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Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto is the likely-pseudonymous name of the creator of Bitcoin. Not much is known about Nakamoto, given that we don't actually know for sure who he is. As the inventor of Bitcoin, he controls an estimated 5.4% of all the bitcoins that will ever exist,[1] which is "worth" hundreds of millions of dollars at the time of this writing.[2]

It can be gathered from his forum posts and other such examples of his writing that he's a pretty big libertarian. He came into the picture in November 2008 when he posted the original Bitcoin whitepaper to the cryptography mailing list at metzdowd.com.[3] He left in 2010, when he handed control over to Bitcoin core developer Gavin Andresen.[4] His last forum post was on December 12th, 2010. It's pretty much clear that he left because he was afraid of growing interest in the project from what he saw as the wrong kinds of people — namely, criminals the government. One of his last posts was about encouraging WikiLeaks to accept Bitcoin, and how "the heat [that] would bring would likely destroy us at this stage."[5] Gavin Andresen says his last email with Nakamoto was about an upcoming meeting Andresen had with the CIA about Bitcoin.[6]

Identity[edit]

So who is this "Satoshi Nakamoto" guy? You'd think that a man whose little pet project has gotten as successful as Bitcoin has would show up to take credit for it. Moving a few coins around would be the best way to prove that someone was either Satoshi Nakamoto himself or knew who he was. That hasn't happened yet, but it hasn't stopped enterprising journalists from claiming they've found proof of the real Satoshi, and enterprising fraudsters (well, one in particular) from claiming that they're the man himself. In lieu of doing our own internet detective work, we're just going to summarize the candidates and the case for each:

Hal Finney[edit]

The late Hal FinneyWikipedia's W.svg (1956-2014), computer programmer and prolific LessWrong user,[7] is a popular candidate for Satoshihood. Here's the basic case:

  • He knew how to do that computer.
  • He created a "Reusable Proofs of Work" system[8] that could be used in a form of electronic currency, or "e-money," as the kids call it.
  • He was the first person to receive a Bitcoin transaction (from Satoshi Nakamoto).[9]
  • He knows about cryptography.

Plus, he's dead, so that would explain why he hasn't spent his millions yet. And until his frozen body is thawed out and brought back to life, we can't be sure. It's a shame we'll never know.

Michael Clear[edit]

In a piece published in The New Yorker,[10] Joshua Davis claimed that an Irish cryptography graduate student was the closest match. He'd worked with currency trading software, wrote stuff about peer-to-peer networks, and knew some things about cryptography.

When Davis met Clear, Clear said that "I'm not Satoshi, but even if I was I wouldn't tell you." He later clarified to the unfunny in the audience that this was a joke.[11]

The Satoshi Three[edit]

Journalist Adam Penenberg, thinking he could one up Joshua Davis, wrote an article in Fast Company[12] claiming that Satoshi Nakamoto was actually three programmers in a trenchcoat. According to Penenberg, Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry are the real Satoshi. His reasoning? They published a paper about cryptography three days before the Bitcoin domain name was registered, and it included the phrase "computationally impractical to reverse," which is also in the Bitcoin whitepaper. Why two cryptographic papers would include that phrase, when modern cryptography is based on the assumption that certain cryptographic primitives are computationally impractical to reverseWikipedia's W.svg, defies explanation.

Nick Szabo[edit]

Not every candidate has reasoning as flimsy as that. In December 2013, a blogger named Skye Grey claimed that stylometric analysis (the analysis of writing styles) had shown that Nick SzaboWikipedia's W.svg was the most likely author of the whitepaper.[13] Nick Szabo is a cryptographer known for his work on digital currency, which he called "bit gold". This system was to operate similar to the way Bitcoin does. He's also the one to thank for inventing the term "smart contracts".

There's also a bit more circumstantial evidence, such as a backdating of posts about bit gold to appear to have been written after the release of the original whitepaper, and that he had published an article about how he'd like to create an implementation of bit gold a few months before the whitepaper came out.

A research team led by Dr. Jack Grieve of Aston University checked out the writing of eleven possible Satoshis[14] (including Michael Clear, Nick Szabo, Hal Finney, and the Satoshi Three) and decided that Nick Szabo's matched the closest, so there's that.

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto[edit]

Here's the one you probably heard of. For Newsweek's triumphant return to print in March 2014, they decided on a cover story about the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto.[15] According to Leah Goodman, the real Satoshi Nakamoto is — wait for it — Satoshi Nakamoto. Specifically, Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. Sort of like how Batman's real name was Bruce Bat Man, right?

Other than the name, there wasn't much there. He worked in technology, and — like many tech people — he was a paranoid libertarian who didn't trust the government. Also, when Goodman asked if he had created Bitcoin, he said "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." Which isn't so much of a confession as it is what someone with English as a second language would say when a strange journalist is standing in their driveway asking them about something that sounds like the kind of government projects they used to work on and are prohibited from talking about. He said through his lawyer that he never worked on Bitcoin.

Dorian lives just blocks from where Hal Finney lived. If Finney is Satoshi, that would explain why he chose the name. If Dorian is Satoshi, that would explain why Finney was the first recipient of a Bitcoin transaction.

Craig S. Wright[edit]

Craig S. Wright is a fraudster who would like us to think he's Satoshi Nakamoto. He's not Satoshi Nakamoto. He is currently under investigation for defrauding the Australian government out of millions of dollars in tax credits,[16], but that's a bit off-topic.

Craig S. Wright has done his best to trick tech journalists into thinking he's the true creator of Bitcoin, and he's done it successfully twice. The man claims to have control of Satoshi's coins, but he hasn't done the simple proof of moving them around. I wonder why.

Wired was the first one to fall for his story, publishing in an article on December 8th, 2015 presenting proof (fed to them by Wright) that Wright was Satoshi.[17] It only took them three days to backpedal.[18]

Here's what the first article thought was proof:

  • A blogpost backdated to August 2008 where Craig S. Wright claims that he's working on "cryptocurrency paper," despite the term "cryptocurrency" having not yet been coined (perhaps he invented that too?)
  • Another backdated blog post linking to a backdated PGP key tied to Satoshi's email address.[19]
  • Craig S. Wright claiming that he invested $30M of bitcoins in a trust he operated. Except when he invested them, he didn't actually transfer the bitcoins to the trust — he just "assigned the rights" to the trust. So he never proved he actually owned $30M of bitcoins.[20] This invisible $30M was what he was using to scam tax credits from the Australian government.
  • "Leaked details" from "anonymous sources" (who looked surprisingly like if Craig S. Wright had a mustache).

After everyone realized that Craig S. Wright was a hack fraud, he gave up his wicked ways and… just kidding. He tried the same thing six months later. This time, his proof was that he had the original private key! But he won't move any bitcoins around. He's going to sign a message with it! But he can't just email Wright a message and have him email back a signed version of it. No, that would be too hard to fake. Instead, he's going to invite Gavin Andresen to London, so he can sign a message with the private key. And then not release the signed message so everyone can check by themselves that Wright isn't lying.[21]

So we have to take Gavin Andresen's word at face value, and assume that he wasn't bribed, blackmailed, deceived, or otherwise manipulated into claiming Wright is Satoshi. That's a tough sell. Luckily, Wright has a way to prove this to all of us: he'll sign a completely new message, from author Jean-Paul Sartre, and he'll put it on the internet with instructions for verifying it!

Except, hold on — if you follow the instructions in the article to verify that he truly holds the private key, you'll find that the verification fails.[22] In fact, what he really signed was the transaction data of a block mined by Nakamoto — that is, it's data already signed that he just took and tried to pass off to terrible tech journalists as proof.

But hey, guys, he's going to do it! He's going to move coins around. It's really going to happen! Yep, right after the "proof" was released he claimed he's going to finally move some coins around. It's going to happen! For real this time!

Oh, wait, no. He doesn't have the courage.[23] But he's still Satoshi, trust him!

References[edit]

  1. https://bitslog.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/the-well-deserved-fortune-of-satoshi-nakamoto/
  2. Price of one bitcoin on Bitstamp on November 25th, 2016 is US$736. This doesn't mean that Satoshi Nakamoto would be able to cash out all $845 million dollars - assuming an honest exchange (a pretty big assumption), he would only be able to sell a few million dollars worth before the price crashed to nothing.
  3. http://www.mail-archive.com/cryptography@metzdowd.com/msg09959.html
  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/gavin-andresen-bitcoin_n_3093316.html
  5. Re: Wikileaks contact info? by satoshi (December 05, 2010, 09:08:08 AM).
  6. https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=113609.0
  7. http://lesswrong.com/user/HalFinney/overview/
  8. https://web.archive.org/web/20071222072154/http://rpow.net/
  9. https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=155054.0
  10. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/10/the-crypto-currency
  11. http://www.businessinsider.com/michael-clear-denies-creating-bitcoin-2013-4
  12. https://www.fastcompany.com/1785445/bitcoin-crypto-currency-mystery-reopened
  13. https://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/satoshi-nakamoto-is-probably-nick-szabo/
  14. http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/linguistics/science-bitcoin-nick-szabo-cryptocurrency-01863.html
  15. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/03/14/face-behind-bitcoin-247957.html
  16. http://www.coindesk.com/australia-government-bitcoin-creator-craig-wright-tax-investigation/
  17. https://www.wired.com/2015/12/bitcoins-creator-satoshi-nakamoto-is-probably-this-unknown-australian-genius/
  18. https://www.wired.com/2015/12/new-clues-suggest-satoshi-suspect-craig-wright-may-be-a-hoaxer/
  19. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/satoshis-pgp-keys-are-probably-backdated-and-point-to-a-hoax
  20. https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/3w9xec/just_think_we_deserve_an_explanation_of_how_craig/cxuo6ac/
  21. https://www.wired.com/2016/05/craig-wright-privately-proved-hes-bitcoins-creator/
  22. https://github.com/patio11/wrightverification
  23. http://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2016/05/05/craig-wright-says-sorry-he-cant-offer-proof-hes-bitcoin-creator-satoshi/#2b4e281f7918