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Nothing fires the imagination like an anonymous hero with a secret identity. It’s a lasting trope since the Scarlet Pimpernel saved its first aristocrat from Madame la Guillotine. From Batman to street artist Banksy, every hero has their own reason for donning the mask of anonymity.
This phenomenon came to the world of finance in the person of Satoshi Nakamoto, the supposed father of Bitcoin. It came out of the ether in 2008 and just as abruptly vanished three years later, having created the world’s first cryptocurrency. On April 23, 2011, he sent a farewell email to another Bitcoin developer. “I moved on,” he wrote, assuring that Bitcoin’s future was “in good hands”. He has not been heard since.
Today, Bitcoin is valued at over $ 1 trillion, and while Nakamoto’s identity may be just a matter of speculation for some, it means a lot more to others: he is said to own over a million dollars. Bitcoins with a current value hovering around $ 60 billion. . This equates to around 5% of the total number of bitcoins currently in circulation.
If the person (s) behind the name Satoshi Nakamoto decided to sell only a portion of this treasure, the transaction would turn the cryptocurrency market upside down. Cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase, which was made public on Nasdaq on April 14, noted the potential revelation of Nakamoto’s identity (and the movement of that person’s Bitcoin holdings) as a risk factor during its IPO with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Coinbase even went so far as to send a copy of the case to Nakamoto’s last known email address.
Increasingly, financial services giants like BlackRock, JPMorgan and BNY Mellon are offering cryptocurrencies and related services to their clients, adding legitimacy to an asset that Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger once characterized as “contrary to the interests of civilization”.
Bitcoin came to life when Nakamoto released his famous white paper on a crypto mailing list describing a digital currency that would allow secure peer-to-peer transactions without the involvement of an intermediary, be it the government, the financial system, or a business. These transactions would be tracked via a blockchain, a ledger like those used by any financial institution, except that this ledger would be distributed across an entire network, with exact duplicates held by all participants and visible to all, secured by means cryptographic. There would never be more than 21 million Bitcoin.
Nakamoto created his cryptocurrency with the aim of wresting control of money from financial elites and putting it back in the hands of the common man. The first Bitcoin transaction took place when Nakamoto sent 10 Bitcoins to Hal Finney, a well-known developer who had downloaded the Bitcoin software on its release date. The first business transaction took place in 2010, when a programmer named Laszlo Hanyecz bought himself two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 Bitcoins. At Bitcoin’s current price of nearly $ 60,000, these were very expensive pizzas.
Bitcoin is open source, which means its design is public. No one owns or controls Bitcoin, and anyone can participate. As Satoshi continued to control the development of Bitcoin, users and developers gathered in the Bitcoin forums to contribute code and work on the project, which had become a collaborative effort. The users running the Bitcoin software were the ultimate authority.
Many programmers and developers wrote code for Bitcoin, but Gavin Andresen was one of the most enthusiastic. He contacted Nakamoto in 2010 and became the founder’s right-hand man. When Nakamoto retired from sight, he left Bitcoin in Andresen’s hands. Today, even Andresen himself has become more reclusive: he no longer serves as the “main maintainer” of the Bitcoin code; in fact, that role may soon become as decentralized as the cryptocurrency itself.
Throughout Bitcoin’s history, efforts to expose Nakamoto have continued unabated. The gossip in the cryptocurrency forums has indulged in wild speculation: Nakamoto is a member of the Yakuza, part of a developer cabal, a money launderer, or maybe even a woman.
In 2014, a journalist from Newsweek identified Dorian Nakamoto, 70, a soft-spoken Los Angeles resident, as the creator of Bitcoin. While his long and distinguished career in engineering has been cited as proof, Nakamoto has vehemently denied any involvement in cryptocurrency. The day after Dorian Nakamoto posted a public statement, Satoshi surfaced in an online forum. He posted “I’m not Dorian Nakamoto” before disappearing again.
Australian Craig Wright claimed to be Nakamoto in 2016, and Bitcoin developer Andresen corroborated this claim, saying he was “98% sure” that Wright was the elusive Satoshi. The cryptocurrency community didn’t have it and Wright backed off.
Suspicion also fell on Nick Szabo, a secret crypto expert who made a significant contribution to the development of Bitcoin. Linguistics researchers analyzed Szabo’s handwriting as well as the handwriting of other suspected Satoshis. Linguists have claimed that there are definite similarities between Szabo’s writings and those of Satoshi Nakamoto. The New York Times even went so far as to pin Szabo as the shadowy Nakamoto, but Szabo vigorously denied the allegations.
The result is that Satoshi Nakamoto remains anonymous, a mythical creature with a stash of Bitcoin of epic proportions. He is strongly encouraged to remain anonymous. Having a fortune of $ 60 billion makes personal safety a major concern. Given Bitcoin’s potential to challenge sovereign fiat currencies, Nakomoto might fear possible lawsuits from governments – if not other forms of government sanctions.
Undoubtedly, efforts to uncover Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity will continue. The threat he poses to the cryptocurrency market is too great, and the mystery surrounding his identity is too compelling. In a world where anonymity is increasingly difficult to seek, Satoshi Nakamoto has succeeded beyond imagination in keeping his secrets.
Rebecca Baldridge, CFA, is an investment professional and financial writer with over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She is a founding partner of Quartet Communications, a financial communications and content creation company.