The Strange Story of the Real Satoshi Nakamoto, Who We Thought Invented Bitcoin

Today's big bitcoin news reminds us of the story of Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto of California.

If this isn't Satoshi Nakamoto, then who is it?

Today, Gary Wright, an Australian computer programmer and businessman, revealed to the BBC, GQ, and The Economist that he is the inventor of Bitcoin — the peer-to-peer digital currency that facilitates payment without going through a centralized bank — that until yesterday, had no confirmed creator.

But a little more than two years ago, the segment of the world that’s curious about Bitcoin turned its attention on an unassuming Japanese man living in California named Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, who in March 2014, became famous after a Newsweek story claimed to have identified him as the anonymous creator of Bitcoin. Nakamoto’s career as a programmer for a Los Angeles-based financial stock services company required him to sign NDA’s, and his cagey responses only fueled speculation.

Reporter Leah McGrath Goodman’s skepticism that Nakamoto was the founder wasn’t without cause. She writes in that 2014 Newsweek story:

It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin — the world’s most wildly successful digital currency, with transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak — would retreat to Los Angeles’s San Gabriel foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched.

In a 2011 story in The New Yorker, Joshua Davis writes how the creator, a “preternaturally talented computer coder,” was a person in disguise:

…Nakamoto himself was a cipher. Before the début of Bitcoin, there was no record of any coder with that name. He used an e-mail address and a Web site that were untraceable. In 2009 and 2010, he wrote hundreds of posts in flawless English, and though he invited other software developers to help him improve the code, and corresponded with them, he never revealed a personal detail. Then, in April, 2011, he sent a note to a developer saying that he had “moved on to other things.” He has not been heard from since.

Today we learned that Wright was using the pseudonym of Nakamoto because he didn’t want the attention. His hand was forced when people — he didn’t get into specifics, but the Australian Tax Office is rumored to be applying pressure — compelled him to come forward.

“I have not done this because it is what I wanted. It’s not because of my choice,” Wright told the BBC.

The actual Nakamoto, 64 in 2014 when the Newsweek story identified him as the creator of Bitcoin, was dumbfounded. He had never heard of Bitcoin. As he ate sushi with a reporter from the Associated Press, he said he had six children, described his job as an engineer, and categorically said he had nothing to do with Bitcoin. “Even if I did, I’m not free to discuss anything I did,” he said, staying true to his non-disclosure agreement with the engineering firms that employed him.

“I would really like to find somebody who came up with this name,” Nakamoto said then. “It’s most likely a fictitious name.”

Nakamoto wasn’t lying, as we learned this morning:

For a bit of background, the creator of Bitcoin had identified himself as Nakamoto in documents and posts on the web about the digital currency, but anybody who read his posts closely would become quickly skeptical of his claimed Japanese origin: His English was perfect and what’s more, there were Britishisms (“bloody hard”) that made it into those posts, suggesting that the writer wasn’t Japanese but someone who grew up in or was living in a British Commonwealth. Turns out that commonwealth was Australia.

We haven’t heard from the actual Nakamoto yet today, but he must be breathing a sigh of relief.