For a few days in 2016, we thought we’d finally found out who Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto is. But then. Hold on. No we hadn’t.
Eight big moments in the history of an enigma. Or something.
31 October 2008. The paper that started it all
This is the paper that introduced us to Bitcoin and to its inventor Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s a pretty dry, nine-page paper, including the footnotes (and here’s Satoshi announcing it, on a cryptography mailing list). There are equations, flowcharts and tables and it famously concludes:
We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust. We started with the usual framework of coins made from digital signatures, which provides strong control of ownership, but is incomplete without a way to prevent double-spending. To solve this, we proposed a peer-to-peer network using proof-of-work to record a public history of transactions that quickly becomes computationally impractical for an attacker to change if honest nodes control a majority of CPU power.
12 January 2009. The first Bitcoin transaction
It was worth 50 BTC. From Satoshi himself to developer and cryptography pioneer Hal Finney. Finney, who died from ALS in 2014, used his Bitcoin fortune to have his body cryonically preserved, so you may yet meet him.
21 May 2010. The first REAL-WORLD Bitcoin transaction
Laszlo Hanyecz, living in Florida, bought a pizza using Bitcoin. All right, he transferred 10,000 BTC to a Bitcoin nut in Britain who then bought Laszlo a $25 pizza online from Laszlo’s local Papa John’s. At today’s exchange rate that’s $4,452,300 and, assuming that the Brit hung on to those BTC, he’s now retired or buying minor Damien Hirsts or something.
10 April 2013. The first major Bitcoin business collapses
No shortage of big moments from this chaotic middle period of Bitcoin’s history — the Silk Road bust, the arrival of specialist ‘mining’ hardware, the first shops to accept Bitcoin, the explosion of interest in the mysterious blockchain and so on — but the failure of Mt Gox, the first, biggest and most comically badly-run (imagine a bank run by John Candy’s character from Planes, Trains and Automobiles) of the handful of early ‘Bitcoin exchanges’ is worth mentioning, if only because it triggered the collapse of the biggest Bitcoin bubble yet and reminded us all just how fragile this pretend currency is.
14 March 2014. Satoshi’s true identity revealed
Not really. This turned out to be a journalistic screw-up of career-limiting magnitude. A man with a name that sounded a bit like Satoshi’s was chased around Temple City, California for a few days until it became clear that this story was a crock (the cached version is still online but Newsweek seem to have taken down the original. And I’m not sure I blame them).
8 December 2015. The ‘unknown Australian genius’ story
2 May 2016. Rory gets the scoop
In a room above a coffee bar in Central London, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones brings together Bitcoin royalty John Matonis and Gavin Andresen to meet the shadowy Australian. Craig Wright uses Satoshi’s private key to sign a passage by Sartre. Everyone present believes Craig’s story. Matonis and Andresen both met him weeks earlier and are both sure he’s Satoshi. End of story.
2 May 2016. Hold on…
Oh dear. Bitcoin geeks say that Wright’s signature is invalid. He didn’t sign a passage from Sartre — he just lifted a signature from a known Satoshi transaction on the blockchain. They say he’s fooled two members of the Bitcoin elite and a sceptical BBC tech journalist (reporters from other outlets too). So it looks like Wright’s a con-artist (or at least a fantasist) and we’re back at square one.
4 May 2016. The experts start to back away
Matonis and Andresen are now embarrassed they endorsed Craig Wright. His proof is insubstantial, not what they were expecting. Is Wright for real? Is he Satoshi? Or just a supporting actor. The other two founders are both dead so we can’t ask them (yet). The Bitcoin community is almost unanimous that Wright’s making it up. At the BBC Rory Cellan-Jones continues to try to stand up the story. And what’s most puzzling is that anyone who really controls Satoshi’s Bitcoin ID should find it straightforward to prove it. That, after all, is the point of private key cryptography.
There are blog posts about the ‘proof meetings’ by Jon Matonis and Gavin Andresen and here’s Wright’s own post about Sartre and the proof. Intriguingly, the London Review of Books’ Andrew O’Hagan has spent several months with Craig Wright. You should also follow Coin Stories on Twitter — a handy cryptocurrency newsfeed — for much more of this stuff.