We found the first French journalist to write about the ancestor of bitcoin in 1995

Antoine Champagne has been writing about virtual currencies since the 1990s. Both techno-enthusiastic and techno-critical, he takes a unique look at the current cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Antoine Champagne is the kind of journalist who knows how to be one step ahead. Now 54, he is the co-founder of the site Reflets.info, an online investigative journal specializing in digital and hacking. In 1989, then aged 22, he took his first steps as a journalist in the macroeconomics department at Agefi before covering the banking and insurance sector. Very quickly, he decided to investigate the payment systems that emerged with the creation of the Internet in the early 1990s.

“When the internet arrived, I began to see American banks connect to the network. I knew that banking networks were secure because the raw material of banks is not money, it is trust. suddenly I said to myself that if they opened doors on networks with new technologies, I needed to understand how these networks worked”, confides Antoine Champagne to BFM Crypto.

The young journalist will closely follow the emergence of electronic money projects, Cyber ​​Bunks (a kind of virtual dollars) by David Chaum, the founder of DigiCash in 1989, via the Kléline project of BNP Paribas at SET (for “Secure Electronic Transaction”) launched by Visa and Mastercard in 1996.

“We find the same anxieties of the banks”

In 1995, then aged 28, he wrote a paper on Agefi entitled “electronic money is born in the United States”, in reference to David Chaum’s Cyber ​​Bunks. He had met the latter on this occasion. This high-flying cryptographer was considered at the time as a kind of “nimbus professor” and was very inaccessible. “It was one of the craziest interviews of my life. David Chaum had very little time to talk to me, so the interview was done in a taxi,” Antoine recalls. David Chaum was one of the first people to materialize the idea of ​​electronic cash with his “Cyber ​​Bunks” project, a kind of virtual dollar. This project had a specificity: it was much less traceable than current cryptocurrencies (thanks, to date, to blockchain technology).

“A few bankers had agreed to experiment with DigiCash, but others were worried that central banks would have trouble measuring the money supply in circulation with such a large project. So DigiCash disappeared in 1998, many reasons having been mentioned at the time: internal management problems at the barrage of central banks. If we draw a parallel with cryptocurrencies today, we find the same anxieties of the banking community. quite irregular back and forth, today for example with their digital currency projects”, explains Antoine Champagne.

If this type of project remains far from the current cryptocurrency ecosystem, especially bitcoin since it is not the same technology, they nevertheless join the movement known as Cypherpunkswhich emerged in the late 80s, who wanted to protect user privacy through cryptography.

“At the time, the Cyber ​​Bucks were considered revolutionary”

“At the time, Cyber ​​Bucks were considered revolutionary. In fact, you can be the most crypto-enthusiastic in the world, you ignore the fact that there are very powerful people who have the right of life and death over your project, it is the States, saying that the currencies are no longer convertible. The story of DigiCash illustrates this problem quite well. I have not seen for 15 years a great revolution in the evolution of the Internet and cryptocurrencies”, considers the journalist.

Whether it was the DigiCash project like other electronic money projects in the 1990s, all of them disappeared a few years after their creation. Despite this, they were probably a source of inspiration for current cryptocurrency projects. It is in particular after having covered all these projects that Antoine Champagne defines himself as being both techno-enthusiastic and techno-critical, taking a unique look at the current ecosystem of crypto-assets.

“Either one day everyone accepts cryptocurrencies as a means of payment and they start to have real legal tender power, or we continue like today, or the central bankers will stop the projects. It should not be considered that it is totally impossible for bitcoin to die in the same way as DigiCash. If you can no longer convert your cypto-currencies into dollars or euros, you will simply ‘play the merchant’ with your friends who also have them”, considers the latter.

He discovers bitcoin from its creation

The journalist, who read many articles on emerging technologies related to the Internet, discovered bitcoin as soon as it was created in 2009. But he decided not to buy it. “I never tried to profit from my discoveries on the internet,” he admits. Today, he continues to cover these new technologies to the point of always “hanging out” with hackers. He who has known online payment systems since their beginnings takes a critical look at certain abuses associated with these technologies.

“There are many things that worry me about the development of human societies. We cannot predict, when we create a technology, what it will generate as consequences in 10 or 20 years. I see it by example with what happens on social networks: today, they monetize human data. Moreover, today, humans code algorithms (by inserting their own biases in the code) and in turn, the algorithms , by preparing and choosing (in our place) the content that we read, re-encode humanity without its knowledge”, he breathes.

“We are not immune to a joke like that”

As early as 2013, he published an article announcing the death of bitcoin. For him, cryptocurrencies are only worth something as long as central banks accept the conversion of these cryptocurrencies into a fiat currency.

“If tomorrow a central bank decides that no player can transform bitcoin into dollars or euros, we can say goodbye to these projects. States can very well make a law by saying, for example, that no more trading platforms can’t afford to convert bitcoins into fiat currency. We’re not immune to a joke like that. Could they kill cryptocurrency by doing this? I think we’re still in the period of infancy of cryptocurrencies. At the beginning there were a few people who mined bitcoin, now it’s auntie simone who will buy bitcoin on a cryptocurrency exchange platform. All this can still evolve a lot, tomorrow who knows? , he slips.

“From a Cypherpunk project at the start, we ended up with something that looks more like an action”

If he is not opposed to the very principle of cryptocurrencies, he regrets the current use of bitcoin, which remains far from the project mentioned by Satoshi Nakamoto in his white paper in 2008. He closely observed the last two crypto-crashes experienced by the ecosystem.

“As soon as there is a subject that buzzes to death, I watch with a side step. I do not think that cryptocurrencies are a currency. If tomorrow you arrive with your bitcoin wallet in a bakery in France, you will not be able to not pay for your loaf of bread, that’s a fact. People think it’s a currency but it’s a financial asset: from a Cypherpunk project at the start, we have arrived at something more like an action Now people are speculating on it. It’s like speculating on a 50 euro note saying ‘yours is better, I’ll buy it for 150 euros’ but nobody asks the question for cryptocurrencies. has something that doesn’t fit, so it’s normal that it falls apart if you speculate on a product. In fact, the project of a decentralized cybercurrency was a great idea in the beginning. But what has been done with it, especially by speculators, it’s quite another thing,” said the latter.

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