This is part 1 of a 3-part investigation into Satoshi Nakamoto, the person (or persons) who brought Bitcoin to the world.
In part 1 we look at what Satoshi Nakamoto achieved, as well as their arrival on the Bitcoin scene and disappearance from it, to give you an understanding of why he, she, or they are so revered by the cryptocurrency community.
It’s 1886, and, unless you fancied a walk or a bumpy trip on a bicycle, the only way to get around was to be transported by horse in some fashion.
This doesn’t sit right with everyone however, and around the world dozens of inventors are sure there is a faster way to travel.
They discuss the various ways such alternative means of propulsion could be achieved and set about trying to put their theories into practice.
Some of them get as far as creating physical embodiments of their ideas, but they never make it out of the workshop.
Some don’t even make it past blueprints.
Then, just as the enterprise looks doomed, out of nowhere Carl Benz files a patent for the first motor car.
This is the first time the would-be car makers have ever heard of Benz, and yet his plans show that he has combined elements of their own failed contraptions with ingenious ideas of his own to create the world’s first automobile.
Benz tinkers with the design, finally fires it up a few months later…and it never stops running.
This is mangling history somewhat, but if we swap Carl Benz for Satoshi Nakamoto and the motor car for Bitcoin you can start to appreciate what an impressive achievement Bitcoin’s creation was.
Except Satoshi Nakamoto didn’t just create the car, he also created the roads on which the car would run; the road markings, signage, and rules of the highway; the law enforcement system to punish those who transgressed; and much more.
Satoshi Nakamoto is a pseudonym for a person or group of people who created Bitcoin, the alternative financial system that started operating in 2009 and has never stopped.
Satoshi picked the kernels of potential out of several prior failed attempts at digital money and wove them into a tapestry that is still being developed over twelve and a half years later.
Bitcoin is not just developing however, not just surviving – it is thriving. Bitcoin is bigger, better known, more widely used, and more secure than ever before.
This is no accident – this is exactly what Satoshi Nakamoto intended.
Only no one can thank them personally because we still have no real idea who Satoshi Nakamoto is.
The first time anyone heard the name Satoshi Nakamoto was when a message appeared on a mailing list for cryptography and computer enthusiasts who called themselves the Cypherpunks.
The whitepaper was entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” and described a version of something some cypherpunks had already attempted over the years, both hypothetically and in reality – a form of decentralized digital cash.
Most readers of the Bitcoin whitepaper assumed that ‘Bitcoin’ was just another doomed attempt at digital cash and gave it short shrift, but a small number saw that the idea had potential.
They saw that, rather than this being another flash in the pan attempt at a new currency, Bitcoin’s design was in fact a curated combination of existing technologies built by other cypherpunks and interlinked with some groundbreaking theoretical implementations of bitcoin creation, growth, scarcity, and security.
These individuals began to work with Satoshi on the project, refining aspects of it until, a little more than two months after the whitepaper had been published, version 0.1 of the Bitcoin software was uploaded to SourceForge, and the Bitcoin blockchain was launched.
A Revolutionary Protocol
It’s fair to say that most people in the world will have at least heard of Bitcoin by now, but few will have any knowledge of why it is so revolutionary.
The fact that one man (as convention and likelihood dictates) was able to bring together so many ideological, technical, and practical facets into one package is simply incredible, and is the reason why superlatives such as ‘elegant’ and ‘brilliant’ get thrown around so much by those who truly understand the majesty of Bitcoin’s design.
Satoshi wanted to create a currency for which no single entity was responsible and over which no single entity had control.
The global network of miners and node operators ensures this is the case.
Satoshi wanted to create a currency whose creation and operation was not tied to the whims and flaws of human beings.
The algorithmically programmed cap, rewards, mining difficulty, tapering creation rate, and more ensure that this is the case.
Satoshi wanted to create a network where operators were incentivized for good behavior and did not abuse the system.
Mining rewards and the node reputation algorithm ensure this is the case.
Finally, Satoshi wanted to create a system whose transactions were visible to all but that preserved privacy and could not be hacked.
The invention of the public blockchain and the implementation of the proof-of-work consensus mechanism ensure this is the case.
These are just some of the reasons why Bitcoin should be considered one of the truly great creations of the 21st century and why Satoshi Nakamoto is up there with the great innovators of our time.
Satoshi Steps Aside
After launching the Bitcoin protocol in 2009, Satoshi continued to work on it with a raft of early developers, but by 2010 he was already becoming wary of its notoriety and how it might affect him.
He begged others to keep Bitcoin’s existence under the radar while it was still young and vulnerable, but by the end of 2010 he was already passing much of the development over to others.
In December 2010 he officially handed over the reins to the principle developer Gavin Andresen, a sure sign that he was about to step aside.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s final email to developers came on April 26, 2011, where he stated that he had “moved on to other projects”.
He remained on hand to offer advice, mostly around handling the increased publicity over Bitcoin, but played little further part in active development.
He finally fell off the radar in late 2011, never taking a penny from the enterprise, and leaving behind a fortune in unsold bitcoin now worth billions of dollars.
No emails, blog posts, or forum comments have been authentically attributed to Satoshi Nakamoto ever since.
The Legend Grows
Satoshi’s story may stop in 2011, but the legend goes on, growing over time along with the protocol he created.
One of the few with whom Satoshi worked the closest and who could potentially give us an answer, Hal Finney, died in 2014.
Others who worked with Satoshi in those early days, or communicated with him around the time of the whitepaper publication, claim they never met him or got any clues as to who he really was.
Nor did they seek them. It was clear to all that both Bitcoin and Satoshi Nakamoto himself would benefit from its creator’s true identity being kept secret.
Satoshi may also have stepped away when he did because of the risk of his identity being leaked.
This proved to be immaculate timing, as Bitcoin took off in 2012 and yet his true identity has been preserved.
This is despite the efforts of many both inside and outside of the Bitcoin community to uncover it.
Candidates vary from early Bitcoin developers to Japanese mathematicians.
Some have been ‘outed’ by third parties while one or two have tried to claim the mantle for themselves.
Some even say the CIA created Bitcoin.
The truth is that no one knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is, and it is now extremely unlikely that it will ever be revealed unless Satoshi himself chooses to break his silence.
A Final Touch of Genius
Satoshi’s pseudonymity is perhaps the final touch of genius associated with his creation of Bitcoin.
He knew what it was capable of, he knew (ok, hoped) that it would become a global phenomenon, and he knew that the last thing that people should focus on was its creator.
Satoshi didn’t want Bitcoin to be about him – he wanted the protocol to be the star of the show.
Satoshi gave up his time, efforts and considerable intelligence into creating Bitcoin, leaving in mid-2011 at a time when he felt it was old enough to walk on its own feet and when he could still do so with his true identity still unknown.
He gave the world a way of transacting with privacy and without the interference of governments, walking away from what is now a billion-dollar fortune in the process.
This should tell us all we need to know about the human being behind the moniker Satoshi Nakamoto, and offers us a telling insight into his true identity, both in terms of who it could be and who it most certainly isn’t.
In part 2 of this 3-part series we look at some of the candidates to Satoshi Nakamoto’s crown and examine their claims to the title of Bitcoin creator!