Bitcoin now has a face, but not necessarily the right one. On Thursday, Newsweek magazine said it had found the mysterious inventor of the digital currency. The only problem is that the man identified says he has no connection to Bitcoin and this could just be a case of mistaken identity.
Earlier today, we shared news reports about a man named Satoshi Nakamoto. That's reportedly the name of the legendary inventor of the bitcoin protocol, a name that has been known since the protocol first emerged. But, as the entry for his name in Wikipedia indicates, most bitcoin-watchers had previously assumed Nakamoto was just a pseudonym.
In this week's cover story, Newsweek magazine says its two-month investigation led to the real Satoshi Nakamoto, living in a single-family home in the San Bernardino foothills of Los Angeles.
As of Thursday night though, questions still remain whether this man is or is not the inventor of Bitcoin.
According to the article, when reporter Leah McGrath Goodman knocked on his door, the 64-year-old, Japan-born Nakamoto called the police. Although he appeared to admit his role, Nakamoto also refused to answer questions.
"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he reportedly told Newsweek, adding that bitcoins have "been turned over to other people" and he currently has no connection.
A search of a database by Newsweek containing the registration cards of naturalized U.S. citizens resulted in a profile that seemed to match the few other details known about the bitcoin inventor. The one physical meeting was proceeded by an e-mail correspondence about his hobby of modifying model steam trains with computerized designs, through an e-mail address obtained by Newsweek from the company where Nakamoto buys his model trains.
Newsweek said he graduated with a degree in physics from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. His brother, head of quality assurance at a maker of radio frequency amplifiers in California, reportedly described him as "brilliant" but an "a-hole" who will "deny everything."
More than $400 Million Waiting
Nakamoto's name was known through a nine-page proposal for the bitcoin system released in 2008. It contained the name and an untraceable e-mail address. By 2011, he no longer issued changes to bitcoin code or communicated through forums. According to the magazine, he had actually changed his name in 1973 to Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, and he signs his name as Dorian S. Nakamoto.
Bitcoin is a virtual, code-based currency whose value has followed a roller-coaster ride. It has also been involved in dramatic thefts, such as $460 million in bitcoins recently reported missing from the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange. Several bitcoin exchanges have recently been permanently shut down or closed temporarily because of reported thefts or other issues. Because it is untraceable, the currency has also been popular for criminal purchases, such as in the now-closed online drug black market Silk road.
Nakamoto's reclusive nature appears to be keeping him from definitively confirming his bitcoin authorship. It may also be keeping him from cashing in his supply of bitcoins, which are estimated to be worth about $400 million. Relatives and a few acquaintances interviewed by Newsweek suggest he may be reluctant to do so because the event would immediately be known worldwide. While the transactions themselves are anonymous, Nakamoto's online supply of bitcoins are visible and being watched by the entire bitcoin community.