Satoshi Nakamoto

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

Nick Szabo next to Satoshi Nakamoto statue

The birth of Bitcoin

During the global economic collapse of 2008, one ambitious computer scientist witnessed the suffering of innocent people due to central bank tyranny and sought to change it through code; 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 research I have conducted on Satoshi's identity points dramatically to a genius polymath named Nick Szabo, the inventor of smart contracts and the widely accepted precursor to Bitcoin, known as Bit gold. I present to you the definitive case study of Satoshi Nakamoto's identity.

 

Nick Szabo
Photo by Michael del Castillo

Who is Nick Szabo?

One of the most influential and humble computer scientists of all time, Nick Szabo is an American of Hungarian descent born in California with a deep passion for libertarianism, history, cryptography, science, law, and programming.  Szabo's friend, Donald McIntyre, describes Szabo as a "quiet master of cryptocurrency" and that his works are "comparable to Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, Born, and Schrödinger."  

He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a bachelor's 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 secure 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. He hosted a large portion of the in-person meetings, and thus met his good friend, Hal Finney, the second ever user of Bitcoin.

Notably, Szabo also worked at a Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, demonstrating his strong math skills. 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 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 Satoshi candidates, Nick Szabo and Hal Finney were the only cypherpunks to continue working on digital cash in the 2000s after the bankruptcy of Digicash, namely Bit gold and its variants (more on this later).

Bit gold is the most similar precedent 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 used Adam Back's Hashcash proof-of-work algorithm, which is present in Bitcoin.

The difference is that the PoW in Bit gold was not used for security, while that is a crucial part of Bitcoin's design.

Szabo first released Bit gold on a private email list he started called "Libtech," where Hal Finney, Wei Dai, and economists George Selgin and Larry White were present.

This is also the place where Wei Dai released his B-Money proposal. 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 an impressive 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 a 2005 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 RPOW.

The fact that Finney was the second ever user of Bitcoin and Szabo was his good friend, is an another strange coincidence between Satoshi and Szabo.

Bit gold's database was an early version of the blockchain

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 title registry was Szabo's early version of a blockchain, which was a decentralized database with shared ownership records using public key cryptography and timestamped Hashcash proof-of-work puzzles. It is also the same database described in Szabo's exemplary paper "Secure Property Titles Without Ownership Authority."

The similarities with Bitcoin's blockchain are clearly noticeable. If Satoshi was the inventor of the blockchain before Bitcoin, it would make perfect sense.

Szabo further described Bit gold's database in a comment on his "Bit gold Markets" blog post 6 months before the Bitcoin whitepaper; stressing its open source nature like Satoshi did with Bitcoin many times:

"The entire value chain from puzzle to solution, and all transfers of title, are available for all bit gold and can be audited by anybody at any time."

"Value chain" is noticeably similar to terms Satoshi used like "time chain" and "block chain." Other terms Satoshi used like "chain of digital signatures" also appear in this blog post.

Bitcoin Magazine writer Aaron van Wirdum astutely summarized Bit gold's database:

"Indeed, it's not difficult to see Bit Gold as an early draft of Bitcoin. Apart from the shared database of ownership records based on public-key cryptography, the chain of proof-of-work hashes has an eerie resemblance to Bitcoin's blockchain. And, of course, the names Bit Gold and Bitcoin are not too far apart either."

Bit gold was likely the draft of Bitcoin

The early draft of Bitcoin was likely Bit gold based on the timing and noticeable similarities such as the public, distributed database and timestamped PoW puzzles.

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 design."

An interview that Szabo did with podcast host Peter McCormack further confirms this.

When McCormack asked Szabo:

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

Szabo replied:

"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."

Those "handful of people in the world" sound very much like Adam Back, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney. More importantly, 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 Bitcoin whitepaper

In the months 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 only 6 months before the whitepaper. Based on the gaping similarities with Bitcoin, it's a reasonable assumption this goes 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 the 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 avoided the topic of Bit gold as much as possible

We already know Satoshi decided to name the project closely after Szabo's Bit gold, but didn't cite it in the whitepaper. As it turns out, Satoshi's behavior concerning Bit gold was a trend. He wanted to avoid discussion of the project at all costs.

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 with Satoshi over email in 2008, 1 week after the whitepaper, Finney stated:

"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. Satoshi clearly had the opportunity to properly give credit to Nick Szabo through an email, but simply chose not to. In 2010, however, Satoshi backtracked significantly and admitted that Bitcoin was an implementation of B-Money and Bit gold.

In truly stunning fashion, Satoshi even misspelled the project name!

Besides Satoshi incorrectly spelling Bit gold, the most striking part is that the content of both messages are identical.

Hal Finney called Bitcoin an "implementation" of Bit gold, which is the same term Satoshi used in 2010. The key part is that it took Satoshi a full 2 years to repeat what Finney told him.

Satoshi's obvious desire to avoid mention of Bit gold, despite the impressive similarities, could be explained logically if Szabo was behind the pseudonym.

"bit coin" appears in a comment on Nick's blog post discussing Bit gold 6 months before the Bitcoin whitepaper

A user named "Eddie" used the term "bit coin" to refer to Bit gold multiple times in a comment on Szabo's important blog post "Bit gold Markets," which was written 6 months before the Bitcoin whitepaper. The comment was about suggestions on how to improve Szabo's idea of Bit gold's automated marketplace.

It is unclear why Eddie suddenly used that term in the comment while also combining "bitgold" and using "bit gold" too. A few possible answers are: he may have made possible typos or thought it was a better name. 

Since this was Szabo's blog, and he responded to nearly every comment, while noticeably skipping over Eddie's, Szabo saw the comment containing "bit coin" 6 months before the name "Bitcoin" even existed under Satoshi's identity.

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." It's clear Satoshi's top concern was insuring a lack of central bank involvement. Szabo shared these same motivations in his extensive work on Bit gold.

Szabo had a clear desire to stifle inflation in Bit gold:

"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."

Satoshi echoes Szabo in his first forum post: 

"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 did a comprehensive academic study on the history of money titled "Shelling Out: The Origins of Money." This is the type of paper Satoshi would have wrote before Bitcoin, since you'd have to be especially strong with monetary theory to invent Bitcoin. But, the similarities don't stop there.

Satoshi was also a libertarian like Szabo, stating:

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

In addition, Satoshi had clear experience in digital financial contracts:

"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."

These transaction types are often used in smart contracts, a concept where financial contracts can execute through code. Nick Szabo invented smart contracts in the 90s as previously noted.

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. Aston University undergraduate stylometrists stated in a 2014 study of the whitepaper:

"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 potentially helped, the important part of the study was they concluded that Szabo was the main author and thus didn't cite his own work.

Regarding Satoshi's programming abilities, a researcher who compared the majority of the top candidates' code to Satoshi's found that Szabo was the only person to display noticeable similarities.

The strongest OPSEC of any candidate

When people began to speculate on the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, Nick Szabo was the first person suspected. When you examine 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 exist in 2011, 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 in a blog post:

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

There is evidence that Satoshi faked his British writing mannerisms for the purposes of OPSEC. Surprising to most people, Satoshi actually used British and American English nearly the same amount.

Researchers determined that Satoshi used British English highly erratically, and sometimes even used it alongside American English within the same posts.

Given Satoshi's many other precautions for 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 good friend

Satoshi Nakamoto sent the first Bitcoin transaction to Hal Finney. It is possible this may be simply be due to the fact Finney loved the idea. However, when you consider the broader picture, it's an insane coincidence, 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, Finney 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 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 quote by Satoshi implies he knew Finney before the creation of Bitcoin.

A Satoshi easter egg about gold matches Szabo's gold reference 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 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 put him at a level higher than his peers. In his many speeches, he frequently mentions the same detail about FDR banning gold being a motivation for creating Bit gold. One example is when Szabo spoke at an Ethereum developer conference.

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

Previously, there have been no attempts to trace the motivations behind 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 cypherpunk evolution runs along the following lines... online 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 occasionally, 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.

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 told Popper:

"I mean, the reason people tag me is because you can go through secure property titles and bit gold — there are so many parallels between that and Bitcoin that you can’t find anywhere else."

Szabo's comments to Popper led former Gizmodo journalist Kate Knibbs to famously state in an article

"Even Nick Szabo thinks that Nick Szabo is probably Satoshi Nakamoto."

More impressively, in a blog post Szabo wrote in the same month Satoshi sent his last emails to core developers, he 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 like Bitcoin. Since RPOW is a variant of Bit gold and he explicitly mentions it here, we can assume Szabo is hinting to the reader that he was the only other person besides Hal Finney motivated enough to create 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." Given the similarities of both projects, it's highly odd to say the least that Szabo would make this comment.

Nick Szabo discussing origins of Satoshi Bitcoin stash on Twitter

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. 

Finally, in a podcast interview with Tim Ferris and Naval Ravikant, Szabo makes a potential 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."

Crypto leaders seem to know 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. If they state that Nick Szabo is Satoshi, there is greater weight to their opinion based on expertise.

Litecoin Creator Charlie Lee stating Nick Szabo may be Satoshi

The creator of Litecoin, Charlie Lee, stated in 2017:

"Nick Szabo is the "closest thing that we have to Satoshi, if not Satoshi himself." 

As the creator of Litecoin, the most well known Bitcoin fork, Lee is sufficiently familiar with the technology behind the #1 cryptocurrency.

Elon Musk, the co-creator of PayPal, famously stated in December 2021:

"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 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 is that he is not a talented enough programmer to pull it off. This notion is simply flat out wrong, based on Szabo's own web 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 privately:

"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. Based on his analysis, Frisby concluded that Szabo was Satoshi.

Furthermore, Satoshi was likely a 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-American

Of all the places in the world for the first Satoshi Nakamoto statue to be built, somehow Hungary was chosen. Nick Szabo's parents were Hungarian freedom fighters battling the communist regime in the 50s. This has inspired Szabo throughout his life, especially for his work on Bit gold to create a secure financial system untethered from government.

It seems too coincidental that Nick Szabo happens to be a Hungarian-American, while being the top Satoshi candidate besides Hal Finney.

Conclusion

Bitcoin has revolutionized the world for the better. Millions of unbanked people across the world now have a new chance for freedom. Satoshi Nakamoto was a visionary who did an incredible job at hiding his identity from the world. But, at the end of the day, he was still only human. This research demonstrates that Satoshi did reveal some personal details, despite common knowledge.

When people discuss the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, he is often referred to as a humble genius with a mastery of economics and computer programming. Nick Szabo matches the unique personality of Bitcoin's inventor better than any other known candidate. Based on the available research, I conclude that Nick Szabo is the real Satoshi Nakamoto.

 

* this story has been updated with new information and small corrections