Does it matter who invented Bitcoin?
The alleged revelation about the real Satoshi Nakamoto is a sideshow
The man believed to be Bitcoin currency founder Satoshi Nakamoto talks to reporters as he arrives at his home in Temple City, California, this week. Photograph: David McNew/Reuters
In one of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales,
The Purloined Letter
, a famous detective,
C Auguste Dupin, is called in to find the whereabouts of a compromising letter. In a cunning resolution, Dupin spies the letter “hiding in plain sight”, where no one thought to look.
On Thursday, the reborn print edition of Newsweek gave us a modern-day variation on Poe’s purloined letter. A reporter for the magazine, Leah McGrath Goodman, sought to uncover one of the most perplexing mysteries of recent years – the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the allegedly pseudonymous founder of the virtual currency Bitcoin.
Her investigation led to a conclusion worthy of Dupin himself – Nakamoto wasn’t a pseudonym at all, and the real Satoshi Nakamoto was a 64-year-old Japanese-American from the Los Angeles suburbs whose background in mathematics, engineering and libertarianism made him a close fit for the inventor of the cryptocurrency.
He goes by the name Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto and in Goodman’s telling there is little room for doubt, with Dorian essentially admitting to his role in Bitcoin when he said, “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.”
The revelation caused an immediate media firestorm – a scrum of news crews and reporters surrounded his house, clearly identified in the article, and Nakamoto offered strenuous denials before sparking a car chase as he escaped with an AP reporter to tell his side of the story. In the wake of the story’s publication and bizarre aftermath, a lot of doubts have arisen about whether Newsweek ’s certainty was so warranted.
Dorian Nakamoto is far from the first person to be accused of being Satoshi. Back in 2011, the New Yorker magazine accused a young computer science researcher in Trinity College Dublin called Michael Clear of being Nakamoto.
The evidence writer Josh Davis provided was circumstantial, to say the least, but despite the flimsiness of the case, Clear had to spend a lot of time and effort denying any role in Bitcoin.
“Although I am flattered that Josh had reason to think I could be Satoshi, I am certainly the wrong person,” Clear told me at the time.
“It seems that even limited searches yield candidates who fit the profile far better than I think I do.”
Goodman’s piece certainly seems to have been considerably more thorough and has yielded a more convincing candidate than Clear, but there is room for plenty of doubt, particularly in Dorian’s poor English – the Bitcoin creator was quite an elegant writer in early online postings.
But ultimately, the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto is utterly irrelevant – Bitcoin is a potentially revolutionary experiment that is challenging our notions of money in the 21st century and its success or failure is in no way related to the identity of its founder. The current media circus won’t change that one way or the other.