The Continuing Mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto

Bitcoin was born on November 2008 when an anonymous user named “Satoshi Nakamoto” published a post on a cryptography blog linking to a paper the user had written about a decentralized peer-to-peer electronic cash system.  After helping establish the fledging currency, the same user disappeared from the bitcoin world with no continuing control over the bitcoin protocol, but with bitcoin holdings estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  The anonymity and disappearance of such a noteworthy and wealthy individual or entity gave the user myth-like status and spurred several false identifications.

Recently, in what is now believed to be another false claim, Craig Wright came forward claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto.  In an orchestrated release, he contacted media organization claiming he had proof of his identity, and he even convinced a member of the BitCoin Foundation that he was the real Satoshi Nakamoto.  At such a divisive time in bitcoin history, such a claim has caused a lot of debate over whether it really matters whether the world knows who the creator of bitcoin is.

Some commentators argue that we need to know who Satoshi Nakamoto is.  There are economic reasons to fear a creator holding such a large percentage of the bitcoin wealth: How is a system supposed to be decentralized and trusted when one user holds enough bitcoin to crash the currency were the user to sell a large portion of the user’s holdings?  And, more generally, perhaps knowing Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity and his vision for bitcoin’s future could unite, or at least direct, the currency into the future.  For example, if Satoshi were to push for a hard fork to expand the size of the block chain, his authority could plausibly compel the bitcoin community to move toward such a path.  And, depending on the identity of the user, knowing who or what Satshoi Nakamoto is could create a sense of legitimacy for the currency that could boost its mainstream popularity.

Conversely, others argue that, at best, the search for Satoshi Nakamoto is a distraction to solving bitcoin’s more pressing problems, and at worse, if the user is a criminal or governmental entity, knowing Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity could damage bitcoin’s reputation with users.  Additionally, while the opposing viewpoint acknowledges that Satoshi Nakamoto could affect the price of bitcoin, it has more optimistic views about bitcoin’s ability to survive a crash, and Satoshi Nakamoto’s benevolence and intent to maintain the stability of bitcoin.  In fact, there is an argument that were Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity known, there would be more danger of a bitcoin dump as the user would be the target of thieves and criminals who could force him to reveal his private keys.  Finally, wouldn’t it be better if a decentralized payment system had no central figure or active creator?

Regardless of whether Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity matters, human curiosity will guarantee we continue the search.  The more distant this discovery is, the more unlikely it is that the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto will change bitcoin’s course.