Satoshi Nakamoto

Nick Szabo, The Real Satoshi Nakamoto: The Definitive Case Study

Nick Szabo next to Satoshi Nakamoto statue

* this story has been updated with new information 

The birth of Bitcoin

When the world was in financial turmoil in 2008 due to the housing market crisis, one ambitious computer scientist saw the strife that others were going through due to central bank tyranny and sought to change it; thus came the birth of Bitcoin.

The first peer-to-peer electronic cash system utilizing asymmetric cryptography and a digital database known as a blockchain, Bitcoin, is an attempt by a famous cypherpunk to fundamentally eliminate the need for central banks. This computer scientist decided to use the pseudonym "Satoshi Nakamoto" in an attempt to avoid detection and keep the protocol decentralized without a leader. Naturally, Satoshi left the project in 2011.

The evidence on Satoshi's identity dramatically points to a genius polymath named Nick Szabo, the inventor of smart contracts and the widely accepted precursor to Bitcoin, known as Bit Gold.

Nick Szabo
Photo by Michael del Castillo

 

Who is Nick Szabo?

One of the most influential computer scientists of our time, Nick Szabo is a Hungarian American with a deep passion for libertarianism, history, cryptography, science, law, and programming.  Szabo's friend and Ethereum Classic expert, Donald McIntyre, stated that Szabo is a "quiet master of cryptocurrency" and his works are "comparable to Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, Born, and Schrödinger."  

He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in computer science. Eventually, Szabo moved back to his home state of California to join the cypherpunk movement in the 1990s and work for Digicash, the first attempt at digital money. Cypherpunks are computer programmers who put the power of privacy and secure communication back into the hands of the public through open source software.

Szabo frequently spoke on the cypherpunk mailing lists and quickly arose as one of the lead cypherpunks, hosting a great deal of the in-person meetings, and thus meeting his good friend, Hal Finney, the second ever user of Bitcoin. Notably, Szabo also worked at a Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 2006, Szabo graduated from the George Washington Law School with a Juris Doctor. For his many contributions to computer science, Szabo was also awarded an honorary doctorate and professorship from Francisco Marroquín University

The most ambitious cypherpunk

Szabo states on many occasions that he was inspired by David Chaum, the widely recognized inventor of digital cash, and Tim May, a computer scientist and cypherpunk who wrote the "Crypto Anarchist Manifesto," in 1988, which outlines the goals of the movement. In 1995, Szabo began working for Digicash, the first digital cash attempt started by none other than David Chaum

Out of all candidates, Nick Szabo and Hal Finney were the only ones to continue working on digital cash after the bankruptcy of Digicash, namely Bit Gold and its variants (more on this later).

Bit Gold is nearly identical to Bitcoin

Nick Szabo invented Bit Gold in 1998, an idea for a decentralized cryptocurrency using "bit gold miners" to solve "complex mathematical puzzles." It also uses Adam Back's Hashcash Proof of Work algorithm, which is used in Bitcoin.

Szabo first released Bit Gold on a private mailing list he started called "Libtech," which had Hal Finney, Wei Dai, and economists George Selgin and Larry White as recipients. This is also the place where Wei Dai released his B-Money proposal for the first time. Dai went to the same university as Nick Szabo.

Szabo frequently described all four men as inspirations for his continued work on Bit Gold. 

Nick Szabo has a stunning blog known as Unenumerated, where he voices his opinion about cryptography, true libertarian ideals, history, law and science. He decided to publish Bit Gold in 2005, after Hal Finney encouraged him too.

In 2005, in a blog post titled "Antiques, Time, Gold and Bit Gold," Szabo quintessentially stated:

"There are some problems involved with implementing unforgeable costliness on a computer. If such problems can be overcome, we can achieve bit gold. This would be the first online currency based on highly distributed trust and unforgeable costliness rather than trust in a single entity and traditional accounting controls. Hal Finney has implemented a variant of bit gold based on a tamper-evident computer plug-in card, for which remote users can verify what code is running on the card."

Szabo described Hal Finney's variant of Bit Gold, Reusable Proofs of Work (RPOW) as the "world's first implemented cryptocurrency." When you examine the ideas of both men, it becomes clear that Bitcoin was an evolution of Bit Gold and Reusable Proofs of Work.

However, there is no evidence linking Hal Finney to the creation of Bitcoin, by his own admission in his final Bitcointalk post before tragically passing away due to ALS. But, the fact that he was the second ever user of Bitcoin and Szabo was his best friend, is strong evidence for Szabo.

Bit Gold was an early draft of Bitcoin

It is fairly clear that the early draft of Bitcoin was Bit Gold. It's hard to believe that Satoshi (or any other inventor) wouldn't have an early draft to begin with. This notion appears to be beyond the realms of theory too. Nick Szabo refers to Bit Gold as Bitcoin's "predecessor."

These facts are further confirmed in an interview that Szabo did with podcast host Peter McCormack. When McCormack asked Nick:

"So what happened with Bitgold? Because you never got to coding, right? What happened?"

This was Nick's response:

"That's part of it, is that it was certainly a way out there, fringe idea at the time I was working on it and there was only a handful of people in the world I can talk to about it that even have any clue what I was talking about."

It's clear from this exchange that the only thing holding Nick Szabo back in 2008 from making his idea a reality was a group of core developers to help him.

Szabo asked for help coding Bit Gold in 2008, 6 months before the whitepaper

In the years leading up to the public release of Bitcoin, Nick Szabo penned a new blog post titled "Bit Gold Markets," where he stated in the comments:

"I suspect this is all obscure enough that (a) it may require most people to sit down and work it out for themselves carefully before it can be well understood, and (b) it would greatly benefit from a demonstration, an experimental market (with e.g. a trusted third party substituted for the complex security that would be needed for a real system). Anybody want to help me code one up?"

6 months later, the Bitcoin whitepaper was released. The fact that Nick Szabo was asking for coding contributors on Bit Gold shows it was a live project 6 months before the whitepaper. Based on the gaping similarities with Bitcoin, it's a reasonable assumption that this goes far beyond coincidence.

Bitcoin Whitepaper references

Satoshi oddly didn't cite Bit Gold in the whitepaper

The Bitcoin whitepaper is a magnificent work of computer science. Whoever wrote the paper was almost certainly familiar with the cypherpunk movement and Bit Gold. After all, Bit Gold describes miners solving complex proof-of-work puzzles that are timestamped in a decentralized database. Thus, this makes Bit Gold far closer to the design of Bitcoin than B-Money.

Given Szabo is a top cypherpunk and wrote Bit Gold, it's odd, to say least, that Satoshi would not cite Bit Gold in the whitepaper given the numerous similarities; unless it was Szabo. This is further supported by the fact that Satoshi was careful enough to give proper credit to Adam Back for Hashcash and Wei Dai for B-money; even emailing them to ask if the citations were correct.

Satoshi ignored Hal Finney's observation of Bit Gold's similarities with Bitcoin in 2008 but backtracked in 2010 by admitting it was key to the design of Bitcoin

When Hal Finney received the first Bitcoin transaction from Satoshi, it was clear that he took an immediate interest in the software far beyond any other contributor. This may be because the software had a striking similarity to his friend's idea.

When discussing the network structure directly with Satoshi, Finney explicitly mentioned to Satoshi in 2008:

"Nick Szabo wrote many years ago about what he called bit gold and this could be an implementation of that concept."

In Satoshi's response to Finney, he flat out ignored the part about Bit Gold. This is important because Satoshi had the opportunity to properly give credit to Nick Szabo, but simply chose not to. In 2010, however, Satoshi backtracked significantly and admitted that Bitcoin was an implementation of B-Money and Bit Gold, while knowing its blog location.

Szabo invented the blockchain in 1998

Nick Szabo was a computer scientist more ambitious than any other person in the digital currency space throughout the 90s and 2000s. Many in the crypto space today don't know that Szabo actually invented the blockchain in 1998, a full decade before Satoshi ever devised it in Bitcoin. In Bit Gold, the public title registry was Szabo's early version of a blockchain, which was a decentralized database storing the public/private key pairs of users and their Bit Gold. The similarities with Bitcoin's blockchain are uncanny. If Satoshi was the inventor of the blockchain before Bitcoin, it would make perfect sense.

Szabo's motivations for Bit Gold are identical to Satoshi's motivations for Bitcoin

Satoshi was clearly a motivated individual, given he coded a headline from a British newspaper into the Genesis block stating "Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks."

Satoshi states in his first forum post that "The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that's required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust."

Szabo directly echos Satoshi in Bit Gold, saying:

"The problem, in a nutshell, is that our money currently depends on trust in a third party for its value. As many inflationary and hyperinflationary episodes during the 20th century demonstrated, this is not an ideal state of affairs."

In fact, Szabo did a comprehensive academic study on the history of money titled "Shelling Out: The Origins of Money." This is a move that the real Satoshi would have done, since you'd have to be strong with monetary theory.

Satoshi was also a libertarian just like Szabo, saying:

"It's very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain [Bitcoin] properly."

In addition, Satoshi mentioned that he had past experience in digital financial contracts, saying:

"The design supports a tremendous variety of possible transaction types that I designed years ago. Escrow transactions, bonded contracts, third party arbitration, multi-party signature, etc.  If Bitcoin catches on in a big way, these are things we'll want to explore in the future, but they all had to be designed at the beginning to make sure they would be possible later."

It's important to remember that Nick Szabo invented smart contracts.

An exceptionally similar writing and coding style

Stylometry is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the statistical analysis of variations in literary style between one writer or genre and another." As such, there have been many studies comparing Satoshi to candidates like Nick Szabo, Hal Finney and Adam Back. Adam Back consistently scores near the bottom, while Hal Finney scores near the top.

However, Nick Szabo is consistently shown as having the most similar writing mannerisms to Satoshi. In a 2014 study performed by Aston University professor Jack Grieve and PhD students studying the whitepaper, they stated:

"The number of linguistic similarities between Szabo’s writing and the Bitcoin paper is uncanny, none of the other possible authors were anywhere near as good of a match. We are pretty confident that out of the list of people regularly referred to as possibilities, Nick Szabo is the main author of the paper, though we can’t rule out the possibility that others contributed."

While others could have helped, the important part of the study is that Szabo was the main author and didn't cite his own work. However, when someone like myself examines the hundreds of Satoshi writings, it's pretty clear that it was a single voice.

A researcher who compared all the top candidates' code to Satoshi's found that Szabo was the only person to display noticeable similarities to Satoshi.

The strongest OPSEC of any candidate

When people first began to speculate on the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, Nick Szabo was the first person suspected. When you look at the principles of Occam's Razor, it's easy to understand why. Szabo's operation security (OPSEC) skills, were so strong that people theorized that he didn't actually exist, and his name was a pseudonym for famous computer scientist John Nash.

In 1993, while speaking with others on the cypherpunk mailing list, Szabo discussed his frequent use of pseudonyms:

"In my limited experience creating Internet pseudonyms, I've been quite distracted by the continual need to avoid leaving pointers to my True Name lying around -- excess mail to/from my True Name, shared  files, common peculiarities (eg misspellings in written text), traceable  logins, etc.... The hazards are everywhere."

Furthermore, in 2006, Szabo stated on his blog that:

"Another good use for pseudonyms is to stay alive."

There is evidence that Satoshi faked his British writing mannerisms for the purposes of OPSEC. It is important to remember that he used British and American English nearly the same amount. Researchers determined that Satoshi used British English highly erratically and sometimes even using it alongside American English within the same posts. Given Satoshi's many other precautions at avoiding detection, it's a reasonable assumption that his semantics were another red herring.

Hal Finney
The late Hal Finney

Satoshi had a deep respect for Hal Finney, Szabo's friend

Satoshi Nakamoto sent the first Bitcoin transaction to Hal Finney. While it may simply be because Finney loved the idea, it's an insane coincidence, to say the least, that Szabo and Finney were working on Bit Gold-related ideas for years when Finney happened to be the second user of Bitcoin.

When discussing the software with another individual on the Bitcoin forum, Hal stated:

"I'd like to hear some specific criticisms of the code. To me it looks like an impressive job, although I'd wish for more comments. Now I've mostly studied the init, main, script and a bit of net modules. This is some powerful machinery."

Satoshi then replied:

"That means a lot coming from you, Hal.  Thanks." 

This is notable because, while he still thanked other Bitcoin core developers, Satoshi never said anything along the lines of "coming from you," to anyone but Finney. This implies Satoshi knew Finney before the creation of Bitcoin.

Cryptic Satoshi References to Gold Directly match Szabo's Gold References in Various Speeches

Besides the fact that Bitcoin is a clear attempt to mirror a scare commodity like gold in the digital world, cryptic references by Satoshi show that he was a definite gold bug. Satoshi listed his birthday on the P2P foundation forum as April 5th 1975. Well, April 5th is the day FDR signed order 6102, which made it illegal for Americans to own gold. In 1975, the federal government reversed this policy and allowed Americans to own gold again.

Nick Szabo also happens to be a gold bug (or former gold bug now) like many other cypherpunks. Though, his interest in economics took him a level higher than his peers. In his many speeches, he frequently mentions the exact same detail that Satoshi used as an Easter egg. One example is when Szabo spoke at an Ethereum developer conference and explicitly mentions it.

Satoshi put video poker in the early code, which Szabo had a deep interest in

Previously, there have been no attempts to trace the motivations of Satoshi's original source code before he made some changes and finally released Bitcoin to the public. The most notable change was code for a video poker game built into the original Bitcoin protocol that Satoshi scrapped in the final version of the software.

Szabo also desired to code a decentralized video poker game. In an October 1993 Cypherpunks email, Szabo stated:

"My own vision of [the] cypherpunk evolution runs along the following lines... On-line markets: Internet video poker, election outcome markets, satellite track betting, etc."

Numerous hints by Szabo himself

Nick Szabo tends to stay away from the topic of Satoshi Nakamoto; but on occasion, despite some denials, (which you'd expect Satoshi to do), he reveals things that suggest he knows far more about the creation of Bitcoin than he's publicly stated. It's important to remember that there is nothing publicly tying Szabo to the development of Bitcoin.

Nick Szabo hinting at creating Bitcoin on Twitter

On Twitter, when making a tweet about his "old cryptocurrency design called bit gold," one user asked, "Then what is your new design?" Szabo curiously responds with "Bit Gold II." and a smiley face. Given the similarities of both projects, it's highly odd to say the least that 

Nick Szabo discussing origins of Satoshi Bitcoin stash on Twitter

Even more revealing, is that Szabo seems to know in the above tweet that neither weak Satoshi candidates Craig Wright nor the late David Kleiman had access to the Satoshi Bitcoin stash when responding to someone discussing the nonsense Kleiman vs Wright court case. Craig Wright is famously known as "Faketoshi" in the Bitcoin world for his outrageous claims and failure to prove his identity as Satoshi.

Nick Szabo denying that Craig Wright or David Kleiman created Bitcoin

Furthermore, Szabo also denied the notion that Craig Wright or David Kleiman had anything to do with the origins of Bitcoin, when another user asked him. 

In a podcast interview with Tim Ferris and Naval Ravikant, Szabo makes a Freudian slip by saying, "When I designed Bitcoi.... gold." A Freudian slip is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "an unintentional error regarded as revealing subconscious feelings."

Nick Szabo having dinner at MIT with Bitcoin core developers
From Nick Szabo's Facebook

There's also a famous photo of Szabo having dinner with Bitcoin Core developers at Princeton University in 2014. This social gathering seems to imply that Szabo knows the developers in private.

In addition, former New York Times finance journalist Nathaniel Popper wrote an extensive story about Szabo being Satoshi. When confronting Szabo at a social gathering about the origins of Bitcoin and his involvement, Szabo responded, “All I'm saying is, there are all these parallels, and it looks funny to me, and looks funny to a lot of other people."

This led former Gizmodo journalist Kate Knibbs to famously state in an article that "Even Nick Szabo thinks that Nick Szabo is probably Satoshi Nakamoto."

Lastly, in a blog post written a month after Satoshi sent his last emails to core developers, Szabo stated:

"Myself, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney were the only people I know of who liked the idea (or in Dai's case his related idea) enough to pursue it to any significant extent until Nakamoto (assuming Nakamoto is not really Finney or Dai). Only Finney (RPOW) and Nakamoto were motivated enough to actually implement such a scheme."

Szabo himself was among the only three men he listed to like the idea of a decentralized cryptocurrency. Furthermore, since RPOW is a variant of Bit Gold, we can assume that he's hinting to the reader that he was the only other person motivated enough to create Bitcoin besides Hal Finney.

Top crypto leaders seem to understand that Satoshi is Szabo

The smartest individuals in the crypto space seem to know a great deal about Nick Szabo, naturally, given that he invented smart contracts and Bit Gold. But it goes much further than that. Computer scientists are individuals who typically place empirical evidence above other factors.

Litecoin Creator Charlie Lee stating Nick Szabo may be Satoshi

The creator of Litecoin Charlie Lee stated in 2017 that Nick Szabo is the "closest thing that we have to Satoshi, if not Satoshi himself." 

Elon Musk famously stated in December 2021 that "Nick Szabo is more responsible for the ideas behind Bitcoin than anyone else." This statement by Musk is supported by the fact that Szabo has over 20 published academic pieces on Bitcoin-related ideas, while most other candidates haven't even scratched five.

The few arguments Against Szabo don't hold up

When you look at the many articles and internet discussions speculating on the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, Nick Szabo consistently falls at the top.

However, the most common argument against Szabo being Satoshi discussed is that he is not a talented enough programmer to pull it off. This is simply flat out wrong, based on Szabo's own JavaScript code. That code is not the work of an amateur, but of a seasoned expert.

Author and journalist Dominic Frisby revealed in his book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? that Szabo said to him:

"C++ is a great language for implementing cryptographic primitives because of its efficiency."

This implies that Szabo has coded using C++ in the past. It's important to remember that he also worked for Digicash in the mid-1990s. He would naturally hide his C++ code from the public due to obvious reasons. Frisby concluded that Szabo was Satoshi.

Furthermore, Satoshi was a definite small blocker just like Szabo, since he never lifted the 1 MB block limit he put before leaving the project, which he effortlessly could've done.

Hungarian Satoshi Nakamoto statue
from CGTN

The first Satoshi Nakamoto statue is in Hungary, and Szabo is Hungarian

Of all the places in the world for the first Satoshi Nakamoto statue to be built, somehow Hungary was chosen. While this has been attributed to Hungary's strides for freedom, it seems too convenient that Nick Szabo happens to be a Hungarian, while being the top Satoshi candidate besides Hal Finney.

Conclusion

Bitcoin has revolutionized the world for the better. Satoshi Nakamoto did an incredible job hiding his identity from the world. But, at the end of the day, he was still only human. This article shows that Satoshi did sometimes reveal personal details, despite common knowledge.

When people discuss the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the suggestions of his personality that usually come first are along the lines of a "genius with a strong blend of economics, law, and computer programming." Nick Szabo matches these traits better than any other known candidate. Based on the above evidence, Nick Szabo is without a shadow of a doubt Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin.

Cryptohopper