Last month’s events brought to the fore once again the question of the real-world identity of Satoshi Nakamoto.
At the Deconomy blockchain conference that took place between 3 and 4 April 2018 in Seoul, South Korea, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin called speaker Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist and businessman, a ‘fraud’ who didn’t deserve attention. Buterin was in part referring to Wright’s 2016 unproven claim to be Satoshi.
Several individuals have been suspected to be Satoshi in the past. The list includes Nick Szabo, Hal Finney and Dorian Nakamoto. Each one, with the exception of Wright, has denied being behind the launch of the first cryptocurrency.
Going by the number of investigative articles published every year about this topic, it is clear people are making a lot of effort to unmask the founder of Bitcoin. But the interest doesn’t match the need. Nothing really significant will change if a journalist, or someone else, one day manages to successfully attach a face and a name to the pseudonym. At least nothing significant will change with Bitcoin.
Who Satoshi is doesn’t really matter because the founder gave up technical influence over the Bitcoin project a long time ago. And any potential philosophical and political influence he, she or they had is gradually fading as Bitcoin attracts new participants each day who bring their own persuasions, interests and goals.
Bitcoin is a decentralised payment method that was built as an open-source project. For this primary reason, its founder’s identity becomes increasingly irrelevant. The project lacks a point or person of central control, and its every piece of code sits in the open for anyone to scrutinise.
Any change to the protocol (the rules by which the network functions) requires the consensus of the community that has grown around the cryptocurrency. Each proposed change goes through peer review. And the process, known as the Bitcoin improvement process (BIP), remains the same regardless of who proposes changes.
Following the launch of the cryptocurrency in January 2009, from the moment two other people joined Satoshi on the network that ran the core software, he ceased his control of the project. If he wanted to change any of the rules in the protocol after that point, he had to convince the others in the network to accept his proposed rules. Otherwise, they could choose to ignore him and hard fork (branch) to create a separate network and cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin has indeed experienced hard forks that formed new branches of cryptocurrencies after disagreements arose over network rules. One such hard fork happened in August 2017, when Bitcoin Cash (BCH) was created.
Since the launch of BCH, consensus over Bitcoin’s protocol, in addition to the status of the shared public ledger, has remained a critical element in Bitcoin’s functioning.
As a project, Bitcoin can be put in the same category as the internet. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, provided the platform on which much of the internet functions. However, in a very short time, he lost significant influence over how the project was implemented. Over the years, it has been the responsibility of others to turn the web into the powerful platform it is today.
While Bitcoin hasn’t reached a level equal to the internet, tremendous progress has been made towards achieving that status. Over 1,000 cryptocurrencies have been built out of inspiration from the Bitcoin technology. Hundreds of companies use the blockchain in one way or another. Many governments around the globe are even taking steps towards implementing the blockchain.
In other words, the technology has grown beyond Satoshi Nakamoto. While individuals will join and leave the community, just as Satoshi himself chose to leave, the technology will continue. And it won’t matter to the Bitcoin protocol whether we know the real-world identity or address of the person who invented it.