Ever since Bitcoin debuted in 2009, there has been one constant: Satoshi Nakamoto. The reclusive founder elicits a lot of emotions in the cryptocurrency community, and it is easy to see why he is the man behind the invention that may revolutionize the world of finance for decades to come. Today, crypto enthusiasts are as mesmerized by the attention-shy ‘father of Bitcoin’ as they were a decade ago.
The Beginnings: A Timeline
Prior to 2008, no one in the cryptography space had ever heard of Satoshi Nakamoto. The earliest evidence of his online activities can be obtained from an email he sent to Wei Dai, a computer engineer, on 22 August 2008. Dai had previously published a proposal on b-money, a distributed cash concept that is widely considered the precursor to Bitcoin. In the email, Nakamoto professes admiration for Dai’s ideas and reveals that he is on the verge of releasing a paper ‘that expands on your ideas into a complete working system’.
On 31 October 2008, Nakamoto sent a message to the cryptography mailing list, Metzdowd. In the message, he, for the first time, openly discussed the idea of digital cash and shared a link to the Bitcoin white paper.
On the 3rd of January, 2009, Satoshi mined the first 50 Coins on the Bitcoin Blockchain, in what has famously become known as the Genesis Block. 5 days later, he released the first version of the Bitcoin software.
Bitcoin up and running
On 12th, January 2009, Satoshi executed the first peer-to-peer Bitcoin transaction ever, sending 10 Coins to Hal Finney, a Cyberpunk and committed cryptographer. That marked the beginning of the end of his active engagement with Bitcoin.
From April 2011 to sometime in 2014, Satoshi maintained sporadic correspondence with Mike Hearn, one of Google’s better-known developers at the time. In these emails, Satoshi intimated a desire to stay less engaged, writing that he had moved on to ‘more complex things.’ From there, the trail went completely cold.
So, who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
The only public reference to Satoshi’s personal information is a P2P Foundation registration, where he lists his birthday as April 5th, 1975. He also lists his location as Japan. However, this might have been an attempt to throw off possible tracking attempts, with numerous sleuths stating that his English was too good to come from a non-native speaker. Additionally, timestamps and graphs of his online activity indicate that the owner of the various accounts used to communicate information regarding Bitcoin couldn’t have been living in Japan. That, or he was just coincidentally awake when everyone in the Japanese time zone was asleep. These findings have led crypto sleuths to tentatively conclude that Nakamoto lived in the US, and not Japan.
The fact that all of Satoshi’s Bitcoin wallets, holding up to 1.1 million Bitcoins, haven’t been touched in 10 years fuels speculation that the reclusive cryptographer is dead.
What are some of the curious names linked to Satoshi?
Hal’s superior intelligence was always easy to note from an early age, long before he graduated from Caltech in 1979. The would-be computer scientist was actually taking graduate courses in his first year of college. This might seem obvious to some, but the first criterion to being Satoshi Nakamoto is to be extremely brilliant.
There is also the feeling that for someone to dream up the idea of Bitcoin or related technologies, they have to hold libertarian ideals, believing in keeping power and means of financial control away from governments.
There is evidence from friends and fellow students that Hal was a massive believer in Ayn Rand, the libertarian thinker, and her book, Atlas Shrugged.
In the 90’s, when mailing lists were popular on the internet, Finney became involved with the Cypherpunks, a mailing-list based collective that believed in unconventional ideals-they sought to change the world by protecting the privacy of individuals through encryption to avoid surveillance by nefarious entities. His contributions to this community were extensive, and the most standout was his ‘Cypherpunk’ remailer, a tool that allowed emails to bounce around addresses in a bid to mask the sender.
Forays into PGP
Finney is the earliest known employee of PGP, whose core concept compelled him to reach out to creator Phil Zimmerman. He worked at Pretty Good Privacy for years before moving on in 2011 and is credited with coming up with its identity verification model.
Finney is credited with coming up with the first recyclable proof-of-work system years before Bitcoin made its way into the landscape. He even came up with the idea of Crash, an early crypto concept for Cypherpunks that he doesn’t seem to have followed through.
What the above shows us is that Finney was always fixated on the idea of privacy and the independence of individuals from government control and coercion. Let’s now get into his involvement with Bitcoin, and the intricate links between him and the world’s first working cryptocurrency.
When Satoshi first floated the concept of Bitcoin in 2008, it was Hal who picked up the idea, even when everyone else showed little enthusiasm and plenty of skepticism. The California native also just happened to be the man running Metzdowd, the forum in which Satoshi first openly discussed Bitcoin. He tacitly encouraged the inventor to go ahead with the idea. The two also corresponded for years, with Hal indicating that his work entailed fixing bugs.
You might also remember that Finney was on the receiving end of the first Bitcoin transaction. He is also the first person other than Satoshi himself to run a Bitcoin node.
Running bitcoin— halfin (@halfin) January 11, 2009
At around the time, Satoshi dropped off the radar, Finney was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a terminal illness that would have no doubt occupied his time. In 2013, Finney posted a statement about his involvement with Bitcoin but stopped short of outing himself, indicating that he only worked with Satoshi and assumed him to be “a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere”. It is conceivable that Hal was Satoshi all along, responding to his own online statements to fuel the adoption of the idea behind bitcoin. It is also quite possible that the 10 coins in the original transaction were transferred from one wallet he owned to another.
Even stranger coincidences
There is also the strange link between Hal Finney and Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. As mentioned earlier, the persona behind the Satoshi moniker claimed to be Japanese and living in Japan. However, he only ever used to post during Pacific Standard Time, which the state of California lies in.
We know that both Hal Finney and Dorian Satoshi were respected computer scientists, and curious enough, both lived a few blocks from each other in Temple City, California. What are the odds that two scientists with a penchant for privacy and libertarian ideals would live a short way from each other in a city of just 36000? Dorian is Japanese-American, and professed to have only heard of Bitcoin in 2014, but could it be possible that Hal settled on the name of his unsuspecting neighbor to hide his own identity?
Finney died in 2014, and his body is currently in cryosleep at the Alcor Life Extension Facility in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto
On the 6th of March 2014, this then 64-year old systems engineer living in California found himself thrust into the limelight, courtesy of a Newsweek article. Apart from the obvious shared name, Dorian has shown a great deal of savviness in C++ in his previous places of employment and is Japanese-American. Dorian quickly refuted the claims in an Associated Press interview. One of the highlights of the Newsweek expose was a publication of an image of Dorian’s house, which compromised his privacy and security. The cryptocurrency community quickly donated 67 Bitcoins to an address set up by a supporter of the computer scientist, which he seems to have cashed in years later.
Every time someone has been found in the cross-hairs of the Nakamoto identity conundrum, they have either flat out denied the rumor or just chosen not to speak. Craig Wright, an Australian academic and another early adopter, took a different approach.
People in the crypto space didn’t really know much about this Australian computer maverick until he showed up to a meetup, laid out his credentials in statistics and informed the community that had been ‘involved with Bitcoin for a long time but chose to keep my head down.’
The keys that didn’t work
The one thing the crypto- community can agree on is that it would be pretty easy for the true Satoshi Nakamoto prove his identity; simply produce the PGP key associated with the creator. Well, Wright went for it. The PGP key he provided seemed to have been made in 2008, which is okay, except for the fact that he provided two different keys, one to Gizmodo and the other to Wired, and both of them seemed to have been manipulated. Security experts were quick to recognize that these keys appeared to have used generating technologies that were not existent in 2008. You can actually generate a backdated key by simply changing the time and date settings on the machine you are working from.
There have been many potentials to the Satoshi identity, and some of them have been more believable than others. Below are some you might find pretty interesting:
Maybe its Gavin Andresen…
I never ‘talked’ with Satoshi privately— all our communication was via email (or a handful of message forum private messages). All of that could have been leaked.— Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) 15. Februar 2019
…well, if its not Gavin, surely Nick Szabo…
Not Satoshi, but thank you.— Nick Szabo 🔑 (@NickSzabo4) 11. Mai 2018
Who else could Satoshi be? …Elon Musk? Maybe?…
Not true. A friend sent me part of a BTC a few years, but I don’t know where it is.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2017
Until some coins move from one ‘Satoshi’ wallet to another, the legend of Satoshi Nakamoto will continue to be the mystery at the center of Bitcoin.
Who is Satoshi? What do you think? Let us know via a comment below or on Twitter!