The Man, the Myth, the Legend: The Saga of Satoshi Nakamoto

Jun 27, 2018   |   by Marianne White   |   Basics & Beyond

Like most great endeavors, Bitcoin all started with an idea. Posted on the P2P Foundation’s website on February 11, 2009, the idea of decentralized currency was something that would radically change the way we thought about money and the capabilities of the internet forever. The forum post was about a new little digital currency called Bitcoin, and its author was Satoshi Nakamoto. The man of mystery created and nurtured Bitcoin before simply disappearing a few years later. But who was he? Was he working alone or was it a group of people? No one knows exactly who started the cryptocurrency phenomenon but perhaps the same thing that made Bitcoin so popular resonated with Satoshi. Satoshi’s encrypted identity could be the most real example we have of the anonymity that he was striving for with Bitcoin. After all, he did say “the root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work.” Trust that he didn’t seem to have for anyone or anything; trust that he was asking us to let go of. Can we let go? The identity of Bitcoin’s creator has become legendary because no matter how much time has passed, or how much progress Bitcoin has made without him, the question on everyone’s mind is this: where in the world is Satoshi Nakamoto?

What's in a Name?

Satoshi claimed in his P2P profile that he was a Japanese male born on April 5, 1975. The crypto community doesn’t buy it. Why go to such great lengths to keep your identity a secret if you were honest about your full name, country of residence, and birth date? The origins of the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto has inspired dozens of speculations on what it could mean. Satoshi theorists have tried looking at the name origins for a meaning. Satoshi means “wise, quick-witted” and Nakamoto means “central origin.” Since Japanese names are written with the last name first, they theorize the name is loosely translated into “central intelligence” or the CIA. Many thought the name was an anagram and have tried to crack the code. Some truly profound anagram suggestions have since popped up such as the following: “OK, as a hoot, I'm Stan,” “Ma, I took NSA’s Oath,” "a hook to Satanism.” Oddly enough if you type “Satoshi Nakamoto” into wordsmith.org’s anagram finder, each one of the 473 results all begins with “Satan.” Needless to say, the mystery wasn’t that close to being solved. Another theory is that the person loved Japanese culture and simply took popular Japanese first and last names and put them together. One of the more popular name theories suggests that Satoshi was not a single person but rather a collaboration between 4 large Japanese consumer electronics companies. The name was taken from the beginning of each company name: Samsung, Toshiba, Nakamichi, Motorola. There is no concrete evidence of this other than the coincidental name, and opponents of the theory argue that such large companies would not push for a decentralized currency with an ever-fluctuating price.

Japanese Origins?

As stated, Satoshi himself said he was from Japan in his profile. However, doubt is raised when his posting activity is closely examined. None of Satoshi’s original code was written in Japanese to start, but that doesn’t automatically point to a non-Japanese person. Swiss coder Stefan Thomas went through every post from Satoshi and mapped the time stamps. What he found was Satoshi was almost completely inactive, including weekends, from 5 am through 11 am Greenwich Mean Time which translates to 12 am to 6 am Eastern Standard Time or 11 am to 5 am Central Standard Time. That could mean he lives in the United Kingdom, North America, South America, the Caribbean, or parts of Central America. These areas are very far-removed from Japan. Also, his English is perfect, and while that does not mean he couldn’t be Japanese, it just seems odd for someone who has claimed to live in Japan their entire life. On the topic of his language, Satoshi uses some pretty interesting slang and spellings of words. On July 10, 2010, Satoshi wrote: “Sorry to be a wet blanket. Writing a description for this thing...is bloody hard.” “Bloody” is a UK or Australian slang word used for emphasis. Even the idiom “wet blanket” has its origins in English magazines dating back to the late 1800’s. On more than one occasion, Satoshi also used the UK spelling of words such as “colour” and “optimise.” Another clue was the infamous genesis block message that Satoshi left as a kind of timestamp. It read “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” This was the headline of The London Times on January 3, 2009. Again, all fairly odd for a person living in Japan for 35 years.

The Usual Suspects

The list of potential “Satoshis” has changed frequently since the near decade of Bitcoin’s launch. Meet Dorian S. Nakamoto. His birth name is “Satoshi Nakamoto,” and he is a 70-year-old Los Angeles resident living with his mother. Newsweek, back in 2014, featured a story about Dorian connecting him to Bitcoin through his career in engineering and his very private life. Reporters swarmed him with questions when he admitted that he had nothing to do with Bitcoin and he had only heard of it when the Newsweek reporter had contacted him for the story. Even the real Satoshi had to chime in and clear Dorian’s name. Posted as a reply to his original announcement of Bitcoin, Satoshi wrote just 5 words: “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” If not someone actually named Satoshi Nakamoto then who?

A few blocks away from Dorian lived a man named Hal Finney. Finney was a computer programmer, cypherpunk, and just so happen to be the first receiver of Bitcoin. Finney mined the first coins from a test directly from Satoshi. Finney showed great interest and inspiration from Satoshi’s idea of a decentralized currency, and he was the first to create the proof of work system as a precursor to Bitcoin. Many believe that Finney used Dorian’s name as a symbol for the victims of the current financial system. The bank was foreclosing Dorian’s home and this was the type of financial corruption Finney and the cypherpunk movement was fighting against. However, Finney’s writings were compared to Satoshi’s emails and they found that Finney’s writing did not match Satoshi’s. Finney considered Satoshi a friend and assumed he was who he said he was. Hal Finney sadly passed away after 5 years of battling ALS on August 28, 2014. He truly believed in Satoshi and the work they were doing to create a safer and more independent financial option. He left his family all of his bitcoins in the hope that they would be worth something to all of his future heirs. But the mystery of Satoshi continues.

Eventually, someone finally came forward and announce that they were the real Satoshi Nakamoto. His name is Craig Steven Wright. Wright wrote in a blog post in 2016 that he and David Kleiman, a computer analyst who had passed away, were the true creators of Bitcoin. He studied economics and finance at the Charles Sturt University before going on to earn his Ph.D. in computer science. Wright was also a CEO of a company that wanted to create the world’s first bitcoin bank. Jon Matonis of the Bitcoin Foundation said: “Craig signed and verified a message using the private key from block #1 newly generated coins and from block #9 newly generated coins (the first transaction to Hal Finney).” A Bitcoin developer also backed up Matonis’ claim and said he saw Wright doing something similar with the private key. Unfortunately, Wright had a few inconsistencies with his story. He didn’t actually have a Ph.D. in computer science as he had originally claimed and when the private key was analyzed by a security researcher it was determined that Wright simply copied the signature. It was also speculated that Wright made a deal with a Canadian based cryptocurrency company that he would pose as Satoshi so they would have access to Bitcoin-related patents.

We Struck Bit Gold

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, Nick Szabo posted a blog on Unenumerated.com about something called “bit gold.” Szabo writes, “the problem...is that our money currency depends on trust in a third-party for its value...Thus, it would be nice if there were a protocol whereby unforgeably costly bits could be created online with minimal dependence on trusted third parties, and then securely stored, transferred, and assayed with similar minimum trust. Bit gold.” This is highly reminiscent to Bitcoin! Satoshi did say that he took inspiration from many different technologies and theories circling around the digital currency sphere, but he doesn’t ever mention bit gold. This is an odd thing to omit from his inspiration if it almost literally defined the idea and how the idea could work. It is argued that since Szabo could not figure out the issue of double-spending without giving power/control to a central authority he isn’t really Satoshi. Satoshi was able to solve this issue obviously with the blockchain technology.

But does this mean Szabo did not figure it out and then relaunch bit gold under a new name and identity? Many people think that is exactly what he did. The “N.S. = S.N.” theory was born. Szabo was in discussions with the same groups asking for help with his bit gold idea as Satoshi. He even back-dated a post asking how to help launch bit gold so that it appeared it was posted after Satoshi’s Bitcoin launch. Unenumerated.com is also a UK-based site which we learned before could be a high possibility of Satoshi’s origins. More importantly, why didn’t Szabo launch his own version of Bitcoin when he had the same people looking into the double-spending issue as Satoshi? If he did not want to launch his own project, why didn’t he collaborate on Bitcoin with Satoshi instead of letting him take his idea for free? The timing also adds up. Szabo’s posting activity nearly dropped off completely in the year that Bitcoin was released. Szabo finally acknowledged Bitcoin back in 2011 when Satoshi disappeared a few months before, which adds a “have you ever seen Bruce Wayne and Batman in the same room” layer to the mystery.

Nick Szavbo + Hal Finney = Satoshi Nakamoto

One of the most popular Satoshi Nakamoto theories today is that Szabo and Finney collaborated on Bitcoin and released it under the alias of Finney’s neighbor Dorian (Satoshi) Nakamoto. The original whitepaper Satoshi published references a “we,” which according to the theory means Szabo created the framework and flushed out the ideas while Finney did the coding. Finney was the first recipient of Bitcoin, mined the first coins, and created the proof of work system that made Bitcoin possible. Finney was also the first to comment on Satoshi’s release of the Bitcoin code. Both Szabo and Finney were part of the cypherpunk movement at the same time and seemed to be in the same circles working on similar goals. Would it be so far-fetched to believe that these incredibly intelligent men banded together to give society a real sense of privacy and freedom from big government? For all the evidence though, why the secrecy? Both men were public about their interest and involvement in the cryptocurrency world and both publicly spoke about the genius of Bitcoin. Szabo had already come out with the idea for bit gold so why wouldn’t he have just continued on with that idea after Satoshi’s blockchain solved the double-spending issue? Finney, being so open and active during the first release of Bitcoin, doesn’t seem the type to hide especially after he was diagnosed with his terminal illness. Bitcoin would be a legacy to be remembered for.

The Mystery Continues.... And it Should

Whether Satoshi is actually Nick Szabo, Dorian Nakamoto, Hal Finney, or someone else entirely, they want their privacy. They have gone through painstaking lengths to keep their identity a secret and maybe we should reward them by simply letting it go. Bitcoin is meant to be for everyone, controlled by everyone, and a place where everyone can make contributions. The legend of Satoshi Nakamoto works in the same way. Satoshi gave us a story where anyone can be the hero, and heroes need secret identities. Bitcoin.org explains it best in their FAQ section when asked who created Bitcoin:

The identity of Bitcoin’s inventor is probably as relevant today as the identity of the person who invented paper.

bitcoin.org

Learn more about the people who might have created bitcoin here.

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Marianne White