Cypherpunks Write Code: Vinay Gupta and Mattereum

28 Jun 2024

People know Vinay Gupta for his work on Ethereum and Mattereum, and he’s also a remarkable cypherpunk. He was an early adopter of E-Gold (a precursor of digital coins) and actively participated in its community in the 1990s until its shutdown. His practical view of cryptocurrencies and his resistance to state interference have established him as an influential voice in the crypto market.

In this article, we give recognition to Vinay Gupta as we’re looking at how cypherpunks and their efforts in coding have influenced the crypto world and beyond. Gupta's contribution testifies to the impact these pioneers have had on forging real online freedom.

Born to an Indian mother and a Scottish father in January 1972, Gupta spent his childhood in the United Kingdom. He didn’t complete his computer science degree at the University of Edinburgh, but he still managed to build a successful career in the technology industry.

Gupta started his journey in commercial software development in 1992. His work spanned a variety of projects, including medical imaging, flight simulation, and disaster relief. Companies and organizations such as Silicon Graphics and the Internet Archive have been his workplaces. He demonstrated his versatility as a developer there, but it was just the beginning.

Around 1997, his commitment to cypherpunk ideals led him to join CryptoRights, an organization that developed cryptographic software to combat human rights abuses in China. Since then, Gupta has continued his fight for the protection of human rights and digital liberty.

A Failure of Cypherpunks

In the early 2010s, Gupta became attracted to Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). In 2015, he was a coordinator and an important participant in the launch of Ethereum. He also took advantage of his speech in the first DEVCON to emphasize past mistakes made by the cypherpunk movement when creating economically sustainable systems, and offered a potential solution for them.

“This is the first large failure of cypherpunk(s), that we didn’t manage to sort out, which was we didn’t manage to do sufficiently heavyweight funding of public works, we didn't keep the money flowing in after the initial push was made, which results in projects going into maintenance mode (…) for the cypherpunk movement to succeed what we needed was voluntarist taxation, we needed people to put a tithe of their income, maybe 10% as an allocated preordained amount that would be spent building a future in which people have liberty”.

Such a system hasn’t been applied yet, but Gupta went forward with his own projects. He was a strategic architect for the Ethereum-related firm Consensys and has been involved in the development of other projects besides Ethereum. He invented, for instance, the Hexayurt shelter system.

** Hexayurt at Burning Man, 2010

This low-cost disaster shelter design has a place today in refugee camps and desert festivals like Burning Man. Gupta has also worked together with the United Nations and other organizations, and they’ve been exploring together how DLT tools could create a positive social impact.

Gupta is now recognized as a leader and innovator in the crypto world. He has received invitations to speak at conferences worldwide and has written a lot on the subject. He holds a strong belief in the DTL potential, which he sees as a solution to global challenges like poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Mattereum and Sustainability

Gupta founded Mattereum in 2017. This is an Internet-of-Agreement infrastructure project to digitize physical assets through a system of digital twin contracts. His vision revolves around creating legal contracts for physical objects, which can be digitally executed and fulfilled. The goal of this method is to digitally manage physical assets in a way that is both efficient and transparent.

Mattereum has a goal to transform global commerce. It plans to do this through tokenization and fractionation of physical world assets while protecting them by international legislation. To make this possible, Mattereum uses the Ricardian contract technology created by another cypherpunk, Ian Grigg. This technology combines cryptographically signed contracts that favor legal prose, readable by both humans and machines.


The semantic richness of Ricardian contracts is a key feature. In case of a dispute, it allows for a resolution through an arbitration process. Moreover, the world’s manufactured goods tokenization could lead to an efficient global market. In this market, assets can be bought, sold, rented, allocated, and divided through Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

Mattereum is also tackling a consumer issue. Consumers often buy goods to be quickly thrown away, without even knowing their origin or ecological impact. To address this, Mattereum introduced Mattereum Asset Passports (MAP). MAP uses suites of contracts to define asset value and risks. This encourages manufacturers and consumers to move towards total sustainability. In this new model, the goods have a transparent origin and are designed to be re-sold or re-used later over many years in what they call a “spiral economy”. This drastically reduces waste for the future. As Gupta said himself: “Nothing is so unloved that it needs to be thrown away.”

Tokens and Contracts for the Future

The cypherpunk ideals promote the adoption of robust cryptography and technologies that enhance privacy, security, and online freedom for everyone. These are seen as a route to effect social and political change. In the same line of thought, Mattereum and Obyte are clear exponents of this worldview.

Obyte shares some aspects of Mattereum's vision to advance asset tokenization and sustainability. On Obyte, assets are tokenized within an environmentally friendly Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG), making it easy and inexpensive to create custom assets. This asset tokenization process involves converting ownership rights over any physical or digital asset into tokens on the ledger.

Besides, Obyte offers prosaic contracts, loosely similar to the legally binding Ricardian contracts. These are conventional contracts written in natural language, readable by humans, signed digitally, and enforceable by international law. This feature allows two parties to cryptographically sign the contract text using their wallets while registering the agreement forever on the DAG.

They’re not as automatic as smart contracts, though. So, in case of a dispute, either party can disclose the document and conditions to a legal third party. On the other hand, Obyte has contracts with arbitration too, which are closer to Ricardian contracts in functionality. They’re smart contracts combined with conventional contracts with the addition of a professional arbiter from the ArbStore, available to solve any potential disputes.

Users can offer that type of smart contract from the wallet to anyone worldwide, without coding, and knowing that they’ll be protected against fraud by the arbiters. Unlike what happens with traditional legal contracts, they won’t need to spend high fees and long periods in a legal court. Instead, they can pay a small fee to the ArbStore arbiter they chose to quickly solve any dispute that may arise.

This way, Obyte is streamlining the process of dispute resolution and asset management, fostering a more accessible, sustainable, and secure digital economy.

Read more from Cypherpunks Write Code series:

Featured Vector Image by Garry Killian / Freepik

Photograph of Vinay Gupta by Matthereum