In 2009, the world changed forever.
A software developer who had written a paper the previous year called “Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system” put their money where their mouth was, and released the software that allowed the world to share digital currency between themselves without government regulation or interference. This software, and the currency it allowed, was called Bitcoin.
While there have been countless theories, many of which we’ll examine below, the question of who the true inventor of Bitcoin really is has left journalists, cryptocurrency pundits, and even world governments in the dark. It is known that Bitcoin was invented by someone calling themselves “Satoshi Nakomoto”, but it’s unclear whether this was one person, or a group of people – all we know is that the name itself is almost certainly a pseudonym. Satoshi is a Japanese name meaning “clear thinking and wise”, while Nakomoto means “central origin, one who lives in the middle”.
No developer with the legal name Satoshi Nakomoto has ever come forward to claim the invention of the cryptocurrency, and the obvious connotations of the name mean that there’s nothing to really suggest that the inventor or inventors are even Japanese. Satoshi Nakomoto could be from anywhere, and people from England, Australia, South Africa, and many other countries have claimed or been heralded by others as the now fabled creator of the most famous and valuable cryptocurrency in the world.
Efforts to find the inventor have been plagued with hoaxes, doxing, hacking and police raids – it’s a wild ride. Let’s take a look at some of key figures.
One of the first people to be “accused” of being Nakomoto is an American computer scientist named Nick Szabo. In 2013, a blogger named Skye Grey wrote an extremely detailed research article conducting stylometric analysis on the Bitcoin whitepaper. Grey defended his claims in a measured and neutral interview with TechCrunch.com at the end of the same year.
In the interview, Grey began by saying he could not be 100% certain that Szabo was Nakomoto, but he did voice his certainty that only 0.1% of cryptography researchers could have written the whitepaper, and that Szabo was one of them. Grey pointed to several pieces of evidence which he admitted were circumstantial that nonetheless drew a strong connection between the mysterious Bitcoin creator and Nick Szabo. They included:
• The fact that a few months before the release of Bitcoin, “Nick was searching for technical collaborators on the bit gold project” which was a very similar cryptocurrency. After Bitcoin’s release, the bit gold project went silent.
• In the Bitcoin whitepaper, Satoshi didn’t cite Szabo’s work, whereas “other, less related cryptocurrencies” were cited.
• Szabo didn’t really have much to say publicly about the release of Bitcoin, despite the fact that “a decentralised currency like Bitcoin had been a major project of his for 10 years”.
• When Bitcoin was released, Szabo “deliberately post-dated his bit gold articles” to make it look like it was developed after Bitcoin, according to Grey.
It’s all very compelling, to be sure, but there’s no proof, and Szabo has repeatedly denied the claims that he his actually Satoshi Nakomoto. Possible? Certainly. Definitive? No. Moving on.
In another intriguing case, a journalist named Leah McGrath Goodman linked an American called Dorian Nakomoto to the creation of Bitcoin. Dorian’s birth name was actually Satoshi, a trained physicist who worked on computer engineering projects in the private and military sector. Goodman pointed out that:
• Nakomoto had encouraged his daughter to pursue a career where she wouldn’t be “under the government’s thumb”, a thinking very much in line with the values of cryptocurrency advocates and developers.
• Goodman wrote that Nakomoto admitted inventing Bitcoin in an interview with her, saying “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.”
While this seemed almost conclusive, Nakomoto later denied this, saying he had misinterpreted the question about Bitcoin as being related to his classified work with the US military, which he is prohibited from discussing. Nakomoto was plagued by journalists camping outside of his house and following him, but he stuck to his guns and repeatedly denied involvement.
Satoshi Nakomoto’s P2P account then posted the first message in five years saying “I am not Dorian Nakomoto”, but it is now widely believed that the account was hacked, leading to even more mystery and confusion.
Dorian’s harsh treatment at the hands of journalists overly eager to get the scoop caused him much hardship, and qualified as harassment in the eyes of many. One such person was central cryptocurrency figure Andreas Antonopoulos, who voiced his sympathies. Beyond that, he launched a fundraiser to allow members of the public to support and apologise to Nakomoto for the suffering caused by the 24/7 news coverage, appearing in a Reddit AMA to ask for funds as well as in a video beside Nakomoto himself, who thanked the 2000 members of the community who donated.
Craig Steven Wright
One of the most controversial and yet widely supported theories is that Australian computer scientist and academic Craig Steven Wright is the inventor. In this case, Wright himself claimed to be Satoshi. In 2015, publications Wired and Gizmodo launched parallel investigations based on anonymous tips that Wright was Nakomoto. Hours after Wired released their story, Wright’s house was raided by police in New South Wales, Australia. Australian authorities claim that this was an unrelated incident regarding a tax investigation, a story that many view to be highly unlikely.
What’s the evidence?
• Wright is a serial entrepreneur and a computer scientist
• He posted his intention in 2011 to launch the world’s first “Bitcoin bank”
• CEO of DeMorgan Ltd, a company “focused on cryptocurrency”
• Friendship with deceased computer forensics expert Dave Kleinman. Despite the fact that Kleinman died in squalor, documents shared with Gizmodo indicate that he possessed a trust worth hundreds millions of US dollars worth of Bitcoins before he passed away. Gizmodo cited a 2011 email from Kleinman to Wright saying “Craig, I think you’re mad and this is risky. But I believe in what we are trying to do.”
There are emails dating as far back as 2008 in which Wright claims to be the inventor of Bitcoin, long before it was in the public eye. Whether the documents in question are authentic is a hotly debated subject. When pressured to release evidence that he was the inventor, Wright vanished from social media after posting the following statement:
“ I believed that I could put the years of anonymity and hiding behind me. But, as the events of this week unfolded and I prepared to publish the proof of access to the earliest keys, I broke. I do not have the courage. I cannot.”
While an argument can certainly be made that Wright is our mystery-man, his claim is not helped is not helped by the fact that he isn’t at all shy about bragging, and has been caught lying about his qualifications on occasion, such as claiming to have a PhD in computer science instead of two Masters Degrees. Kleinman described himself in 2013 as “certifiably the world’s foremost IT security expert”, behaviour which many feel isn’t in keeping with Nakomoto’s low profile.
Most damning of all is the doubt cast on his claim by security researchers such as Robert Graham and Dan Kaminsky. According to them, Wright gained access to Nakomoto’s digital signature from a publicly available source, proving nothing. Despite the fact that three major news outlets almost simultaneously published and even supported Wright’s claims (BBC, GQ, and The Economist), experts came out of the woodwork to discredit the notion, leading to the BBC rephrasing their headline in a more neutral manner. One of the most famous and public cases of outing Nakomoto, Wright’s claim to fame is largely viewed as hoax.
So who’s the real Satoshi?
It’s a murky business, with many other candidates besides, such as Tesla/Space X founder Elon Musk, who also denies involvement. With theories abound, the problem is a difficult one to solve. Have we mentioned the inventor in this article? Or are they out there somewhere, watching from the shadows in the anonymity that has defined their “public image”? Let’s take a look at the name again.
Clear-witted, one who comes from the centre. What is Satoshi trying to convey with this? Someone with a vision, who doesn’t come from any one place, who comes from the middle, from within all of us. The message is there for those who seek it – Nakomoto doesn’t want to be found.
Arguably, the inventor prefers to exist not as a person, but as a concept – an idea of someone with a clear vision for the future, who doesn’t represent any one country, but humanity as whole. With that in mind, perhaps it’s best that the question is never truly solved – perhaps it’s better that Satoshi Nakomoto continues to live on as a modern legend.
A mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma…perhaps we’ll never know.
Conor Maloney is a content writer and an advocate of decentralized public control of finance. Follow him @WrittenCraft for more crypto news.
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