An eccentric, 75-year-old polymath named Ted Nelson thinks he knows who created Bitcoin, and he explains his theory in a highly entertaining video released on YouTube earlier this week. Bitcoin was released to the world in 2008 by a computer programmer operating under the pseudonym "Satoshi Nakamoto." The digital currency has flourished in the years since, prompting even some mainstream speculation that it could be the monetary unit of the future. For his part, Nakamoto has proven to be a peerless cryptographer and also a master of disguise: Despite an intense international hunt, no one can figure out who he is.
But Ted Nelson thinks he knows. Nelson, who's most famous for coining the term "hypertext" in the 1960s, explains in this apparently self-shot amateur video that Satoshi Nakamoto is in fact Shinichi Mochizuki. Mochizuki, you may recall from an article in Ideas last November, is the Japanese mathematician who last summer announced that he'd proven the ABC conjecture--one of the most impossibly difficult problems in mathematics.
Nelson explains that he came to realize Mochizuki is Nakamoto because the two are both brilliant and, more importantly, because they share a work style. Mochizuki announced his potential proof by posting on his website more than 500 pages of dense mathematics that no one in the world could understand- and then he went to ground, declining all requests to give interviews or lectures about his work. The broad similarities between the way Mochizuki announced his ABC proof and the way Nakamoto unveiled Bitcoin led Nelson to conclude that the two geniuses are the same person.
There are complications with Nelson's theory, of course. For one, Mochizuki is not a programmer or a cryptographer. For two, he is by all accounts single-mindedly devoted to pure mathematics, so it would seem unlikely he'd take so much time away from his research for this kind of side project. But regardless, Nelson's video exposition is wonderful viewing, especially when he acts out a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
I say Satoshi Nakamoto was and is Shinichi Mochizuki…I cannot say Q.E.D to that because I have not proven it, but I have presented an existence proof that there exists a very similar man with a very similar brilliance and a very similar style of Lone Ranger delivery of big, big stuff who has recently given the world another extraordinary universe they’re not ready to understand and who has moved on like Satoshi to his next task.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.