Timothy C. May, 67, died this week in Corralitos, California. He was co-founder of the cypherpunk movement, discoverer of Radiation-Induced Single Event Upsets in integrated circuits, an uncompromising proponent of firearms, and a godfather of cryptocurrencies in general. Lucky Green, May’s friend and one of the earliest contributors to the Tor project said in a Facebook post:
Word has reached me that my dear friend, co-conspirator in many things and for many years, fellow Freedom Fighter Tim May passed away earlier this week at his home in Corralitos, California…
In his early life, Tim May (as he was better known) was a political and technical writer, an electronic engineer, and a senior scientist at Intel during the firm’s early years. He retired from the company in 1986, and from then started his quest into the cypherpunk space.
Crypto Anarchism, Cypherpunk, and Cryptography.
Tim May wrote the Crypto Anarchist Manifesto in 1988 and later co-founded the Cypherpunks movement together with Eric Hughes and John Gilmore in 1992. He was also one of the most prolific contributors to the Cypherpunks electronic mailing list. All the while, Tim immersed himself in rigorous research, digging deep into cryptography, data havens in cyberspace, new financial systems, digital money, and the ways through which technology could create new societal structures.
During his quest, he encountered Eric Hughes and John Gilmore, who joined Tim’s thirst for new meaning. And in a recent interview with Coindesk on the 10-year anniversary of the Bitcoin whitepaper last October, Tim talked about his dealings with them, saying:
At this first meeting, I brought Monopoly tickets that I had bought at a toy store. I distributed them and simulated a “crypto” world, with data havens, black markets, and remailers. Systems like what will later become “Silk Road” have been imagined
What later developed after the first meeting was enormous. The team started meeting every month, and a mailing list was quickly developed. This legendary list was not moderated, there was no censorship, and no filtering. Of course, there was no central point of failure aka leader. This relationship further developed into what Tim calls a:
Polycentric peer-to-peer structure, distributed without permission. A form of anarchy in the true sense of the word [an-arkhê: without origin, without command].
Besides co-founding the Cypherpunk movement, described by Lucky Green as “perhaps the single most effective pro-cryptography grassroots organization in history”, Tim May’s footprints in crypto anarchism go even further. In 1994, May wrote “The Cyphernomicon”, an FAQ-based document that spells out the principles behind crypto anarchism and its impact. The document advocates anonymous digital currencies and electronic privacy, as well as subjects on assassination markets. Tim also wrote an Essay titled “True Nyms and Crypto Anarchy”, which was later included in a reprint of “True Names”, a science fiction novella written by Vernor Vinge in 1981. In 2001, Time’s work appeared in the book “Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias”.
Tim May’s other engagements
During his time as an engineer, Tim May discovered the “alpha particle problem”, which was a major issue facing the workings of integrated circuits. He also was the co-author of the IEEE W.R.G. Baker Award-winning paper titled “Alpha-Particle-Induced Soft Errors in Dynamic Memories”, which was published in the IEEE’s Transactions on Electronic Devices in 1979.
Timothy May’s take on today’s cryptocurrency space.
During Bitcoin whitepaper’s 10th anniversary, Coindesk asked Tim May to write about his thoughts on the bitcoin whitepaper, and it seems the Cypherpunk movement pioneer had a lot to comment. On how he feels about the bitcoin whitepaper’s place in the pantheon of financial cryptography advances, this is what Tim said:
I can’t speak for what Satoshi intended, but I sure don’t think it involved bitcoin exchanges that have draconian rules about KYC, AML, passports, freezes on accounts and laws about reporting “suspicious activity” to the local secret police. There’s a real possibility that all the noise about “governance,” “regulation” and “blockchain” will effectively create a surveillance state, a dossier society…
Timothy C. May, from his dealings, shows he lived as a simple man who wanted a better day for the future generation. He relentlessly fought for that till his last breath. And as Lucky Gree, one of his closest friend puts it:
One of Tim’s most precious possessions, perhaps his single most precious possession, was a photograph hanging on his hallway wall of himself as a young man together with Richard Feynman. I wished I had taken a photograph of that photograph.
Rest In Perfect Peace.