Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Nakamoto is the pseudo-name of the unidentified founder of Bitcoin


On Halloween night, 2008, a short message was posted to a small cryptography e-mail list announcing a paper describing a new form of digital currency that the author, Satoshi Nakamoto, dubbed Bitcoin.

Nakamoto had never posted to the list before and was unknown to the rest of the group. If you’re interested in the technical details of Bitcoin, the white paper that was released is concise and relatively clear. At only 9 pages, it’s worth the read.

Bitcoin Version 0.1

Bitcoin version 0.1 was released to the same mailing list a few months later, on January 11th, 2009. Nakamoto had created the “Genesis Block”, the very first set of bitcoins in the Bitcoin blockchain a few days earlier.

The end of the beginning

He continued to post to the mailing group for a few months and then stopped. A community soon sprang up around his invention and centralized on discussion forums that Satoshi sometimes posted on until the end of 2011, and then he stopped.

He continued to email Bitcoin project developers until late April 2012. And then he disappeared. He has not been heard from publicly since then, and no one admits to having spoken with him privately, either.

Though many theories have been offered to find his identity, no one has proven they’re Nakamoto. Nobody knows what Satoshi is exactly doing now as his last form of communication, on April 23rd, 2011, was not at all detailed.

What it did state was that he had ‘moved on to other things’ and that the project was left in ‘good hands’.

Some have interpreted the term ‘moved on’ to mean that he has moved onto another cryptocurrency, whereas others have argued that it simply means he has stopped focusing on cryptography and finance altogether.

The project moved on without its founder.

Uncovering Satoshi’s identity

The general consensus in the Bitcoin community is that Satoshi Nakamoto was a pseudonym for someone else, or perhaps a group of people.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the inventor (or inventors) of Bitcoin place a high value on privacy. Although his name is Japanese, nobody can say for sure whether Satoshi was actually from Japan.

It is likely that it was a pseudonym as the name ‘Satoshi’ means ‘clear thinker, wise, and cunning’, ‘Naka’ means ‘medium’ or relationship’ and ‘Moto’ means ‘origin or foundation’.

All of these terms could be attributed to Bitcoin or the developers of Bitcoin, and as nobody has ever provided proof as to who Satoshi is.

Searching for answers

Several internet investigators have taken to trying to find Satoshi’s real identity and subsequently link it to a tangible person.

Joshua Davis, of The New Yorker, came to the conclusion that it was either Michael Clear (a Cryptography graduate at Dublin’s Trinity College) or Vili Lehdonvirta (an economic sociologist and games developer).

Michael Clear denied the claim at the 2013 Web Summit. Adam Penenberg from FastCompany argued that Satoshi Nakamoto was actually three people: Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry.

He came to this conclusion by taking certain unique phrases from the Bitcoin Whitepaper and placing them into various search engines and seeing what else turned up. One particular phrase (‘computationally impractical to reverse’) appeared to be linked to a patent that the three people had filed for distributing encryption keys.

Many others have argued that Martti Malmi, a computer science student, is Satoshi Nakamoto. Jed McCaleb (co-founder of the Ripple and Stellar currencies) has also been considered as the true Satoshi.

Jed was also instrumental in the creation of the infamous exchange Mt. Gox which stole large quantities of Bitcoins from the public.

What do we know about Satoshi Nakamoto?

Not a lot, other than the fact that the Bitcoin Whitepaper is in his name and that he released the first public version of Bitcoin.

We also know, from several interviews, that Satoshi was instrumental in the early development of Bitcoin and that his programming methods were unconventional in comparison to the standard software developer.

Jeff Garzik, a Bitcoin Core developer, said that his code was not as meticulously tested as you would expect. Sergio Lerner, an experienced Bitcoin professional, performed an analysis where he stated that Satoshi likely mined many of the first few Bitcoin blocks, therefore allowing him to have around one million Bitcoins.

If those Bitcoins were unspent to this day then they would be worth ten billion dollars.

Could Satoshi be a government worker?

For years there have been rumors that Bitcoin was created by the government as a means of controlling the future of finance; in the same sense as the TOR private network was created by the government.

These rumors came to light after several people interpreted the name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ to mean ‘Central Intelligence’.

If governments had access to a Bitcoin backdoor then they could use it to catch various criminals such as terrorists and people traffickers, but it is unlikely as a backdoor would have been spotted by programmers, considering how the code for Bitcoin is open-source.

While it could be possible for Satoshi to be tied to a government, in essence, it does not matter because it changes nothing about the functionality or usability of Bitcoin as an independent system of finance.

Post-Satoshi Era

Mt. Gox, a Bitcoin currency exchange, was founded in mid-2010, and adoption of the currency began to pick up towards the end of that year as it caught the attention of cryptography fans, libertarians, and others interested in the latest technology trends.

By February 9th, 2011, one bitcoin was worth as much as one U.S. dollar. By late April of 2011, it had reached parity with the euro. Though it’s had it’s ups and downs since then, today one Bitcoin is worth close $10,000.

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