Bitcoin suffers from identity crisis

Then in March, Mr Wright and some of his supporters began hatching a plan to persuade significant bitcoin developers and cryptographers to endorse the Australian as the inventor of the system.

Media deals were cut, PRs and legal advisers hired and exclusive book deals for Mr Wright’s lifestory were being touted. Everyone approached was required to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements restricting them from revealing Mr Wright’s “secret” until a pre-agreed time.

When I exposed those details and the secrecy surrounding them in an FT Alphaville blog post everything went quiet. There was no declaration. The bitcoin community began to speculate that this story too had been a hoax.

Then news began to emerge from the expert cryptographic community. They described a difficult relationship between Mr Wright and some of his interlocutors, with several who had been approached finding both him and his evidence unconvincing.

Within hours of Mr Wright outing himself as Satoshi last Monday – a claim endorsed by Jon Matonis, a founder of the Bitcoin Foundation, and Gavin Andresen, a key bitcoin developer – forums were abuzz with theories as to why the proofs were not good enough. Critically, they argued, the key Mr Wright had used to identify himself with Satoshi on his blog could easily have been extrapolated from public sources.

By Wednesday, the criticisms had forced Mr Wright to take further action. A post appeared on the blog he created to “dispel” bitcoin’s myths and “unleash its potential”, announcing that a much anticipated transaction from an early Satoshi bitcoin account  would occur in the days to come. 

Then, adding to the confusion, Mr Andresen, one of his endorsers, came out saying it had been a “mistake” to say he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt before testing the key on Wright’s public blog. 

On Thursday Mr Wright withdrew from the spotlight explaining that: “I believed that I could put the years of anonymity and hiding behind me. But, as the events this week unfolded and I prepared to publish the proof of access to the earliest keys, I broke. I do not have the courage. I cannot.”

While his claim of being Satoshi remained intact the lack of proof was too much for a community obsessed with mathematical certainties. Many feared it was a well orchestrated attempt to hijack the inventor’s identity for personal profit, with the real Satoshi either unwilling, or unable, to make a counterclaim.

If Mr Wright is an imposter his motives are unclear. Some suggest the move was driven by a desire to win an economics Nobel Prize, on the back of a nomination suggestion by Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance at UCLA, late last year. 

Others say it was the opportunity to be linked to the inventor’s 1.1 million coins, worth some $US500 million at today’s market rates, while even more dismiss it as simple vanity.

Ian Grigg, an Australian cryptographer and Wright supporter, has questioned whether any man or woman could ever live up to the public perception of Satoshi Nakamoto anyway.

“Satoshi was a vision, but Craig is a man,” he wrote on his blog earlier this week. “As you come to know Craig you will discover he is no legend, no god, no saviour.”

The Satoshi name has become a myth in the bitcoin community. Some argue that was the objective of the Wright intervention. After all, if Satoshi himself cannot prove he is Satoshi, there is no chance anyone else can either. 

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