For many, Satoshi Nakamoto is more than just the inventor of a groundbreaking new technology— he’s a legendary figure surrounded with an almost religious reverence. Among Bitcoin fanatics, it’s not unusual to hear him referred to as the “savior” who came forth to free us from the tyranny of the banking system.
Exaggerated descriptions aside, the story of Satoshi Nakamoto is one of the most fascinating in the history of modern technology, and one of the most compelling unsolved mysteries. More than being just an interesting story, the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto also holds major implications for the world economy.
So who is Satoshi Nakamoto? The person (or persons) behind Satoshi is believed to hold around 1 million Bitcoin, worth as much as $73 billion USD at Bitcoin’s all-time high, briefly putting him among the world’s top 20 richest people. If Bitcoin sees more rallies in the future, as many analysts expect, it could easily make him the richest man in the world. His net worth would surpass Elon Musk’s at a price of around $250,000.
If he ever does reappear, he would be able have a huge amount of influence, but if he ever tapped into his reserves, it would probably cause Bitcoin’s price to crash, at least in the short term. The Bitcoin market is known for tight supply, meaning that big sellers can easily crash prices.
It’s no surprise, then, that there’s been a huge amount of speculation as to Satoshi’s identity. Some of the theories are outrageous, while others are more reasonable. To begin, let’s look at the facts behind the creator of bitcoin.
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The first record of Satoshi Nakamoto’s existence is from October 31st, 2008, when he sent a white paper to the “Cypherpunks” mailing list.
The cypherpunks group was launched in 1992, in the early days of the internet, by a group of activists that believed technology, and more specifically cryptography, could be a powerful tool in the struggle for individual liberty. Their aim was to discuss and support technologies that could help protect free speech against tyrannical and repressive governments.
This is the first clue as to the identity of Bitcoin’s mysterious inventor. Nakamoto chose this group to introduce the concept of Bitcoin, which suggests he was likely already a member previously, or was at least aware of the group’s existence.
The Bitcoin whitepaper itself also offers some clues. Titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” the whitepaper cites a number of other papers, indicating that Satoshi must have been familiar with these works. Since most of the papers deal with cryptography, he must have had some background in cryptography.
After releasing the white paper, Satoshi went on to collaborate with other interested developers to launch Bitcoin. In the process, he formed the Bitcointalk forum and made a number of further posts until he finally disappeared on April 23rd, 2011. These forum posts, along with the white paper, represent everything that we know about Satoshi Nakamoto.
Although it’s a limited dataset, there is still a lot of information that can be gleaned from these writings. The white paper, for example, contained a timestamp in the metadata that indicated it originated from the Pacific Standard time zone, pointing to the West coast of the US or Canada.
This theory was further backed up by an analysis of all of the timestamps on Satoshi’s posts. Posts mostly dropped off between 5 AM and 11 AM GMT, which suggests that might be when he was sleeping. This coincides with 10 PM to 5 AM PST.
Based on this information, many believe that Satoshi was based on the West coast of the United States while working on Bitcoin. This is not certain, of course, since Satoshi was also a gifted programmer, and many programmers are known for being night owls.
A number of analysts have attempted to detect patterns in Satoshi’s writings to help determine his identity.
Some had hoped that the spellings of words might offer a clue— in some cases, Satoshi uses British spellings of words, such as using “favour” instead of “favor.” However, in many cases he also used American spellings.
One analysis found that he sometimes used British and American spellings for the same words on the same day, which might be a sign that he was deliberately trying to disguise his background. Others have suggested it might mean that Satoshi is Canadian, since both British and American spellings are common in Canada.
Supporting the hypothesis of British origin, however, is the message Satoshi chose to include with the first block of the Bitcoin blockchain.
"The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks"
This message was a headline taken from the front page of the January 3, 2009 edition of the London Times. This might indicate that Satoshi was a reader of British newspapers, and it sends a clear message that dissatisfaction with the legacy banking system was the motivation for Bitcoin’s development.
Textual analysts have also analyzed Satoshi’s writing to find similarities to other published work. We’ll look at some of the results from these studies later on in the list of potential candidates.
Who is the mysterious #Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto?
Satoshi was very clear about what problem Bitcoin is intended to solve. When introducing the Bitcoin white paper to the Cypherpunks mail list, he wrote:
“The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that's required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts. Their massive overhead costs make micropayments impossible.”
This means that Satoshi was highly critical of the banking system, and the reference to privacy also indicates potential concern about government overreach. He also made some statements about Bitcoin being a means of gaining ground in the fight for freedom, and also commented that it could be appealing to libertarians.
Skills and Knowledge
Many experts who observed Satoshi’s work on Bitcoin have described him as a genius. He was clearly a very gifted programmer, and the style of citation and composition of the white paper also suggests some kind of an academic background.
Bitcoin was also written in the C++ programming language, so those unfamiliar with C++ can be ruled out.
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Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Possible Candidates
So far we have a profile of someone who is probably college educated, fluent in English, and a skilled programmer. He is well versed in cryptography, critical of the political and economic establishment, and is usually inactive when it is late at night in North America.
With this in mind, let's consider some of the most popular candidates.
A Newsweek columnist caused a media frenzy in 2014 by claiming that a retired Japanese-American physicist in California was the real Satoshi Nakamoto. The main proof is that his birth name was Satoshi Nakamoto, but this is not actually all that convincing in itself, since it is a traditional Japanese name still used today.
However, Dorian Nakamoto once lived 3 blocks away from Hal Finney, one of the first programmers to help Satoshi with Bitcoin development. The real source of the confusion, though, is probably that Dorian worked on a number of classified projects for the US government in the past. When the journalist contacted him and asked him about Bitcoin, he thought she was referring to one of those projects, and replied that he was “no longer involved in it,” and that he “cannot discuss it.”
Of course, journalists are always looking for a big story, so Newsweek decided to run a feature on this thin evidence. Dorian Nakamoto is a skilled programmer, but he vehemently denied knowing anything about Bitcoin before his home turned into a media circus.
Satoshi Nakamoto did claim to be living in Japan, but he also claimed to be 37 years old, which does not fit Dorian Nakamoto. If the Bitcoin creator was going to use his real name, he could probably have been honest about his age as well.
Image Source: CraigWright.net
Craig Wright is an Australian programmer who declared himself to be Satoshi Nakamoto in 2016. Some notable members of the Bitcoin community, like Gavin Andresen, were convinced of his claims, while many others dismissed him as a fraud.
If he were really Satoshi, there are many ways he could prove his identity, such as sending some Bitcoin from addresses known to belong to Satoshi, or demonstrating ownership of the email addresses used by Satoshi, but so far he has done none of this. What he has done is file lawsuits against many of those who called him a fraud, though most of these lawsuits have been dismissed by the courts.
In spite of the doubt surrounding his claims, Craig Wright has managed to convince enough people to create a fork of Bitcoin which he claims represents the true vision of Satoshi, and has made a tidy profit off of it.
Paul Le Roux
The theory that Paul Le Roux might be Bitcoin’s creator fits well with the view of critics who deride Bitcoin as “money for criminals.” Le Roux is an intensely anti-government programmer well-versed in cryptography, whose career includes stints as a drug dealer and gun runner.
The theory goes that Le Roux created Bitcoin as a way to facilitate his money laundering efforts. Although Le Roux might have had the motivation and the ability to develop Bitcoin, no conclusive evidence has emerged to link him to Satoshi Nakamoto.
Nick Szabo is a computer scientist and blogger known for his work on digital currency and cryptography. He was long part of the cypherpunk mailing list, and published a proposal for a digital currency called “Bit Gold” years before Bitcoin was released.
One blogger used a method called stylometric analysis to compare Satoshi’s writings to a number of other texts, and claimed that Nick Szabo was by far the closest match. There was also a significant drop-off in Szabo’s blog activity around the same time Satoshi Nakamoto started working on Bitcoin. This is probably the closest thing to credible evidence of a link between a real public figure and Satoshi.
Some have also speculated that Satoshi Nakamoto might also be Szabo’s initials, N.S., reversed. With all the lengths that Szabo went to to stay anonymous, though, it seems unlikely that he would leave such an obvious clue as to his identity as the inventor of Bitcoin.
Although the case for Szabo being Satoshi is one of the strongest out there, there are also some problems with this theory. One is that Szabo’s proposal for Bit Gold was designed for second-layer scaling solutions from the ground up, while Satoshi made statements that indicated he thought it would be sufficient to rely on future technological improvements to accommodate increased bandwidth and storage requirements.
Satoshi Nakamoto also contacted Adam Back before publishing the Bitcoin white paper to discuss some of his ideas. Adam Back told him about Wei Dai’s b-money, and Satoshi then contacted Dai to discuss further. Nick Szabo would already have been acquainted with Dai’s proposal, casting further doubt on this theory.
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The Craziest Satoshi Nakamoto Theories
There’s no shortage of conspiracy theories on the internet, so it should be no surprise that there are plenty of crazy theories about Nakamoto’s real identity. Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Here are some less-than-likely theories on the web.
Bitcoin’s Creator - the Antichrist?
Bible enthusiasts have been quick to notice the similarities between Bitcoin and a passage in the book of Revelations. The passage describes the “Mark of the Beast” which will be required to buy and sell, and some have theorized that this refers to the coming of a digital currency like Bitcoin.
Aliens Developed Bitcoin
Conspiracy theorist Scott Waring argues that Bitcoin is a gift brought to humans by extraterrestrial intelligence. The evidence? Bitcoin is too perfect, he claims.
No one denies that Bitcoin is a remarkable innovation, but Waring claims that Bitcoin’s lack of security flaws show a level of intelligence beyond what any human could achieve. Unsurprisingly, that’s about all the evidence he has.
The CIA Created Bitcoin
Whether it’s 9/11 or JFK’s assassination, conspiracy theorists will give the CIA credit for almost anything, and Bitcoin is no exception. As with most crackpot theories, there’s no evidence to back it up, but proponents of the theory claim that intelligence agencies were looking for more effective ways to fund black ops.
Below: A bronze statue has been unveiled in Hungary, paying homage to the anonymous creator of the Bitcoin digital currency.
Will Satoshi Nakamoto Ever Come Out of Hiding?
It seems that for the time being, the internet’s greatest mystery will remain a mystery. Satoshi Nakamoto went to great lengths to keep his identity a secret, and in keeping with his reputation as a genius, he seems to have been successful.
Satoshi had very good reasons for wanting to keep his identity secret. A number of activists attempted to start independent currencies, and faced serious legal consequences as a result. An American entrepreneur named Bernard von Nothaus attempted to create a private, silver and gold backed currency in 2007, only to be raided by the FBI and have all his gold and silver reserves confiscated.
At his trial, the federal prosecutor remarked that:
“Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism.”
Although the prosecutor sought a sentence of 25 years imprisonment for the “crime” of attempting to create a currency that could compete with the US dollar, Nothaus eventually got off with 6 months house arrest.
Satoshi Nakamoto must have been very aware of this danger when he set out to create Bitcoin, and now that Bitcoin has taken off, he has even more reasons to stay anonymous. As one of the world’s richest people, Satoshi would have to worry about kidnappers, taxes, and long lost relatives suddenly appearing at his door if his identity were ever leaked.
With all of the efforts that Satoshi Nakamoto went to to keep his identity secret, it’s unlikely he will ever tap into his fortune. The open nature of the Bitcoin blockchain means that everyone would notice if he did, and any attempts to spend the money could be traced back to him.
In any case, it will certainly be better for Bitcoin if Satoshi Nakamoto chooses to stay anonymous. The threat of Satoshi’s fortune hitting the market would cause a huge crash, but beyond that, one of Bitcoin’s biggest selling points is the sincerity of its founders.
It’s very common for the founders of any cryptocurrency network to hold a lot of the digital currencies they create, and this makes many investors uneasy. Many developers claim to believe in the potential of their project to help humanity, but the hard reality is that they are faced with the temptation to “cash out” at the expense of investors.
The fact that Satoshi has not touched his fortune in the 13 years since the Bitcoin network first went online shows that he was not in it for the money. With other, newer cryptocurrency projects, it’s much more difficult to assess the sincerity of founders and developers.
However, it’s always possible that the bitcoin founder might decide to bequeath his fortune on his deathbed, since there will be no more danger of his identity being known. In any case, Bitcoin has become much bigger than Satoshi by now, so it’s unlikely the discovery of his true identity would pose a real threat to Bitcoin in the long-term— exactly as Satoshi Nakamoto planned.
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