Who is the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto?
Let me pitch you an idea for a movie - following the 2007 financial crisis, fed up with the corruption of the modern financial system, a lone genius creates a new virtual currency with which he aims to completely undermine the modern baking system. This new currency allows instantaneous online payments to be made with minimal transaction fees and with almost complete anonymity. Better yet, this system is completely decentralised, requiring no central bank or governing body. To further add to the mystique, our hero decides to eschew fame, remaining completely anonymous while netting himself a cool USD 1 billion in bitcoins. But our hero decides to walk away and leave the USD 1 billion in bitcoins untouched on a public ledger on the internet, proving to the world that he was never in it for the money.
All that he leaves behind is a name - ***Cue dramatic music*** - Satoshi Nakamoto,
Chuck in some bad guys and a love interest and we've got the making of a Hollywood blockbuster!
This is of course the true story of the origins of bitcoin.
Unsurprisingly, there have been many attempts to find the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, every six months or so a new candidate is found and the media jumps on the bandwagon, but none of the candidates so far have been really convincing.
I thought I'd do a bit of digging myself and see what we have to work with, and what we can know for certain., and what we can speculate about.
- A number of emails he contributed to an email mailing list
- A technical white paper introducing bitcoin
- Around 550 posts on a forum he set up
- The c++ source code from the original version of Bitcoin
- The first block of bitcoin ever mined (called the Genesis Block)
The Forum Posts
Almost all the forum posts are highly technical, and there is very little to be gleaned about Satoshi's identity from the content of the posts. I did look through most of them just in case. But based on an idea in Satoshi's Wikipedia article, I have graphed the timestamps from the forum posts.
All the forum posts can be found on the following website, which I scraped using web scraper and then chucked into excel to extract the timestamps:
We can see that there is a clear trend for most posts to be made between 4pm and 11pm, with almost none being made between 5 am - 1 pm, suggesting that this is when Satoshi is asleep. Based on most people I know who don't have a 9-5 job, but are still involved in IT, this is a pretty reasonable sleeping pattern for someone living in a GMT time zone. If we assume that Satoshi has a conventional sleeping pattern though, then we would expect him to be living somewhere on the US East Coast. Both of these seem plausible to me, it does gets less plausible though to consider someone living much further east than Europe.
I then graphed the weekday of each forum post. Which shows a fairly stable pattern of posts through out the week. Nothing too surprising here.
It has also been noted that the blog posts from Satoshi use British spellings rather than US spelling. Let's also test that. I collected a list of words that are spelt differently in UK and US English, and cross referenced it against the blog posts we scraped earlier.
The following words were all used by Satoshi but with the UK spelling.
This strongly suggests that the author is most familiar with British English over American English.
It's also been noted (and I concur) that Satoshi's posts are written like a native English speaker. He uses common idioms well and his grammer and structuring all give compelling reasons to think that he is a native English Speaker .This has been put forward by some as definitive proof that he is British. I'm not so sure though, having met Europeans who through having a lot of exposure to English speakers growing up, now sound like native English speakers when writing or texting.
Leaving the blog posts for the time being, let's look at the emails in the mailing list.
Mailing List Emails
The mailing list was a Cryptography focused mailing list, established in 2000, and can be found through the following link:
The website gives the following introduction to the mailing list.
"Cryptography" is a low-noise moderated mailing list devoted to cryptographic technology and its political impact. Occasionally, the moderator allows the topic to veer more generally into security and privacy technology and its impact, but this is rare.
WHAT TOPICS ARE APPROPRIATE:
"On topic" discussion includes technical aspects of cryptosystems, social repercussions of cryptosystems, and the politics of cryptography such as export controls or laws restricting cryptography.
Satoshi began posting to the mailing list in November 2011, and his first post was an introduction to his new bitcoin system, it gave a brief overview and then linked to the paper he had written which contained the technical details. It therefore seems that the mailing list was a method of generating interest for his already fleshed out system rather than something he contributed to already.
I was initially slightly suspicious of how well written the emails are compared to the forum posts. It's been suggested by a few people that Satoshi might actually be the name chosen by a group of collaborators rather than one single person. On consideration though, the mailing list is said to be 'highly moderated' and therefore it should perhaps not be surprisingly that Satoshi has polished his grammar and writing when sending emails to the mailing list. Plus you'd expect quite a bit more care when replying to an email rather than making a forum post.
To be honest I struggled to gleam much more from the emails other than a couple of interesting quotes which I've included at the end of this post.
The Genesis Block
Satoshi created the first block of the first blockchain. Since there were no preceding transactions, Satoshi was able to insert a message into the block.
The message he selected was:
"The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks"
This tells us a few things. Firstly, it's evidence that no Bitcoins were mined prior to this date. Secondly, it could be seen as a comment on the financial bailout that was ongoing at the time and which may have cause Satoshi to develop Bitcoin in the first place. And finally, it's another link to the UK, given Satoshi has selected a British newspaper to timestamp his first block.
Here are some additional thoughts on the Satoshi question which I have included in the hopes that someone else might find them useful.
Since Satoshi stopped working on Bitcoin in 2011, perhaps we should be looking for someone who has made interesting contributions to a different project since then?
Would a better programmer than me be able to spot idiosyncrasies in Satoshi's coding style which could be traced in other places? What if someone trawled Github and looked for these quirks?
Some people have attempted a Stylometric Analysis. I haven't looked into this at all, but it's something I might look into at another point.
Satoshi is the Japanese name of the main character (Ash Ketchum) in Pokemon and also the name of the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri.
Are there any other famous Satoshis? Or Famous Nakamotos? I did a quick google, but I couldn't find anyone who stood out to me.
Satoshi was familiar with Mises' regression theorem, which is a pretty niche economic concept from Ludwig von Mises, an economist from the Austrian School. The Austrian School are famously associated with libertarian or right wing anarchist views.
Satochi seems pretty au fait with libertarian concepts generally
Prior to Bitcoin's rise, crytocurrencies were a very niche interest, perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at who was going to conferences, writing papers, working in the industry, etc. prior to 2007. It should be a relatively small group of people, and you would imagine that Satoshi would have a footprint in there somewhere.
Some interesting quotes from Satoshi:
Yes, but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of
freedom for several years.
Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled
networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be
holding their own.
I appreciate your questions. I actually did this kind of backwards. I had to
write all the code before I could convince myself that I could solve every
problem, then I wrote the paper. I think I will be able to release the code
sooner than I could write a detailed spec. You're already right about most of
your assumptions where you filled in the blanks.
It's very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it
properly. I'm better with code than with words though.
I believe I've worked through all those little details over the
last year and a half while coding it, and there were a lot of them.
The functional details are not covered in the paper, but the
sourcecode is coming soon. I sent you the main files.
Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve.
To draw a few tentative conclusions, we seem to be looking at:
A native English speaker.
Who picked a Japanese pseudonym.
Who favours British English over US English.
Who selected a British newspaper to timestamp his genesis block.
Who's background is primarily coding based.
Who seems to hold libertarian views and be motivated by libertarian beliefs
Who has an interest in Crytography and Crytocurrencies which stretches back to at least 2007.
And who appears to be operating either on the East Coast or on a Western European time zone.
Surely there can't be many people out there who meet all these criteria?