5 Things Satoshi Nakamoto Correctly Predicted About Bitcoin

In a document dump of emails, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator foresaw many of the biggest trends driving the development of the first cryptocurrency.

AccessTimeIconFeb 26, 2024 at 9:09 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 10:11 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 26, 2024 at 9:09 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 10:11 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 26, 2024 at 9:09 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 10:11 p.m. UTC

Correspondence between Satoshi Nakamoto and his earliest known collaborator, Martti Malmi, was released as part of an ongoing lawsuit in the United Kingdom regarding the true identity of Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator. For some, the documents represent a new avenue of research for anyone looking to finally identify who Satoshi really is. For others, the 120 pages of emails (also posted to Github) offer fresh insight into the character and personality of the long gone developer.

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As Bitcoin historian (and former CoinDesk editor) Pete Rizzo notes, the emails largely conform to and confirm what the world already knows about Satoshi, who between 2009 and 2011 was an active participant on message boards like BitcoinTalk and the Cryptography mailing list, and who cataloged his thoughts in a formal white paper.

However, new information has come to light via the document dump, including Satoshi’s attempts to support early Bitcoin developers, his anxieties about developing a Bitcoin use case and his prescience in anticipating some of the biggest debates that have defined Bitcoin’s development, including over block size and energy consumption.

Here are five things Satoshi Nakamoto predicted about Bitcoin, before stepping away from the project.

Debates take energy

Proof-of-work, the algorithm backing Bitcoin, is a fundamentally wasteful process by design. Even back in the days of Satoshi, people realized that, if Bitcoin were to become successful, the hashpower directed towards securing the network would be massive. Satoshi anticipated this debate and responded to critics, writing, “ironic if we end up having to choose between economic liberty and conservation.”

In his message to Malmi, Satoshi notes that Bitcoin can only be truly peer-to-peer “without a trusted third party,” unlike the centralized attempts at electronic money that preceded the first cryptocurrency. “If it did grow to consume significant energy, I think it would still be less wasteful than the labour [sic] and resource intensive conventional banking activity it would replace,” he wrote.

Indeed, Galaxy Research published a report that found the global banking system gets through 263 terawatt hours a year, or twice what the Bitcoin network uses.

Rule of law

Today, bitcoin is the only cryptocurrency recognized by U.S. financial regulators to be unquestionably a commodity, because of the network’s decentralized design and lack of a clear stakeholder. But in its early days, Satoshi must have been keenly aware of the shadow casted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the longarm of U.S. law.

This might be why Satoshi took precautions around discussing bitcoin as an investment, even if he did once say “It might make sense just to get some in case it catches on.” Satoshi told Malmi that he was “uncomfortable” with language on Bitcoin’s sourceforge telling people to “consider it an investment.” He said it was okay if people came to the realization on their own, but that they should be wary of “pitching” it.

Not so anonymous

Similarly, privacy advocate Satoshi realized very early on that Bitcoin wasn’t an anonymous technology, even if he tried to design it to be. At best, Satoshi wrote, Bitcoin can be pseudonymous if people take the appropriate precautions (like never reusing key pairs) and being careful not to link Bitcoin transactions to their real-world identities. He also worried it made Bitcoin sound "shady."

Today, considering that most people acquire bitcoin via exchanges that are legally required to implement know-your-customer procedures to identify users, it’s hard to remain private while using Bitcoin. It’s unclear if Satoshi saw this coming — especially because Bitcoin was designed to obviate the need for intermediaries like exchanges — but he was still considering describing Bitcoin as private, lest it mislead users and sow distrust of the project.

“I think we should de-emphasize the anonymous angle,” he wrote to Malmi, who had said Bitcoin “can be kept hidden” in an FAQ (a point Satoshi praised for being “carefully” worded). “I think the people who want anonymous [sic] will still figure it out without us trumpeting it.”

Any use cases?

Satoshi and Malmi frequently discussed potential uses of Bitcoin, knowing that the network needed a killer use case or application to drive adoption. Generally speaking, Satoshi noted the timestamping features of the blockchain, which could be used to help authenticate events in the real world.

But Satoshi also thought about bitcoin’s position within the world of digital payments, and thought it could be used to create more liquid markets around existing digital currencies like Liberty Reserve (now defunct). He predicted that people wanting to improve their privacy could go from bitcoin to liberty reserve to dollars, gold or PayPal, given that at the time it was easy to generate BTC just by mining.

One avenue that Satoshi correctly predicted would be bitcoin’s viability for buying gift cards (which he referred to as “paysafecards”), which today is one of the most common uses of bitcoin.

Developer patronage

Rizzo noted that the emails also give insight into one of the earliest financial backers of Bitcoin, which was fully bootstrapped by Satoshi and never took in VC capital. According to a back-and-forth over the course of months, Satoshi reveals that he has found an anonymous donor interested in donating between $2,000 and $3,600 to support development of Bitcoin. While it took some time for the mysterious and still-unknown benefactor to send the cash (via post) to Malmi, the money did go towards paying for website hosting costs and other incidentals.

While this isn’t a massive financial windfall, securing funds to offset the costs of volunteer work by developers shows — perhaps for the first time — that Satoshi was aware of challenges of supporting open-source development.

“It might be a long time before we get another donation like that, we should save a lot of it,” he wrote. Malmi was also told to take $1,000 of the donation to put towards an exchange he was developing, which could have helped support the BTC-USD exchange rate (then worth just a few cents).

If anything, this anticipates the current state of Bitcoin development patronage, which is still ad hoc and arguably insufficient. While it’s becoming more common for firms like Block, MicroStrategy and others to sponsor Bitcoin developers, over the years a number of contributors have walked away from the costly labor of love.

Satoshi notes at several points that he is often too busy with work to put as much time and attention towards Bitcoin as deserved. Heis thankful that developers like Malmi and Satoshi’s handpicked successor, Gavin Andresen, were around to carry the project forth.

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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.