In Search of Satoshi Nakamoto

Bitcoin's creator revolutionized money, and then vanished. Who was he?

In Search of Satoshi Nakamoto.jpg

Where did bitcoin come from? It's difficult to know because the person who first introduced it was anonymous. And after it began to gain traction, he simply disappeared from view. Now, people spend lots of time trying to figure out who he was.

On November 1, 2008, someone using the name Satoshi Nakamoto published an academic paper on an online mailing list commonly used by cryptography experts and enthusiasts.

The white paper, called Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, was the first time that anyone had mentioned bitcoin as an idea.

A History of Ideas

It wasn't an idea that came out of nowhere, though. Many cryptography enthusiasts had discussed the idea for a kind of electronic money that could be used in a trustless way, by people who didn't know each other, without being controlled by a central authority.

These enthusiasts formed a group loosely known as the Cypherpunks, and they had been talking about this kind of thing for decades beforehand. So Nakamoto was standing on the shoulders of giants.

Just over two months later in January 2009, Nakamoto officially announced the bitcoin software on an online mailing list. The title was "Bitcoin v0.1 released", and it provided a Windows download of the software.

After that, people began supporting Nakamoto's venture, working with him on the software, which was an open source project.

He and his colleagues would regularly mail each other and contribute to a discussion group about bitcoin as they refined and expanded the software, but no one knew who he was.

Eventually, in spring 2011, he officially announced that he was "moving on to other things", and left the rest of the team to continue the work.

We call Nakamoto a ‘he’, but he could just as easily have been a 'she', or a 'they'. Many people have speculated about his identity. He may have been a collection of people all working together, some have said. Others have labeled him as different individuals. These include the following:

Nick Szabo

Nick Szabo, himself an elusive character, is a cryptography expert with a rich history of writing about decentralized currency. He came up with bitgold, a concept for a decentralized currency, years before bitcoin. He has denied the claim that he is Satoshi, according to journalists at Wired.

Hal Finney

Szabo suggested that Nakamoto may have been Hal Finney, a cryptography expert and one of the earliest proponents of bitcoin (Finney received the first bitcoin transfer from Satoshi Nakamoto’s account). Finney, who passed away in August 2014, denied that he was the cryptocurrency's creator, arguing during his terminal illness that he would have had no reason to lie at that point.

Wei Dai

Wei Dai is a cryptographer and an early member of the cypherpunks group. He invented the concept of b-money at around the same time that Szabo came up with bitgold, and Szabo had him pegged as another possible candidate.

Dai denied it in an interview article cited here.

Michael Clear

Clear was a doctoral student at Trinity college, who had published a book called Electronic Payment Systems for E-Commerce. This book’s concepts had distinct similarities to bitcoin, and Clear was fingered by Joshua Davis at the New Yorker as a potential candidate for Nakamoto. Clear denied it.

Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto

The former software engineer for the Federal Aviation Authority, said to have worked on classified projects, was the subject of a Newsweek article in March 2014.

Reporter Leah Goodman believed that she had tracked down bitcoin’s creator, because when asked about bitcoin he 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."

Nakamoto later denied any association with bitcoin and seems like an extremely unlikely candidate at this point.

One thing is pretty clear from the level of technical expertise required to produce a system like bitcoin: there are perhaps only a few hundred people in the world who could realistically do it.

It's also likely that the person responsible for bitcoin might deny it. After all, they would be sitting on millions of dollars of profit from the coins that they had mined at the start of the project.

However, bitcoin has gone beyond the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, now standing up as a widely-adopted and innovative alternative to conventional currency in its own right. While the world may always wonder about the identity of its creator, it isn't as relevant as it once was.