There is never a dull moment in Bitcoin. Today we have seen heightened media speculation on the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. As of this writing, we have seen zero conclusive evidence that the identified person is the designer of Bitcoin. Those closest to the Bitcoin project, the informal team of core developers, have always been unaware of Nakamoto’s true identity, as Nakamoto communicated purely through electronic means.
Still, it is a useful opportunity to review Nakamoto’s identity and its relationship to the current project. Bitcoin’s design is intentionally decentralized in many ways. Certainly the blockchain operation and P2P network, but it is more than that. Bitcoin blockchain data is zero trust. Each full node on the P2P network validates 100% of the transaction history, trusting no central authority. Beyond the data, the Bitcoin software itself is open source and available for review by anyone. Anyone may fork the software, create a better version, and gain users.
Everyone who is involved in Bitcoin understands the strength of the design. The designer, operating under a presumed pseudonym, reinforced this. There was no need to know and trust Satoshi Nakamoto. The design stood by itself, open to inspection by all. Satoshi Nakamoto ultimately created a “language” of sorts with the bitcoin protocol. A network protocol, like Bitcoin, is nothing more than a common lingua franca enabling multiple parties to communicate usefully with each other. Much like other spoken languages around the world, the bitcoin protocol grows and changes as its users change, ultimately controlled by no one.
The Bitcoin project is decentralized. It has no leader by design. Each community member contributes and collaborates with others based on his or her own needs, choices and free will. Bitcoin’s reference implementation has a chief scientist, but ultimately leadership always rests in the hands of every bitcoin user. The Bitcoin Foundation is opening affiliate chapters around the world, and others are organizing their own Bitcoin groups in a decentralized fashion. The Bitcoin Foundation is a Bitcoin leader, but certainly not the Bitcoin leader.
Satoshi’s identity may or may not be revealed in time. Based on current research from Sergio Lerner, Satoshi does not appear to have moved or spent any Bitcoins. Satoshi is unlikely to be sitting on a beach in Tahiti, next to a multi-million dollar mansion. Satoshi is unlikely to be prepared for determined, potentially violent thieves and curiosity seekers. Curiosity in Satoshi’s identity is understandable, but please consider responsible disclosure, and the danger such a revelation may generate.
The Bitcoin protocol would not exist without Satoshi, who is without question a brilliant designer. However, Bitcoin will endure well past Satoshi, as Bitcoin is everyone who uses it, not just one person.
About // Jeff Garzik is an engineer, blogger, futurist and entrepreneur. After helping to inaugurate CNN.com on the Internet in the early 1990s, Jeff worked at a succession of Internet startups and service providers, all the while, working on open source software engineering projects for over two decades. Involvement in one of the best known open source projects, the Linux kernel, led to an extended tenure at Linux leader Red Hat, during open source’s most formative years. He is a member of the Bitcoin core dev team and a member of the Bitcoin Foundation. Opinions are his own as a member of the Bitcoin community.