Did this Australian genius invent Bitcoin? (UPDATE: Looks like it!)

In the last day or so, two publications have posted separate investigations into the real identity of the mysterious inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto (or should we say “Satoshi Nakamoto”). We break down the various evidence for those that don’t want to read through the leaked emails, cached websites and tax department documents.

UPDATED 2 May 2016: Today, The EconomistBBCand the London Review of Books all published articles stating that Craig Wright is now claiming that he is, as suggested below, Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin. 

British writer Andrew O'Hagan (who previously an incredible piece on Julian Assange in the LRB), spent six months with Wright and, in May, will publish a long piece on Wright, including extensive investigation into the claim.

BUT: Reddit is not so sure, with many users claiming today's announcement is yet another Bitcoin hoax.

Stay tuned!

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The inventor of Bitcoin, the digital currency that’s made some people millions and driven others to despair, has long been known by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, who claimed to be a thirty-something living in Japan. But Nakamoto’s use of English in his source code comments (including the phrase "bloody hard") and the complete lack of Japanese on any code, posts or emails, lead some to believe that he was actually British (or from the Commonwealth).

Theories abounded: The New Yorker thought he might be Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta, a the Finnish economic sociologist, or Michael Clear, a graduate student in cryptography at Trinity College Dublin; Fast Company published a piece claiming that Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry, who had jointly filed a patent including the words “"computationally impractical to reverse", whic was also used in Nakamoto’s original white paper, three days before the bitcoin.org domain was registered; Newsweek published a long investigatigive piece that pointed the finger at Dorian Nakamoto, a physicist, systems engineer and libertarian who’s birth name is, you guessed it, Satoshi Nakamoto. (All have vigorously involved their involvement.)

But in the last 24 hours, both Wired and Gizmodo have published investigations alleging that the same man – Australian economist and cryptographer, Craig Steven Wright – is the real Satoshi Nakamoto (along with his now dead friend, Dave Kleiman, a computer forensics expert).

You can see Wright in this video of a bitcoin conference, where he can barely contain his smile when talking about how he “got involved” in bitcoin:

The Wired article, which is based on archived blogs, financial documents and includes no comment from Wright, ties Wright to a PGP encryption key which is linked to an email address one letter off the email address that sent Nakamoto’s white paper to the cryptography mailing list where it was first published. It also unearths a blog post from Wright months before bitcoin’s release where he discusses his intention to create a “cryptocurrency paper”.

And on 10 January, Wright posted a blog post saying “The Beta of Bitcoin is live tomorrow. This is decentralized… We try until it works.” While the post was dated 10 January, a day after the official launch of Bitcoin on 9 January, Wired claims that Wright would have posted it after midnight on the night of the 9th Australian-time, before bitcoin’s launch at 3pm EST on the 9th.

Wired also obtained a leaked PDF from Kleiman (who died in 2013), agreeing to control a trust fund, called “Tulip Trust,” of 1.1 million bitcoins. The Tulip Trust is the same size as a single hoard of bitcoin that have never changed hands and are visible to bitcoin users and is widely attributed to Nakamoto.

Both Wired and Gizmodo received a leaked transcript of a meeting Wright had with attorneys and tax officials, which quotes Wright: “I did my best to try and hide the fact that I’ve been running bitcoin since 2009,” he says. “By the end of this I think half the world is going to bloody know.”

None of which proves that Wright is Nakamoto or that he invented bitcoin. And there are some sketchy details in the piece - edited documents, blog posts deleted and reposted. Is this some elaborate hoax? Is Wright the leaker of the documents? Does “running bitcoin” mean inventing bitcoin, or does it mean he’s been mining and trading it since 2009?

The Gizmodo article adds a number of leaked emails to the mix (on the video below) which appear to put Wright in control of the account Nakamoto used to publish the white paper, signing emails about the creation of bitcoin as “Craig (possibly...)”:

Unlike Wired, Gizmodo did get in touch with Wright. When they read lines from the leaked emails to him, he sounded unsettled asking, “How did you get that? You shouldn’t have that.”

Still no irrefutable proof, but the circumstantial evidence sure is compelling. But some of the articles pointing fingers were pretty compelling too. But now, at the time of writing, Guardian is reporting that Wright’s home in Sydney is being raided by the police in connection with a Tax Office investigation. Apparently, the police are in his garage, looking through his archive boxes. Who knows what they’ll uncover. I’m sure they’d be interested in his bitcoin fortune.

UPDATE: As these two articles shot around the internet, it was only a matter of time till someone with the know-how and the can-do either confirmed the suspicions or threw some cold water on it. And today, Business Insider has published a post skeptical of Wired and Gizmodo's assertions.

It offers the following counter-evidence:

1. Wright wrote several posts and left numerous comments on The Conversation, most of which were about cyber-security, and only mentions bitcoin once: at the end of a long list of alternatives to PayPal. And when he does, he misspells it as "Bit Coin". Would the inventor of bitcoin both misspell it and only mention it at the end of a long list?

2. Wright's tone is combative and assertive, much different to Nakamoto, who, according to Business Insider, had "an entirely different voice that was largely patient and respectful and sought feedback not absolute submission".

3. Wright was active on Quora – the Q&A sire – but didn't mention bitcoin or cryptocurrency at all until 2014.

4. Neither Wired nor Gizmodo made any real attempt to verify the hacker. According to Business Insider: "He could have been Wright himself, seeking notoriety, or simply someone with a grudge against Wright, or a hacker just doing it for the “lulz”. In any event, he, or she, succeeded in pranking a few journalists.

Hmmm...