The Real Satoshi
“I don’t participate in attempts to dox Satoshi.”
So said one of my favorite crypto OGs when I asked what he thought about a theory that British cryptographer Jim McCoy could be a prime Satoshi Nakamoto candidate.
Finding Satoshi™ is one of crypto’s oldest and most interesting parlor games.
But is it ethical to dig into a private citizen’s life on suspicion of him being Satoshi? Especially given the lengths he took to preserve anonymity?
Where do we draw the line between public interest and private sovereignty and safety? What is the threshold to share our suspicions?
I go back and forth on this.
On the one hand, it is absolutely in the public’s interest to understand who Satoshi is / was given the massive stake and influence he would have today on not one, but two massive financial networks — BTC and BCH.
We speak of bitcoin as a potential global reserve currency at scale, and the moon case would make Satoshi the world’s wealthiest man by an order of magnitude. One with the personal economic clout of a top 5 central bank.
The owner of those early UTXOs still matters, despite what others have argued to the contrary.
What does make things different with Satoshi is the potential collateral damage you might expect from new inquiries.
The “doxxing” of Dorian Nakamoto in particular still stands as one of the most irresponsible pieces of journalism in recent memory. For both the way in which the Newsweek cover article was reviewed and published (apparently to juice sales of its relaunched paper edition), and the lack of regard for Dorian’s well-being.
Fortunately, the bitcoin community quickly pounced on the inanities and inaccuracies of Leah McGrath Goodman’s feature. But a similarly handled expose of the “real Satoshi” could lead to genuine physical safety concerns.
With McCoy, though, I’m inclined to share some thoughts because all “evidence” exists in the public domain already and his name has been floated — multiple times — alongside Szabo, Finney, Back and others as a candidate. He’s a cypherpunk who worked with Zooko for many years on MojoNation (an early peer-to-peer file sharing site), and had spirited online debates with Nick Szabo about micro-payments.
McCoy had shown a continuous, multi-decade interest in p2p cash. The linguistic and stylistic similarities between his writing and Satoshi’s catch the eye. McCoy’s work history has a notable gap of unemployment or underemployment in an otherwise illustrious career.
That is to say, the circumstantial evidence is interesting enough to warrant discussion.
For starters, McCoy clearly knew the tech well enough to get bitcoin off the ground. Towards the end of his run at MojoNation, there’s a 2005 Financial Cryptography forum post, where McCoy mentioned his main desire for a p2p cash system is for e-commerce, consistent with the opening paragraphs of the bitcoin white paper, and Satoshi’s fascination with setting up an OpenBazaar-like e-commerce platform.
McCoy discussed his interest in connecting reputation with e-cash at multiple points, which jived with some of the work in Satoshi’s original client around a marketplace for reputation.
Interesting, but far from smoking guns.
In terms of style, McCoy and Satoshi use the same README styles and icon design; they both use BerkeleyDB and wxWidgets; they both employ quirks in comments like “***********” and tons of slashes, consistency in sentence structure with frequent use of conjunctions “while” and “otherwise” and descriptors like “junk” and “redundant”, and liberal use of diagrams with arrow flows to express points. Of course, McCoy’s also a Brit (Satoshi’s “bloody hard” reference and London Times bank bailout headline). He has a great line from 1994, which sounds like a famous Satoshi line: “If you can’t do it too bad, but don’t expect everyone else to wait around for you to catch up.”
Again, all interesting, but no smoking guns.
Then there’s the work history, which caught my eye above everything. Jim McCoy leaves MojoNation in late 2006, and then for the next three years does nothing of real susbstance in an otherwise illustrious and milestone-heavy career.
Before 2006: Ran YahooMail ops from inception to 100mm users; founded MojoNation, a secure, distributed, peer-to-peer persistent storage network.
Late 2006-late 2009: unemployed for half the time, and the other half of the time was a scalability engineer for a local news website called Topix.
Late 2009-Present: Ran operations for BlueKai, a venture-backed ad-tech company that later sold to Oracle, then ran site reliability ops and the security tools team at Facebook, before starting another company called Q-branch.
The three-year stretch of apparent underemployment maps perfectly to Satoshi’s primary thrust building bitcoin, and his April 2011 sign off from the project matches up with the time he would have made the move to a more senior position at Facebook.
(TBI Note: What better way to learn how to hide in plain site as Satoshi than going to work at Facebook? It would be like Dexter working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami homicide division.)
Does all of this add up to anything?
Maybe, but probably not.
I’ve read countless threads over the years, and engaged in too many twitter, chat, and live debates over creationist theories about Satoshi to think we’ll ever get a definitive answer on who he is. Unless of course the early bitcoin addresses become active once again, and Satoshi decides to cryptographically reveal himself once and for all.
Back to my original question, then: is it ethical to even look for Satoshi?
I think so, if only because I think the highest probability bet we might make is that Satoshi has already been named and identified as a suspect.
New investigations allow the public to get to know the top candidates, and they can assess if they are comfortable with any or all of them as the creators and owners of billions of dollars worth of the system’s economic value.
Meanwhile, new credible candidates (counter-intuitively) improve the odds Satoshi remains private; the ability to hide in plain site amongst a group serves as a sort of human ring signature.
Cypherpunks like McCoy should relish the irony: false gods protect the real one.
I Like Pictures
I woke up early and thought I was in a bad dream…but then I remembered my post yesterday about tax selling. So this makes sense…
Just two more weeks until the piper is fully paid.
The volunteer army at Messari is building a free, open-source library that anyone can use as a resource, so you can go down the crypto rabbit hole a bit more efficiently. Starting next week, we’ll start featuring one new token profile each day.
Interested in participating in this exclusive research group and slack channels? Apply to Eric Turner (firstname.lastname@example.org).
TBI’s Compression Algorithm
Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is under “friendly attack.” In the weeks since Lightning Labs launched its product into live beta, pseudonymous users like “bitPico” began flooding nodes on the lightning network with spam traffic from automated attack toolkits. They say it’s about stress-testing the software before more people start using it, and indeed, the attacks are prompting lightning developers to put forward various possible fixes. Coindesk
Understanding value capture in cryptoland (worth the long read). In traditional finance, value capture is the link “between profits and revenue; essentially the “glue” of P/E ratios.” Cryptoassets function as an exclusive form of payment in exchange for a network’s underlying scarce resource. However, it might not be appropriate to make such conservative assumption, especially when it comes to utility tokens. In a definition put forth by Aragon’s Luke Duncan, the three things to look for: can the token uniquely capture value, how accurately does it incentivize or disincentivize desired behaviors, and utility (real-world demand). This one is chalk full of curated insights. Medium
Bancor launches a new wallet. Launched yesterday, the wallet will offer built-in conversions between 75 cryptocurrencies, with more being added each day. The relative stability of an in-wallet conversion feature (made against smart contracts instead of matching buyer and sellers) and the ability to purchase and convert tokens with any major credit or debit card may tempt both crypto holders and those thinking of joining the fray. TechCrunch
The death march of crypto funds begins. The 50 percent dip in the value of Bitcoin has slowed capital for cryptofunds, and at least nine funds have been shuttered completely. Even larger industry player such as Polychain Capital, the largest hedge fund in the sector, has adjusted its playbook by abandoning plans to go public this year. Up to 10 percent of all crypto funds could close by year-end, according to Autonomous Research LLP. Bloomberg
Quick Bits (Don’t read that, I read it for you)
+ The crypto market has corrected viciously, but Korean exchange execs are still optimisticabout the future…and doubling down on self-regulation efforts.
+ Hong Kong-based exchange OKEx says it had no role in last week’s trading irregularities around bitcoin futures on its platform.
+ ASRock, a Taiwan-based electronic manufacturer of motherboards, is planning to sell four graphics cards (GPU) specifically geared towards cryptocurrency mining.
+ Bitmain, the China-based maker of hardware specialized for cryptocurrency software, has developed a new “ASIC” mining chip for ethereum.
+ Chinese crypto data startup BitKan raised $10 million from Zhongyunhui Capital, IDG Capital and Bitmain in a Series B funding round.
+ US healthcare giants UnitedHealth Group, Humana, Quest Diagnostics and Multiplan partnered partnered on a blockchain pilot for up-to-date health records in an effort to save $2bn in costs.
+ Alibaba filed suit in New York against the founders of a cryptocurrency named “Alibabacoin,” arguing that the Dubai-based project is infringing on its trademark and that the defendants misappropriated its brand in an effort to raise $3.5 million through an ICO.
The Powers That Be
+ The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) announced new regulations for cryptocurrency exchanges, requiring registration with authorities and various commitment to new reporting and identity checking procedure (i.e. AML rules)
+ South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) ordered 12 cryptocurrency exchanges revise their adhesion contracts, which largely fail to provide adequate protection for consumers.
+ Vitalik Buterin’s epic live tweets at the South Korea Deconomy Conference
+ Mark Karpeles writes a redeeming reddit post claiming that he doesn’t want the billion dollar payout from the Mt. Gox bankruptcy, and is working on making those distributions to creditors under “civil rehabilitation.” Everyone likes a comeback story.
Did I miss something big?
Send me the link, your twitter handle and your best imitation compression algorithm write up. If I really whiffed, I’ll include your bit tomorrow (with attribution).
Hit me up when I’m in your city!
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+ SF (5/1–5/3 — private event)
+ NYC (5/10–5/17 — Fluidity, Ethereal, Consensus, Token Summit)
+ Asia (Japan, Korea, Hong Kong early through mid-June)
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