When I first got interested in Bitcoin, I was intrigued by the legend of Satoshi Nakamoto, and I did some googling (as most people probably do) into any clues to his identity.
The main article people talk about is the Oct 2011 Joshua Davis piece from The New Yorker, where he names 5 suspects: Michael Clear, Vili Lehdonvirta, Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry.
If you read that article alone, it certainly makes a plausible case for any of those being Satoshi. What’s missing though, is that, while it does mention that the last 3 names have filed patents that seem Bitcoin-y, it doesn’t point out that the three of them filed a patent application on August 15, 2008, that was related to networking and encryption (that description alone smells extremely Bitcoin-y).
The best article I’ve read is this Adam L. Penenberg piece from Fast Company, which points out this patent, and the fact that it was filed 72 hours before bitcoin.org was registered. And that the patent contains the fairly uncommon phrase “computationally impractical to reverse”, which also appears in the Bitcoin whitepaper. And that and one of the three, Charles Bry, was in Finland 6 months before the bitcoin.org domain was registered there.
Seems pretty damn convincing, although a lot of questions are left: If not the project of creating Bitcoin, what brought these three together to author that patent? If all the things in the previous paragraph aren’t coincidences, are they all Satoshi Nakamoto, or did they all just work on the theory and one did the programming and was the public voice, etc etc?
Interesting stuff, and I’m surprised the Fast Company article doesn’t show up (for me anyway) until the third page of Google results for “Who is Satoshi Nakamoto”. I sort of hate even discussing it, because the whole idea of a totally unknown individual creating this huge thing is pretty magical, and it’d be great if it wasn’t any of them, or the other suspects.
Update (May 23 / 2013):
A funny development has come up lately. Ted Nelson, an old school computer/internet visionary, released a Youtube video claiming to have figured out Satoshi’s identity. He thinks that Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki could be Satoshi, but he doesn’t actually provide any evidence. His main argument is that when Mochizuki released his solution for the abc conjecture, he didn’t do it through normal academic channels, and simply published it on the internet. Nelson sees this as very similar to how Nakamoto released the Bitcoin whitepaper.
I’m not a Bitcoin history expert, and haven’t researched the way Mochizuki released his proof, but Nakamoto didn’t just drop the whitepaper without telling anyone, by any means. I believe he wrote ~70,000 words in total before disappearing.
It also seems quite probably that Nelson is reading a lot into the fact that Nakamoto and Mochizuki both have Japanese names. This seems a bit too obvious to me, and if anything, if I had to choose the one country that Satoshi Nakamoto is probably not from, I’d put money on Japan. Considering how many people continue to bias their guesses of Satoshi’s identity towards Japanese people, I would say that picking a Japanese name would have been quite the slip up. I still think the only slip up was using the term “computationally impractical to reverse” in both the whitepaper and the patent.
Nelson’s video is great though, it’s truly entertaining, and worth watching all the way through. He’s a very likable guy, and clearly extremely smart, and the video is very fun to watch.