On Wednesday February 11, 2009, someone going by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto made his first known public post, outside of the whitepaper publication which happened a few months earlier, the post was titled Bitcoin open source implementation of P2P currency on a small forum called the p2pfoundation.
Satoshi Nakamoto went on the offensive attacking the status quo and the old central banking systems stating:
“The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts. Their massive overhead costs make micropayments impossible.”
He also provided links to the Bitcoin whitepaper in that post which demonstrated a novel and decentralized implementation of the idea of an “E-currency” which had been attempted several times before particularly in the 90s but was largely abandoned and written off as a fools errand by people in the field.
Some forum members did take immediate notice and could recognize the potential for blockchain, the first poster replying “This is the first real innovation in money since the Bank of England started to issue its banknotes.”
Slowly but surely, through different online discussions and improvements of the protocol, the idea would catch on spreading like wildfire, producing different variations of blockchains and leading to an entire ecosystem and market with a capitalization of over 130 billion dollars as of writing this.
But there is still a big mystery around the actual identity of Satoshi Nakamoto as he remained anonymous and seemed to take many steps to keep his identity private. Even using anonymousspeech.com to register the Bitcoin.org domain name, the website allows you to pay with cash via mail or pre-paid credit card. Although he did not actually disclose any personal details about himself in any of his public posts, on his profile on the p2pfoundations website his birthday is listed as April 5th, 1975 and his nationality as Japanese.
We can’t know exactly why Satoshi chose to be anonymous, perhaps he just did not want the attention or maybe it was because he had the foresight to see the potential of his invention and the possibility of not just an extraordinary amount of attention but negative attention from governments, central banks, and other parties who might have a vested interest in keeping a tightly controlled monetary system or the status quo. He could be seen by governments as a revolutionist or an anarchist, even if in reality he was just a humble programmer with an idea.
The other aspect is just security from criminals. In the past few years individuals who have very public connections to cryptocurrency have been extorted not just electronically through hacking but even through kidnapping. In December 2017 Pavel Lerner, a director at the cryptocurrency exchange EXMO was seen being forced into a black Mercedes by hooded men while leaving the exchanges Kiev office. Pavel would reappear 3 days later after paying a one million dollar ransom in Bitcoin. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened either.
The ease of use and the fact that cryptocurrency wallet keys can be stored on virtually any computer means that it is an attractive target for criminals because gaining physical access to someone who has a lot of crypto on a USB or hard drive is low hanging fruit if you are willing to suspend any sense of morality or legality.
Given Satoshis estimated net worth of ₿980,000 or $4,000,000,000 USD (as of writing this), it’s quite understandable why he would be a bit shy of the spotlight of being the creator of a paradigm-shifting technology and possibility one of the most important financial innovations ever. One of the early Bitcoin developers even referred to him as paranoid in their email correspondence while developing the first implementations of the software.
But things are not so simple. Some even believe that Satoshi maybe a consortium of people. Perhaps it was a group of people like Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, and Gavin Andresen. But some detractors of this hypothesis like to point out that Satoshis writing is fairly consistent and applying occams razor says that a smaller group or single person is more probable.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain communities have grown significantly in the last few years and so have the ideas as to the true identity of blockchains inventor. Some of them are fun and wild so we will start by examining the most unlikely identities.
Definitely, the wildest idea circulating in the space is that Satoshi Nakamoto is an artificial intelligence.
This theory also entails the A.I. secretly using the hashing power from proof of work miners as a way to increase its computing power, kind of like the Golem network on Ethereum which allows users to put their CPU/GPU cycles up for rent to earn tokens.
The father of computers and A.I., Alan Turing proposed the idea that there was fundamentally no difference in the computational ability of a human brain and a machine. That the human brain is more or less a biological computer that could do all the same mathematical operations and algorithms as a machine could. The only real difference and limiting factor being computing time and memory space. Any problem that can be solved by a human could be solved by a Turing machine.
But of course, there is a problem with this idea of a sci-fi Satoshi, currently, computers do not have nearly enough power to completely simulate a human brain. In 2011 scientific american estimated that even a cats brain is millions of times quicker than an Ipad.
Even though a sufficiently powerful computer could simulate every particle and atom in a human brain, and therefore simulate accurately outputs from that brain like new ideas and perfect language skills, current estimates have this has to be at least decades away.
To fix this it was speculated that not only could he be an A.I., but he could also be a time traveler from the future and so that explains being far more advanced than our current cutting edge technology. If this is who Satoshi is, he is a bit of a jerk for not showing up to Stephan Hawkings Champagne party when he was explicitly invited.
This theory has a lot more credibility as it started when an intern at Musks SpaceX suggested that he was “probably Satoshi” in a blog post.
One of Musks first big successes, Paypal, was originally trying to create an e-currency similar to what Bitcoin would become. They even had “Paypal The New World Currency” printed on T-shirts and other memorabilia. So it’s understandable that there is speculation that Musk created it given his history in fintech.
Here are some of the reasons listed in the blog post as to why it would be Musk
- Nakamoto had an understanding of economics and cryptography and so does Musk.
- Most of Bitcoins source code was written in C++. Musk insisted that C++ be used at SpaceX and Paypal
- Musks technical reasoning and usage of language is similar to that of Nakamoto such as the usage of “bloody hard.”.
- Musk joked about being Satoshi in a tweet in 2014 which came a week after Satoshi’s last forum post which read “I am not Dorian Nakamoto”.
These possible connections between them are a bit spurious but some believe that Musk is a modern Ben Franklin and that he fits this bill quite well. But Musk also is incredibly busy with several businesses and a family among many other reasons to doubt that he is the inventor of blockchain.
Musk would later deny being Satoshi in Direct response to SpaceX interns article.
In March 2014 an article was published in Newsweek titled “The Face Behind Bitcoin” which asserted that a Japanese American man living California whose name was Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto was, in fact, the real Satoshi.
Initially, there were some interesting facts about Dorian that made him a good candidate aside from the name, Dorian was a physicist and systems engineer.
Allegedly after getting laid off, he had turned to a more libertarian political worldview which has always been deeply entrenched in the philosophy of Bitcoin and in Satoshis writing.
The journalist who wrote the Newsweek article went to his home and confronted Dorian about his “involvement” in Bitcoin, to which Dorian suspiciously replied “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it… It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
This caused quite a media buzz with journalists constantly following him and camping outside his home hoping to get an interview.
Eventually after getting tired of being swamped by the media, Dorian agreed to do an interview with whoever would give him a free lunch.
When Dorian finally got his free lunch he clarified the statement he had given earlier about Bitcoin, saying that he thought he was being asked about classified projects he had done for military contractors and that he had never heard of Bitcoin until the emails he had got from the Newsweek journalist. He completely denies any involvement.
Later Satoshis original account on the P2P foundations forum would make its last post to date which read “I am not Dorian Nakamoto” although some believe that it wasn’t the real Nakamoto and that the account was hacked.
The Australian computer scientist and entrepreneur Craig Wright is perhaps one of the more infamous characters in the blockchain world with his abrasive and bombastic personality and questionable claims about being Satoshi or at least the principal actor in a consortium of people who worked on Bitcoin and collectively were “Satoshi.
Gizmodo alleged in 2015 that they had obtained evidence that was from Wrights hacked email that proved he was Satoshi. Wright took down his Twitter account the same day. Wired magazine would also publish an article making the same claims and just hours later more than 10 police officers showed up to Wrights home along with the Australian Taxation Office. The Australian Federal Police denied that it had anything to do with Wrights recent claims about being Satoshi Nakamoto.
The language that Satoshi used is consistent with someone who spoke English as a first language and is speculated to have been someone from a commonwealth nation and so there is some plausibility to the idea of Craig Wright being Satoshi.
Even some of the early Bitcoin developers like Gavin Andresen were convinced that Wright was Satoshi because he had signed messages using keys created during some of the earliest blocks in the Bitcoin blockchain. The Economist even released articles claiming that they had verified publically that Wright had Satoshis keys by signing a Bitcoin transaction
But others were not so easily convinced quickly pointing out that all Wright had done was take a signature that was already publicly published to the Blockchain years earlier by Nakamoto and created a new transaction with the signature.
There was also claims that he had properly verified his ownership under closed doors with Gavin Andresen, but this demonstration was never replicated publically.
To date, Craig Wright has not provided any further evidence or demonstrations that he is Satoshi.
An American academic Ted Nelson claims that the Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki is probably Nakamoto.
Nelson claims that Mochizukis math prowess is just one of the many things that makes him a good Nakamoto.
The fact that Nakamoto was able to write a proper academic paper, i.e. the whitepaper, lead many people to believe that he had at least some experience in academia. With that fact in mind Mochizuki also has a history of posting his academic work directly to the internet rather than through the traditional route of academic journals.
Even though Mochizuki is Japanese and currently lives in Japan, having grown up and studied in the U.S. Mochizuki speaks perfect English, much like Nakamoto.
Although some of Mochizukis friends and other experts are doubtful because despite his mathematical knowledge he doesn’t have any specific cryptography or coding experience nor has he given any indication that he has been involved or interested in cypherpunk communities.
In 1998 Mr.Szabo designed a decentralized currency called “bit gold” which would implement an algorithm very closely related in design to proof of work. Bit gold has been considered to be one of the early inspirations for Bitcoin but was never launched into the wild as an actual application.
In 2013 a blogger used something called stylometric analysis to compare Szabos writing style to Nakamotos in the whitepaper. According to the blog post, the writing style was a good match but not without the caveat that the cryptography community would tend to use similar terms and wording as many members of small niche online communities do. On top of that, Szabos earlier work was likely a direct inspiration for Bitcoin so Nakamoto may have simply been influenced by his writing style.
Szabo had blog posts from 2005 with bit gold mentioned, but these would later be post-dated to after the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper, some suggesting it was an attempt on Szabos part to make it appear as if bit gold came after Bitcoin.
Of course, like most other people heavily speculated to be Nakamoto, Szabo denies involvement.
Perhaps one of the most likely candidates for Satoshi Nakamoto, or at least one of the people involved in the potential consortium, is the late Hal Finney.
Finney began his a career in video game development but later move on to work in the security field.
In the early 90s Finney was involved in communities cypherpunk and even ran a competition to successfully break an encryption that early internet browser Netscape used.
A few years before Bitcoins whitepaper Finney would introduce one of the only proof of work systems that was ever fully implemented pre-bitcoin. Finney was also heavily inspired by the concept of David Chaums E-cash which was also one of the major influences for Bitcoin.
Finney was the first person to receive a Bitcoin transaction and to work on the Bitcoin core software other than Satoshi Nakamoto himself. All these similarities between Finney and Nakamoto ranging from technical to political interests have lead to lots of speculation that the two characters are one and the same.
Although many other people like Nick Szabo are good candidates for being the real Nakamoto there was one connection that caused a lot of eyebrows to raise, and that was that Hal Finney lived just blocks away from Dorian Nakamoto, suggesting that he may have used his name as inspiration for the Satoshi pseudonym.
A Forbes journalist hired a writing analysis firm to compare Finney’s with Nakamoto’s and they found that he had been a very close match. They speculate that Finney may have been a ghostwriter for Nakamoto, if not the Bitcoin creator himself.
However, the Forbes journalist would later state that he believed Finney’s denial was honest after meeting him in person and seeing lengthy emails between Finney and Nakamoto.
Nakamoto or not, Finney was an integral part in the successful formation of Bitcoin. Unfortunately, Hal Finney passed away in August 2014 from ALS.
The final connection that still has some believing Finney is the Bitcoin inventor is that Nakamoto posted his last post just months before Finney passed away on the p2p foundation website.
We may never know who Satoshi Nakamoto really was and he clearly took many steps to keep his identity anonymous and clearly did a good job of that because he has to be hacked or doxed.
Maybe having an anonymous creator is a good thing, it only makes the Bitcoin story that much more fascinating, it adds a special mythos to everything.
Everyone loves a good mystery.