The canon goes that blockchain technology was invented in 2009 by an unknown programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. He added a white paper, which reads like part technical manual and part ideological manifesto, and unleashed it on the world in 2010.
Then he vanished.
He’s left some messages, most of which are thought to be hoaxes. Nobody knows what he looks like, and there are no photos. He left behind a world-changing technology, a white paper explaining it, some e-mails, and a veritable digital treasure chest locked in a cryptocurrency wallet and no private key. So who is this guy?
His silence and absence have combined to make him more myth than man.
By some (mostly libertarians), he’s viewed like Morpheus from The Matrix, sent to liberate the world from the tyranny of central banks and governments. To anti-bitcoiners, he’s more like a shadowy Keyser Soze like figure. To the rest of us, he’s just the guy who invented Bitcoin.
(Keyser Soze, of course, is the quasi-mythical antagonist from Christopher McQuarrie’s The Usual Suspects. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen it and go find it. We’ll wait.)
“I HAVE moved on to other things,” Satoshi wrote in an e-mail in April 2011.
It’s probably something mundane like English is his second language, but the cadence and syntax of his writing style, seen not just here but throughout most of his e-mail correspondence, seems almost messianic; like on the seventh day, Satoshi rested, and went onto other things. And that’s basically how the cryptocurrency world has seen Satoshi.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and there have been a handful of people who were either suspected of being Satoshi, or otherwise claimed that they were him.
Craig Steven Wright
Wright is an Australian computer scientist and businessman. He has publicly admitted to being part of the team that created bitcoin, and the identity behind pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.
This started in 2015 when Wired and Gizmodo magazines received information from a source close to Wright indicating he may be Satoshi Nakamoto. They investigated further, and published the results. Their evidence pointed that Wright had first come up with Bitcoin, and together with his friend David Kleiman, ran a collection of computers and generated the first 1 million coins held by Nakamoto.
Wright came out as Satoshi Nakamoto a year later.
Wired has since recanted, and other subsequent investigations have drawn suspicion upon Wright’s claim. It’s highly probable that the same hacker provided both news organizations with the lead that led to the investigation.
Here is a list of contradictory claims and “evidence:”
- In 2008, just six months before the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto appeared, Wright made a public post stating, “Anonymity is the shield of cowards, it is the cover used to defend their lies. My life is open and I have little care for my privacy.”
- He has a documented history of questionable statements and activities.
- He has a history of appearing to exaggerate his academic credentials.
- He has made a multitude of technical errors in his writings that call his understanding of Bitcoin and internet technology into question.
- His writing style (according to text analysis) and demeanor do not appear to be the same as those of the Satoshi whose writings are archived here.
Subject to claims of fraud, Wright has since gotten his lawyers involved and is now going after anyone who claims that he’s not Satoshi Nakamoto, and has actually served legal notices to both Vitalik Buterin, the investor of Ethereum, and Roger Ver, an early bitcoin advocate.
Right now, he’s a member of the board at nChain, and part of the braintrust behind Bitcoin SV, or Satoshi Vision.
Finney’s credentials don’t discredit the idea of him as Satoshi, either in raw technical expertise or in ideological predisposition. First, he was a developer for PGP Corporation, a lead developer on several console games, and an early Bitcoin contributor who received the first bitcoin transaction from Nakamoto himself.
Naturally, the idea that he himself was Satoshi Nakamoto would stick to him.
Here’s a video on the speculation that Finney was Satoshi:
Ideologically, Finney was a cypherpunk, an activist who advocated widespread adoption of strong cryptography and privacy-enhance technologies to bring about social or political change.
He passed away from ALS in 2014.
Szabo is an American cryptographer and computer scientist who has largely contributed to digital money and cryptocurrency as well as to digital contracts. He invented the term and concept of smart contracts as an attempt to marry contract law to the design of electronic commerce protocols between strangers on the Internet.
Szabo’s background works with the hypothesis. He’s a computer savant, a legal scholar and an accomplished cryptographer. His variety of libertarianism is consistent with Satoshi, who encoded a message in the first block on Bitcoin’s blockchain decrying bank bailouts.
In 1998, Szabo designed a mechanism for a decentralized digital currency he called “bit gold”. Bit gold was never implemented, but has been called a director precursor to Bitcoin.
Szabo’s technical experience and knowledge have led multiple different investigators to his door in pursuit of Satoshi, but every time he’s denied it.
Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Go to the yellow pages (or the digital variant), and look up Nakamoto, S. and see what you come up with. It sounds like a gag response to a joke nobody told. Except there is actually a Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, who lived in the same city (Temple, California) as Hal Finney, and his birthname was Satoshi Nakamoto.
But wait. There’s more.
Descended from Samurai and the son of a Buddhist priest, Nakamoto was born in July 1949 in the city of Beppu, Japan, where he was brought up poor in the Buddhist tradition by his mother, Akiko. In 1959, after a divorce and remarriage, she immigrated to California, taking her three sons with her. Now age 93, she lives with Nakamoto in Temple City.
He was trained as a physicist at Cal Poly University in Pomona, and worked as a systems engineer on classified defense projects and computer engineer for technology and financial information services companies. He was laid off twice in the early 1990s and went straight-up capital-L libertarian.
He also really wants everyone to leave him alone.
“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he said in the 2014 Newsweek article that started all of this. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
So he was involved, but denied being THE Satoshi Nakamoto. Instead, he was Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, who lived in a humble family home in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel foothills, and had otherwise not touch the treasure trove that THE Satoshi would otherwise have access.
“I have not been able to find steady work as an engineer or programmer for ten years,” he said.
Granted, there are plenty of reasons why Dorian Nakamoto would not have access to the coins—he could have quite simply lost the private keys, for one. Imagine knowing there were untold riches out there in cyberspace with your name on them, if only you could find the keys to unlock them.
It’d be enough to make anyone a recluse.
Newsweek really did Nakamoto no favours by doxing him in that article, either. The worst he could potentially face aren’t the cryptocurrency fanboys and curiosity seekers, but attention from foreign governments, the IRS, and even criminals, each of whom would love get their hands on the multiple billion dollar windfall that the real Satoshi is supposedly sitting on.
Consider for a second that the price of one bitcoin is presently USD11,664.10 (CAD15,208.24), and he’s sitting on a million of them.
We’ll probably never know the actual identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. Someone out there does, but they’re not telling, and everyone is probably better off.
The myth is better than the reality.