Surging interest in Bitcoin, the crypto-currency that is mined and distributed without a central bank, has brought a fresh wave of speculation about its pseudonymous founder, Satoshi Nakamoto.
The latest theory comes from IT pioneer Ted Nelson, who offers a three-part hypothesis — based on the Bitcoin inventor’s intelligence, publishing methods and interests — to show that Satoshi can be none other than Japanese math professor Shinichi Mochizuki.
Nelson’s “deduction” (which Forbes and others have portrayed as more crackpot than convincing) comes weeks after programmer Sergio Lerner published a blog post that claims to show Satoshi has mined a fortune worth of Bitcoins, and that he has spent only a small fraction of it. A related report by The Verge endorses Lerner’s account and says the financial trail provides new clues to help establish Satoshi’s identity.
This “who made Bitcoin?” buzz is a fun parlor game, especially at a time when everyone from serious investors to Homeland Security are clamoring to get a piece of the new currency. But, while many of the guesses are as silly as saying Lewis Carroll is Jack the Ripper, the process also raises the question of whether Satoshi is entitled to be left in peace.
Last week, someone who has corresponded with Satoshi told me he believes the Bitcoin inventor is one person, not three as some suggest, and that he is not Japanese (this is consistent with the Forbes writer’s theory that the pseudonym is a tribute to 1980’s Tokyo cyber-punk culture). I asked him why Satoshi has decided to remain anonymous in the first source.
According to the source, who is a Bitcoin developer and did not want to be named for this story, Satoshi’s motives are not rooted in myth-making or anything sinister. Instead, they reflect a simple desire for privacy and are consistent with the ethos of open-source coders who work on a project out of altruism or interest and then pass it on to others when they want to move on.
If this is the case, then Satoshi is part of a tradition of private people who eschew the spotlight and prefer to let their work speak for themselves. It’s easy to think of others such as Groklaw‘s Pamela Jones (who does heroic work opposing software patents), cartoonist Bill Watterson and literary figures like Harper Lee and Emily Dickinson. Together, these quiet and relatively anonymous figures provide an inspiring counter-narrative to suggestions by Google and Facebook that anonymity is somehow sinister and that our entire selves should be open for media merchandising.
The point is that we may never know the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto — and that’s okay.
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