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Wei_Dai comments on AALWA: Ask any LessWronger anything - Less Wrong Discussion

28 Post author: Will_Newsome 12 January 2014 02:18AM

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Comment author: gwern 16 March 2014 06:08:19PM *  4 points [-]

No I don't think it's Szabo or anyone else whose name is known to me. I explained why I don't think it's Szabo to a reporter from London's Sunday Times who wrote about it in the March 2 issue. I'll try to find and quote the relevant section.

I had the article jailbroken recently, and the relevant parts (I hope I got it right, my version has scrambled-up text) are:

Nonetheless, the original bitcoin white paper is written in an academic style, with an index of sources at the end. I go to Wei Dai, an original cypherpunk, the proposer of a late-1990s e-currency called b-moneyand an early correspondent of Satoshi. When, in the first of several late-night chats, I ask him how many people would have the necessary competencies to create something like bitcoin, he tells me:

"Coming up with bitcoin required someone who, a) thought about money on a deep level, and b) learnt the tools of cryptography, c) had the idea that something like Bitcoin is possible, d) was motivated enough to develop the idea into something practical, e) was technically skilled enough to make it secure, f) had enough social skills to build and grow a community around it. The number of people who even had a), b) and c) was really small -- ie, just Nick Szabo and me -- so I'd say not many people could have done all these things."

A sudden frisson. Szabo, an American computer scientist who has also served as law professor at George Washington University, developed a system for "bit gold" between 1998 and 2005, which has been seen as a precursor to Bitcoin. Is he saying that Szabo is Satoshi? "No, I'm pretty sure it's not him." you, then? "No. When I said just Nick and me, I meant before Satoshi" So where could this person have come from? "Well, when I came up with b-money I was still in college, or just recently graduated, and Nick was at a similar age when he came up with bit gold, so I think Satoshi could be someone like that." "Someone young, with the energy for that kind of commitment?" "yeah, someone with energy and time, and that isn't obligated to publish papers under their real name."

...I go back to Szabo's pal, Wei Dai. "Wei," I say, "the other night you said you were sure Nick Szabo wasn't Satoshi. What made you sure?" "Two reasons," he replies. "One: in Satoshi's early emails to me he was apparently unaware of Nick Szabo's ideas and talks about how bitcoin 'expands on your ideas into a complete working system' and 'it achieves nearly all the goals you set out to solve in your b-money paper'. I can't see why, if Nick was Satoshi, he would say things like that to me in private. And, two: Nick isn't known for being a C++ programmer."

Perversely, a point in Szabo's favour. But Wei forwards me the relevant emails, and it's true: Satoshi had been ignorant of Szabo's bit-gold plan until Wei mentioned it. Furthermore, a trawl through Szabo's work finds him blogging and fielding questions about bit gold on his Unenumerated blog on December 27, 2008, while Satoshi was preparing bitcoin to meet the world a week later. Why? Because Szabo didn't know about bitcoin: almost no one outside the Cryptography Mailing List did, and I can find no evidence of him ever having been there. Indeed, by 2011, the bit-gold inventor is blogging in defence of bitcoin, pointing out several improvements on the system he devised.

I actually meant to email you about this earlier, but is there any chance you could post those emails (you've made them half-public as it is, and Dustin Trammell posted his a while back) or elaborate on Nick not knowing C++?

I've been trying to defend Szabo against the accusations of being Satoshi*, but to be honest, his general secrecy has made it very hard for me to rule him out or come up with a solid defense. If, however, he doesn't even know C or C++, then that massively damages the claims he's Satoshi. (Oh, one could work around it by saying he worked with someone else who did know C/C++, but that's pretty strained and not many people seriously think Satoshi was a group.)

* on Reddit, HN, and places like http://blog.sethroberts.net/2014/03/11/nick-szabo-is-satoshi-nakamoto-the-inventor-of-bitcoin/ or https://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/satoshi-nakamoto-is-probably-nick-szabo/ (my response) / http://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/occams-razor-who-is-most-likely-to-be-satoshi-nakamoto/

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 March 2014 12:02:40AM *  3 points [-]

I actually meant to email you about this earlier, but is there any chance you could post those emails (you've made them half-public as it is, and Dustin Trammell posted his a while back)

Sure, I have no objection to making them public myself, and I don't see anything in them that Satoshi might want to keep private, so I'll forward them to you to post on your website. (I'm too lazy to convert the emails into HTML myself.)

elaborate on Nick not knowing C++?

Sorry, you misunderstood when I said "Nick isn't known for being a C++ programmer". I didn't mean that he doesn't know C++. Given that he was a computer science major, he almost certainly does know C++ or can easily learn it. What I meant is that he is not known to have programmed much in C or C++, or known to have done any kind of programming that might have kept one's programming skills sharp enough to have implemented Bitcoin (and to do it securely to boot). If he was Satoshi I would have expected to see some evidence of his past programming efforts.

But the more important reason for me thinking Nick isn't Satoshi is the parts of Satoshi's emails to me that are quoted in the Sunday Times. Nick considers his ideas to be at least an independent invention from b-money so why would Satoshi say "expands on your ideas into a complete working system" to me, and cite b-money but not Bit Gold in his paper, if Satoshi was Nick? An additional reason that I haven't mentioned previously is that Satoshi's writings just don't read like Nick's to me.

Comment author: gwern 18 March 2014 01:15:38AM 3 points [-]

so I'll forward them to you to post on your website.

Thanks.

I didn't mean that he doesn't know C++. Given that he was a computer science major, he almost certainly does know C++ or can easily learn it. What I meant is that he is not known to have programmed much in C or C++, or known to have done any kind of programming that might have kept one's programming skills sharp enough to have implemented Bitcoin (and to do it securely to boot). If he was Satoshi I would have expected to see some evidence of his past programming efforts.

I see. Unfortunately, this damages my defense: I can no longer say there's no evidence Szabo doesn't even know C/C++, but I have to confirm that he does. Your point about sharpness is well-taken, but the argument from silence here is very weak since Szabo hasn't posted any code ever aside from a JavaScript library, so we have no idea whether he has been keeping up with his C or not.

why would Satoshi say "expands on your ideas into a complete working system" to me, and cite b-money but not Bit Gold in his paper, if Satoshi was Nick?

Good question. I wonder if anyone ever asked Satoshi about what he thought of Bit Gold?

An additional reason that I haven't mentioned previously is that Satoshi's writings just don't read like Nick's to me.

I've seen people say the opposite! This is why I put little stock in people claiming Satoshi and $FAVORITE_CANDIDATE sound alike (especially given they're probably in the throes of confirmation bias and would read in the similarity if at all possible). Hopefully someone competent at stylometrics will at some point do an analysis.

Comment author: frizzers 21 March 2014 09:12:23AM 2 points [-]

I've been working hard on this in my book. (Nearly there by the way). I posted this on Like In A Mirror but put it here as well in case it doesn't get approved.

Yes, the writing styles of Szabo and Satoshi are the same.

Apart from the British spelling.

And the different punctuation habits.

And the use of British expressions like mobile phone and flat and bloody.

And Szabo’s much longer sentences.

And the fact that Szabo doesn’t make the same spelling mistakes that Satoshi does.

Ooh and the fact that Szabo’s writing has a lot more humour to it than Satoshi’s.

Szabo is one of the few people that has the breadth, depth and specificity of knowledge to achieve what Satoshi has, agreed. He is the right age, has the right background and was in the right place at the right time. He ticks a lot of the right boxes.

But confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. It blinkers.

And you need to think about the dangers your posts are creating in the life of a reclusive academic.

Satoshi is first and foremost a coder, not a writer. Szabo is a writer first and coder second. To draw any serious conclusions you need to find some examples of Szabo’s c++ coding.

You also need to find some proof a Szabo’s hacking (or anti-hacking) experience. Satoshi has rather a lot of this.

And you need to consider the possibility that Satoshi learnt his English on both sides of the Atlantic. And that English was not his first language. I don’t think it was.

Comment author: gwern 21 March 2014 07:03:30PM 2 points [-]

Yes, the writing styles of Szabo and Satoshi are the same. Apart from the British spelling. And the different punctuation habits. And the use of British expressions like mobile phone and flat and bloody. And Szabo’s much longer sentences. And the fact that Szabo doesn’t make the same spelling mistakes that Satoshi does. Ooh and the fact that Szabo’s writing has a lot more humour to it than Satoshi’s.

Szabo has extensively studied British history for his legal and monetary theories (it's hard to miss this if you've read his essays), so I do not regard the Britishisms as a point against Szabo. It's perfectly easy to pick up Britishisms if you watch BBC programs or read The Economist or Financial Times (I do all three and as it happens, I use 'bloody' all the time in colloquial speech - a check of my IRC logs shows me using it 72 times, and at least once in my more formal writings on gwern.net, and 'mobile phone' pops up 3 or 4 times in my chat logs; yet I have spent perhaps 3 days in the UK in my life). And Satoshi is a very narrow, special-purpose pseudonymic identity which has one and only one purpose: to promote and work on Bitcoin - Bitcoin is not a very humorous subject, nor does it really lend itself to long essays (or long sentences). And I'm not sure how you could make any confident claims about spelling mistakes without having done any stylometrics, given that both Szabo and Satoshi write well and you would expect spelling mistakes to be rare by definition.

Comment author: frizzers 22 March 2014 07:46:07AM 1 point [-]

Points noted. All well made. Mine was a heated rebuttal to the Like IN A Mirror post.

I could only find one spelling mistake in all Satoshi's work and a few punctuation quibbles. It's a word that is commonly spelt wrong - but that Szabo spells right. I don't want to share it here because I'm keeping it for the book

Comment author: gwern 01 April 2014 01:26:30AM 2 points [-]

so I'll forward them to you to post on your website.

Done: http://www.gwern.net/docs/2008-nakamoto

(Sorry for the delay, but a black-market was trying to blackmail me and I didn't want my writeup to go live so I was delaying everything.)