Bitcoin’s creator is Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki…. Maybe

Nobody knows who invented the digital currency Bitcoin.

The developer used a pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, and since then there’s been a lot of inconclusive internet sleuthing.

Ted Nelson, a computer scientist, has posted a video to the web claiming that he’s figured it out, and that it’s Kyoto University math professor  Shinichi Mochizuki.


Above is a photo of Shinichi Mochizuki.

Ted Nelson, the American academic who in 1963 coined the term hypertext, and is therefore viewed as one of the World Wide Web’s founding fathers, just released a 12-minute video with a big reveal at the end: The inventor of bitcoin, says Nelson, is probably Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki.

Nelson says that he did not receive help from anyone in coming to his conclusions, and that his supposition was inspired by a recent feature on Mochizuki. After reading it, writes Nelson in an email to Quartz, “It was obvious, like a pie in the face.” He has not contacted Mochizuki directly. “I did this  as fast as possible, hoping to be first with this realization. I wasn’t, as I found out later.”

Actually, it was Ashwin Dixit who first put out the theory about Mochizuki being Bitcoin’s inventor. Ashwin posted about it on his blog on May 11, a whole week before Nelson posted his YouTube video.

Both Ashwin and Nelson offers no direct evidence for their conclusion that Shinichi Mochizuki is the pseudonymous creator of bitcoin, but the do offer plausible circumstantial evidence. Internet surfers and the press are bound to investigate furiously.

When Ashwin first published the idea on Reddit he was told that: “gossip relating to real life details of people against their wishes is against Reddit Terms of Service.” However, they Reddit did publish the YouTube by Nelson.

“Ted Nelson has better established credentials than I.” said Ashwin. “So it is natural that the mainstream would attribute the theory to him, even though I published it first.”

In his eccentric way, Nelson outlines his theory as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might, playing the role of both Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in his YouTube video. In summary, here the brief points:

1. Mochizuki is the kind of genius who could create bitcoin. Whoever created Bitcoin has the intellectual might of Isaac Newton, says Nelson. Mochizuki’s work as a mathematician has cracked some of the simplest and toughest problems in his field, attracting global media coverage. “It’s not like I’m accusing him of a crime!” Nelson tells Quartz. “I’m accusing him of greatness.”

2. Mochizuki, like the creator of bitcoin, is fond of dropping brilliant works on the internet and stepping back. Bitcoin was released by a pseudonymous programmer (or programmers) under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, who then disappeared from the internet. Nelson compares this to Mochizuki’s style of delivering his work not through academic journals, but simply by dropping it on the internet and walking away. (Notably, this is one area where Nelson gets his bitcoin history wrong: Satoshi Nakamoto didn’t just drop bitcoin onto the internet and disappear. He, she or they, engaged with the community for some time over chat and email before disappearing.)

3. Mochizuki could easily have written all the correspondence associated with Satoshi Nakamoto. Despite being a Japanese professor at a Japanese university, Mochizuki’s English must be quite good, says Nelson, because he was the salutatorian of his graduating class at Princeton, and he completed his undergraduate education in only three years. (Nelson doesn’t note this, but it’s reasonable to expect that Mochizuki is actually a native English speaker; he moved to the US with his parents when he was only five years old.)

If a mathematical proof falls in the forest and there’s no one there to understand it, does it still make a sound?

Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician at Japan’s Kyoto University, has just published a breakthrough series of papers proving one of mathematics’ most complex theories, something called the abc conjecture. A renowned mathematician at Columbia University has labeled Mochizuki’s discovery “one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics in the 21st century.” Assuming, that is, others can confirm it. That process may take years, not only because Mochizuki’s proof is itself so complex, but also because he came up with a whole new mathematical language for it, which no one yet understands. –source

It’s worth noting that at least one expert in the cryptographic aspects of bitcoin doesn’t believe Nelson’s theory. Here’s Ryan Lackey, creator of Sealand, the world’s first data haven, is refuting Nelson’s video and has even posted his  comments on YouTube.

Does the proposed candidate have any documented experience as a software developer? He appears to just be a mathematician, which is very helpful but not sufficient to have built the first version of Bitcoin. Bitcoin has both some theoretical breakthroughs and extensions to existing protocols (Wei Day’s bmoney, Hal Finney’s RPOW, etc.), but is implemented fairly reasonably in code.

I see absolutely no reason to think this mathematician was Satoshi.

Mathematician Tyler Jarvis, who went to graduate school with Mochizuki, doesn’t believe Mochizuki has anything to do with bitcoin, either. Others have attempted to identify the creator of bitcoin, and no one has succeeded conclusively. Writing for Fast Company, Adam Penenberg offered what is perhaps the most compelling case so far, that bitcoin was created by three men who intended to profit from it.

Of course, Dixit and Nelson could be right. But doubts remain.  Dixit has now reversed himself, sort of, saying he “honestly doesn’t want to see Satoshi Nakamoto  revealed.” and then casts doubt on his own earlier assertions. As one attendee to the recent Bitcoin conference in San Fransico said, finding Satoshi would be “killing the unicorn.”

It has been suggested that that the error is to think that because Nakamoto is a Japanese sounding name therefore the author of Bitcoin has to be Japanese. Which I do believe would be an error. I think it’s far more likely that the pseudonym was coined by someone heavily influenced by the cyberpunk literature: a lot of which, as we all know, was influenced by how people viewed the Tokyo of the 80s:

The economic and technological state of Japan in the 80s influenced Cyberpunk literature at the time. Of Japan’s influence on the genre, William Gibson said, “Modern Japan simply was cyberpunk.”

I think that Nelson’s missed that point and has gone looking for a Japanese mathematician clever enough, and with good enough English, to have written both the code and the explanatory documentation. But I’ve a very strong feeling (with even less proof than Nelson has, to be sure) that going to look in Japan is the first mistake. It’s a cultural reference all right, but not to Japan specifically, rather to that Japan that Gibson and others were projecting through the genre of cyberpunk.

Take all the 40-ish, male, Japanese quants, who are fluent in number theory, English, C++, and economics. I’ll bet you can fit this league of extraordinary gentlemen in an ordinary room. But would Mochizuki be alone in the room? And even if he were, would that prove that he is Nakamoto?

Nelson is offering to donate to charity if Mochizuki denies being Satoshi Nakamoto. “If that person denies being Satoshi, I will humbly give one bitcoin (at this instant worth about $123) to any charity he selects.  If he is Satoshi and denies it, at least he will feel guilty. (One month time limit on denial– bitcoins are going UP.)”


2 thoughts on “Bitcoin’s creator is Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki…. Maybe

  1. Pingback: Cyber Christ: The Pope, Bitcoin, and the New Age of Man | unSpy

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