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Does It Even Matter if Newsweek’s Satoshi Nakamoto Is Bitcoin’s Satoshi Nakamoto?

The cryptocurrency now has a life beyond its creator.

Sogno Lucido / Shutterstock
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Even as the identity of bitcoin’s founder remains in question, the way in which the digital currency’s network operates means one thing: It’s never going to matter whether Satoshi Nakamoto is unmasked or not.

One of the biggest mysteries on the Internet in recent times has centered on the identity of the person or entity who went by the name of Nakamoto — the reclusive creator of bitcoin who is said to hold hundreds of millions of dollars of the currency. Thousands upon thousands of words have been spent on the hunt for the mystery man over the past four years, in publications ranging from the New Yorker to Fast Company magazine.

The mystery seemed to be solved this morning when Newsweek reported that it had tracked down the man behind the name Satoshi Nakamoto: A 64-year-old gentleman whose real name is, wait for it, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Newsweek collected a bunch of circumstantial evidence before gluing it together with this one quote from Nakamoto:

“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”

In the aftermath of the article’s publication, reporters descended on the man’s L.A.-area home, a photo of which Newsweek included in its article. In a brief encounter with reporters outside his house, Nakamoto seemed to kinda, sorta deny he was the currency’s founder.

“I’m not involved in bitcoin,” he said in a video posted to Instagram, before choosing a reporter from the Associated Press to take him to lunch.

He later allegedly told an L.A. Times reporter, “No, no, no, I was never involved.”

And then he holed up inside the Associated Press’ Los Angeles office after a media crowd reportedly chased him in and out of a sushi joint. He again denied having anything to do with bitcoin, according to a short AP story published Thursday evening.

Everyone wants to solve a mystery, so that’s a pretty good explanation for why we see so many reporters chasing the news. But what does revealing Nakamoto’s identity mean for bitcoin at large? What changes if Nakamoto is Nakamoto? And what changes if he isn’t, as he is now claiming?

The answer, in short, is somewhere between not much and nothing.

“Bitcoin’s design is intentionally decentralized in many ways,” Jeff Garzik, a member of bitcoin’s core development team, said in a blog post today.

“It has no leader by design,” he wrote. “Each community member contributes and collaborates with others based on his or her own needs, choices and free will. Bitcoin’s reference implementation has a chief scientist, but ultimately leadership always rests in the hands of every bitcoin user.”

What Garzik is getting at is the essence of what Nakamoto created — whoever he, she, or they are. Bitcoin is built on an open-source piece of software that is guarded by a core group of developers, but it is, if you will, a living, breathing thing that can be altered or copied but not killed. Those core developers guard the main code at its foundation, but if they were to try something sinister, the belief is that there’s a strong enough community around them that would step in.

So the value of the digital coins that shoot across the network may rise and fall. Marketplaces on which the coins change hands may go under or gain prominence.

But in the end, there’s no plug Nakamoto can pull — whoever he or she is — if he wants to turn off the spotlight. There’s no plug he can pull to flatline bitcoin. And that was always the point.

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