If Elon Musk didn’t invent bitcoin, who did?
As the almighty bitcoin topped the $10,000 mark on Tuesday, the plot thickened around the origins of the cryptocurrency as Tesla chief Elon Musk denied being Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the mysterious creator of the virtual coins.
Not only does Musk pooh-pooh online rumors that he’s the fabled Nakamoto, but he tweeted that he’s clueless about the currency.
As the Guardian points out, Musk’s denial-tweet comes as speculation soars around the worldwide payment system built around the coins, pushing their value sky-high and prompting new warnings of an asset bubble. Bitcoin’s value has grown more than tenfold this year and has jumped by 20 percent in the last three days alone, leaving the total value of bitcoin in circulation higher than the stock market values of companies including Boeing and Disney.
So, if Musk’s not the person who created bitcoin, who is Nakamoto? And what do we know and not know about him?
- He’s probably not this guy: a London-based columnist for Bloomberg who’s twitter handle is “No, I’M Satoshi Nakamoto.”
- It was a post in Medium last week by writer Sahil Gupta that got the rumor mill whirring, suggesting that based on Musk’s background and his innovative ken, along with his legendary coding abilities, Musk may well be the creator of the original document putting forth the idea of a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. The document circulated under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto;
- “If Elon is Satoshi,” Gupta wrote, “it seems like this knowledge would become public at some point anyway. But if it were public now, Elon could offer guidance as the currency’s ‘founding father’;”
- Wikipedia points out that after the domain name bitcoin/org was registered in August 2008, “a link to a paper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was posted to a cryptography mailing list.”
- And, it goes on to say, “the identity of Nakamoto remains unknown, though many have claimed to know it.”
- The narrative around Nakamoto grew more intriguing over time, “Before disappearing from any involvement in bitcoin, Nakamoto in a sense handed over the reins to developer Gavin Andresen, who then became the bitcoin lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation, the ‘anarchic’ bitcoin community’s closest thing to an official public face.”
- Adrian Chen wrote in The New Yorker last year that the search for Nakamoto’s true identity “is one of the most compelling stories in technology. In 2008, Nakamoto launched bitcoin with a white paper; in 2011, he vanished, just as the project was hitting its stride, his frequent forum posts and e-mails tapering off to silence. (In his last known correspondence, he told a bitcoin developer that he had ‘moved on to other things.’)”
- That white paper, which is signed by Nakamoto and includes an email address of “email@example.com,” features an abstract that starts with this: “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”
- There have been reports of people claiming to be Nakamoto; one of the more infamous came last year when Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright said he was the guy, but then, as the New Yorker article put it, “all digital hell broke loose. The bitcoin community is a hive of intensely opinionated geeks, and they began to poke holes at the evidence that Wright provided. Amid the torrent of skepticism—one respected security researcher labelled the whole thing a ‘scam’ —Wright pulled a Nakamoto. He disappeared without delivering on a promise to provide ‘extraordinary proof’ of his identity. He deleted his blog and replaced it with an apology, writing that he didn’t ‘have the courage’ to continue to try to prove his case.”
- Since bitcoin fans love the currency because it’s a system that’s decentralized and beyond the control of banks and governments, the very search for Nakamoto’s identity strikes many of them as a pointless exercise; and as bitcoin entrepreneur Andreas Antonopoulos wrote on Redddit, he has no interest in meeting the real creator of the coin: “Identity and authority are distractions from a system of mathematical proof that does not require trust,” he wrote. “This is not a telenovela. Bitcoin is a neutral framework of trust that can bring financial empowerment to billions of people. It works because it doesn’t depend on any authority. Not even Satoshi’s.”
- Finally, Gupta seemed reluctant to discard his theory about Musk being Nakamoto, writing: “Can Elon not own any bitcoin and still be Satoshi? Yes. Elon has said publicly he doesn’t own any bitcoin, which is consistent with a ‘Good Satoshi’ who deleted his private keys. This means Satoshi’s one million coins (worth about $8 billion) are gone for good.”