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If you were drawing a Venn diagram of finance and technology, nothing would represent the overlap between those two things quite as well as bitcoin. Depending on whom you choose to believe, the “crypto-currency” is either the future of money, or a breeding ground for scam artists, conspiracy theorists, and wackos. As of this writing, unfortunately, the latter seems like a more apt description.
The identity of bitcoin’s mysterious creator, a man known only as Satoshi Nakamoto, has been a closely guarded secret since the currency was created in 2008. Newsweek magazine claimed to have revealed Nakamoto’s true identity in a splashy 2014 cover story, but the subject of the story denied being the currency’s creator, and experts on bitcoin were also unconvinced.
Last week, an Australian man named Craig Wright claimed to be the inventor, and said he could prove it. His claims were widely reported by the BBC, The Economist and others, despite the fact that Wright was previously named as Nakamoto last year—claims that were more or less debunked by a number of leading bitcoin experts.
This time around, Wright lined up prominent members of the bitcoin community to attest to his identity, including Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, who took over development of the currency after Nakamoto disappeared. But a number of experts in the crypto-currency again blew holes in his claims, and Andresen admitted that he might have been too hasty.
Not to be dissuaded, Wright said he would provide conclusive proof that he is Nakamoto by withdrawing bitcoins from a cache that was originally set up by the currency’s creator. The current value of that cache is estimated to be about $450 million. On Thursday, however, Wright backed away from his promise and said he couldn’t go through with providing proof.
Why does it matter so much that we know who the creator of bitcoin is? It doesn’t really. The digital currency functions just fine without that knowledge—after all, the whole point is that it’s a decentralized monetary system. But it does seem more than a little ironic that a payment method renowned for its trustworthiness was created by a shadowy figure with unknown motives. And so, the mystery continues.