A CCN Exclusive – Andreas Antonopoulos: The Interview

Journalist:
April 8, 2015

“I’m fully booked tomorrow, but I have time to do it now.”

Andreas Antonopoulos is always on the move. He gets so many tweets that most end up ignored. Between his educational speaking engagements all over the globe, to his updates on his popular book on Bitcoin, to his new business venture launching this week, the man has little time to waste. I knew about his business launch, and how important tomorrow is, so my timing was key. The magic words to use weren’t hard to find.

Just wish I had shaved.

“Yeah…..Ummm……lets do it in a few minutes.”

“Sure.”

Grab my Norelco and a clean button-up shirt, expecting to share a video feed. I have written out ten questions already, with another ten nestled inside of each. Ten times ten is a thousand, right? Have to move this table, hit the mouthwash, putting on pants would be nice. Top of the morning to ya!

Video? Andreas Antonopoulos doesn’t need any stinkin’ video!

His video feed isn’t working. He has had some security issues since becoming a major Bitcoin celebrity, so he may have disabled it. He’s in a secret location, one time zone from me, but a time zone close to my heart. I know what he looks like, but he doesn’t know me, just that I work for CCN. The audio feed will have to do. He has more than enough videos of himself floating through the ether.

After I run some sound checks, we begin with some easy softball questions, more out of my curiosity, and to try to bond a little bit. He says his favorite movie is “The Matrix”, and the rest of the franchise fell off dramatically after the original, in his opinion. Considering the fact that he travels so much, I reckon he has a favorite city to visit or work in. His answer is more philosophical:

Evander Smart: You have traveled the world so much as a Bitcoin educator. Is there a city that stands out to you as a favorite to visit or work in?

Andreas Antonopoulos: “My favorite city is the one I haven’t been to yet. That’s the essence of travel for me. Every time I travel somewhere, I put a little pin on my map (which you can see on his Twitter). When I have the opportunity to pick my destination, I choose somewhere I’ve never been before. I’m currently at 34 countries and 364 cities, and counting. I am an avid traveler, so if I have any extra money, I’ll spend it on travel.”

He does live in the United States but would like to spend some time living amongst other cultures, namely Latin America and Asia. Travel and moving from place to place is in his blood.

“If a shark stops swimming, it dies,” he crisply surmises.

I look more into if he follows the Bitcoin news space avidly. Does he read through the latest articles on CryptoCoinsNews like a stockbroker reads the Wall Street Journal Monday morning? Or is he just a ramblin’ man trying to keep up with his busy seminar schedule? It turns out to be the latter. He would like to follow the daily news of it all, but he says his schedule doesn’t allow it.

What may be largely unknown is the price Andreas pays for his Bitcoin fame. He had no idea that he would become famous, in a way, by speaking about Bitcoin so passionately. That was certainly not his goal. He speaks of his lofty Bitcoin status of popularity as “a sharp double-edged sword.” There are times when he has questioned if his work in this field is worth what he has given up, personally.

“On more than one occasion I have thought about pulling back from the public eye. Because of some of the negative things that come with this publicity, it has forced me to live a very careful lifestyle because there are many security risks involved with doing this. I’ve considered pulling back many times, but what I do in this community, in this space, is important. I don’t want to stop talking about this great thing I believe in.”

He wasn’t fishing for a compliment, but I thank him for his work and let him know how much I appreciate all he does for the Bitcoin community. He definitely inspires me to help people learn about Bitcoin in a less technical way and a more philosophical manner, and I have quoted Andreas many, many times. He told me in one of his many speeches about the “Red Flag Laws” from 150 years ago in England. It is a great parallel with where we are in Bitcoin adoption now.

Britain outlawed the early automobile through regulation. The Germans and the Americans have been thanking them ever since for their lack of foresight.

Briefly, the “Locomotive Laws” of the 1860’s and 1870’s in England made regulations against the very early automobile so onerous and condemning, that the U.K. literally drove the burgeoning auto industry out of England. Cars in England were treated like invading vehicles of death. A scourge of the streets that the common man should fear, and be warned of hundreds of feet in advance. The automobile was pushed into the welcoming arms of Germany and the United States. That only costs them trillion of dollars over the next century. Bitcoin is in a similar developmental period with national regulations, and the ability for nations to take a leadership position as Bitcoin incubators, not banning it out of fear and ignorance. Bitcoin is at the same critical crossroads and may change the next century of economics, like the automobile, or the locomotive in 1860’s English parlance, did for freedom and travel. The Bitcoin space has very few people who can break Bitcoin down to that level to connect with new users. Andreas is the best among them.

Having watched him in recent speeches in Australia, Andreas has started to work jokes into the beginning of his speeches, which are normally around thirty minutes. The speech is followed by a Q & A session that is anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes. I bring this up that he works the crowd like a stand-up comic, walking back and forth like Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy. Personally, I just assumed he had a “gift of gab,” and knew how to work the stage as a part of his personality. He assures me that he has few natural public speaking skills, and it is much more calculated than that. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“Stand-up comedy is one of the passions of mine. I love stand-up comedy. I’ve taken some Improv classes, as a professional public speaker well before I got into bitcoin, I found taking comedy improv classes very useful. I get a lot of influence from stand-up comedy. It’s a wonderful art form. Every time I speak, I try out ‘new material’, and try it out with the audience. There’s no innate talent here. This is a totally acquired skill through years of practice.”

Next, I ask him about where are we now with Bitcoin’s overall growth and development, and if he is happy with the current trajectory of its development. What is the State of Bitcoin right now?

“It works. It empowers users. Now, the challenge is to use it securely while gradually expanding adoption to more and more mainstream users. It’s a gradual process that takes time with any new technology. Bitcoin is moving at a tremendous pace in the right direction, so I’m extremely optimistic. And we’re seeing so much innovation that is focused on making Bitcoin easier to use, more secure, more adaptable, and more flexible.

That’s what’s so great about Bitcoin. At inception (six years ago), it was tremendously disruptive and innovative. And since then, Bitcoin has only gotten better, and better by orders of magnitude. The traditional financial services industry is basically stagnant, using 1950’s technology for most things. No innovation, no competition, it’s stagnant! Even things like Apple Pay are running on top of the same failed credit-card based, identity-laden, easy-to-steal, easy-to-compromise technology. There’s no innovation there. Bitcoin is the invention of radio, and Apple Pay is taking smoke signals and adding colored smoke signals!

Not only was Bitcoin better than (the current systems) in 2009, but it has done five years of innovation in every year since then. It started out ahead of the finance industry, and while they are not moving, Bitcoin is accelerating the development cycle. It’s very exciting!”

My next topic was a future projection of Bitcoin, based on its “accelerating” development cycle. Where will Bitcoin be five years from now, relative to other mediums of exchange like Paypal, Gold, the U.S. Dollar and Western Union. Andreas was much more circumspect and not interested in making proclamations on its glorious future adoption arc. He sees the economic issues I’ve been reporting on closing in on all of us going forward. Andreas definitely has his ear to the ground, and can hear the buffalo coming.

Evander Smart: Where is the current economic system going? What will happen with the U.S. Dollar? Is this the perfect time for Bitcoin because of the current economic issues in the market worldwide?

Andreas Antonopoulos: “We are seeing the final plays of central banking. Central banking, itself, and national currencies are in a state of deep crisis right now. Most of the world’s economies are rapidly retrenching. We have this illusion of growth, but look at the middle class, and you’ll see growth is an illusion. All of these issues are going to come to a head, maybe not in the next year or two, but these issues will resolve themselves one way or another.”

Also read: “When the Dollar Collapses, which is better Money, Gold or Bitcoin?

He doesn’t believe that Bitcoin will be “the last man standing”, relative to fiat currency. Their infrastructures and influence are too vast to topple in a direct manner. Neither one of us see Bitcoin acting as a new global reserve currency. It wasn’t set up for such things. It should be a nice compliment to the current legacy systems, we agree. Just much more advanced and decentralized in nature.

Andreas doesn’t really pay any mind to the price of Bitcoin versus the dollar or fiat currencies, given its ability to be influenced by speculators. What interests him is the adoption by startups in the space and the technological advancements of the technology. The number of projects in Bitcoin on GitHub; the number of languages it can be used in. There is still plenty of room for growth, especially in the Third-world.

Then I bring up the legacy of Mt. Gox, and it was like throwing a skunk into his lap. He looks at it as an opportunity to learn a very important lesson about Bitcoin, and it is about the laws of possession and how they apply to the Bitcoin arena. He offered no understanding as to what really happened, and wouldn’t speculate, but he did see it as a lesson learned.

“The lesson here is that if you don’t control the keys, you don’t control the bitcoin. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and in bitcoin, possession of the keys is ten-tenths of the law. If you don’t control the keys anymore, it’s not your bitcoin! That lesson will be learned as many times as it needs to.”

The rise of China in the Bitcoin economic community was brought up, as around 80% of the trading in Bitcoin currency runs through the Chinese Yuan. The dollar continues to lose influence even in digital currency markets, not just in international fiat trade. Andreas’ spin on it was positive, and he highlights the fact that China was looking to ban it and work against it at this time last year. This shows how resilient and tractable demand for Bitcoin truly is

“When (oppressive monetary) laws are passed, giant chunks of the population are willing to work around these laws. The fact that a year after China effectively banned Bitcoin, and now 80% of Bitcoin is traded in Chinese Yuan, speaks a lot to the fact that Bitcoin will continue to operate, even if it is banned. In fact, the fact that it is banned serves to male it even more attractive (“The Streisand Effect”.)”

The next topic is altcoins, and I want to know if he’ll endorse any, own any, how into the altcoin space he is. He appreciates what they can offer as far as innovation, but does not hold much of any. He seems to like such programs where he can write contracts and scripts. Very experimental programs that give him some flexibility Bitcoin may not, in its current form. Describing altcoins, he used the term “one large ecosystem of innovation.”

After speaking directly with the Senates of Canada and Australia, I ask him to take the temperature of national adoption and acceptance of Bitcoin in these major markets. He does not see a future where nation-states buy into the crypto-currency model for their own use.

Evander Smart: What’s going to happen with Canada and Australia and their acceptance of Bitcoin? You’ve spoken to their national Senators. Where will they end up? Will they make their own version of Bitcoin?

Andreas Antonopoulos: “That (making a national digital currency) would be a waste of time. They won’t make decentralized currencies, only centralized digital currencies, which is pretty much where we are today. Most currencies are digital today. I don’t think it matters what national governments think of Bitcoin. Governmental acceptance is only relevant to the local companies trying to innovate and create jobs. They won’t affect the digital decentralized currencies as a whole. They might slow them down a bit, but these currencies run outside of the control of any single country.”

Bitcoin exchange risk has become one of the hottest topics over the last year since the fall of Mt. Gox; many other exchanges have also fallen. Pump-and-dumps, hacker theft, or pyramid schemes have hit the Bitcoin exchange industry hard since the start of 2014. Andreas sees the basic issue that affected Mt. Gox requires that users learn the lessons taught at Mt. Gox.

“People shouldn’t use exchanges as they do banks. If you use an exchange, get on, make your trade, and get off. Don’t give someone else your keys. Exchanges aren’t wallets. They shouldn’t be used as wallets. They’re not good wallets. You should never leave bitcoins on an exchange. You shouldn’t leave bitcoins ANYWHERE where someone else has the keys! If you have large amounts of bitcoins, invest in a hardware wallet.”

Delving deeper into the topic, my real question is should exchanges have zero oversight. Some of Bitcoin’s innovative spirit needs to be applied to this issue, IMO.

Evander Smart: Can three guys make an exchange in their garage, take in thousands of BTC, and close down three months later with no oversight or accountability to anyone? Is that the future of Bitcoin exchanges? Or can we come up with a way to offer checks and balances for exchanges, without becoming regulatory?

Andreas Antonopoulos: “Exchanges should operate in a decentralized manner using multi-sig wallets for each account, so it is simply not possible to steal all of the people’s bitcoins in one swoop. If exchanges take custodial control (take the private keys) over the bitcoins, and they expose people to the risk of custodial control, then those types of exchanges are banks. Banks should be regulated. Banks need oversight and need to be overseen because, eventually, either you are going to run away with the money or it will be stolen from you.

So we are in agreement that if anyone is asking you for your private keys, they are looking to take your bitcoin, literally. If you give someone all your keys, you do not have bitcoins anymore. Exchanges don’t need your private keys to do their job, should be decentralized in scope, so one person or group can’t just closed down and run off with the cache overnight. And please do not use exchanges as wallets. Do your trade and get off the exchanges. Be smart and be skeptical. The power of Bitcoin is in your hands, not a third-party. That’s the whole point! We don’t need Bitcoin banks. We need people to empower themselves, and drop the bank/slave mentality. I know, personally, as a former banker, that banks can’t be trusted. You should know by now that exchanges can’t be trusted. Trust yourself.

Andreas Antonopoulos has become CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of Third Key Solutions, which officially opened for business on midnight of March 31st. It is the culmination of a private company cultivated by Pamela Morgan, Third Key’s CEO.

“After working with numerous clients in the bitcoin industry the need for Third Key Solutions became apparent. Companies want to build operationally robust and secure businesses but let’s be honest, building a business in the bitcoin space is hard enough. Governance and key recovery are not a top priority for anyone until something goes wrong. At Third Key Solutions, they are our only priority, and we’re here to make it easy. We can generate and store keys with a carefully designed and audited process that gives you and your investors peace of mind, without taking custody of funds.” said Pamela Morgan, Third Key Solutions CEO.

This was borne out of Ms. Morgan’s law practice, where she has been helping Bitcoin businesses over the past year improve their overall security and accountability. Andreas has been a technical advisor to her throughout the growth of this venture. Sounds like a service company many bitcoin exchanges could use to this very day to improve operations. It definitely fills a hole in the Bitcoin niche.

Evander Smart: What are Third Key Solutions? It sounds interesting. It’s not for the average consumer, but more for Bitcoin businesses, right?

Andreas Antonopoulos: “We’re operating on a business-to-business level, so this is not for the bitcoin consumer. We help bitcoin start-ups, bitcoin wallets, exchanges, etc. to create corporate governance and internal key management, using multi-sig and other security systems. Controlling access to keys and internal funds by using policies that incorporate multi-sig. Third Key Solutions also offers cold storage in the case of discovery of a problem.”

Andreas’ book that he first published last year “Mastering Bitcoin – Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies” is now in its second printing, and he sees it as an encyclopedia for Bitcoin use and understanding. It’s targeted at the developers and coders in the space, but the Bitcoin layman, like myself, can use it as a reference guide for some of the larger Bitcoin technological concepts. What a fork is? What a block is? How funds are sent throughout the network? How’s the difficulty calculated and adjusted? How mining works and more.

It is available for purchase on Amazon and O’Reilly Media, but you can get it open-source, for free, through GitHub as well. Besides the incredible value of getting Andreas’ teachings for free, he is constantly updating the book. This is another drain on his time, but Bitcoin is evolving so quickly, three months of innovation can make several changes to the written text. He wants to provide that service to his readers, and provide the most accurate reference guide possible, so he constantly updates it.

I personally want to thank Andreas Antonopoulos for being an inspiration to me and countless others in the Bitcoin community. CCN thanks you for your time. The public works of Andreas Antonopoulos are not only appreciated, but are necessary. In my opinion, Bitcoin wouldn’t be as influential, or as valuable to so many, without the tireless ongoing work of Andreas Antonopoulos. He is the premier Bitcoin educator in the world, and he deserves our thanks and gratitude. Bitcoin is lucky to have him. Hopefully, the stresses that come with being the educational leader of Bitcoin don’t overtake him.

Being the best in the world at anything is not easy. Thanks for making it look that way, Andreas.

Images provided by Shutterstock and Wikimedia.commons

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Last modified (UTC): April 8, 2015 16:35

Evander Smart @EvanderSmart

Evander Smart wants to get you talking, get you thinking, get you learning about Bitcoin, "The Future of Money". He has two Bitcoin video training courses on Udemy.com called "Bitcoin for Beginners". Go to EvanderSmart.com to get the latest on Evander and the latest Bitcoin news.