighton, changed their support from Bitcoin Unlimited to SegWit. Creighton wrote:
“Now that we know what the real problem was, the Bitcoin community can start forming a plan to address the real issue.”
11. Adam Back
Adam Back invented Hashcash, which forms the backbone for the proof-of-work consensus mechanism that secures bitcoin. He is also the co-founder of Blockstream, a company that builds off-chain scaling solutions such as sidechains and the Lightning Network.
At issue in the scaling debate is that some core developers working on SegWit, including Wuille, also work for Blockstream.
12. Satoshi Nakamoto
No one has heard from Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of bitcoin, since January 2011, but the question of his (her or their) identity remains open. Almost every year, someone either claims or is suspected to be Satoshi. In 2016, the biggest Satoshi outing story was that of Craig Steven Wright, an Australian computer expert.
Will 2017 bring its own Satoshi Nakamoto revelation, or perhaps a true and verifiable disclosure? The story of the founder’s identity may not have a significant impact on technical aspects of the cryptocurrency — when Satoshi left bitcoin, he declared a hands-off stance — but it would definitely contribute to the ongoing story of the growing technology.