Thanks to intriguing stories of quickly-made fortunes, online drug sales and financial scandals, everyone has heard of Bitcoin. Strangely, nobody knows who created it.
It all began with a paper written by “Satoshi Nakamoto” and quietly published via a cryptography mailing list in 2008. The author laid out a plan for an “electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust”. It was methodical, neat and sagely predicted future problems. It was also well-written in perfect English. Clearly this was no sketch on a napkin: it took intelligence, experience and time.
But Satoshi Nakamoto was a pseudonym – a male Japanese name that loosely translates as “wise”. No such person exists. The paper may have one author or many, but whoever it was has diligently kept it secret for years. And they left precious little in the way of clues.
There was an email address in the paper: email@example.com. In the early days someone would reply and answer technical questions. It also pointed to a website, http://www.bitcoin.org, but the domain had been purchased through an anonymous service.
In some correspondence he had used the phrase “bloody hard”, steering us away from an American towards a Briton. Clever analysis of when he made appearances online suggested that he was usually asleep from 5am to 11am GMT, contradictorily suggesting an American – or a nocturnal programmer. At other times he claimed to be 37 and confirmed that he was Japanese, but this was met with scepticism because of his use of slang. Oddly, he once left a link to a Times article in the blockchain, possibly to add weight to its dating.