“Satoshi Nakamoto” is universally credited as the founder of the now ubiquitous cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but who is Nakamoto? The answer is more complicated than you may have thought.
After further scrutiny, people started to realize there was no traceable biography or personal details attached to the name “Satoshi Nakamoto.” In fact, “Satoshi Nakamoto” isn’t a real person at all, but rather a pseudonym used by the person (or people?) who brought cryptocurrency into existence in the mid 2000’s.
Satoshi Nakamoto became associated with Bitcoin in 2008, when a paper titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was published under the name. The paper laid the groundwork for cryptocurrency, detailing the bare bones of how the digital currency would come to function.
The paper introduced the peer-to-peer network that would become the blockchain. The blockchain records timestamps of exchanges between those making transactions with Bitcoin. But what do the long-lasting innovations present in this early paper tell us about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto?
The development of Bitcoin
While this work and the early development of the software that powered Bitcoin is attributed to the name, Nakamoto’s association with Bitcoin mysteriously–and perhaps by design–disappeared in 2010.
A cryptic email sent between developers tersely states that whoever Nakamoto was had “moved on to other things.” Despite this exit, the community of developers who took up the helm of the open-source software that powers Bitcoin have not revealed much about who he may be, and they may not even know themselves.
Nakamoto certainly innovated the field of cryptocurrency, but he did so by implementing it for the first time, not by inventing the concept.
According to Bitcoin’s website, Nakamoto developed Bitcoin from an idea written by Wei Dai, a Chinese computer scientist:
“Bitcoin is the first implementation of a concept called “cryptocurrency”, which was first described in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list, suggesting the idea of a new form of money that uses cryptography to control its creation and transactions, rather than a central authority.”
The theories surrounding Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity
Some people have floated the idea that the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a pseudonym to disguise a group of people instead of a single creator, and there are some interesting theories to support this.
In the early days of Bitcoin, a group of closely associated developers worked together to get the digital currency on its feet. Those developers were Hal Finney and Nick Szabo. But a systems engineer who shares the same name as Satoshi Nakamoto got caught up in the speculation as well.
A profile in 2014 announced that Dorian Nakamoto–whose birth name is Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto– was Satoshi Nakamoto, and a massive wave of media attention subsequently followed the 64-year-old Japanese-American systems engineer.
He later came forward and said that he was not, in fact, Satoshi Nakomoto, and that poor communication between him and the journalist led her to believe that this was the case.
Hal Finney was a developer who was active in the cypherpunk community, from which the idea for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies originate. He participated in the development Bitcoin all the way up to its first transaction, which he received.
Finney tragically died in 2014, but it was revealed that he lived just a few blocks away from Dorian Nakamoto, and some have suggested that that was the source of the pseudonym.
Others have pointed to Nick Szabo, a member of the same cypherpunk community as Finney who wrote extensively about the ideas undergirding Bitcoin, even writing about the concept of a decentralized currency called “bit gold” years before Bitcoin was developed.
Szabo himself has denied being Nakamoto, and has frequently referred to Nakamoto as another person (whose identity he does not know) when speaking about the early days of the digital currency.
The last word has not been said on who actually is behind the name “Satoshi Nakamoto,” or if it might be a number of people who had a hand in the beginnings of Bitcoin. Maybe one day Nakamoto will step forward and reveal his identity himself.