Great inventors become historic figures in their own right. But Bitcoin is unique in the history of technology because a pseudonymous online individual known only as Satoshi Nakamoto developed an era defining tool, only to disappear completely.

Satoshi Nakamoto’s disappearing act

In 2008, two things happened: The world was crippled by a financial crisis and an individual called Satoshi Nakamoto published a whitepaper called “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System ” As far as we are aware there were no fireworks. No earthly tremors were felt. Mercury wasn’t even in retrograde.

The whitepaper was met with a muted response. One year later, Nakamoto released the source code for Bitcoin and set in motion a series of events that would lead to Bitcoin redefining finance as we know it. But after just two short years of activity, Nakamoto wrote in an email that he had ‘moved on to other things.’ And that was the last that anyone ever heard from him.

Nakamoto only communicated online. Even then, his emails focused on technical issues. The only personal data about Nakamoto comes from his profile on the P2P Foundation website, which states he is a 45-year-old Japanese man. But this information too seems suspicious.

Nakamoto’s English was flawless. What’s more, his perfect command of written English showed a strong tendency to use British spelling and vocabulary. Analysis of Nakamoto’s communications showed words like “flat,” “maths,” “colour” and even expressions like “bloody hard.”

But Satoshi’s British connections went further still. Nakamoto also referenced a British newspaper headline in the code of Bitcoin’s first block: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” This showed not only Nakamoto’s scepticism of mainstream banking but also his awareness of British government activity.

A Swiss software engineer called Stefan Thomas also doubted Nakamoto’s Japanese identity. Thomas collected timestamp data for all of Nakamoto’s Bitcoin forum posts and found that almost none were made between 5am and 11am Greenwich Mean Time. Thomas argued that, as this pattern continued to occur on weekends, Nakamoto was probably sleeping during this time.

If this is true, it would mean that Nakamoto would consistently be sleeping between 2pm and 8pm Japanese time. Of course this doesn’t rule out that Nakamoto was a night owl that lived according to his own schedule, it simply adds to the mystery of who he was and where he lived.

So who is Nakamoto?

The short answer: We don’t know. Even with powerful analytic tools to examine the digital footprint left by whoever was behind Nakamoto’s online interactions, no conclusive evidence has ever been found. Despite this, journalists, academics and lawmakers have never stopped trying to uncover the mythical man behind Bitcoin. In the last decade several people have consistently been theorized to be Nakamoto.

Hal Finney

Hal Finney was a prominent cypherpunk who fought for what he believed to be the most important principles of the digital age: Privacy, freedom, decentralization and financial autonomy. He was also the first recipient of Bitcoin.

Finney immediately realized the true potential of Nakamoto’s whitepaper. He offered to mine the first coins and even received the first bitcoin transaction sent as a test from Nakamoto. Finney even helped Satoshi with modifying Bitcoin’s code in the early phases through discussions on BitcoinTalk.

But Finney’s ties to Satoshi go further than just enthusiasm for Bitcoin. According to analysis from the Juola & Associates consultancy and a stylometric analytical study of Nakamoto’s written communications, Finney’s linguistic usage was found to have similarities to that of Nakamoto.

Finney consistently denied that he was Nakamoto and died of ALS in 2014. If Finney had any secrets about Nakamoto’s identity, it appears they have gone with him to the grave.

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto

In 2014, Newsweek outed a Japanese-American man called Dorian Nakamoto as Satoshi. The article claimed that Nakamoto’s libertarian leanings, Japanese heritage and home address only two blocks away from Hal Finney showed he was the founder of Bitcoin.

From the very beginning, Nakamoto denied being behind Bitcoin. Nevertheless, the media had finally assigned a face to the mysterious founder and his image continues to be used when discussing Nakamoto’s true identity.

Nick Szabo

Nick Szabo is a computer engineer whose 2008 project, Bit Gold, provided many of the fundamental characteristics for Bitcoin.

Szabo has long been suspected of being Nakamoto. His colleagues at an early Bitcoin startup were astounded by his knowledge and suspected he was, at the least, involved in the core development of the cryptocurrency.

Szabo was also the subject of intense linguistic analysis that suggested he was Nakamoto.

Despite linguistic evidence, numerous investigations pointing to his being Satoshi and a significant overlap in relevant work experience and expertise, Szabo has consistently denied being Bitcoin’s creator.

Craig Wright

Craig Wright is the most controversial of all potential Satoshis. In 2016, Wright claimed to be Nakamoto and has courted media attention ever since.

Rumours swirled around Wright before his claim. A 2015 Wired article suggested that he was Nakamoto due to a cryptocurrency paper on Wright’s blog and leaked emails to lawyers and tax officials in which Wright admitted to being “behind Bitcoin.”

Wright’s own undoing came when he said he had access to the keys to move Bitcoin from the Genesis block, the first block ever mined by Nakamoto, to which no one else could have access. To date, Wright has never followed through on his Genesis block promise and Nakamoto’s identity remains unconfirmed.

Why stay anonymous?

Nakamoto’s disappearance could have several motivations. The first is that by only having minimal interaction in the earliest stages of cryptocurrency’s development, Nakamoto ensured that Bitcoin would remain neutral and untainted by the personality and politics of a public figure.

Bitcoin is now a household name and attracts significant media attention. But this wasn’t always the case. At the time Satoshi stepped away from the project, Bitcoin commanded a price of around $1 per token.

Even at this price, Bitcoin was only known to a small circle of people. It’s unlikely, but the possibility remains that Nakamoto simply lost interest in Bitcoin and didn’t realise the huge financial potential that was only a few years away.

It’s important to remember that Nakamoto’s own Bitcoin wallet remains untouched, albeit with a balance that would easily place him among the world’s richest individuals. Maybe he is an individual with a moral rectitude hitherto unprecedented in the capitalist age. Or maybe he’s just forgotten his password. Either way, it seems unlikely we will ever know.

Discussion of Nakamoto’s identity will probably continue to flow between fact and fanciful fiction. But one thing is certain: Bitcoin has gone on to develop a life force of its own, independent of its mysterious creator. Regardless of whether Nakamoto is identified, Bitcoin will continue to shape the financial world of tomorrow on its own terms.