Updated: Feb 10, 2021
‘He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’ – The Federal Reserve
The identity of the revered Satoshi Nakamoto has been a mystery since Bitcoins inception in 2009. We take a look at potential candidates.
Nakamoto is often imagined as a Ted Kaczynski type character – a reclusive, complicated man with great intelligence and strongly held anti-establishment political beliefs. If the comparison is fair, then the Bitcoin whitepaper is to Satoshi what the manifesto is to the Unabomber, in Satoshi’s anarcho-capitalist act of subversive genius.
One such dedicated, reclusive and Japanese genius is Shinichi Mochizuki. Mochizuki is a man who invented an entirely new type of geometry in a 500 page ‘proof’ of the ABC conjecture that the vast majority of mathematical experts cannot even understand. Mochizuki provided his giant proof with no fanfare, simply posting it on his website without letting anybody know. If he was successful in solving it nobody knows – not enough people claim to understand his use of mathematical notation, of their symbols and signs in the context he has imagined. According to the man himself, his re-imagination of the mathematical world would require the ‘need for researchers to deactivate the thought patterns that they have installed in their brains and taken for granted for so many years’. Other mathematicians have described his papers as ‘impossible to understand’, that ‘you feel a bit like you might be reading a paper from the future’ and pondering whether Mochizuki was ‘sticking up his middle finger to the mathematical community’. For reference, 4 of his proofs can be found here i, ii, iii, iv
Shininchi Mochizuki certainly seems like he is capable of the genius behind Bitcoin, and his perseverance and personality seems to fit the model, as a reclusive contributor who uses systematic logical structures to revolutionise the world.
A second candidate who refuses to accept the honour of being the possibly fictional Satoshi is a Hungarian/American computer scientist and cryptographer called ‘Nick Szabo’. Like Mochizuki, Szabo is worthy of respect even before we speculate about his likeness to Satoshi and the Bitcoin protocol. In favour of this speculation is Szabo’s history, which includes a proposition of a form of digital currency called Bit Gold in 1998. Szabo has also expressed an interest in loopholes in (and by induction, systematic solutions for) centralised financial governance. This very suspicious background (for those wishing to unmask Satoshi) has led to the question many times, and with many rejections in response. One set of analysis comparing the writing of Nick to Satoshi found that ‘Satoshi Nakamoto is (probably) Nick Szabo.’ Regardless of if he is not, Szabo is a giant of Blockchain technology and a prophet of using technological utility to solve the big problems that we face as the human race.
A third candidate to be placed as the mythical and legendary figure was ‘unmasked’ by a Newsweek article proclaiming ‘The Face Behind Bitcoin’. Apparently Satoshi Nakamoto was a man who only wanted to remain partially hidden, as Newsweek identified Dorian Nakamoto as the person behind the Bitcoin white paper. For Newsweek, the legendary many-times over billionaire behind the protocol was a dishevelled man who shared a surname with Satoshi, and who called the police on Newsweek when they hassled him for an interview. Nakamoto called the police to remove Newsweek from his property adding ‘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.’ For Newsweek this was a smoking gun.
Nakamoto version Dorian is described as ‘collecting model trains’ with a ‘career shrouded in secrecy, having done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. Military.’ The mind boggles at such hinting. Mr Nakamoto the human does share some personality characteristics with who we imagine Satoshi to be. He is reported to be a libertarian, promoting independence from government, taxes and authority, a dedicated worker performing secretive security work. The Newsweek article Is somewhat compelling and he fits the archetype. He is also linked to another man on the list, living only blocks away from Hal Finney, himself a friend of Nick Szabo.
There are other comical explanations. A litigious Australian man, Craig Steven Wright feels deeply invested in the Bitcoin protocol, claiming to be Satoshi. His public performances belie a sense of resentment and superiority to the Blockchain community. There is also a sense of the firebrand preacher in Wright, of Fire, of trust-less de-centralised transactions, and of brimstone. It betrays his history as a religious man, of a NSW Uniting church Trustee and who had originally intended on being a man of the cloth.
His relationship to David Kleiman and their status as pioneers in Bitcoin Mining provides evidence that at the least, both men were significantly involved in the very early stages of Bitcoin.
Of things that are known and agreed upon about the early stages of Bitcoin, it can be established that Hal Finney, a pre-bitcoin cryptographic pioneer, was the second person after Satoshi to use and interpret the Bitcoin protocol. In the original test of the system, Finney was the recipient of ten coins, an amount worth almost $200,000 USD at the peak in November 2017. Finney corresponded with Nick Szabo and lived close to Dorian Nakamoto. Perhaps Satoshi the reclusive genius archetype is more than a lone individual?
The pirate-like Paul le Roux is another name put forward from time to time. Le Roux was born a year after Elon Musk, next-door to South Africa. When Elon Musk founded X.com in 1999, le Roux created E4M in the same year. The software was a free, open-source disk encryption software program for Microsoft Windows. This encryption service promised to keep data on computers safe, later updated ‘anonymously’ to the more famous encryption service software ‘TrueCrypto’ circa 2004.
If le Roux is Satoshi, it would mean he was beginning a planned expansion into illegal activities during the Global Financial Crises, creating Bitcoin in between drug-dealing, arms trafficking and money laundering. If he sounds busy that year, consider that Elon Musk had been CEO, majority owner and head rocket designer at SpaceX as well as starting Tesla and a solar panel installer at the same time.
So if the reason why Satoshi Nakamoto has not been heard of for so many years is because he is in jail, we can expect to hear from him circa 2041, when le Roux exits jail he earned as a result of his criminal history including drugs, murder and arms dealing, potentially casually creating digital gold in between sending mercenary hit-men on gold trading expeditions across Africa and Europe.
If true, it would take a convicted criminal, set on a similar path to Elon Musk from a similar place, and write him back with Musk as an individual who fundamentally changed human civilisation.
Middle name: Solotshi?
In Satoshi’s own recorded written history, He disapproves of His image as a ‘mysterious shadowy figure’ and stops responding to one developer who accepted an invitation to speak at the CIA headquarters as a Bitcoin advocate. The mysterious Satoshi once again retreated to the shadows, hoping to disassociate themselves, or any other person, indeed any other single and living, breathing organism as the individual identity known as Satoshi who is behind the magical internet money known as Bitcoin. Is it possible that this was a role thrust upon, and denied by – Nakamoto, Dorian?
In any case, it is likely that for such a systematic thinker, (who seeks to disassociate their real, individual identity from their ideas) that the idea of Bitcoin is manifested by its own virtues, of its own systematic design. In this conceptualisation, Bitcoin is a product of almost supernatural forces, not so much by the animal spirits of the market or the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith as by a transcendent act of self-creation in its creative but systematic technological protocol. In the perspective of it being a pure and systematic abstract idea that matches significant and real problems in the physical world, Bitcoin is created by Bitcoin.
Then is Bitcoin not invented, but discovered – like gravity? Like relativity?
Perhaps one way of conceptualising who Satoshi is, may be that he is none of these people at all, or perhaps all of them (or remove who you will). The Bitcoin protocol represents the achievements of mankind, where the corruption of political power on central banking and manipulation of the money supply elicit a response, a solution! The corrupted system had threatened the existence of the modern financial system, and by virtue of that, a break-down of any global order at all. A sea-people-like civilisation threatening event.
Out of this threat came a large and interconnected set of highly capable and motivated people who sacrificed their time and energy to take a risk on possibly having a solution to the problem of centralised forms of money. It is without a doubt that (most of) these (great) individuals deserve our respect. We will always hypothesise about the individual identity of the man we call Satoshi. But for each of these men who are not Satoshi, we are still left with contributions of genius, from people who take on the problems of the world, who work towards universal solutions for global problems, who do it on the shoulders of their forebearers with little conventional reward. There are many, many real people with identifiable names who are working on this project today who fit this description. This archetype represents some of the greatest sacrifices and greatest achievements of human endeavour. And even though it can go devastatingly wrong in the case of a man like Ted Kaczynski, for every Unabomber, there is at least one Satoshi.
Not a bad list of candidates!
By Thomas Kuhn, CFA
Thomas is the author of 'Bitcoin: A Revolutionary Investment' and has previously written for the Asia-Pacific Research Institute of the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, QuantumEconomics, Hackernoon and Medium.
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