Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Satoshi Nakamoto is arguably the biggest mystery of the internet age, the faceless crypto Jesus behind bitcoin and blockchain technology. Yet, in this day and age, even with all the surveillance apparatus and Reddit sleuths, the person (or persons) behind the alias remains incognito - and not in a Google Chrome way.

And as any good mystery, there are plenty of suspects (or contenders) for the title. We put together a list of the most noteworthy Satoshis to date - the good, the bad, and the ugly. But before digging into the list, here’s a bit of history.

The Satoshi Affair

What we know for a fact is that on August 18, 2008, the domain was registered and a white paper signed by one Satoshi Nakamoto, active member of the Cypherpunk mailing list, was released. He/she later released the software in January 2009, stayed active in the Bitcointalk forum for a couple more years and then vanished - no goodbye notes or anything.

Satoshi left behind a game-changing revolutionary technology, as well as the keys to over one million bitcoin - around 5% of the world’s supply (or around €8 billion as of today). If bitcoin prices reach €100,000, then Satoshi would sit alone at the number 1 spot on Forbes’ list of richest people in the world. As a bonus, if Satoshi Nakamoto's true identity were revealed, he might also have received the Nobel Prize of Economics, for which he was nominated in 2016 by Dr. Bhagwan Chowdhry, Professor of Finance at UCLA.

We can list the potential Satoshis in three categories: those who were pointed out as potential Satoshis and denied, those who were believed to be Satoshi but died, and finally the self-professed one(s).

The usual (crypto) suspects

The more obvious candidates to the face of Satoshi were, well, his fellow cypherpunks and collaborators. After all, that would be clever - to hide in plain sight. And even if most deny it, it wouldn’t be an implausible conclusion.

One of the foremost suspects was Nick Szabo, cryptographer and also a cypherpunk. Szabo published a paper called “BitGold” in 2005, showcasing the foundation of a digital currency similar to bitcoin. Szabo wrote about the concept of smart contracts fourteen years before the creation of bitcoin, as early as 1996. A few researchers identified similarities between Bitgold and the Bitcoin whitepaper, increasing suspicions around him, but Szabo categorically denies the claim.

In 2014, Newsweek’s investigative journalist Leah McGrath Goodman identified a middle-aged American-Japanese man living in California, born under the name of Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, as the real Satoshi. When confronted by the journalist, the confused senior ended up on the cover of Newsweek magazine as the creator of bitcoin, much to his chagrin. The story was later discredited and denied by pretty much everyone - including Dorian himself.

The strange coincidence is that, according to Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg, Dorian Nakamoto lived just a few blocks away of Hal Finney, an early Bitcoin developer, who died in 2014, and who we’ll get to in a moment.

Another heavyweight early contender was Gavin Andresen, an early bitcoin developer. In the early developments of bitcoin, Nakamoto and Andresen worked closely together in testing the cryptocurrency. In December 2010, when Satoshi stepped away from bitcoin, he passed on the torch to Andresen, who went on to create the Bitcoin Foundation. Andresen repeatedly denied being Satoshi. Later on, he got sucked into the mystery again, apparently convinced by the claims of one Craig S. Wright, a name that keeps popping up to this very day - but we’ll save that one for later.

Satoshi rumours

Someone who has claimed to hold inside information on the real identity of Satoshi is John McAfee, founder of the software giant McAfee, notorious crypto-advocate and potentially eater of his own genitalia if bitcoin doesn't reach $1 million by 2020. In a series of tweets from earlier this year, the entrepreneur claimed that he couldn’t release such information at the time due to his own personal legal reason, but that he’ll ‘wait’.

More names are sporadically unearthed to stir the fire, amongst them Paul Le Roux — a criminal who has none other than Satoshi Nakamoto as the name on one of his passports. News.Bitcoin highlights 10 other clues linking Satoshi to Le Roux, but until now, Le Roux has yet to comment on the topic. So, while La Roux remains behind bars, at least the jury's still out there.

The unsolvable candidates

Unfortunately, some of the most prominent names from the list of suspects can no longer deny or confirm anything due to the irreversible fact of being dead. If no definite claim or proof ever emerges, it’s quite plausible that one of them has taken the secret to the grave.

Perhaps the strongest contender was Hal Finney, an early bitcoin pioneer and the first ever recipient of a bitcoin transaction. Finney helped Satoshi develop and upgrade the network, and was one of his closest collaborators. The computer scientist continued working on the digital currency until his death in 2014, after battling a degenerative disease for 5 years.

But one of the most mysterious cases is David Kleiman, who suspiciously died in 2013 in his home in the USA. Together with Craig S. Wright, Kleiman allegedly mined bitcoin from the very beginning. According to an investigation by tech publication Gizmodo, Wright supposedly commissioned Kleiman to help edit a paper dealing with bitcoin. As one of the earliest bitcoin contributors, Kleiman would probably hold a considerably large sum of money - which might help explain why his heirs are battling Wright in the courts for the purported spoils.

Self-professed Satoshi

Even if many trolls and jokesters may have laid eventual claims to Satoshi’s identity, no one really claimed it seriously. That is, no one but Craig Steven Wright, Australian computer scientist and businessman.

In 2015, Wright began his bitcoin saga as self-professed Satoshi Nakamoto. Despite his indisputable early involvement in bitcoin’s history, he has repeatedly failed to provide credible evidence to back his claims.

However, that hasn’t stopped him from suing Twitter users who dared to deny his “real identity”, nor has that stopped him from, in his latest stunt, filing for copyright of the bitcoin whitepaper at the US Copyright Office.

Despite all his efforts, very few people take Wright seriously, and his copyright move may prove to be the copy-wrong one: in another development, another copyright claim on the very same whitepaper was filed just a few days later by one Wei Liu, whose identity is, as expected, still unknown. Plenty of kerosene in the Nakamoto fire.

The plot thickens.

The Nakamoto identity: does it matter?

As the face behind the coin remains shrouded in mystery, the hunt for the real Satoshi doesn't seem to be losing steam anytime soon; if anything, it's building up (currently thanks to Craig Wright's escalating stunts).

The fact is Satoshi would wield an ungodly amount of influence and power today, should he/she/they ever show their face(s). For the mainstream powers in 2009, bitcoin was nothing but a geek's playground, and its creator merely a geekish overlord playing with magic internet money.

Being that this toy is now worth hundreds of billions and used by millions of people worldwide, the game is a bit more serious. Bitcoin is a clear threat to centralised authority and our existing financial system, including some of the most powerful governments of the world.

Nobody can be sure of how much the revelation of Satoshi's identity would impact the world. It might crash markets, or it might cause bitcoin to reach the million mark, releasing McAfee from eating his own penis. It might lead to criminal charges and incarceration, or prompt an actual religion around "the one". It may break the internet and overtake cat pictures as rulers of the web.

Or it might be that nothing would really happen. Bitcoin has certainly outgrown its creator and taken a life of its own in the hands of thousands of developers, users, and enthusiasts. It's like a collective organism now, without clear leadership or defined goals. A true decentralised entity.

We may never know who Satoshi really is, but does it really matter? While the hunt continues, why don’t you drop us a message on Twitter @Cloudbet and let us know what you think? Who is Satoshi? Is he/she still out there?

Jan 13, 2020
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