In honor of Bytecoin’s coming hardfork, this edition of Max’s Corner is devoted to a look back into the history of cryptography and the significant role it has played in various spheres of communication.
From Homer and Dante up until the present day, this column makes the case for the necessity of advanced cryptography as we move further into the digital era, and looks at some of the improvements that will come with the Bytecoin fork.
The term cryptography comes to us from the Greek roots crypto meaning “hidden” and graphia meaning “writing”. In its traditional conception, cryptography refers to a method of using codes or ciphers to protect secrets or sensitive information. The practice of concealing meaning with words or symbols that would mislead or be unintelligible to readers without a code is as old as the practice of writing itself.
There are many references to what are believed to be early examples of encryption – from messages hidden in wax to hidden tattoos – in the writings of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Likewise, in the epics of Homer there are – while not exactly ciphers – curious patterns of language employing terms of seemingly extratextual or transcendent value that many have interpreted as being tied to a cosmological belief system of an esoteric character.
Curiously enough, one of the passages in Homer in which exegetes have found no shortage of jumping off points is the opening of Book VIII of The Iliad where the poet describes an “eternal golden chain” linking Zeus to every subsequent diminutive being and essence of the heavens, the earth, and the things below.
This notion of a metaphysical and hierarchical bond shared by all manifestations of creation – and inviolable by those same manifestations which it connects (it is everlasting and golden, in the symbolic sense of the word, after all) – has illustrative links to the current state of cryptography, which we will return to later, but also is itself sourced in a Greco-Egyptian tradition, where it can be found again in Platonic conceptions of form and of love and in Pythagorean cosmology and geometry.
The esoteric knowledge contained in Homer’s verses is concealed in a way that, from a metaphysical standpoint, mirrors the opacity of empirical existence; in life we are faced with forms and, perhaps, hints of their underlying relationships with each other, but, in order to discover the true nature of things one must read life the way a sharp reader reads Homer, with an eye to the portals of discovery contained in his work.
Although I do not want to represent this practice of weaving transcendent knowledge discreetly into a text as ubiquitous – Lucretius, a Roman poet with a more materialist conception of the world, wrote in On the Nature of Things, possibly in direct contrast to Homer and his successors, “never, I fancy, did a golden chain from off the firmament above let down the mortal generations to the fields” – this was very much a part of the literary tradition that was passed on from generation to generation.
The acme of this practice can arguably be found in the work of Dante Alighieri who perhaps more than anyone before or since was able in his work to reflect the concealed interconnectedness of things and the superhuman order that connection implied.
Dante, following the Scholastic school of philosophy in which he participated, and using his own life as the prima materia out of which he would build his city of thought, synthesized the Greco-Roman tradition with that of Christianity.
Thus, when Cacciaguida, Dante’s ancestor, tells the poet in Paradise that he will come to understand “how salt is the taste of another man’s bread, and how hard is the way, going down then up another man’s stairs” the reader is to see different levels of meaning in these words. Namely, one senses the exiled Dante’s individual placement in that above mentioned chain of Homer’s, but also a new aspect has been added to the chain, in that it has been synthesized with the Judeo-Christian concept of Jacob’s ladder replete with its ascending and descending angels.
What is the Connection?
Let’s return to the links with the present that I mentioned earlier. Homer’s golden chain, as a conceptualization of the connection that material reality has with what is divine, or of higher value, incorruptible as it is by humans, can be seen as a rough protocol of the blockchains of today that transfer and protect value from the material world to that of the digital.
But more than that, the method of imparting this knowledge to readers can be viewed as a paradigm of the way blockchains work. When Dante apostrophizes, “O you who have sane intellects, consider the teaching that is hidden behind the veil of these strange verses,” he is alerting the reader to the task in front of him.
There is value that has been woven underneath the intricate surface of the poem and the reader must perform a series of computations to reach that value. For Dante the value that he was leading capable intellects to, was none other than the stuff of salvation, the very purpose of life.
Today we, of course, are less ambitious, but the point still stands. Cryptography has played an essential role in the history of the written word and the passing along of things or ideas of value. Outside of philosophical and literary concerns, there are always political and cultural factors that regulate what is permitted to say, to think, and to do.
In the Middle Ages for example, if Dante had written explicitly instead of cryptographically about certain of his beliefs, it stands to reason that had his writing been found to cross lines laid out by the church or secular powers of the time, he would have suffered a fate similar to that of Galileo or even Giordano Bruno.
Alongside its political value, cryptography has also been martially significant since at least the days of Julius Caesar, who is noted for having developed his own cipher for conveying secret messages to his generals. In more recent times, the efforts of cryptographers Gordon Welchman, Max Newman, and Alan Turing did much to enable the cracking of the German Enigma code during World War II, and bring about an earlier end to the most deadly conflict in human history.
Improvements in Cryptography
Coming back to today, cryptography is of the utmost importance as more and more aspects of modern life are becoming primarily digital. As I have covered in a previous edition of Max’s Corner, cryptographic solutions are necessary in order to ensure that individuals can protect themselves and their assets in the digital space. And it is more important than ever that the structures that connect us in the digital reality are resistant to human corruption and the influence of bad actors.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I share with you that the Bytecoin platform has reached the consensus necessary to perform its long-awaited hardfork and roll out a bundle of improvements and new features. Cryptographically speaking, the most significant updates will be HD Wallets with mnemonic backup and new unlinkable addresses.
The wallets will help establish a coded, tree-like structure of addresses that do not need to be individually backed up. The update to unlinkable addresses will see users being able to employ groups of addresses that share the same view key in a way that outside observers will not be able to cryptographically prove if any two addresses are derived from the same keys.
These changes and more will come into effect following the hardfork which is scheduled to take place this Friday, May 17th.
Max was born at the end of 80s in Frankfurt, Germany. He studied engineering and telecom at university, and had internships in the US and UK. At the same time, he was coding on the side in С++ and scripting languages. After entering the Bytecoin team in 2016 as a technical support engineer, he rose through the ranks and now works as an integration engineer. Max is collecting vintage gaming consoles and loves English literature.