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Crazy theories and global manhunts for Bitcoin's creator Satoshi Nakamoto

Colin Neagle | March 7, 2014
Newsweek made waves this week with an article that claims to unmask Satoshi Nakamoto, the previously anonymous person whose name was the only one listed on the 2008 whitepaper that launched the modern cryptocurrency movement.

That article makes no mention of Bitcoin, but it was enough to launch theories that Mochizuki was, when not solving maddeningly difficult math problems, spending his free time building a digital currency under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Technology pioneer Ted Nelson posted a video to YouTube suggesting that Mochizuki may be posing as Nakamoto, with little more proof than that the math genius is smart enough to have accomplished it. Another blog post threw the theory out there with some speculation: Mochizuki grew up in the U.S. and was fluent in English; he fits the age range and nationality that Nakamoto claimed after releasing his whitepaper in 2008; there is the "same number of Hiragana symbols in first and last names of the two identities." Helping push this theory was their similarity in approach rather than bring their breakthroughs to traditional channels, such as academics in economics and mathematics, both Nakamoto and Mochizuki released them on the Internet. The evidence never got more accurate than that, however.

Another potential lead stemmed from research on the entire Bitcoin transaction graph published in 2012. Conducted by researchers Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir, the paper discusses a handful of massive transactions at the onset of the Bitcoin network, many of which were deposits into accounts that have never made an outgoing transaction. The paper caused a stir in the Bitcoin community; Dustin Trammell derided it in his article in the Daily Dot, for example. Ron and Shamir's findings never really lifted the veil on Nakamoto, but the researchers suggested that it may have led to the doors of his vault.

"Finally, we noted that the subgraph which contains these large transactions along with their neighborhood has many strange looking structures which could be an attempt to conceal the existence and relationship between these transactions, but such an attempt can be foiled by following the money trail in a sufficiently persistent way," the paper explains.

The public speculation
In October 2011, The New Yorker published an article on its international goose chase for the man behind the name. Based on the limited available evidence - perhaps the flimsiest being Nakamoto's use of "flawless English" and British spelling of certain terms - led the investigation to Michael Clear. At the time, Clear was a graduate student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, who was studying cryptography, had worked on a cryptocurrency service for an Irish bank, and had written a paper on peer-to-peer technology which "employed British spelling." When The New Yorker's Joshua Davis confronted him, Clear laughed off the allegation, but eventually led Davis to another potential lead.

Vili Lehdonvirta, a Finnish researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology at the time, also laughed off the allegation. When Davis probed him, he spoke on his views about anonymity and anarchy that basically contradicted Bitcoin's purposes. Towards the end of the article, Davis paraphrased Clear's comments on the system "Nakamoto's identity shouldn't matter."

 

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