Satoshi’s Identity Doesn’t Matter. Anonymity Does.

Journalists like to claim that they have uncovered the real-world identity of Bitcoin’s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, and later retract their claim:

In 2011, the New York Times declared that Michael Clear was Satoshi.

In 2015, the New York Times decided to guess again, this time saying it was Nick Szabo.

Here’s The Economist in 2016, seeming pretty sure it is Craig Wright.

At a magic show, there are two kinds of people in the audience: those who enjoy the mystification, and those who try to solve it. These journalists are obviously in the second category. But to the first kind of person, Satoshi is another anonymous node in the network, and that is how it should be.

(Image from Giphy)

Satoshi Nakamoto’s story is really is one of the best parts of cypherpunk history. It’s the creation myth of blockchain. The goal of the movement is to build systems that function without a central authority. Blockchain’s a data structure without a leader node, and its history is a story without an identifiable leader or founder.

Another core value of the system is anonymity. Part of the appeal of cryptocurrencies is anonymous payments. Why shouldn’t the same value be applied to creating and publishing code anonymously?

But anonymity is under threat. Bitcoin transactions are much less anonymous than once thought. Anyone can see bitcoins flow through the public ledger, and analysis of this data has been used to unmask Bitcoin users. There are even companies like Chainalysis dedicated to identifying Bitcoin users.

Beam is taking up a fight for anonymity that began in a suitably anonymous way. In 2016, someone logged into the bitcoin-wizards IRC channel and dropped one message:

hi, i have an idea for improving privacy in bitcoin. my friend who knows technology says this channel would have interest http://5pdcbgndmprm4wud.onion/mimblewimble.txt

The account never posted another message before or after. The link led to a text dated July 19, signed ‘Tom Elvis Jedusor,’ which laid out the basic concept for Mimblewimble. In the two years since, it has been reviewed by developers, academics, and cryptographers… and it works. It is recognised as one of the most elegant proposals for improving cryptocurrency, offering guaranteed privacy, and improving efficiency in the same stroke.

No doubt when you read that last paragraph, you thought, “Hey! ‘Tom Elvis Jedusor’ is an anagram of ‘Je suis Voldemort,’ which is French for ‘I am Voldemort,’ the villain from Harry Potter.” Well spotted. The name ‘Mimblewimble’ is another Harry Potter reference. In the books, Mimblewimble is a spell that stops people from spilling secrets (a sort of magical NDA) and Jedusor’s paper said:

I call my creation Mimblewimble because it is used to prevent the blockchain from talking about all user’s information

Other Harry Potter characters took Jedusor’s proposal and ran with it. Further details of Mimblewimble were contributed by Moaning Myrtle, Séamus Finnigan, and Ignotus Peverell — and we have no idea who any of these people are.

Beam is proud to inherit this tradition. Our team believes in the right to privacy and anonymity — whether for developers, or for users sending transactions. We are building for anonymity, and building on anonymity.

Anonymity takes work. It is not easy in an era when our privacy rights are under attack from every direction — phone networks track our location, personal assistants have always-on mics, and our personal finances are treated as an asset for corporate analysis. (It was recently revealed that Paypal is sharing your data with over 600 companies.) Our research points to Mimblewimble as the best technical solution to financial privacy, and we have an extremely capable team of engineers working on building a full-featured implementation.