I’m probably risking being run out of polite society with this post but I figured I would write up my thoughts on the Craig Wright saga. My purpose here isn’t to argue that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, I don’t think anyone can say definitively one way or another, but rather to highlight what I view to be non-critical and/or biased thinking by most people who have commented on it.
Before we start let’s review some epistemology. Often times when we’re evaluating conspiracy theories, 9/11 was an inside job for example, we’re confronted with theories that are not falsifiable and thus we can not employ standard methods to determine truth or falsehood. In the case of 9/11, there is literally no evidence that can disprove or falsify the theory that the U.S. government was behind the terror attack. Any evidence that comes to light that seems to falsify the theory just ends up pushing the conspiracy back one layer. If someone were to testify that they watched Mohammad Atta plan and execute the attack from start to finish without outside influence, well that that guy must be lying! He’s in on the conspiracy too! And thus the conspiracy gets pushed back one layer deeper and can never be falsified.
This doesn’t mean that all conspiracy theories are false. The fact that conspiracy theories cannot be falsified does not mean that it’s impossible for any given conspiracy to be true, but it does mean we need to change how we evaluate the truth of such claims.
Likely the best approach to evaluating conspiracy theories is Bayesian Reasoning, which is a methodological approach based on probability theory. The full “Bayes Rule” can be expressed in this equation:
Where P(A) is the degree of belief you assigned to A before seeing the evidence, B. P(A|B), is the degree of belief you assign to A after seeing the evidence, B.
In essence, we aren’t going to say where a particular theory is true or false, but rather the probability that the given theory is true based on what we know.
Returning to Craig Wright, most people who have an opinion on the subject not only argue that he is “definitely” not Satoshi, but go as far as calling him a scammer and a fraud, among other vulgarities. Now it’s entirely possible that could be true, but if we’re honestly reasoning from the available evidence there is no way someone could say that with 100% certainty. And what I’m going to argue here is not only is the probabilty that he is Satoshi non-zero, I think an honest reading of the evidence would cause one to conclude that it’s likely he is (likely meaning >50% probability).
What We Know
The “official” story that broken in Wired and Gizmodo painted a picture of Craig Wright being doxxed by a hacker that was presumably trying to extort him. If we rewind the clock we remember Satoshi’s email address actually was hacked in 2014.
Someone has taken over the email account belonging to bitcoin’s secretive creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, saying he will sell Nakamoto’s secrets for money.
You’ll recall this story quickly died and nothing came of it. But according to the narrative formed around the Craig Wright story, a hacker (presumably the same one, though we can’t say for sure) had spend over a year trying to extort money from him by threatening to reveal his identity to the world. When the extortion attempt failed, the hacker gave up and just dumped all the emails on Wired and Gizmodo.
While that narrative certainly makes sense and seems extremely plausible, the narrative in the Bitcoin community quickly turned to the theory that Craig Wright planted the stories at Wired and Gizmodo in order to make people believe he’s Satoshi. But where is the evidence for this? I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why the Bitcoin community so quickly adopted this theory without much evidence.
As for Wright himself, he fits quite accurately what we know about Satoshi Nakamoto. We strongly believe that Satoshi was a cypherpunk. If not entirely active on the cypherpunk mailing list back in the day, he was certainly extremely familiar with the ideas. Well it turns out that Craig Wright was active on the cypherpunk mailing list back then. There’s even an exchange between him and Julian Assange. We also know that Satoshi was very likely to have strong libertarian political views based on the designs of Bitcoin and some of the comments he made while he was active. Craig Wright also turns out to be a libertarian. Even the fact that he’s Australian would explain Satoshi’s use of the word “bloody” in his posts.
I could see people arguing that this evidence is not strong enough. Fair enough, but there was never anything to suggest that Craig planted the story at Wired. It’s almost as if the logic goes, “Wired received an email dump saying Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto and we don’t believe it. Therefore Craig Wright must have been behind the dump!”. Tenuous at best.
Now the plausibility of the Wired story did take a hit when Greg Maxwell proclaimed that the GPG keys mentioned in the emails could not have been created in 2009. This claim has been been disputed by an anonymously authored paper (likely written by Wright himself), nevertheless we still need to adjust our probabilities accordingly based on these two claims.
But going back to the narrative that Wright planted the Wired story, if memory serves me, this narrative was forming even before Maxwell’s claim (and was of course strengthened by it), but prior to this claim, there was nothing that would have justified this narrative, which I do find rather bizarre.
Anyway, one piece of evidence in Wright’s favor that goes almost universally overlooked revolves around Wright’s friend and associate Dave Kleinman who allegedly helped Wright create Bitcoin. Gizmodo actually went as far as to interview Kleinman’s brother who told them that after Kleinman died from illness in 2013, Wright contacted him and told him that he and Kleinman created Bitcoin.
This implies that if Craig Wright genuinely is perpetrating an elaborate hoax, he must have started planting the seeds of the hoax as far back as 2013. Should you be inclined to push the conspiracy back one layer and suggest that Kleinman’s brother must have lied to Gizmodo, we have this timestamped comment from Kleinman’s dad left on a random Tech Crunch article about Bitcoin:
To people who insist that Craig Wright is not Satoshi, the only explanation for this is that Craig must be so depraved that he not only started planting seeds for his hoax two full years before leaking information to Wired and Gizmodo, but that he told a bold-faced lie to the grieving family of his dead friend.
While that is plausible, I will submit that we should probably respect the principle of occam’s razor in which the simpler answer ― that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto ― is probably the correct one.
The Failed Proof
A non-biased analysis up to this point would probably conclude that it’s plausible if not probable that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, but this analysis is thoroughly upset by the events of May 2016. This is when Craig Wright broke his silence and officially declared in a media interview that he is Satoshi Nakamoto. The way the events were supposed to unfold is he was to sign statements using keys that only Satoshi would have, first for some private individuals ― Gavin Andresen and Jon Matonis ― and then provide the signatures publicly for everyone to verify. According to Gavin and Matonis, he did the first part. Both have sworn up and down they witnessed a legitimate signing. But Craig Wright failed to make good on the second part and make the proofs public, concluding with a genuinely bizarre series of blog posts*. Naturally this has lead many people to double down on the claim that he is a scammer and this is all hoax to make people believe he’s Satoshi Nakamoto.
Vitalik made the prescient observation that the simplest explanation for why Craig did not make the signatures public is that he is not Satoshi Nakamoto and simply does not actually have the keys, essentially evoking occam’s razor once again. Normally I would agree that this would be a valid point and strong evidence against Craig being Satoshi, but what are we to make of the key signings that Gavin and Matonis allegedly witnessed? Some want to claim Gavin is liar and is in on the scam, but knowing Gavin personally I completely reject that argument as I’ve never seen any evidence that Gavin isn’t anything other than upstanding, honorable person.
The day this news story broke I was at a private dinner with Gavin and got to ask him directly about key signing he witnessed. I asked where he got the public keys from, speculating possibly that the wrong keys could have been used in validation, but, being foresighted, Gavin brought the keys to the first nine block with him. Nothing about my conversation with Gavin would leave me to believe anything other than he believed beyond a reasonable doubt that he witnessed a legitimate signing.
The only other possibility is that Craig Wright concocted an elaborate scheme to make it appear he produced a valid signature when he didn’t. There were theories that Craig hacked the hotel wifi and did a man-in-the-middle attack on the internet connection, but the SSL connection to the Electrum website would have prevented that.
Since Gavin requested a fresh, un-boxed computer for which to do the verification, you’d have to conclude that either 1) Wright anticipated this request and had a computer loaded with malware, sitting inside factory sealed packaging ready to go or 2) Wright’s assistant who bought the computer, un-boxed it, loaded it up with malware, then re-sealed it to a degree that Gavin was not able to tell that the computer had been tampered with.
He he would have needed to do this magic trick unnoticed, not once, but twice. Returning to Vitalik’s argument, are we really sure that is the simplest answer? To me it’s more likely a case of rolling the conspiracy back one more layer and making the hoax that much more elaborate and that much more convoluted.
Why didn’t Craig Wright simply make the signature public? His explanation is he had a change of heart. Somewhat weird, OK, but is it really that implausible? Is it more implausible than, say, loading up a computer with malware and repacking it in a way that Gavin wouldn’t notice?
If you listen to what Craig has said about it after the fact he says things like, “People need to evaluate ideas on their merits, and not on who the idea came from. Bitcoin shouldn’t have a leader”, etc. Of course, he could just be saying this stuff to cover his ass, but it’s not exactly inconsistent with someone who would have a change of heart or for that matter someone who would keep his identity a secret for seven years.
To me he comes across as a person who is content that he knows he’s right and doesn’t care what other’s think. It’s very reminiscent of this quote from Satoshi:
If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.
All told, of course you can’t say with 100% certainty that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, but neither would you be justified in saying 100% in the other direction, especially not in light of the evidence we’ve discussed. To me it’s at minimum 50-50 but I’d probably go higher than that and say more like 60% or 70% chance that he is Satoshi.
I want to reiterate that I have no personal interest in one outcome over another. My only interest is in sound reasoning.
*This is only for shits and giggles as this does NOT factor into my analysis above, but I heard a rumor a few months ago that in one of those bizarre blog posts Craig posted they found a valid signature hidden inside the binary data of one of the images. I was told there was supposed to be an article coming out in like February that was going to break this story, but it never happened so I have to presume the rumor was false. Maybe other people know more about the rumor than I do and I’d be interested to hear. Nevertheless it would have been fitting with the never ending drama surrounding this story.