Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto? Part 1 of 3: What We Do Know
In this trilogy of articles we provide a comprehensive analysis of what is known about bitcoin’s mysterious and elusive creator: Satoshi Nakamoto. We gather for you here almost everything he has ever publicly written (Part 1), who the media has suspected him of being (Part 2), and who else he could possibly be according to our own research (Part 3). Who exactly is one of the world’s wealthiest people, responsible for inventing bitcoin, the blockchain and revolutionizing finance as we know it? Well, nobody knows exactly for sure, but its fun to speculate anyway.
Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto? Part 1 of 3: What We Do Know
The legend of Satoshi Nakamoto is one of the greatest internet mysteries of all-time. While the original Satoshi’s public existence spans a brief time frame of less than 2 years, speculation of his true identity has been a riveting topic of interest on message boards and in the media ever since. Besides the fame to be claimed from having invented the blockchain and the entire idea of cryptocurrencies – of which thousands since have spawned from – is a massive fortune that lays unclaimed, estimated to be some 980,000 bitcoins that Satoshi mined during 2009-2010. This puts Satoshi’s fortune at somewhere close to $7 billion, making him/her/they one of the richest people(s) in the world.
Smart, talented, work oriented and mild mannered are a few of the adjectives commonly associated with Satoshi Nakamoto. His P2P Foundation profile page states that he is a 43-year-old male from Japan. An analysis of his posting habits found that he almost never posted between the hours of 5 am and 11 am Greenwich Mean Time (England). This range of hours falls between 2 pm and 8 pm Japanese time, suggesting a highly unusual sleep pattern for someone who claimed to be living in Japan, yet this can not be taken as definitive evidence that he wasn’t indeed there. Another good indication that he may not be Japanese in origin is his near-perfect use of the English language (and at times British colloquialisms), but again this is not definitive evidence.
We do know that Satoshi had a libertarian bent — not that he was staunchly anti-government or pro-libertarian, but that he was trying to hand the control of personal finance back to the people, away from banking institutions and mandatory taxation. In the Genesis block of bitcoin – frequently referred to as block 0 or block 1 – Satoshi embedded the following message into the block’s coinbase parameter:
The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks
Though not necessarily a political statement (it might have simply served as a timestamp to prove that the Genesis block was made on 1/3/09 or afterward), the message is widely thought to be an acknowledgement of the ability of central banks to print an infinite amount of currency at their own discretion, slowly destabilizing it and decreasing its value without having to be accountable to the public for their actions. By giving his digital currency a set, mathematically predetermined maximum supply, the chances of inflation in bitcoin were zero, meaning it was dependable in a way that state-backed currencies traditionally were not.
Even though he is thought to have mined close to a million coins, Satoshi only ever made one bitcoin transaction, and that was to demonstrate that it worked, during its initial days in early 2009. All other bitcoins mined by Satoshi have never been “spent,” meaning moved from their original miner address. The speculated reasons why Satoshi never moved any of his coins are many and include:
- being its inventor, he was aware that bitcoin is actually only pseudonymous and not entirely anonymous, and by moving any of his coins he might accidentally reveal more about his identity than he intended,
- he was mining coins using addresses not associated with his undisturbed piles and thus acquired sufficient wealth without having to tap them,
- he knows that by moving these coins, which is roughly equal to 1/17th of the total amount of bitcoins ever minted, it could have a negative psychological impact on the price and stability of BTC, as it could be taken as a sign that the security or integrity of bitcoin was in jeopardy,
- he is now deceased,
- he is under some sort of contract, oath, or agreement that he would never spend them,
- he lost access to his private keys and thus is unable to spend them.
The final reason is generally thought to be the most likely, though nobody can say for sure.
Should we care who Satoshi Nakamoto actually is? According to him, the answer is “no.” To Satoshi, the idea was far more important than the person (or people) behind it. Nevertheless, just like with everything else ever created in the universe through an anonymous nature, its fun to speculate about who actually created it. That being said, there is little doubt that the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto helps to fuel the legend of bitcoin. Just like the origins of the bible and Jesus Christ, the words of Satoshi are sometimes regarded as a type of gospel, incomplete or imperfect as it may be. This had led to the creator of bitcoin developing a sort of cult figure status over the years: a person (or persons) who arrived on the scene with a revolutionary idea, kicked some ass, and then vanished into the moonlight.
What we do know about Satoshi for sure is the following:
- they desired a way to break personal finance free from barriers imposed by traditional means,
- they were a great coder, employing creative problem solving in the development of bitcoin,
- they were a no-nonsense type of personality, focused on getting the job done while largely foregoing social pleasantries, and
- they highly valued the intactness of their anonymity.
All of these qualities can be deduced from the brunt of Satoshi’s communications through three main sources, all of which are staple texts for any hard-core Satoshi disciple (a fourth, referred to as “the original bitcoin form,” is no longer available online).
- November 1st, 2008: Satoshi announces through a cryptography mailing list that his original whitepaper, entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, has been published on bitcoin.com. This is Satoshi’s first known communication with the outside world.
- February 11th, 2009: On a forum website named “P2P Foundation: The Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives,” Satoshi makes his first post, containing a link to the whitepaper as well as provide some additional commentary on his reasoning behind creating bitcoin. He creates a total of three posts, the last of which is dated February 18th, 2009. On March 7th, 2014, another post under his account is made in which he definitively states that he is not Dorian Nakamoto, who was falsely outed as being Satoshi Nakamoto just days earlier. While Dorian is not actually Satoshi, neither is the person penning this post, as it was later determined that Satoshi’s P2P Foundation account had been hacked.
- November 22nd, 2009: Satoshi writes the inaugural post on bitcointalk.org, the main bitcoin form through which he released the brunt of his communications. Comprising a total of 575 posts across 13 months time, Satoshi, and other early contributors (such as Mike Hearn and Jeff Garzik) laid the cornerstone of what bitcoin was to become. By December 12th, 2010, Satoshi was done with the forum, abruptly departing without any given explanation. Perhaps he knew bitcoin was off to a good start and no longer required his guidance. For whatever the reason, this post was his last official address to the general public, in which he provided a link to his latest build of the bitcoin wallet client. Almost nine years later, the forum is still the most active and respected bitcoin community on the internet, having over 2 million members, 1 million topics, 42 million posts, and hundreds of millions of post views.
One of Satoshi’s final posts on bitcointalk offered some clues as to why he may have fled the scene altogether: he might have been worried about the level of scrutiny being brought upon bitcoin after the decision of declared state enemy Wikileaks’ decision to accept BTC as a form of donation. This quickly led to Wikipedia’s removal of the entry for Bitcoin on their website and great consternation from Satoshi. If the U.S. government seriously decided to throw its resources at undermining bitcoin or exposing its creator, it could likely do so. After all, the idea of Secured Hashing Algorithms (the SHA part of SHA256, bitcoin’s employed hashing algorithm) was initially developed by the NSA, so who would have a better understanding of how it worked than the federal government?
In perhaps his most “emotionally charged” communique ever (if you can call it “emotional” at all), Satoshi decisively swipes away the idea that the bitcoin community should stand on the side of Wikileaks and against the federal government:
No, don’t “bring it on”.
The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way.
I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.
Some anecdotal evidence regarding Satoshi’s personality and behavior can be gleaned from personal email sent to and from his [email protected] address, which was apparently hacked in 2014, shortly after Newsweek magazine ran a cover story falsely claiming that Satoshi was actually 68 year-old California resident Dorian Nakamoto. The first recipient of a Satoshi email (though from an earlier email address) was digital currency expert Wei Dai, who was contacted because Satoshi wanted to know how to properly accredit him for some of his ideas that were incorporated in the development of bitcoin. Laszlo Hanyecz, a developer that worked on bitcoin early on who is more famous for his “2 pizzas for 10,000 bitcoins exchange” (regarded as the first bitcoin transaction with any monetary value), described his interactions with Satoshi as “weird,” and that he was a “bossy” individual who expected his full cooperation through the duration of his unpaid contributions. Hanyecz thought it was particularly bizarre that Satoshi would always dodge any personal questions and was rather adamant about maintaining control over the code of the project.
Similarly, early bitcoin developer Mike Hearn also offered some rare insight into the mind of Satoshi when some of his personal communications with the legendary programmer were made available online. The last email, dated April 23rd, 2011, contained the immortal words: “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin (Andresen) and everyone.” Famously, Satoshi’s last known correspondence with the outside world happened in an email to Andresen, also an early bitcoin developer, who had been trying to subtly ply information out of him over the course of their exchange. The email is dated just 3 days later, and contains this inciteful passage:
I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me as a mysterious shadowy figure, the press just turns that into a pirate currency angle. Maybe instead make it about the open source project and give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.
Gavin later replied to the email to let Satoshi know that he had been invited to speak at an event put on by an organization associated with the CIA. Satoshi never answered back, perhaps thoroughly freaked out by the level of fame or notoriety that bitcoin had already achieved. After this point, Satoshi stopped being just a man, and the legend of Satoshi was born.
Tune in next week for the second part of our trilogy on Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto, as we explore the list of individuals already mentioned by the media who might just possibly be the elusive creator of bitcoin.