Has a New Yorker Reporter Found Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto?


Bitcoin has its own version of Batman and a New Yorker reporter has gone out hunting for the cryptocurrency’s Bruce Wayne.

It’s been three years since the inception and introduction of Bitcoin to the world and while it started out extremely fringe and invisible to the general public, lately the cryptographic currency has managed to make quite a splash. The system involves a complex mathematical theory that allows users to slowly coin their own money, essentially limiting the volume of currency and making it something of a commodity. Of course, now that Bitcoin has appeal generated from sites such as Slashdot the creator should be basking in the limelight of his or her invention—but here lies the mystery: Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin, happens to be a reclusive enigma.

Celebrity brings its own curiosity and, of course, mystery only tends to amplify that. As a result, the journalist Joshua Davis has attempted to track down Satoshi and wrote up his travelogue in an article in this week’s New Yorker (buried behind a paywall.)

Davis uses his skills as a journalist to seek out an expert and gets oriented towards Crypto2011—a convention for extremely talented cryptography programmers, mathematicians, and crypto enthusiasts. Judging by the fact that Satoshi tends to use British English spelling (as opposed to American English) he discerned that chances were good that Satoshi would probably be found at Crypto2011 UK.

All this investigation narrows his likely pool of candidates down to a guy named Michael Clear.

NPR reporter Jacob Goldstein went over Clear’s history in an article as well. Clear happens to have an impressive curriculum vitae after being named top of his undergrad class at Trinity College of Dublin in 2008. He then did some work for Allied Irish Banks to improve currency-trading software in 2009 (a fitting link to someone who worked on a cryptocurrency shortly thereafter.) Also later that year, Clear co-authored a paper on peer-to-peer technology (another fitting link as Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer currency.)

And then there’s the conversation that whet the appetite of anyone wondering if Clear is indeed Satoshi.

Finally, [Davis] asked, “Are you Satoshi?”

He laughed, but didn’t respond. There was an awkward silence.

“If you like, I’d be happy to review the design for you,” he offered instead. “I could let you know what I think.”

“Sure,” I said hesitantly. “Do you need me to send you a link to the code?”

“I think I can find it,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to say much about him or even suggest that Clear is indeed the mysterious Satoshi. Of course, he denies being the masked-cryptographer; but then he pauses a moment to pull a line from every spy-noir novel ever written:

“I’m not Satoshi,” Clear said. “But even if I was I wouldn’t tell you.”

Evidence is thin and if Clear isn’t actually Satoshi, he’s stumbled upon some newfound celebrity. If it turns out that he is Satoshi, perhaps we should just leave him alone. The inventor-programmer who wrote up the underlying code and protocol for Bitcoin obviously isn’t interested in being part of the popular crowd.

Satoshi may not be Batman, but he has certainly given the rest of the world a product with a legacy.