Have you heard? We may at last know the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of the digital currency bitcoin and its underying blockchain technology. Satoshi is the 46-year-old Australian cybersecurity expert Dr. Craig Steven Wright… according to Dr. Craig Steven Wright.
Of course, we’ve heard this story before. In 2011, the New Yorker suggested Satoshi was Michael Clear, a graduate student at Trinity College Dublin. Fast Company, the same year, listed three other Satoshi possibilities: Charles Bry, Neal King, or Vladimir Oksman, three inventors. In 2014, Newsweek announced it had unmasked Satoshi and splashed the big scoop on the cover of its print issue, reporting that it was a California man named Dorian Nakamoto. He denied it, and the story fell apart. A book by New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper, “Digital Gold,” suggested Satoshi was an American man named Nick Szabo. Szabo denied. Last year, both Wired and Gizmodo reported that Satoshi was two people: Wright and his friend Dave Kleiman, now deceased.
The difference now is that the supposed Satoshi is outing himself, rather than denying it: In a blog post on Monday, Wright claims that he created bitcoin in 2009 with help from someone named Hal Finney. “I cannot summon the words to express the depth of my gratitude to those that have supported the bitcoin project from its inception,” he writes. “Be assured, just as you have worked, I have not been idle during these many years. Since those early days, after distancing myself from the public persona that was Satoshi, I have poured every measure of myself into research.”
Wright also provided records to select media outlets of transactions made with the same digital signature as some of the very first blocks (bundles of bitcoin transactions) ever recorded on the bitcoin blockchain—blocks mined by Satoshi, who is believed to own more than $400 million worth of the coin at its current USD market price.
It doesn’t matter: Many prominent people in the bitcoin community still don’t believe Satoshi is Craig Wright. Security expert Dan Kaminsky, in an extensive post, did serious homework and appeared to cast doubt on Wright’s supposed proof. “Yes, this is a scam,” he concluded. “Not maybe. Not possibly. Wright is pretending he has Satoshi’s signature.” Meanwhile, on a panel at Consensus, a major bitcoin conference in New York that happened to kick off the same morning, three of four bitcoin startup executives said firmly that they don’t believe it is Wright.
But here’s why it really doesn’t matter: The identity of bitcoin’s creator is no longer of much relevance to bitcoin, apart from the appeal of a mystery and the amount of coin he or she still holds.
Bitcoin is an open-source project. That means that anyone can suggest edits to the source code, and over the years since its launch in 2009, many have. The project has 366 people currently contributing to it, and they’ve made nearly 11,000 different modifications to the code. (You can view the bitcoin source code at Github—no login or expertise required.) By most estimates, less than 20% of the current bitcoin source code is the code Satoshi wrote, which means the technology has truly become the product of a community, not of one creator. It is godless. Even Wright himself says in his blog post, “Satoshi is dead.” (Of course, if Wright is Satoshi, then he is very much alive, but the point is well taken: The concept of Satoshi is dead and irrelevant.)
In two separate informal Twitter polls, 65% of readers said they still don’t believe Wright is Satoshi, and 70% said that Satoshi’s identity doesn’t matter anyway. (More than 200 people voted in each poll.) In an interview with Yahoo Finance on Monday, Sean Neville, co-founder of prominent bitcoin payment app Circle, offered his opinion. “It doesn’t really matter who did create the system,” he said. “But it is fascinating news.”
At 3:45 EST on Monday morning, shortly after the news broke of Craig Wright’s claim, the price of bitcoin dropped steeply, from above $450 down to a low of $437. The price drop is another sign that the bitcoin community doesn’t want to see Satoshi unmasked—many feel he is better as an anonymous symbol.
Craig Wright may come forward with more evidence that proves his claim, or he may stay mum, fueling the doubters. But whether it’s him, or someone else living or dead, doesn’t matter anymore. Reports about Satoshi’s identity have merely become candy for the media and bitcoin devotees. The developers working on bitcoin-related innovations have moved on.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.
- Craig Steven Wright
- Satoshi Nakamoto