Faceless. Mysterious. Elusive. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Satoshi Nakamoto, the infamous creator of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. To this day, his identity remains unknown.
Since its creation in 2009, Bitcoin has established itself as a legitimate form of digital currency accepted by businesses around the world, making Nakamoto very rich. However, Bitcoin's imperviousness to prying eyes has attracted the attention of many government agencies. As a result, just about everyone is wondering, just who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
The story of Nakamoto involves a lot of intrigue – and even death. To the unfamiliar, it may sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. This is that story.
Satoshi Nakamoto: Why the Intrigue?
Satoshi Nakamoto is essentially an enigma. No one has been able to validify his identity. Nor determine if he really is a he. Nakamoto could be a man, woman, or even a group of individuals. There are no public photographs, much less public records of Nakamoto's existence.
What is known is that someone or some group going by that name developed the concept of Bitcoin and released it to the world. It has since become the most valuable of all digital currencies. At one point, a single Bitcoin was worth nearly $20,000. The anonymous creator is believed to own 980,000 bitcoins. Based on the cryptocurrency's current value, that would make Nakamoto easily a billionaire.
So revolutionary is Bitcoin as a decentralized currency, Nakamoto has been discussed as a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Unfortunately, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences requires a person's identity be made public for nomination.
Even as Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general have become popular, Nakamoto has stayed in the shadows. Reasons could be as simple as a distaste for the spotlight, or as grave as fears over retribution for the currency's separation from the traditional banking system and its use by black markets.
The Great and Powerful Bitcoin
What makes the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto so fascinating is the disruptive nature of his creation, Bitcoin. How does Bitcoin work, and what makes it so special?
First and foremost, Bitcoin is a digital currency, meaning that it exists only online. Users can make transactions directly to each other without the involvement of a bank. A record of these transactions is kept in a public ledger that is known as a blockchain. Essentially seamless, it is easier to exchange money for purchases electronically.
Unlike government-issued paper currencies that are essentially printed on demand, the number of Bitcoins is limited to 21 million. Bitcoins are created by the process called mining, which is essentially adding new transactions to the public ledger. It becomes harder and harder to create more Bitcoin, and once the limit is reached, it's impossible to create more. That scarcity is what makes Bitcoin so valuable and a favorite among speculators. The popularity of Bitcoin has given birth to hundreds of different digital currencies.
But, perhaps the most important thing to come from Bitcoin is the blockchain technology. Major corporations have taken notice. IBM, JP Morgan, and Bank of America are just a few of the companies that are in the works of creating products based on the blockchain's open-source design.
The Mysterious Death of Autumn Radtke
The ongoing story of Bitcoin has not been bloodless. Not only has the digital currency been used on the black market for illegal transactions, it is widely traded on relatively unregulated exchanges. On top of that it has been a highly volatile asset, taking huge jumps and dramatic falls. Under such circumstances, it isn't a surprise for tragedy to strike.
Case in point is the death of Autumn Radtke in 2014. She was an American working as the chief executive for a Bitcoin exchange in Singapore. According to the police, her body was found at the base of her high-rise apartment block. Her death was reported as unnatural, though that often means suicide.
Coincidentally or not, her death occurred as another exchange, the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, was shut down. The exchange was suspected of Bitcoin theft worth up to $500 million. That helped lead the price of Bitcoin to plunge from around $1,200 to $130 in the span of just a few months.
Whether her death was the result of her close connection to the performance of Bitcoin is difficult to say, but it is certainly worth noting that her tragic death happened during one of the most significant drops in the currency's history.
Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto may never be known, but there have been attempts to solve the mystery.
In 2014, Newsweek magazine reported it had found the founder of Bitcoin living in California, a Japanese-American man who lived just outside of Los Angeles. He was 64 years old and an engineer. He worked on classified projects for the U.S. military. For fun, he built model trains. He drove a Toyota Corolla, and his real name was Satoshi Nakamoto.
Ultimately, Newsweek did not definitively prove he was the actual creator of Bitcoin. However, this Nakamoto told the magazine: "I am no longer involved in that, and I cannot discuss it. It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."
Several other news organizations attempted to unmask the inventor of Bitcoin, and people have even come forward claiming they were Satoshi Nakamoto. Craig Wright, an Australian entrepreneur, said he was the one who created the digital currency. In 2016, he wrote a blog expressing his appreciation for all who helped make Bitcoin a success. What was unique about his claim was that he digitally signed his message with the cryptographic keys known to be originally used by the creator.
Is the puzzle of "who is Satoshi Nakamoto" solved? Maybe not. With so much of Bitcoin's creation done in the shadows, the identity of Nakamoto may remain an enduring mystery. Perhaps a better question is, does it matter? Regardless of the story surrounding Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency has been an unbelievable success.