Monday, March 10
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Who is bitcoin's real creator? The bitcoin community is reacting to that burning question with a collective ho-hum.
Developers and bitcoin enthusiasts from Finland to Texas are downplaying the media frenzy that occurred Thursday after Newsweek identified the digital currency's creator as a Japanese American living in Southern California, only to have the man vehemently deny it to The Associated Press.
The furor, they say, means little to bitcoin's future as a viable form of money.
The computer code that underpins bitcoin has changed dramatically since its inception in 2009, spawning a generation of entrepreneurs seeking to ride its growing popularity to newfound wealth, outside of government controls.
And while most bitcoin users and investors maintain a healthy interest in learning the true identity of the person known for years only as "Satoshi Nakamoto," they say the financial platform's maintenance and growth depends on the many creators who are working on it now.
"From an engineering perspective, Satoshi gave up control on Jan. 5, 2009 when he birthed the first bitcoin transaction," said Jeff Garzik, a member of the seven member Bitcoin Core Development Team that controls what happens to the currency's central code today. "He created an organism and he gave it life and he released it into the wild for it to do as it does."
Garzik says he doesn't believe Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto —the man who denied the Newsweek story — is the same Satoshi Nakamoto who posted the original written bitcoin proposal in 2008 and followed it up with computer code that made it possible the following year.
Gregory Maxwell, another bitcoin core developer based in Mountain View, Calif., said he has "immense respect" for the bitcoin creator, but doesn't care who it is, or what the person's motivation was. The genius of bitcoin is it doesn't require trusting anyone at all, he said.
"If the creator of bitcoin mattered to our ability to use it, then bitcoin has failed in its technological goals," he said.
At the Texas Bitcoin Conference in Austin, Texas, with around 1,000 attendees, almost no panelists were talking about the founding father of the currency on Thursday, despite the disputed story breaking that morning.
"Everybody was talking about what's next, not what was or who's behind it," said Bruce Fenton, a founding member of the Bitcoin Financial Association, an advocacy group that promotes its spread.
Ultimately, die-hard bitcoin developers won't be convinced of the creator's identity until the proof is embedded in code. That can be done by transferring bitcoins from an account linked to the Satoshi Nakamoto who uploaded the original code. Another way would be to send an encrypted message using the so-called "PGP" key that is publicly listed on The Bitcoin Foundation website and is linked to a private key that only the real Satoshi Nakamoto knows.
"If he wanted to identify himself, he would do so in a manner that would end speculation," Garzik said.
Still, some people in the bitcoin community jumped into action at the prospect that the father (or mother) of the currency might finally come out of hiding.
David Mondrus, another founding member of the Bitcoin Financial Association, contacted the AP to pass on the message that if the purported creator needed to escape the media whirlwind outside his home, a private plane could be readied within hours to whisk him and his family to a secret location.
"For me, Satoshi Nakamoto represents the crossroads of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington," Mondrus said. "My first concern was for his safety."
Following Dorian Nakamoto's denial, and hours after he left the AP's downtown Los Angeles headquarters, an attention-grabbing post was sent from a Satoshi Nakamoto account that had been dormant for three years, stating "I am not Dorian Nakamoto."
The posting only fueled further speculation, because it was not verifiable, despite the website founder confirming that the account was linked to email@example.com, the email address printed on the original bitcoin proposal from 2008.
Bitcoin developer Shawn Wilkinson, 22, of Atlanta said that unless the addresses for Satoshi Nakamoto's bitcoins move or he's able to produce some kind of cryptographic signature proving his identity, there's no way to be sure.
But in the grand scheme of things, Wilkinson said, it doesn't really matter.
"It's not so much about the person, it's about the technology," he said.
Some bitcoin supporters were upset by the quest to identify the currency's creator. They said the sleuthing represented a blatant invasion into the privacy of the person, or group, who clearly wants to remain anonymous.
"They always intended bitcoin to be something that transcended them," said Will Yager, 18, a bitcoin developer who attends the University of Texas in Austin. "I think a lot of people are miffed about it because we are sort of violating this person's wishes."
Others gave into curiosity.
Bitcoin developer Janne Pulkkinen, who lives in Finland, said she'd be very interested to learn the identity of the man behind bitcoin, especially since he tried so hard to conceal it.
"He used an anonymous email provider, used (privacy software) Tor to hide his tracks, digitally signed most of his messages to prevent anyone from impersonating him and basically used every trick in the book to keep his identity a secret," she said. "If he were to make a reappearance, it would be easily the most notable thing to happen to bitcoin since its inception."
Fowler reported from New York. Technology writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this report from San Francisco.