Will the Real Satoshi Nakamoto Please Stand Up?

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Wait, Satoshi Nakamoto, founder of Bitcoin, might be Nick Szabo?

I recently became interested in identifying the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. I started from the Bitcoin whitepaper [0] published in late 2008, and proceeded to run reverse textual analysis –essentially, searching the internet for highly unusual turns of phrase and vocabulary patterns (in particular places which you would expect a cryptography researcher to contribute to), then evaluating the fitness of each match found by running textual similarity metrics on several pages of their writing.

Which led me rather directly to several articles from Nick Szabo’s blog.

For those who wouldn’t know Nick Szabo and his documented links to Bitcoin: prior to the apparition of Bitcoin, Nick had been developing for several years (since 1998 [1]) the enabling mechanism for a decentralized digital currency, eventually converging on a system he called “bit gold” [3], which is the direct precursor to the Bitcoin architecture.

According to what seems to be a widely accepted origin story of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto was a highly skilled computer scientist (or group thereof) who found about Nick’s proposition for bit gold, hit upon an idea for bettering it, published the Bitcoin whitepaper, and decided to turn it into reality by developing the original Bitcoin client. Nick denies being Satoshi, and has stated his official opinion on Satoshi and Bitcoin in a May 2011 article [1].

I would argue that Satoshi is actually Nick Szabo himself, probably together with one or more technical collaborators.

As I mention above, what originally led me to this hypothesis is that reverse-searching for content similar to the Bitcoin whitepaper led me to Nick’s blog, completely independently of any knowledge of the official Bitcoin story. I must stress this: an open, unbiased search of texts similar in writing to the Bitcoin whitepaper over the entire Internet, identifies Nick’s bit gold articles as the best candidates. It could still be a coincidence, although an unlikely one — since cryptocurrencies were a fairly niche topic in 2008 and earlier (seemingly 3 or 4 people), every contributor to the field was going to be reusing the same shared expressions and vocabulary. Satoshi would have been a reader of Nick’s blog, so you would expect him to describe the same concepts in a similar way. But there’s more.

Running similarity metrics on the whitepaper and Nick’s bit gold articles as well as his paper “formalizing and securing relationships on public networks” [2] indicated an excellent match over content-neutral expressions as well — so either Nick wrote the whitepaper, or it was written by somebody imitating Nick’s writing style.

TechCrunch interviews Skye Grey:

I am not certain it’s Nick Szabo, but I have quite a few independent pieces of evidence pointing in his direction, each one interesting in itself:

  • text analysis (only 0.1% of cryptography researchers could have produced this writing style –again, please, attack my methods on this)
  • fact that Nick was searching for technical collaborators on the bit gold project (a very similar cryptocurrency) a few months before the announcement of Bitcoin (and then the bit gold project became perfectly silent)
  • lack of citation of Nick’s work by Satoshi, whereas he cited other, less related cryptocurrencies
  • lack of reaction on Nick’s part about Bitcoin, whereas a decentralized currency like Bitcoin had been a major project of his for 10 years
  • fact that Nick deliberately post-dated his bit gold articles to look posterior to Bitcoin, shortly after the announcement of Bitcoin


  1. Gwern says:

    Bullshit research, unfortunately. Copying over my now-hidden comment on TC:

    > (only 0.1% of cryptography researchers could have produced this writing style — again, please, attack my methods on this)

    Says the guy who refuses to approve any comments on his blog with said criticism, or to meaningfully reply to any of the many well thought out criticisms on either HN or Reddit — dude, there’s way more than ‘leave Satoshi alone’.

    And I see he repeats some of his erroneous claims here, like the post-dating claim. Sigh…

  2. Handle says:

    I think the Szabo hypothesis has a lot of merit. His Bitgold work from before 2005 is very close to Bitcoin, and few other people were really working as intensely on the same ideas.

  3. Gwern says:

    Handle, as I say in my Reddit comment, Szabo was, is, and will be one of the major Satoshi suspects simply because he was working on such similar topics, but the specific claims and research this dude is claiming are hopelessly wrong and do not increase our belief (whatever it was) that Szabo is Satoshi!

    (Szabo isn’t a perfect candidate, of course. For example, I have been unable to find any C++ code written by him, which is a major prerequisite for being Satoshi. Just a little JS library.)

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