Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
He then released the first version of the bitcoin software client in 2009, and participated with others on the project via mailing lists, until he finally began to fade from the community toward the end of 2010.
Nakamoto worked with people on the open-source team, but took care never to reveal anything personal about himself, and the last anyone heard from him was in the spring of 2011, when he said that he had “moved on to other things”.
But he was Japanese, right?
Best not to judge a book by its cover. Or in fact, maybe we should.
“Satoshi” means "clear thinking, quick witted; wise". “Naka” can mean “medium, inside, or relationship”. “Moto” can mean “origin”, or “foundation”.
Those things would all apply to the person who founded a movement by designing a clever algorithm. The problem, of course, is that each word has multiple possible meanings.
We can’t know for sure whether he was Japanese or not. In fact, it’s rather presumptuous to assume that he was actually a ‘he’.
We’re just using that as a figure of speech, but allowing for the fact that this could have been a pseudonym, ‘he’ could have been a ‘she’, or even a ‘they’.
Does anyone know who Nakamoto was?
No, but the detective techniques that people use when guessing are sometimes even more intriguing than the answer. The New Yorker’s Joshua Davis believed that Satoshi Nakamoto was Michael Clear, a graduate cryptography student at Dublin's Trinity College.
He arrived at this conclusion by analyzing 80,000 words of Nakamoto’s online writings, and searching for linguistic clues. He also suspected Finnish economic sociologist and former games developer Vili Lehdonvirta.
Both have denied being bitcoin’s inventor. Michael Clear publicly denied being Satoshi at the 2013 Web Summit.
Adam Penenberg at FastCompany disputed that claim, arguing instead that Nakamoto may actually have been three people: Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry. He figured this out by typing unique phrases from Nakamoto’s bitcoin paper into Google, to see if they were used anywhere else.
One of them, "computationally impractical to reverse," turned up in a patent application made by these three for updating and distributing encryption keys. Thedomain name originally used by Satoshi to publish the paper had been registered three days after the patent application was filed.
It was registered in Finland, and one of the patent authors had traveled there six months before the domain was registered. All of them deny it. Michael Clear also publicly denied being Satoshi at the 2013 Web Summit.
In any case, whenwas registered on August 18th 2008, the registrant actually used a Japanese anonymous registration service, and hosted it using a Japanese ISP. The registration for the site was only transferred to Finland on May 18th 2011, which weakens the Finland theory somewhat.
Others think that it was Martii Malmi, a developer living in Finland who has been involved with bitcoin since the beginning, and developed its user interface.
A finger has also been pointed at Jed McCaleb, a lover of Japanese culture and resident of Japan, who created troubled bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox and co-founded decentralized payment systems Ripple and later Stellar.
Another theory suggests that computer scientists Donal O'Mahony and Michael Peirce are Satoshi, based on a paper that they authored concerning digital payments, along with Hitesh Tewari, based on a book that they published together. O’Mahony and Tewari also studied at Trinity College, where Michael Clear was a student.
Israeli scholars Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir of the Weizmann Institute retracted allegations made in a paper suggesting a link between Satoshi and Silk Road, the black market web site that was taken down by the FBI in October 2013. They had suggested a link between an address allegedly owned by Satoshi, and the site. Security researcher Dustin D. Trammell owned the address, and disputed claims that he was Satoshi.
In May 2013, Internet pioneer Ted Nelson threw another hat into the ring: Japanese mathematician Professor Shinichi Mochizuki, although he admits that the evidence is circumstantial at best.
In February 2014, Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman claimed to have tracked down the real Satoshi Nakamoto. Dorian S Nakamoto has since denied he knows anything about bitcoin, eventually hiring a lawyer and releasing an official statement to that effect.
Hal Finney, Michael Weber, Wei Dai and several other developers were among those who are periodically named in media reports and online discussions as potential Satoshis. A group of forensic linguistics experts from Aston University believe the real creator of bitcoin is Nick Szabo, based upon analysis of the Bitcoin White Paper.
Dominic Frisby, a comedian and a writer, also suggests that BitGold creator Szabo was the most likely candidate to be Satoshi in his book, “Bitcoin: The Future of Money”. His detailed analysis involved the linguistics of Satoshi's writing, judging the level of technical skill in C++ and even Satoshi's likely birthday.
Then in early December 2015, reports by Wired and Gizmodo tentatively claimed to have identified Nakamoto as Australian entrepreneur Craig S Wright. WIRED cited "an anonymous source close to Wright" who provided a cache of emails, transcripts and other documents that point to Wright's role in the creation of bitcoin. Gizmodo cited a cache of documents sourced from someone claiming to have hacked Wright’s business email account, as well as efforts to interview individuals close to him. The idea that the Wright-Satoshi connection is nothing but a hoax has been floated by observers, though the compelling nature of the evidence published will no doubt fuel speculation for some time to come.
For the most part, all of these potential Satoshi's have insisted they are not Nakamoto.
So what do we know about him?
One thing we know, based on interviews with people that were involved with him at an early stage in the development of bitcoin, is that he thought the system out very thoroughly.
His coding wasn’t conventional, according to core developer Jeff Garzik, in that he didn’t apply the same rigorous testing that you would expect from a classic software engineer.
How rich is he?
An analysis by Sergio Lerner, an authority on bitcoin and cryptography, suggests that Satoshi mined many of the early blocks in the bitcoin network, and that he had built up a fortune of around 1 million unspent bitcoins. That hoard would be worth $1bn at November 2013’s exchange rate of $1,000.
What is he doing now?
No one knows what Satoshi is up to, but one of the last emails he sent to a software developer, dated April 23 2011, said “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”
Did he work for the government?
There are rumors, of course. People have interpreted his name as meaning “central intelligence”, but people will see whatever they want to see. Such is the nature of conspiracy theories.
The obvious question would be why one of the three-letter agencies would be interested in creating a cryptocurrency that would subsequently be used as an anonymous trading mechanism, causing senators and the FBI alike to wring their hands about potential terrorism and other criminal endeavours. No doubt conspiracy theorists will have their views on that, too.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Core developer Jeff Garzik puts it succinctly. “Satoshi published an open-source system for the purpose that you didn’t have to know who he was, and trust who he was, or care about his knowledge,” he points out. Open-source code makes it impossible to hide secrets. “The source code spoke for itself.”
Moreover, it was smart to use a pseudonym, he argues, because it forced people to focus on the technology itself rather than on the personality behind it. At the end of the day, bitcoin is now far bigger than Satoshi Nakamoto.
Having said that, if the real Satoshi Nakamoto is out there – get in touch!
Bitcoin’s existence began with an academic paper written in 2008 by a developer under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. Satoshi is the name used as the original inventor of Bitcoin. You can learn more about Satoshi here.
The pseudonymous person or group of people who designed and created the original Bitcoin software, currently known as BitcoinQT. There are a multitude of speculations on who and how many people worked on Bitcoin, of which nationality and age, but no one has any evidence to make definitive conclusions. Nakamoto’s involvement in the original Bitcoin software began with the publication of the Bitcoin white paper on a cryptographic forum in late 2008. Nakamoto does not appear to extend past mid-2011.
Malone, J.A (2015). Glossary of Bitcoin Terms and Definitions. United States: Lulu Press, Inc
You may know that Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym adopted by the creator of Bitcoin. While his identity remains a mystery, he communicated extensively in Bitcoin’s early days. Let’s use this to dig a little bit into questions like when he started working on Bitcoin, to what extent he was influenced by the prior ideas we’ve looked at, and what motivated him.
Satoshi says he started coding Bitcoin around May 2007. I’ll take him at his word; the fact that he’s anonymous is not a reason to think he’d lie about things like that. He registered the domain bitcoin.org in August 2008. And at that time, he started sending private emails to a few people who he thought might be interested in the proposal. Then a little later in October 2008, he publicly released a white paper that described the protocol, and then soon after, he released the initial code for Bitcoin as well. Then he stuck around for about two years, during which he posted lots of messages on forums, emailed with lots of people, and responded to people’s concerns. On the programming side, he submitted patches to the code. He maintained the source code in conjunction with other developers, fixing issues as they arose. By December 2010, others had slowly taken over the maintenance of the project, and he stopped communicating with them. I’ve been referring to Satoshi Nakamoto as a “he,” but I have no particular reason to believe Satoshi is a man and not a woman. I’m just using the male pronoun since Satoshi is a male name. I’ve also been referring to him as a single individual. There is a theory that Satoshi Nakamoto might be a collection of individuals. I don’t buy this theory — I think Satoshi is probably just one person. The reason is that if we look at the entirety of the online interactions undertaken under the Satoshi pseudonym, if we think about the two years that Satoshi spent replying to emails and patching code, it’s hard to imagine that this could be multiple people sharing user accounts and passwords, responding in a similar style and a similar voice, and making sure they didn’t contradict each other. It just seems a much simpler explanation that at least this portion of Satoshi’s activity was done by a single individual.
Furthermore, it’s clear from his writings and patches that this individual understood the full code base of Bitcoin and all its design aspects. So it’s very reasonable to assume that the same individual wrote the original code base and the white paper as well. Finally, it’s possible that Satoshi had help with the original design. However, after Bitcoin’s release, we can see for ourselves that Satoshi was quick to attribute any help he received from other contributors. It would be out of character for him to mislead us about inventing something by himself if he had had help from other people. Next, we might ask ourselves, “What did Satoshi know about the history of ecash?” To understand this better, we can start by looking at what he cites in his white paper as well as the references that existed on early versions of the Bitcoin website. In the white paper he cites some papers on basic cryptography and probability theory. He also cites the time-stamping work that we saw earlier, and it’s very natural to think that he based the design of the block chain on these references since the similarities are so apparent. He also cites the Hashcash proposal whose computational puzzle is very similar to the one that’s used in Bitcoin. He also has a reference to b-money. Later, on the website, he added references to Bitgold and as well to a scheme by Hal Finney for reusing computational puzzle solutions. But, if we look at the email exchanges that were made public by people who corresponded with Satoshi Nakamoto in the early days, we find that the b-money proposal was actually added after-the-fact, at the suggestion of Adam Back. Satoshi then emailed Wei Dai who created b-money and apparently, Dai was the one that told him about Bitgold. So these proposals weren’t probably inspirations for the original design. He later corresponded a lot with Hal Finney, and that’s quite a reasonable explanation for why he cites Finney’s work, at least on the website. Based on this, it seems plausible that when creating Bitcoin, Hashcash and time-stamping were the only things from the history of ecash that Satoshi knew about or thought were relevant. After he came to know of b-money and Bitgold, however, he seems to have appreciated their relevance. In mid-2010, the Wikipedia article on Bitcoin was flagged for deletion Wikipedia’s editors because they thought it wasn’t noteworthy. So there was some discussion between Satoshi and others about how to word the article so that Wikipedia would accept it. To that end, Satoshi suggested this description of Bitcoin: “Bitcoin is an implementation of Wei Dai’s b-money proposal on Cypherpunks in 1998 and Nick Szabo’s Bitgold proposal.” So Satoshi, by this point, did see positioning Bitcoin as an extension of these two ideas or an implementation of these two prior systems as a good explanation of how it worked. But, what about everything else — the Chaumian ecash schemes and the credit card proposals that we looked at? Did Satoshi know any of that history when designing Bitcoin? It’s hard to tell. He didn’t give any indication of knowing that history, but it’s just as likely that he didn’t reference this because it wasn’t relevant to Bitcoin. Bitcoin uses a completely different decentralized model and so there’s no compelling reason to dwell on old centralized systems that failed. Satoshi himself makes this point, by mentioning Chaumian ecash in passing, in one of his posts to the Bitcoin forums. Writing about another proposal called opencoin.org, he notes that they seem to be “talking about the old Chaumian central mint stuff, but maybe only because that was the only thing available. Maybe they would be interested in a new direction. A lot of people automatically dismiss e-currency as a lost cause because of all the companies that failed since the 1990’s. I hope it’s obvious it was only the centrally controlled nature of those systems that doomed them. I think this is the first time we’re trying a decentralized, non-trust-based system.” That gives us a pretty good idea what Satoshi thought of the earlier proposals, and specifically how he felt Bitcoin was different. Bitcoin’s decentralization is indeed a defining feature that sets it apart from almost everything we’ve look at. Another interesting quote from Satoshi suggests that he might not be an academic. Most academic researchers think about ideas and write them down immediately, before they build the system. Satoshi says that he took an opposite approach: “I actually did Bitcoin kind of backwards. I had to write all the code before I could convince myself that I could solve every problem, then I wrote the paper. I think I will be able to release the code sooner than I could write a detailed specification.”
Since there’s bit of myth around Satoshi, it’s worth mentioning that he made mistakes like everyone else and that wasn’t a perfect oracle of the future. There are bugs and questionable design choices in the original Bitcoin code as well as in its design. For example, there was a feature to send bitcoins to IP addresses that never caught on and, in retrospect, was a bad idea. When he described what Bitcoin was useful for, his scenarios were centered on the idea of using it across the internet. That use case is central to Bitcoin, of course, but it’s not the only one. He didn’t indicate a vision of going into a coffee shop and being able to pay for your coffee with Bitcoin, for example. A final question we may ask ourselves, colored by what we understand from the history of digital cash, is, “Why does Satoshi maintain his anonymity?” There are many possible reasons. To begin with, it might be just for fun. Many people write novels anonymously, and there are graffiti artists like Banksy who maintain their anonymity. In fact, in the community that Satoshi was involved in at that time, the Cypherpunk community and the cryptography mailing list, it was common practice for people to post anonymously. On the other hand, there could have been legal worries behind Satoshi’s choice. Two U.S. companies, Liberty Reserve and e-Gold, ran into legal trouble for money laundering. In 2006, one of the founders of Liberty Reserve fled the United States, fearing that he would be indicted on money laundering charges. E-Gold’s founders, on the other hand, stayed in the United States, and one was actually indicted and eventually pled guilty to the charges. This guilty plea was registered just right before Satoshi set up the Bitcoin website and started emailing people about his proposal. That said, numerous people have invented ecash systems, and nobody else was scared of the legal implications or has chosen to remain anonymous. So this may have been the reason, it may not have been the reason. It’s also worth recalling that certain aspects of ecash were patented, and that members of the Cypherpunk movement were concerned about implementing ecash systems due to these patents. In fact, one post to the cypherpunks mailing list proposed that a group of anonymous coders implement ecash so that if someone were to sue, they wouldn’t be able to find the coders. While it is difficult to think that Bitcoin would violate the ecash patents given how different its design is, perhaps Satoshi was being extra cautious. Or maybe he was just inspired by the idea of an anonymous coder from the cypherpunk community. A final reason that’s often cited is personal security. We know that Satoshi has a lot of bitcoins from his mining early on, and due to Bitcoin’s success these are now worth a lot of money. I think this is a plausible reason. After all, choosing to be anonymous isn’t a decision you make once, it’s something that you do on a continual basis. That said, it probably wasn’t Satoshi’s original reason. The first time Satoshi used the name Satoshi Nakamoto, he hadn’t even released the whitepaper or the codebase for Bitcoin, and it’s hard to imagine that he had any idea that it would be as successful as it was. In fact, at many points in its early history, Satoshi was optimistic but cautious about Bitcoin’s prospects. He seems to have understood that many previous efforts had failed and that Bitcoin might fail as well.
Narayanan, Arvind, et al. (2016). Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. United States: Princeton Press