In a blog published on The Huffington Post, UCLA Professor of Finance Bhagwan Chowdhry, who claims to have been invited by the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel to nominate the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, has publicly mulled tossing out an interesting name: Satoshi Nakamoto. A Nobel win for the mysterious creator of bitcoin would certainly push the crypto-currency movement toward both the mainstream and the spotlight. It would also recognize work Chowdhry describes as “nothing short of revolutionary.” Still, the question at hand isn’t about bona fides so much as rules: Can the Nobel Prize Committee award a prize to someone who may or may not exist?
Since the rise of bitcoin, there have been numerous attempts to locate Satoshi Nakamoto, who published “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” in May of 2009. Those attempts have failed and many people within cryptocurrency circles and without don’t even believe that Nakamoto is one person at all. What’s for sure is that if Nakamoto is an individual, Nakamoto is a very rich individual, and if Nakamoto is an organization, no one has any notion of the membership.
These factors would seem, on face value, to make nominating Nakamoto an academic gesture. But it’s not quite that simple. Nobel Prizes are awarded to living people, beyond that, there are very few rules. A host of prizes have been given to organizations and a host of prizes have been given to writers operating under pen names (Pablo Neruda wasn’t Pablo Neruda). The issue with Nakamoto isn’t anonymity, which could be maintained, but proof of life. And that’s possible thanks to Bitcoin. Chowdhry suggests wiring the winnings to 1HLoD9E4SDFFPDiYfNYnkBLQ85Y51J3Zb1, an early bitcoin address that likely belongs to the inventor of blockchain currency. But money could also move in a different direction, allowing Nakamoto to wave over a digital fence. Is it possible that someone in possession of a deceased Nakamoto’s information could do that? Yes, but there would be almost no motivation considering the fortune at their disposal.
Still, in order for Nakamoto to win, Chowdhry (or someone else) is going to have to nominate him/her/them/it. Chowdhry, who is kind of speaking out of school here, gets pretty close to saying he’ll do it in his HuffPo piece — “I am completely serious in suggesting Satoshi Nakamoto for the Prize” — but he doesn’t actually give his word or call his shot or stake his claim. The peer pressure, or perceived peer pressure, to nominate someone with a known corporeal form could sway him when it actually comes time to make a decision. Chowdhry is King of Bitcoin Twitter for a day, but it is worth noting that he hasn’t done the deed.
Would Chowdhry be committing a massive faux pas by nominating Nakamoto? Almost certainly not. A large number of initial nominees is always whittled down behind closed doors. Also — and here’s a thought missing from a lot of analyses — the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is awarded by a dynamic organization made up of very smart people who are more than capable of bending rules.
Technically, the only thing the committee can’t do is give out a real Nobel Prize, because the Nobel Prize for Economics isn’t a real Nobel Prize: Alfred Nobel didn’t create it — the Swedish Central Bank did. On some level, that must make the rules a bit more fungible.