In October 2008 the first paper was published that suggested an electronic currency embedded in a peer to peer network. Satoshi Nakamoto, the publisher and creator of Bitcoin has since remained anonymous, triggering many discussions about his real identity. While this has been frustrating for some who are determined to find out who Nakamoto really is, there are several convincing reasons as to why the identity should remain anonymous.
Oftentimes the name Satoshi Nakamoto and Bitcoin or blockchain are used in the same sentence. But who hides behind the pseudonym has remained unknown. In this article, we will go back to the origins of Bitcoin and the first public appearance of Satoshi Nakamoto, explore who stands or could stand behind the name and why it is likely and important that whoever it is, remains anonymous.
In October 2008, a whitepaper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published, the author: Satoshi Nakamoto1. Embedded in the paper was the first idea of an “electronic peer-to-peer” system for cash payments that would eliminate the need for third-party verification of payments and instead envisioned an entire network that would track transactions and make it impossible for any single user alter the records. In the following year, Nakamoto mined the first bitcoin block (the “genesis block”) and released an open-source software with its source code and so Bitcoin was born. Since then, Nakamoto has completely disappeared from the public eye. At various times, the accounts associated with the name Satoshi Nakamoto that was published in the first paperback in 2008 supposedly sent out messages, but it is most likely that those were sent out by hackers. So, if the creator and essentially the godfather of cryptocurrency has remained in the dark, one cannot help but wonder who actually the person behind the invention is, that has since proven to potentially be one of the biggest game-changers of modern times.
Naturally, through the course of years, dozens of different theories have accumulated, trying to find a coherent answer to determine who Nakamoto could be. The list of potential candidates is virtually endless, from Elon Musk to the CIA, everyone has been rumored to be Nakamoto at some point. In general, the alias could belong to one of three broad categories: a government agency, a non-governmental organization or it could be any one of the 7 billion people living among us. It quickly becomes clear why the first two seem an unlikely scenario, and why the general acceptance tends towards the latter category as the most likely choice.
Firstly, a government’s involvement was deemed unlikely, as one of the first and primary uses of Bitcoin and blockchain technology was the establishment of an online black market. Known as the “Silk Road”, alluding to the ancient trade route that connected China to continental Europe, a site on the dark web was created that allowed its users to anonymously sell and buy illegal goods such as weapons and drugs. A government should have foreseen this possibility of abusing Blockchain or Bitcoin for criminal activities, deeming their involvement unlikely, since they would hardly endorse the establishment of an online black market.
On the other hand, if it were a non-governmental organization, they would have most likely restricted the access to it or used it to monopolize the online trade for illegal goods, instead of providing an open-source code.
This leaves the option of Nakamoto simply being a highly intelligent individual or collective, that had the idea to create a decentralized currency and deemed it the most promising option to enable everyone to use blockchain technology and tap into its potential on their own. This scenario also seems to provide a viable answer to the question of anonymity. If a single individual were to openly come out with the idea for a currency system that would render all third parties involved in transactions, as well as other financial institutions completely obsolete, they would be painting a target on their own back. A working digital currency threatens the very foundation of the current monetary system, as central banks would no longer be needed to adjust interest or exchange rates, nor to print money as all currency would be digital. Neither is there a need for any other kind of bank where customers usually would deposit money. Finally, no government would allow a direct competitor to current fiat currencies on the markets, as they would just restrict the usefulness of one of their central geopolitical tools.
In light of these threats, whoever Nakamoto really is, would become a highly coveted and internationally recognized individual overnight. Apart from privacy issues, anonymity also guarantees the safety of the Bitcoin founder. Satoshi is rumored to have mined a substantial amount of Bitcoin himself in the early stages after its global publication. While this was first estimated to be around one million, recent studies deem it closer to 700.000 Bitcoins2. Analysis show a pattern around 2009, indicating a single dominant miner and while it was admitted that it is impossible to determine the exact source, most presume it was Nakamoto. At current trading level of Bitcoin (as of November 4th 2019 around $9,187), this would value Satoshi’s wealth at around $6,430,900,000, granting him considerable financial liberties, if he ever were to cash in on his stake.
The combination of these factors has only further increased the hype surrounding Nakamoto, pushing many to ask the question: Who is Nakamoto? Amongst the most prominent candidates that have been mentioned as potential creators of Bitcoin are Dorian Nakamoto, Craig Wright or Nick Szabo3 (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Potential people behind the pseudonym
Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto was one of the first to be attributed the title of Bitcoin founder, as he and Satoshi share certain traits. The most obvious are the name and Japanese origin, but Dorian also has a computer engineering background for various technology and financial services companies. He allegedly admitted being the one behind the Nakamoto alias in a 2014 interview, but then later publicly denied those claims, arguing that he had misunderstood the question.
Craig Wright, on the other hand, is one of the few individuals that have actively been pushing to be accepted as the person behind the alias Nakamoto. The self-proclaimed father of Bitcoin has repeatedly tried to prove his identity as its creator, providing proof of ownership of one of the first keys, which proves that he was involved with the cryptocurrency from an early stage onwards4. The current nCHain chief scientist is now involved in the development of his own cryptocurrency, which also would indicate a sufficient knowledge level to code the first version of Bitcoin in 2008. But his profile and credentials have never been completely accepted by critics, who are also questioning the legitimacy of some of the “proof” he has submitted.
Another potential candidate is Nick Szabo, the inventor of smart contracts and developer of BitGold. His computational expertise is widely known, as well as his involvement with BitGold, a predecessor of Bitcoin and an early attempt at creating a working digital currency. These qualifications are also what pushed some to assume that the Hungarian could have been the one to publish the original white paper in 2008. But Szabo has always denied any claims and never tried to take credit for any of the work, thus also making him unlikely to be Satoshi.
While this seems a somewhat unsatisfactory ending to the quest of finding the creator of one of the most revolutionary technologies in recent times, it is in many ways a suitable one. There are simply too many reasons for Nakamoto to remain anonymous and to protect his identity from the public. It is also very fitting on a more poetic note. Blockchain technology and Bitcoin as it appears were created to be accessible for every and all members of the public. It was never meant to be controlled by one person, much less be attributed to one sole creator and rather should always remain to be a place of complete equality and anonymity. This also underlines the meaning of Satoshi Nakamoto translated from Japanese, it means as much as “wise origin” or “wise someone who lives in the middle”, in many ways an appropriate metaphor for whoever it really was that created Bitcoin.