A group of forensic linguistics experts from Aston University believe the real creator of bitcoin is former law professor Nick Szabo.
This is not the first time Szabo has been outed as the ‘real’ Satoshi Nakamoto. Last December researcher Skye Grey analyzed the now infamous bitcoin whitepaper and came to the same conclusion.
Linguistic analysis is a technique often employed by criminal investigators and intelligence agencies, among other organisations. While it is not a foolproof method, in many cases it is the only means of gathering vital intelligence from documents.
So why are different researchers pointing to the same conclusion?
Linguistic traits and ticks
The Aston University Centre for Forensic Linguistics, based in Birmingham, UK, unleashed 40 final-year students on Satoshi’s bitcoin whitepaper.
The team, headed by lecturer Dr Jack Grieve, compared the paper to the writing of 11 other individuals that have been named as Satoshi Nakamoto at one point in time.
The list of ‘suspects’ included; Dorian S Nakamoto; Vili Lehdonvirta; Michael Clea; Shinichi Mochizuki; Gavin Andresen; Nick Szabo; Jed McCaleb; Dustin D Trammel; Hal Finney; Wei Dai; Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry.
The team concluded that Szabo is the primary author of the bitcoin paper and, therefore, the probable creator of bitcoin.
Dr Grieve explained:
“The number of linguistic similarities between Szabo’s writing and the bitcoin whitepaper is uncanny, none of the other possible authors were anywhere near as good of a match."
He continued: “We are pretty confident that out of the primary suspects Nick Szabo is the main author of the paper, though we can’t rule out the possibility that others contributed. Our study adds to the weight of evidence pointing towards Nick Szabo."
The team found that Szabo was by far the closest match, with a large number of distinct linguistic traits appearing in the bitcoin paper and in Szabo’s blogs and other writings.
The phrases included: “trusted third parties”, “for our purposes”, “need for ...”, “chain of ...” among others. The bitcoin paper also includes commas before ‘and’ and ‘but’, plenty of hyphenation, ‘-ly’ adverbs, pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ in a paper supposedly written by a single author.
Furthermore, the researchers found that the bitcoin whitepaper was drafted using Latex, an open-source document preparation system. Latex is also used by Szabo for all his publications.
Skye Grey's analysis
Researcher Skye Grey came to eerily similar conclusions in his analysis of the bitcoin whitepaper published last year.
Grey found that that both Szabo and the author of the whitepaper tended to use the expression “trusted third party” repeatedly. The expression “for our purposes” was also singled out, along with “it should be noted”.
Grey went a step further. He pointed out that most of the unusual wording found in the bitcoin whitepaper can also be found in “recurring occurrences”. He concluded that the use of American English in the whitepaper may have been a deliberate attempt to obscure its origins.
"However, the bitcoin paper may have had several authors, Nick being merely the main one."
He also pointed out that the author was very familiar with concepts similar to bitcoin and that he referenced Wei Dai’s b-money, hashcash and other concepts. Oddly enough, Szabo’s bit gold was not mentioned despite the fact that bitcoin was clearly influenced by the concept.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Grey said he is in contact with two persons who are running their independent analysis of the whitepaper to confirm his claims.
He also pointed out that Satoshi did not cite any of Szabo’s work, that Szabo deliberately post-dated his bit gold articles to look posterior to bitcoin shortly after the announcement of bitcoin.
Grey states that only 0.1% of cryptography researchers could have produced the text.
Aston University appears confident
Aston University students and Dr Grieve appear to be quite confident in their findings. Dr Grieve raised a few questions that we also raised by Grey:
“The case looks pretty clear-cut. Szabo is an expert in law, finance, cryptography and computer science. He created ‘bit gold’, a precursor to bitcoin, and was looking for collaborators in 2008. Did Nick Szabo create bitcoin? We’re not sure, but we think he probably wrote the paper so it’s certainly worth a closer look.”
The last sentence is particularly interesting. The fact that Szabo authored or co-authored the paper does not mean he created bitcoin alone. The fact that Szabo may have been involved does not mean he developed the protocol or produced the entire paper.
One theory many bitcoin enthusiasts are familiar with is that Satoshi Nakamoto is merely a pseudonym for a group of developers. But why would Szabo effectively ghost-write the paper for someone else?
Unlike most cryptographers out there, Szabo has a background in law. He was a law professor at George Washington University and he coined the phrase 'smart contracts'. Szabo is also a blogger and an expert in the field of digital contracts and digital currency.
As Dr Grieve and Grey concluded, there is a good chance the document was co-authored by a group of developers. If this was the case, Szabo would have been the perfect candidate to make sense of it, edit it and prepare it for publishing.
Although circumstantial evidence is starting to add up, the realm of speculation has its pitfalls: identifying the real Satoshi was never going to be easy.
Newsweek learned this lesson the hard way when it named Dorian S Nakamoto as the creator of bitcoin. Even before Newsweek's report, there were various media outlets and individuals investigating more than a dozen different candidates, or suspects.
However, identifying the real Satoshi proved to be an elusive goal.
Mystery man image via Shutterstock