Who Could Satoshi Nakamoto Be in Real Life?
If Satoshi Nakamoto were still alive, who could they be? Can we prove that someone is Satoshi Nakamoto?
We all know that Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of Bitcoin, is a pseudonym. Satoshi Nakamoto refers to an individual or a group who wrote the original Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008, who then launched the world’s first decentralised peer-to-peer payment network in 2009, with blockchain technology at its core.
While Satoshi Nakamoto has a strong connotation to Bitcoin, knowing Satoshi’s true identity isn’t relevant to studying Bitcoin’s fundamental design and use cases. So, most people dismiss the search for Satoshi’s identity as a purely intellectual pursuit.
Why is it still important to know who Satoshi Nakamoto is?
Being the first to run the Bitcoin software, Satoshi has mined at least 1 million Bitcoins since the genesis block, during a time in which mining a Bitcoin block would reward you 50 Bitcoins. This makes Satoshi one of the largest holders of Bitcoin. Large holders of coins are often referred to as ‘whales’.
At the time of writing, this large Bitcoin stash is still in Satoshi’s Bitcoin wallet and has never moved. This is 24.6 billion dollars’ worth of Bitcoins at today’s valuation, sitting idly on the Bitcoin blockchain.
If this wallet were to even move a single satoshi (the smallest unit of Bitcoin), everyone would know that the blockchain is a transparent database.
When whales make a splash
Any rational Bitcoin whale who must liquidate their holdings will try to do so without affecting the market too much. One strategy is to sell off their holdings in multiple transactions over time, a bit similar to dollar-cost averaging in reverse.
This would allow exchange protocols to prepare the necessary tokens and even cash to stabilise the market. However, we don’t know exactly who Satoshi Nakamoto is — and whether or not Satoshi is rational.
Also, if Satoshi’s private keys were to be compromised, we won’t even know if the person moving Satoshi’s Bitcoin is in fact the inventor(s) of Bitcoin themselves.
Forming hypotheses about the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto may help us form predictions of what would happen if Satoshi were to go public and sell off even just a few of the Bitcoins in possession.
Author’s note on language
Satoshi Nakamoto can refer to an individual or group of persons, who identify themselves in their preferred pronouns. The author chose to use ‘he’ and ‘him’ to refer to Satoshi Nakamoto out of convenience, so as to not disrupt the flow and readability of this article.
The author recognises that this does not ever limit the possibility that Satoshi Nakamoto is an individual who identifies as female (she/her) or a group of inventors of mixed genders.
Is it even possible to prove that someone is Satoshi Nakamoto?
In the past decade, there were many who claim that they are Satoshi Nakamoto. These people have the right technical expertise and work in a related field.
You might say that if someone is indeed Satoshi Nakamoto, that person would know Satoshi’s private keys to his 1 million Bitcoins.
However, there’s also a possibility that Satoshi’s Bitcoins were lost (due to misplaced private keys) or stolen. So, even what most claim as an “irrefutable proof” can actually be challenged. There is no clean way to prove that someone is Satoshi Nakamoto.
So far, no one has come forth and claimed that they have Satoshi’s private keys. The next best thing is a correlation analysis. We take a close look at Satoshi’s digital footprints, communication style, and background knowledge, and try to find candidates of real life people who could fit the description.
What we know about Satoshi Nakamoto
Satoshi Nakamoto seems to have extensive knowledge in C++, the programming language used to code the Bitcoin software. To build Bitcoin, he employed a few cryptographic technologies that were novel (or at least, actively being discussed) in 2008.
From the original Bitcoin whitepaper, Satoshi made references to the following works:
All references except for  Wei Dai and  Adam Back are “textbook” references that form the base theoretical knowledge of modern cryptography, such as the Merkle Tree, which was an already known concept back then.
However, Wei Dai and Adam Back are two interesting individuals because they were the earliest people that Satoshi contacted via email. Wei Dai was one of the few developers who conceptualised a design for a digital currency. Besides him are David Chaum (inventor of DigiCash) and Nick Szabo (who proposed Bit-Gold).
In one of Satoshi’s very first emails, he wrote to Wei Dai on 22 August 2008:
I was very interested to read your b-money page. I’m getting ready to release a paper that expands on your ideas into a complete working system. Adam Back (hashcash.org) noticed the similarities and pointed me to your site.– Satoshi Nakamoto
I need to find out the year of publication of your b-money page for the citation in my paper. It’ll look like: W. Dai, “b-money,” http://www.weidai.com/bmoney.txt, (2006?).
Wei Dai’s b-money was only a concept, which was later expanded by Satoshi using another technology — proof of work. Bitcoin’s Proof of Work was inspired by Adam Back’s HashCash algorithm, which was originally designed to prevent email spams.
Nick Szabo was never mentioned in Bitcoin’s whitepaper. In a quoted interview by The Sunday Times, Wei Dai said that Satoshi wasn’t initially aware of Szabo’s work on Bit-Gold, and that Satoshi should have been more interested in Szabo’s work, and not Dai’s.
Satoshi tested Bitcoin on a group of cypherpunks
During the time between 2008 and 2010, the persona of Satoshi Nakamoto was made known to a community of cypherpunks.
He published his Bitcoin paper and source code to the Cryptography Mailing List and received many replies and criticisms, which he used to fix and strengthen the Bitcoin software.
When Satoshi released the first iteration of Bitcoin, he responded to complaints and resolved issues in a thread of emails in the Bitcoin Mailing List.
In all of the emails, including the very first one that introduced his whitepaper, Satoshi used the first-person pronoun, unlike in the Bitcoin whitepaper. It’s possible that the use of the third-person on the whitepaper is simply formality, and that Satoshi Nakamoto acted as a single persona.
Some of Satoshi’s email replies are public data, which we can use as evidence to at least get to know Satoshi’s personality and work ethic. From his style of writing, he seems to hold the persona of a highly intelligent, professional and enthusiastic person, who responded to critics in a graceful manner.
Satoshi’s location during his active years
Many have also pointed out that Satoshi Nakamoto could either be someone from the UK or west-coast Canada. These inferences, though it may sound speculative, is based on a triangulation of a few factors below.
Bitcointalk is a forum where Satoshi Nakamoto communicated with Bitcoin developers between November 2009 and December 2010. There are two possible reasons the activity pattern below could emerge.
If Satoshi had a day job, he probably would have started his Bitcoin project around 4pm London Time, and no activity was found between 8 am through 1 pm London Time. But if he had spent working on Bitcoin as his “day job”, that would have placed him in around the same timezone as Vancouver, Canada.
Satoshi’s first blockchain message
It’s well known by the Bitcoin community that Satoshi had left a message on the genesis block. It reads:
Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks
It may have been a timestamp to prove that Bitcoin didn’t start running before that event. It may have been a political message. But for certain, the message didn’t refer to a headline of an American newspaper (or in any other part of the world).
Despite America being the source of financial contagion which led to the 2008 financial crisis around the world, Satoshi chose a British newspaper headline. He probably knew well that his audience, the cypherpunks, is an international community, although the Internet was at the time pretty much U.S.-centric.
Yet, quite interestingly, Satoshi Nakamoto referred to a British newspaper.
Satoshi’s spelling and language use
Satoshi’s original whitepaper is written with, in part, British English spelling. One of his Bitcointalk posts also has a very British term, highlighted below.
However, the original whitepaper was also written in part with the American English spelling. Canadian English spelling is actually unique in that some French-derived words are spelled like British English — colour, honour, centre, while Greek-derived words are spelled like American English, such as decentralized.
Satoshi’s possible age
Many have also pointed out the double-spacing after a period. In many occurrences of Satoshi’s writings, including his original Bitcoin whitepaper, Satoshi left two spaces instead of one after a period, which may suggest that Satoshi was used to writing on a typewriter in his youth.
This suggests that Satoshi may have been born in the 70s or even 60s. Typewriters were phased out of offices and schools by the late 1980s. While engaging with his community, the over-40-something Satoshi Nakamoto may have kept this habit long after.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s Profile
Before Satoshi Nakamoto “moved on to other things” and disappeared from the face of the known Internet, he wrote to Gavin Andresen. Andresen was chosen by Satoshi to be the lead developer of the Bitcoin software and continue his legacy of listening to suggestions and improving the network.
Satoshi was also not too pleased about the media’s focus on him, instead of the Bitcoin project:
I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me as a mysterious shadowy figure, the press just turns that into a pirate currency angle. Maybe instead make it about the open source project and give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.
The Bitcoin inventor may have said this out of humility, if not to protect his real identity from the media’s increasing scrutiny and hunger for mystery. But in this article, we want to recognise Satoshi as an ordinary human being.
So, from what we know so far based on strong and weak evidence presented, this is probably what Satoshi Nakamoto looks like:
Satoshi Nakamoto could be an individual or a group posing as a persona. If it were to be the latter, the group had done the work quite well to build up an interesting persona.
Satoshi is a brilliant programmer, fluent in C++ (arguably one of the most challenging programming languages), and humble with sincere intentions to create a whole new private and democratic financial system.
He could be a British or Canadian person, whose words come from someone born in the 70s. He is someone who has seen the world accelerate before his eyes. From geopolitics to the global economy, from computer sciences to cryptography, he had seen changes both good and bad that eventually inspired him to create Bitcoin.
Many individuals have come out to claim that they are the real Satoshi Nakamoto, but none of them possess the character and humility of the Satoshi we knew from his emails and forum. Also, not a single unit of Bitcoin had left his wallet, except for the test 10 BTC that was sent to Bitcoin’s first recipient — the late Hal Finney.
Anyone sitting on top of 1 million Bitcoin would have already sold it when it was priced at $1.00 — which would have made Satoshi a millionaire. And yet, he didn’t. This is why some were led to believe that either Satoshi had lost the keys to 1 million BTC, intentionally or otherwise, or that Satoshi Nakamoto, or the people behind him, are already dead.
And what if Satoshi Nakamoto were still alive?
Based on some interesting circumstantial evidence, the strongest candidates for who Satoshi Nakamoto might be, if he were still alive, are Adam Back and Nick Szabo. Hal Finney would have been a strong Satoshi candidate, however he passed away in 2014.
Adam Back, a British cryptographer and cypherpunk, was claimed to be one of the first people who Satoshi contacted. He was referenced in the Bitcoin paper, and Bitcoin’s Proof of Work technology was inspired by Back’s Hashcash technology. He was born in the year 1970.
However, when asked if Back could show his communication between him and Satoshi, he declined, citing that it would be disrespectful to Satoshi, according to his Internet etiquette.
Another interesting fact is that Back, who was usually active in his field, happened to significantly decrease his activity between 2009 to 2010 — around the same time Bitcoin was developed.
Nick Szabo is an American computer scientist and cryptographer. He was also one of the first to propose smart contracts. In 1998, he designed a mechanism for a decentralised digital currency called bit-gold, which never went live. However, many agree that bit-gold has very similar technologies to Bitcoin. Szabo was born in 1964.
Strangely, despite the similarities between the mechanism for both bit-gold and Bitcoin, he was never cited in Satoshi’s paper. Either Satoshi didn’t know about Szabo, as Wei Dai claimed when he was first contacted by Satoshi, or that Satoshi is Szabo.
Counter to the circumstantial evidence is that Szabo doesn’t code in C++, the programming language that made Bitcoin. However, given that his ideas around decentralised currency and smart contracts are so influential that they became reality, it could be possible that Szabo and some engineers worked together to make Bitcoin — with Szabo as the visionary and architect of the blockchain cryptocurrency.
It’s important to know that Bitcoin didn’t just exist. Many concepts of cryptography were developed before Bitcoin, and Satoshi has applied several areas of expertise to build Bitcoin.
It’s therefore highly likely that Bitcoin was a collaborative project of perhaps Szabo, Back, and many other unknown figures. Or it could be that Satoshi is a genius who worked alone.
In the end, there is really no way of proving that someone is Satoshi. Perhaps what we can learn from this is that in the world of cryptocurrency, your identity doesn’t matter as much as what you know.
Someone can be Satoshi if they know the private key to his 1 million Bitcoin. And even if Satoshi does come to light, Bitcoin’s behaviour won’t so easily be swayed.
Bitcoin has no boss. Bitcoin is like the grown-up child of Satoshi Nakamoto. It has integrity and follows its own protocol, that can’t be forced upon or hacked, even by its parent.
Further reading: Explore more topics on all things crypto in our learning hub.
Stay curious and informed
Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter to have the latest crypto insights, news, and updates delivered to our inbox.
Disclaimer: Information is current as at the date of publication. This is general information only and is not intended to be advice. Crypto is volatile, carries risk and the value can go up and down. Past performance is not an indicator of future returns. Please do your own research.
Last updated February 24, 2023