As the 11th anniversary of bitcoin’s launch nears, the question of who invented bitcoin continues and the top candidate may well rise to be Linus Torvalds.
The Linux inventor, who at the age of just 21 launched the kernel which started the biggest open source project in history, has not made one comment on bitcoin, arguably the second biggest open source project.
Nor will he admit or deny whether he invented bitcoin. We asked some time ago and again, to no response.
Yet when you look at the entire picture, and it is circumstantial, but when you look at all of it, it fits.
The conference he gave on Git on May 3rd 2007 describes pretty much a mutable blockchain, which unlike bitcoin, is very efficient.
That gave Torvalds the base ingredients for the immutable blockchain. How to put it all together took him about two years at the age of 38 – the peak of the genius window.
That he had the knowledge and capability to put it all together is unquestionable. This can not be said of many. In fact at most it is probably just a hand-full of people in the world as something like bitcoin would have taken considerable prior knowledge and expertise.
Linus Torvalds: Satoshi Nakamoto?
No one thought to ask this question and for some very good reasons. The first bitcoin binaries were Windows only. A perfect way of hiding in plain sight.
More importantly, perhaps, Torvalds hates C++, bitcoin’s coding language. In September 2007, just as bitcoin was being invented, Torvalds said:
“C++ is a horrible language. It’s made more horrible by the fact that a lot
of substandard programmers use it, to the point where it’s much much
easier to generate total and utter crap with it…
In other words: the choice of C is the only sane choice… C++ leads to really really bad design choices…
In other words, the only way to do good, efficient, and system-level and
portable C++ ends up to limit yourself to all the things that are
basically available in C…
So I’m sorry, but for something like git, where efficiency was a primary objective, the ‘advantages’ of C++ is just a huge mistake.”
The “Bloody” Mystery
So he really doesn’t like C++, but he also said: “Trust me – writing kernel code in C++ is a BLOODY STUPID IDEA,” emphasis his.
That’s not a smoking gun. He just has all that it takes to be Nakamoto and also happens to use the word bloody.
The use of the word “bloody” by Nakamoto under his pseudonym is of course what led some to suggest he is British, while others pointed out Nakamoto wrote in perfect English and time-based analysis suggested he was in America.
Torvalds was born in Finland where he lived until his young adulthood, becoming an American citizen in 2010.
He was always with computers, so he probably always spoke english, but non-natives of America or Britain do sometime mix British english and American english.
So his use of the word bloody while time-based analysis suggests he was in America makes a lot more sense with a Finish background residing in USA.
Gavin Andresen, as you might know, was the person perhaps closest to Nakamoto, albeit they only spoke in writing.
In a now infamous article in 2014 when someone was mistakenly suggested to be bitcoin’s inventor, in commenting about Nakamoto’s character, Andresen said:
“He was the kind of person who, if you made an honest mistake, he might call you an idiot and never speak to you again.”
That’s basically Torvalds. Even non-techies have probably heard about all that controversy in regards to his behavior on occasions, with Torvalds himself stating:
“I’d like to be a nice person and curse less and encourage people to grow rather than telling them they are idiots. I’m sorry – I tried, it’s just not in me.”
Nakamoto also told Andresen to “give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.”
That doesn’t say much, but it does suggest Nakamoto was someone who had experience of open source code.
Jeff Garzik too interacted often with Nakamoto. He now serves as co-founder of Bloq with a recent press release describing him as “a very experienced developer and also a ‘Linux lieutenant’ maintainer working directly under Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, for over 10 years.”
Commenting on Nakamoto’s code, Garzik doesn’t mince his words, with Coindesk stating in an interview:
“In spite of being an excellent architect and designer, Satoshi’s coding practices were unconventional, says Garzik, adding that the original version of Bitcoin was Windows only, not very portable, and ‘a jumble of source code’ with several half-finished projects.”
In another interview, he was even less charitable, stating: “[Nakamoto] released Bitcoin and there were a bunch of obvious bugs and attacks that got fixed in the first six months, then there were less serious bugs that got fixed. He designed the system, fundamentally it works and it hasn’t been hacked, but the software is sort of a crap program.”
Now you go back to Torvalds’ comments on C++ and you can see his point.
Many say Torvalds is a great programmer. Maybe in C. Maybe he ain’t that great in coding C++. Why did he choose it then if he is indeed Nakamoto?
Hiding in Plain Sight
Many have found it very puzzling that Nakamoto, an open source guy and all the rest, would release the first version in widows only.
It just doesn’t fit, but if he is Torvalds then it makes perfect sense. Likewise for C++. If it was C, arguably it would have been obvious from day one since he has written a lot of code in C.
He hates C++, however. He hates Windows. How on earth can he be Satoshi Nakamoto? – would have been an easy and effective instant dismissal of the suggestion.
That’s if the suggestion was raised at all. Those two things were probably enough to not even think of asking the question.
Once it is asked, however, all this circumstantial evidence starts becoming a bit too much circumstantial evidence.
Something he may have not wanted in 2009, but now things are very different with blockchain tech and even the bitcoin technology itself seen as a pretty cool thing.
In 2009, however, there were real concerns of government intervention because it is technically illegal to create a currency.
Had he been open about it, things may have gone very differently. So he had to hide his identity, and from a technical perspective he has done an excellent job at it.
A secret, however, probably can not indefinitely be kept. Had he commented on bitcoin, for example, the first article that asked this question might have not been written.
His silence on what must be quite fascinating for him from a tech perspective and as an open source project does raise the question as to why he has not commented on it.
If he invented bitcoin, then the answer is obvious. He obviously wouldn’t want to be associated.
Satoshi Nakamoto, The Rich Man of Name and Fame
Many have wondered how Nakamoto has shown such incredible discipline to not touch one bitcoin even though his stash is estimated to be worth some $8 billion at the current price.
That’s a ton of money, but is it really that much different than $150 million, the estimated worth of Torvalds.
Obviously the numbers have a magnitude of difference, but he’s already pretty rich. He is not someone working a 9-5 job in desperate need of a mansion.
That $8 billion is also just an estimate. Nakamoto could have mined far less than a million bitcoin.
In those early days these were sort of just toys, of no value at all. Plenty of other coders, like Hal Finney, just ditched the wallet file away thinking nothing of it.
Moreover once Nakamoto left he may have well decided to get rid of all the potential evidence. Hopefully he kept the genesis block private key for historic relevance, but he may have well thrown the rest.
If he is already very rich anyway, maybe he doesn’t care at all about that aspect, but resisting claiming credit for what Bill Gates called a tour de force has also been something interesting.
Yet if you already have name and credit for plenty of other inventions, resisting the temptation may be a lot easier.
Plenty have also wondered how Nakamoto has been able to cover his tracks so well for so many years. If it is Torvalds, the answer is easy. If he can’t, no one can.
This guy built an entire operating system, in the 90s, at the age of 21. He took on Microsoft, Apple, and raised his finger at Nvidia. He knows how computers, encryption, the internet works pretty much better than anyone else.
A better question in fact may be who could remain anon for so long and it isn’t Torvalds? Who fits the profile so holistically?
It’s certainly not anyone involved in bitcoin or from the cypherpunks as Nakamoto was a bit unfamiliar with Nick Szabo for example.
From other areas, it would have to be someone already distinguished, extremely knowledgable of computers, familiar with cryptography and with distributed systems, and really there aren’t many at all that can fit.
The alternative is a young genius, maybe some other 21 year old student. However there’s at least one fact which suggests considerable knowledge which is unlikely to have been accumulated at such young age.
The choice of secp256k1 ECDSA over the now proven to be back doored secp256r1 has been one factor to suggest Nakamoto had considerable expertise.
It’s also been one factor to suggest it might have been an intelligence agency, but that would have not been able to be kept secret for long at all. Someone would have said something by now in that case, not least because they would have wanted to brag.
Someone like Torvalds, however, who is also part of the free software movement and all the rest, would most probably have had the expertise – either directly or through his crowd – to make such decision as choosing secp256r1.
If it is Torvalds, Should he Say?
So Torvalds definitely has the technical capability for all of the bitcoin components, he is extremely smart, he fits the character and the temperament, he fits the time analysis and all that, he fits the timing, he explains some of the puzzling choices made by Nakamoto in regards to using windows and so on, he explains Nakamoto’s resistance to temptation, and basically he is the very top candidate of being bitcoin’s inventor especially with his background in open source and so on.
So if that is the case, should he say? Well that’s entirely up to him. There’s obviously no concrete evidence he is Nakamoto, but if he is then probably not many would mind him saying so if he wishes to.
There’s obviously that Nakamoto the myth element, but Torvalds is a living myth as Torvalds and perhaps a better one, a more concrete inspiring figure.
He is obviously busy with all the other things he does and bitcoin is doing its own thing so it’s not like he’d be a leader or anything like that. More like: here’s another thing he invented.
Now the prestige can obviously be considerable. Whoever invented bitcoin does deserve credit as it is highly sophisticated tech with application in many other areas beyond digital money.
So Torvalds perhaps is reserving the right to claim such credit by not commenting on bitcoin or indeed by not denying he invented it, although now he might do.
But if he did invent it then he deserves to have credit for it and it’s not very clear why he shouldn’t claim it at some point with the timing obviously his choice.
That’s because things are now very different and for someone like him, he’s already rich and famous, so it probably wouldn’t matter.
We’d at least know however who invented it and Torvalds’ views on how you can scale something like bitcoin, regardless of whether he invented it or not, would probably be quite interesting.
He might not want to be associated with bitcoin however because in the early days the community around it kind of changed from being tech focused to more ideological, but that kind of has changed back now to tech with plenty of innovation going on there.
Not that it necessarily matters who invented bitcoin and even less whether he wants to say so or otherwise, but at least now we have a pretty good guess, although no concrete evidence.