Nick Szabo is something of a legend in the crypto space, and for a good many reasons. Not least of which are his contributions to the development of Bitcoin, his early communications as a cypherpunk, and his continued influential input in economic, philosophical, political and crypto circles since. Perhaps most fascinating, however, are compelling facts surrounding his past and present which might be construed to present him as the creator of Bitcoin himself, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Also Read: The Many Facts Pointing to Hal Being Satoshi
A Cryptic Background
Nice Szabo, self-described “Blockchain, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts pioneer,” was working on a cryptocurrency called bit gold before Bitcoin as we know it came into existence. The legal scholar and computer scientist hailing from America’s West Coast communicated regularly with early pioneers of modern cryptography and cypherpunks like Hal Finney and Wei Dai. Dai, also a University of Washington graduate in computer science from around the same time as Szabo, is similarly known for attempting to build his own digital currency prior to bitcoin, called “b-money.”
Compared to some of the other figures central to Bitcoin’s inception, in some senses Szabo’s story is not as well documented. Some of these historical and informational gaps, viewed in conjunction with other highly compelling facts, have played their part in lending to the theory that Szabo may indeed be Satoshi.
Interesting Szabo Stories
Back in December 2005, Szabo published a post to his personal blog, Unenumerated, describing his idea for a digital currency unaffected by third parties, stating: “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.” Right away we see Szabo is concerned with weaknesses inherent to centralized monetary systems. He goes on to describe the proposed protocol in detail:
My proposal for bit gold is based on computing a string of bits from a string of challenge bits, using functions called variously ‘client puzzle function,’ ‘proof of work function,’ or ‘secure benchmark function.’
After describing how bit gold would employ an “unforgeable chain,” Szabo cites Finney’s Reusable Proofs of Work (RPOW) system and concludes by reiterating the need for money not affected by inflation. Similarities to the concepts defined in the Bitcoin whitepaper are hard to miss. Not to mention the possible anti-central banking message hashed into the genesis block, and its prescient echoes found in Szabo’s concerns about inflation and trusted third parties. Szabo knows of the dangers of government very well, via his father who experienced the horrors of war and violent communist regime in the 1950’s.
Altered Dates and No Satoshi Emails
While the aforementioned bit gold blog post has a published date of Dec. 27, 2008, the post was actually published in 2005. Why Nick edited the date is a source of confusion and speculation for many. Further, the comment timestamps appear to have been updated to only show times, not dates.
A permalink to the post verifying the date as 2005, and other details present highly compelling evidence, but no answers as to why Szabo might have done this. Many speculate he didn’t want his bit gold post to predate the Bitcoin whitepaper, in a bid to conceal his identity. Further, while there is a mention of Wei Dai’s b-money in the white paper, there is no mention of bit gold, though reportedly Dai told Satoshi about it in an email exchange. Some critics of this theory argue that Szabo and Satoshi were simply unaware of one another and/or their respective projects.
Also interesting to note is that while Hal Finney, Wei Dai, and others have made their correspondence with Satoshi public, there are no known emails between Szabo and Satoshi, despite Nakamoto’s supposed awareness of bit gold.
Relative Silence After Bitcoin’s Release, and a Strange Video
Immediately after the Jan. 3, 2009 mining of Bitcoin’s genesis block one might have expected Szabo to take to his normally bustling blogging activity to talk about the project. Interestingly, Bitcoin is not mentioned until a May 7 post entitled “Liar-resistant government” that year. After 2009, Szabo’s blogging activity takes a significant dip, going from 25+ posts a year, to just a few sparse updates annually.
Perhaps most intriguing, however, is his strange embedded video post the same month Bitcoin went live, depicting cars attempting to beat a traffic control mechanism at a red light. The post reads: “Trying to beat the protocol can get you in trouble.” Many take this post to be a reference to Bitcoin’s solution to the double-spend problem cryptographers and digital cash advocates had been struggling to solve for years, and which was now successfully addressed via Satoshi’s protocol.
The Freudian Slip
During a 2017 interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Szabo stumbled on his words almost labeling himself as the creator of Bitcoin. Satoshi sleuths didn’t miss the slip, and theorized it could be a subconscious revelation of the truth. When host Tim Ferriss asks Szabo about larger blocks and second layer solutions, Szabo replies:
I’d definitely go for a second layer, I mean, I designed Bitcoi … gold with two layers.
The linguistic mishap could be nothing more than a meaningless accident, or it could point to something deeper. The crypto space may never know.
What’s In a Name?
Szabo is the son of a Hungarian native and he cites this lineage as part of what brought him to the crypto space, and to embrace a search for less violent solutions to money. “My father fought in the 1956 Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union, and he along with many other people from communist societies that I’ve encountered have plenty of horror stories to tell about the oppression … So, if you had just been born and raised the the US, you might not have known as much about the potential for government to be abused,” he details in a 2018 interview.
There’s an oft-cited email Satoshi sent to Hal Finney in which the Bitcoin creator remarks that he’s haphazardly generated an address with his initials, “NS.” As news.Bitcoin.com detailed in the previous installment of this series, some view these initials to simply stand for “Nakamoto Satoshi,” with the surname coming first in the Japanese style. Some have said the initials stand for Nick Szabo. What is less-often discussed is that Hungarian names are also given in the Eastern name order.
The Mystery Remains
As Hal Finney noted on the bitcointalk.org forum in 2013, “I had long been interested in cryptographic payment schemes. Plus I was lucky enough to meet and extensively correspond with both Wei Dai and Nick Szabo, generally acknowledged to have created ideas that would be realized with Bitcoin.” Strangely, this general acknowledgment never seems to have made its way to Nakamoto prior to the creation of Bitcoin or the penning of the whitepaper, at least in any way so significant as to justify a mention.
There are also some big issues with the “Szabo as Satoshi” narrative, however. As the creator of bit gold himself says, it was designed to be a two-layer system. Szabo has also shown support for the BTC second layer known as the Lightning Network. This doesn’t seem to match up with Satoshi’s own described methods of scaling. Whatever the case may be, the hunt for the individual or individuals known as Satoshi Nakamoto rolls on, and Szabo continues to be part of the riveting speculation.
Who do you think is Satoshi? One person? Many? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images credits: Shutterstock, fair use.
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