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Two early bitcoin developers who worked directly with Satoshi Nakamoto weigh in on his real identity

Reuters/David Gray
Bitcoin has become more visible, but its founder remains a mystery.
By Ian Kar
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Is Craig Wright really Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous creator of bitcoin? And if he is, what happens now that we know his identity?

Those were two of the biggest questions floating around this week at Coindesk’s Consensus, an annual gathering of some of the biggest names in digital currency. The three day conference kicked off in New York just as news reports circulated that Wright, an Australian computer scientist and business owner, had revealed himself as the creator of bitcoin. Though Wright had been suspected to be Nakamoto for some time, many observers doubted the claim, saying Wright has alternative motives for stepping forward. For his part, Wright says he’s in the process of providing ”extraordinary proof” that he is bitcoin’s creator. (Update: Wright said today he won’t provide any further proof, saying he doesn’t “have the courage” to do so.)

The mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto has created an additional layer of intrigue around bitcoin, and publications including The New Yorker, the New York Times, Wired, and Newsweek have all tried to uncover the truth. And as finance firms like Goldman Sachs and tech giants like Microsoft push into blockchain—the technology that powers bitcoin—the curiosity surrounding its anonymous creator has grown.

At Consensus, Quartz spoke about this week’s big news with two of the first bitcoin developers—Gavin Andresen and Jeff Garzik—both of whom worked with Nakamoto online to develop and maintain the bitcoin source code. Below is a lightly edited transcript of those interviews. (Note: Andresen’s interview was conducted on the morning of Monday, May 2nd. Garzik’s interview was conducted on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 3rd.)

Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at Bitcoin Foundation

Can you give a percentage on how sure you are [that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto]? Like, 80% sure?

GA: I’m 98% sure. It’s possible it’s some huge scam. It’s not clear on, like, what [Wright’s] motivation would be for doing this. I trust that he really doesn’t want the spotlight. I think as you see his behavior as this announcement has happened, he said that he’s done his first and only on camera interview. I think that if he was doing this for fame he’d be out there talking to everybody in the world. I really don’t think that’s his motivation for [this].

He seems to have the technical knowledge to do something like [create bitcoin], right? He’s pretty academically gifted.

GA: He is, he’s brilliant. I think, like a lot of brilliant people, he may think that he’s a little more brilliant than he is, and I think he would probably admit that. I think he definitely has the capability to invent bitcoin.

There’s the halving event coming up, the block size debate that’s been going on for months, let’s assume Craig Wright is Satoshi. Does it matter who Satoshi is at this point?

GA: That’s a darn good question. My area of expertise is writing code. I’m a software engineer, so I don’t have expertise on how communities react to their mythical founder being a real person, a person with flaws. I don’t know. I think, ideally, the code speaks for itself, the technology speaks for itself. I think in the long term it won’t matter. In the short term, it might matter. It might make people more attracted or less attracted to bitcoin. We’ll see. Again, that’s not my area of expertise.

What’s next for this whole situation?

GA: I think it’ll be a chaotic few days to a few weeks, with evidence, counter-evidence, claims and counterclaims. I don’t know how much Craig is going to participate in all that. Again, from my view, he wants his privacy, I don’t think he wants to get into a ‘who did what exactly when,’ and [analyzing] every little piece of evidence that people might find one way or another, like all the companies [Wright’s] founded over the past few years.

Yeah, it’s a lot.

GA: Yeah, it’s craziness, but who knows? Brilliant people are often a little crazy. So I expect this not to get resolved today; I think it’ll take a little while. It’s possible that Craig wants there to be some doubt in people’s minds. I would not be surprised about that at all, if he’d rather have some fuzziness there [on whether Wright is bitcoin’s creator].

Why do you think that’s the case?

GA: Again, I think he wanted to remain anonymous, and I think a part of him, probably even now, is looking for ways to try and keep his privacy. I don’t know, I’m speculating—ideally, he’d answer these questions himself, but I’m not sure he will.

Jeff Garzik, CEO of Bloq, a blockchain technology company

What are your thoughts on the Craig Wright news?

JG: For me it’s a binary question—he either is or is not Satoshi. You prove that with a cryptographic proof, you prove that with a digital signature. What we saw yesterday was not a digital signature that was freshly generated, it was just a cut-and-paste from 2009. That sort of raised some eyebrows but at a more basic level, it’s not the proof that we were looking for. And it’s very simple to generate—all you have to do is send some bitcoins from the earliest bitcoin block, the ones that Satoshi mined himself and generated, or more simply, sign a message that’s dated today. It has say, the headline from Quartz’s front page, so that you know it was generated today and not in the past and sign that digital message. And that’s how you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy, at a minimum, holds Satoshi’s keys*. You can never prove conclusively, because [Nakamoto] is an anonymous guy and he might have given his keys to someone else, but it’s very, very, very indicative. So we’re just waiting on that now. Right now, to me, he’s not Satoshi. But, tomorrow, if he sends a message, he is Satoshi. It’s really that simple.

[*Note: In the bitcoin world, a key is a unique identifying code given to a user.]

What’s the most interesting conspiracy theory you’ve heard about Satoshi over the past couple of days?

JG: Honestly, all the theories I’ve heard, they’re all old. I haven’t heard any new ones in the past couple days. You get all types—it’s a government-sponsored project on one side, secretly Satoshi is a team of NSA programmers. On the other side of things, the government’s trying to shut down bitcoin so they’re generating all this confusion about who Satoshi is and stuff like that. I never put any stock in theories, I put stock in what I see everyday. It’s fun to theorize, and I can tell you for certain, as a programmer I worked with Satoshi from 2010 until he faded away in 2011. And programmers have fingerprints—a unique way of writing code, a unique way of speaking, etc, and I’ve never met, online or in-person, anyone who matched Satoshi, in terms of his code and what he writes online. So we’ll see, it’s another way to see if it’s him or not.

Do you have any guesses on who it could be?

JG: Honestly I don’t. I don’t think it’s Gavin. I don’t think it’s Nick [Szabo, another close collaborator of Nakamoto’s]. Those are the two popular choices. I don’t think it’s me, but I’m not sure. But really, as programmers, we saw in 2009, 2010, Satoshi’s anonymity as incredibly valuable. We said we don’t know who this guy is, so by default you don’t want to just trust his word. So, as a programmer, I said, since I don’t know this guy, I focus on the code, I focus on the engineering. Is the engineering solid? Is the cryptography solid?

So you guys tested the technology on the merit of the actual code, instead of an actual person.

JG: Exactly, on the merits. So the two things that made bitcoin what it is today in terms of its popularity and network effect is that it’s, No. 1, open source, and, No. 2, that Satoshi is anonymous. So you look at the code and not the person.

Do you think it matters at this point who Satoshi is?

JG: Not to the code. And not to the programmers. It matters more on the economics side, as in what’s he going to do with all that money? [Satoshi Nakamoto has approximately 1 million bitcoins, or approximately $447 million at the time of publication.] But from a coding perspective, it’s not going to change very much.

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