“My thinking was that 3-5% of the children who get to a computer — even if they are just a poor kid in the countryside — will have the innate curiosity to tear it apart.”
So says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, regarding his then plans to put computers in every school where they now teach children how to code in this tiny Scandinavian-ish country.
Was Satoshi Nakamoto, the bitcoin inventor, one of those children and is Satoshi Nakamoto Risto Laanoja (pictured above)?
We have no concrete evidence of either, but for the latter there is considerable circumstantial evidence this largely unknown man may have invented bitcoin.
The burden of proof now is signing the genesis block, but as ownership of the key can change, there’s also the element of does it fit. For Laanoja, the second test passes with flying colors.
The Banking Accounting Crypto Coder
In 1995, when Laanoja must have been 17 or 18, he says he “Architected a Rewrite of a Boring but Commercially Successful Accounting / ERP / WMS Package.”
The bored kid was studying a diploma in engineering at Tallinn Technical University. He stayed at that university for seven years until 2000, to return later in 2007.
During some of that time and for an entire decade from 1997 to 2007, he worked at SEB, the leading Nordic commercial bank.
There he describes his position as “Security Specialist -> Head of Payment Cards and Data Security Department -> Development Engineer.”
Then his life changed, as did much of Estonia, in 2007 following one of the world’s biggest cybersecurity attack.
A summary from Wikipedia says “the 2007 cyberattacks on Estonia were a series of cyberattacks which began on 27 April 2007 and targeted websites of Estonian organizations, including Estonian parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters, amid the country’s disagreement with Russia about the relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, an elaborate Soviet-era grave marker.”
For the first time since the great peace of the 90s, Russia was flexing its muscles. In response, this tiny country did something remarkable. Describing it, they say:
“Our scientists were given a challenge: re-think information governance by designing and building a massive scale signature system for electronic data which could prove the time, integrity and identity (human or machine) without reliance on centralized trust authorities.”
Nakamoto, The Scientist?
One of those scientists called upon to defend the homeland was Risto Laanoja. Speaking in flawless english on Linkedin and in the third person, he says:
“Risto Laanoja is Guardtime’s Security Architect. Risto was part of the original engineering team, responsible for building trusted and standard-compliant security procedures and cryptographic schemes. He is a key member of Guardtime’s Research & Development directorate.”
Guardtime was founded in 2007, with entrepreneurship and governance in Estonia pretty much merged. They were not only going to serve their country, they were also going to make money from it, and Laanoja was one of the founding team, stating he worked there since February 2007 to the present.
It is of course from the invention that came out of this company that Laanoja came to our attention. In particular this paper written in 2013 that describes the Keyless Signatures Infrastructure (KSI) technology invented by the authors in 2008.
There are three authors named. The other two don’t fit the bill, but Laanoja does and perfectly so, minus obviously the concrete evidence. The paper says:
“Keyless Signatures Infrastructure (KSI) is a globally distributed system for providing timestamping and server-supported digital signature services. Global per-second hash trees are created and their root hash values published… Guardtime AS has been operating a KSI Infrastructure for 5 years.”
This is basically a very efficient distributed database with merkle trees and hashes in what they now themselves call a blockchain. Describing it in relation to a preceding system currently used in Estonia called X-Road, one of the devs says:
“Messages included in the files are linked to each other using cryptographic hash functions. The files are stored locally and the server hosting the files is responsible for creating them. Each Security Server has its own unique chain of processed messages. Other members of the X-Road ecosystem do not have access to the files.”
So it’s a bit different from the blockchain, but not that much. All the ingredients are basically there, so did he invent bitcoin?
Satoshi Nakamoto Has Only 20 Tweeter Followers?
Regardless of whether this man did or did not invent bitcoin, he is clearly a very interesting character, although apparently not too popular at least on Twitter where he has spoken a lot publicly since 2009, but only to 20 followers.
Many tweets stand out. One of them links a rejection letter to Ralph C. Merkle. Presumably he received a rejection letter himself or to inspire others he wanted to point out the complexities of human nature where even the greats are sometime shown the door.
On July 18th 2011 he links to 4chan’s /b/, stating “Anonymous’ answer to Google+ & FB.” This during the hight of the then digital protests.
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. (Kant) Applicable to ICT desgn.”
That’s an interesting one, and only a typo because of the Twitter character limit, but what is far more interesting are three tweets, beginning with his first real tweet on the 4th of September 2009:
“Holy crap… IE has only 55% share; only 1.5% mac users, 1024×768 still used.”
That’s the obvious answer to why the first bitcoin client was Windows only, and that answer remains valid regardless of whether this man is or is not the bitcoin inventor.
This would have been a few months after the genesis block, so if he is Nakamoto then presumably he kept getting the why windows only question and the too polite man gave the obvious answer elsewhere.
There are a few other interesting tweets to indicate this could very well be the inventor. “US planning $1,600,000,000,000.00 budget deficit. Holy cow.” He says. A money related report by the Economist. “Onion futures have been prohibited since 1958 (in US). Thank you, G. Ford,” is another one that suggests Laanoja likes bitcoin futures as much as we do. But this is the most interesting tweet:
The beauty of that image reflects what Satoshi Nakamoto must have felt on December 6th 2010 when it was tweeted.
A month before the above tweet, Amir Taaki, going by genjix, opened a discussion stating “I wanted to send a letter to Wikileaks about Bitcoin since unfortunately they’ve had several incidents where their funds have been seized in the past.”
The first response was “Bitcoins could be really useful to them. Good idea.” The discussion went on while Wikileaks was under a banking blockade following the publishing of damning information with the US government pretty much turning all resources towards shutting them down.
After pages of debate on the potential consequences of being known as the Wikileaks currency with one early bitcoiner stating “bring it on,” Nakamoto finally speaks on December 5th 2010:
“No, don’t ‘bring it on’. The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way.
I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.”
The tone changed after that comment, with most seemingly stepping back, including Taaki, but Assange was arrested and someone in the thread asks on December 6th 2010 how about a bitcoin fork just for Wikileaks.
Elsewhere the debate must have been going on. In this very tense situation, encapsulating it in the above image is a work of art, if of course the person in question is Nakamoto, the one that left about a week later after PC World published the results of the lobbying that had occurred.
That was on December 11th 2010, with Nakamoto’s last known public message the next day. “I’ve moved on,” he apparently said some weeks later.
To Github? It’s on December 14 2010 that Laanoja joins it. Doesn’t mean much, but it’s a very fine timeline, and here a screenshot of the above birds where Laanoja says STFU and links to a page that contains the above image:
The third tweet is interesting too, but somewhat less directly and opens a far greater theme.
Nakamoto, The Student?
We always thought Nakamoto was a student when he invented bitcoin, as a hunch maybe or because time analysis suggests it.
We also thought he is probably British, but both are guesses and if he is Estonian, then mixing British english with American english is precisely what you’d expect.
Laanoja was studying for his PhD at Tallinn Technical University in 2007, making him a very busy man:
What is very interesting is that during the entire month of April 2010, Nakamoto made no public comment.
“The thing that catches our eye… is that Satoshi spent little or no time on Bitcoin-related activity in the months of March, April and May and then entered a sustained burst of activity during the summer of 2010, including pulling quite a few all-nighters,” the time analysis said.
Risto Laanoja, Satoshi Nakamoto?
There’s hardly a candidate who has fit more perfectly the persona of Nakamoto.
The few people he follows has a “cyberpunk dilettante” in it, a “cookie hijacker,” and a general list of some of the finest men and women in coding, quite a few of them who follow him back.
The persona, from what we can see, appears to be what you’d expect. A very smart and somewhat cool young man who can be silly too and is generally ordinary, but also quite refined where coding is concerned and much else.
The coincidence of that gathering of scientists in Estonia and the banking collapse has not previously been thought as a trigger for the potential invention of bitcoin, but that it might have been is self-evident.
The task was to create basically a digital state. The almost always occupied Estonia has survived as an identity primarily because there were “virtual states” of sorts in that the government fled and kept still calling itself the government.
Putting that on data is just obvious, so keeping the government there whatever happens to the physical one.
How to ensure this is true data was their task. Unchangeable, unmodifiable. In the digital realm, that’s not just a task. It’s mission impossible.
Or it was, for they did achieve it, and while many deserve credit for such achievement, it is Laanoja that stands out for he actually has an old github.
Going from that data immutability for documents to unique code money strings for bitcoin must have been a natural process.
Working in another related team project of some of the finest minds of the country and perhaps Europe, would have certainly given him the knowledge of what backdoors to avoid and the like.
Meaning if that is the case, bitcoin, as most great inventions, came from both necessity and accident.
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