Another Father of Bitcoin?

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A blog about business and economics.
April 16 2014 11:42 AM

Another Father of Bitcoin?

Bitcoins.
Forensic linguistics researchers are hot on the bitcoin trail.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

More than a month has passed since Newsweek opened the conspiracy floodgates with a cover story claiming that bitcoin’s founder was an unassuming, Toyota Corolla–driving, model-train-loving man in California named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. One of the pieces of circumstantial evidence was that the punctuation and “other format quirks” in the original bitcoin proposal were “consistent with how Dorian S. Nakamoto writes.” After the report broke, Nakamoto issued a statement to “unconditionally deny” Newsweek’s story and his involvement in bitcoin.

Now, researchers from a British university have run their own comprehensive forensic linguistics analysis and ID’d a new candidate as the digital currency’s “probable creator”: blogger and former George Washington University law professor Nick Szabo.

The “Project Bitcoin” study examined linguistic similarities between the bitcoin paper and hundreds of documents written by 11 other individuals rumored to be its author, including Nakamoto. Jack Grieve, a lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University and the leader of the study, said in a statement that the “number of linguistic similarities between Szabo’s writing and the Bitcoin paper is uncanny”:

Our study adds to the weight of evidence pointing towards Nick Szabo. 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.
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The hedging in that statement makes pretty clear that the researchers have learned the lesson of the Newsweek debacle, carefully avoiding claims of a smoking gun. A spokesman for Aston University said the report has not been peer reviewed and is not set to be in the near future. Szabo did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The Aston University release goes on to detail the correlations between Szabo’s writing and the text of the bitcoin paper:

The results showed that of the eleven Szabo is by far the closest match, with a large number of distinctive linguistic traits appearing in both the Bitcoin paper and Szabo’s blogs and other writings. This includes the use of: the phrases “chain of…”, “trusted third parties”, “for our purposes”, “need for…”, “still”, “of course”, “as long as”, “such as” and “only” numerous times, contractions, commas before ‘and’ and ‘but’, hyphenation, ‘-ly’ adverbs, the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ in papers by a single author; fragmented sentences following colons and reflexive (-self) pronouns.

And here’s one last point: The study notes that the bitcoin paper was drafted using LaTeX, an open-source document preparation system. Szabo, they add with a hint of conclusiveness, uses LaTeX for all his publications, too.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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