Updated: Jan 20
One of the greatest mysteries in the world of cryptocurrency is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin. Anyone who has ever made a payment with crypto, participated in an ICO, or purchased a digital asset owes a lot to Nakamoto and his revolutionary ideas. However, the genius behind the crypto revolution has remained in the shadows and refused to reveal himself.
Beyond the fact that he's a fascinating figure and revolutionary inventor, Nakamoto’s identity is particularly interesting because of the reported 1 million Bitcoins to which he has access. If the price of Bitcoin were to rise high enough, he could become the world’s richest person. So who are the likely candidates? And why should his identity matter to the average person?
What We Know About Satoshi Nakamoto
Satoshi Nakamoto first entered the public consciousness in 2008 with the publication of “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” The following year, the genesis block of Bitcoin was mined, and the blockchain revolution had begun. Nakamoto continued to make all modifications to Bitcoin’s source code himself until 2010, when he handed over control to Gavin Andresen. His final message was posted on December 12, 2010, and after that, he vanished.
Since then, there has been much speculation as to his identity and why he chooses to remain silent. It could be due to legal issues or fear of public attention; he could be in prison; he could be dead; he could be nonexistent. All we know is that someone went by the name Satoshi Nakamoto and has chosen not to publicly accept the celebrity that would surely come their way for radically altering the financial world.
It's possible Satoshi is content with his accomplishments and sees no need to come forward. It also makes sense from a philosophical standpoint: the whole idea of decentralized currency is that it doesn’t require a “boss.” If done right, he doesn’t need to ever pop up again.
To outsiders, the mystery of Nakamoto’s identity only adds to their suspicion of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general. If this is indeed a legitimate method of payment, and a worthwhile investment, why wouldn’t the creator show his face?
Of course, anyone who’s spent any time online and seen the kind of harassment public figures receive on a regular basis doesn’t really have to wonder why someone would want to avoid that level of attention. However strange it may seem to the members of a fame-obsessed online culture, Satoshi isn’t talking.
But Bitcoin supporters, and anyone interested in crypto, have a vested interest in the potential reveal of Nakamoto’s identity: if he were known and visible in the public eye, it would only add to the perceived legitimacy of Bitcoin, and cause more people to get involved.
So who is this mysterious individual? Let’s run through some of the most prominent suspects.
People Believed To Be Satoshi Nakamoto
Already one of the richest people in the world, Elon Musk needs no introduction. The mind behind SpaceX and Tesla certainly has the technical knowledge and understanding of economics required to be a worthwhile candidate. Plenty of people have gathered evidence in support of the idea that Musk is the Bitcoin creator, even going so far as to employ an AI speech analyzer to test his writing for similarities. Of course, Musk has denied that he is Nakamoto. The reason he’s still suspected is that based on everything we know about Elon Musk, if he were Satoshi Nakamoto, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t lie about it on Twitter, so his will always be the most famous name on any list of suspects.
In addition to the many people suspected of being the inventor of Bitcoin, there have also been a few individuals who have outright claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto. The most famous of these was Australian Craig Wright, who claimed in 2016 that he was the pseudonymous crypto pioneer. Publications like Wired bought into the idea, and Wright promised to provide proof. However, fooling tech-obsessed brainiacs is easier said than done, and eventually he apologized, but stopped short of admitting he wasn’t Nakamoto, despite the fact that the real Satoshi would probably have an easier time proving his identity.
American computer scientist Gavin Andresen has dedicated his career to the advancement of Bitcoin since 2010, and has been given a lot of credit for its success. Because of his early involvement, and his claim that he was taking on a more active leadership role “with Satoshi’s blessing,” it’s easy to see why some suspected Andresen of being Nakamoto, the thinking being that he created an alter ego to get the project out there, and then handed the reigns over to himself as it took off. However, Andresen fell out of favor with many in the Bitcoin community when he strangely backed up Craig Wright’s claim of being Satoshi Nakamoto, hurting his own career in the process. If Andresen is Satoshi, he’s gone to great lengths to uphold the illusion, but his proximity will always make him a suspect.
Before Bitcoin, and long before most people had any conception of cryptocurrency, there was Bit Gold, created by Nick Szabo. Though never implemented, it provided a basic structure that would influence modern cryptocurrency, and Szabo pioneered ideas like a public key, smart contracts, and proof of work. Because he created one of the earlier attempts at a decentralized virtual currency a full decade before Bitcoin, it’s not a stretch to assume Szabo may be Satoshi. While Szabo has denied the assertion, there is a lot of compelling evidence, and the mere fact that his ideas were so ahead of their time makes Szabo one of the most attractive options.
Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto
It’s easy to see why the man identified by Newsweek in 2014 is suspected of being the Bitcoin creator: his birth name is Satoshi Nakamoto. Dorian Nakamoto has denied even knowing what Bitcoin was, and in a post at the P2P Foundation, an account for Satoshi confirmed that Dorian was not the Nakamoto in question. Of course, there will always be people who see these denials as further proof of shenanigans, and the Nakamoto-Nakamoto connection is too much for some to resist.
More Than One Person
As the name Satoshi Nakamoto is pseudonymous, there’s no reason to believe the Bitcoin creator couldn’t be a woman, or a group of people working together under one name. This idea is attractive because it lowers the bar a bit: if one person really did do all this, it’d have to be someone incredibly capable and knowledgeable, but if it was a team working together, they could each have their own specialties. They could also have made an agreement not to touch their stash of Bitcoin, which would explain why Nakamoto hasn't done so.
This idea also helps explain why analysis of concepts and language has pointed in so many directions. Maybe Craig Wright didn’t create Bitcoin himself, but he could have been involved, came out because he was desperate for credit, and backed off when the others refused to support him. However, as long as we don’t know, it’s just as possible that Satoshi Nakamoto was a single genius as it is that he was the creation of a vast government conspiracy.
Why Do People Care So Much? What Could Happen If Satoshi Were Identified?
Here’s why Nakamoto's anonymity is a cause for concern to some people: let’s say you invest your retirement savings with an investment fund, perhaps one run by a well-known individual with a track record in crypto. They show you documents and data supporting the idea that the value of Bitcoin is on track to go up in the coming years, and bet a lot of your money (along with many other people's) on Bitcoin.
Then one day, you wake up and see the price of Bitcoin has plummeted. That’s because the CEO of the company you invested with was secretly Satoshi Nakamoto. While he was telling you the price would go up, he was planning to sell. He used your money to pump up the price of Bitcoin, and then unloaded his billions of dollars’ worth at the highest price possible, after which the market was flooded and the price crashed. If you’d known he was going to do this, you never would have trusted him, but you didn’t know. In fact, you never find out. And because no one knows he did this, he can do it again and again.
That’s why it’s important to many people to find out who Nakamoto is: his share of the market alone could affect the currency’s price, and they want to be sure they can trust the people providing them information. Fears about market manipulation have grown in the digital age, when a single Tweet from a CEO can cause a buying frenzy.
With the stock market, there are specific laws regarding this kind of behavior, and people have done serious time for violating them. Cryptocurrency is a lot trickier because many current laws do not apply as written, leaving less-savvy investors susceptible to manipulation.
More than likely, Satoshi Nakamoto poses no threat to those who own Bitcoin. If Nakamoto is identified, it’s probable nothing will change other than his receiving instant fame and admiration. But whoever he, or she, or they may be, there could be a worrying reason why that identity is being kept secret. One thing is for sure: we stand to lose nothing by finding out who it is, and the mystery only makes some people want to know even more.
It should be noted that Nakamoto hasn’t touched most of the wealth created by his Bitcoin, despite the vast riches at his disposal. And just as there are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone would want to remain anonymous, there are plenty of reasons why the public would want to know who he is aside from skepticism about his motives. Whoever created Bitcoin had a vision for the future that has been coming true over the past decade, and anyone with that type of foresight is someone people want to know more about.
Perhaps we’ll never know who Nakamoto is, or why he (or she) chooses to remain in the shadows. It may sound crazy to most of us that he wouldn’t use the billions he’s got sitting there or elect to receive the adulation that’s coming to him, but whatever his reasons, don’t expect to find out anytime soon. If he never announces himself, his accomplishments will forever be attributed to his alias, and the name Satoshi Nakamoto will end up in history books throughout the world.