Science

Satoshi Nakamoto, the unsolved riddle behind Bitcoin

Satoshi Nakamoto is something of a feat in an ultra-traced digital world, where every surfer spreads thousands of fingerprints that they don’t control. Because since October 31, 2008, the date Satoshi Nakamoto appeared, we still don’t know anything about him. Or her. Maybe it’s even a group of people, and not always the same. It says nothing either, despite its name, that it is Japanese. On the other hand, we know that you speak English: it is in this language that you wrote in the SourceForge online forums. We also know that you are well versed in cryptography – it is these skills that enabled you to launch bitcoin and blockchain.

A monetary system that does not require financial skills.

In fact, Satoshi Nakamoto published on October 31, 2008 a “white paper” describing this cryptocurrency. In January 2009, it published the software codes that enabled the project of this automatically generated currency to be launched, the circulation and use of which did not require a central banking authority or public powers. In fact, it is a monetary system that does not require any financial skills.

The Arte site has been broadcasting since November 17 a documentary series in six episodes of 10 to 14 minutes about this elusive character who invented bitcoin, The Mystery of Satoshi, the origins of bitcoin, by Rémi Forte. The episodes alternate interviews with specialists, archives and speech of thoughts (invented from his publications in the forums) of Satoshi Nakamoto, said by the actor Thibault de Montalembert.

This animated infographic made by Science and future explains how bitcoin works.

Satoshi Nakamoto disappears from the forums at the end of 2010

The ensemble looks at Satoshi Nakamoto’s motivations. First to those who preside over the creation of bitcoin, then to those related to its anonymity and its disappearance from the forums at the end of 2010.

Bitcoin was born out of the financial crisis of 2008 and the stagnation of blind trust in banks and the financial system. Bitcoin and blockchain don’t need their users to trust each other. It is the cryptographic mechanisms that make everything work. Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper consists of “eight very clear, very concise, and beautifully detailed pages,” says IT security entrepreneur Andreas Antonopoulos in the series.

The rarity of this coin is written in its computer code. The system will never issue more than 21 million bitcoins, unlike the inflation-generating state currency issue. And when Satoshi Nakamoto himself mines 1 million bitcoins, he doesn’t touch it. First, because using them would allow you to start tracking your identity. But it’s also a way to prevent an impostor from pretending to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Only the real person has the encryption keys that authorize the use of these bitcoins. Australian Craig Wright, who turned out to be a scammer, broke his teeth there.

This desire to stay in the shadows also serves the project. Bitcoin and blockchain, therefore, do not have a guardian figure, no incarnation in a person who could be under pressure, with the consequence of weakening the entire system.

From WikiLeaks à Silk Road

But one of the great interests of this series is to show how its creation ended up escaping the developer. And sooner than he had imagined. When WikiLeaks unveils the diplomatic “cables” of the US Secretary of State between 2010 and 2011, the pressures exerted on Paypal and Visa dry up the donations that go through these means of payment to the site of Julian Assange. The latter then began to accept donations in bitcoins, with the effect of drawing the attention of the authorities to this parallel monetary system.

Then, between 2011 and 2014, it is the Silk Road commercial site of illegal products (drugs and guns in the head) that uses bitcoins. Nakamoto’s creation becomes “the bargaining chip for those who most need to be in the shadows.” In April 2011, Gavin Andresen, an American developer with whom Satoshi Nakamoto talks on the forums, and one of the spearheads of the project, published a message indicating an invitation from the CIA to come and present bitcoin to the agency. Headquarters in June. This is too much. Satoshi Nakamoto disappears.

What he wanted to create ended up being perverted. Speculation, excessive mining, attempts to get rich … Everything that Bitcoin was supposed to get rid of it caught up with. Blockchain and bitcoin are becoming trendy marketing keywords, as is “AI” or “quantum.” Excuses to be news and, above all, to raise funds. Other virtual currencies appear, other uses of the blockchain are promoted in addition to buying and selling.

The worst of all, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook / Meta, announces his own digital currency, Libra, which later became Diem. “He wanted to be there too,” says Satoshi Nakamoto’s disappointed voice-over. The last post of the mysterious character dates from December 12, 2010 on the Bitcointalk forum. These latest messages to the crypto community, from April 26, 2011. He announces that he wants to move on. He hasn’t touched his million yet.

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