Sociologist, philosopher, computer industry pioneer and inventor of the term “hypertext” Ted Nelson is claiming that he knows the identity of Bitcoin inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto”.
In a rambling – and, let's face it, odd – 12-minute post on YouTube, Nelson spins out the suspense, throws in a dialogue with himself as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, and finally ends with the statement that the mystery developer of the cryptocurrency is Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki, research professor of mathematics at Kyoto University.
Bitcoin was proposed in 2008 in a paper by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, with the first BC client released in 2009 (a point Nelson scrambles at around 9:15 of his video, giving the date as 2011).
His identification stands on three legs:
- Mochizuki can rightfully be identified as being smart enough to have conceived of Bitcoin;
- Mochizuki doesn't use the conventional scientific peer review process. Rather, his habit is to publish, and leave it to other mathematicians to sort their way through his reasoning; and
- Bitcoin would fit Mochizuki's work-rate.
Nelson says the behaviour of Bitcoin's creator is similar to that of Mochizuki when, in 2012, he released what he claimed was a proof of the “abc conjecture” (like Nelson, I am nowhere near the mathematician you'd need to explain the conjecture). After that, Nelson notes, he delivered a single lecture on his proof and “tiptoed away”, declining to discuss it further.
To the notion that Mochizuki couldn't have written the “elegant” Bitcoin paper, an idea which Nelson calls “ethnocentric cluckery”, he points out Mochizuki's outstanding record at Princeton: “To be salutatorian at Princeton means you're likely to be a writer of damn fine English.”
“Now combining that with the formidable Japanese English and his formidable mind … we see a man who seems to do what for others would be a lifetime of work, every three years or so, and presents it richly and subtly to the English-speaking world, where most science happens,” Nelson says.
“I cannot say QED to that because I have not proven it,” he adds. However, he says his theory is “consistent, plausible, and I believe, compelling.”
If the foundation for his “d0xing” of Mochizuki rests on slender foundations – something which Nelson himself admits – why post his theory? Nelson says his motivation is simple: “if you're aware of my work, you're aware that I've often been the first to know something, but have had a lot of trouble getting credit for it.”
And, Nelson says, if he's right, he wants Mochizuki to have the honour that he's “too shy to seek”.
Australian sysadmin, journalist and security commentator Stilgherrian told The Register that while it'd be easy to dismiss the claims, in spite of his eccentricities, Nelson "has the annoying habit of being right."
Stilgherrian also noted that Nelson's long digression into Holmes-and-Watson may be a red herring with a nugget of data:
"He makes a big deal of Sherlock Holmes being able to come up with the right train of logic because the author already knows the answer he's working towards. Well, Nelson presents his logic, but does he already know the answer through other means? That certainly seems to be what he's implying."
The Register has not had the opportunity to verify Nelson's claims, but will watch the story develop with keen interest. ®