Why We Should Never Know Who Satoshi Nakamoto Is or Was

News, Opinion | August 5, 2019 By:

Who is the persistently elusive Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin — the cryptocurrency which has taken the world by storm with a current market cap of $221 billion?

While there have been many potential candidates including Nick Szabo, the father of smart contracts; Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese-American scientist; Paul Le Roux, the criminal mastermind and computer scientist; and Hal Finney, a cryptographer and recipient of the first bitcoin transaction from Satoshi him/herself, Satoshi’s identity still remains a mystery. 

This article will not opine on who Satoshi is or could be, but instead looks at why knowledge of Satoshi’s real identity is irrelevant and potentially damaging for bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency industry. I will refer to Satoshi throughout this piece as ‘she’ in order to improve readability from ‘he/she/they’ but also because I am supportive of the ‘Satoshi is Female’ movement – recognising and celebrating the importance of women across the blockchain industry and technology generally.

Satoshi’s identity is irrelevant

I use the term ‘irrelevant’ because the bitcoin project has grown significantly since 2008/9, when it was released as an idea into the wild. It has progressed significantly with new ideas, advanced implementations, ancillary services, and products grown from the initial ideal, and as such I would posit that it is now ‘beyond’ Satoshi. 

Whilst Satoshi set the stage and original vision, the community then took this — as intended — and it evolved into the protocol we now see. One could therefore question what purpose Satoshi would have or need to have if she came back, since the protocol is bigger than any one person now.

Satoshi’s identity should remain a mystery

Decentralisation is another reason why I believe neither bitcoin, nor the wider cryptocurrency community, needs Satoshi to be revealed or to return.

A core tenet of blockchain technology is the decentralisation of power and control. As such, there is no central intermediary controlling the movement of funds or central counterparty who can stop funds moving between parties. This allows bitcoin to be a global currency which can enable cross-border payments and financial freedom for the underbanked — as well as being used by nefarious actors for illicit purposes. 

Satoshi built the protocol around the idea of decentralisation as she identified the damage caused within the traditional financial system due to centralised control, and the requirement that we must trust those who hold this power.

However, Satoshi clearly recognised that the decentralisation of power and control is wider than just a technological implementation. By disappearing, she decentralised the control and direction of bitcoin to those who she was looking to empower: the community. She ensured there was no one leading voice who could dominate discussions, no ‘God’ with the ultimate vote, and no visionary deciding the project roadmap. Instead, she left it to ‘hashpower’ and consensus — where the people decide.

If Satoshi returned, the danger would be that an element of centralisation could be introduced. Whether she wanted to be a leading voice or not, Satoshi would be called on for key decisions and to validate network choices. Furthermore, what if she returned and thought the current development path had diverged significantly from her initial vision? She may try and steer the protocol and community in another direction or may even try to claim another fork of bitcoin is the real bitcoin – thus attempting to overwrite the history and immutability of the protocol. 

As such, I would posit that Satoshi has done what she needed to do: she started the revolution and then left it to the people. There is, therefore, no need for her to return.

Satoshi should continue to be mystical

I think it is pertinent to consider the mythical aspect of Satoshi. 

Since she is not associated with any one person, all we know about Satoshi are the comments and beliefs in her posts and the fact she created a new financial ecosystem – no additional political views, no family associations, and no wider personality. What if Satoshi was revealed to be someone who the community widely disliked, a criminal, or someone with outlandish views? 

This could taint not just bitcoin, but the cryptocurrency world generally. It could alienate many bitcoin users and push away many institutions and businesses from becoming involved in the industry. As such, Satoshi staying personality-neutral and being a myth allows crypto-fans to create their own interpretations of her. 

Satoshi should stay out of the spotlight

Finally, one may question why Satoshi herself would even want to return – as the holder of 5% of the total bitcoin supply (roughly worth $11 billion!), she would be a target for any organised criminal gang to extort, constantly hounded by the press as a celebrity, and would undoubtedly be a target for any national tax authority. 

This would appear to be an odd life to voluntarily step into compared to a life of anonymity and personal freedom that she may currently live. It’s also worth noting that bitcoin seeks to challenge powerful incumbents whose profit margins may be starting to feel the pinch from cryptocurrencies. As such Satoshi — the instigator for the disruption of traditional finance — would have some very powerful enemies.

Satoshi may return and she may be revealed, or we may never know the identity of one of the most influential people in the 21st century. However, her legacy will undoubtedly continue to change the way people across the globe access their finances, as well as the advancement of new financial infrastructure and businesses. 

And the greatest thing she really did for bitcoin and blockchain? Disappearing!