Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto? Part 3: Novel Theories
In parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series, we explored what is known for sure about bitcoin’s mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, and whom the media has already widely speculated him to be. In our concluding segment, we take a look into some of the less explored possibilities as to who he/she/they might be. While Satoshi’s true identity remains unknown, it is not an impossibility that we will eventually uncover it within our lifetimes, if not sometime soon. Regardless of whether we do or not, the name Satoshi Nakamoto is now associated with legend: a person who brought about a transformative invention to re-empower the average person with a sense of control, long taken away by governments and the financial masters of the universe.
— Greg Harvey (@greg_harvey) February 24, 2011
Satoshi as a Group of People
The idea that Satoshi Nakamoto may be more than one person is nothing new. A litany of evidence suggests that the original bitcoin whitepaper, Satoshi’s email correspondence, and posts on the bitcointalk forum all had unique writing styles that suggest the presence of unique personalities behind them. In December 2017, an article detailing stylometric analysis of Satoshi’s whitepaper and emails concluded that they may have had different authors, pointing to cryptographers Nick Szabo, Ian Grigg and Wei Dai as the most likely candidates.
Another interesting possibility was that the name Satoshi Nakamoto might not be a name at all. It could very well be a combination of names, an anagram, or symbolic in nature. We will take some time to explore each of these possibilities in turn.
As a Combination of Names
Right off the bat, four technology corporation giants come to mind when comprising the name “Satoshi Nakamoto,” specifically when arranged in the following order:
Samsung and Toshiba together form “Satoshi”
Nakamichi and Motorola together form “Nakamoto”
But what could possibly be the significance of this? Though all evidence of such remains completely hidden, it has been proposed that perhaps a corporate consortium was responsible for the creation of bitcoin, with each of the four companies providing funding and/or scientific expertise for its development. The reasons for doing so are not easily discernable, but a well-concealed and substantial source of profit is not out of the question.
As an Anagram
An anagram is a re-arrangement of the letters of words to form new words. Though the words “Satoshi” and “Nakamoto” are both fairly common Japanese names, it is not out of the realm of possibility that these words are indeed an anagram for something else. One of the internet’s most popular (non-ridiculous) conclusions is, “I am NSA, took oaths.” This anagram is one of the few that uses every single letter of the two words and spells something tangible. Of course, you could also rearrange all the letters to spell “O, as Satan took him,” or even “So a man took a shit,” so with anagrams its hard to come up with a conclusion that isn’t driven by what the mind of the individual wants it to be.
There are several loose translations of the words “Satoshi” and “Nakamoto,” from Japanese to English. One of the most popular of which is that Satoshi Nakamoto means “Central Intelligence” in Japanese. Satoshi can mean “clear thinking, quick witted, wise” when given as a name, while Nakamoto is a surname that can take on the meaning “central origin” or “(one who lives) in the middle.” Because Japanese names are commonly presented surname first and first name second, these translations can be construed into a name of “Central Intelligence,” possibly referring to the CIA. Another interpretation of the word Satoshi is “out of the ashes,” making the meaning of the name “Centralization, out of the ashes.”
The NSA Connection
Among other tidbits of evidence that perhaps point to a U.S. government involvement in the invention of bitcoin is the fact that bitcoin’s cryptographic motor, also known as a Secure Hash Algorithm, was originally created by the NSA. One of the most well-funded organizations of any kind on the planet, the NSA’s access to a vast array of intellectual resources is well-known, and they are particular about hiring only “the best and the brightest” as employees. Bitcoin’s particular implementation of SHA, SHA-256D, is just another version of NSA’s hashing algorithm which is a bit more complex. The difference between the two is outlined in the above-linked technical paper, and summarized as such:
The Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) was developed by the NIST in association with the NSA and first published in May 1993 as the Secure Hash Standard. The first revision to this algorithm was published in 1995 due to a unpublished flaw found, and was called SHA-1. The first version, later dubbed SHA-0, was withdrawn by the NSA. The SHA hash function is similar to the MD4 hash function, but adds some complexity to the algorithm and the block size used was changed. SHA was originally intended as part of the Digital Signature Standard (DSS), a scheme used for signing data and needed a hash function to do so.
In addition to the SHA-1 hash, the NIST also published a set of more complex hash functions for which the output ranges from 224 bit to 512 bit. These hash algorithms, called SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384 and SHA-512 (sometimes referred to as SHA-2) are more complex because of the added non-linear functions to the compression function. As of January 2008, there are no attacks known better than a brute force attack. Nonetheless, since the design still shows significant similarity with the SHA-1 hash algorithms, it is not unlikely that these will be found in the (near) future.
A team of qualified individuals assembled by the NSA could certainly have the brainpower required to produce something like bitcoin, but why would they do it? Potential reasons for the government to anonymously release a pseudonymous (as in “not quite anonymous”) way to transmit money online are many. For one, the nature of the blockchain and its ability to act as a permanent, incorruptible ledger makes it a perfect utility for catching unwitting money launderers; specifically those looking for ways to wash money of evidence that it was obtained by theft, robbery, or other illegal activities, and those looking for ways to fund criminal activity (such as terrorism) with money that cannot be immediately traced back to themselves.
The bitcoin community’s knowledge about the existence of blockchain forensics, a modern science which ties together analysis of bitcoin’s movement through the blockchain with identifying data provided by bitcoin exchanges, banks, and other financial institutions, has put the idea of bitcoin being completely anonymous to rest. If the government has knowledge that a crime has taken place using bitcoin, all they need to do is hire a blockchain analysis expert to trace movement of the bitcoin, then subpoena customer information from an exchange used to cash it out in order to identify a suspect. In this way, bitcoin is a near-perfect tool for identifying the movement of criminal funds, stopped short only when unlicensed/unregistered exchanges are used, and the lack of international agreements between the intelligence / investigative agencies of two countries.
If bitcoin wasn’t developed by the NSA, and there wasn’t just one person responsible for its creation, then who else might have had the resources to put it together? Furthermore, short of not having the private keys needed to access Satoshi’s untouched stash of nearly 1 million bitcoins, who could resist the temptation to tap into them and sell them at today’s prices? With a well-paid salary and signed Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) stating they never would access bitcoins mined by “Satoshi,” government employed cryptographers are a good bet. But who else might also be a good bet?
James Harris Simons
Described by the Financial Times in 2006 as “the world’s smartest billionaire,” 80 year-old mathematics professor and ex-hedge fund manager James Simons has a net worth of $20 billion, which incidentally had climbed rapidly along with the rise of bitcoin. Simons had been a billionaire since the dawn of personal computing, making him the kind of person that would not be tempted to move coins mined by Satoshi — if he were (or a team led by him was) indeed Satoshi. Since retiring from his position as CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies in 2010, which manages over $50 billion in investor funds, his extraordinary wealth has nearly doubled — not bad for someone no longer gainfully employed.
Instead of hiring finance and economics experts as is usually the case with hedge funds, Renaissance Technologies is a quantitative analysis hedge fund, meaning it prefers to hire mathematicians and scientists, focusing on the use of algorithms to identify hidden trends in market price movements. Renaissance Technologies is famous for its Medallion Fund, a black box investment strategy that is only available to its owners and employees. Returns for the Medallion Fund approach 80% in its best of years, and are as low as 20% in its worst, which makes it one of the most consistently profitable trading strategies to have ever been developed.
In 1964, Simons himself worked with the National Security Agency to break codes, using his innate gifts in mathematics and trend identification to help fight the Vietnam War. However, his public opposition to the war early on was enough to get him fired, and his career as a codebreaker was short lived. He soon began a distinguished career as a mathematics professor before moving on to finance in the 1980s. In addition to his dizzying intellect, Simons became renowned for his ability to put together extraordinary teams of capable individuals whose strengths not only compliment each other but well serve a purpose of seemingly “making money out of nothing.”
As a top-notch cipher, mathematician and legendary hedge fund manager, Simons certainly had all the tools at his disposal – both mentally and financially – to put together a team worthy of building bitcoin. He could also afford to pay them well enough to forever comply with the terms of an NDA which specifically forbid any sort of acknowledgement on their part of their involvement with bitcoin. Who might this team have been comprised of? It would be easy to name cryptographer and cypherpunk Hal Finney as one of the candidates, since he is now deceased, but some other potential candidates in the “would-be” scenario where this was the actual case might also include Nick Szabo, Wei Dai, and Gavin Andresen, as the “usual suspects” in the list of “who’s who” of who is most often speculated to be the actual Satoshi Nakamoto. We move on to an equally-qualified contender, though not nearly as cited by the media, next.
An idea rather similar to bitcoin, named “hashcash,” was conjectured as early as 1997 by British cryptographer Adam Back. Having a PhD in computer science, Back was a postdoctoral researcher at the time of hashcash’s release who, like Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, and Wei Dai, was part of the cypherpunk community. Cypherpunks were self-proclaimed activists who were conflicted about the absolute power of governments and centralized institutions, such as those that dominate the financial industry, and pooled ideas together to implement means for social and political change through cryptography.
The hashcash software was released in 1997, and five years later, in 2002 a whitepaper was drafted for it and released on the internet. Instead of using hash functions and cryptography for means of a digital currency, hashcash employed a “proof of work”-type mechanism to prevent the sending of spam emails and posting of blog spam. As its name suggests, Back did view his proof of work mechanism as a form of “cash.” He compared it to David Chaum’s DigiCash, which had come a few years earlier and was an electronic cash system that allowed for the transference of untraceable digital cash from a bank to a user.
In essence, a certain amount of computational effort was required in order for a sender to send an email to users who employed the hashcash system. The computations required for a successful delivery, while not very large, were enough to prevent a mass flooding of emails to be sent, thus hindering to the work of a spammer. For a number of years after bitcoin’s launch in 2009, Back had a hand in the continued evolution of the Bitcoin Core client, which is the main bitcoin wallet as first released by Satoshi.
In 2014, Back founded the company Blockstream, which employs several other Bitcoin Core developers and was formed to help bitcoin make its journey to mainstream adoption. Especially after the launch of the contentious Bitcoin Cash (fork of bitcoin) in 2017, some have argued that Blockstream’s hiring of Core developers has provided the company with too much power over the future of bitcoin. Its detractors believe that this has led bitcoin to become more of a centralized institution, straying away from its decentralized roots.
Regardless of view around Aug 2017 activation, I think everyone learned from UASF & #Bitcoin is stronger for it. It paved the way for long term confidence & higher prices. Good things are afoot for pace of innovation with schnorr, lightning & tech adoption https://t.co/e3PdJMRiL0 https://t.co/pv2jWWCIvF
— Adam Back (@adam3us) August 2, 2018
While Blockstream is no doubt influential, allegations of it having completely taken over bitcoin are exaggerative. An analysis by the independent study group WhaleCalls concluded that only 12% to 20% of changes to the source code of Bitcoin Core were originated by Blockstream developers. While this level of contribution is not exactly insignificant, it by no means constitutes a “takeover” as espoused by Bitcoin Cash evangelists. Still, Back’s company has more control over the future direction of bitcoin’s development than any other source since Satoshi Nakamoto. This revelation signifies that perhaps – just perhaps – Back is more like Satoshi than any other figure previously guessed by the media or otherwise. Is Adam Back Satoshi Nakamoto? Of course he’s never identified himself as such, but he does have more overlapping characteristics with Satoshi than just about anybody else presupposed to be the creator of bitcoin.
This concludes our 3 part series on the origins of Satoshi Nakamoto, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the internet generation. Whoever Satoshi is (if he/they are even still alive), they likely wish to remain anonymous for safe measure. After all, their goal is to upset a heavily-fortified balance of power that is jealously guarded by those who benefit from it and would likely stop at nothing to maintain the status quo. In accomplishing this goal, they are indirectly endorsing the weakening of government-imposed finance controls, the easily-monitorable payment of taxes, a reliance on fiat currency for method of payments, and the fortunes of those who have built an industry by playing along with these rules.
Whether Satoshi is a man, woman, collection of individuals, living or deceased, they have become something of a legend – a beacon of hope among those who feel economically repressed by overbearing and unjust forces. They offer a solution to the problem of a system of finance which tends to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Short of a violent revolution, Satoshi’s revolution of financial decentralization is perhaps the best way to re-equalize the playing field for much of society, and so long as bitcoin and its many offspring continue to thrive, so will the legend of Satoshi.