It looked like the scoop of the year. To mark its return to the newsstands after a time publishing online only, Newsweek proclaimed that it had uncovered the identity of Bitcoin’s mysterious creator, “Satoshi Nakamoto”. Months of research pointed to a 64-year-old Japanese immigrant living in Los Angeles, with a remarkably similar name. When doorstepped by reporter Leah McGrath Goodman, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto appeared to tacitly acknowledge his role as creator of the virtual currency.
But Newsweek’s triumph was short-lived, says The Guardian. “Following a farcical media chase through Los Angeles”, the alleged currency mastermind – a retired engineer and model train enthusiast, with imperfect English – denied any link, telling an AP reporter there had been a mix-up.
But even before the denial, the “Bitcoin faithful” had been sceptical. His known published writings – mainly consisting of “badly written reviews of double-edged razor blades and Danish butter cookies” – certainly seemed at odds with the rigorous paper penned by the currency’s anonymous creator in 2008.
When Forbes commissioned a linguistic analysis, it found that Dorian Nakamoto was “less likely than previously identified candidates to be the creator of Bitcoin”, says The Wall Street Journal (see below). Following his supposed unmasking, the ‘real’ Satoshi Nakamoto posted his own denial on the same P2P Foundation discussion thread first used to publish the Bitcoin idea.
It’s not looking good for Newsweek, says the FT. Falling print sales forced the once venerable magazine into digital-only format in 2012, when it was sold to IBT Media. The Bitcoin splash was supposed to mark a triumphant return to print. Both McGrath Goodman – who has taken a good deal of flak online – and her editor, Jim Impoco, continue to stand by the story. “My conversation with Mr Nakamoto followed two months of team-based research that connected the dots to him – and only him – in multiple ways,” she told The New York Times.
Subsequent reporting has tended to downplay Dorian Nakamoto’s credibility as a candidate. Many reports, for instance, haven’t made clear that he is, according to his brother, a gifted mathematician who has worked for defence and electronics companies. Still, McGrath Goodman’s argument would have been more convincing if she had actually published all her research, says Reuters. “There’s no doubt that a huge amount of work went into reporting this story, very little of which is actually visible in the magazine article itself.”
Dorian Nakamoto has garnered a considerable amount of public sympathy for his press hounding, says Wired. A donation fund has been established online to buy him some new model trains by way of compensation. The mystery of who really invented the Bitcoin, meanwhile, continues.
The other candidates
If Dorian Nakamoto didn’t invent the bitcoin, who did? The most recent hot favourite is Nick Szabo, a George Washington University economics professor, says Rob Wile on BusinessInsider.com. Szabo has written extensively on his own blog, called Unenumerated, “on a mind-boggling amount of topics including hermeneutics, deep-sea resource exploitation… and cryptographic security”.
An anonymous blogger explained on a website how “reverse-searching” speech patterns from Satoshi’s 2008 paper “led me to Nick’s blog” and the conclusion that he “is probably Satoshi”. Szabo has denied it. McGrath Goodman concluded that while patterns were striking, when she looked at Szabo’s personal life, nothing lined up with what she knew about Satoshi Nakamoto.
Another favoured candidate, named by Joshua Davis in a 2011 New Yorker investigation, is a Dublin-based computer science researcher named Michael Clear, who had been hired by Allied Irish Banks to improve its currency-trading software and was the author of an early paper on peer-to-peer technology.
Proponents of the Clear theory noted that the first ever Satoshi paper employed British spelling and the phrase “bloody hard”. Clear has denied the connection, adding mischievously, “I’m not Satoshi, but even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.” Last year, Ted Nelson, a US IT boffin and philosopher, claimed the most likely person to have invented the Bitcoin is a Japanese mathematician named Shinichi Mochizuki. On his P2P Foundation profile, Satoshi Nakamoto did claim to live in Japan (and that he was a 37-year-old male working alone).
But many remain convinced that Bitcoin is far too complex a phenomenon to have been created by one person. Among the more outlandish “team” theories is that Satoshi Nakamoto is a combination of the names of four multinational companies: Samsung, Toshiba, Nakamichi and Motorola.