Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Satoshi Said: Understanding Bitcoin Through the Lens of Its Enigmatic Creator


This image is often used on forums to represent Satoshi Nakamoto; it stems from the image of the "most typical person."

For all of Bitcoin’s fabled transparency—its open source development, how the block chain is totally public, and the fact that we know exactly how many coins will be minted ever—one mystery remains, perhaps forever. Who the hell is Satoshi Nakamoto?

By now, we’ve all heard some version of the nebulous theories: if he’s a man or a woman; British or American; a single person or a group; a private enterprise or a government conspiracy. Fantasizing about that stuff is fun because it’s stranger than fiction, but it gets us no closer to understanding who he is or what his vision was for his Frankenstein currency. But what we can do is analyze what he said, which was plenty. Admittedly, there's no way we can concretely prove any of these quotes actually came from Satoshi beyond the fact they use the same username, though few people consider the possibility of an imposter in these early days of Bitcoin's birth.

November 1, 2008 (The Cryptography Mailing List): "I've been working on a new electronic cash system that's fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party."

This was the introduction to Satoshi's now infamous white paper unleashing the concept of Bitcoin to the world. As always, he was matter-of-fact and unassuming, providing his baby free of any embellishment.

November 7, 2008 (The Cryptography Mailing List): "Yes, [we will not find a solution to political problems in cryptography,] but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years. Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled network like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be holding their own."

While Satoshi did his best to maintain an apolitical stance, his comments on finding a technological solution when the political system was found to be lacking belied his techno-libertarian sensibilities and hacker mindset. Yifu Guo—long time Bitcoin insider and creator of the first specially designed systems for mining—mirrored such sentiments when he told us in our interview with him last year that their original motto was “ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” Bitcoin early adopters and technocentric social-transcendents alike refuse to be shackled by society’s pesky rules.

"[Bitcoin is] very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it properly," Satoshi admitted. "I’m better with code than with words though."

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